Posted by: Dominic | November 7, 2010


The New York Times opinion page is running a daily column to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. It is called “Disunion” and draws on contemporary sources – diaries, newspaper articles, speeches – as a lens to focus our view of America’s bloodiest conflict. Each day’s column corresponds to events of the same day in 1860. Abraham Lincoln has been elected and, though the word is on everyone’s lips, secession has yet to begin.

With amazement do I hear the voices and see the faces of a people, some crying ”No More Slave Territory!” (Republican rally banner in Boston, 1860), some preparing the “harvest of death” (Jefferson Davis, 1860), and some trying to maintain peace at all costs – “We are not enemies, but friends” (Abraham Lincoln, 1861). All were coming to grips with the fragmentation of the nation, coming to the full realization of its long-ignored costs and implications, before they took the final plunge into fratricide.

Though the Civil War is permanently etched on the American psyche, it seems an America that can no longer be. It has been erased by digital revolutions and high-speed connections. But in some corners of the country, the war still has a hold, for better or worse – as a friend of mine learned when, walking into a bookstore in the Shenandoah Valley and asking for their “Civil War” section, he was ejected for his Yankee sympathies. Its proper name is “The War of Northern Aggression.”

Allan Pinkerton, Abraham Lincoln, and John A. McClernand at Antietam, Maryland


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