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Historian tackles the big question Edward L. Author of 'What Caused the Civil War?'
Edward Ayers explores an age-old issue in his new book, "What Caused the Civil War? By Michael Aubrecht

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Date published: 1/28/2006

WHAT CAUSED THE CIVIL WAR? REFLECTIONS ON THE SOUTH AND SOUTHERN HISTORY, by Edward L. Ayers. W. W. Norton & Co. 222 pages. $16.47.

ON APRIL 9, 1865, after five long years of fighting, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the control of his Confederate forces to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Nine days later, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston also turned over his army to Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham, N.C. By the end of May, all of the remaining Southern forces laid down their arms, bringing to conclusion one of the worst trials in American history and reuniting a country that had been divided in a bloody Civil War.

As a battered and broken nation began the long march toward reconstruction and reconciliation, countless families in the North and South grieved for more than 620,000 men who had sacrificed their lives in the name of their country.

Although these events took place more than 140 years ago, the debate over the cause of such a tragedy still rages to this day. Historians, preservationists, civil rights organizations and re-enactors from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line have argued vehemently for decades over topics such as slavery, secession, states' rights and forced government. It is, at times, as if the war had never ended; many of these issues have become "hot button" topics in today's litigious society.

One can hardly open a newspaper without reading about the political incorrectness of displaying the Confederate battle flag or the enduring disagreement over heritage versus hate. Across the country, information-technology departments scramble to increase the hard-drive capacities of their servers as they strain under the volume of letters to the editor that arrive every day in support, or protest, of the "right to remember."

From small high school classrooms to mammoth college lecture halls, teachers preach a lesson plan that could have any number of titles, depending upon their location. Some simply teach an impartial history of the Civil War, while others choose to present a more biased version, referring to the time period as "The War Between the States" or "The War of Northern Aggression."


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