Why did brothers fight on opposite sides of the Civil War?

George and Thomas Crittenden

John J. Crittenden, father of George and Thomas Crittenden, circa 1835
John J. Crittenden, father of George and Thomas Crittenden, circa 1835
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Bibb Crittenden was something of a revolutionary soldier throughout his lifetime. He certainly had something of a rebellious nature: George fought against the Mexican Army for an independent Texas in the 1840s, and he sided with the Confederacy when the Civil War began between the states. George rose quickly in the Confederate ranks from infantry colonel, to brigadier general and to major general in less than a year. His drinking proved a problem for him in these higher stations, however.

A bad defeat in the clash with Union forces at Mill Springs, Ky., caused him to be transferred off the front lines. Rumors that he'd been drunk during the battle further tarnished him [source: Brown]. Still, he retained his rank -- until he was discovered drunk later that year at his post in Mississippi and was court-martialed [source: TSHA].

George resigned from the Army but returned to fight until the end of the Civil War, this time as an enlisted soldier.

Though his younger brother Thomas had a starkly different demeanor, he suffered a fate similar to George's. Thomas was the more staid of the Crittenden brothers. While George studied law, Thomas became a practicing lawyer and achieved the rank of U.S. consul in England [source: Murfreesboro Post].

Thomas was a talented commander, but his reputation was harmed by others less gifted than him. As major general in the Union, he commanded flanks of troops during a number of battles. The Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, at which the Union forces were led by Gen. William Rosencrans, proved to be the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War. In just two days, both sides saw 34,624 casualties [source: NPS].

After the battle, a Confederate victory, Rosencrans incorrectly attributed the defeat to Thomas Crittenden. The major loss was enough for the Union generals to relieve Crittenden of his command [source: Murfreesboro Post]. He eventually regained his status after Rosencrans continued to wage losing battles, however.

Clearly, the brothers had different characters, but what motivates members of the same family to fight on opposite sides of a war? We'll explore civil strife on the next page.