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Medieval Scandinavia: War, Plague, and the Beginning of the Kalmar Union
For the eighth article in the series, Beñat Elortza Larrea discusses the ravages of famine, warfare and disease in fourteenth-century Scandinavia, culminating with the formation of the Kalmar Union in 1397.
The fourteenth century was a period of crisis and upheaval in Scandinavia and, indeed, the near-entirety of the European continent a rapid cooling of the climate and the severe effects of the Black Death caused a demographic disaster and a sharp economic downturn, which in turn gave way to societal uproar, revolts and wars. In the Nordic arena, the backdrop created by these structural crises contributed to diplomatic, martial and dynastic issues, as large-scale warfare and conquest among the Scandinavian realms became commonplace.
The societal and political developments of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries had been characterised by increasing inter-Scandinavian entanglement, from both a geopolitical and a dynastic perspective. From the 1280s onwards, large-scale wars had broken out the murder of Erik V of Denmark, for instance, caused a protracted conflict between the Danes and the Norwegians, who had given refuge to the alleged murderers. The fraternal wars in Sweden in the early fourteenth century, which pitched Birger Magnusson against his younger brothers Erik and Valdemar, were marked by considerable Danish and Norwegian intervention. Birger sought the support of Erik VI of Denmark, his brother in law, while Duke Erik Magnusson’s marriage with the daughter of Håkon Magnusson secured Norwegian support for the rebels.
Duke Erik, indeed, attempted to form his own central Scandinavian kingdom, which straddled Norwegian lands, western Sweden, and recent Norwegian conquests in Denmark the murder of the dukes at the hands of their brother Birger in 1318, however, rapidly dispelled such an eventuality. While briefly victorious, Birger’s act of fratricide was met by fierce opposition from the Swedish nobility, who deposed the king and placed Duke Erik’s infant son, Magnus Eriksson, on the throne since Håkon V Magnusson died without male heirs in Norway, both kingdoms entered into a personal union under young Magnus.
The results of these lengthy wars were even more dramatic in Denmark. Erik VI engaged in long wars against Norway, his rivals in the German principalities and in Sweden. Unable to pay the extensive bodies of mercenaries he employed, Erik mortgaged parts of Denmark as security, but since these campaigns were largely unfruitful, the Danish rulers were unable to pay their debts. Following the death of Erik’s brother and successor, Christoffer II, in 1332, the Danish realm ceased to exist, as different German debtors took over the territories they had been promised.
The German princes were initially well-received, as they promised not to implement unfair taxes, but this situation would not last long. Peasant revolts became increasingly common, and in 1340, a Danish force, led by the squire Niels Ebbesen, murdered one of the major German lords, Gerhard III of Holstein-Rendsburg. Although Niels and his supporters were soon defeated and killed, Christoffer’s son Valdemar saw his chance, and secured his election as Danish king the same year.
Map detailing the division of Denmark 1332-1340 – by Vesconte2 / Wikimedia Commons
In addition to increasing conflicts and instability, several centuries of population growth and a sharp climatological turn further exacerbated tensions. By the early 1300s, the population of Europe had been steadily rising for around three centuries, aided by warm winters, mild summers and plentiful harvests. Population growth, however, was largely reliant on extensive farming to this end, forests had been cleared to make way for settlements and more arable land. By the turn of the fourteenth century, however, this expansive agricultural system was in crisis, since in many areas farming communities had simply run out of land. Localised shortages became common, winter stores were depleted to avoid famine, and lower caloric intake made the general population more vulnerable to disease.
To make matters worse, this population crisis coincided with the opening stages of the Little Ice Age that affected Europe around between the early fourteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries the chief effect of the rapid cooling was the Great Famine, which affected northern Europe between 1315 and 1322. The Danish Annals of Essenbæk aptly highlight the hardships that the famine brought with it: in addition to starvation, disease outbreaks and revolts became commonplace, as farming communities struggled to navigate the ravages of warfare, famine and unforgiving taxation.
Magnus Eriksson’s minority was relatively uneventful, as aristocratic councils ruled in his stead following his coming of age in 1331, however, tensions between the young king and the aristocracy became commonplace. Magnus resided in Sweden and ruled from his residences there, which alienated his Norwegian subjects, especially after the king refused to nominate a chancellor for Norway angered, the Norwegian aristocracy forced Magnus to appoint his son Håkon VI as Norwegian king in 1343, which would take place after Håkon’s coming of age in 1355.
Magnus Eriksson on the title page of his Swedish national lawcode, issue 1430.
