Effects & Events of the US Civil War from Various Perspectives

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will examine the American Civil War from a variety of perspectives. We will learn how it was perceived by both Union and Confederate soldiers as well as by other groups, including African-American slaves, women, and Native Americans.

Differences of Perspective

Have you ever discussed a current event or a social phenomenon with a group, only to find out that many of the group members have a variety different perspectives? For example, you think 'selfie sticks' are cheesy and you would never use one, but your friend thinks they are just fantastic! As human beings from different backgrounds, we all approach reality with different preconceived ideas, and we all have different views about things.

This was also the case with Americans during the American Civil War. Union soldiers obviously had different ideas about why they were fighting than did Confederate soldiers. And of course, African-American slaves and Native Americans had their own unique perspectives about the conflict. In this lesson, we will look at the Civil War and its events from various perspectives.

Through the Eyes of a Union Soldier

From the perspective of Union soldiers, the Civil War represented an epic struggle to keep the United States of America together. Theirs was a nation too great to be divided. The Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861 marked the official beginning of the Civil War, and was met with anger, shock, and dismay by most Northerners. Many Union soldiers desired to 'teach the Rebels a lesson' by enacting revenge. On one hand, hate was a major motive for some Union soldiers, while the noble desire to preserve the Union of the United States was another.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to all enslaved peoples, most of which were African-Americans. Following this historic event, some African-Americans began fighting for the Union. From their perspective, the war was a moral crusade to abolish slavery. They fought to maintain their freedom and to secure the freedom of their brothers and sisters still enslaved in the South. Many white Union soldiers also fought for these values.

A group of African-American Union soldiers.

Through the Eyes of Confederate Soldiers

The Civil War looked very different to Confederate soldiers. To them the war was fought for the same kind of values as the Revolutionary War had been fought for. In fact, many Southerns drew comparisons and inspiration from the American Revolution. To them, they were rising up to secure independence from an oppressive government that held no regard for their rights and liberties. To them, the issues of state's rights was essential. The South valued the rights of states over the rights of the federal government. They believed the federal government had violated these rights.

Confederate soldiers also fought to maintain their unique Southern culture. In the years leading up to the Civil War, the North had advanced technologically and industrially, and had thus grown politically powerful and wealthy. This fact threatened Southerners, who felt their way of life was being encroached upon. And obviously, Confederate soldiers were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery.

Confederate soldiers looked with awe upon their military leaders, and for good reason. While the North had more troops and superior weaponry, the South had better generals. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, was a brilliant military strategist who inspired tremendous confidence in his men. Another brilliant general was Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson, who was shot and killed by friendly fire in May 1863.

Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Through the Eyes of African-Americans

Obviously free Northern African-Americans were sympathetic toward the Union, and as we mentioned, some even fought for the Union. For African-American slaves in the South, a Northern victory was generally hoped for, although at the same time there was considerable anxiety over what the future would look like. What if the entire South was laid waste by the North? For some slaves, Confederate brain-washing had instilled a deep-seeded fear of the Union.

The Civil War was brought to an end with the Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865. For many African-Americans, this was a moment of joy, albeit uncertainty. Where would they go from here? What came next?

Through the Eyes of Women and Native Americans

For women, the Civil War was generally perceived along the same geographic lines that it was perceived by Union and Confederate soldiers. Northern women generally saw it as a struggle for the unity of the nation and as a moral crusade against slavery, while Southern women generally saw it as a fight for state's right and Southern culture. While men tended to glorify the war, many women were struck by horrors of war, leading some to volunteer as nurses and serve their respective countries in other capacities.

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