Six Questions about the Civil War

Of course, one could ask far more than six questions about this conflict that ravaged our country and took the lives of so many men and boys, as well as some women.

Our series Six Questions of American History tackles iconic events in American history and uses the journalistic six questions—who, what, when, where, why, and how—to explore them. Two titles in the series have Civil War themes (and get ready for some of the longest titles ever!).

How Did Slaves Find a Route to Freedom? And Other Questions about the Underground Railroad discusses the many people, including feisty, brave Harriet Tubman, who helped runaway slaves find freedom in the north or in Canada before and during the war. The cover photo shows both the fear and the courage that motivated African Americans to make such a perilous, uncertain journey.

When Were the First Slaves Set Free during the Civil War? And Other Questions about the Emancipation Proclamation clears up some misconceptions about Abraham Lincoln’s motives and timing in issuing the proclamation that freed the slaves. The front cover image shows slaves learning of the proclamation for the first time—an event that has since come to be celebrated across the land as Juneteenth.

Another aspect of the war that is often underrepresented is the role of women from both sides of the conflict. Those Courageous Women of the Civil War examines the activities of color bearers, battlefield cooks, abolitionists, writers, nurses, and spies. Several hundred women disguised themselves as men so they could become soldiers, and these female soldiers participated alongside their male counterparts in many of the war’s most important battles.

Medicine attracted a large number of women of the time. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, Dorothea Dix, Mary Bickerdyke, Clara Barton, and Dr. Mary Walker all helped to set up or run medical facilities or served under battlefield conditions. After the war, Barton went on to locate the remains of many missing soldiers and to found the American branch of the Red Cross.

And the memoirs—such as those of Mary Chestnut, whose commentary enlivened Ken Burns’s civil war documentary—give real-time impressions that even now move us. It’s no wonder that the Civil War continues to fascinate, sadden, and inspire us 150 years after the first shots were fired.