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A Civil War Era Quiz

Posted by Howard Denson on August 17, 2017 at 11:30 AM

By HOWARD DENSON

Let’s explore what you know about the Civil War. So much of the fall-out from the war is in the news today as we focus our energies on proposals to remove Confederate monuments and even the Jefferson Memorial (because he was a slave-owner). The latter, of course, means that we should also remove the Washington Monument and various tributes to James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and others.

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1. When was the Civil War fought?

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Answer: 1861-1865

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2. Who fired the first shot in the war?

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Answer: The South, firing on Fort Sumter.

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3. What was the cause of the war?

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Answer: Slavery. For ages, Southerners have wanted to argue that they were really defending “our way of life,” etc. There was a major problem: Their way of life depended upon slavery.

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4. What speeded up the death of slavery?

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Answer: Secession. Once the Southern states were no longer voting in the U.S. Congress, they were not covered by the U.S. Constitution. It then became easy to approve amendments abolishing slavery. Southern states were afraid that, as the U.S. added more states, the “free” states could out-vote the slave states. If no secession had occurred, slavery might have lasted until 1880 or 1900.

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5. Why weren’t Jefferson Davis, Lee, and other CSA officials and military officers hanged for being traitors?

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Answer: Two reasons (at least). First, the U.S. Constitution did not forbid secession. (The Articles of Confederation said the union of states was for perpetuity, but that clause was not carried over to the U.S. Constitution.) Moreover, the Declaration of Independence opens with a call for the colonies to secede from the British Empire. A formal jury likely would not have been able to prove cases of treason. Second, after the bloodiest war in our history, the Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant administrations were focusing more on reconciliation. Wholesale hanging of ex-Confederates would have likely sparked massive retaliations and guerrilla warfare.

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6. Were African Americans treated better under slavery than after the Civil War?

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Answer: This is a value judgment, but in amoral dollars-and-cents terms slaves had value and needed to be kept healthy enough to work the land, etc. After the war, Jim Crow laws permitted widespread abuse, a neo-slavery, as blacks were arrested for spurious causes (e.g., vagrancy when going to the store). Sheriffs “rented” them out to plantation owners, who literally could starve and work them to death. If a chain-gang worker died, the plantation owner simply notified the sheriff to send a replacement.

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7. Was “abolitionist” a noble and heroic term before and during the Civil War?

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Answer: No, abolitionists were viewed as unsavory radicals (in part thanks to the actions of John Brown). In 1860, if Lincoln had run as an abolitionist, he probably would not have been elected.

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8. What did Lincoln and Grant have in common?

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Answer: Their wives’ families (the Todds and the Dents) were pro-slavery. Both men early on were strong opponents of slavery.

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9. Did African Americans fight for the Confederacy?

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Answer: Not officially. A “servant” to a CSA soldier might have gotten sucked into an occasional battle. Servants also tended horses and the like. When a CSA defeat was imminent, some Confederates suggested that slaves be enlisted and then given their freedom. However, other CSA’ers rejected the proposal because it would refute what they had been saying about the competence and abilities of African Americans. Southern blacks fought against the Confederacy in other ways. They acted as the eyes and ears of the Union when troops needed to know directions. They also were minimally productive instead of giving a 100 percent effort for the plantation class.

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10. Did free African Americans own slaves? Did they free their slaves?

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Answer: Some owned slaves, often members of their families. South Carolina did not permit slaves to be freed after 1819, while other Southern states permitted manumission but required the freed individuals to move out of state.

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11. Were Northern states friendlier to slaves and African Americans than Southern states?

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Answer: Not by much. Articles on the treatment of free blacks (or escaped slaves) show a definite hostility. Free states generally didn’t want them or, if they permitted them to settle, refused to permit them to vote, testify in trials, etc. (This section could go on and on.)

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12. Was the original Klan gentler than the KKK of the early 20th Century?

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Answer: No, the original Klan was largely made up of the plantation class. They tried to force newly freed slaves to stay on their respective plantations. They killed individuals who were too uppity. They murdered Reconstruction officials. When authorities tried to arrest them, they would provide joint alibis: They had been playing cards fifteen miles away.

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13. Was Reconstruction as awful as Southerners claimed?

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Answer: Not really. Reconstruction brought public education to the South, where the plantations had hired tutors for their sons and daughters. Blacks were running amok, raping white women, etc.—so the claim went. Records of the period don’t support that claim. The claim was that African Americans elected to various legislatures were carrying on like Rastus or Uncle Remus. In reality, the individuals were largely well educated for the time.

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Categories: The Human Comedy or Tragedy

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