American Civil War: Conclusion

American Civil War: Conclusion

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American Civil War: Conclusion

Back: The West

The Union won the American Civil War in the west. While successive Union generals attempted to capture Richmond, the western Confederacy was dismantled, state by state, city by city, until Sherman’s army was able to march through the heart of the Confederacy and threaten Richmond from the south.

In some ways the Virginia front of 1864 foreshadowed the Western Front. However, while the battle between Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia saw prolonged periods of fighting, often against well entrenched positions and with heavy casualties on both sides, Grant’s attacks were concentrated against relatively small sections of the thirty miles of fortifications around Richmond and Petersburg. The deadlock came because Lee was able to move his troops around within the defences to deal with Grant’s attacks. Only when Lee’s army was exhausted at the start of 1865 was Grant willing to launch an attack on a wide front.

More Americans died in the Civil War than in all other American wars combined. Combined casualties came to at least 620,000 dead, with over a million casualties in all. In the Second World War, a similar number of casualties included 407,316 deaths (due largely to a massive increase in the ability of battlefield medicine to save the wounded).

These high casualty figures are in part due to the nature of a civil war – all the casualties are suffered by the same country (although even taken separately the 360,000 Union dead come close to the Second World War figure) – and partly due to the particularly lethal nature of the Civil War battlefield. The rifled musket had greatly increased the killing power of the infantryman, especially on the defensive, making it much harder to achieve a decisive victory. An incredibly high percentage of all available men of military age served during the civil war – some three and a quarter million men in all, representing about one in four of all white men in the south, and not a much lower population of the male population of the north (not to mention a good many men from the black and white populations of the south who fought for the Union).

Perhaps most importantly, the Civil War freed around four million slaves across the United States. Just how long an independent Confederacy would have been able to maintain slavery against near universal international condemnation is impossible to say, but it is hard to imagine any post-war Confederate leader being willing to voluntarily dismantle the institution that the south had gone to war for. The American Civil War is thus one of the few wars that can clearly be seen to having achieved something worthwhile. The 360,000 Union dead died for a good cause.

American Civil War: Conclusion - History

In the years before the Civil War, the economic interests of Americans in the North and Northwest grew increasingly further from those of Americans in the South and Southwest. Although the Civil War itself was caused by a number of different factors, the divergent paths taken in the economic development of North and South contributed to the animosity between the regions, the development of the Confederacy and, ultimately, the victory of the Union.

Contrasting Economies
As a nation, the United States was still primarily agricultural in the years before, during and immediately after the Civil War. About three-quarters of the population lived in rural areas, including farms and small towns. Nevertheless, the Industrial Revolution that had hit England decades before gradually established itself in the "former colonies."
While factories were built all over the North and South, the vast majority of industrial manufacturing was taking place in the North. The South had almost 25% of the country's free population, but only 10% of the country's capital in 1860. The North had five times the number of factories as the South, and over ten times the number of factory workers. In addition, 90% of the nation's skilled workers were in the North.
The labor forces in the South and North were fundamentally different, as well. In the North, labor was expensive, and workers were mobile and active. The influx of immigrants from Europe and Asia provided competition in the labor market, however, keeping wages from growing very quickly. The Southern economy, however, was built on the labor of African American slaves, who were oppressed into providing cheap labor. Most Southern white families did not own slaves: only about 384,000 out of 1.6 million did. Of those who did own slaves, most (88%) owned fewer than 20 slaves, and were considered farmers rather than planters. Slaves were concentrated on the large plantations of about 10,000 big planters, on which 50-100 or more slaves worked. About 3,000 of these planters owned more than 100 slaves, and 14 of them owned over 1,000 slaves. Of the four million slaves working in the South in 1860, about one million worked in homes or in industry, construction, mining, lumbering or transportation. The remaining three million worked in agriculture, two million of whom worked in cotton.
Since Eli Whitney's 1793 invention of the cotton 'gin, the cotton industry became a lucrative field for Southern planters and farmers. Utilizing slave labor, cotton planters and farmers could cut costs as they produced cotton for sale to other regions and for export to England. In exchange, Southern farmers and planters purchased manufactured goods from the North, food items from the West and imported luxuries like European designer clothes and furniture from England. The growth of the Southern cotton industry served as an engine of growth for the entire nation's economy in the antebellum (pre-war) years.
The other critical economic issue that divided the North from the South was that of tariffs. Tariffs were taxes placed on imported goods, the money from which would go to the government. Throughout the antebellum period, whenever the federal government wanted to raise tariffs, Southern Congressmen generally opposed it and Northern Congressmen generally supported it. Southerners generally favored low tariffs because this kept the cost of imported goods low, which was important in the South's import-oriented economy. Southern planters and farmers were concerned that high tariffs might make their European trading partners, primarily the British, raise prices on manufactured goods imported by the South in order to maintain a profit on trade.
In the North, however, high tariffs were viewed favorably because such tariffs would make imported goods more expensive. That way, goods produced in the North would seem relatively cheap, and Americans would want to buy American goods instead of European items. Since tariffs would protect domestic industry from foreign competition, business interests and others influenced politicians to support high tariffs.
Americans in the West were divided on the issue. In the Southwest, where cotton was a primary commodity, people generally promoted low tariffs. In the Northwest and parts of Kentucky, where hemp (used for baling cotton) was a big crop, people supported high tariffs.

Economic Factors in Secession
As the 1850s proceeded, the divide between the North and Northwest and the South and Southwest widened. The bitter debates over the slave status of newly-admitted states, which had been going on since at least the Missouri Compromise of 1820, were signs of the very real fear Southerners had of having their voice in Congress drowned out by "Yankee industrialists." Incidents such as the Southern protests against the "Tariff of Abominations" in the 1820s and the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s demonstrated how deep a rift the tariff controversy was creating between North and South.
In Congress, Southern Representatives and Senators were concerned that their interests would not be suitably addressed. As immigrants flocked to the Northern areas, swelling the ranks, Southerners were afraid the Northern states would increase their representation in the House of Representatives, blocking "Southern-friendly" legislation. The interests of Southern Americans who were African Americans, however, did not seem to concern a large number of Southern Congressmen. By the late 1850s, the fear of Northern domination in national economic policy, combined with the desire to maintain Southern institutions (including slavery), became a major influence on the people who eventually chose to secede from the Union.
What did the Confederacy hope to accomplish by seceding from the Union? The clearest goal was to defend and preserve the right of Southern Whites, including the right to own slaves. While the concept of owning another human being would obviously be a moral and criminal issue today many slaveowners either ignored or tried to justify their way out of that dimension, focusing on the economic aspects of slavery. They held that the right to own people was a property right, just like owning land or buildings. Thus, when Northern politicians tried to ensure that new states admitted to the Union were "free-soil" (i.e., that no slavery was allowed), slaveowners felt that their right to settle in the West with their "property," including slaves, was being infringed. In addition, in the minds of secessionists, the threat of national abolition not only had the potential of reducing the wealth of many prominent Southerners, but also interfered with the "property" rights of Southern Whites. Thus, secession seemed to be the only way of preserving those rights.
In addition, some secessionists were interested in preserving the "Southern way of life." While the image of the large plantations and elegant Scarlet O'Hara-esque Southern belles sipping mint juleps was applicable to only a small minority of southern farms, the gentility and clearly-defined class system was something of a comfort, even for those Southerners who did not live in that world. In addition, some accepted the myth of the happy, subservient slave, who was not quite a human being and would benefit from the civilizing influence of Southern gentility. At the foundation of the "Southern way of life," however, was its oppressive economic system. In addition to reducing millions of Americans to the status of chattel, it made it very difficult for non-landed, unskilled Whites to succeeded in the face of labor competition from slaves.
Part of the "Southern way of life" was the European flavor and aspirations of the planter class. This cultural influence grew out of and was fed by the long-standing mutual economic relationship between England and the South. In order to ensure that the British market for Southern cotton remained open, Southern planters and others had to maintain relatively sizable importation of goods from Britain. At the same time, the European influence on Southern gentile society in education, fashion, arts, and other fields created a large demand for European imports. An imbalance in this relationship, such as would be caused by the abolition of slavery or increases in tariffs, would have cultural implications for the South.

