On the Civil War’s Causes

On the Civil War’s Causes

In the seven years we’ve been in print, the Journal of the Civil War Era has published a number of essays focused on Civil War causation. I turn to a number of these when I teach the Civil War and I have actually advised others—people I’ve met on the sidelines of soccer fields, when walking the dog in my neighborhood, or chatting with a parent at back-to-school night—to take a look for themselves. Indeed, in our second issue published in June 2011, we published Frank Towers’ “Partisans, New History, and Modernization: The Historiography of the Civil War’s Causes, 1861-2011.”

In the essay, Towers identifies the origins of the debate about what caused the Civil War in the war generation of partisans—people like Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis, on the one side, and William Seward, among others, on the other side—men who, according to Towers, were motivated by their “obsession with the protagonists’ questions of who was to blame for dissolving the Union and why.”[1] These men were followed by generations of professionally trained historians who returned to the question of what caused the Civil War, each time with new sources and methods at their disposal and moved by a willingness to follow the evidence where it took them.

Today is a great day to go back and read Towers’ essay—or to recommend it to someone else. And, perhaps you’d like to recommend something else, from the pages of JCWE or elsewhere? Our back issues are available through ProjectMuse and are part of the benefits of membership in the Society of Civil War Historians.

[1] Frank Towers, “Partisans, New History, and Modernization: The Historiography of the Civil War’s Causes, 1861-2011,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 2 (June 2011): 240.

Judy Giesberg

Judith Giesberg is professor of history at Villanova University and author, most recently, of Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making of American Morality (UNC, 2017).

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