Before the personal union could be severed, however, the Black Death arrived in Scandinavia, possibly when a plague-stricken ship moored in Bergen in 1349. The consequences in Sweden were dire, with about a third of the populace dying, but Norway was hit particularly hard, with at least half the population dying plague victims, of course, included aristocrats and ecclesiastical figures as well as ordinary peasants, which significantly reduced the cohesiveness and collective power of the Norwegian aristocracy. Following the Black Death, Magnus continued to favour large-scale expansionist campaigns and ruled through his favourites the growing fiscal pressure and unfair favouritism alienated the Swedish aristocracy, who deposed Magnus and elected a German prince, Albrecht of Mecklenburg, as king in 1364. Isolated and crownless, Magnus would take refuge at his son’s court in Norway and died in 1374.
The challenges faced by Magnus Eriksson were beneficial to Valdemar IV of Denmark, who managed to recover most of his Danish possessions by the end of the 1340s Scania, however, remained in Swedish hands, as it had been swiftly occupied by Magnus soon after Christoffer II’s death in 1332. Valdemar’s immediate plans to recover Scania in the late 1340s had to be abandoned due to the arrival of the Black Death. Although the effects on the Danish population were not as dramatic as in Norway – around a third of the population succumbed to the plague in Denmark –, agricultural production suffered in the aftermath of the plague, and landowning nobles and peasants, encumbered by taxation, rebelled often. After offering settlements to some of his aristocrats and crushing pockets of resistance, Valdemar supported a rebellion against Magnus Eriksson in Scania when the revolts’ instigator, Magnus’s son Erik, died, Valdemar demanded Scania in exchange for his retreat, and the region was returned to Denmark in 1360. During the latter part of his reign, Valdemar invaded and conquered the island of Gotland as part of his policy to restrain the influence of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic accosted by the merchant cities, Swedes and Norwegians, however, the Danish king was eventually forced to concede, and died in 1375.
Valdemar’s successes, however, were not simply reliant on his martial ability and ruthless behaviour in order to cement his dominant position in Scandinavia, the Danish king also conducted crafty marriage negotiations. Valdemar married his daughter Margrete to Håkon VI Magnusson, who had acceded the Norwegian throne in 1343. The main goal of this match must have been to bring the three Scandinavian realms closer together, as Håkon was poised to inherit Sweden from his father the election of Albrecht as Swedish king in 1364, however, dashed these hopes. Since Valdemar survived his sons, it would be his grandson – Margrete’s son Olav – who inherited the Danish kingdom in 1376 Olav’s father Håkon VI, moreover, died in 1380, thus making the ten-year-old aristocrat ruler of both countries. When Olav died in 1387, aged sixteen, the only individual with the dynastic status to accede the throne was his mother, Margrete.
Queen Margaret I of Denmark, effigy from 1423 on her tomb in Roskilde Cathedral. Photo by Jacob Truedson Demitz / Wikimedia Commons
Margrete proved herself as a shrewd and resourceful ruler during her son’s minority, she had already managed to re-establish Danish control over Schleswig, and she was widely supported by Danish and Norwegian aristocrats alike. Since Albrecht was widely opposed in Sweden, Margrete saw the opportunity to fulfil her father’s wildest expansionist dreams, and agreed to assist the Swedish aristocracy against their king in exchange for her election as ruler. In 1389, Albrecht’s forces were soundly defeated in Åsle, and Margrete became the effective ruler of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Her womanhood, however, proved a hurdle she was never recognised as reigning queen, and her rule hinged upon her finding a suitable male heir who could be crowned as triple king. As part of this agreement, she chose her great-nephew, Erik of Pomerania (born Boguslaw), who was brought up in Denmark from 1389 onwards. Margrete was supposed to act as regent until young Erik came of age, but in practice, Margrete remained in charge until her death in 1412.
The formal establishment of a personal union among the Scandinavian kingdoms took place in 1397, during Erik’s coronation festivities at Kalmar in June of 1397. Two foundational documents were signed during these meetings: the Coronation Charter and the Union Charter, which were sponsored by the Crown and the aristocracy, respectively. These two charters highlighted the goals and aspirations that each faction had, and indeed foreshadowed the internal conflicts that would happen in the near future. Margrete and Erik sought the establishment of a strong monarchy with sweeping powers across the Union, which could make use of the large resources and manpower available to establish itself as a regional power. The aristocracy, on the other hand, expected a royal power limited by the existing laws and customs of each kingdom, which would rule the diverse and expansive union through aristocratic cooperation and participation most notably, the Union Charter spoke against appointing foreign castellans in each kingdom and favoured elective kingship.
Margrete and Erik ruled following the conventions of the Coronation Charter, understanding that the ruler was the law, rather than limited by the law. Denmark became the uncontested centre of power, neither Margrete nor Erik visited the other two kingdoms often, and Danish or German castellans were appointed as administrators throughout the Kalmar Union. While discontent grew, there was no open reaction to royal rule while Margrete was alive, but aristocrats and peasants alike began to voice their dissent after her passing in 1412. Throughout the fifteenth century, tensions between proponents of unfettered royal rule – regimen regale – and more participatory aristocratic governance – regimen politicum – would lead to bloody conflict in the Kalmar Union, causing it to tear asunder on the eve of the Early Modern Period.
