The Culture of War

Almost all cultures that have ever existed have experienced war in one form or another. War, however, is not meant just to eliminate entire populations. War’s ultimate aim is to change a culture and a way of life, an ideology that is especially prevalent in the United States’ civil war. Civil wars occur when two central ideas of a culture become so polarized that simple negotiation is no longer effective in resolving the issue. During the US’ civil war, the Southern section of the country favored slavery while the Northern was against its practice. Although the two coexisted for a time, war was inevitable because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in non-state territories. President Lincoln is often viewed as one of the main causes of the civil war, for he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the states that were receding from the union, fearing a broken-up and jeopardized democracy. Prior to his election, events such as John Brown’s raid and Nat Turner’s rebellion further increased the rift between the North and the South.

John Brown- An abolitionist who believed that armed rebellion was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States.

The first real “battle” of the war, however, did not occur until the battle of Fort Sumter. With the secession of many Southern states, several federal forts, including Fort Sumter in South Carolina, suddenly became militia outposts in foreign land. Abraham Lincoln, sensing war, then made the decision to send fresh supplies to the outposts in an attempt to coerce the South into firing the first shot of the war. The strategy was successful, and Confederate warships turned back the supply ship to Fort Sumter to begin a 34-hour siege on the fort, leading to its surrender. After this battle, the war had officially begun between the free Northern and the slave Southern. What followed was one of the bloodiest wars on American soil, a total of about 620,000 deaths at its end- the bloodiest battles claiming 85,000 casualties between them. Despite the death and violence of the Civil War, it was never either side’s initial intention to completely eliminate the other. Instead, the aim of the war was to change the other side’s culture- in this case, the culture surrounding slavery. Due to the North’s victory, their view on slave culture prevailed, completely changing the overall culture of the US. The fate of the then-defeated confederate culture, however, can be observed in the burials of the soldiers. In the Soldiers’ National Cemetery there are markers of 3,500 Union soldiers. However, the confederate soldiers were left in unmarked graves and never properly buried. This reflects the fact that America now considered the slave culture eliminated, and all who believed in it were no longer Americans- only remnants of a past culture.

An example of quickly dug and shallow Civil War graves, meant to quickly dispose of bodies before the onset of decay.

Although war of any kind is a great tragedy, it can succeed in changing the entire culture of a nation.

Sources:

“Civil War Facts.” Civil War Trust, Civil War Trust, www.civilwar.org/learn/articles/civil-  war-facts

Keegan, John. “The American Civil War: the Gruesome Suffering of Soldiers             Exposed.” The Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/6199297/The-American-Civil-War-   the-gruesome-suffering-of-soldiers-exposed.html.

Images:

http://militaryauction.org/s/civil-war-grave

http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/a_c/brown.htm

Further Reading:

http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/civil-war/

What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead?

 

 

One thought on “The Culture of War

  1. How is archaeology involved with interpreting the material culture of the civil war? Since Confederate burials were unmarked, how would one be able to find and recognize these burials? If a union soldier died on Confederate soil would they have been given a proper burial?

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