During the Civil War era, a moral tension gripped both sides torn locked in conflict. The moral tension was borne out of the belief that each side was fighting for what they believed to be right. However, either side had a biased perspective on the conflict. This paper shall discuss a specific moral tension during the Civil War era, considering the perspective of both southerners and northerners. In particular, the social consequences of the Civil war would be discussed, in relation to its effects on people, the economy, families, women, men, etc.
The Civil War had significant consequences to the people in America as major adjustments had to be made by the men, women, children, and families. The men were called to fight in the war and the women had to stay home to care for the children, had to manage the domestic duties in their homes, or had to help nurse wounded soldiers (Hayes, 2015). Women also took this time to negotiate for civil and gender rights. The Civil War therefore significantly affected the gender roles in the families.
The social classes were also affected by the Civil War. The higher classes of society, meaning those who owned slaves had sufficient resources to survive. Frank (2015) discusses that the elite women took this time to angle for secession and they assisted the soldiers the best way they could. These elite women did not work much and did not have to worry about how they would be able to support their families (Hayes, 2015). The lower classes, including the farmers were the ones who were very much vulnerable to the ravages of the war. Without the husbands and fathers, women and children did not have sufficient resources to survive. Food shortage was a major issue for the poor women and their families during the Civil War. Other supplies including clothes, medicines, and other needs also run out for many of these women and children, so much so that these women soon found themselves raiding stores armed with knives and other weapons (Hayes, 2015). Due to this dire situation, some of the men were prompted to return home to tend to their families. The women were also forced to find whatever work they could find, including factory work as well as working in arsenals depots. These women sewed soldiers’ uniforms and tents in order to earn what little they could to survive.
As the Civil War raged through different parts of the north and south US, as mentioned above, the men were called to battle. These men were tasked with delegating numerous tasks in their homes and in the war itself (Hayes, 2015). Most of the men also sent money home to their families in order to ensure the survival of their families. The women were prompted to perform numerous tasks, from caring for their family to managing business affairs, as well as finding means to make a living (Hayes, 2015). The children were also called on to assist their family, often helping to care for younger siblings and to assist their mother in household or business tasks. The male children who were of age would soon join the war, or would be called on to assist their mothers in farm work or other work in order to help their families survive (Hayes, 2015).
The Civil War had significant effects on families, mostly negative, regardless of what side these families were. It broke families apart (Hayes, 2015). However, it also gave the men and women a place for their activism as well as for work. The poorer women were more negatively impacted by the American Civil War as they were the most vulnerable economically and were likely forced into criminality to survive (Frank, 2008). The deaths of their husbands during the war also likely did not help alleviate their conditions. Those in the higher classes were not as negatively impacted by the War, but they were still likely to feel the impact of the war in the form of fewer people available to work for them (Blanton and Cook, 2002). In general however, the American Civil War gave the women a greater opportunity towards activism. They had more roles in society, aside from the obvious domestic roles. The Civil War showed to the men that their women could also be partners in their business, could be hardy workers in farms, and could also be activists in numerous causes.
In terms of the economy, the Civil War had negative consequences for both the north and the south (Wright, 1982). Economic changes had to be made by both groups. The North had to borrow billions of dollars by selling government bonds in order to finance their side (Weidenmier, 2002). The Congress had to raise taxes, including tariffs and excise taxes. Their treasury had to issue millions in paper currencies which could be exchanged for gold (Weidenmier, 2002). This led to inflation in the North with prices of goods rising significantly. The war however caused the acceleration and industrialization of the economy as the war demanded mass production, especially in terms of military supplies (Weidenmier, 2002). The wealth in the north was however confined to the rich and the millionaires, and these same millionaires were able to gain more riches during the postwar era (Weidenmier, 2002).
In the south, they were soon able to develop a banking system and a Tariff system which would increase revenues and protect the financial interests of the government (Wright, 1982). A Homestead Act would also provide farm lands for the people with federal funds and grants to agricultural and technical schools facilitating the education and learning of the people (Wright, 1982). The production of crops from the south was also significantly reduced by the Civil War as fewer men and workers were available to farm the lands. This pattern would persist into the postwar years until such time where reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts were set in place.
In terms of the social construct during the Civil War, the slaves were also significantly affected by the war, with most slaves soon becoming emancipated from slavery (Blackmon, 2009). This meant even fewer men or women to work the farms and other domestic duties and related work. Emancipated slaves during the War were still not freed from hardships and oppression as they were unable to find suitable work or adequate pay for their labors (Wright, 1982). Some of them were also conscripted to join the fighting. The postwar years were a period of transition for emancipated slaves as they were now free to explore available opportunities including educational and work opportunities (Wright, 1982). Several laws were passed during the Civil War by both sides in order to secure economic developments in their region. Banking systems were established in both the north and the south and more industrial developments were being set in place (Wright, 1982). Lands were also being allotted for farming and other uses. These developments would also shape the economic developments during the postwar years (Wright, 1982).
The wartime devastation to the south was however very much significant as farmlands were destroyed and many lands were soon abandoned. As mentioned previously, crops produced by the south were significantly reduced. These crops include tobacco, cotton, and corn (Gale Encyclopedia, 2017). There were also fewer hogs available from the south. Economic recovery in the south was slow and with such slow economic developments, the south was not able to attract immigrants (Gale Encyclopedia, 2017). In this context, the south was significantly devastated by the Civil War in most aspects of its society.
Overall, the American Civil War had significant consequences on the men, women, children, families, and the economy of both southerners and northerners. In some way, all of them lost in some way during the War. Men had to leave their homes to fight in the war and the women had to stay home to care for the children, the business, the crops, and various causes. Slaves were emancipated but were still not free from oppression and did not have much to start their new lives with. The economy suffered during the war, but also ushered in new and faster industrial developments. Banks were established. The south suffered the bigger losses during and after the war, but the north was not exempted from similar losses, only at a lesser degree. Still, the losses on both sides were hardly negligible.
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- Blanton, DeAnne, and Lauren M. Cook. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War (2002).
- “Civil War, Economic Impact of (Issue).” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History.
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- Frank, Lisa, Women During the Civil War (20. Oct 2015). New Georgia Encyclopedia.
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- Weidenmier, Marc D. “Turning points in the US Civil War: Views from the Grayback market.” Southern Economic Journal (2002): 875-890.
- Wright, Gavin. Old South, new South: Revolutions in the southern economy since the Civil War. Vol. 2. New York: Basic Books, 1986.