A War far from Civil  

On 12th April 1861, the four-year-long American Civil War began. The gruesome war in the United States between the Union and the Confederacy, which resulted in a huge toll of 620,000 to 10 lakh lives, ended on 26th May 1865. Many more were injured. The Civil War was indisputably the deadliest among all the American wars, but it resulted in a great thing that is the abolition of slavery from the United States.

During the Civil War, the US was referred to as the Union. Informally it was called the North too. The eleven southern slave states of the US seceded from the US to form the Confederate States of America.  They were also collectively called Confederacy or the South. The 11 southern states which seceded from the Union were South CarolinaMississippiFloridaAlabamaGeorgiaLouisianaTexasVirginia

ArkansasTennessee, and North Carolina

Fight for Slavery 

The root cause of the secession was the decades of controversy and the resulting acrimony over slavery. The main dispute which lead to the war was whether slavery would be allowed to expand into the western territories, leading to more slave states, or be prevented from doing so, which many believed would lead to slavery’s eventual extinction from the US.

The election of Abraham Lincoln, who strongly opposed slavery, as the President of the United States in 1860, gave further momentum to this long brewing friction. The Republican Party, which Lincoln represented, also had a clear anti-slavery stance. 

During the mid-nineteenth century US, the southern states of the United States, who were also called the Southerners, were less developed, less industrialised and more agrarian than the states in the northern side of the US, and they relied heavily upon slave labour. Their economy was mainly based on large farms, which were known as plantations.   

Instead of investing in factories, steamboats, canals or railroads like the Northerners had done, the Southerners invested their money on slaves. This was despite the fact that most of the top wealthy persons in the US during that time lived in the southern states of the US only. 

The Southerners didn’t take kindly to the idea of the abolition of slavery whereas Northerners were employing free labour, and many of them unequivocally favoured eradication of slavery.  Initially, in response to Lincoln’s victory in the Presidential election, seven southern slave states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederacy as they wanted to preserve the ghastly institution of slavery for their economic benefits. This eventually snowballed into the American Civil War.  

After the beginning of the war, four more southern states seceded from the US, led by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Those eleven states of the US then accounted for a third of the US population. The war eventually led to the victory of the Union over the Confederates. 

The Industrial War 

The distinguishing feature of the American Civil War was the use of industrial warfare; it was one of the first wars to do so. Telegraph, trains, steamships, mass-produced weapons had extensive usage in the war. 

It was the first war in the history of humankind where ironclad warships clashed and the first war to have widespread media coverage. It was also the first war to use land and water mines and a submarine. Many term it as the world’s first modern war.

Financial Costs

The brutal and long-drawn war had huge unimaginable costs, most of which couldn’t be calculated in terms of money.  But even the apparent monetary costs of the war on the US economy were more than significant. According to the US Department of the Treasury, in 1860, the year before the American Civil War started, the US Government’s debt was $64.8 million. Once the war began, debt grew quickly. The financial cost of the war was significant, totalling an estimated $5.2 billion.

The US Department of the Treasury observes that the US government had to come up with new ways to pay for that expensive war. The enactment of the Legal Tender Act (1862) authorized the US government to issue paper currency called greenbacks and to sell $500 million in bonds to generate funds.

Before the advent of the Legal Tender Act, each bank in the US was empowered to print its own form of paper money; which was backed by gold. This entailed that there was an amount of gold held by the Government that was equal to the value of the paper money printed.  “The money printed by the Government after the Legal Tender Act was not backed by gold because the Government did not have that much gold at the time. The “greenbacks” could, however, be used to pay taxes and buy items from stores,” notes the US Department of the Treasury.

Moreover, The National Bank Act (1863) allowed for the constitution of a nationwide banking system that loaned money to the US Government to pay for the war. By the time the war eventually ended, the US Government’s debt had rapidly escalated to $2.6 billion, which was more than 40 times of what it was in 1860.

Of course, the human cost of the war couldn’t and shouldn’t be accurately calculated.

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