[March 27, 2020] I grew up in the Deep South. Living in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas with all my family relatives nearby gave me a common understanding of the U.S. Civil War. But that shared understanding, I later learned, did not agree with mainstream thinking. One must note that feelings about the Civil War run deep in Southerners, and I had adopted those same feelings. For example, I didn’t know that Damn Yankee was two words until I was in Middle School.
In this two-part series on the U.S. Civil War, I plan to present the Union and then the Confederate aims. To many of my friends and me, we wanted to get a better leader understanding of what was important. If you cannot know the culture, the desires and wants of a people, their aims, and dreams, then it is difficult to appreciate their stance on any topic, especially one as important as the Civil War.
In the early Spring of 1865, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln met with his Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. Those are still hated names for Southerners. They met on this date, March 27th, in 1865, to plot the last stages of the war. Grant was preparing to attack Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s lines around Petersburg and Richmond.
President Lincoln was concerned that Lee might escape the Grant-Sherman steamroller by joining up forces with General Joseph Johnston to forge a new Confederate army. Such an action would extend the conflict for months. It was at this meeting that Lincoln emphasized to these two generals that any surrender terms of the South must be to preserve the Union and a pledge of equality for freed slaves. Union aims were clear. There would be no deviating from them.
I was taught that the Civil War, or the “War Between the States,” as we called it, was about state’s rights. Slavery, I was told, was a secondary issue and that slavery was just a strategic way of keeping European nations from aiding the South. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 changed the federal legal status of millions of enslaved African Americans from slave to free. Europe was anti-slavery. It was both a brilliant strategic move by Lincoln, but it was also in alignment with the thinking of Northerners.
“The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.” – U.S. Union General Ulysses S. Grant to his officers
Two weeks later, from the meeting between Lincoln and his generals on April 9, 1865, Confederate General Lee surrendered his troops to Union General Grant.1 In the Deep South, there remains a lesson learned incorrectly that the war was about something other than slavery and keeping the union together. Tomorrow I will address Confederacy aims.