The Civil War altered American society forever. The first great
legacy of the war in the lives of its survivors was, therefore,
death itself. Although precise figures on enlistments are
unavailable, it appears that 700,000 to 800,000 men served in
the Confederate armies. Far more, possibly 2.3 million, served in
the Union armies. All of these men were taken from home,
family, and personal goals; their lives, if they survived, were
disrupted in ways that were never repaired. During the war, in
both North and South, women, too, took on new roles as they
struggled to manage the hardships of the home front, to grieve,
and to support the war effort.
Industrialization and economic enterprises grew exponentially
in tandem with the war. Ordinary citizens found that their
futures were increasingly tied to huge organizations. The
character and extent of government power, too, changed
markedly. Under Republican leadership, the federal government
expanded its power not only to preserve the Union but also to
extend freedom. A social revolution and government authority
emancipated the slaves. A republic desperately divided against
itself had survived, but in new constitutional forms yet to take
shape during Reconstruction.
It was unclear at the end of the war how or whether the nation
would use its power to protect the rights of the former slaves.
Secession was dead, but whether Americans would continue to
embrace a centralized nationalism remained to be seen. The
war ended decisively after tremendous sacrifice, but it left many
unanswered questions: How would white southerners,
embittered and impoverished, respond to efforts to reconstruct
the nation? How would the country care for the maimed, the
orphans, the farming women without men to work their land,
and all the dead who had to be found and properly buried?
What would be the place of black men and women in American
life? How would Americans struggle over the memory of this,
their most divisive experience in the decades ahead?
In the West, two civil wars had raged: one between Union and
Confederate forces and the other resulting in a conquest of
southwestern Native peoples by U.S. troops and land-hungry
settlers. On the diplomatic front, the Union government had
delicately managed to keep Great Britain and other foreign
powers out of the war. Dissent flourished in both North and
South, playing a crucial role in the ultimate collapse of the
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