A Review of The American Civil War

Table of Content

Introduction to the Paper:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” said Abraham Lincoln at his second inaugural address delivered on March 4, 1865[1], during the final days of the American Civil War. Few events, in the history of a nation have marked the course of its evolution. The wisdom in the words on Abraham Lincoln reflects American towards the end of the Civil War, words that come to mirror at the same time the fear, the anxiety of a nation, undergoing at the time an intense emotional turbulence.

The Civil War is indeed one of the dreaded phases in the history of the United States, a young nation trying to find the identity of its being. The American Civil War, the emancipation and the reconstruction that followed it symbolizes a nation’s journey in search of its identity, to protect and secure for its citizens the rights and privileges that a noble Constitution guaranteed its citizens[2]. America today, has come a long way from the days of the Civil War; a time when the nation fought pitched battles within itself. The emancipation and the era of reconstruction have built the nation, much stronger; with its democratic ideals of freedom and liberty, more secure. The Civil War marked the passing away of an era. It was an opportunity of many firsts. The first time in the history of the American nation, the people had affirmed their faith in the cause of maintaining their federal union. It also marked the beginning of modern warfare, with the use of weaponry that had never been tried before. The Civil War also manifested the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States, with the initiation of policy measures that meant equal rights for all US citizens. But one of the most important hallmarks of the war was the emerging role of women. Forced by the exigency of the time, women came out of their home and hearth to assume a more dramatic role in society, a role that would change the way women in the world would live for generations to come. The Civil War thus marked the end of an era – a dark tale of humiliation and distrust; a tale of indignity.

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Historical Backdrop of Research:

It is a vision of freedom and liberty that lies at the very essence of the American nationalism. The American Civil War (1861–1865) opened the ugly side of this vision. It exposed the duality that lay within the American society. A duality that was in existence, from the time the nation was born; it lay in almost every aspect of human life – essentially differentiating man from man. Marked differences thus lay between the north and the south, between slaves and free men, between men and women. In strategic terms, the Civil War was fought between the United States (the “Union”) and eleven Southern slave states that declared their secession and formed the Confederate States of America under the president-ship of Jefferson Davis. The Union, led by President Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party, opposed the expansion of slavery and refused the right of the Confederates to secede from the United States. This led to bitter fighting which commenced on April 12, 1861, as Confederate forces attacked a federal military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

However, in more psychological terms the war was being fought within the American society as a whole. The nation, in other words, was in search for its existence, which in the post-war era would thrust the country into the forefront of world politics with one of the strongest and most resurgent democratic edifice.

Within a year of launching military operations, the Union armies asserted their control of the bordering states and established a naval blockade of the Confederates[3]. This led to both sides seeking rapid mobilization for troops and armory. The year 1862 saw the launch of some of the worst and bloody battles fought between troops on both sides, By September 1862, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made the freeing of the slaves a major war objective. This objective led to the enthusiastic recruitment of African-Americans in the war efforts.

By the year 1864, the strategic position of the Union with the advantages of better geographical conditions, larger manpower resources, industrial, financial and economical capabilities along with its political organization began to swing the tide of the war against the Confederacy leading to their defeat. The full restoration of the powers of the Union in a national federal structure was the work of a highly contentious post-war era known as the era of Reconstruction- an era which marked the beginning of a new and more vibrant American nation.

Though the causes of the war, the reasons for its outcome, and even the name of the war itself have been subjects of lingering controversies among historians; the main results of the war, the outcome of the conflict was the restoration and the strengthening of the United States as a nation and the end of slavery in the country, marking a paradigm shift in its existence. Known as one of the bloodiest wars in the history of mankind, the American Civil War caused massive casualties resulting from the new weapons used in traditional battlefield environment. Historians thus consider the American Civil War as the first modern war[4].

As mentioned earlier, the Civil War had a lot of firsts to its credit. It was the first modern war in the true sense of the term. As conflicts broke out the War saw the first use of machine guns, trench warfare, and steel hull ships[5] that were used in battle. In was also the first war in which losses were inflicted not only of soldiers in the front lines of attack, but also on civilians, on the land and in the even on cities, on industry and on agriculture. On strategic terms, the effort of this destruction was aimed at demolishing the supply lines of the rival party and destroying the economic infrastructure across the enemy lines, thus demoralizing the opponent and securing their defeat and submission. It was also to be the first war which was recorded in minute detail, reported in newspapers and presented with photography.

