The American Civil War Essay

Overview of the theme and key/main points

This paper will discuss The American Civil War which happened from 1861-1865. The American Civil War is a very important part of the history of the United States because it is one of the turning points that allowed the United States to be what it is today. The American Civil War made an economical, social and political impact on the nation. This paper will detail the aspects and features of the American Civil War and how and why it was a social phenomenon with immense impact on the lives of Americans. This paper will also discuss the causes of the war particularly slavery, economic and social differences between the north and the south, states versus federal rights, the growth of the Abolition movement and the election of Abraham Lincoln.

The major events that happened during the war, including The Battle of Bull Run on July 1861, The War Order on January 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1863, the Assassination of President Lincoln on April 14, 1865 and the final surrender of the Confederate Army on May 4, 1865, will also be discussed, followed by the discussion on the effects of the war, which includes a glimpse on the amount of human lives lost during the war, the participation of the African Americans during the war, the economic struggle that followed the war, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution and the rise of the Republicans as a major political party after the war.

I. Introduction

In the many wars that the United States has been on, no other war have greatly impacted the US as a nation compared to the effect of the American Civil War, a battle that was fought from 1861 until 1865. The participation of American soldiers in this particular war resulted in what is now considered as the bloodiest war that the US has been involved in, with a combined death of soldiers and non combatants numbering to more than one million American lives. Added to this was the destruction of property and the impact of the war on the economics of the country and the losses sustained because of the armed conflict makes the American Civil War an event in the US history which resulted in many significant changes that affected the American way of life even until today. The American Civil War was far reaching that it affected the country in different spheres – economically, socially, and politically. There were many reasons why the American Civil War was fought, and in the end, the country was also brought face to face with many different realizations, lessons that somehow it managed to share with world – lessons on mankind and equality, lessons on oppression and freedom and lessons on defending life even at the expense of death, among many other. This paper will discuss the many important aspects of the American Civil War in order to clearly establish the connections and see why it started, how it ended, and how things happened the way it did, leading to the events that transpired during the duration of the fighting of the American Civil War. However, critics and historians interpret the many different aspects of the American Civil War. The only thing certain is that it happened because Americans saw no other available course of action for them to be able to address important socio-political and socio-economic concerns that somehow found itself clustered in a ball, each piece tightly integrated with the other that it was impossible to address one problem without tackling the rest of the compounded issues of slavery, state rights and federal rights and the rise to political power of men and their ideologies.

II. Causes, major events, and effects of the Civil War

A. Causes of the Civil War

The start of the American Civil War was believed to be caused by slavery. But historians believed that the cause is not simple and singular as that. While everything indeed was connected with slavery and the politics that is involved in slavery between southern and northern states, there were several, more particular causes that give rise to the American Civil War.

1. Slavery – The creators of the secessionist ideology believed that most of the northern states and its leaders like Abraham Lincoln are pushing for the removal of the practice of keeping slaves, even if Lincoln and his supporters were merely pushing for laws that will not allow the practice of using slaves in places where slavery is not yet practiced, and allowing slavery to continue in places where it is already practiced. But secessionists, nonetheless, defended their belief and validated their fears and resorted to creating a government separate and independent from the existing government to be able to control slave management, among many different reasons. Many states which believed in the necessity of keeping the slave practice alive for their own economic reasons supported the move for secession and supported the Confederacy as the Confederate army went to war against the Union Army in the American Civil War (Davis, 2006, p. 304).

2. Economic and social differences between the north and the south – Northern and southern US states argued about the slavery and how it will impact the way of life, particularly the economic impact towards southern states especially if slavery will be abolished in the near future. Many states were forced to join the Confederacy and participate in the American Civil War in the belief that this act of stopping the rule of Northern politics on slavery is important not just in maintaining the use and role of slaves in the southern states but also in maintaining the economic and social way of life in the south. Most of the southern states had its economics dependent on the income of the plantations. And these plantations would not be productive if the slaves that are used in these plantations are emancipated or granted equal rights. Southern states believe that the rise of the belief that the practice of slave should be extinguished and not allowed to spread threatens the economic stability and income-generating capability of the southern states that depend largely on the manual labor of slaves to keep their businesses going. Some southern state politicians and supporters of the Confederacy merely believed in the social structure and order of things, which includes social stratification, wherein not everyone is “equal” – there are social leaders and mere followers, there are landowners who are not equal with farm hands, as slaves cannot be considered socially as an equal to a person whose social standing is considered higher compared to these African American individuals working the land. These social ideologies, as well as the protection of economic sustainability and ability for production, contributed in the rise of the need for Southern States to take up arms and fight the Union control (History Place, 1996).

3. States versus federal rights – Another reason why the secessionist states established the Confederacy and risked the losses that goes along with the prospect of engaging the Union in an open civil war is because these states believed that there are several issues that needs to be addressed (and/or changed) especially in the determination of the boundaries of state right and federal right. The right to manage the slaves is just one of these problems, and one of the most popular since this particular issue is one of the points where state and federal control is highly contested by the states that wanted change and the state that wanted to keep the social status quo (History Place, 1996).

