Book Review: And The War Came: The North And The Secession Crisis 1860-61

And The War Came:  The North And The Secession Crisis 1860-61, by Kenneth M. Stampp

There are some people who champion a dialectical view of history, but this book helps us to understand that dialectics are not always a good thing.  As a master’s degree student in military history I wrote about the dialectic between North and South in the period up to the Civil War, and though I did not cite this book because I had not read it at the time, I would have cited it as the author makes the same essential point that I did with a lot more detail and for a much narrower period in showing that while the Confederacy brought a great deal to the start of the Civil War, the North brought a certain amount of Nationalistic fervor as well as a disbelief that the South would actually rebel for such light and transient causes as a loss in an election that threatened only the growth of their corrupt and debased slave plantation culture.  By looking at the role of the North the author provides us with a clear understanding that a civil war does not happen unless there are two sides who are willing to fight, and that was certainly the case here.

This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into fourteen chapters.  The author discusses the roots of the crisis in a discussion of the different social and economic systems of the South and in different feelings about national loyalties that were based in part on sectional power (1) as well as the search for remedies that would address the concerns of both sides and allow them to coexist in peace (2).  After that the author discusses the search for constitutional logic that would address the perpetuity of the Union and the lack of legitimacy of succession as a constitutional remedy (3) as well as the painful choice that Buchanan made to support the Union (4) despite having lost support from both sides.  The author looks at the reality of disunion after South Carolina’s rebellion (5) as well as the first uprisings (6) and the deadlock that lasted or months of rising tensions (7).  There is a discussion of the debacle of the compromise attempts (8), the fraud of the conciliators looking vainly for peace (9), and the view of Lincoln about the crisis expressed in his First Inaugural (10).  The author looks at the way that Northerners prepared for the coming conflict (11), the crusading spirit against secession that built up (12), as well as the decision for war that was made by the South in Charleston Harbor (13).  With that the book ends with a discussion of Northern relief that the war had started (14), after which there is a bibliography and index.

Neo-Confederates claim that Abraham Lincoln and other northerners acted in such a way as to deliberately provoke the Civil War and thus deserve blame for it starting even though the South rebelled and fired the first shots in Charleston Harbor.  This book does not support such conclusions, but it does demonstrate that the choices that were being made during the secession winter of 1860-61 were different between Unionists and rebels.  While rebels were seeing if any compromise could be made that met their demands or else they would rebel, Northerners were determining whether the Union with honor could be kept peaceably or they would be willing to undertake force to preserve the Union so as to avoid the division that Europe faced.  It is perhaps inevitable given such choices that the two sides both misunderstood each other.  Yet even before Lincoln took office Northerners had already at least mentally prepared for the reality that war would soon be upon them and had chosen to fight rather than let the South depart in peace after its various acts of thievery.  And so the war came, with a certain willingness on both sides to fight rather than to compromise over essentials.  This book gives us a good picture of why the North was willing to fight, something that is not often considered in reading about this period of history.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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