Let me pause for a moment and make an even stronger disclaimer than I made in last night’s post. My focus is on slavery in this series of posts, so I focus on the slavery aspects when discussing the Civil War.
Like I mentioned, the Civil War was about a lot of things, including general philosophical differences concerning the reach of the federal government versus states’ rights. But then again, the right of states to own slaves was one of the main topics within that debate.
And yes, I totally skip over lots of details–again, I’m keeping it simple.
Because personally, I couldn’t care less which Southern states had exactly what deals with the North or exactly what degree of commitment to secession during which relatively short period of time or which major battle happened where and when exactly and who the leading generals on both sides were in each of those battles and who won them and how many lives were lost on each side or which partial freeing of the slaves happened in precisely what month and what each law or proclamation or any other documents were called or exactly when all the slaves in all the states were freed.
That is the kind of stuff 6th and 7th grade kids are forced to learn here. It’s how history in general seems to be taught in America and it bogs students down completely in the least important details in the bigger scheme of things. It’s the stuff of political history aficionados and military strategy geeks, who generally don’t tend to be 13 years old.
This may sound weird, but to me, the importance of any war is not the war itself. It’s how it got to that point, the reasons for the war, the effects of a war on the following years, decades, centuries, and most importantly, what we have learned from it that we can, should, must apply to ourselves.
The focus on each separate strategic move in history education doesn’t give students any real sense of the overall causes and effects or any knowledge of what all those political wranglings and battles were actually about–what life was like for all concerned during that time and why it’s still relevant today. That is what Americans should know when they come out of high school, in my opinion. They can feel free to fill in the gaps if they want throughout their lives.
I never learned in school exactly what battles were fought where and when and how and who won them in World War Two, or precisely which clamps were applied when by the German occupiers, let alone every date on which they were tightened a little more, and yet I have a pretty good feel of what led up to the war, what happened during the war, what the war years were like and why it was such a watershed moment in history.
The fact is that months after the American Civil War ended, in the same year of 1865, all the slaves in all the states were freed, (except in Texas, where they conveniently forgot to tell the slaves for a few more years). Considering that slavery had been prevalent in America since 1619, that’s pretty darn immediate. I’d like to see the federal government get anything done within months nowadays, let alone change something that has been around for centuries.
What this freedom meant in practice in the years immediately following 1865 is another matter, which I will address later on. We recently stayed for a night in Meridian, Mississippi. T later googled the town and discovered a fascinating story. My intention with this little Slavery 101 series is partly to build up to a post I want to write about what happened in Meridian, which illustrates one aspect of this new postwar situation for former slaves that I had never heard of.
Having said all this, by all means keep correcting me and keep filling in the gaps in these coming posts, my Civil-War-buffish readers. Your comments add an additional layer–for those who are interested–to what I fully admit will be my very broad strokes.
What did freedom mean for people of color in times of slavery? Find out in the next post in this series.