The conflicts during the Civil War saw the use of modern war machinery with both the Union and the Confederacy liberally using new and untested weaponry for the first time. The Civil War also saw the widespread use of mechanized and electrified devices like railroad trains, aerial observation, telegraph, photography, torpedoes, mines, ironclad ships and rifles. Historians consider the American Civil War as one of the worst battles in the history of mankind.

Both the sides had not accounted for the use of technology in the war. Tremendous progress was made my both side in terms of innovation and the invention of new and more dangerous weaponry which was tested straight in the battlefield. In the process both sides suffered. The most ironic fact of the Civil War was that the use of technological advanced weaponry was not backed by experienced commanders and well-planned military strategy. This made the war very different from the wars Americans had fought earlier. Whereas the commanders thought on traditional lines the effects of the use of modern weapons had a tremendous impact of the way the war progressed with causalities on both sides much against expectations[6].

Traditional war tactics battle meant undertaking attacks in close rank formations of infantry. These formations had both sides, pointing their musket at each other, and on receiving the command, firing at the enemy. A remnant of the time, when battle was fought with swords and spears, war strategists believe that this approach, worked at a time when both sides used Smoothbore muskets, which fired approximately eighty yards and needed twenty-five seconds to reload. However, as the American Civil War progressed the Union soldiers were first equipped with new rifles which spiral grooves cut inside the barrels. These grooves gave a spin the bullet during the thrust increasing the range and accuracy of the shot.

Further, advances included the Minie ball which was improved by James H. Burton[7]. It became easier to ram into the rifle barrel, which improved the efficiency of the modern rifles. These new rifles were faster to reload, more accurate, with increase firing range which made them highly advanced when compared to the old rifles. War time innovation was quick to follow in the Confederate. However, these modern weapons were still being treated by the soldiers on both sides and commanders like the old muskets. This virtually led to a man-slaughter of kinds.

The use of these killing machines meant that the conflict was fought at levels which had never been imagined. It left in its wake 970,000 casualties which was about 3% of the population, including approximately 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds of which was by disease[8]. Thus the Civil War saw one of the worst forms of battle condition.

Battle conditions were miserable for both parties in the conflict. There was little difference in the morale of the soldiers on either side. Desertions from the scene of the battle were a common occurrence on both sides. Whereas, in the North they had the Copperheads, bounty jumpers, and draft rioters, the South on its part had draft dodging and tax evasion which were common. Fortunes in the war, continued to be made by profiteers, who ran luxuries instead of war supplies through the blockade. As the war progressed millions of Northerners who had grown weary of the long and seemingly endless bloodshed were waiting for the War to end.

At the face of it, the South was considered to be at an advantage; firstly, it was not the intentions of the Confederates to conquer the North. They could win the War by simply defending their land. It was considered important for the South to win the psychological war by patiently waiting for the North to become disheartened, disillusioned and war-weary by repeated failures that it would turn in and grant the Confederate states their independence[9]. Second, in a defending role, the South could operate with shorter interior lines, thus making better use of its fewer men.

However, in the long run, Northern superiority in supplies and men proved decisive. The fact that the Southern armies remained in the battlefield and took a toll from their opponents until the spring of 1865 is considered by historians as a remarkable achievement in determination and fortitude. Lincoln’s position on slavery and democracy was equally important in the outcome of the war. The Emancipation Proclamation put an end to Southern hopes of foreign intervention[10].

Strategically the call of the North for the restoration of the Union received the overwhelming support of the people. This along with the objective of the freeing of slaves meant that the North received the wholehearted support and involvement of the Afro-American on both sides of the divide in its War efforts thus shifting the course that the conflict would take.

As mentioned above, the Emancipation Proclamation of the Abraham Lincoln led the Afro-American community to provide their enthusiastic support to the War efforts of the Union. As stated, the Emancipation Proclamation meant that one of the major objectives of the American Civil War would be to ensure the end of slavery. This led to the vehement support of the Afro-American who were eager to enlist as part of the Union forces[11]. Historians note that even as White soldiers in both the armies grew impatient and the number of soldiers deserting the battlefield increased, the Northern or the Union Government under Abraham Lincoln was able to secure the overwhelming support of the Black Afro-American which ensured that the Unionist troops could penetrate deeper into enemy territory by its sheer size. The Emancipation Proclamation also ensured that the Britain or France would not join the war efforts on behalf of the South, something that they had been eagerly expecting. The backing out of Britain and France thus left the Confederates to fight the Civil War on the own effort.

