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Life During the Civil War

December 6, 2019

My great-great grandfather Christian was a baker in Germany during the mid 1800s until he moved to the United States in the 1850s, where he served in the Western Maryland cavalry. Maryland supplied men to both the Union and the Confederacy. Christian joined the Union probably because of his beliefs, his military training in Germany, and the fact that he was an excellent horseman.

In the United States during that time, there had been an ongoing conflict between the northern and southern states concerning states’ rights and slavery. In the South, they relied on a system of farming, which required the use of labor from black slaves. Therefore, in the South, they relied on the slaves for their economy. Southerners did not consider slaves as people, but property. When sold into slavery, the slaves would lose their family, home, freedom, and even name. Among a slave’s fears, the worst was separation from their friends and family. “Slaves had no constitutional rights; they could not testify in court against a white person; they could not leave the plantation without permission. Slaves often found themselves rented out, used as prizes in lotteries, or as wagers in card games and horse races” (crf-usa.org). In the North, on the other hand, the economy was based on the use of manufacturing and industry, so they didn’t need slaves, and they valued unity. Because the country was divided in their beliefs about slavery, the North tried relentlessly to convince the South to change their traditions and institutions. Southerners feared that without slavery, their economy would be in danger. After Lincoln’s election in 1860, seven of the southern states seceded because of this disagreement and formed a new nation, the Confederate States of America.

The Civil War, lasting from 1861-1865, determined “whether this nation, born of a declaration that all men were created with an equal right to liberty, would continue to exist as the largest slaveholding country in the world” (McPherson). Originally, the North was trying to reunite the nation as one, but in 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that on January 1 of 1863, every slave in a Confederate state was free. While this did not free any slaves, it was a turning point in this war. By 1864, the main goal of the North shifted to abolishing slavery in the South. The North now cared more about the justice of treating everyone equally than uniting the nation. Because their previous strategy to abolish slavery failed, they created a constitutional amendment. The Republican Senate passed this Thirteenth Amendment with overwhelmingly more votes than the two-thirds necessary, but not until almost a year later did the Democrats in the House vote to pass the amendment with barely over two-thirds. Then at the end of 1865, the required three-quarters of the states approved the amendment, meaning that slavery would not exist in the United States from then on. By winning the war and outlawing slavery, the North could reunite the nation and create all men equal. 

With the 13th amendment passing in 1865, slavery ceased to exist in the United States. Most people in the South did not agree with this amendment, but Congress “required the former Confederate states to ratify the 13th Amendment in order to regain representation in the federal government” (History.com Editors). The Union hoped that by passing this law, people would eventually change their minds about slavery and find a different way of living. With the passing of the 14th and 15th amendments during the Reconstruction Era, America now wanted equality for African Americans. While they did try to create equality for everyone, that is still an issue we struggle with today.

The Civil War shifted the values of America from being about unity to equality. My great-great grandfather most likely fought in that war with the cavalry of the Union because he believed in treating everyone equally. I feel that this belief has been passed down through the generations of my family. I, personally, have always valued equality and believed that everyone deserves equal treatment, and no one should discriminate against anyone due to their race, religion, gender, etcetera.

 

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