From so many posts about the future, here’s one about the past…

I’ve been watching and listening a lot to material regarding the American civil war lately. It is a part of history which perhaps does not receive that much attention outside the States, but is absolutely fascinating from a historical perspective: militarily, politically, concerning human rights and the very nature of America, which indeed went on to determine the course of the 20th century.

The magnitude of this war; the staggering losses inflicted on both sides; the clear direction and standing with which the US came out of it, propelled forward towards the coming 20th century as a world power; the fate of Lincoln and many other factors make it a highly interesting subject, with many lessons which are still relevant in our times.

A few interesting points to mention:

  • It is a testament to the period that many men on both sides found little trouble with the common military attack tactics – walking line abreast towards the enemy lines while being shot at by artillery and muskets (the most extreme and well know example of which is of course Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, but there having been too many examples of senseless frontal assaults by both sides). Flanking movements aside (and there were plenty of those), it’s just baffling how people did not flinch at certain death.
  • Even more astounding are the numerous  instances of blatant indifferent and incompetent field command by officers, which sent thousands and thousands to their death and serve as an eerie prelude to the horrors of the catastrophic World War I no-mans’-land frontal assaults.
  • As in any war, the “what ifs” are easy to fall into.
    • How many lives would have been saved if George Mclellan had been as good a field commander as he was an organizer and/or possessed some more will to actually put his army to use? It is quite ironic that he was hesitant in being more aggressive with his forces “out of concern for their well-being”, in that if perhaps he had used his overwhelming numerical superiority the war may have been shortened saving many lives, notably from the Army of the Potomac.


    • There seem to have been so many pivotal points in the war, in which had a certain battle not gone one way the war would have ended otherwise, that it makes you wonder how things did come out as they did. A few notable examples are the near breakthrough which the Confederate army neared on the second day at Gettyburg; how Lincoln’s re-election looked exceedingly unlikely until Mobile, and then Atlanta fell several weeks before the election; how close were the European powers to recognizing the Confederacy; and so on and so forth. History.
  • It is really striking to me how long the Confederacy managed to last in the face of overwhelming hardships and an inherent inferiority in industrial production and manpower. While Union military command ineptitude coupled with Confederate military brilliance in the East seems to have contributed to this prolonged time span, the part which staunch resistance to the threat of a dramatic imposed change to a society and way of life (as misguided and abusive as it was) is clearly major and impressively so at that, especially when contrasted with the large mood swings and wavering in the North.

However, in the end history went the way it did: the South surrendered, reconstruction begun with all its problems, and of course Lincoln was assasinated. A dark and terrible portion of American history was done, one that can teach a lesson or two to any country in which the values and ideals of a minority become so detached from the majority to lead to talk of separation (…).

And to wrap up, a great on-topic song from the Band: