The overwhelming majority of historians, scholars, and common American citizens recognize the term Civil War as referring to that war in America which took place between 1860-65, bringing hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides of the conflict and literally changing the face of America socially, culturally, and physically.
It was certainly anything but “civil” in the classic sense of decent, proper, courteous behavior. Fatalities on both sides totaled over 650,000 — that’s more than half a million Americans who died in direct combat or as a result of battles in or near their communities. Off hand, I have no exact figures for the many tens of thousands of people who were left injured and crippled for life. So this war was only “civil” in the sense that it took place among the citizens of the nation, rather than being a war fought in another country.
Yet from the very early days of the war and long after it ended, it has gone by many names. So for the sake of explanation, let me explain some of those other names — and explain why I am going to refer to this monumental tragedy uniformly as “the Civil War” in the articles on this website.
Most Commonly Used Names for the Civil War
Here are the most commonly used alternate names for the Civil War:
War Between the States: At least one source says this term, though rarely used during the conflict, became frequent in the South following the war. Many Confederate memoirs written after the war used this term, and in 1898 the United Confederate Veterans organization formally adopted this title for the conflict. In modern times, the term has gained support generally, with the U.S. Postal Service even issuing stamps in the early 1990s to commemorate “The Civil War/ The War Between the States.”
War of the Rebellion: Echoing the frequent Northern States references to Southern combatants as “rebels,” this title for the war was officially adopted by the U.S. military records. In fact, the U.S. War Department’s formal collection of writings and documents (running to 70 volumes) about the conflict are titled, “The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.” Alternately, many Northern State records shortly after the war refer to it as “the Great Rebellion” or “the War of the Rebellion.”
War of Secession: This term is used by some modern-day residents chiefly of the Southern States to refer to the conflict.
The War for Southern Independence: This became a very popular term in the South during the war, and fell into disuse after the war ended because of the South’s failure to win independence. It was somewhat revived in writings during the early 20th century. It often was used in the South to link their war efforts directly to the Revolutionary War, i.e., just as that was the War for American Independence, this conflict was a direct successor to that effort and sought to re-establish Southern independence.
War for the Union: As a contrast to The War for Southern Independence, some Northern abolitionists in particular used this term for the struggle.
The War of Northern Aggression: Obviously a term used in the South, this label sought to emphasize the invasive, aggressive nature of the North’s efforts to trample on Southern freedoms.
The War of the Insurrection: This became a derogatory label for the conflict used in the North to emphasize the South’s role in seeking to rebel against and destroy the union of the states into one nation.
Given all the strong emotions that still radiate from hearts and minds in both the northern and southern regions of the U.S., the term Civil War seems to be the least objectionable, acceptable term for this tragic war. If the term offends you or stirs negative feelings related to you personal passions about the conflict — you have my apologies in advance.
When all is settled, I will refer to this conflict almost exclusively as the Civil War in the articles on this website. Though, of course, narrating some particular incident or some specific character germaine to life in the Old West may call for exceptions to this rule!