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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn

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What was the experience of working-class families during the Other Civil War according to A People's History of the United States?

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The Other Civil War (as termed by Howard Zinn) describes the struggle of working class people in the mid 1800s against the oppression of capitalism and the ruling elite before, during, and after the American Civil War. Class warfare had already been raging on for decades as working class families struggled against slum lords and horrible working conditions in urban areas and against tyrannical landlords in rural areas who owned enormous swaths of land and ruled over farming families like in a fiefdom. Work stoppages, strikes, and refusals to pay rent were growing tactics among poor people as class disparities erupted during industrialization in the North and plantation slavery in the South.

Traditional accounts of the Civil War often paint a picture of eager soldiers on both the sides of the conflict leaping into battle to passionately fight for their respective ideologies. However, many poor people were forced/coerced to become soldiers, and desertion rates on both sides of the conflict were enormously high.

In fact, military conscription was a major driver for class conflict during the Civil War as the Enrollment Act of 1863, created by Lincoln, targeted poor people who could not afford the $300 deferment fee or hiring of substitutes. This draft, and the fact that rich people could pay their way out of conscription, sparked resistance by working-class people, such as with the 1863 New York City Draft Riots. The Confederacy instituted their own draft in 1862 and conscripted an estimated 400,000 soldiers.

Across the warring country, hundreds of thousands of working-class soldiers spilled their blood, their families suffering the loss at home, and rich men called the shots, collected the coin, and claimed the glory.

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