Quotes / The American Civil War

Real Life:

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln: Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool.note  A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

"I can't spare the man - He fights!"
Abraham Lincoln on Ulysses S. Grant. 1862.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. November 19, 1863

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two-hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. March 4, 1865.


"Loudest are the yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes."
Samuel Johnson, at the time of the American Revolution

"Mark me, Franklin. If we give in on this issue, there will be trouble one hundred years hence. Posterity will never forgive us."
John Adams to Benjamin Franklin, on Congress deleting the anti-slavery paragraph from the Declaration of Independence. 1776 - 85 years before the Civil War

"I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper."
Thomas Jefferson on the Missouri Compromise that divided the country between the slave banning north and slave allowing south. 1820 - 41 years before the Civil War.

"Resolved, That all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers, relating in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery, or the abolition of slavery, shall, without being either printed or referred, be laid upon the table, and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon."
Congressional resolution forbidding the topic of abolishing slavery from being brought up. 1830 - 31 years before the Civil War.

"... the Tariff was only the pretext, and Disunion and a Southern Confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the Negro or Slavery question."
Andrew Jackson after the Nullification Crises, where South Carolina declared its right to nullify federal law and secede if its demands were not met. 1833 -28 years before the Civil War.

"If you men are taken in rebellion against the Union, I will hang you with less reluctance than I hanged deserters and spies in Mexico."
Zachary Taylor in response to Secessionist threatening rebellion if California was admitted as a Free State.

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.
John Brown, at his trial. 1 year before the Civil War


Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas....I protest....against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.
Sam Houston, Governor of Texas, March 16, 1861, upon being removed from office for refusing to swear allegiance to the Confederacy.

After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.
Sam Houston, explaining his refusal above, April 19, 1861

"Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth."
Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861.

"It is well that war is so terrible, or else we would grow too fond of it."
General Robert E. Lee


"No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works."
General Ulysses S. Grant, earning his nickname "Unconditional Surrender" Grant. Battle of Fort Donelson. February 16, 1862

"The hoarse and indistinguishable orders of commanding officers, the screaming and bursting of shells, canister and shrapnel as they tore through the struggling masses of humanity, the death screams of wounded animals, the groans of their human companions, wounded and dying and trampled underfoot by hurrying batteries, riderless horses and the moving lines of battle-a perfect Hell on earth, never, perhaps to be equaled, certainly not to be surpassed, nor ever to be forgotten in a man's lifetime. It has never been effaced from my memory, day or night, for fifty years."
Union Private William Archibald Waugh. Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.

"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.”
General William T. Sherman, shortly before burning the city of Atlanta. September 12, 1864.

"You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it...Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail."
Sherman again.

"I had known General Lee in the old army, and had served with him in the Mexican War; but did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me, while I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the chief of staff of General Scott in the Mexican War ... When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview. What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse."
Ulysses S. Grant, reflecting on Lee's Surrender.


Why is the authentic culture...that of the masters and not of the slaves?...There are plenty of people today who claim to be advocate for or aficionados of "Southern heritage" - but who choose to define that heritage as a celebration of the Confederacy and the antebellum South. But doesn't Southern heritage also belong to those who fought, resisted, and endured slavery, and who created wonderful music, food, and literature in spite of slavery? Why celebrate the former and not the latter?

They [Neo-Confederates] will continue to revere Robert E. Lee as the greatest general of the Civil War—perhaps the greatest general in American history. But they probably will not appreciate Lee’s role in the greatest irony of the Civil War—one that goes a long way toward explaining the evolution of Union military policy into Mark Grimsley’s "hard war". When Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862, the Confederacy was on the verge of defeat. Union conquests in the West had brought more than 50,000 square miles of Confederate territory under Northern control and had caused profound discouragement in the South. General George B. McClellan’s large Army of the Potomac had approached to within six miles of Richmond. The Confederate government had packed its archives and treasury on trains to evacuate the capital. If the war had brought an end to the Confederacy in the summer of 1862, slavery and the antebellum Southern social order would have remained largely intact and the Southern infrastructure relatively undamaged. But Lee’s counteroffensive in the Seven Days battles and other major victories during the next year ensured a prolongation of the war, opening the way to the emergence of Grant and Sherman to top Union commands, the abolition of slavery, the “directed severity” of Union policy in 1864–65, and the Götterdämmerung of the Old South. Here was the irony of Robert E. Lee: His success produced the destruction of everything he fought for.
James McPherson, The Mighty Scourge

