What were the effects of the American Civil War?

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pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, let's look at the war in terms of human cost: over 620,000 people died in the Civil War. The war did improve embalming techniques in this country, and the U.S. Army adopted "dog tags" so bodies could more easily be identified and sent home. In addition to causing the deaths of many people, the war also disfigured and maimed thousands more. After the war, one quarter of the state of Georgia's budget went toward providing artificial limbs for that state's veterans.  

Politically, the war changed America. African Americans gained their freedom, citizenship, and suffrage all within five years of the war's end. The Democratic Party was associated with secession, so the decades after the war saw the growth of the Republican Party. Many war heroes went into politics, and several presidents of the nation were veterans of the war, including Ulysses S. Grant. The end of the war also brought about Reconstruction, which attempted to bind the North and South back together, although this was difficult because the South resented military occupation. There continued to be a rift between Northern and Southern politicians until 1898, when both sides found something they could agree on — an imperialistic war against Spain, known as the Spanish-American War.  

Economically, the war changed America. The mass production techniques that provided supplies for over one million Union soldiers was turned to civilian purposes; soon, people could buy more mass-produced goods than ever before. During the war, the Union also developed its railroad and telegraph lines, as these were key to keep its armies in the field informed and supplied. After the war, these technologies would be put to civilian use, binding the nation closer together economically. The North's economy grew immensely after the war. The Southern economy was in shambles after the war. What railroads existed in the South were destroyed during the war. In the Shenandoah Valley and Georgia, total war destroyed farms and towns. Ships had to be towed out of rivers and harbors, which had to be made accessible again to commerce. Since the South had a lot of land to farm and a shortage of capital, many people (both white and black) turned to sharecropping, which was actually a life of generational poverty. Many places in the South practiced sharecropping until WWII — seventy-five years after the Civil War.