Even with all good intentions of the Emancipation Proclamation, the condition of the Afro-American Blacks was not at par with the White Soldiers. They were not considered equal and were paid less than their White compatriots within the Union Army. The official reasoning given at the time for this discrimination was that the Black soldiers where not supposed to fight in the forward lines of attack. They were given more supporting roles and responsibilities in the Civil War. As such, they were provided with outdated weaponry and could not be promoted in military hierarchy.

The Black soldiers also knew that if they were to be captured by the Confederate soldiers they would in most probability be killed. However, even under all such inhumane and trying conditions, the Afro-American Blacks earnestly joined the war efforts. The Blacks saw the war as an opportunity to fight for a country which was their forced motherland; a land which would now be their home for all times to come.

It is worth noting that the Emancipation Proclamation was not always greeted with support particularly among the civilian Whites in the Union. Led by the Democrats, they argued that with the end of slavery, the Blacks would now be fighting for the same jobs with the Whites[12]. This led to much resentment among the White community. However, the overall objective of winning the War and ensuring the unity of America, led the Northerners to bury their differences and join each other in the War effort.

Fighting for their own interest, both sides believed in the essentially goodness of their objectives. At the threshold of War, both the Confederates and the Union anticipated a quick and short conflict[13]. However, this myth was broken mid-course in the war. As the war progressed, both sides realized that the effort was going to be a long drawn encounter. An encounter, that brought a string of economic losses to the country arising as a direct result of the conflict- losses that would take decades to rebuild.

As suggested the American Civil War brought in its tail a string of economic misfortune. The socio-economic condition of the people began to worsen with each passing day. With the international community, particularly Britain and France preferring to adopt a hands-off approach the sale of cotton, one of the main economy sustaining crops particularly for the South, began to tumble[14]. Most of the major importers of American cotton like Britain had built-up a surplus of cotton even as the war broke out. These countries also began looking for alternative sources to meet any shortfalls. The shortage of cotton in these countries began being filled by exports from India or Egypt. Within the country, the Civil War also saw the rise of illegal trade between the northerners and southerners with war profiteers making a quick buck[15].

Of the two warring sides, a string of wrong economic policy decision making meant that the South had bear the brunt of war more than the North. With a predominately agricultural economy, the South thus suffered immensely due to the conflict. The Confederate states lost almost two-thirds of their wealth as a direct result of the conflict; along with the loss of slave property. The policy of emancipation led to slave conflicts in the South and an encouraging support from the slave community to the North’s war efforts.

As a consequence of the War, the economic infrastructure in the South took a severe beating. The main stay of its economy, the railroads and agricultural industries in the South were in shambles. Factories and farms were devastated by the invading armies and the labor system of the region fell into chaos. The region had more than one-half of its farm machinery destroyed, and 40 percent of all livestock killed in the conflict[16].

To add to this, the Confederate government needed money to finance the war. At a time when the population was suffering from the scourge of the war and tremendous economic loss, the Confederate government imposed an income tax. The new tax regulation required the farmers to give ten percent of their corps and earnings to the government. Already soaked in the hardships that the Civil War entailed, with skyrocketing inflation arising due to poor banking practices, the taxation policy did not go well with the people.

However, the Confederates needed the money to finance the war. This led the Confederate government to print more money, an action that further de-valued and destabilized the economy of the Southerners[17]. This indiscriminate printing of the money also led to counterfeiter being printed, counterfeiter which could not be caught as their quality was better than the money being printed by the Confederate government.

While the Confederate soldiers seemed to be winning in the battlefield, a string of wrong economic policy-making at home made their defeat certain. As prices for essential items began to sore, the average southerners began to grow increasing impatient with the Civil War. He was hit by inflation figures which he had never seen before. The rising cost of basic commodities like bread, coffee, and meats proved too costly for the Confederate government. Even as Confederate army quartermasters began forcing people to sell provision for use by the soldiers paying in worthless promissory notes, salary payments to the men in battle began getting delayed.

Economic hardships led to desperate households revolting in the Confederate capital and various other cities under their control. The revolt were only calmed by the threat of arms by the Confederate army, but it left a deep scar on the psychology of the average Southerner, which led to the first symbolic shift in the fortunes of the Civil War. Not until the 20th century, did the South recover fully from the economic ill effects of the war.

In a direct contrast to the war-ravaged Southern economy, the north was better off, thanks to the rigorous economic policies of the Union government under Abraham Lincoln. The North thrived substantially during the war. Statistically, two numbers convey a sense of the economic cost to the respective sections: between 1860 and 1870, northern wealth increased by about 50 percent; during that same decade whereas the southern wealth decreased by around 60 percent. In contrast, to the South, the North forged ahead with the building of a modern industrial state. The war generated spending on a scale that dwarfed the expenditure of the earlier periods in American history. In 1860, the federal budget was $ 63 million; in 1865, federal government expenditures totaled nearly $1.3 billion—a 200-fold increase[18].

