As I have previously mentioned, the term “Civil War” is actually a misnomer as the conflict was not over the same seat of government. The North and the South were not at war to determine which would retain authority over the United States, but rather over the question of whether or not the South would be granted the sovereignty it desired.
For this reason, many Southerners called it the “War for Southern Independence,” using terminology that parallels the “American War for Independence.” At the time, it was viewed by those sympathetic to the cause as the “Third War for Independence,” with the War of 1812 being the second. Having joined the Union voluntarily, the seceding states sought to exit it in the same way and to form a separate government. Thus, it was also called the “War of Secession.”
It was the argument of the opposition that the Union must be held together at all costs. Abraham Lincoln and the Northern Republicans held that “the Union of these states is perpetual” based on implied language within the Constitution. They sometimes used the term “The War for the Union,” or the “War of Southern Aggression,” implying that the Confederacy was the belligerent party having started the war when they initiated combat at Fort Sumter.
This battle, the Battle of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, is generally recognized as the opening battle of the Civil War. After the declaration of secession by seven Southern States, South Carolina demanded that the U.S. Army abandon its facilities in Charleston Harbor. When an attempt was made by President James Buchanan to reinforce and resupply Major Anderson, who had moved his command from a more vulnerable location to the fortress built on an island, the merchant ship was fired upon.
In November of 1860, an effort to resupply Fort Sumter was made by the newly elected President Abraham Lincoln. In response, the Governor of South Carolina demanded once again the evacuation of the fort, which Major Anderson refused. On April 12, the Confederates responded by bombarding the fort who were significantly outgunned and low on supplies. After 34 hours, Major Anderson conceded to evacuate.
Immediately Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress what he deemed to be a rebellion. It was this action which resulted in the secession of an additional four southern states, and which launched the conflict into a full-scale war.
When considering the term “War of Northern Aggression,” it is important to remember that in addition to Lincoln’s plea to expand the army in order to bring the Southern States back under his authority, Lincoln also sanctioned General Sherman’s March to the Sea. His goal was to “make Georgia howl,” and he accomplished this objective by employing the tactics of Total War, destroying anything which might be useful to the Confederate Army, including factories, farms, and railroads. Civilians and their property were not exempt.
Sherman allegedly declared that “Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses and people will cripple their military resources. …I can make the march and make Georgia howl!” He further articulated his intent was “to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses and make them fear and dread us.”
The longstanding ill feelings in the South toward Sherman and the victorious Union Army is evidence of his success.