I wrote my first part of this treatise at the half way point in watching “The Civil War”, a 1990 US documentary TV series on the American Civil War (1861-1865), which provided imo excellent coverage of the important happenings, but have now just watched the final episode.
Besides my own interest in history, and particularly this aspect of history, I watched the series again (I previously watched it when the series first came out) in order to better understand present day USA. I sense that we are about to see some momentous happenings in the USA that will affect the whole world, and at the same time we see huge diversity, a lot of it is polarizing, in the American way of life, most obviously evidenced in that the American people are about to choose between poles apart Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to be its next president. So what lessons can we draw from this TV series?
- This was a terrible war, however you look at it, and it has left its scars that can be seen even to the present day. Not only were there deaths in battle, many died of disease and due to injury (1.1million casualties, 600,000 deaths) and many others severely affected.
- In a strange way, one outcome of the War was to bring together a previously disunited nation as one nation, as opposed to a set of affiliated states merely joining together within the Union.
- While freedom of slaves was a key issue, it started off as a war between those wanting states rights (i.e. the South) NOT to be usurped by Federal imposition (as favored by the North).
- Besides eliciting an emotional response, freedom of slaves increasingly became an issue, but it became an issue as much in order to gain political advantage as one of moral principle.
- Even though slavery was abolished, it was not until 100 years later that the blacks were able to secure full civil rights, and some will say there is still a battle to be fought, even now.
- It was a technologically sophisticated war (maybe the first), where the damage caused by weapons in terms of loss of life and injury was horrendous and there was little around in the way to counter it. Use of technology was evidenced in ways other than weapons.
- It was as close as you can get to Total War as can be found before the two World Wars, where destroying the economy and inconveniencing civilians was an important strategy.
- While it was a war fought between common soldiers, a lot has been made of the individual generals and their impact (positive and negative), strengths and foibles, on the outcome of the various battles fought.The part played by the opposing presidents (Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davies) was also significant.
- Two of the great General geniuses (Robert E Lee – Confederacy and Ulysses S Grant – Union) who between them ended the War, also made horrendous mistakes resulting in huge, avoidable loss of lives (Lee – Gettysburg; Grant – Cold Harbor).
- While the War brought about many heroic, generous and noble acts, it also showed human nature at its worse, e.g. the innocent suffering, war profiteers and war criminals.
- It was never going to be a war the South would win and yet it was one they continued to fight, long after it should have been made clear to them they were going to lose it, but they persisted, due to their bravery, audacity, self-sacrifice and stubbornness.
- Most who fought in and supported the war (from either side) were people of principle who were resolute and ideologically motivated and were often eager to seek the will and favour of God.
How all this bears on present day USA, it is still difficult to say. Perhaps one clue is 150 years ago the forefathers of today’s US citizens gave everything in order to secure an ideal, and sometimes, as is evident in the Trump verses Clinton case, promoting of of American values and ongoing culture wars, this cannot be ignored.