Tuesday, April 30

The Debunker: Was the Civil War Fought Over States' Rights?

by Ken Jennings

Even though the Civil War hasn’t receded all that far into the past—the Associated Press reported last month that two children-of-Civil-War-vets are still alive and well and receiving government veterans’ benefits!—we may not remember very much about it. This month, Ken “Burns” Jennings will reveal that a lot of what you think you know about the Civil War is a bunch of Bull Run.

Civil War Myth #4: The War Wasn’t Really About Slavery.

A 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War produced this shocking finding: only 38% of respondents said they believed that slavery was the war’s main cause. Nearly half—48%—opined that “states’ rights” was the real issue, while a wishy-washy 9% blamed both equally. Even more remarkably, younger people were more likely to be slavery skeptics than older ones!

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Thursday, April 25

The Debunker: Did the Emancipation Proclamation End Slavery?

by Ken Jennings

Even though the Civil War hasn’t receded all that far into the past—the Associated Press reported last month that two children-of-Civil-War-vets are still alive and well and receiving government veterans’ benefits!—we may not remember very much about it. This month, Ken “Burns” Jennings will reveal that a lot of what you think you know about the Civil War is a bunch of Bull Run.

Civil War Myth #3: The Emancipation Proclamation Freed the Slaves.

Say what you will about the recent work of Steven Spielberg, at least it’s helped to shoot down a lot of historical myths about Abraham Lincoln. For example, most Americans dimly remembering their tenth-grade history class probably assume that slavery in the Republic was ended by the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. But as the movie Lincoln makes clear, abolition didn’t actually happen for almost three more years, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December 1865.

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Tuesday, April 09

The Debunker: Did the Monitor Fight the Merrimack?

by Ken Jennings

Even though the Civil War hasn’t receded all that far into the past—the Associated Press reported last month that two children-of-Civil-War-vets are still alive and well and receiving government veterans’ benefits!—we may not remember very much about it. This month, Ken “Burns” Jennings will reveal that a lot of what you think you know about the Civil War is a bunch of Bull Run.

Civil War Myth #2: The Ironclad Warships Monitor and Merrimack Faced Off in 1862.

Perhaps the most important naval engagement of the Civil War was fought on March 9, 1862, off Hampton Roads, Virginia. But the Battle of Hampton Roads is rarely known by its proper geographic name, since schools tend to teach it as “the battle of the Monitor and Merrimack.” These two ironclad ships fired on each other at close range for over three hours, but neither was able to sink (or even do much damage to) the other. The repercussions of the game-changing battle were felt as far away as Europe, where naval powers like Britain and France immediately abandoned the construction of wooden-hulled ships in favor of the ironclad warships that still plow the seas today.

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Wednesday, April 03

The Debunker: When Were the First Shots of the Civil War Fired?

by Ken Jennings

The month of April is inseparably connected with the American Civil War. The traditional bookends for the war—the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861, and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865—both took place in early April. But even though the Civil War hasn’t receded all that far into the past—the Associated Press reported last month that two children-of-Civil-War-vets are still alive and well and receiving government veterans’ benefits!—we may not remember very much about it. This month, Ken “Burns” Jennings will reveal that a lot of what you think you know about the Civil War is a bunch of Bull Run.

Civil War Myth #1: The First Shots of the War Were Fired at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Since the north never recognized the Confederacy as a foreign government, but only as a “belligerent foreign power,” there was no formal declaration of war in 1861. As a result, historians tend to date the beginning of hostilities to April 12, 1861, when Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard ordered his batteries in Charleston harbor to fire on the besieged Union garrison of Fort Sumter. The fort surrendered before any casualties resulted, but the exchange led to a massive military build-up in the north and more secessions from the south. The war had clearly begun.

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