Beñat Elortza Larrea is an Associate Professor at Nord University. His research interests include state formation in medieval Scandinavia, military history from a social perspective, and maritime societies in the Middle Ages. Click here to visit his page on Academia.edu.
Top Image: Map of the Kalmar Union in 1397 – Wikimedia Commons
The Sami are one of the indigenous people of the world. The first document to mention the Sami in Sweden was written almost 2,000 years ago. Inland parts of upper Norrland are known to have been inhabited even longer, however – for close to 10,000 years.
The Viking Age (800–1050 AD) was characterised by a significant expansion of activity, in Sweden’s case largely toward the east. Many Viking expeditions set off from Sweden to both plunder and trade along the Baltic coast and the rivers that stretched deep into present-day Russia. The Vikings traveled as far as the Black and Caspian Seas, where they developed trading links with the Byzantine Empire and the Arab kingdoms. Christianity first reached Sweden with a mission led by Ansgar, who visited in the 9th century, but the country was not converted to Christianity until the 11th century.
There are more than 2,500 rune stones in Sweden, with messages dating from the 5th century to the mid-12th century, making them the oldest preserved Swedish documents. Relatives often had stones erected in memory of a dead family member.
Background to the union
In the 13 th Century, the Hanseatic League – a collection of merchant traders from, initially, Germany – rose fast to become dominant in the North and Baltic seas. The area and its trade routes had previously been well controlled by the Scandinavians but the League quickly overtook them and raised the threat of territorial expansion.
Many in Scandinavia thought that the best way to counter this rising threat from Germany was to unite as a single force. The combined country would be much more robust and capable of holding its own against the encroachment from the South.
Of course, as with all political matters, no one could agree on what form this might take. Combining the countries into one would be the best show of strength but this faced fierce opposition from the Swedish nobles who feared loss of their own influence.
The main impetus came from Denmark, which had already seen the Duchy of Schleswig join the Hanseatic League. So while Nordic power struggles continued, several factions were actively working towards some kind of unification.
Why the South Lost the Civil War – Cover Page: February American History Feature
Federal soldiers and civilians at the front of the Confederate Capitol building in Richmond, VA.
Ten Civil War historians provide some contrasting–and probably controversial–views on how and why the Confederate cause ultimately ended in defeat.
“T he art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike at him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on.”
Put that way, the business of fighting and winning wars sounds simple enough. And perhaps it was simple in the mind of the man who so concisely described the complex art: General Ulysses S. Grant. After assuming command of all Union armies in March 1864, Grant crushed the Confederacy in about one year.
But the American Civil War, like any war, was not simple. The North and South engaged each other for four long years. More than half a million people were killed. Families were torn apart, towns destroyed. And in the end, the South lost.
For the past 130 years Americans have argued over the reasons for the Confederacy’s downfall. Diverse opinions have appeared in hundreds of books, but the numerous possibilities have never adequately been summarized and gathered together in one place. So we decided to ask ten of the country’s most respected Civil War historians: “Why did the South lose the Civil War?” Here (edited for length) are their answers.
WILLIAM C. DAVIS
Former editor of Civil War Times Illustrated and author of more than thirty books about the war, including the recent A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy.
Why did the South lose? When the question is asked that way, it kind of presupposes that the South lost the war all by itself and that it really could have won it. One answer is that the North won it. The South lost because the North outmanned and outclassed it at almost every point, militarily.
Despite the long-held notion that the South had all of the better generals, it really had only one good army commander and that was Lee. The rest were second-raters, at best. The North, on the other hand, had the good fortune of bringing along and nurturing people like Grant, William T. Sherman, Philip Sheridan, George H. Thomas, and others.
The South was way outclassed industrially. There was probably never any chance of it winning without European recognition and military aid. And we can now see in retrospect what some, like Jefferson Davis, even saw at the time, which was that there was never any real hope of Europe intervening. It just never was in England or France’s interests to get involved in a North American war that would inevitably have wound up doing great damage, especially to England’s maritime trade.
Industrially the South couldn’t keep up in output and in manpower. By the end of the war, the South had, more or less, plenty of weaponry still, but it just didn’t have enough men to use the guns.
I don’t agree with the theories that say the South lost because it lost its will to win. There’s nothing more willful or stubborn than a groundhog, but whenever one of them runs into a Ford pickup on the highway, it’s the groundhog that always loses, no matter how much willpower it has.
We can’t fault the Southerners for thinking at the time that they could win when we can see in retrospect that there probably never was a time when they could have. The most important things they couldn’t see was the determination of Abraham Lincoln to win, and the incredible staying power of the people of the North, who stuck by Lincoln and stuck by the war in spite of the first two years of almost unrelenting defeat. The only way the South could have won would have been for Lincoln to decide to lose. As long as Lincoln was determined to prosecute the war and as long as the North was behind him, inevitably superior manpower and resources just had to win out.
