The United States has been involved in some serious conflicts for more than two centuries of history. Both World Wars were exceedingly difficult times to go through. Each one burdened the nation’s talents and resources to the brink. However, neither one of those conflicts can be truly compared to the American Civil War in terms of not just the carnage and loss in human life, but also in how much it tore up the nation’s social fabric.
America as a nation is usually quite proud of how few attacks from enemies have happened on its own soil. 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and Japanese incursions into the remote Aleutian Islands are notable exceptions, but for the most part, the United States hasn’t had to fight an enemy on its own soil since the war of 1812. The one time a war was fought on its own soil was when America turned on itself, in a war where brothers fought one another.
The recorded statistics for this war are mind-boggling considering how short of a conflict it was. Many wars last longer than just four years, especially if you consider that World War II was already raging for years before America was drawn in, or that America is still in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years.
The war started in Charleston, South Carolina, but the North was nearly always better equipped in terms of supplies, resources, and preparation. However, the commander of the Confederate Army, General Lee, was a cunning tactician. The series of battles resulted in almost a million Americans dead. That’s 20 times the losses of Vietnam and double that of World War II.
The numbers alone are tragic, but real travesty was in who died. It was America’s youth that was lost. The looming hope of the future died on battlefields like Gettysburg and Antietam, with skirmishes happening as far west as Colorado. The setback in the American economy and its development was pronounced. America lost 3 percent of its population in just four years. Many survivors were also maimed, wounded, and disabled for the rest of their life.
The causes of the Civil War are hotly debated, even a century and a half after the fact. Historians often point to the issue of slavery being the flashpoint, while there are those that say it was more about the rights of states over the federal government. To be sure, the Revolutionary War was a result of a fierce independent streak of Americans that didn’t like being under the yoke of strong central power.
Confederate states certainly didn’t want to give up plantation-based economies that needed slave labor, nor did they feel that Northern states had the right to tell them that the entire country would abolish slavery. The North was more based on industry, and that manufacturing prowess was a big reason why the Union won.
Today, monuments, battlefields, and museums stand as a testament and reminder to a conflict that tore everything from families to the whole nation apart. They remind everyone that the nation’s war might never again be turned against its own populace and that all Americans should be free and equal.