Economics and the Union Victory
Despite the advantages the Confederacy had in well-trained officers and dedication to a cause, it was inevitable that the Union would win the war. The only hope for the Confederacy would have been that the Union would not resist secession, or that foreign nations would assist the Confederate cause. Once the Union decided to fight for unity and European nations chose to remain largely neutral, there was little long-term hope for the Confederacy. The Union's resources, although far from unlimited, were much greater than the Confederacy's resources, and would eventually last longer.
The Union had more than double the population of the Confederacy (including slaves), and almost four times the number of men of combat age. Even with only 50% of eligible men enlisted, relative to the Confederacy's 75%, the Union still had more than twice the number of people in the armed forces.
In addition to being more industrialized than the South (see "Contrasting Economies" Section), the North had better infrastructure. By the time of the Civil War, an extensive railroad system had been built, with new lines through the Northwest being added. In the South, disputes between states prevented the construction of interstate railroad systems. In all, the North had 20,000 miles of railroad compared to the South's 9,000 miles. In addition to possessing 70% of the total miles of railroad in the United States, the North had 96% of the United States' railroad equipment. The long-standing shipbuilding industry in New England ensured that the North would have a large merchant marine, as well as easy access to naval resources. Because of interstate conflicts, there were few continuous interstate railroad systems through the South. In addition, although there was a small Southern industry producing naval stores, there were few merchant ships or naval vessels in the South.
In the North, the US government was able to fund the war effort with the nation's treasury. The Union had strong banking institutions, and controlled at least 70% of the nation's wealth. To raise more funds, the US government raised taxes on goods and services and set high imports tariffs. In addition, the Treasury issued paper money ("greenbacks") which was not backed by gold, but by government credit, thus reducing the amount of specie necessary for a given amount of money. The US government also raised money by selling bonds to individuals and banks.
The Southern economy, with its agricultural emphasis and relative lack of industrialization, did not have the money or capacity to support a war effort. The Confederacy had less than $1 million in specie in its treasury. Because of the Union blockade, Southern imports fell drastically, reducing the amount of import customs duties the Confederate government could collect. The blockade also prevented Southern farmers to export their goods Southern cotton exports, for example, fell to 2% of their prewar volume. Thus, farmers and planters had little income with which to pay taxes. Because of issues of states rights, central Confederate taxation was too controversial to be effective, and the states were not contributing enough to the Confederate coffers to support its needs. The existence of slavery in the South and the unlikeness of Confederate victory made foreign governments generally reluctant to loan money to the Confederacy. The Confederacy tried to raise money by borrowing from its citizens, in exchange for Confederate bonds. The Confederate government issued over $150 million in bonds, none of which was ever repaid.
In order to raise money, the Confederacy printed more currency, about $1 billion, causing drastic inflation. By 1864, Confederate dollars were worth about $.05 in gold. Prices shot up, and many basic foods were out of the price range of most Southerners. In the spring of 1862, bread riots began in many Southern cities, the worst being the Richmond Bread Riot of April 2, 1862. More than a thousand women marched and rioted in downtown Richmond, shouting "bread or blood." Jefferson Davis himself ended the riot by appearing in person and threatening to order the militia to open fire.
By the end of the war, the South was economically devastated, having experienced extensive loss of human life and destruction of property. Poverty was widespread, and many resented the many Northerners and Southerners who took advantage of the needy in the South as the war came to an end. These conditions made it more difficult for the nation to heal the wounds which its union had suffered.

It is clear that economics was only one factor in the Civil War. Nevertheless, the economic tension between North and South contributed greatly to political tensions. In addition, economic realities were largely responsible for the Union's victory. While regional tensions and conflicts remained, the end of the Civil War signaled the beginning of the United States' development, economically and otherwise, as one nation.

The terms of surrender

However, neither had the political authority to bring the war to a final conclusion. The talks between Grant and Lee at Appomattox Court House dealt only with the surrender of Lee’s army in Virginia. Under Grant’s terms, the rolls listing the Confederate officers and men were to be handed over.

Paroles were offered on the promise that the men,

‘will not take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged … the arms, artillery and public property, to be packed and stacked and turned over to the officers appointed by me … each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes … so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force, where they made reside.’

At 4.30pm, General Grant send the following message to the United States War Department:

‘General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this afternoon, upon terms imposed by myself…’.

