No, I’m not referring to the skies.
The war that would variously be referred to as the Lost Cause, the Late Unpleasantness, the War Between the States, and the Civil War, began 150 years ago today with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, hard by Charleston, South Carolina. Ironically, though the attack succeeded in routing the Union forces from the fort, no Union soldiers died: One Confederate soldier perished.
It is an oversimplification to say that the war was fought solely over the issue of chattel slavery, although that issue was, at the root, perhaps the most divisive and combustible of its day. It is also, likewise, an oversimplification to say that it was fought solely over states’ rights. Regional political, societal, and economic divisions had slowly accreted to the point where conflict was inevitable; tragically, it was a bitter armed conflict. Think of it as a family feud between members of a particularly large and fractious family, a feud born of a thousand insults both remembered and imagined, and you will get a sense of how bitter it was.
That War, and its outcome, shaped the United States in which we live today. Chattel slavery is gone, although its ghostly remnants - racial discrimination, along with educational and economic differences along regional and racial lines - still remain. Numerous attempts to remedy those differences have transformed society, sometimes with positive results, other times with unintended evil consequences. But when have humans ever lived in a perfect world?
While all this business was going on, of course, my forebears were being chivvied and chased from one village to another in Russia and Poland. So I have no historical family-related dog in the hunt, except for the fact that I grew up as a Damn Yankee from New York. [Also, as a Jew, I have a natural tendency to be averse to the institution of slavery. Been there and done that, you could say.]
Over the years, I have lived in both North and South. Though I was born and raised in the North, I have no intention of ever going back there to live: today I call the South my home. Being a product of the mid-twentieth century, I have been able to love each part of our great country for its own peculiarities. It is a country in which the vigor, industry, and history of the North complements the South’s gentility and warmth. The once warring cousins, still slightly wary of one another, still have their differences - but at least they still sit at the same table, generally, and speak to one another with a civil tongue.