The miracle is that the South held out as long as it did. That’s an incredible testament to the courage and self-sacrifice of the people of the South–both the men in the armies and the people at home who sustained them, with nothing but continuing and expanding destruction all around them.
The South lost the war because the North and Abraham Lincoln were determined to win it.
Historian and author of ten books about the war.
The South lost because it had inferior resources in every aspect of military personnel and equipment. That’s an old-fashioned answer. Lots of people will be scornful of it. But a ratio of twenty-one million to seven million in population comes out the same any way you look at it.
The basic problem was numbers. Give Abraham Lincoln seven million men and give Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee twenty-one million, and cognitive dissonance doesn’t matter, European recognition doesn’t matter, the Emancipation Proclamation and its ripple effect don’t matter. Twenty-one to seven is a very different thing than seven to twenty-one.
Consultant for the weekly series “Civil War Journal” on the Arts and Entertainment network, on-set history advisor for the movie Gettysburg, a staff writer and researcher for Time-Life Books’ The Civil War series, and a founder of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites.
The South certainly did not lose for any lack of idealism, or dedication to its cause or beliefs, or bravery and skill on the battlefield. In those virtues the Confederate soldier was unexcelled, and it’s my belief that man-for-man there was no finer army in the history of America than the Army of Northern Virginia.
But of course the factors that enter into the South’s ultimate defeat are those things that you hear time and time again, and with a great amount of validity: the North’s industrial base the North’s manpower resources the fact that foreign recognition was denied the Confederacy. In time these things would tell on the battlefield, certainly on the broader level. The North was able to bring its industry and its manpower to bear in such a way that eventually, through sheer numerical and material advantage, it gained and maintained the upper hand.
That’s when you get into the whole truly tragic sense of the Lost Cause, because those men knew their cause was lost, they knew there was really no way they could possibly win, and yet they fought on with tremendous bravery and dedication. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons why the Civil War was such a poignant and even heart-wrenching time. Whether or not you agree with the Confederacy or with the justness of its cause, there’s no way that you can question the idealism and the courage, the bravery, the dedication, the devotion of its soldiers–that they believed what they were fighting for was right. Even while it was happening, men like Union officer Joshua Chamberlain–who did all that he could to defeat the Confederacy–could not help but admire the dedication of those soldiers.
NOAH ANDRE TRUDEAU
Author of three books about the war’s final year, including the recent Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War (April-June 1865).
One main reason why the South lost (and this may seem offbeat because it flies in the face of the common wisdom) is that the South lacked the moral center that the North had in this conflict. Robert Kirby in his book on Florida’s Edward Kirby Smith and the Trans-Mississippi suggests that the South’s morale began to disintegrate in the Trans-Mississippi in about 1862.
The North had a fairly simple message that was binding it together, and that message was that the Union, the idea of Union, was important, and probably after 1863 you could add the crusade against slavery to that.
Ask the question, “What was the South fighting for what was the Southern way of life that they were trying to protect?” and you will find that Southerners in Arkansas had a very different answer from Southerners in Georgia or Southerners in Virginia. And what you increasingly find as the war continued is that the dialogue got more and more confused. And you actually had state governors such as Joe Brown in Georgia identifying the needs of Georgia as being paramount and starting to withhold resources from the Confederacy and just protecting the basic infrastructure of the Georgia state government over the Confederacy. In the North you certainly had dialogue and debate on the war aims, but losing the Union was never really a part of that discussion. Preserving the Union was always the constant.
So, one key reason the South lost is that as time went on and the war got serious, Southerners began losing faith in the cause because it really did not speak to them directly.
JAMES M. MCPHERSON
Professor of history at Princeton University and author of nine books about the Civil War, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom.
Historians have offered several explanations for the Confederate defeat in the Civil War. First, the North had a superiority in numbers and resources–but superiority did not bring victory to the British Empire in its war against the American colonies that were fighting for their independence in 1776, nor did it bring victory to the United States in its war against North Vietnam in the 1960s and s. While Northern superiority in numbers and resources was a necessary condition for Union victory, it is not a sufficient explanation for that victory. Neither are the internal divisions within the Confederacy sufficient explanation for its defeat, because the North also suffered sharp internal divisions between those who supported a war for the abolition of slavery and those who resisted it, between Republicans and Democrats, between Unionists and Copperheads. And, in fact, the North probably suffered from greater internal disunity than the Confederacy.
Superior leadership is a possible explanation for Union victory. Abraham Lincoln was probably a better war president than Jefferson Davis and certainly offered a better explanation to his own people of what they were fighting for than Davis was able to offer. By the latter half of the war, Northern military leadership had evolved a coherent strategy for victory which involved the destruction of Confederate armies but went beyond that to the destruction of Confederate resources to wage war, including the resource of slavery, the South’s labor power. By the time Grant had become general-in-chief and Sherman his chief subordinate and Sheridan one of his hardest-hitting field commanders, the North had evolved a strategy that in the end completely destroyed the Confederacy’s ability to wage war. And that combination of strategic leadership–both at the political level with Lincoln and the military level with Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan–is what in the end explains Northern victory.
