The Civil War. The Letters From the Soldiers
The Civil War of America lasted between the years 1861-1865. One of the causes of the war was Abraham Lincoln’s decision to abolish slavery in America, in particular, in the South (Mcpherson 90). The essay under consideration represents the analysis of the soldiers’ letters within the larger sequence of historical events.
Before America joined the “Civil War” the South was very different from the North in many aspects. The South had huge plantations which were owned by affluent landowners. They cultivated cotton in their fields (Mcpherson 270). The South used slaves to work in the cotton fields to be a success in economics. That was something that the Northerners, who used factory workers, were against. They were low-paid, working under dreadful conditions, often worse than those of the slaves in the South (Eicher 20).
When the war sparked off, the families were tortured by the warfare and any letter served as a connection between the soldiers and their families. When one did not receive any news or letters for a long time, they believed that a son, a father or a husband was dead (Eicher 55).
Lets us take, for example, the letter of James Munnerlyn which is dated back October 9th 1862, sent to Munnerlyn by his sister. Munnerlyn was a confederate soldier who strongly supported slavery. Together with his army, he slowly advanced from the South to the North. His sister gave the letter to a passing soldier. She could not afford to buy a postage stamp. She chose to give it to a soldier irrespective of the fact that it might never be delivered to her brother.
The North printed the Confederate currency which circulated in the South (McPherson 300). As a result, there was huge inflation which led to the appearance of barter trade and the black market in the South. The North had also blocked ports and systems of transport for the South which led to the downfall of their economy (Eicher, 172). The letter of James Munnerlyn highlights the loss of confidence in the economics of the South (Eicher 176). This letter also shows the slow development of the transport and the communication systems. The postage system was not fully developed as well.
Another soldier Nownie Saussy goes home after having been wounded. He had to depart because the conditions at hospital were too poor to tolerate them. There was indeed a medical stagnation at those times. They had ill-trained staff, improvised hospitals, they lacked medical equipment, as well as essential drugs (Eicher 250). The soldiers faced imminent death both at hospitals under the regimental doctors and on the battlefields. The hospitals were parasite infested and dirty. The uncouth doctors were mostly untrained, all they could do is to amputate limbs of soldiers (Eicher 253).
The letters of the Unionists indicate the form of political unity. They begin with the words ‘drop a few lines’ which show that all soldiers were tied up by the same unfavorable conditions.(Mcpherson 780). However, the Union soldiers were determined a lot. They never revealed their concerns about the war in their letters because they thought that a small exposure might give their enemy the upper hand.
Another ‘warrior” Peter Boyer sends twenty dollars and some clothes to his father. This issue clearly shows that the Northerners had value for their money unlike the South. For a soldier to send money back home indicates the poor economical situation in the North. At the same time, they were not badly off in the North unlike the south which had no use of currency because of constant inflation. The Northerners printed money for the South, defeating them economically to further make them politically lose in the war.
In the political context, President Lincoln blocked interference of other countries like Britain and France to the US during the war. This blockade was the reason why the South lacked access to medical, military assistance from these countries which led to their eventual defeat ( McPherson 677). The other factor that blocked other countries from interfering in the war was the sovereignty of America as a nation.
To sum it up, the soldiers’ letters may serve as indication of the political, economical, social and cultural development of America in 1861-1865. These letters are a proof of terrible conditions that America and its people faced at that time. This war, however, undoubtedly, led to the positive changes in the Constitution of the United States, declaring the equality of all men. It also helped America to see the identity crisis and get united in the end.
Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. NY, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
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