© 2006 - 2012 The Cavalry

The Cavalry

The American Civil War was a turning point in international history and had a profound effect within the United States, but its effects were more far reaching, involving Britain and Europe.

The war began in 1861, but more than eighty years prior to that, the America States had endured a long fight to claim independence from its status as a British colony. That battle, the War of Independence, started in 1775, and America was recognised as an Independent nation by the treaty of Paris in 1783. Abraham Lincoln, who became President in 1861, the year of the Civil War, was only the 16th American President.

In the eight decades between independence and the start of the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of immigrants, mainly from Britain, Germany, Holland and other European countries, all arrived in America looking for a new life in the land of dreams.

Trade links between the British Isles and the young United States of America were also strong, especially in cotton and other raw materials. Britain was the workshop of the world, exporting everything from nails to locomotives, but the North of America was also becoming increasingly sophisticated. In 1860 the value of steam engines and other machinery in the northern States totalled more than $14 million, but in the States that were to make up the Confederacy, it was around $800,000. This disparity of wealth and the sheer scale of agriculture in the South meant that slavery - introduced by the British - was essential to maintain prosperity.

The collision course that was to become America’s bloodiest war had been set. In all, millions of Americans, many first generation immigrants still speaking their native languages, put on uniforms and fought for one side or the other for four long years. The involvement of the country was almost total. In all between 75 and 85 percent of all Southern males and around half of all northerners fought. More than 800,000 men died, with up to two million wounded. Had such a proportion of America’s citizens died in World War Two, America would have lost over six million men.

In the process, warfare was brought out of the Napoleonic ages into the modern era, setting the scene for the First World War.

Telegraphy and modern signalling kept the nation in touch with the armies, and photography provided a complete historical record of almost every man who served, as well as recording all of the major battles. The war correspondent became the precursor to the breaking news story, as he could file his copy and pictures from the battlefield and have them published the next morning; all thanks to the railroad, the camera and the telegraph.

The American Civil War touched the nation as never before; civilians were killed, houses burned and whole communities were uprooted. Women worked as nurses, clerks and in assembling munitions, or took over the running of the farms. The idea of conscription was introduced, and in 1863 there were draft riots in New York, which are depicted in the Leonardo Di Caprio and Daniel Day Lewis blockbuster movie, The Gangs Of New York.

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