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The United States of America: A History
Book 4: Chapter X - The Losses and Gains of the War


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 hospital.

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.

It 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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