It should always be remembered that America did not "go to war" in 1860. America was attacked in 1860 by a formidable rebel faction seeking to protect the expansion of slavery. That faction did not simply want slavery to continue in America; they dreamed of a tropical empire of slavery encompassing Cuba, Nicaragua, and perhaps the whole of South America. This faction was not only explicitly pro-slavery but explicitly anti-democratic. The newly declared Confederacy attacked America not because it was being persecuted, but because it was unable to win a democratic election.

Folk Songs

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence in the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
Glory, glory...
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal";
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory, glory...
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Glory, glory...
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory, glory...
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory, glory...
Julia Ward Howe, "The Battle-Hymn of the Republic", published in The Atlantic Monthly of February 1862.

We are coming, Father Abra'am, 300,000 more,
From Mississippi's winding stream and from New England's shore.
We leave our plows and workshops, our wives and children dear,
With hearts too full for utterance, with but a silent tear.
We dare not look behind us but steadfastly before.
We are coming, Father Abra'am, 300,000 more!
We are coming, coming, our Union to restore,
We are coming, Father Abra'am, with 300,000 more!

If you look across the hilltops that meet the northern sky,
Long moving lines of rising dust your vision may descry;
And now the wind, an instant, tears the cloudy veil aside,
And floats aloft our spangled flag in glory and in pride;
And bayonets in the sunlight gleam, and bands brave music pour,
We are coming, father Abr'am, three hundred thousand more!
We are coming, coming, our Union to restore,
We are coming, Father Abra'am, with 300,000 more!

If you look up all our valleys where the growing harvests shine,
You may see our sturdy farmer boys fast forming into line;
And children from their mother's knees are pulling at the weeds,
And learning how to reap and sow against their country's needs;
And a farewell group stands weeping at every cottage door,
We are coming, Father Abr'am, three hundred thousand more!
We are coming, coming, our Union to restore,
We are coming, Father Abra'am, with 300,000 more!

You have called us, and we're coming by Richmond's bloody tide,
To lay us down for freedom's sake, our brothers' bones beside;
Or from foul treason's savage group, to wrench the murderous blade;
And in the face of foreign foes its fragments to parade.
Six hundred thousand loyal men and true have gone before,
We are coming, Father Abra'am, 300,000 more!

We are coming, coming, our Union to restore,
We are coming, Father Abra'am, with 300,000 more!
-"We are Coming, Father Abra'am". A Northern patriotic song byJames S. Gibbons, originally published in the New York Evening Post.


Follows next, a period spannin'
Four long years with James Buchanan
Then the South starts shootin' cannons
And we've got a civil war!
A war, a war down south in Dixie!

"Yankees! In Georgia! How'd they ever get in?"
Aunt Pittypat, Gone with the Wind

Cordelia: You're in charge now. And you've got a long road ahead. Slavery has ended, but reconstruction has just begun.
Groo: What is this "reconstruction?"
Cordelia: Gunn, you wanna field this?
Gunn (only black guy): It means: sayin' people are free, don't make 'em free. You've got races that hate each other. You got some folks getting work they don't want, others losing the little they had. You're looking at social confusion, economic depression and probably some riots. Good luck.
Angel, "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb"

Charles Hamilton: Are you hinting, Mr. Butler, that the Yankees can lick us?
Rhett Butler: No, I'm not hinting. I'm saying very plainly that the Yankees are better equipped than we. They've got factories, shipyards, coal mines, and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death. All we've got is cotton, and slaves, and... (glances around) arrogance.

James Longstreet: We should have freed the slaves, then fired on Fort Sumter!

Sergeant Clark: Lee's surrender was not the end of the South, it was the birth of the United States.
Run of the Arrow (1957), directed by Samuel Fuller