Times were better for the whole of America in the post-Civil War period. The economic growth that the nation achieved was astounding, however with much hardships suffered in certain areas. As proof of the growing economy after the Civil War, the country’s population almost tripled in size, along with an increase in farm production and the increased need of manufacturing which led to tremendous growth.

In post-Civil War years, the U.S. economy witnessed rapid industrialization with the creation of huge corporations. These corporations would come to dominate the economy during the late 19th century. Economic development in America at the time was at a scale that was never witnessed in the history of the mankind. It thrust the nation into the forefront of world politics as the world’s preeminent economic power. In more way than one the Civil War thus served as an igniter to an explosion in economic growth.

Apart from the use of modern technology in weaponry, and the economic disaster that the Civil War brought in its wake, the period also saw rapid advancement in medicine and hospice care[19]. As both sides began being overwhelmed with the rising amount of death and injuries, as a consequence of the War, many more death was seen resulting from diseases like Typhoid, Pneumonia and even diarrhea. As the number of injured increased hospitals, nurses, and volunteers were in short supply, it led to the setting-up of make shifts hospitals across the battle zone.

During the Civil War, on the home front, one of the most important and emphatic roles was being played by the women on both sides of the divide. Unlike in any prior war, women played an enormous part in the lives of soldiers’ family and home life. They had a significant hand in how the war progressed and eventually ended. As the two sides, began mobilizing troops and fighting forces, men began leaving aside their families to sign-up and join in for the war effort. Thus the conduct of men’s duties at home was left to the womenfolk. As the Civil War progressed, many women, particularly of the South had to take on the work of the slaves, who had either been freed, or had run away. These socio-economic shifts in their lifestyle, led to a departure in the way of women began to preserve their life and thus, in course; it transformed them from their domestic existence into assuming more responsibilities outside their homes.

Women also found the war as an opportunity to demand equal rights with the men. The Civil War thus gave many women an occasion to emerge as strong leaders, and fight for abolition of slavery and demand equal rights. Among various such leaders were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who led the organization of National Women’s Loyalty League, which called for a constitutional amendment to end slavery. They fought for the right of women to vote, argued against differences in pay between men and women in manufacturing jobs, and fought for the absolute right to be nurses in the base hospitals[20].

Knowing that women were not allowed by law to enlist as soldiers some of them disguised themselves as men and served in both the Union and Confederate armies[21]. Other women worked as spies, and it was found that there were dozens of Southern, female spies in Washington DC, as well as Northerners in the Confederate cities. Still other women eagerly formed charity associations and organized charity shows and fund collection drives to support the war effort from either side.

However, the most significant role of women breaking into the pre-dominantly male bastion was nursing. Thousands of women at the outset of War left their homes to take care of dying soldiers. Till then, nursing was considered a lowly profession best left to lower-class individuals particularly men. The action of the women thus angered men and was greatly resented. But as the conflict progressed and casualties increased, the need for nursing assistance, particularly women nurses given their skills and abilities, began to skyrocket.  Even doctors who had earlier protested against the induction of women in medical corps accepted the inevitable need for recruiting women.

President Lincoln established the United States Sanitary Commission. The purpose of the Commission was to take over the responsibility of caring for the sick and wounded soldiers of the Union. It is said that one of the major missions of the United States Sanitary Commission was to educate the soldiers on all aspects of health and hygiene. It was done in the hope to reduce the risk of diseases and infection which was a direct result of the exposure that these wounded soldiers faced in the theater of war. The era thus also saw rapid advances in hospice care in America as a direct result of the Civil War. The Commission organized by the women of the North ran kitchens, distributed medical supplies and inspected army camps so as to insure a standard of cleanliness.

In course, over 3,000 Union women worked as unpaid nurses during the conflict, and Dorthea Dix, appointed head of the nursing corps, went unpaid for the entire four years at her post[22]. Southern nurses also played an equally vital role in the war efforts of the Confederate armies. Their work included the setting-up one of the largest and most efficient hospitals on either side in Richmond, Virginia.

The Civil War has too often been depicted as a man’s war. Men ran the show both in the in the capitals of the Union and the Confederacy. They were the ones who were recruited as soldiers, and organized the supply lines and military operations. However, it was the women, who with their dedication and sense of purpose proved to be the lifelines of the Union and Confederacy war effort. Historians have now come to accept this fact. It was the women who took care of the wounded, ensuring the maintenance of sanitary conditions and in the process fighting under some of the toughest conditions which included opposition at home apart from the death and destruction that they saw resulting from the conflict.

