The Civil War is perhaps the most misunderstood event in the history of the United States while ironically, appears to be the single historical event most Americans believe they fully comprehend.
It’s likely difficult for many of us — and nearly impossible for younger generations — to imagine a world without air conditioning, refrigeration, and amply-filled grocery stores. Which is nothing to say of a life without the Internet, smartphones, and Amazon.
Consider for a moment that just over a hundred years ago, many Americans didn’t live to see their fiftieth birthday — and the most common cause of death was dysentery.
Life in 1860 America, the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president, was nothing like it is today.
The Southern states were mostly rural, and agriculture was the primary industry while in the North, the industrial revolution was in its infancy. Few Americans had more than a primary school education, and medicine was one level above medieval.
And yet, too many of us mistakenly believe we can make value judgments about a time of which we know little.
To truly understand any historical event, one must study it within the proper context — what is commonly referred to as “contextualization.” But as generation after generation pass, we internalize notions about why people behaved the way they did in the past.
And often, we interpret stories of events through the lens of popular culture — many of which are not entirely accurate.
The American Civil War is chief among these.