"The single best kickoff to the American Civil War...I can't imagine a better guide for any of us, whether student or scholar."
-Robert Hicks author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Widow of the South
"A detailed and enjoyable set of facts and stories that will engage every reader from the newest initiate to the Civil War saga to the most experienced historian. This book is a must have for any Civil War reading collection."
- James Lewis,
Park Ranger at Stones River National Battlefield
Do You Think You Know the Civil War?
The History Buff's Guide to the Civil War clears the powder smoke surrounding the war that changed America forever. What were the best, the worst, the largest, and the most lethal aspects of the conflict? With over thirty annotated top ten lists and unexpected new findings, author Thomas R. Flagel will have you debating the most intriguing questions of the Civil War in no time. From the top ten causes of the war to the top ten bloodiest battles, this invaluable guide to the great war between the states will delight and inform you about one of the most crucial periods in American history.
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Read an Excerpt
From the Top Ten Causes of the Civil War
There was no single cause of the American Civil War. From its earliest years, the batch of English colonies that became the United States were never a uniform entity. But by the middle of the nineteenth century, the relationship between the states had become surprisingly and dangerously unstable.
In order to better understand why these states turned so violently upon each other, we can examine underlying differences between the warring parties and look for possible sources of those differences. The following are ten key circumstances contributing to the political, social, economic, and evolutionary division of the country. A few were centuries in the making; others were relatively new phenomena. All changed a relatively functional nation into two distinct and confrontational sections, where "e pluribus unum" devolved into "us versus them."(1)
1. Territorial Expansion
By 1820 it was well established which states would be free or slave. Territories, however, were open for debate, and there would be much to fight over. Less than a million square miles in 1800, the United States nearly doubled with the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and almost doubled again after the war with Mexico (184648).
Armed with the popular ideology of "Manifest Destiny," many citizens North and South considered the continent, if not the hemisphere, the divine right of the United States. This aggressive foreign policy against Spanish, British, French, and Native American holdings fed the ravenous appetite of an expanding population and economy. It also created a showdown of "winner take all" between slavery and free-soil sections.(2)
The contrived war with Mexico was a thinly veiled attempt by Southern statesmen to secure more slave states. In the same light, Northerners pushed for homestead bills to virtually pay people to settle the Midwest and cried "54-40 or Fight" in demanding all of the vast Oregon Territory from Britain.
The greed turned to warfare with the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act. The U.S. Constitution was not specific on whether the states or the federal government controlled the territories. With disputes escalating for and against either position, Illinois Sen. Stephen A. Douglas proposed a compromise: The residents of the territory in question would decide. Calling it "popular sovereignty," Douglas and many of the congressmen who passed the bill assumed antislavery settlers would choose Nebraska and proslavery settlers would move into Kansas.
Kansas, however, was north of the traditional 36? 30' line between free and slave soil. In a prequel to the larger version in 1861, the area devolved into civil war. In 1855 proslavery "Bushwackers" and antislavery "Jayhawkers" swarmed into the territory. Voter fraud turned into armed threats, and then open warfare. For five years, and well into the Civil War, the territory became aptly known as "Bleeding Kansas."(3)
On a national level, the conflict destroyed the Whig Party, cracked the dominant Democrats into North and South factions, and inspired a new party that would rise to the presidency in six years.(4)
During the presidency of James K. Polk, the United States acquired more than five hundred thousand square miles of territory-more than the land area of France, Italy, and Germany combined.
2. Southern Dependence on Slavery
To mention slavery as a primary cause of the Civil War is to invite arguments to the contrary. The reaction among many Americans is almost Pavlovian.
