MOOC | The First Modern War? | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1865 | 2.1.1

MOOC | The First Modern War? | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1865 | 2.1.1


>>Today I’m going to talk more about the Civil War as a war. What happened militarily, in a general way, not individual battles. And of course, a war is fought by soldiers — and young soldiers. Here’s one young fellow from, a Confederate soldier, Jemmison. Here’s another. When people went off to the Civil War, they often sat for these photographs, daguerreotypes, what were called cartes de visite. Little… You can see these in museums all over the place, or you can get them on eBay, they’re all over the place. Little things like this which had their image on it. They gave it to their families, loved ones. There’s another one. And then just one more, Travis. This is a sergeant in the Union army. So these are, you know, these are young men. Probably three million people fought in the Civil War at one time or another, out of a total North/South population of 30, a little bit over 30 million. And just to make the point that everybody knows, or should know, there is no romanticism about war. This is what war is. This is the dead in the field after the Battle of Gettysburg. So, you know, this is war. Here’s a little chart of the casualties, and actually, the Civil War bar is too low now. More recent estimates suggest that maybe 700 to 720,000 people died in the Civil War, North and South. This compares the death rate of Americans in the Civil War to all the other wars of the United States, and you see it’s… Actually, if you add up all the other wars the United States has taken part in since the Revolution, well, since independence, the casualties don’t add up to the casualties in the Civil War. In other words more people, more Americans, if you count Southerners as Americans, were killed in the Civil War than all the other wars of America combined. So this is by far the biggest tragedy of that kind in American history. If you say 700,000, I mean, yeah 700,000 dead out of a population of a little over 30 million, you multiply that out. Today we have a population of a little over 300 million. In other words, our total population today is 10 times the total population at that time, so figure it out: 700, that would mean a war in which 7 million Americans died, in terms of the equivalent percentage of the population today. So you see what a gigantic thing that is. Now the Civil War is sometimes called, by historians, the “first modern war.” That’s maybe not a very good term, because modern is often not a very precise idea. It was more modern than what came before it, it was less modern than what came after. It began, it was modern in that it became, although it didn’t begin as, a total war, in a sense it was fought by mass armies with each side fighting for an absolute value: either union and then emancipation for the North, independence for the South, which made a total victory almost inevitable. In other words, it was almost impossible for a war like this to end with anything other than the destruction of one side or the other. There was no ground for compromise. Of course, many aspects of the war were not modern. Medical care was terribly primitive, and far more soldiers died of disease and the results of wounds than actual immediate death on the battlefield. Of course, there were no cruise missiles and drones and nuclear weapons. And indeed, even mass casualties were not unknown in this period. Right when the Civil War ended, what’s called the War of the Triple Alliance began in Latin America of Brazil and Uruguay versus Paraguay, which led to a higher percentage of death among Paraguayans than in the American Civil War. So this is not the only mass war of that time. But what was new and modern about the American Civil War was that it was the combination of mass armies, armies of hundreds of thousands of people, or tens of thousands, up to well over 100,000 people, wielding the weapons created by the Industrial Revolution. Not the weapons of today, but powerful, deadly weapons created by the Industrial Revolution. The mobilization of industrial society leads to these tremendous casualties of the Civil War, as we will see in a minute. Now if we see the war as it becomes, not beginning, a war of society against society, a mass war, not just the war of professional armies against each other, that has profound implications for how you conduct a war. You cannot win a war like that just by occupying territory or capturing the capital of the enemy, even though Union generals were trying to capture Richmond, that wouldn’t have ended the war, a war of this kind. Even the Mexican War, a much smaller war, didn’t end when the United States army occupied Mexico City. The war went on. Occupying a place doesn’t end a war like this. What you have to do is either destroy the economy of the enemy so they cannot fight, or, more importantly perhaps, destroy the will to fight. The will to fight becomes a major military resource. Particularly in democratic or quasi-democratic societies, if the population decides they don’t want to fight anymore, that’s the end of the war, regardless of what’s happening on the battlefield or what the balance of technology is, or things like that. Which is why it’s difficult to, or wrong to interpret the Civil War purely from a military point of view. Successful generals were ones who understood that public morale was part of the equation, that you sometimes had to do things to affect or react to public opinion, even when it might not be the smartest thing militarily. Some generals have to move when they’re not quite ready because people demand it. This happens, and then of course, political leadership becomes critical in a war like this.

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