Thematic Background of the Paper:

In the history of mankind, driven by patriotic fervor, war represents the ultimate love for one’s nation. Dying for one’s country at war symbolizes romanticism. Generations of nations have grown with this glorified imagery of war. Ornamental military glamour makes death at war a passionate desire which every soldier is attuned to. The oratory of political leaders and military generals constructs an awe for a death; a feeling that a life lost at war is not laid waste. However, it is rare in the history of nations amidst this hysterical glorification of death and destruction, that people have demonstrated the gut and determination to look at war with hate and leaders with distrust. The danger lies in being branded unpatriotic, in being labeled as un-respectful of the lives that have been lost fighting for, what is interpreted as a worthy cause.

This research is being designed to read war from the perspectives of a common foot soldier, the infantry, or the private; the warrior who fights not necessarily by his wisdom but spurred by fear. The fear of being tagged as a coward, the fear of loosing this life if he fails to pull the trigger first; faced by an enemy equally scared to death. This paper thus, seeks to analyze war beyond the interpretations of the politico-military elite.

Statement of Thesis:

This paper argues that it is important for nations to evaluate the flip side of conflicts. It is important that people are honest in their analysis of the human side of conflicts, rather than be blown by the hysterical glorification of such conflicts as made by the politico-military elite. This paper finds that as a nation, America and Americans today are more open to criticism than they were during the times of the Civil War. In the process, this paper argues that, wars and conflicts are romantic for the victorious; for it is their interpretation of the conflict that is know. Historically, the spoils of war belonged to them. Anyone opposing this thought or promoting a divergent view is soon branded as unpatriotic and a traitor.

The relevance of this analysis lies in its modern day context. The world has seen numerous conflicts from the days of the Civil War, and continues to be threatened by newer forms of conflicts. This paper argues that America as a nation has matured to understand the rational aspects of war. A nation that once decried the delay of its entry into theater of the Second World War also saw an outcry against American involvement in Vietnam. A similar scenario is building up in the case of American involvement in Iraq. As bodies of its young men return home, in death, and as the military glamour subsides, America sits up to think. At a time when American interests around the world are threatened, is the nation carrying forward the lessons of liberty and freedom, it had learnt from the Civil War; one of the bloodiest conflicts fought on its soil, or it is another futile attempt by a nation with a seemingly invincible power to spread its hegemony across the globe.

The American Civil War has had tremendous socio-political impact on the country. Years after the conflict, it may be felt that the Civil War may have done America and Americans good in the long run. It thrust America into the forefront among the nations of the world setting to rest some of the most divisive political questions.

However, this paper is limited in its diagnosis of conflict. The objective of its arguments is that, one of the important lessons learnt from the Civil War and the painful period of reconstruction that followed it, was the need for truthful evaluation of the conflict. For in such truth evaluation is the ability of a nation or nations to rise above their mistakes of the past. In doing so, this paper draws its contextual reference from the representation of the American Civil War by Stephen Crane in his book the Red Badge of Courage. A book that led to Stephen Crane to be branded as a traitor during his times, in a country infected by the rabid affectations of fanatic nationalism[23].


The Red Badge of Courage, a modernist short novel, from which this paper derives its contextual reference. The novel is based on the deception of events during the American Civil War. Written by Stephen Crane; a writer committed to the direct first hand portrayal of events, ironically The Red Badge of Courage, which won Crane international acclaim is a product of his imagination. Born almost a decade after the Civil War, when Crane, wrote The Red Badge of Courage, he had not witnessed battle. Based on his interviews with veterans, the powerful imagery and the accurate and realistic combat sequences that Crane was able to draw in his book, led most critics to believe that he was an experienced soldier[24].

At a time, when most writings and depictions of the Civil War were heavily idealistic in content, portraying the conflict as a great clash of opposing idealistic thoughts, The Red Badge of Courage, devastated the American preconceptions about war. Though Stephen Crane does not name the battle nor the armies involved, based on his later works and literary research it is widely assumed that, the reference he draws in his book is to the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 2–6, 1863). [25]Whereas, most writers of his times sought to draw a romantic view of war, Crane focused on the individual psychology of a single solder in battle – Private Henry Fleming and his first experience of conflict.

