Chapter 4: The Civil War - America's Puberty

"The Civil War was like America's puberty. It was growing rapidly, things were getting hairy down south, and blood was starting to flow down there." - Brian Eddlebeck, Smart Aleck Staff

(come on - you didn't REALLY think you were gonna get through a whole YA nonfiction book without something about 'your changing body,' did you?)

Most of the "scary letters" we get are from people who don't believe the Civil War was about slavery. It's true that the initial goal of the war was to preserve the union, not to end slavery, but the idea that it wasn't about slavery is nonsense. Here are sources to back us up- all of them make it awfully clear that the number one issue on the minds of the seceding states was slavery. The issue of abolition in 1861 was sort of like gay marriage is in 2010 - the President said he wasn't planning to do anything about the issue, but people who were against it didn't believe him and could see the writing on the wall.

Can you tell which soldier is fighting for slavery and which is fighting for "state's rights" or something like that? Get ready to duck; no matter what your answer is, SOME historian is probably going to throw a folding chair at you.


The grave of Stephen Dougas

Douglas was one of Lincoln's rivals. At his monument, you can walk right into the burial chamber. They have brochures set up on his sarcophogus. Get your act together, and maybe someday there'll be brochures on YOUR coffin, too!

Lincoln's funeral train in New York.

One of the kids in the window is either a young Theodore Roosevelt or someone who snuck into Roosevelt's house (the kind of thing no one would have dared to do if they knew he'd grow up to be the kind of guy who made speechs right after being shot in the chest).


Everyone has heard the stories of young Lincoln sitting by the fire, doing sums in his "sums book." But what was he writing in it, really? He did, in fact, do math problems in it, but he also wrote the following:

Abraham Lincoln is my name
and with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote it with both haste and speed
and left it here for fools to read!

See more on "writing in books" in The Smart Aleck's Guide to Naughty Playground Songs.


People who say the war wasn't about slavery often claim that General Grant said that if it WAS, he would have fought for the confederacy instead. This quote started going around in the 1870s and is still turning up in books and blogs. But he didn't say it; it was a quote made up to make him look bad when he ran for President. Here's an article from the 1870s backing us up:

The Truth About Grant's "It Was Not About Slavery, or I Would Resign My Commission And Offer My Sword to the Other Side" Quote

ALL of the states that seceded and gave any reason WHY made it VERY clear that they were seceding because it was the only way to preserve slavery. Here's what the states themselves said:

Articles of Secession: Georgia

Articles of Secession: Mississippi

Article of Secession: South Carolina

Articles of Secession: Texas

Speech Given at the Alabama Secession Convention

The Bonnie Blue Flag - one of the confederacy's catchier anthems. The second line refers to either fighting for "our liberty" or "our property," depending on which version you have. Both versions are great fun for smart alecks; the author's lines about Maryland getting ready to leave the union show he wasn't much of a psychic, and he really has to stretch to find a few of his rhymes for "star."

Exactly what the famous confederate battle cry sounded like is in dispute - this film footage of a 1930s reunion of veterans may be the only recording of it. However, this doesn't match up with with descriptions of the yell made during the war itself. Most likely, there were several different versions of the yell, and this just was one of them:

(note: we embed the video rather than linking because youtube comments make us weep for humanity).

Works By Frederick Douglass
a better writer than anyone on staff will ever be

The Conch Republic
The RIGHT way to secede from the Union!

The Florida Keys seceded in the early 1980s over a government roadblock that was cutting off their income by blocking tourists. They declared war on the U.S., then immediately surrendered and asked for financial aid. Today, many Keys residents consider themselves dual citizens of the U.S. and the Conch Republic, and have made millions off of "Conch Republic" souveniers.

"What's so civil about war,
anyway?" - Axl Rose,
historian, political philosopher.

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