Professor of history at Pennsylvania State University and author, coauthor, or editor of eleven books about the war, including the recent Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond and The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock.
The principal cause of Confederate failure was the fact that the South’s armies did not win enough victories in the field–especially enough victories in a row in the field–to both sustain Confederate morale behind the lines and depress Union morale behind the lines. In the end there was a waning of the will to resist on the part of Southern white people, but that was tied directly to the performance of the Confederate armies in the field more than once they seemed to be on the brink of putting together enough successes to make Northern people behind the lines unwilling to pay the necessary price to subjugate the Confederacy.
The primary reason the Confederates did not have more success on the battlefield is that they developed only one really talented army commander, and that, of course, was Robert E. Lee. There never was a commander in the West who was fully competent to command an army–and I include Joseph E. Johnston and Albert Sidney Johnston and Braxton Bragg and the rest in that company. The almost unbroken string of failures in the West depressed Confederate morale. Lee’s successes in the East were able to compensate for that for a good part of the war, but in the end there simply was too much bad news from the battlefield. And that bad news, together with Union advances into the South, the destruction of the Confederate infrastructure, and the problems of the Confederate economy that worked hardships on so many people, all came together to bring about Confederate defeat.
Historian and author of Two Great Rebel Armies, which examines the Confederacy’s defeat.
If I had to pin the South’s defeat down to one sentence, I would have to say it was due to very bad military commanders: Albert Sidney Johnston, P. G. T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, John C. Pemberton, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Bell Hood (and if you want to go down a notch or two in the command structure, Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, and Joseph Wheeler).
With people like Polk and Hardee you’ve got ranking generals in an army who deliberately sought to undermine their commanding general Braxton Bragg. With Wheeler you’ve got a subordinate general who on at least two occasions–in the fall of 1863 and the fall of 1864–went off joy-riding when he should have been obeying his orders from his army commander. With Beauregard and Johnston you had two generals who were unwilling to work with their government. With Hood and Bragg you had two generals who were basically incompetent as army commanders. And with Albert Sidney Johnston you had a general who underwent some kind of confidence crisis after Fort Donelson.
Let me point out that every one of those generals was in the West. Any explanation that does not account for the West is irrelevant to your question. The war was lost by the Confederates in the West and won by the Federals in the West. I don’t see how you could even question that. In the crucial theater of the war, the Confederacy did not have a competent commanding general.
Professor of history at Ohio State University and author of the upcoming Hard Hand of War, his first book about the war.
There are really two interesting questions. One is: Why did the South fail to gain or maintain its independence? The other is: Why did the South not only lose its bid for independence but also its bid to influence the terms under which reunion would take place?
The answer to the second question seems to involve a combination of two things. First, the political culture in the South made it difficult for the many people (including those in leadership positions in the Confederacy) who wanted a negotiated settlement to make their will felt. Instead, Jefferson Davis, as president, was able to continue insisting on no peace short of independence. In a real two-party culture, Davis might have been pressured to compromise, or he might have been eased out, or the Congress might have been able to do something.
The other part of the answer is that while the key Confederate commanders–Beauregard, Lee, Joe Johnston–were trying to maximize their military position so as to influence any kind of peace negotiations and give the North an incentive to allow the South to reenter the Union on somewhat its own terms, military mistakes in the late winter and early spring of 1865 scuttled the Confederate military position in Virginia and the Carolinas. This precipitated a collapse sooner than might have happened, undermining any chance that the Confederate government might eventually pursue a negotiated settlement.
Professor of history at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and coauthor of Why the South Lost the Civil War.
My collaborators and I, in our book Why the South Lost the Civil War, laid out our theory, which is that the South lost the Civil War because it didn’t really want to win badly enough. Defeat was ultimately due to a loss of collective will. But in other discussions with various learned groups, I’ve been induced to admit that in order for the Southern people to have a sufficient degree of will to win the war, they would have had to be a different people than they were. And so, in that sense, victory for the South was ultimately an impossibility.
Now certainly the course of the war, the military events, had a lot to do with the loss of will. The Southerners hoped that they would win spectacular victories on Northern soil, and they didn’t. They hoped that they would be able to exhaust the will of the Northern people, and they didn’t. And I don’t know that all of the Southern people put a great deal of stock in their hopes that Abraham Lincoln would not be reelected, but certainly the key Southern leaders did, and this was their great hope and great strategy toward the end.