Unlike today when the wars are won even before the first shot rings in the air, battles in days of the Civil War were won by the courageous valor and the will of an Army Private. It was his attribute to fight, his sprint to overcome the fear that defined the course of the war. Not only in America, but across the world, the life of a soldier is glorified. He epitomizes what being a true patriot means. His life is symbolic of what manhood stood for and should strive for.

Depicting of a soldier as a mere mortal was a profound sin, something unacceptable. He was invincible, he could not have fear, and his was the all powerful image of valor. In his death he was glorified, none could grieve when he died for in death he would become a martyr, a man who gave his life for a cause, the supreme cause of his nation.

Challenging the prevalent thoughts and conceptions of war and of soldiers, the central theme of The Red Badge of Courage is that Army Private Henry and his fellow soldiers were not in complete control of their actions during the heat of battle. The book represents Private Henry’s mind as a maze of illusion, vanity, and romantic naïveté, challenged by the hard lessons of war. He fights despite the risk of death not because of their love for their country but for adrenaline, while the soldiers who deserted the battle did so not because of apathy for their country, but for the fear of the moment. Crane does not depict a world of moral absolutes, but rather a universe utterly indifferent to human existence[26].

This startling imagery of the life of an Army Private drew the world’s attention to The Red Badge of Courage, as did the novel’s vivid and powerful descriptions of battle. With its combination of detailed imagery, moral ambiguity, and terse psychological focus, The Red Badge of Courage exerted an enormous influence on twentieth-century American fiction, particularly the work of the modernists. It won accolades and abuses for Stephen Crane, some of which termed the book as a “vicious satire upon American soldiers and American armies,” as part of a plot to undermine confidence in the nation’s armed forces[27].

As drawn above, the Civil War has been one of the most dramatic turning points in the history of the United States of America; a point in the history of a nation that changed its course from being a discordant nation into being a strong union. The Civil War has thus been a subject of the imagination of many authors. Various authors have written about the Great War that American has seen; when a nation fought within itself.

The Red Badge of Courage (1895) written by Stephen Crane is one such masterpiece. Henry Fleming, the young boy who joins the army on the side of the Union during the Civil War. The book deals with his desire to join the Union Army, like many young men of his times, and his mother’s opposition to the idea[28]. He grew up on a farm, in a rural setting in native America during the Civil War. A good farmer boy, who is disciplined enough to follows the directions of his mother, the book has no mention of Henry’s father.

This young boy in course joins the Union Army, against the wishes of his mother. As he proceeds to join the army he finds people who welcome his decision to join the Army and fight for the Union. At the Army base he finds soldiers waiting anxiously for the call of battle. It is here, in this theater of battle that he meets the other characters in the novel such as the “Loud soldier,” and the “Tall Soldier.” As Henry discusses war with his comrades-in-arms, they talk about the battle and its experiences- of soldiers who run in the face of battle comparing them to children.

Henry is nervous and does run away, but only to return in the face of the death and destruction, and hold his position eventually. But his fear begins to haunt him. He is ashamed of himself for his fears and nervousness. The play of his emotions is immense, with Stephen taking the readers to transverse across a spate of characters. Henry thus demonstrates an intense interplay of strong and weak emotional characterization. But as a person, Henry comes out more matured from the war.

A person, having faced death and destruction of its worst kind does not feel dramatized by the little things in life. Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is thus a story of boys who are mentally transformed into mature men when they experience the dramatic events in life. Crane’s effort is to demonstrate fear as an essential part of human nature. He argues that courage and valor are all the result of this fear. In the process, what the author succeeds in doing is to de-dramatize war. He exposes that ironies and the unnecessary loss of life that battle brings in its wake. A solider who seeks to runs away on seeing his comrade being shot is just human. However, his valor lies in his ability to rebound. In the courage that Henry shows, when he decides to return to the battle front.

Read beyond its immediate background context, the book leaves a more far-reaching lesson for generations to come. It seeks to removes the pessimism that surrounds fear and informs its readers that true courage lies in ones ability to return back and face the hard situations of life in their effort to be successful.

Arguments and Documentation:

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Henry, the Army Private, who is the main character in Stephen Crane’s novel The Red Badge of Courage, is very excited to join the war. Against her wishes his mother blesses him as he goes to battle. Soon to be disillusioned, Henry finds war beyond the romantic thoughts he had carried, it is frightening and he becomes a coward who deserts but later returns to become a hero.

