The United States of America: A History Book 4: Chapter X - The Losses and Gains of
The Great Rebellion was at an end. It was not closed by
untimely concessions which left a discontented party, with its strength
unbroken, ready to renew the contest at a more fitting time. It was fought
out to the bitter end. The slave-power might be erring, but it was not weak.
The conflict was closed by the utter exhaustion of one of the combatants.
Lee did not surrender till his army was surrounded by the enemy and had been
two days without food. The great questions which had been appealed to the
sword were answered conclusively and for ever.
The cost had
been very terrible. On the Northern side, two million seven hundred thousand
men bore arms at some period of the war. Of these there died in battle, or
in hospital of wounds received in battle, ninety-six thousand men. There
died in hospital of disease, one hundred and eighty-four thousand. Many went
home wounded, to die among the scenes of their in- fancy. Many went home
stricken with lingering and mortal disease. Of these there is no record but
in the sad memories which haunt nearly every Northern home.
The losses on the Southern side have not been accurately ascertained. The
white population of the revolted States numbered about a fourth of the loyal
Northern population. At the close of the war the North had a full million of
men under arms. The Southern armies which surrendered numbered one hundred
and seventy-five thousand. When to this is added the number who went home
without awaiting the formality of surrender, it appears probable that the
Southern armies bore to the Northern the same proportion that the population
did. Presumably the loss bore a larger proportion, as the deaths from
disease, owing to the greater hardships to be endured, must have been
excessive in the rebel army. It must be under the truth to say that one
hundred and fifty thousand Southerners perished in the field or in the
The war cost the North in money seven hundred
millions sterling. It is impossible to state what was the cost to the South.
The Confederate debt was supposed to amount at the close to thirty-five
hundred millions of dollars; but the dollar was of so uncertain value that
no one can tell the equivalent in any sound currency. Besides this, there
was the destruction of railroads, the burning of houses, the wasting of
lands, and, above all, the emancipation of four millions of slaves, who had
been purchased by their owners for three or four hundred millions sterling.
It has been estimated that the entire cost of the war, on both sides, was
not less than eighteen hundred millions of pounds sterling.
Great wars ordinarily cost much and produce little. What results had the
American people to show for their huge expenditure of blood and treasure?
They had freed themselves from the curse of slavery. That unhappy system
made them a byword among Christian nations. It hindered the progress of the
fairest section of the country. It implanted among the people hatreds which
kept them continually on the verge of civil war. Slavery was now extinct.
For three-quarters of a century the belief possessed Southern minds that
they owed allegiance to their State rather than to the Union. Each State was
sovereign. Having to-day united itself with certain sister sovereignties, it
was free to-morrow to withdraw and enter into new combinations. America was
in this view no nation, but a mere incoherent concourse of independent
powers. This question had been raised when the Constitution was framed, and
it had been debated ever since. It was settled now. The blood shed in a
hundred battles, from Manassas to Petersburg, expressed the esteem in which
the Northern people held their national life. The doctrine of States' Rights
was conclusively refuted by the surrender of Lee's army, and the right of
America to be deemed a nation was established for ever.
was often said during the war that republican institutions were upon their
trial. It was possible for the war to have re- suited so that government by
the people would ever after have been deemed a failure. It has not been so.
The Americans have proved conspicuously the capacity of a free people to
guide their own destinies in war as well as in peace. They have shown that
the dependence of the many upon the few is as unnecessary as it is
humiliating. They have rung the knell of personal government, and given the
world encouragement to hope that not the Anglo-Saxon race alone, but all
other races of men will yet be found worthy to govern themselves.
Terrible as the cost of the war has been, have not its gains been greater?
The men who gave their lives so willingly have not died in vain. America and
the world will reap advantage, through many generations, by the blood so
freely shed in the great war against the Southern slave-owners.
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