Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 6. Segment 1
Americans Against Americans

It was the worst war in American history. It was called the Civil War, or the War Between the States, and sometimes brother fought brother and father fought son See It Now - Young Soldier Boy. More than 620,000 Americans died. Cities were destroyed, farms burned, homes leveled See It Now - Ruins at Hampton, Virginia. On one bloody day at a place called Antietam, more men were killed than on any other day in all our history See It Now - Dead at Antietam.

What was it all about? Why were Americans fighting Americans? When the war began, people on both sides claimed they weren't fighting over slavery. But they were fooling themselves. Most white Southerners wanted to keep slavery because they thought their way of life depended on it See It Now - Woman With Her Black Servant. The Southerners—they were also called Rebels—believed in states' rights. They thought any state should have the right to pull out of the United States. They said they were doing the same thing that George Washington and John Adams and the other revolutionaries had done against King George: fighting for their freedom. President Abraham Lincoln did not agree See It Now - Abraham Lincoln. He said, Hear It Now - Abraham Lincoln "We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not mean the same thing. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended, while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted."

What the South did was form its own nation. Eleven southern states seceded from the Union Check The Source - South Carolina Secedes. They created the Confederate States of America and elected their own president and congress See It Now - Jefferson Davis's Inauguration Check The Source - Jefferson Davis to the Confederate Congress. They said all they wished was to go peacefully from the Union. But the Union wouldn't let them do it. Northerners said that when the states joined the Union they all agreed to uphold the Constitution, and they couldn't just pull out any time they wanted. If that were allowed, soon there would be no Union at all. Abraham Lincoln put it this way: Hear It Now - Abraham Lincoln "We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose Check The Source - Abraham Lincoln's Message to Congress, July 4, 1861."

The first big battle of the war was fought at Manassas, Virginia, not far from Washington, near a muddy stream known as Bull Run. Manassas was a logical place to have a battle. It was a railroad junction: the place where two railroad lines met See It Now - The Bull Run. When that July day began, in 1861, war seemed a bit like a show. And hundreds of Washingtonians didn't want to miss that show. They decided to go to Manassas with their picnic baskets, settle down near Bull Run stream, and watch the fighting. But they didn't see what they expected. It wasn't a picture-book battle. It was real, and disorderly. James Tinkham was a private in the Union army. He said: "We fired a volley, and saw the Rebels running. The boys were saying, 'We'll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree'. 'They are running'. 'The war is over'."

By afternoon it no longer seemed exciting. It had become exhausting, and terrifying See It Now - The Battle of Bull Run. Bodies littered the ground, the earth was bloody and beginning to smell, and neither side seemed to be winning. Then fresh Southern troops arrived—by train. The Rebels attacked with bloodcurdling shouts; they called it the "rebel yell." And that was too much for the Yankees. They dropped their guns and ran. The South won that battle of Bull Run Check The Source - The First Battle of Bull Run.

It didn't take long for people to realize that war is no picnic. Even then, no one dreamed that the war would be as long, hard, and bloody as it turned out to be.

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