In a typical war, as in the times of the American Civil War, a battlefield was horrifying. Opposing armies stood a few hundred yards apart as they would attempt to advance across an open field, exposed to murderous attacks by defenders, firing from the cover of trees or trenches[29]. Bullets also came from sharpshooters perched on treetops particularly aimed at killing the flag bearers and enemy commanders. It had considerable impact on the morale of the soldiers. Such assaults were murderous because soldiers were brutally exposed. These tactics remained common, with large battles consisting of countless skirmishes, or minor fights, involving small groups of soldiers.

The attacking soldiers did not advance steadily toward the enemy in neat ranks. Rather, they dashed forward a few yards, fired, then lay down or hid to reload before dashing forward a few more yards to fire again. The thick, eye-watering smoke that settled over the battlefield made combat madly confusing[30]. Soldiers could see only a short distance ahead. It was not uncommon for troops in the second or third line to fire into their own front rank[31]. Soldiers often felt shots coming at them from all directions. The noise of the battle—the booming explosions of cannons, the sharp bursts of rifle shots, and the shouts and groans of those fighting and dying—added to the confusion.

Gruesome deaths were common, and advancing or retreating soldiers often had no choice but to step on the dead and wounded. Desertion was common during the Civil War. Some soldiers deserted out of fear during battle. Most recruits received little training and almost no guidance about what to expect in battle. Whole units were often composed of untried men, without veterans who could provide information or advice[32].

In their memoirs, Civil War soldiers often express a fear of battle, but many were as afraid of being branded cowards as they were of being wounded or killed. “Showing the white feather,” or displaying cowardice, could bring humiliation both in the regiment and back home with friends and family. Other desertions were for reasons other than fear. Some men left the army because of the harsh physical conditions. Others tired of not being paid on time, or returned home to help their struggling families. Still others resented their officers, who often lacked military training. Many men deserted because they had enlisted simply for the bounty, or reward that was offered to enlistees in the war[33].

Stephen Crane in his book lay threadbare the fear and agony of the ordinary frightened soldier in an effort that depicts the most unromantic side of war. In a historically researched account of what war means to the common foot soldiers who; fight it in the heat and dust of the battlefield, Crane tears apart what is considered the most patriotic act. He illustrates what it means to be real solider in an attempt to evaluate and understand in-depth one of the most horrifying perspectives of wars in general and the American Civil War in particular.


War is such an event which creates mixed emotions. A nation is torn between streams of emotions. It is rare in the history of mankind that a nation has looked at war beyond the threshold of patriotism. This paper will adopt the historical method of research. It will comprise the detailed use primary sources and other evidence for research. Given the lack of primary resources available in local libraries, this paper will depend immensely of Internet based research of Primary material. With regard to secondary material this paper will use researched articles and essays that seek to analyze the American Civil War in its various perspectives. It may also be mentioned that the best sources of primary information on the socio-psychological implications of the conflict, in line with the thematic objectives of this paper, can be found particularly in memoirs of the War.


As pointed out, this paper, seeks to evaluate war particularly the American Civil War from the perspectives of the common solider. As mentioned, the research will evaluate the writings of Stephen Crane with particular reference to his book The Red Badge of Courage. The Civil War is indeed fascinating; there was no appeasement or negotiation; but the dreadful grit and determination of the common soldier and his effort to survive the bloody conflict.

It can be safely concluded that Crane was fascinated with both the physical and psychological aspects of war. In his admiration, of the common solider, in his ability of understand his psychology and the emotional turmoil, Crane was a true patriot and had an unflinching nationalistic pride not for the two identities that the Civil War propounded, but for the single American nation. His was an effort to show war for what it was good and for what it was bad. In doing so Crane provided a much needed service to the American nation, a credit to the American people, much beyond what some of his critics would interpret him as – a traitor out to ridicule the American soldier.

At a time of nation building, The Red Badge of Courage laid much beyond, the limited thought process of two opposing ideological views which resulted in the Civil War. It thus attempted of demonstrate the agony of the undesired American War- of a nation fighting within itself.

Unlike at the times of the Civil War, America today has matured as a nation. Public opinion has strongly come to reflect the nation’s mood and Governments have faced it time and again. Be it in the case of horror of the Vietnam War or the recently building emotions against the war in Iraq. The American nation today expresses its opinion more vehemently than ever before, backed by a press that, passionately seeks to maintain its independence.

This modern day paradigm shift in American perceptions is explicably visible in the acclaim when The Red Badge of Courage was turned into a movie. Audie Murphy the actor who played the main character of Henry in the movie version later was a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic service in World War II. From these examples, it is the view of this paper that given the intense public opinion in modern day America, Stephen Carne’s novel The Red Badge of Courage would probably seem too slow and tame in its anti-war sentiments by today’s standards.

