I‘m behind in my APUS History classes which has forced me to move quickly through the Civil War. You can imagine how frustrating that is given my interests. Regardless, I am very particular about the language I use to describe the past and I expect my students to be attentive to such matters as well. It matters how we refer or describe individuals and events, especially when discussing our Civil War. I’ve already mentioned my preference for consistently referring to the United States rather than the Union or the North.
In my discussions today I noticed a couple of students looking at me funny whenever I referred to a Confederate invasion of the United States. Of course, I was referring specifically to the Maryland Campaign of 1862 and Gettysburg Campaign the following summer. [We could also throw in Jubal Early’s little foray in 1864 in as well.] I inquired into their strange stares and one of the students admitted that he was not used to thinking of the Confederate army as an invading army. Not surprisingly, this same student had no difficulty coming to terms with an invasion of the South or Confederacy. A few students embraced Lincoln’s fairly consistent belief that the southern states were in rebellion and therefore still a part of the nation, but they had no qualms with the idea of an invasion.
I guess this has everything to do with the assumption that the Confederacy was simply fighting a defensive war. But it also goes to some of our more cherished beliefs that draw a sharp distinction between Confederate and United States armies. For the latter, we immediately think of Grant and Sherman, who did, in fact, engage in aggressive offensives throughout the war. On the other hand, we do have difficulty acknowledging the same aggressive tendencies in Confederate commanders. We would rather remember them as leading a gallant defensive effort against overwhelming resources rather than as engaged in a war that would hopefully lead to independence for all slave holding states. Invasions are carried out by generals like Grant and Sherman, not by Lee and Jackson. I suspect that my students are dealing with this baggage. If I had more time or if that comment had come in my elective course on the Civil War I could have utilized any number of primary and secondary sources that shed light on this subject.