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Effects and Implications of the Civil War for Women, Slaves, and Free Blacks in the South and the North, Essay Example

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Essay

The Civil War in the United States began slowly, and many believed that a number of factors would combine to make it a short battle. Many in the North viewed the resistance in the South as being supported almost entirely by a handful of wealthy white men –most of whom were slave owners- and suspected that broader support for the war among the general population was tenuous at best. Those in the South had similar misgivings about the will to fight on the Northern side, and believed that a protracted war would sap the determination of their opponents.  There was, moreover, a belief on both sides of the battle line that the Civil War was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight,” (Schultz, 2012) especially because those with wealth and privilege were able, through a variety of means, to avoid military service. As the war dragged on, however, the determination to win became more deeply entrenched both in the North and the South; as the negative social, economic and military consequences of the war mounted, the effects began to touch all elements of society. By the time the war was fully underway it was not only men who were directly affected by the circumstances; women were feeling the ravages of war as well, and even slaves began to become a factor as many of them openly rebelled against their masters, ran away, or even took up arms in the conflict.

There were a number of factors that conspired to make the Civil War particularly taxing for the South. As the market revolution was transforming the nation’s economic systems, the North and the South responded and adapted to these changes in different ways. In the North, the transition to a market-based economy meant that many farmers and other businessmen who worked in sectors that had, for decades, been the province of the self-reliant began to move towards growing crops or making goods with a much narrower focus (Henretta, Edwards, and Self, 2011). These crops and goods would then be taken to markets where they would be sold or traded for other goods. The evolution of this market economy in the North led to the development and improvement of infrastructure, most notably in terms of roads, canals, and other modes of transportation that would allow buyers and sellers to move crops, goods, and products to and from the market (Schultz).

The South responded quite differently; rather than make any fundamental changes to their economic system, they largely expanded on the existing cotton production and other agricultural staples (Henretta, Edwards, and Self). Few improvements to transportation infrastructure were made; those that were primarily benefited plantation owners and others at the top of the economic food chain. The upshot of this lack of infrastructure was that Confederate leaders had little capacity to travel through the South for the purpose of rallying the public to the cause of the war effort (Schultz).

As the shortages of crops, goods, and products wrought by the war began to take full effect, many women in the South began to lose their stomach for the war, and became unsure that independence was worth the costs they and their families were paying (Schultz). At the same time, many women did support the war efforts of their respective sides, and these women took up jobs and social duties that had long been relegated to men. Some women took jobs outside the home, working in factories, offices, and shops (Schultz). Women also revolutionized nursing during the Civil War, often serving to help wounded soldiers on the battlefield (Schultz). These efforts by women in all sectors of society would have profound and lasting impacts long after the war was over (Henretta, Edwards, and Self).

Slaves and Free Blacks also played crucial roles in the war. In the South, as many men had to leave their plantations and farms to go into military service, the slaves they left behind began to openly rebel; some would simply avoid their duties, others would run away and seek refuge in the North, and some even fought in the war (Schultz). President Lincoln avoided bringing blacks into the army at the beginning of the war, fearing that doing so would cause problems among white soldiers and among Northerners in general. When Lincoln finally announced the Emancipation Proclamation, however, he ordered that blacks be accepted into the Army and Navy. Tens of thousands of black men fought on the side of the Union Army in the final years of the war; most were runaway slaves, but thousands of them were Free Blacks who had long wanted to fight for the North (Schultz). Although the Emancipation Proclamation brought a legal end to slavery, it was also the actions of slaves in the South and former slaves and Free Blacks in the North who helped transform the Emancipation Proclamation from a legal document into a present-day reality.

 

References

Henretta, J. A., Edwards, R., & Self, R. O. (2011). America’s history. Boston, MA:         Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Schultz, K. M. (2012). HIST2, Volume 1. Retrieved from The University of Phoenix                 eBook Collection.

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