4. Growth of the Abolition movement – The growth of the abolitionism in the United States, as well as in the rest of the world, contributed to the eruption of the civil war. Like the other local movements that were in protection and defense of the welfare and human rights of African Americans leading to their imminent freedom from slave work, abolitionism was something that many soon-to-be Confederate states are wary of because of the impact of this movement to the tradition of keeping slaves and the threat abolition makes on how the status quo would be changed in favor of African Americans who maybe freed from slavery once the abolitionist attain their ultimate victory (History Place, 1996).

5. The election of Abraham Lincoln – The election of Abraham Lincoln was considered as one of the causes of the American Civil War. Many Southern politicians believed that the coming to power of an anti-slavery politician like Lincoln could have serious repercussions in the practice of keeping slaves. Southern politicians also believed that Lincoln’s ascend to the highest office in the US would be utilized by Lincoln and the supporters of anti-slavery movement to make slavery extinct and eventually stop the practice of keeping slaves. Because of this perceived threat to the Southern way of life, Southern politicians who were spearheading the secession movement also supported open war versus Lincoln, his leadership and the Union army, which he led to quell the secession (which Lincoln considered as null, void and illegal) and put an end to the Civil War (History Place, 1996).

B. Major Events of the Civil War

The American Civil War was fought for four years. Many different places in the entire US territory were battlegrounds for the many different skirmishes and major battles that happened during this time; and many political events took place as well during the time when the Union and the Confederate Armies were engaging one another in a hostile encounter. But there are very few select events that can be considered as instrumental in shaping the outcome of the American Civil War.

1. Battle of Bull Run (July 1861) – The first Battle of the Bull Run is an important battle in the US Civil War history because it is the first land battle wherein Confederate and Union Army engaged. This was followed by a second Battle of the Bull Run the following year. In the first encounter, the Union Army was defeated. This engagement was fought in Manassas, Virginia (and because of that it was also called First Battle of Manassas). The victorious Confederate Army was led by Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston and Brigadier General PGT Beauregard while it was Brigadier General Irvin McDowell who led the Union Army. The casualty count for both armies did not exceed 500 each, but the Confederate lost some high profile soldiers like Col. Francis S. Bartow.

2. The War Order (January 1862) – The General War Order No. 1 which was released on January 31, 1862 was a significant event in the US Civil War because this makes official the coordinated general advance troop movements to areas of battle as President Lincoln ordered the movement of its navy as well as the Union’s land army. While engagements happened earlier than the announcement of the war order, this declaration signals the start of a full blown open war that the Union will wage versus the rebel Confederate army.

3. Emancipation Proclamation (January 1863) – The Emancipation Proclamation is important because the release of this law freed the slaves who were serving inside the Confederate territories. This law, however, does not include the slaves found in the Union states, although the slaves in these particular areas are freed nonetheless by other means, either through local state action or through the Thirteenth Amendment (Davis, 2006, p. 299).

4. Assassination of President Lincoln (April 14, 1865) – The assassination of President Lincoln – which happened as John Wilkes Booth managed to sneak and shot Lincoln in the head while Lincoln was watching “Our American Cousin” inside Ford’s Theater – if anything was anti climactic. With the impending loss of the Confederacy and the imminent reunion of the north and south under Union just a few weeks after he was killed, Lincoln was not able to see through the end of the war that he and his ideologies and leadership inspired to win. Through Lincoln’s belief in defense of the rights of African Americans who should not remain slaves, the Union Army found the moral ground to fight, and eventually win. His assassination was of no measure a sense of poetic justice for the Confederates. Nonetheless, his death was mourned because it meant the death of a great American leader in the time that the country needed one to help in the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

5. Final surrender of the Confederate Army (May 4, 1865) – The final surrender of the Confederate Army is considered as an important event in the war because it signalled the end of the armed conflict and the start of the Reconstruction of US. The surrender of the Confederate Army was scattered throughout April and May of 1865, the most notable of which is the surrender of General Robert Lee in Virginia on April 9, 1865.

C. The Effects of the American Civil War

There were immediate and post-war effects resulting from the battles that were fought and the political alterations in the society during and immediately after the American Civil War. Among the immediate effects of the war included the death toll that was experienced in the battlefront for both Confederate and Union army soldiers. There was also the immediate and long term economic struggle resulting from local battles, protracted war and the economic struggle as a result of the Civil War that affected the United States as a whole. But not all of the effects where negative since there were also good things that came out of the American Civil War. One of the most important effects of the American Civil War is the creation of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendment in the US Constitution, amendments which upheld, established and protected the human rights of African Americans and the rest of the American people from that point on. Politically, the American Civil War and the victory of Lincoln and the Union army helped in making the Republican Party a significant and influential political party in the United States until today.

