Call it what you will, but it was hardly civil
There may be as many names for the American Civil War as there were contributing factors to the bloody conflict, which began 150 years ago this spring.
Some of the more popular monikers for the 1861-65 conflict include the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression and the War for Southern Independence.
Of course, who can forget the Late Unpleasantness and the War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance?
Bob Bradley, chief curator at the Alabama state archives, has come up with more than four dozen names for the war.
“It’s like collecting baseball cards: ‘Oh, there’s another name for the war,’” he said.
Other, lesser-recognized names for the war include: the Second War for Independence, the Great Rebellion and the War for the Union.
And for a good bit of the first century after the conflict, the conflict was also referred to as the “Confederate War,” at least in the South.
That term is found throughout the WPA Slave Narratives, for example, the massive effort produced between 1936 and 1938 in which writers and researchers interviewed and retold the experiences of more than 2,300 former slaves.
Bradley chief historian at Fort Sumter National Monument from 1977-81, said the many names for the war illustrate a larger issue: People still disagree about the conflict and its causes.
“What this really symbolizes is that the debate on the Civil War continues. It’s one of the only wars where what you call it can provoke an argument,” he told the News. “Is it a war for secession … an abolitionist’s war … a war for independence? Each one of these reflects what somebody thinks that war was all about.”
Bradley said many veterans of the war, which resulted in the deaths of more than 620,000 soldiers, and their descendants simply called it The War.
Debate over names erupted after the U.S. government in the 1880s started publishing official records of Union and Confederate armies in what the records called “The War of the Rebellion,” Bradley said.
Many Southerners claimed the war wasn’t a rebellion, or civil war, against a lawful national government, but a war between states free to leave the Union, Bradley said.