What does the Civil War mean to you?

I’ve been away on vacation to New Orleans for the past week. While doing the museum circuit, I went to the excellent D-Day museum and then took a stroll around the corner to the Memorial Hall Confederate Museum. The Confederate Museum is mostly a context-free collection of miscellaneous gear: uniforms of famous men like Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, swords, guns, battle flags and so on. This is interesting stuff to the enthusiast, but not so great for the idle visitor. Happily, there was no hint of white supremacy or “the South will rise again” sentiment to the place.

While I was there, I heard a boy ask his mom who won the battle of Gettysburg. She paused, evidently not knowing the answer, but since she wanted to answer the boy she hesitantly said “I think the South won that battle.” Being nearby, I piped up and gently corrected her. After another minute the woman came up beside me and said, waving her hand in a nonspecific way, “You sound like you’re from the South. Does all this mean anything to you?” I said “Sure it means something to me. I imagine it means something to a lot of northerners too.” She said, “I’m from Michigan, and to me it’s always been confusing. We don’t ever think about it.” I didn’t ask why she came to the museum, but I did point out that a lot of Michiganders fought and died in the war, including those from the famous Iron Brigade. She was quiet and unconvinced, but asked another question. “Was the Civil War about slavery?” I said, “Yes. It was about slavery.” She said inconclusively “Because you hear people saying it was about other things…”

Two things puzzle me. One is the complete indifference (most often by northerners) to this cataclysmic nation-shaping War Between the States, and the other is the insistence (most often by southerners) that the war was not about slavery.

So what does the Civil War mean to you?