How did the US Civil War impact the people and landscape?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Before the Civil War, the southern states of the USA were by and large wealthy, civilized societies, with a so-called "aristocracy" living in large, luxurious houses. The majority of their wealth, however, was founded on the sizable slave trade and upon cotton and rice plantations—becoming a planter was a sure-fire way to make a good living. After the Civil War, the South was comparatively impoverished, with its properties—its slaves—set free and most of its mansions invaded and razed. Sherman's March to the Sea in the latter part of the war had a particularly harrowing effect upon the landscape of the South, with cities burned to the ground and good fertile lands destroyed. The South has never recovered the prosperity it had before the Civil War began.

A significant effect of the war was, of course, the freeing of the slaves following the Emancipation Proclamation. However, in the years that followed the war, under the presidency of Andrew Johnson, it soon became clear that this would not have the immediate effect slaves had hoped for. On the contrary, it stirred up significant unrest and distrust among white Southerners, who felt the North cared more for the Southern blacks than for the now-landless whites, particularly after many blacks were promised "forty acres and a mule" in the South. Reconstruction was a fraught policy, and while blacks were initially promised civil rights and permitted to stand for political office, these were rights that were taken away from them again as a result of the fury among white Southerners, who eventually were permitted to take back their lands from the blacks. The North, having fallen into an economic depression, lost interest in the civil rights of black Southerners, and many slaves were pressed back into positions similar to those they had been in under slavery. The Civil War had thus created an impoverished and resentful society in the South, but had certainly not solved the problem of racism, an issue which continues to this day.

A quarter of the young men of a generation had been lost to the war in some places. This, naturally, had a harrowing effect; it lowered the birth rate and left many men handicapped by their injuries. One positive effect of this was that it drove medical science on to greater heights, particularly in relation to artificial limbs. By and large, however, many of the ideals that emerged after the Civil War were crushed during the unsuccessful period of Reconstruction, the "second Civil War."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Civil War (1861-1865) has had political and cultural consequences that the nation has still not yet overcome.

The most important outcome of the Civil War is that it led to the end of slavery, with the declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. 

Resentment in the South lingered long after the war—not only because of the region's loss and humiliation, but also because of how Northerners migrated to the South to profit off of cheap land. These people were called "carpetbaggers."

Reconstruction was another source of tension in the South. Reconstruction was intended to ensure the advancement and enfranchisement of black people. Numerous black men became senators and representatives in various Southern states, including Mississippi and South Carolina. However, Rutherford B. Hayes signed the Compromise of 1877, which effectively ended Reconstruction and made black people very vulnerable to intimidation by white citizens. This also allowed white people to illegally seize black-owned property and to kill African Americans with impunity. This history of disenfranchisement partially explains inequalities in wealth and political power between black and white people to date.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial