What is one of the great ironies of the Civil War?

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Wars have a way of creating ironies, and the American Civil War was certainly no exception. One of the frequent ironies of this conflict was that kinsmen often fought on opposite sides. The situation of the Irish at the Battle of Fredericksburg provides a great example of this. Because of the Potato Famine, many Irish people immigrated to the United States in the years before the war. Some settled in the North and others in the South. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, two opposing Irish units ended up directly clashing. The Union brigade of Irish soldiers was absolutely decimated by their Confederate counterpart. There are accounts of Irish Confederates throwing down their weapons and weeping upon realizing that they had been killing fellow Irishmen. This incident underscores one of the larger ironies of a war that pitted family members against each other.

Another irony came with one of the most famous documents of the war, The Emancipation Proclamation; this was Lincoln's document that is often credited with ending slavery. The irony is that it freed very few slaves when it was signed. It stated that slaves in the states in rebellion were free. Of course, these rebellious states had no intention of freeing their slaves; preserving slavery was the reason they rebelled in the first place. The proclamation also did not address the slaves in the slave states that remained in the Union: Delaware, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland. Lincoln did not want to alienate these important border states and therefore did not wish to free those slaves at the time. The irony is that this document, credited with freeing slaves, was meant to keep Great Britain out of the war (Great Britain was one of the world's leaders in the international fight against slavery) more than it was about actually emancipating slaves on American soil.

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One of the greatest ironies of the Civil War is that no one died during the first battle of the war, the shelling of Fort Sumter. The fort was shelled for 34 hours and no one died on either side. The first casualty of the war was when a cannon exploded during the surrender ceremony, killing a young private. This ironic bit of history is sad when one considers that this war ultimately killed more than six hundred thousand people over four years.  

Another ironic part of the war is how many family members ended up on opposite sides. Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's wife, lost two brothers who were in the Confederate army. These family breakups were not uncommon, as people had to decide between loyalty to their state and loyalty to their nation, especially in the South.  

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