The American Civil War has fascinated many and gripped their attention across generations. The war is the deadliest in American history, the impacts of which can still be felt and seen to this day. However, few stop to question why we feel so attached to this history and why we feel the urge to study it. So, why is the Civil War relevant today?
In this article, we will diverge from the usual format and discussion of posts. We will first look at and discuss some history of analytical psychology. Then, with this foundation established, we will look at why we, as people and American citizens, continue to study and relate to the stories of the American Civil War.
Analytical Psychology – Carl Jung
Analytical psychology was founded by the famed psychologist Carl Jung. Jung’s main ideas of analytical psychology include the unity of the collective unconscious and the personal unconscious, as well as archetypes.
While these ideas are central to understanding Jung, they are very abstract and difficult to define. For the sake of our study here, we will primarily be analyzing archetypes.
The whole world is divided into these archetypes, broad and undefined as they are. Jung primarily identified four archetypes: the persona, the anima/animus, the shadow, and the self.
These archetypes, Jung believed, were the reason why the symbols and stories that have crossed generations emerged.
All of us contain these archetypes in our collective unconscious, as well as our personal unconscious. As a result, we tend to gravitate toward these archetypes, symbols, and stories. They are relatable to us on a primal level.
These archetypes are present in the stories that we love and study as human beings. Jung, and his students, argue that these archetypes have been present since the beginning of human history. They are evolutionarily ingrained into human psychology.
Stories that we love, whether it is the Bible, fairytales, Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Disney, are loved because they contain and fit these archetypes. No matter our lives or experiences in life, we can understand and connect to these archetypes.
The Civil War – A Narrative
According to analytical psychology, the archetypes we just discussed, as well as the idea of the unconscious, this is why we find the Civil War so fascinating to study.
Now, you may be wondering: how does the Civil War fit into the archetypal narrative of stories? You may also think that the story of the Civil War is nothing like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or the Bible. However, this is incorrect.
Next, we will look at how the Civil War is an archetypal narrative.
Archetypes within the Civil War
The first major archetype we see within the Civil War is Ulysses S. Grant. Grant fits the archetype of the hero.
Ulysses begins his journey with a call to adventure, which the hero must. Before the Civil War, Ulysses worked several jobs, including farming, real estate, and his father’s tannery, none of which brought him any success. Grant was, by all estimations, a failure.
However, then the seceded forces of South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter and the call to adventure was set in motion.
This call to adventure is very similar to Moses in the Bible. Moses was nearly eighty years old when he was called by God to leave his father’s house and answer the call of adventure. This is very similar to Grant, who was 39-years old when the war began and a failure.
U.S Grant answered this call and got a commission as a colonel. This brought Grant into the grand adventure of the Civil War.
Grant then had to go through his maturation process that the young hero, naive and not yet fully developed, must. This is what Simba goes through in the Lion King when he is banished from the kingdom and enters the wilderness, or, similarly, Moses in the wilderness. Grant’s wilderness was the fields of battle: Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, etc.
Even more archetypally, Grant’s wilderness took place in the western theater of the American Civil War. He was “banished”, so to speak, and not a major player in the eastern theater of the war until 1864, once he had matured.
Once Grant went through his wilderness, he was called east and given command of the Army of the Potomac, much like Simba returns from his wilderness before confronting Scar, the wicked king which we will get to.
Once the hero, Grant, made his triumphant return, he was able to successfully defeat the enemy, or dragon, that he faced (dragons are another archetypal example of an enemy that is faced throughout popular mythology).
Grant slays the dragon, Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, and restores the kingdom to its proper state, i.e. the Union.
After this restoration of the kingdom, Ulysses, now mature and able to become the wise king, took control of the kingdom when he was elected president in 1868. More on this later.
The Wise King
The next archetype we see in our study of the Civil War is the wise king: Abraham Lincoln. In American mythology, Lincoln is revered as a Christ-like figure (we will expand upon this later) in American history.
He takes command of the kingdom, or the United States, as the war and violence erupted. Lincoln was tasked with guiding the kingdom and leading them through this distressing time.
The story of Lincoln is a mythological one, at least it appears that way with the hindsight of 160 years. He seemed to be groomed for the exact task of guiding the Union through the troubles of the war. Hardened by a life of trouble and depression, his temperament was exactly what was needed of the wise king.
Lincoln had the temperament of one already matured. Mufasa rather than Simba in the beginning of the Lion King. While Grant had to go on his adventure and become mature, Lincoln was already there. He had already been shaped for the task at hand.
Unfortunately, however, like the wise king often does, he met a terrible fate at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater on Good Friday, adding to the Christ-like comparison. This is the same end that Mufasa meets in the Lion King. Mufasa is killed by a stampede caused by the evil king Scar.
