Two of my great-grandfathers were wounded while fighting in Pennsylvania infantry regiments at Antietam. I am self-interestedly pleased that they survived, but I do not automatically assume that they or Northerners in general were fighting to end slavery. For one thing, there is ample evidence from Union soldiers’ letters and diaries that many of them had no use for the abolition movement. For another, there is the fact that Congress – minus the votes of absent Southern members – did nothing to alter the legal status of slavery in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware during the war.
Conversely, there is nothing incredible about the proposition that many Confederates were motivated mainly by a desire to defend their home states and to defend the right to secede – a course not forbidden to states by the Constitution, and presumably protected by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments until the 1869 Supreme Court split decision in Texas v. White 74 U.S. 700. There were mixed motives and racism on both sides, and promoting historical understanding of context, as professor emeritus James McPherson suggests (Life of the Mind, Dec. 6), is a more constructive approach than orchestrating frenzies of statuary exorcism.