Names of the American Civil War
The American Civil War has been known by a number of names since it began in 1861. These names reflect the historical, political, and cultural sensitivities and agendas of different groups and regions.
The most common name in modern American usage is simply "The Civil War". Although used rarely during the war, the term "War Between the States" became widespread afterward in the Southern United States. During and immediately after the war, historians often used the term "War of the Rebellion" or "Great Rebellion", while the Confederate term was "War for Southern Independence". The latter regained some currency in the late 20th century, but has again fallen out of use. Also shortly after the war, the term "War of Northern Aggression" developed under the Lost Cause of the Confederacy movement by Southern history revisionists, with attempts to negatively re-imagine the American Civil War narrative and preserve Confederate legacy. "Freedom War" is used to celebrate the effect the war had on ending slavery. In several European languages, the war is called "War of Secession". In most East Asian languages, the war is called "Battle between North and South side of the United States" or more commonly as "American (U.S.) North–South War", depending on the individual language.
A variety of names also exist for the forces on each side; the opposing forces named battles differently as well. The Union forces frequently named battles for bodies of water that were prominent on or near the battlefield; Confederates most often used the name of the nearest town. As a result, many battles have two or more names that have had varying use, although with some notable exceptions, one has tended to take precedence over time.
- 1 Enduring names
- 2 Other historical terms
- 3 Naming the battles and armies
- 4 Notes
- 5 Further reading
- 6 External links
In the United States, "Civil War" is the most common term for the conflict; it has been used by the overwhelming majority of reference books, scholarly journals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, popular histories, and mass media in the United States since the early 20th century. The National Park Service, the government organization entrusted by the United States Congress to preserve the battlefields of the war, uses this term. Writings of prominent men such as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, P.G.T. Beauregard, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Judah P. Benjamin used the term "Civil War" during the conflict. Abraham Lincoln used it on multiple occasions. In 1862, the United States Supreme Court used the terms "the present civil war between the United States and the so called Confederate States", as well as "the civil war such as that now waged between the Northern and Southern States".
English-speaking historians outside the United States usually refer to the conflict as the "American Civil War". These variations are also used in the United States in cases in which the war might otherwise be confused with another historical event (such as the English Civil War, the Irish Civil War or the Spanish Civil War).
War Between the States
The term "War Between the States" was rarely used during the war but became prevalent afterward among proponents of the "Lost Cause" interpretation of the war.
The Confederate government avoided the term "civil war", because it assumes both combatants to be part of a single country, and referred in official documents to the "War between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America". There are a handful of known references during the war to "the War between the States". European diplomacy produced a similar formula for avoiding the phrase "civil war". Queen Victoria's proclamation of British neutrality referred to "hostilities ... between the Government of the United States of America and certain States styling themselves the Confederate States of America".
After the war, the memoirs of former Confederate officials and veterans (Joseph E. Johnston, Raphael Semmes, and especially Alexander Stephens) commonly used the term "War Between the States". In 1898, the United Confederate Veterans formally endorsed the name. In the early 20th Century, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) led a campaign to promote the term "War Between the States" in the media and in public schools. UDC efforts to convince the United States Congress to adopt the term, beginning in 1913, were unsuccessful. Congress has never adopted an official name for the war. The name "War Between the States" is inscribed on the USMC War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. This name was personally ordered by Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., the 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the Civil War as "the four-year War Between the States". References to the "War Between the States" appear occasionally in federal and state court documents, including in Justice Harry Blackmun's landmark opinion in Roe v. Wade. Blackmun's usage demonstrates the generality of the term's use--the Justice was born in southern Illinois but grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The names "Civil War" and "War Between the States" have been used jointly in some formal contexts. For example, to mark the war's centenary in the 1960s, the State of Georgia created the "Georgia Civil War Centennial Commission Commemorating the War Between the States". In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service issued a series of commemorative stamps entitled "The Civil War/The War Between the States".
Other historical terms
War of the Rebellion
During and immediately after the war, U.S. officials, Southern Unionists, and pro-Union writers often referred to Confederates as "Rebels". The earliest histories published in northern U.S. states commonly refer to the American Civil War as "the Great Rebellion" or "the War of the Rebellion", as do many war monuments. Hence the nickname Johnny Reb (and Billy Yank) for the participants.
The official war records of the United States refer to this war as the War of the Rebellion. The records were compiled by the U.S. War Department in a 127-volume collection under the title The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published from 1881 to 1901. Historians commonly refer to the collection as the Official Records.
War of Separation/Secession
"War of Separation" was occasionally used by people in the Confederacy during the war. In most Romance languages, the words used to refer to the war translate literally to "War of Secession" (e.g. Guerre de Sécession in French, Guerra di secessione in Italian, Guerra de Secesión in Spanish, Guerra de Secessão in Portuguese, Războiul de Secesiune in Romanian). This name is also used in Central and Eastern Europe, e.g. Sezessionskrieg is commonly used in Germany, Wojna secesyjna is exclusively used in Poland and Setsessioonisõda is used in Estonia (all literally translate as "war of secession").
War for Southern Independence
"War for Southern Independence" is a name used by some Southerners in reference to the war. While popular on the Confederate side during the war, the term's popularity fell in the immediate aftermath of the Confederacy's defeat and failure to gain independence. The term resurfaced slightly in the late 20th century. This terminology aims to parallel usage of the term "American War for Independence". A popular poem published in the early stages of hostilities was "South Carolina". Its prologue referred to the war as the "Third War for Independence" (it named the War of 1812 as the second such war). On November 8, 1860, the Charleston Mercury, a contemporary southern newspaper, stated that "The tea has been thrown overboard. The Revolution of 1860 has been initiated."
War for the Union
Some Southern Unionists and northerners used "The War for the Union", the title of a December 1861 lecture by the abolitionist leader Wendell Phillips.
Ordeal of the Union a major eight-volume history published 1947-1971 by historian and journalist (Joseph) Allan Nevins emphasizes the Union in the first volume title, which also came to name the series. Because Nevins earned Bancroft, Scribner, and National Book Award prizes for books in his Ordeal of the Union series, his title may have been influential. However, V.4 is titled Prologue to Civil War, 1859-1861, and the following four volumes use "War" in their titles. Volume 6, War Becomes Revolution, 1862–1863, picks up on that earlier thread in naming the conflict; but Nevins does not view Southern secession as revolutionary nor would he support Southern apologist attempts to link the war with the American Revolution of 1775-83. If anything, his choice of the term in regard to the Civil War has more to do with the Industrial Revolution and its profound effects.
Second American Revolution
In the 1920s historian Charles A. Beard used the term "Second American Revolution" to emphasize the changes brought on by the Union's victory. This term is still used by the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, though with the intent to demonstrate the depth of the Confederacy's cause in a positive light.
War of Northern/Yankee Aggression
The name “War of Northern Aggression” has been used to indicate the Union side as the belligerent party in the war. Though sometimes used only jokingly today, the name arose in the 1950s during the Jim Crow era, when it was coined by segregationists who tried to equate contemporary efforts to end segregation with 19th century efforts to abolish slavery. This name has been criticized by historians such as James M. McPherson, as the Confederacy “took the initiative by seceding in defiance of an election of a president by a constitutional majority”, and as "the Confederacy started the war by firing on the American flag".
Given that in the free states non-Yankee groups – Germans, Dutch-Americans, New York Irish and southern-leaning settlers in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois – showed majority opposition to waging the Civil War, other Confederate symphathizers have used the name “War of Yankee Aggression” or “Great War of Yankee Aggression” to indicate the Civil War as a Yankee war, not a Northern war per se.
War of Southern Aggression
Conversely, the “War of Southern Aggression” has been used by those who maintain that the Confederacy was the belligerent party. They maintain the thought that the Confederacy started the war when they initiated combat at Fort Sumter.
Other names for the conflict include "The Confederate War", "Mr. Lincoln's War", and "Mr. Davis's War". In 1892, a D.C. society of war-era nurses took on the name National Association of Army Nurses of the Late War. More euphemistic terms are "The Late Unpleasantness", or "The Recent Unpleasantness". Other postwar names in the South included "The War of the Sections" and "The Brothers' War", these especially in the border states.
Naming the battles and armies
|Civil War battle names|
|Date||Southern name||Northern name|
|July 21, 1861||First Manassas||First Bull Run|
|August 10, 1861||Oak Hills||Wilson's Creek|
|October 21, 1861||Leesburg||Ball's Bluff|
|January 19, 1862||Mill Springs||Logan's Cross Roads|
|March 7–8, 1862||Elkhorn Tavern||Pea Ridge|
|April 6–7, 1862||Shiloh||Pittsburg Landing|
|May 31 – June 1, 1862||Seven Pines||Fair Oaks|
|June 26, 1862||Mechanicsville||Battle of Beaver Dam Creek|
|June 27, 1862||Gaines's Mill||Chickahominy River|
|August 29–30, 1862||Second Manassas||Second Bull Run|
|September 1, 1862||Ox Hill||Chantilly|
|September 14, 1862||Boonsboro||South Mountain|
|September 14, 1862||Burkittsville||Crampton's Gap|
|September 17, 1862||Sharpsburg||Antietam|
|October 8, 1862||Perryville||Chaplin Hills|
|December 31, 1862 –
January 2, 1863
|February 20, 1864||Olustee||Ocean Pond|
|April 8, 1864||Mansfield||Sabine Cross Roads|
|September 19, 1864||Winchester||Opequon|
There is a disparity between the sides in naming some of the battles of the war. The Union forces frequently named battles for bodies of water or other natural features that were prominent on or near the battlefield; Confederates most often used the name of the nearest town or man-made landmark. Because of this, many battles actually have two widely used names. However, not all of the disparities are based on these naming conventions. Many modern accounts of Civil War battles use the names established by the North. However, for some battles, the Southern name has become the standard. The National Park Service occasionally uses the Southern names for their battlefield parks located in the South, such as Manassas and Shiloh. In general, naming conventions were determined by the victor of the battle. Examples of battles with dual names are shown in the table.
Civil War armies were also named in a manner reminiscent of the battlefields: Northern armies were frequently named for major rivers (Army of the Potomac, Army of the Tennessee, Army of the Mississippi), Southern armies for states or geographic regions (Army of Northern Virginia, Army of Tennessee, Army of Mississippi).
Units smaller than armies were named differently in many cases. Corps were usually written out (First Army Corps or more simply, First Corps), although a post-war convention developed to designate Union corps using Roman numerals (XI Corps). Often, particularly with Southern armies, corps were more commonly known by the name of the leader (e.g. Hardee's Corps, Polk's Corps).
Union brigades were given numeric designations (1st, 2nd, etc.), whereas Confederate brigades were frequently named after their commanding general (e.g. Hood's Brigade, Gordon's Brigade). Confederate brigades so named retained the name of the original commander even when commanded temporarily by another man; for example, at the Battle of Gettysburg, Hoke's Brigade was commanded by Isaac Avery and Nicholl's Brigade by Jesse Williams. Nicknames were common in both armies, such as the Iron Brigade and the Stonewall Brigade.
Union artillery batteries were generally named numerically and Confederate batteries by the name of the town or county in which they were recruited (e.g. Fluvanna Artillery). Again, they were often simply referred to by their commander's name (e.g. Moody's Battery, Parker's Battery).
- Political scientists use two criteria to define a civil war:
- The warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state, or to force a major change in policy.
- At least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.
- See titles listed in Oscar Handlin et al., Harvard Guide to American History (1954) pp 385-98.
- The Civil War
- http://www.historyofwar.org/sources/acw/lee_letters/chapter04f.html Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee, Chapter IV
- Proclamation, August 12, 1861.
- Message to the Senate, May 26, 1862
- Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.
- The Brig Amy Warwick, et al., 67 U.S. 635, *636, 673 (1862)
- Keegan, John, The American Civil War: A Military History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. ISBN 978-0-307-26343-8.
- Wolseley, Garnet, Viscount Wolseley. The American Civil War: An English View. Reprint, Revised. Edited by James A. Rawley. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1964. ISBN 978-0-8117-0093-1.
- Parish, Peter J. The American Civil War. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers Inc., U.S. (April 1975). ISBN 978-0-8419-0197-1.
- Jefferson Davis' Memorandum
- Michael Waldman, My Fellow Americans, p. 111; also, Disc 1 Track 19
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 139 (1973); see also, e.g., Dairyland Greyhound Park, Inc. v. Doyle, 719 N.W.2d 408, 449 (Wis., 2006), ("Prior to the War Between the States all but three states had barred lotteries.")
- See for example Henry S. Foote, War of the Rebellion; Or, Scylla and Charybdis, New York: Harper & Bros., 1866; Horace Greeley, The American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion in the United States of America, 1860–64, 2 vols., Hartford, Conn.: O.D. Case & Co., 1864, 1866; Henry Wilson, The History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 3 vols, Boston: J.R. Osgood & Co., 1872–1877.
-  – Cornell University – Accessed 2010-11-28
- Coulter, E. Merton. The Confederate States of America, 1861–1865, 1950, ISBN 978-0-807-10007-3 pp. 60–61.
- "Davis, Burke, The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts, New York: The Fairfax Press, 1982. ISBN 0-517-37151-0, pp. 79–80.
- War Songs and Poems of the Southern Confederacy 1861–1865, H. M. Wharton, compiler and editor, Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2000, ISBN 0-7858-1273-3, p. 69.
- The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns. Dir. Ken Burns, Narr. David McCullough, Writ. and prod. Ken Burns. PBS DVD Gold edition, Warner Home Video, 2002, ISBN 0-7806-3887-5.
- "Sons of Confederate Veterans". Sons of Confederate Veterans. Sons of Confederate Veterans.
- Benen, Steve (February 11, 2009). "War of Northern Aggression". The Washington Monthly. Retrieved November 18, 2009.
- Safire, William (2008). "euphemisms, political". Safire's Political Dictionary (5th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 223. ISBN 9780195340617.
A fine euphemistic difference is still drawn about this war. Northerners say Civil War, but many Southerners say War Between the States or a tongue-in-cheek War of Northern Aggression.
- Hall, Andy (June 21, 2011). "'The War of Northern Aggression' as Modern, Segregationist Revisionism". Dead Confederates: A Civil War Blog. WordPress. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
[R]outinely employed by Southern segregationists to draw parallels between the civil rights struggles of the mid-20th century and the conflict of a hundred years before, to enlist the memory of Confederate ancestors in opposition to federal court-mandated processes like the desegregation of public schools and integration of public facilities.
- Hall, Andy (June 27, 2011). ""War of Northern Aggression", Cont". Dead Confederates: A Civil War Blog. WordPress. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
[C]learly a modern term, one that first starts appearing in newspapers in the mid-1950s, often in conjunction with the Civil War Centennial or, more disturbingly, as part of the rhetoric wielded by segregationists against the federal courts.
- McPherson, James M. (January 19, 1989). "The War of Southern Aggression". The New York Review of Books. Archived from the original on March 17, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
[T]he South took the initiative by seceding in defiance of an election of a president by a constitutional majority. Never mind that the Confederacy started the war by firing on the American flag.
- Phillips, Kevin P.; The Emerging Republican Majority, pp. 28-29 ISBN 9780691163246
- Murray, Williamson and Wei-siang Hsieh, Wayne; A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War, pp. 10-11 ISBN 1400882907
- Political correction; Rep. Paul Broun Compares Health Care Reform To ‘The Great War Of Yankee Aggression’ “If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that’s in people’s pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States — the Great War of Yankee Aggression.”
- Lipset, Seymour; Party Coalitions in the 1980s, p. 211 ISBN 1412830494
- McPherson, James M. (April 18, 1996). Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War. Oxford University Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-19-511796-7.
- McAfee, Ward M. (December 30, 2004). Citizen Lincoln. Nova Science Pub Inc. p. 144. ISBN 978-1-59454-112-4.
Lincoln knew that by simply remaining calm and steady in the face of Confederate demands, hotheaded Confederates themselves would fire the first shots, making the conflict that followed a war of southern aggression. ... As Fort Sumter was reduced to rubble, the closing words of Lincoln's inaugural were recalled: 'In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors.'
- Walter John Raymond. Dictionary of Politics: Selected American and Foreign Political and Legal Terms, p. 14 (Brunswick Publishing Corp. 1992)
- "Civil War Women". CivilWarAcademy.com. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
- Scott, Kate M. (1910). In honor of the National Association of Civil War Army Nurses. the Citizens Executive Committee of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
- Richard Hopwood Thornton, American Dialect Society. An American glossary: being an attempt to illustrate certain Americanisms upon historical principles, Volume 1, p. 527 (Lippincott, 1912)
- Alex Leviton. Carolinas, Georgia and the South Trips, p. 117 (Lonely Planet 2009)
- Elaine Marie Alphin An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank, p. 23 (Carolrhoda Books 2010)
- Coulter, E. Merton. The Confederate States of America, 1861–1865, 1950, ISBN 978-0-807-10007-3 p. 61
- Daniel Harvey Hill, Lieutenant-General, C.S.A. (1887–1888). "The Battle of South Mountain, or Boonsboro'. Fighting for Time at Turner's and Fox's Gaps". In Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel. Battles & Leaders of the Civil War. New York: The Century Co. p. 559.
- Salmon, John S. (2001). The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8117-2868-3. Retrieved December 14, 2010.
- The Civil War, Geoffrey Ward, with Ric Burns and Ken Burns.1990. "Interview with Shelby Foote".
- Catton, Bruce, The Coming Fury: The Centennial History of the Civil War, Volume 1, Doubleday, 1961, ISBN 0-641-68525-4
- Coski, John M., "The War between the Names", North and South magazine, vol. 8, no. 7., January 2006.
- Musick, Michael P., "Civil War Records: A War by Any Other Name", Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, Summer 1995, Vol. 27, No. 2.
- U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.
- Wittichen, Mrs. Murray Forbes, "Let's Say 'War Between the States'", Florida Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1954.