The Civil War Connections Blog

On The Character of the War…

The June 1, 1861 edition of Harper’s Weekly published the following in an editorial entitled “The Character of the War.” I find it interesting in that I just had a conversation with one of our volunteers about reading these old magazines and newspapers. We, in the 21st century, have the benefit of hindsight to understand the enormity of what was going on in 1861, and to be sure, the inhabitants of that year did understand the importance of recent events. But the question came up – what did people think of the war then – when they were in the moment? How well did they understand the scope of what the war would become? These words are remarkably appropriate:

What this war is going to be does not depend on what rebels want, or what Government wants, or what neutrals want. It must take its course and shape from influences and events beyond individual control. To attempt, at the present time, to fix its metes, bounds, and results, is as futile as it would be to try to stake out the ground which would be overflowed if a levee on the Mississippi were suddenly destroyed. On one side the Government, on the other side the rebels, have their plan and policy by which they propose to abide. But the first red battle-field strewn with stark corpses will change the most deliberate of their preconceived purposes. Let us be rational beings, and remember the lessons of history. The worst of war is not that some brave soldiers are killed, but that when it begins no one can tell where it will end, what direction it may take, and who may not fall victims to it.