The Civil War – A Lecture (Part One)

Or, How To Effectively Torture People With Banjos

On July 29th, I gave my first historical lecture, on the Civil War. Seven people came, only two of them were related to me, and no one attempted to strangle me when I started playing 150-year-old banjo music… so I counted it as a roaring success. For those of you who were not among the seven attendees, the posts that follow will contain the lecture’s transcript. For today… Part 1!



Hi, guys, and thank you so much for coming to this lecture. I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy it – and if you don’t, you better fake it.

Anyway, I’m here today to talk about a very important topic. An event that literally changed America forever. That’s right. I’m here to talk about the publishing of Twilight.

Seriously, though, I’m here to talk about the bloodiest war in American history – the war that created and destroyed our country. I’m here to talk about the Civil War.

In order to set the mood, I’ve prepared a little montage of pictures set to music. Apart from the last three, they’re all photos that were taken during the war. Oh – and if the music makes you wince… remember that this was hot stuff back in the 1860s. This was the Adele and Carly Rae Jepsen of the Civil War.

As you can see from the photos, many of the soldiers who fought in the war were very young. Their average age was 28, and they legally had to be eighteen or over to join the army, but all too often, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds would lie their way into the ranks: running away from home, Civil War style.

And it had tragic consequences. By 1865, America had lost – in Rhett Butler’s words – the flower of its land. An entire generation had either been killed off or turned bitter by the horrors of war. The smell of blood and the screams of dying haunted Americans for decades – and, indeed, still haunt us today.

So how did the war begin? Where did it begin? The answer lies not on the plains of Manassas or the coastline of South Carolina, but in Washington DC, in the year 1820 – with the Compromise that Ripped Us Apart.

As of 1820, there were 22 states in America: eleven free, and eleven slave. But the Missouri Territory – a strongly pro-slavery area, settled by many Southerners (including a Mr. and Mrs. Clemens) – applied for statehood, and America’s delicate political balance came under the knife. If Missouri was added as the twenty-third state, there would be eleven free states and twelve slave states, thus tipping the balance of power in favor of the slave states. If Missouri was admitted to the Union as a free state, then the Missourians wouldn’t be happy, and neither would the South. And if Missouri was denied admission… well, America would still have a whole lot of furious Missourians on their hands.

Thus, the Missouri Compromise was born. Under the compromise, Missouri would be admitted as a slave state, the Maine Territory would be admitted as a free state… and a line – the 36’30 line – would be drawn across the US. Every territory north of this line would be free, and every territory south of it would be slave.

So, for twenty-five years after the Missouri Compromise, there existed a precarious peace between the North and the South. Then Texas came along, and everything started to crumble.

Texas, up until this time, had been part of Mexico – but it was mostly populated by Americans. This was because Mexico, afraid that very few people were actually moving to Texas, started begging Americans to populate the area. Many Americans, delighted at the prospect of cheap land, agreed. There was only one tiny catch: Americans kinda tend to like America more than Mexico. Resultantly, Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836 and became its own country. In 1846, under pressure from Texans and Southerners, the Federal government approved the addition of Texas to the Union as a state.

So far, so good. Except that Mexico was a little miffed about America taking Texas. And when countries are miffed, they start wars. So Mexico and America duked it out in the Mexican-American War, from 1846-1848. Despite Mexico’s strong military, America emerged the victor – and the owner of a whole bunch of new territories. Including the one we’re currently standing in – California.

More territories meant, unfortunately, addressing the slavery question. So in 1850, Congress popped out the creatively named Compromise of 1850. According to this compromise, California would join as a free state, and Utah and New Mexico – the other Mexican territories – had to hold a vote to decide if they’d be free or slave.




4 thoughts on “The Civil War – A Lecture (Part One)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *