Tag: War of Northern Aggression

When, Where, and What Did You Learn in History Class?


In “Conservatives can’t win the history wars,” Matt Yglesias claims that when his wife was a kid in Texas she learned about “the war of Northern Aggression.” Yglesias was born in 1981, so I will assume his wife is the same age and attended Texas public schools from roughly 1986-1998. I find it hard to believe that, even in Texas, students learned the “lost cause” version of the Civil War.

I grew up in Florida in the 70s and 80s. Maybe not the deep South, but definitely not a progressive utopia. I learned about the evils of slavery, the rapaciousness and violence of Southern slaveowners, the broken promises of Reconstruction, and the brutal unfairness of the Jim Crow era. Martin Luther King, Jr. was presented as a national hero equal to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, a liberator who forced a recalcitrant country to finally reckon with our national sins. I did hear the phrase “War of Northern Aggression” from teachers, but tongue-in-cheek, an absurd aside to point out how backward and delusional “some people” used to be in the South.

A Zeal for Glory


Tom was young when the war broke out, too young to legally enlist. He lied about his age and enlisted as a private soldier anyway. He spent the first years of the war as a private, and then mustered out after three years as a corporal. By that time, Tom was old enough to join the army legally.

His eldest brother had gone to the United States Military Academy at West Point and managed to graduate just as the war was heating up and get a commission as an officer. The eldest brother had done fairly well for himself, well enough and with enough promotions that he could have an aide-de-camp. Tom was commissioned a second lieutenant and became one of his brother’s aides. By this time, it was 1864. Lincoln had finally gotten a general who fights, and some of the hardest fighting of the war was still before them.