Letter to the Editor

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Civil War too complex for sound bytes

Now that we are experiencing a tidal wave of righteous indignation about the display of anything Confederate, including statues, graves, monuments, battle flags, etc., etc., we are also getting the familiar chants about the reasons for the Civil War. One side piously declares it was to free the slaves; the other side says it was all about states’ rights. A recent Letter to the Editor declared the South was really waging war about slavery and the only reason the tens of thousands of Confederates died was because they wanted a few rich guys to be able to own slaves. [“Misunderstood history,” July 27] It seems entirely doubtful that the Yankees at Fredericksburg or the Rebels at Gettysburg charged into mass slaughter because of some dedication to abolishing or retaining slavery. With a good slave costing well over $1,000 by that time, very few of the soldiers on either side could ever expect to become slaveholders. It wasn’t even a case of slave states versus non-slave states. The Union went to war with five slave states (including Delaware) on their roster. Delaware stayed with the Union (barely) because we opposed breaking up the country. Delaware was struggling about how or if to give up slavery as late as 1862. An article in The New York Times on 2/2/1862 noted that the legislature here was proposing a law to let any slave over 35 be free, but younger ones (presumably still good workers) would have to wait until 35 to get their freedom. All this was dependent on the federal government coming up with $900,000 to pay the state to let them do a buyback program. Given the small number of slaves in Delaware at the time, it seems we followed the current administration practice of padding the overhead and using other people’s money to pay for our generosity. It seems, whatever position you stake out on the Civil War, you need to be prepared to find out that it wasn’t as simple as it seemed.

Jim Melville Kenton

civil-war, history
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