As a result of the Civil War we saw the establishment of national cemeteries, homes for soldiers (which later became the Veterans Administration) and pensions of various kinds for veterans’ widows and orphans. Decoration Day was started and has evolved into Memorial Day.
Arlington Cemetery — which our country and people hold in great reverence, as they should — originally was the farm of Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army. The cemetery was started as a put down to the general. Mrs. Lee had attempted to go to Washington, D.C. to pay the taxes on the farm and was prohibited from doing so and thus the farm was turned into a cemetery.
The loss of life during the Civil War had a stunning effect on our country. According to the U.S. Census, in the decade before the Civil War, 1850-1860, the population of the United States grew by approximately eight million people. Between 1860 and 1870, the United States population grew by seven million and in the decade after the Civil War, 1870 to 1880, the United States population grew by approximately 12 million.
During the war, Union losses from battle and disease totaled 360, 222 and the Confederate losses were 258,000. Estimates of total losses are around 700,000 from all causes. Accurate records were difficult to maintain, but there were reports from some units after a battle that the only survivor was the unit’s drummer boy. Some units were comprised of men from the same town and after the war was over only a small fraction of those men returned and they were probably injured in some way. Many veterans had suffered amputations of various kinds.
The devastation did not stop on the battlefields. Not only was the country’s work force of men devastated, but materials were used, money was spent to support the war and average citizens endured rationing. Births were fewer, hence another reason the census count for the decade that included the Civil War was considerably lower than subsequent decades.
Socially, as a result of the Civil War, our Constitution added three new amendments: the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery; the 14th Amendment giving citizenship to all people born in the United States; and the 15th Amendment establishing voting rights to all male citizens regardless of race.
The deadliest battle of the Civil War — fought at Gettysburg in which 51,000 were killed in three days — was started because a band of Confederate soldiers were discovered while searching for desperately needed shoes. Ironically, after the Civil War, shoes were redesigned to be both left and right. Prior to the Civil War they were straight, neither left nor right. In fact, if you look closely at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. you’ll see that Honest Abe’s shoes are straight as well, neither left nor right.
There were many improvements in our country’s well-being after the Civil War, but overall it was devastating to all aspects of our society. Esteemed author and historian Shelby Foote said, “Before the Civil War it was said, ‘The United States are …’ It was thought of as a collection of independent states. After the war it was always, ‘The United States is…’ The war made us ‘is.’ ”
We should never forget the Civil War, ever.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.