With regard to military turning points, I’m not a fan of those, and I certainly don’t think that Gettysburg and Vicksburg dictated the inevitable outcome of the war. We tend in Why the South Lost to imply that there was really still hope until March of 1865, but really I think the outcome of the war became inevitable in November 1864 with the reelection of Lincoln and that utter determination to see the thing through, and, of course, the finding of U.S. Grant by Lincoln and company. Grant was certainly the man to provide the leadership that the North needed.
EDWIN C. BEARSS
Former chief historian of the National Park Service and author of several books about the war.
The South lost the Civil War because of a number of factors. First, it was inherently weaker in the various essentials to win a military victory than the North. The North had a population of more than twenty-two million people to the South’s nine-and-a-half million, of whom three-and-a-half million were slaves. While the slaves could be used to support the war effort through work on the plantations and in industries and as teamsters and pioneers with the army, they were not used as a combat arm in the war to any extent.
So if the South were to win, it had to win a short war by striking swiftly–in modern parlance, by an offensive blitzkrieg strategy. But the Confederates had established their military goals as fighting in defense of their homeland. In 1861, when enthusiasm was high in the South, it lacked the wherewithal and the resolution to follow up on its early victories, such as First Manassas in the East and at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington in the West.
Despite the South’s failure to capitalize on its successes in 1861, it came close to reversing the tide that ran against it beginning in February 1862. In the period between the fourth week of June 1862 and the last days of September and early days of October, the South did reverse the tide, sweeping forward on a broad front from the tidewater of Virginia to the Plains Indian territory. And abroad, the British were preparing to offer to mediate the conflict and, if the North refused, to recognize the Confederacy. But beginning at Antietam and ending at Perryville, all this unraveled, and the Confederates’ true high water mark had passed.
In 1864, with the approach of the presidential election in the North, the Confederates had another opportunity to win the war. If the Confederate armies in Virginia, Georgia, and on the Gulf Coast could successfully resist the North and the war of attrition inaugurated by General Grant (with its particularly high casualties in Virginia), there was a good probability, as recognized by President Lincoln himself in the summer, that his administration would go down to defeat in November. But the success of Admiral David G. Farragut in Mobile Bay, the capture of Atlanta on the second of September by General Sherman, and the smashing success scored by General Sheridan at the expense of General Jubal A. Early at Cedar Creek, Virginia on October 19 shattered this hope, and Lincoln was reelected by a landslide in the electoral vote. With Lincoln’s reelection, the road to Southern defeat grew shorter.
Judging from these responses, it seems clear that the South could have won the war . . . if. If it had more and better-equipped men, led by more capable generals and a wiser president. If it had a more unified purpose and was more aggressive. If it faced a different opponent.
The last condition should not be underestimated. By the end of the war, Lincoln and his powerful army were remarkably proficient at prosecuting war according to Grant’s simple strategy. As historian William C. Davis has succinctly put it, “the North won it.”
Carl Zebrowski is associate editor of Civil War Times Illustrated, another magazine published by PRIMEDIA.
Negotiating Pasts in the Nordic Countries : Interdisciplinary Studies in History and Memory
A contribution to the popular international and interdisciplinary field of collective memory within a Scandinavian context, this reference presents a number of case studies--from the Middle Age to the present time--that discuss how people look to the past for identity and meaning. Acknowledging that many pasts exist--sometimes harmoniously and other times in conflict--this resource attempts to negotiate the past by analyzing the tensions that occur when individuals with different interests, understandings, and points of view study history and by exploring the inherent desire to develop a consensus between the past and the present. Examining subject areas such as social and cultural history, literature, cultural studies, archeology, mythology, and anthropology, this study expresses how crucial it is to understand the processes of dealing with the past when trying to chart how and why societies and communities change and evolve.
Vietnam: The First Television War
The Vietnam War (1955–75) was a time of great controversy in the United States. Cold War tensions ran high as the country relentlessly fought against the alleged evils of communism.
At the same time, advances in video and audio recording enabled both easier and more news coverage. From 1950 to 1966, the percentage of Americans who owned a television skyrocketed from 9 percent to 93 percent as televisions became essential for everyday life.
With the proliferation of televisions, news networks strived to have the most exciting, dramatic, and attractive stories. They competed for the finest reporters, highest-rated equipment, and largest number of viewers. To succeed, they had to do something unprecedented: on-site coverage of the war in Vietnam. For the first time in American history, the news from the front lines was brought straight into the living room.
So why was Vietnam called the first “television war”?
During World War II, morale was high. Camera crews stayed in noncombat areas to show the happier, more upbeat side of war. The stories were broadcast as motion pictures shown in theaters. And the newscasters shared only good news and reported bad news with a cheery disposition.
Government censorship over the media influenced this outlook—if the press wanted access to stories about the war, they had to receive credentials from the military. This ensured that the news didn’t report anything that the military did not want disclosed to the public. Big stories like the A-bomb stayed out of the news until after the war ended. The main focus of the media was high morale and support for the war effort.
