- World history
The events of 19th century are buried deep into the core of the American history. Without a shred of doubt, one can argue that America’s contemporary sociopolitical fabric has its origin in the events that occurred between 1820 and 1870. During this period, the U.S. witnessed one of the bloodiest civil war that lasted for over four years and claimed thousands of lives from both the Confederate and the Union armies. For many years, Historians have debated on the cause for the civil, what the war meant to Southern states, commonly referred to as Southerners and the Union states, referred to as the Union. Additionally, the subject of why the Confederates, an army that was predominantly composed of planters, with far superior martial skills lost to the Union, made of industrialists with limited martial skills. Though there lacks consensus on the cause of the civil war and why the formidable Southerners lost, it is generally agreed that post war era, the civil war, and the reconstruction era, are indeed important periods in the history of America, and formed the ground on which the current American civilization is founded. In this regard, the present essay explores the ideals that led men to leave their plantations and join an uncertain cause, which led to death of thousands of people and beggared millions of families.
Long before the outbreak of the civil war, disputes often arose between the North and the South. It is noteworthy that the economic activities of the two regions were different with the Northerners being predominantly industrialists while the Southerners were planters. In 1832, the government introduced national tariffs that were construed to favor Northern manufacturers at the expense of the Southerners. This led to the Nullification Crisis, where some states declared such tariffs null and void, and threatened to secede from the Union, though such an extreme measure was thwarted through a compromise from the government. However, these subtle differences, though often solved through compromises, meant that it would be difficult for the two regions to remain in the same Union.
Therefore, when Northerners attitudes towards slavery began to change, it was clear that the Southerners would hardly take it any longer. It is noteworthy that Southerners depended on slaves to provide them with labor for their large cotton plantations. Therefore, this changing attitude from Northern states brought the question of Southern states’ rights to the fore. With time, Northern abolitionist began to assail states and institutions that practiced slavery. Of important, is that Northern states had little or no use for slaves because they needed skilled labor in their manufacturing. On the contrary, Southerners’ economic independence was threatened by the prospect of freeing their slaves. Between 1846 and 1860, the debate over slavery intensified, and as a result, a wider gap emerged between the non-slave holding and slaveholding states. The conflict reached a tipping point when the Republic party, led by Abraham Lincoln won the 1859 elections. Lincoln was inclined to abolishing slavery, and it is then that the Southern states seceded from the Union.
When the question of the cause of the war is raised, one cannot give an impartial response without considering both of the opposing sides. From the viewpoint of a Southerner, the war was fought to protect their pride and dignity. By asking them to free their slaves, what the Northerners were asking them was to give up on their sole source of livelihood. With thousands of acres of plantations, it was inconceivable that the Southerners would freely set their slaves free. Therefore, when the Confederate government called them to pick up arms and protect their rights, they had a clear cause that every planter was willing to fight and die for. On the other hand, the Union was determined that the Southern should remain in the Union. Indeed, many historians have argued that the Union did not go to war to free slaves, but was driven by an impulsive desire for sovereignty. These historians believe that the onslaught on the Confederate government was driven by the desire for economic control of the United States disguised as a fight against slavery. That Northern anti-Southern prejudice and greed for their economic resources led the Union to war against the Southerners cannot be overstated.
In his letter to his wife, a Confederate officer narrates how he has been faring in the war and how he cherishes every moment despite the difficult circumstances that he has to endure. What is evident in his letter is his belief in the cause and his willingness to fight for it. When his wife pleads with him to abandon the war and come back home, he blatantly refuses and speaks highly of the cause.
However, it would be foolhardy to assume that Union soldiers fought and died for such a vague cause. Often, the world is reminded on of the Union soldiers, referred to as Yankees, as articulate, principled, and ready to sacrifice their lives for a cause. Indeed, the gallant General William Sherman, who lost his son during the civil war, but fought to the end, epitomizes the union soldiers. From these historical recounts, t is clear that the Union soldiers were intensely aware of their cause, the issue at stake, and were passionately concerned about those issues. Historians argue that Union soldiers were aware that they were playing a critical role in a transcendently struggle, on which the future of the American democracy would be based. In fact, as the war progressed, the Manning’s Union ‘commitment to emancipation’ intensified and deepened. For these soldiers, the ideals that they were fighting for, and for which they were ready to die for like equality, self-government, and liberty were not mere abstractions, but core principles worth fighting to uphold. However, some of the Union soldiers did question the morality of the cause for which they were fighting. According to letters by a Union soldier, Charles Freeman Biddlecom, to his wife, it is clear that some of the Union soldiers had lost faith in their cause. In his detailed account of the Army’s ordeal as it went into winter quarters, Biddlecom laments that he was cold, afflicted by lice, and sickened by dysentery. He states that he and his three colleagues lived in a miserable state. Indeed, he thinks that Lincoln and his ‘miserable crew’ will never be able to see the war to a successful end, and states that it would have been better if the South was let out peaceably to go and try her hand at making a nation.
From the foregoing, one can argue that the American civil war was fought on different ideals depending on which camp one was. The Southerners, though they lost due to their firepower and manpower numeracy disadvantage, fought because they believed that by remaining in the Union, they would be jeopardizing their economic stability. On the other hand, Union soldiers spurred by the ideologies of patriotism believed that they were fighting for a fundamental principle, equality and the right for self-governance. In addition, that the Union won, one can argue that the principles that the Union fought for, continues to define the modern American society.
Also read The First Punic War essay example.