Incentives to resist the slavery theory are manifold, but the overlaying motivation may be to preserve a sense of-for lack of a better term-reunion. A characteristic outcome of many wars is an eventual desire for reconciliation, which in the case of a reunified country is almost a matter of necessity. To create an environment of cooperation requires a reconstruction of dignity for the vanquished and a reformation of the past for the victor.(5)
But the facts remain. Concerning the American Civil War, armed conflict erupted when one section split away and the other resisted. The departing section left to protect, among other things, a third of its wealth, over half of its cheap labor force, its primary vehicle for economic opportunity, and its fundamental definition of social structure-in other words, slavery.
When the Southern states seceded in 1860 and 1861, they did not leave in the order of their geographic location, economic standing, political qualities, or level of industrialization. They left in almost the exact order of their percentage of slaves.
True, just one in three families in the South owned slaves, but in the 1861 convention that formed the Confederacy, 98 percent of the delegates were slave owners. The constitution they formed mentioned slavery ten times, more than any other subject. Selected as the Confederacy's vice president, Alexander H. Stephens declared in a speech made soon after the convention: "African slavery as it exists among us-the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and the present revolution." Robert H. Smith of Alabama concurred, adding, "We have dissolved the late Union chiefly because of the negro quarrel."(6)
The United States in 1860:
Total value of all capital investments in manufacturing = $1 billion in gold.
Total value of all capital investments in slaves = $2 billion in gold.
3. Growing Disparity in Population
Paralleling industry, the distribution of the national population between sections was relatively equal in the first years of the United States. Then high birth rates and immigration expanded the numbers quickly. In 1800 the national population stood at 5.3 million. By 1830 it had reached nearly 13 million. By 1860 the country climbed to 32 million people. Yet the sectional balance in the House of Representatives was long gone.
More than 22 million Americans lived in free states. Fewer than 10 million lived in slave states, and 4 million of those were the slaves themselves. Even with the constitutional measure of a slave as three-fifths of a person, Pennsylvania and New York had more seats in Congress than Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas put together. Early on, Southern lawmakers realized that to be as effective in national politics as they had been in earlier days, they would have to rely on concessions over consensus.(7)
In 1860 the largest city in the United States was New York, with nearly one million inhabitants. The twenty-seventh largest city was Richmond, Virginia, with thirty-seven thousand.
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Second Edition xi
- Top Ten Causes of the Civil War 1
- Top Ten States with the Highest Percentage of Slaves 13
- Top Ten Abolitionists 22
- Top Ten Fire-Eaters 33
- Top Ten Similarities Between Lincoln and Davis 45
- Top Ten Differences Between the Confederate and U.S. Constitutions 56
- Top Ten Acts of Government 65
- Top Ten Events in Foreign Affairs 75
3: Military Life
- Top Ten Weapons 87
- Top Ten Items in a Soldier's Diet 98
- Top Ten Military Organizational Units 107
- Top Ten Surgical Tools and Medicines 116
- Top Ten Modes of Communication 125
- Top Ten Causes of Military Deaths 137
4: The Home Front
- Top Ten Hardships 147
- Top Ten Acts of Dissent 158
- Top Ten Newspapers 168
- Top Ten Songs 180
5: In Retrospect
- Top Ten Firsts 193
- Top Ten Most Significant Battles 206
- Top Ten Best Commanding Generals 218
- Top Ten Worst Commanding Generals 235
- Top Ten Bloodiest Battles 251
- Top Ten Deadliest Military Prisons 264
- Top Ten Military Blunders 274
- Top Ten Heroines 288
6: Pursuing the War
- Top Ten Civil War Films 301
- Top Ten Ways to Be an Accurate Reenactor 312
- Top Ten National Battlefield Sites 320
- Top Ten Largest Cemeteries 334
- Top Ten Ways to Get Involved 345
Time Line 363
Image Credits 477
About the Author 487
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have always found history to be extremely interesting. I can't believe how much I learned from The History Buff's Guide. Anyone who likes to learn about what happened in the past will appreciate this book. I give it five stars.
A delightful book of historical facts about the American Civil War and those who fought it. Skillfully written and pact wth facts.
Were generals and high up people meet