In contrast, the television news networks had a bleaker view of the war in Vietnam. After the Tet Offensive in 1968—which the public saw as a defeat—reports turned unfavorable toward the war effort. The censorship that was in effect during World War II was much more lax by the 1960s. Camera crews were on-site almost constantly in combat zones. Journalists wrote day-to-day coverage and recorded their stories in the field. This gave Americans a more realistic glimpse into the lives of their soldiers, and they didn’t like what they saw.
On April 1, 1968, the day after President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection, he stated:
As I sat in my office last evening, waiting to speak, I thought of the many times each week when television brings the war into the American home. No one can say exactly what effect those vivid scenes have on American opinion. Historians must only guess at the effect that television would have had during earlier conflicts on the future of this Nation: during the Korean war, for example, at that time when our forces were pushed back there to Pusan of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge, or when our men were slugging it out in Europe or when most of our Air Force was shot down that day in June 1942 off Australia.
Televising the Vietnam War helped to divide a nation that took pride in its ability to unify. The dramatization of stories in the news distorted the public’s perception of what was actually happening in the field. Since it was visible in their homes, Americans were able to connect and empathize with the soldiers more than ever before. This caused an outcry of public opinion against the war.
By seeing the war on television, the anti-war advocates argued that the war was unnecessary, and hundreds of thousands of “American boys” were not dying for a noble cause. In fact, they believed that the United States was involved in a war in which they shouldn’t be involved at all.
In contrast, the pro-war supporters regarded anti-war marches as disloyal to U.S. soldiers. They saw the perils of the battlefield and felt an obligation to support their troops regardless of whether they should be there or not. The disagreements between the pro-war and anti-war advocates caused a partition in the American population that still persists.
In addition, the strong public anti-war opinions expressed in the media influenced U.S. policy makers. Americans could see military abuses on television, such as the My Lai Massacre in 1968, which sparked riots in cities and university campuses across the nation. This outrage, fueled by television coverage, ultimately led to the decision to withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1973, and end of the U.S involvement in the war.
To learn more, visit the National Archives’ Vietnam War exhibit, “ Remembering Vietnam ,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery on display through January 6, 2019. And visit our Vietnam War website for researching related National Archives records.
Mayans at War: Melee Weapons
When armies clashed in battles, they used melee weapons, including clubs, axes, stabbing spears and knives. They Mayan war club resembled that the Macuahuitl of the Aztecs in that it was lined with obsidian blades on three sides. These 42-in long clubs could stun, break bones or cut. They were capable of cutting off a horse’s head. Mayans also used axes with heads of stone, obsidian, flint or bronze. The sharp edge of the axe could kill, but the dull edge could stun. The object of the battle was often to capture, not kill, enemy warriors, making the axe a good weapon. In hand to hand combat, the Mayans used the same 10-inch blade knives they used in sacrifices.
New Sweden Era, 1638-1655
1638 - After a 4-month voyage from Gothenburg, Kalmar Nyckel arrives in the Delaware in March. Captain Peter Minuit purchases land on west bank from the Schuylkill River to Bombay Hook, builds Fort Christina at present Wilmington and leaves 24 men, under the command of Lt. Måns Kling, to man the fort and trade with Indians. Kalmar Nyckel returns safely to Sweden, but Minuit dies on return trip in a hurricane in the Caribbean.
1639 - Fogel Grip , which accompanied Kalmal Nyckel, brings a 25th man from St. Kitts, a slave from Angola known as Anthony Swartz.
1640 - Kalmar Nyckel , on its second voyage, brings the first families to New Sweden, including those of Sven Gunnarsson and Lars Svensson. Other new settlers include Peter Rambo, Anders Bonde, Måns Andersson, Johan Schaggen, Anders Dalbo and Dr. Timen Stiddem. Lt. Peter Hollander Ridder, who succeeds Kling as new commanding officer, purchases more land from Indians between Schuylkill and the Falls of the Delaware.
1641 - Kalmar Nyckel, joined by the Charitas , brings 64 men to New Sweden, including the families of Måns Lom, Olof Stille, Christopher Rettel, Hans Månsson, Olof Thorsson and Eskil Larsson. Also such single men as Peter Cock, Matts Hansson and his brother Anders Hansson, Ivert Hendricksson, Johan Ericksson, Matts Hansson from Borgå, Johan Stålkofta, Lucas Petersson, Knut Mårtensson, Lars Bjur, and four orphans, including Israel Helm. Ridder purchases land on east side of Delaware from Raccoon Creek to Cape May, and on west side from Bombay Hook to Cape Henlopen.
1642 - Probable year of first settlement in present Pennsylvania, at Techoherassi, Upland and Finland.
