The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


Civil War 150th

150 years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg – the bloodiest of the Civil War – was about to be fought. Thousands would lose their lives in that battle, northerners and southerners, joining the hundreds of thousands who had already laid down their lives in the course of the war. But why were so many prepared to take up arms in the first place? When most southerners were not slaveholders, and most northerners were not abolitionists, how had a war infused with the question of slavery even begun? In this second part of our special series on the Civil War, the Guys and their guests examine the inner conflicts and mixed motivations of most Americans, as they contemplated war against each other.

The episode explores the concept of “union” and its power in the northern psyche, and the equally strong pull of “home” for the white southerner; how slavery factored in to each man’s decision to fight, most compellingly, for those former slaves recruited into the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation; and it looks to the women who soldiers often saw themselves fighting for, but who were left to fend for themselves as the war unleashed other terrors off the battlefield.