The American Civil War was arguably the most important event in the nation's history. Yes, even more so than the time Brett Masterson asked Sally Dibs to the Homecoming Dance.
It was also the most deadly event in American history. Fortunately, the same cannotbe said about Brett Masterson.
Tensions over the ideas contained in the Constitution erupted into a brutal war that cost over 600,000 lives and split a nation in two. Slavery was a root cause of the conflict, and while the Thirteenth Amendment put the kibosh on the practice by the end of the war, it certainly wasn't the end of racism.
In a more surprising turn of events, the war also increased American economic power until it rivaled, and then surpassed, that of all other countries. Americans were riding pretty high, and not just because everyone was still going around on horseback at this point.
Following the war, Americans had a new sense of being a part of a single nation instead of a loose conglomerate of states with their own institutions and histories. Suddenly, the United States was monogamous. The many became one. It was kind of like a marriage, except that the North never made the South sleep on the couch.
The American Revolution was important, sure. The framing of the Constitution? Yeah, that was a big one. The last episode of The Sopranos? It's up there, too, but few things in American history changed this country like our Civil War. Plus, it had a far less controversial ending than some of the other things we just mentioned.
This was pretty much the last scene of The Sopranos. Sorry: spoiler alert.
It's not an overstatement to say that everything in American history leading up to 1860 was a cause of the Civil War, and that everything since resulted in some way from the Civil War. Okay, not everything. For example, it's likely that Dad would still have embarrassed us in front of our friends at that slumber party last weekend regardless of who fought whom 150 years ago. That guy doesn't let anything stand in his way of ruining a good time.
The Civil War fundamentally changed every part of society, from the role of the federal government to the status of African-Americans, to the art, music, and culture of a nation. Over 600,000 Americans died in the conflict—more than in all other American wars combined except for the Vietnam War—and all of them died on American soil. Yet, despite all the tragedy and heartache, your dad would still probably find a way to make a bad pun about, well, its incivility.
In the war, brothers fought brothers. Fathers killed sons. What began as a small-scale bombardment of an average fort in Charleston, South Carolina, quickly spiraled out of control. Ultimately, this little skirmish resulted in the death of more than 2% of the population. That may not sound like a lot, but imagine if one out of every 50 people in town suddenly went kaput. Our Facebook "Friends" lists would take a serious hit.
The Civil War is not an easy topic to absorb, even with a ShamWow. After all, it was a huge conflict brought about by deep-seated forces and fought across the entire continent, from the bustling metropolis' of Gettysburg to Vicksburg, from Savannah to San Francisco. Those were some pretty big towns back in their day.
You might be wondering how to wrap your mind around an event of this magnitude. How do you try to understand what the Civil War was all about? Is it enough that Uncle Charlie who does battle reenactments once let you join him on a Battle of Bull Run do-over?
Start by imagining 150,000 men attacking each other in a place like Maryland. This is not just a brawl in the parking lot after a Ravens game, no sir. Consider the noise, the fear, the terror, and the death. Imagine listening to the cries of the wounded in dirty hospitals, doctors operating without anesthesia (obviously HMO doctors), and more wounded men flooding in all the time.
Now, think about the joy of newly emancipated slaves. They had labored their entire lives under the watchful eyes and violent hands of white southern planters and were finally free to determine their own destinies. And also to see if they could get Jamie Foxx to play them in a movie, as we all aspire to do.
Finally, think about the very identity of the country. Is the United States one indivisible nation, or a collection of linked but autonomous and quite divisiblestates? The Civil War changed even the language used to describe the nation. Before the Civil War, Americans used the phrase "The United States are...." After the war, that phrase became "The United States is...." People were feeling way more united, is what we're saying. There was some Kumbaya happening.