The American Civil War

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The American Civil War

The American Civil War lasted for four years. In the conflict of North against South over 625,000 men died, uncounted numbers were wounded and many were maimed. The war began in earnest on an April night in Charleston harbor when forces loyal to the breakaway Southern Confederacy fired on the Fort Sumter. There was very little loss of life; ironic considering the carnage that was to follow. It ended four years later for all intents when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox, Virginia home of Wilmer McLean. Even this location was filled with irony. The land where the first Battle of Manassas was fought on land owned by the very same Wilmer McLean. After the carnage of First Manassas he had sold his land in northern Virginia and moved his family to Appomattox hoping for peace and safety for his family. In the end his front parlor saw the end of the war.

It is said that the American Civil War was the great divide in American history. Everything before it, sometimes called antebellum, was changed after it was concluded. Before the war the United States, North and South, was primarily rural. The Civil War saw the rapid growth of cities, fueled by vast waves of immigrants. The inexorable industrialization that made America an industrial powerhouse was started during the Civil War fueled initially by the need for modern weaponry. The transcontinental railroads that made America a continental power from the Atlantic to the Pacific were started and substantially completed during the Civil War.

Initially, the war was based on states rights on the Southern side and the preservation of the Union on the Northern side. After the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg to the Southerners) when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves became one of the primary goals of the Federal armies. Once black men were allowed to join the Federal armies and wear its uniform there was no turning back.

Over the next four years the United States will commemorate the American Civil War. Americans of every race, color and creed will be exposed to the great struggle that helped to shape our nation. Thousands of reenactors will spend millions of dollars for uniforms and equipment so that they can re-enact the battles that in some cases their ancestors fought. Documentaries will be aired on television. Books will be written or re-published. America will find that in the words of the great Southern writer, William Faulkner, ” the past is not dead, it’s not even past”.

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