1. Cost of lost human lives – Armed conflicts and wars result to the loss of lives, resulting from the deaths of not just combatants but also innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. The American Civil War is one of the wars that the US participated in wherein there is a very large amount of dead resulting from the armed conflict, pegged at 620,000 bodies of dead combatants alone (see US Civil War entry in The History Place) (Harrell, et. al., 2005, p. 507).  “The total deaths resulting from the conflict add up to more than 620,000 with 364,222 Union soldiers and 258,000 Confederate soldiers dead (Harrell, et. al., 2005, p. 507).”

2. Role of the African Americans during war – African Americans played an important role during the American Civil War, particularly as soldiers as well as members of the support units that helped the Union Army and allowed for the increase of the already very significant advantage the Union Army has over the Confederates. “When the Civil War began in 1861, African Americans eagerly volunteered for service (Westheider, 2007, p. 1).” The Union Army, as sympathizers to the African American, was rewarded for this particular socio-political stand, as African Americans volunteered as soldiers and crews for support units during the war. The Confederate Army was not in the position to enjoy similar added support; for one, they do not believe that African Americans should be given arms, and secondly, they believe that entrusting African Americans to be soldiers would already send the message that they believe that the African Americans are their equal, contradicting their stand on giving African American slaves freedom and giving them equality, one of the issues which led them to open war with the Union Army in the first place (Westheider, 2007, p. 1).

3. Economic struggle – There was economic struggle during and after the American Civil War. During the war, the Southern states that allied themselves to the Confederacy suffered greatly because of the blockade that the Union Army established, cutting off trade relations of Confederacy states with its local and international trade partners. Making it worse is the use of Confederate states of its cotton supply to blackmail the British and force them to intervene and/or join the Confederates in the battle versus the Union Army, a move that was detrimental mostly for Southern Confederate states because the British (1) had a surplus of cotton enough to fill the void made when Confederate states wouldn’t trade with the British unless the British helped them during the war, and (2) cotton supply was found in India and Egypt. With trade routes blocked, the local economies of Confederate states suffered a serious collapse, resulting to public unrest and several bread riots in different places. There were also some economic struggles during the process of re-integrating former Confederate states back to the Union after the defeat of the Confederate government, but this was easily managed by the leaders that led the country during its Reconstruction era.

4. 13, 14, 15th Amendment added to Constitution – The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution are important because these allow the creation of constitutionally-protected rights by African American individuals in the US, especially since the 13th amendment abolished the practice of slavery, the 14th amendment naming the available equal federal legal protection for every US citizen regardless of a person’s ethnicity and racial profile and background, and the 15th amendment addressing the problem on voting restriction for African Americans.

5. Republicans become the majority party – Abraham Lincoln and other prominent individuals during and after the American Civil War were Republican Party members which were against slavery. “The Republican Party was committed to free-labor ideology and to the proposition that slavery was morally wrong (Davis, 2006, p. 294).” Because of the success of the Union Army in the war and the growing influence and clout of Republican Party members especially since many of them held important government positions after the American Civil War and during the significant Restoration Era, the party was able to rise to prominence and remained a very powerful political party until today.

III. Conclusion

The American Civil reflects the struggle of the forefathers of the American nation, some of whom fought for what was morally right, even at the expense of the lives of many young men and women, the undying quest to uphold what is right. Despite what the historians wrote about this event, many believe there are still many unclear and gray areas about the War. “One hundred and forty years after the beginning of that fratricidal conflict, neither the public nor the scholarly community has reached anything approaching a consensus as to what caused the bloodiest four years in this country’s history (Dew, 2002, p. 4).” Nonetheless, the forefathers of the American nation, because of their role in the war, because of their role in removing slavery and giving everyone equal rights, privileges and opportunities in life, have all come to symbolize the enviable ethos from which the heart and soul of the new American nation was created from. The American Civil War was written in the pages of history through the blood of those who died. But in retrospect, the lives of those who died were not in vain because their deaths allowed the world to see that like the forefathers of the American nation, everyone can rise up against the practice of evil towards fellow human beings and help in re-creating the order of things so that tomorrow brings with it a promise of a better life for everyone, not just for the select few.  In the context of the American Civil War, this attitude is the real measure of bravery – the action to make change for the better. Without the American Civil War, it is hard to imagine if the United States would have developed as it is today – the land of the free and the home of the brave.

References

Davis, D. B. (2006). Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World.

Oxford University Press.

Dew, C. B. (2002). Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes

of the Civil War. University of Virginia Press.

Harrell, D., Gaustad, E. S., Boles, J. B. and Woods, R. (2005). Unto a Good Land: A History

of the American People Volume 1: To 1900. Eerdmans, William B. Publishing

Company.

History Place (1996). The US Civil War 1861-1865. Retrieved January 9, 2008, from

http://www.historyplace.com/civilwar/index.html

United States Civil War. Retrieved January 9, 2008, from http://www.us-civilwar.com/

Westheider, J. E. (2007). African American Experience in Vietnam: Brothers in Arms.

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.