Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Civil War and the Rise of Modern America

“Countless Northerners and Southerners like Ladley knew from personal experience that the war had fundamentally reshaped their lives and their nation. Even before the war was over, the New York Herald declared that “all sorts of old fogy ideas, habits, manners, and customs have gone under, and all sorts of new ideas, modes and practices have risen to the surface and become popular.” A writer for the New York Times looked backward in amazement two years after the war ended: “The truth is neither section, and but few persons in either section, appreciate fully the tremendous effect of Civil War, and especially of such a war as ours, upon every interest and every sentiment of the whole community. . . . The contest touches everything, and leaves nothing as it found it. . . . It leaves us a different people in everything from what we were when it came upon us.” In 1869, George Ticknor, a Harvard historian, wrote that the war had created “a great gulf between what happened before it in our century and what has happened since, or what is likely to happen hereafter. It does not seem to me as if I were living in the country in which I was born.“The novelists Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner agreed. In their work, The Gilded Age, published in 1873, they described the war as having “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” To these opinions may be added the prosaic sentiments of a less prominent Virginia woman, Lucy Buck, who wrote: “We shall never any of us be the same as we have been.” George Templeton Strong, the New York City attorney who kept a fulsome diary during the war years, summed up American perceptions of the war when he wrote, noting the march of events since April 1861, that “we have lived a century of common life since then.” (Glenn W. LaFantasie, fromThe Civil War and the Rise of Modern America’, )


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