Even having spent two-thirds of my life in the South, I still never bought into the idea of “The War of Northern Aggression.” Despite the number of teachers and Daughters of the Confederacy who tried to convince me otherwise, it was a Southern Congressman who caned Charles Sumner in 1856; it was the Southern states who instigated rebellion against the United States government; and it was the Southern militia who fired the first shots of the war. That, folks, is Southern aggression.
Having said that, it’s equally inaccurate to call it the Civil War. Beyond the oxymoron (Yeah, yeah, “war isn’t civil,” blah blah blah), a civil war is a war between two factions of one nation. The war that occurred between 1861 and 1865 was between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America — two separate countries.
By that logic, the War Between the States doesn’t work either. It was a war between two separate and distinct national governments: some would argue that the individual states played a large part in the Confederacy, but the Union’s states were all still subservient to the Union. Virginia wasn’t fighting against Pennsylvania; it was fighting against the U.S.
And we’re not even gonna start on the endless “War to End Slavery” debate.
My suggestion: The War to Save the Union.
That’s what Abraham Lincoln and his supporters (and the Northern press) called it, at least initially. And it was, in fact, the original intention of the United States. Moreover, the South can take some comfort in what it tacitly implies: that the Unity of north and south was necessary for the survival of both. In other words, the North was acknowledging that it could not survive without the South.
It’s a term with historical precedence, it describes the aim of the victors and the outcome of the war. And it doesn’t force stubborn Southerners to acknowledge that they started it.