Now, while the evil king of the Civil War was not his brother, Jefferson Davis was, arguably, responsible for the death of the wise king. Well, at least the evil king’s actions and followers were. The examples could go on and on.
Ultimately, the wise king is taken from the throne, leaving the kingdom in a state of disarray. In our case, that disarray would be the administration of Andrew Johnson. In the case of the Lion King, it is Pride Rock under Scar. In a Biblical example, it is Moses leading the Egyptians into the wilderness.
The kingdom would not be restored until the hero, Ulysses S. Grant, passed through his maturation and was elected president. Upon taking the throne, or presidency, the kingdom was finally restored and the clouds lifted. This can be seen in the Lion King when Scar is finally defeated and Pride Rock is restored to a place of sunshine and greenery.
The Evil King
As previously mentioned, the evil king in this story would be Jefferson Davis. Foolish for the actions that he took, attempting to disrupt the kingdom and take control of HIS new kingdom. This is what Scar does in the Lion King. This is what Satan does in the Bible. The evil king disrupts what is, what is good, what is present, for what is wicked or evil.
Now, some reading this will immediately respond, “But the Confederacy was not evil!” To this I would respond: slavery. The Confederacy was the only western government established solely on the principle of slavery. Both its existence and its expansion. Surely a king who rules over such a kingdom is an evil king.
If you are not convinced, there is little more, for the sake of brevity, I can say on the point. The evil king was also previously an ally of the kingdom. Davis, before secession, had been a member of the United States Congress. He was an ally. He was a part of the kingdom.
Like Lucifer before his fall. One of God’s favorite angels. Falling out of step and attempting to overthrow the kingdom in an attempt to rule in one’s own favor. The evil king was once a part of the good. Once a friend or relative of the wise king. Once in the good graces of the hero. Like Simba who loved his uncle. Too naive to realize the wickness brewing under the surface. Not yet matured and vigilant.
Davis and his “kingdom” would go on to cost the lives of nearly 750,000 Americans. This just from the war itself, not including the countless lives destroyed by the iron shackles of slavery. The destruction of families. The mental pain so immeasurably caused by the power of a tyrant.
However, like all evil kings, Davis is eventually defeated, but not before his moment in the sun. Not before his election as the first and only president of the CSA. Like Satan ruling earth before his casting into hell. Like Scar ruling Pride Rock, turning it into a wasteland.
This rule did come to an end, thank God. The hero, Grant, was able to mature. To defeat the dragon, Lee, and to eventually restore the kingdom during his presidency. As for Davis, he was banished to Fort Monroe as the evil king often is. Satan to hell. Scar to hell. The flames.
As discussed, the dragon in this story is Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. The dragon is the enemy lurking beneath the surface. The problem that you cannot, or will not, deal with. When not properly dealt with and disposed of, the dragon only grows.
Grows into events such as Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Reeking havoc and destruction in its fire-breathing path. Destroying order and causing chaos. Running rampant until the hero is ready. Ready to slay the dragon and cut off its head.
Grant had to go through his adventure, including his wilderness, in the western theater of the war before he could return to the kingdom, the eastern theater, and slay the dragon, Robert E. Lee, in the Overland Campaign. It was finally at Appomattox Courthouse that the dragon was dealt a death blow and indisposed.
Finally, the hero was willing, and able unlike many before him, to deal with the dragon of the evil king.
If you are like most people, you like a happy ending. However, you don’t like it to be accomplished too easily. The Death Star was destroyed in A New Hope. Imagine if that had been it. Darth Vader and the Emperor were killed. Republic saved. No trilogy required. No one would like that.
We enjoy watching the hero come to the brink of destruction and then coming back. Coming back to win, finale.
Like all good narratives, the Civil War did not wrap up easily. While the dragon was slayed, the kingdom was then led into the wilderness. Following the wise king, Lincoln, being killed and before the hero, Grant, took over, there was a period under Andrew Johnson. This was the wilderness.
This was the Israelites being led out of Egypt. Out of bondage and slavery. However, where did they go? The wilderness. Wandering. Lost. Near destruction. Forced to wander for forty years before reaching the promised land. The U.S. had to wait four years, slightly better by my estimations, before entering the promised land under the new wise king, our previous hero, Ulysses S. Grant.
Like all narratives, the hero DOES eventually lead his people to the promised land, just not without first going through the wilderness.
If you are like me, you have studied the Civil War your whole life. For as long as you can remember you were captured by the characters, the tales of bravery, and the battles. However, you may not know the real reason for this interest.
The reason for this interest is that the Civil War is an archetypal narrative. By looking at the war through the lens of an analytical psychologist like Carl Jung, we can clearly see the reason for fascination with the past.