The North American Civil War : The Most Difficult War to Avoid


“The war … was an unnecessary condition of the matter, and perhaps it would have been   avoided if patience and wisdom   had   been practiced on both   sides.”

 Robert E. Lee.

“The Patriots always talk about dying for their country, and never about killing for their country.”

 Bertrand Russell

The United States chose to fight many wars. For the War of Independence (1775-1783) there were several popular sentiments. The United States had to choose between fighting with the Axis Powers (1939-1945) or seeing them   conquer Europe and Asia.

The United States, throughout history,   has intervened in many wars and not strictly out   of necessity. Here are some of them: In 1812 he fought   against Great   Britain. In 1848 with Mexico.   In 1898 with Spain. In 1917 with Germany. In 1965 with Vietnam.   In 1991 with Iraq and   again with this country in 2003.

The American Civil War in the 19th century was   the   most   difficult    to avoid. There were many issues in conflict: Immigrants, tariffs on imports, priority in the construction of canals,   roads and   railways, but the main issue, of course, was the regime of slavery. Regarding   the other matters, the congressmen could have negotiated, split the difference and close the deal. More, not concerning slavery, because it was also an economic system that was coming to an end.

On the other hand,   the Constitutional Convention of 1787 did not have a provision for a state or a group of states to withdraw from the Union. For other situations   in life, there are legal separation procedures, so married people can get divorced. Such arrangements would have prevented the bloodshed and the destruction of the country, especially the South. The Constitution   remained silent regarding this exit. At that time, they   probably never thought that would happen. Since the United States became independent   from Great Britain, Southerners relied on this experience to separate themselves   from the Union. The President of that time  Abraham Lincoln   always raised the flag  of the union in its two presidential terms and for no reason would have legitimized   the separatist pretensions of the eleven   Confederate States of the South, by  proclaiming its independence.

The work Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (The Cry of Combat of Freedom: The Era of the Civil War) of James M. McPherson   describes the deep feelings of both sides. The cotton economy and slavery were examples of the so-called “Dutch disease”, which   concentrates a national or regional economy around a single product. Cotton was to the South what oil is now to Saudi Arabia, that is, the driving force of its economy. Cotton absorbed most of the available investment capital, so it was easier to import manufactured products from the North States or Great Britain than to make them locally. Since the process of cultivating and harvesting cotton was artisanal, they did not feel  the need to develop a public school system, because it did not require skilled labor   , nor any technology.

The famous speech called ” Cotton is the King”  by Senator   James Hammond of South Carolina, March 4, 1858, reflects the thinking that sustained   the   exploitation of man in the American slavery regime, in which, as is In those who exploit other men, it is sincerely thought   that they are doing the oppressed a favor and that they would never   understand it because they do not have the cultural elements that indicate it.   Slavery seemed necessary for the equilibrium of society thus raised. In the work already mentioned, let’s look at some sections:

“In all social systems there must be a class   to perform the   servile works, to carry out the heavy work of life, … it constitutes the threshold of the mud   of society … such a class must be had, or   there   would be no other class to lead the progress, civilization and refinement …

“All your class   of employees, of workers   and workers as you call them, are   essentially slaves. The difference between us is that our slaves are employees for life and are well compensated …   their   employees are hired for the day, they are not cared for and insufficiently compensated. “

From my point of view, the Civil War and emancipation did not help blacks, back then, as much as if the war had been  averted. The Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) stated that by the year 1880,   slave owners would have had to start paying their slaves to stay at work. The factories in the north were prosperous and needed cheap labor.

The agrarian-slave regime   was weakened due to this need for labor in the factories, consequently   fighting the struggle with    the industrial-abolitionist regime. Which leads us to think that in any case, with the   industrial development of the country, there would have been a legal abolition, without the need for a war.

The work of the slaves was an important factor in the accumulation of wealth in the United States in the first half of the 19th century.

The emancipation gave a great psychological impulse to the freedmen,   which in my opinion,   could be comparable to the feelings of those who  survived   the concentration camps during the Second World War.

Emancipated blacks in the South were worse off than before the Civil War, since they lived in a devastated area, similar to what Europe was after the Second World War. Southern whites who had suffered great losses in the war were less tolerant of freedmen than they would have been if  that  war had not happened .

The strategy of the Union from the beginning was to carry out the “Anaconda Plan”, a blockade of the southern ports to paralyze its economy. Even the drugs   were categorized as contraband items.

The war ruined the economy of the south, all the above  was joined by the decline in cotton prices due to competition from producers in other countries such as Egypt   and India. In parallel industry    North   is DESARROLL or quickly nurtured largely by labor   at lower prices than offered   hordes of freed slaves, basing the modern economy of the United States.

The war was dehumanized. It is worth noting that for at least a century, before the First Geneva Convention (August 22, 1864),  there was consensus to adopt provisions   on maintaining the lives of civilians and harmless goods, on the condition that abstain from participating in hostilities. The world expert on appropriate conduct in the war in the 18th century was the Swiss jurist Emmerich de Vattel . The central idea of ​​his book ” Droit des gens; ou, Principes de la loi naturelle appliqués à la conduite et aux affaires des nations et des souverains “( The Right of People and  Principles of Natural Law applied to the conduct and affairs of the nations and of the Sovereigns) consisted of that the people, the peasants, the citizens, do not take part in the war and usually have nothing to fear from the sword of the enemy.

In 1861, the American leader expert in international law for conduct in the war was the lawyer of San Francisco, Henry Halleck , a former officer  and instructor of West Point. His book International Law was inspired by   what Vattel wrote In July of 1862 Henry Halleck became the General in Chief of the Army of the Union.