1643 - The Fama and Swan arrive from Sweden, bringing Johan Printz, first royal governor of New Sweden, six feet tall and weighing 400 pounds, with 50 new settlers, including Captain Sven Skute, soldiers Jonas Nilsson, Jürgen Keen, Johan Gustafsson, Anders And-ersson Homman, Peter Jochimsson and the family of Anders Andersson the Finn. Printz builds Fort Elfsborg on east side of Delaware and Fort New Gothenburg on Tinicum Island, where he also builds his own manor house, called Printzhof .
1644 - K almar Nyckel and Fama arrive from Sweden with 14 more men, including Lt. Johan Papegoja. Printz establishes tobacco plantations at Christina, Upland and on west side of Schuylkill (Province Island), but the experiment is a disaster. Revert to corn the next year, buying tobacco from Virginia.
1645 - Settlement is made at Kingsessing and the first grist mill is built on Mill (now Cobbs) Creek.
1646 - First log church built on Tinicum Island.
1647 - Fort Korsholm is completed on Province Island.
1648 - Swan arrives from Sweden, bringing 12 or more men, including Rev. Lars Carlsson Lock, Nils Larsson Frände, Johan Fisk and Hendrick Johansson. Aronameck, on west side of Schuylkill, settled. Dutch build Fort Beversreede on east side of Schuylkill, but Swedes thwart Dutch attempts to build dwellings in area.
1649 - Kattan runs aground near Puerto Rico. None of its 69 passengers reach New Sweden. Most of them die in the Caribbean. A few find their way back to Sweden, including Dr. Timen Stiddem.
1651 - Dutch build Fort Casimir at Sand Hook (New Castle) and abandon Fort Bevers-reede in Schuylkill. Governor Printz, his forces depleted by deaths and desertions to Maryland, abandons Fort Elfsborg and Fort Korsholm, concentrating his forces at Fort Christina and Fort New Gothenburg. The Christina River becomes the de facto boundary between New Sweden and the Dutch.
1652 - Printz seizes plantation of Lars Svensson (Lasse the Finn) on west side of Up-land (Chester) Creek, claiming that Lasse and his wife were guilty of witchcraft and owed him money. Renames plantation Printztorp . Lasse and his wife die, and other freemen become more hostile to Printz's rule. Several freemen move to Fort Casimir area to live under Dutch rule.
1653 - Twenty-two freemen file petition with Governor Printz, complaining of his auto-cratic rule. Printz brands the petition a "mutiny", accuses Pastor Lars Lock, Olof Stille and one of his own soldiers of instigating the crime. After having the soldier killed by a firing squad, Printz packs his bags and returns to Sweden, leaving the colony under the command of his son-in-law Johan Papegoja. Fifteen more freemen flee the colony to seek refuge at Fort Casimir or Kent Island, Maryland. Papegoja hires Indians to bring them back, dead or alive. Indians return with heads of two former freemen.
1654 - Population of New Sweden is now reduced to 70 men, women and children. Survivors debate uniting with the Dutch at Fort Casimir, but the issue becomes moot when the Eagle arrives in May with about 250 passengers, including some old-timers such as Dr. Timen Stiddem. Johan Rising, the new Governor, captures Fort Casimir from the Dutch, restoring the entire Delaware River to Swedish control. Including the Dutch at Fort Casimir (which he renamed Fort Trinity), Rising counts 368 persons in the colony. But disease and famine soon take their toll, and most of the Dutch move to New Amsterdam (New York). Governor Rising introduces reforms to insure that freemen's rights to property are protected and adds freemen Peter Rambo and Matts Hansson from Borgå to his Council. Olof Stille and Peter Cock also sit as justices at Tinicum Island. New settlements are established at Ammansland (Ridley Township) and Swanwick.
1655 - Food shortages plague the colony. Some colonists move to the Sassafras River in Maryland. In September, Dutch Governor Stuyvesant, with seven armed ships and 317 soldiers, invades New Sweden. Badly outnum-bered, the Swedes surrender the colony without a fight. Governor Rising and 36 others return to Sweden. Most of the Swedes and Finns decide to stay in America, pledging allegiance to the Dutch.
The Price of Freedom: Americans at War
The Price of Freedom: Americans at War surveys the history of America’s military from the French and Indian Wars to the present conflict in Iraq, exploring ways in which wars have been defining episodes in American history. The exhibition extends far beyond a survey of battles to present the link between military conflict and American political leadership, social values, technological innovation, and personal sacrifice. The heart of the story is the impact of war on citizen soldiers, their families, and communities.
- George Washington’s sword and scabbard
- George Armstrong Custer’s buckskin coat
- the chairs Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant used during the surrender ceremony at Appomattox Court House, Virginia
- a Willys Jeep, used during World War II
- a restored UH-1H Huey Helicopter, deployed in Vietnam in 1966
- Gen. Colin Powell’s uniform from Operation Desert Storm.
The Price of Freedom examines the reality of war and its role in American history from the 1750s to the present. A powerful search tool provides access to battle flags, firearms, swords, uniforms, medals, soldiers’ equipment, and more. Visit Web site