A portrait of Commanding General Ulysses S Grant. Image Credit: Public Domain

The First Black Regiments

The first authorized black regiments&mdashdesignated colored troops&mdashconsisted of recruits from Massachusetts, Tennessee, and South Carolina, the latter in areas under Union control, of course. In May 1863, the Corps d’ Afrique was formed in Louisiana by Union major general Nathanial Banks. He planned for it to consist of 18 regiments, infantry, artillery and cavalry, with engineers and mobile hospitals.

Black Union soldiers did not receive equal pay or equal treatment. They were paid $10 a month, with $3 deducted from that pay for clothing&mdashwhite soldiers received $13 a month with no clothing deduction&mdashuntil June 1864, when Congress granted retroactive equal pay. Even in the North, racial discrimination was widespread and blacks were often not treated as equals by white soldiers. In addition, segregated units were formed with black enlisted men commanded by white officers and black non-commissioned officers. Some of the white officers had low opinions of their colored troops and failed to adequately train them.

Black units and soldiers that were captured by the Confederates faced harsher treatment than white prisoners of war. In 1863 the Confederate Congress threatened to punish captured Union officers of black troops and enslave black Union soldiers. In response, Lincoln issued General Order 233, threatening reprisal against Confederate POWs. At the Battle of Fort Pillow, Tennessee, on April 12, 1864, the disorganized Union garrison&mdashalmost 600 men, about half of whom were black&mdashsuffered nearly 575 casualties when they were attacked by Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest. The fight was promptly dubbed a massacre in the Northern press, and it was claimed that black soldiers who attempted to surrender were massacred. Other reports say the Union troops and their commanders refused to surrender. Exactly what happened at Fort Pillow remains controversial to this day, fueled by Forrest’s pre-war trade as a slave dealer and his post-war association with the Ku Klux Klan.

Black troops played a major role at the Battle of the Crater during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, and formed a significant part of the Union force during the Battle of Nashville.

By the time the war ended, some 179,000 black men had served in the Union Army, representing 10 percent of its total. Nearly 20,000 more were in the navy. Nearly 40,000 died, three-fourths of them due to disease or infections.

People, Locations, Episodes

The American Civil War, waged from 1861 to 1865, is remembered on this date.

Before and during this military conflict, the American North and South differed greatly on economic issues. The war was about slavery, (but primarily about its economic consequence)s. The northern elite wanted economic expansion that would change the southern (slave-holding) way of life.

The southern states saw Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party making enormous changes to their way of life using free slave labor. Southerners believed that Abraham Lincoln if elected, would restrict their rights to own slaves. When Lincoln became president 11 southern states seceded rather than give up their economic system and their way of life. Lincoln and the North opposed the South's withdrawal.

The president steadfastly maintained throughout the war that the secession was illegal and that the newly formed Confederate States of America was not valid as a new nation. Both sides knew that the financial advantages of slavery (not the moral position) were in conflict between them. Slavery translated into money for the southern region. Lincoln had hoped that the secession would end without conflict. Immediate sparks that set off the conflict included John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, which Brown, a white abolitionist undertook as part of his mission to free slaves. The Union Army trying to repossess the federal base at Fort Sumter fired the first shots of the Civil War.

The North held many advantages over the South during the Civil War. Its population was several times that of the South, a potential source for military enlistees and civilian manpower. The South lacked the substantial number of factories and industries of the North that produced needed war materials. The North had a better transportation network, mainly highways, canals, and railroads, which could be easily used to re-supply military forces in the field. At sea, the Union navy was more capable and dominant, while the army was better trained and better supplied. The rest of the world also recognized the United States as a legitimate government, allowing U.S. diplomats to obtain loans and other trade concessions.

The South had fewer advantages, but among them that the South fought on its home terrain. The South also had a military tradition that encouraged young men to serve in the armed forces or attend a military school many had served the U.S. military before the Civil War, only to resign and fight for their states and family. In addition, the South had the leadership of great commanders, including Robert E. Lee, Joseph Johnston, and "Stonewall" Jackson.

To defeat the South, the North had to achieve several goals: 1. Secure Control of the Mississippi River to allow unimpeded movement of needed Western goods 2. Cut off the South from international traders and smugglers that could aid the Southern war effort 3. Take the Confederate army out of action to prevent further northward attacks such as that at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and to ease the battle losses of the North 4. Stop the South's ability to produce needed goods and war materials.
The South had to counter these measures with its own plans to capitalize on early victories, weakening the Northern resolve to fight to get international recognition as a sovereign state, and to keep Union forces from seizing Confederate territory. The South did not accomplish its goals, and after nearly four years of fighting, the North won the war.

Another disadvantage for the South was it had to worry about its slave population, which posed the threat of rebellion and assistance to the Northern cause. Regardless of the financial interest of whites (North or South), Blacks wanted to be free from slavery. In addition, the North suffered because a series of senior generals did not successfully exploit the weaknesses of the South, nor did they act upon the suggestions of their President. Lincoln finally got his desired general in Ulysses S. Grant, who had solidified the Union's control of the West in parts of the Mississippi River Basin. Grant directed the defeat of Southern forces and strongholds and held off determined advances northward by Confederates on several occasions before the surrender of General Lee to General Grant in 1865.

The southern fears were worsened when the North issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which legally ended slavery in all territories held by Union troops, but not in all areas of the North, such as loyal, but slave-owning, states along the borders of the two powers. Had the North tried to free slaves in these areas, more aid would have been generated for the South, and slave-owning Maryland's secession would leave the U.S. capital to the Confederates. The troublesome, negative conflict has cast a shadow on the successes of America ever since. The country had to find ways to heal the wounds of war during Reconstruction which fell to the political and innermost values of whites in the South and the North.

National Archives.

Sherman's March
by Davis, Burke,
New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Civil War Curiosities
by Garrison, Webb,
Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1994

Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
HarperCollins 1980.

Civil War Curiosities
by Garrison, Webb,
Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1994

American Civil War: Conclusion - History

Reconstruction was a significant chapter in the history of civil rights in the United States, but most historians consider it a failure.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the successes and failures of Reconstruction

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Reconstruction was a failure according to most historians, but many disagree as to the reasons for that failure.
  • On the one hand, black Americans earned many political and civil freedoms, including suffrage and equal protection under the law, during Reconstruction from constitutional amendments.
  • On the other hand, white-supremacy groups, Jim Crow laws, and state constitutions effectively negated these political gains and subjected black Americans to second-class citizenry.

Key Terms

  • Reconstruction Amendments: The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, adopted between 1865 and 1870, the five years immediately following the Civil War.
  • Jim Crow laws: State and local laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States.

Reconstruction was a significant chapter in the history of civil rights in the United States, but most historians consider it a failure because the South became a poverty-stricken backwater attached to agriculture. White Southerners attempted to reestablish dominance through violence, intimidation, and discrimination, forcing freedmen into second-class citizenship with limited rights, and excluding them from the political process.


The interpretation of Reconstruction has been a topic of controversy. Nearly all historians hold that Reconstruction ended in failure but for different reasons. The following list describes some schools of thought regarding Reconstruction:

  • The Dunning School considered failure inevitable and felt that taking the right to vote or hold office away from Southern whites was a violation of republicanism.
  • A second school sees the reason for failure as Northern Republicans ‘ lack of effectiveness in guaranteeing political rights to blacks.
  • A third school blames the failure on the freedmen not receiving land so they could have their own economic base of power.
  • A fourth school sees the major reason for failure of Reconstruction as the states’ inability to suppress the violence of Southern whites when they sought reversal for blacks’ gains.
  • Other historians emphasize the failure to fully incorporate Southern Unionists into the Republican coalition.

Regardless of the reasons for failure, Reconstruction, although aimed at improving the lives and civil liberties of freedmen, put many black Americans in conditions that were hardly an improvement from slavery. Although legally equal, black Americans were subject to segregation laws in the South, violence at the hands of white-supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and political disfranchisement by state constitutions from 1890 to 1908 that effectively barred most blacks and many poor whites from voting. As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1935, “The slave went free stood a brief moment in the sun then moved back again toward slavery.” The conditions of black Americans would not improve until the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s.


Despite these failures, important landmarks in civil rights for black Americans were reached at that time. The “Reconstruction Amendments” passed by Congress between 1865 and 1870 abolished slavery, gave black Americans equal protection under the law, and granted suffrage to black men. Although these constitutional rights were eroded by racist violence and Jim Crow laws, blacks still began participating in politics, and these amendments established the legal groundwork for more substantive equality during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s. Historian Donald R. Shaffer argued that the gains during Reconstruction for African Americans were not entirely extinguished. The legalization of African-American marriage and family and the independence of black churches from white denominations were a source of strength during the Jim Crow era. Reconstruction was never forgotten among the black community and remained a source of inspiration. The system of sharecropping allowed blacks a considerable amount of freedom as compared to slavery.

Civil War Essays

EACH YEAR, WRITES THE HISTORIAN James M. McPherson, about eight hundred books are published on the Civil War. In all “more than fifty thousand separate books or pamphlets” have appeared “since the guns ceased firing.” The fact that Americans will read insatiably about that awful, transforming conflict is well established. Why then do so many academic historians continue to write just for one another? McPherson does not. He teaches at Princeton his books (including Battle Cry of Freedom and Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution ) have found wide popularity outside the academy. In this collection of first-rate essays, on such subjects as “The Enduring Lincoln,” “Antebellum Southern Exceptionalism,” the importance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin versus Gone With the Wind , and “Who Freed the Slaves?,” McPherson takes the latest professional thinking on the war and gives it clear and popular shape, a deceptively hard accomplishment. He continues to walk a path between Civil War amateurs, who know their tactical history, and scholars of the “new history,” who focus on the period’s social and industrial forces. (McPherson is the first to point out, in his final essay, that the attempt to reach a wide, intelligent audience for history had earlier prompted the founding of the Society of American Historians and its popular-history magazine, American Heritage .)

“The war of 1861-1865,” McPherson writes in his preface, “resolved two fundamental questions left unresolved by the war of 1776-1783: whether the United States would endure as one nation, indivisible and whether slavery would continue to mock the ideals of liberty on which the Republic was founded. Little wonder, then, that popular interest in the Civil War eclipses interest in any other aspect of American history.”

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

Please support this 70-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

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The Civil War

Lt. Col. Alex B. Elder, left, and unknown Civil War soldier.

Political and social impact

1. 13th Amendment: slavery banned

2. 14th: citizenship for all born in the U.S.

3. 15th: voting rights for all male citizens regardless of race

4. Women's rights gain momentum

5. 1862 Homestead Act passed

6. Censorship of battlefield photos

7. Reconstruction laws passed

10. Federal law trumps states' rights

In many ways the Civil War set the stage for modern medicine, providing thousands of poorly schooled physicians with a vast training ground:

11. Modern hospital organization

13. Safer surgical techniques

15. Organized ambulance and nurses' corps

The war influenced our holidays and play:

16. Juneteenth holiday, also known as Emancipation Day

18. Thomas Nast popularizes image of Santa Claus

19. Some 65,000 books on the conflict

20. Films such as Gone With the Wind, Glory and Cold Mountain

21. More than 70 National Park Service Civil War sites

22. Centennial toys: Civil War trading cards and blue & gray toy soldiers

The war years brought technological advances:

23. 15,000 miles of new telegraph lines, which reached the West Coast

24. Mass production of canned food

25. Battlefield photography

26. Transcontinental Railroad

Wartime helped devise or popularize parts of our daily lives:

29. Left and right shoes shaped differently

30. Standard premade clothing in sizes small, medium and large

31. National paper currency

In what's considered the first modern war, both sides developed equipment and tactics that would be refined in later conflicts:

32. Minié ball bullets, cartridge ammunition

In its wake, the war left a system to care for and honor those who fought:

Was the Civil War Inevitable?

Was the Civil War inevitable? Yes. Up until the Southern states seceded and formed a Confederacy, the Civil War was not inevitable. Even with the Force Act, there was no guarantee that the Union would decide to actually use force to bring the Southern states back.

However, the Union decided that the United States of America was only complete with all its current member-states, and went beyond the politics and the business sides to what the Union stood for. In that moment, the Civil War became inevitable.

There is no better example for this than the beginning and ending sentences of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address .

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. […]

[…] we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The Union realized that holding the South to the abolition of slavery was consistent with what the Southern states had agreed to when they joined the United States of America. It was no longer simply a question of politics or economics, but a question of the identity of the United States. At the point that the Union decided to bring the Southern states back into the Union, and re-forge the American identity, the Civil War was inevitable.

Watch the video: The American Civil War - OverSimplified Part 1