On April 24, 1863, President Lincoln issued General Order 100, which seemed to incorporate the ideals promoted by Vattel and Halleck. The Order was known as the ” Lieber Code” , the name of a German jurist scholar   Francis Leiber, an adviser to Otto von Bismarck.

General Order No. 100 was about the human treatment of populations in occupied areas, it prohibited the killing of prisoners of war, except when these   threatened the survival of the unit that had taken them, prohibited torture to obtain confessions, was also conceived to protect the rights of the   newly emancipated black soldiers of the Union, so that in the event of falling   as prisoners   they were not executed, or treated as common criminals or returned to the regime of slavery, as Jefferson Devis had proclaimed in the Confederate States .

But General Order No. 100 was not given the fulfillment and application with which it was conceived,  army commanders   interpreted or ignored its provisions, if circumstances so required. That’s why the  Lieber Code was reduced to a dead letter. Its principles were also recorded in the First Hague Convention, in the  following Hague Conventions reforms were made to various concepts that could be misused or distorted by totalitarian regimes.

For   me it was a kind of farce, because this Code   was not given the importance it deserves due to its historical value, since it contains basic norms of International Humanitarian Law, it   is striking that in the United States   it is not taken into account as a text of study,  does not appear in the content of any of the works   on the Civil War, nor for those who were teachers of   American History . Surprisingly I learned of its existence later, studying the issue of International Humanitarian Law,   as one of the first  provisions in the world. This also leads me to feel shame for those who write   American history texts when distorting and   hiding  war crimes!

Furthermore, I never saw in the history books, serious considerations or at least the attempt to mention the idea of ​​having made a commission of recommendations for the conditions of separation, of the northerners and the southerners, by the economists, the sociologists and the politicians.

In the event that the South had won the war, and a tribunal   of victors had been set up to   try the vanquished, such as   the one in Nuremberg, it would have sentenced President Lincoln, his cabinet, the federal generals and the congressmen to life imprisonment or hanging for war crimes. The war would have been called the “War of Aggression of the North.”  

Since almost all battles took place in the South, whites and blacks  faced an impoverished economy. The worst was the deliberate destruction by the Union Army that had no  military objective . The March of Sherman through Georgia (1864) was necessary, but its scorched-earth policy was based on revenge alone. Similar to the  incendiary, genocidal voices of Admiral Halsey   about  the Japanese during World War II, Sherman announced in 1864, “For the petulant and persistent secessionists,   death is mercy.”

Another famous war hero was General Philip Sheridan, who  was in fact, a war criminal since in the autumn of 1864, his 35,000 infantrymen burned the entire Shenandoah Valley. In a letter to General Grant, in which he  described   his work   in the early days of the war, his troops had “destroyed more than 2,200 farms … more than 70 mills … have executed more than 4,000 heads of cattle, they   have killed no less than 3,000 … sheep … Tomorrow I will continue with the destruction. “

An important step in helping to end violence between nations is to go back to studying history   and recognize war criminals for their horrendous crimes, instead of honoring them with medals and praising their memory   by giving their names to schools, parks and public buildings, among others.

In all the great commitments of 1820, 1833, and 1850, there was no serious consideration as to what terms of separation would have been acceptable. The country shares the same language, its legal structure, the Protestant religion and history. But simultaneously, the North and the South went each by their side, in culture, economy and their churches. In early 1861, the Presbyterian Church split into two churches, one in the north and one in the south. The other three great Protestant churches had separated before. Slavery was the elephant in the room that excluded everything else.

Had they separated, the states of the Union would have repealed the laws on  fugitive slaves. Southerners would have wanted to add more territories in western states such as Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean. The US Navy It would cut additional imports of slaves from Africa. They had made  treaties  trade and free transit between North and South. An equitable distribution  of the American public debt could have been agreed upon . Obviously there would be bloody skirmishes but this  is nothing compared to 600,000 dead of the Civil War.

One of the cases in which the separation was as bloody as that of the USA. was that of Pakistan and India, when the British left (1948). The British were good at economic exploitation but did little to prepare for a peaceful transition. Today there is only one port of entry along that 1,500-mile border.

Furthermore, I never saw in the history books, serious considerations or at least the attempt to mention the idea of ​​having made a commission of recommendations for the conditions of separation, of the northerners and the southerners, by the economists, the sociologists and the politicians.

The northerners and southerners could have done something better than the war. Of course, with emotions so fiery, the hypothetical commission could not have succeeded. The country was deeply divided. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, it was too late to negotiate anything. The commission should have been created several years earlier.

When the country needed a  reflective leadership reflected in its presidents in the period before the War, that is between 1853 and 1861, there were none. Historians have qualified Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) and James Buchanan (1857-1861) as the worst presidents. Franklin Pierce was a depressed alcoholic. One critic said that James Buchanan had not produced a single idea during his many years in public service.

In my opinion, if the United States had   been divided into several entities, industrial progress and prosperity would have continued. If the Confederates had left Fort Sumter unscathed, there would have been skirmishes but no major war. The enthusiasm for war would have  vanished. Fort Sumter could have become a small enclave like Gibraltar for Spain and Great Britain. The Fort Sumter incident was something like the attack on Pearl Harbor, the spark of the powder keg.

 “The American Civil War began   and ended. The   reason to fight, I never understood it. ”  From the song” With God From Our Side “



DiLorenzo, Thomas J. “Targeting Civilians” (Civil Population, Victim)

McPherson James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era , Ballantine Books, 1989, 905 pages.

Author’s data:

Edward O’Rourke, was born in Houston, Texas, United States, teacher at Columbus School, certified public accountant. Currently retired, lives in Medellín, Colombia. Study and write about peace.

Translated by Silvia Ines Gomez