As pointed out earlier, this paper thus argues that, Crane was indeed a patriot to the core, with great nationalistic pride. His masterpiece is a great credit to the American nation. His was an objective effort to depict war for what it was in its worst form. The `flee or fight` mentality is the essence of war. Even the most courageous men are afraid, for death is as scary for a soldier as for any other human. Crane’s effort was to view a soldier as a human first and then a soldier. He demonstrates how a soldier, rises above his human fears to come back to fight. He is still scared, but his call of duty brings him back to the theater of war, he continues to fight in fear and wins. Henry is thus not a traitor but merely a human who showed the greatest courage by overcoming one of the greatest fears a human could have.

The purpose of this research design is that of reporting the Civil War from the representative perspectives of Stephen Crane as laid out in his novel The Red Badge of Courage. However, the problem in attempting that lies in the fact that for obvious reasons, throughout the history of mankind, wars and conflicts have been interpreted by the victorious. This nationalistic pride has served nations well, including in the case of America. But what Crane, albeit nationalistic attempted in his graphic representation of the American Civil War is to show the miserable and psychologically ugly side of war.

One may find this, the obvious; but the fact is that, well into the era of Reconstruction, America was trying to hide its bad memories and look at the positive; at the victorious part of the war and didn’t want to be reminded about the dark side of the conflict. This dark side was especially unpleasant for a country, immediately coming out of a Civil War and in a relatively short period of time after the country was just getting through the painful period of Reconstruction. However, it was important that the story needed to be told of the lowly private, the man who joined the army against his mother’s wishes; the story of his psychological pains and physical sufferings. It was Crane’s prerogative to reopen a healing wound, his decision that the wound was never going to be completely healed unless the infection was not diagnosed; unless the American nation was honest in its analysis of the Civil War and the tremendous toll the nation suffered as a consequence of the conflict.

The Red Badge of Courage demonstrates what can be termed as a modern day critique to the contemporary attitudes about heroism and nationalism the America had. Thus the effort is to lay exposed the irony that exists in the American society; the environment as it existed at the end of the 19th century, the socio-economic and cultural unrest that the country faced, haunted by the catastrophic Civil War.

However, as mentioned earlier, the effort by Crane is to hold-aloft the values, the spirit of democracy. In doing this, lies his effort to seek the commitment of every American to uphold and defend the rights of his fellow citizens, the ideals that make a great nation, a regeneration of the spirit of democracy which lies at the very essence of American society. As argued in this theme paper; the American Civil War set the ball of rapid socio-economic modernization rolling. The attempt in this paper is not to discount the many long term advantages that American may have derived from the War- one of which is the question of the federal structure of the Union. The fallout of the war may have ensured that America as a nation would never again experience a War of similar kind. However, as laid out earlier, this paper attempts to evaluate the socio-psychological side of the War, from the perspectives of a common solider in battle. Understanding the Civil War thus, from Stephen Crane’s perspective, is important to ensure that American does not repeat the dark chapters of its history.


Secondary Sources

  • Gallagher, Gary W., Stephen Douglas Engle, Robert K. Kirck and Joseph T. Glatthaar, The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War. Osceola, Osprey Publishing Limited, 2003.

This immensely comprehensive book tracks the course of the American Civil War in both the Eastern and Western theaters, covering strategic, geographic and logistical factors and studying their impact on soldiers, officers and civilians.

  • Heidler David Stephen., Jeanne T. Heidler, David J. Coles and James M. McPherson. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History. London: Norton & Company Ltd, 2000.

This encyclopedia is an immense source of information about the American Civil War in an easily accessible format. The information contained in the encyclopedia includes details on the strategic objectives of the war, the diplomatic and political stratagem, key military actions with detailed descriptions, key actors in the war, and also the impact of the Civil War on the American society and history.

  • Katcher, Philip., American Civil War Armies (3). Oxford, Osprey Publishing Limited, 1987.

The book provides an illustrated reference of the American Civil War and is a good reference material to gather an imaginary of the conflicts.

  • Rice, Earle., Robert E. Lee: First Soldier Of The Confederacy (Civil War Generals). North Carolina, Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2005.

Robert E. Lee: First Soldier Of The Confederacy is a chronicle of facts about Lee’s contribution to history from his early childhood, to his fateful decision to serve the Confederate army

  • Spark Notes from Barnes & Noble. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/redbadge/ accessed March 25, 2007

These notes provide a very good starting point for research. It includes the original full text of the Stephen Crane’s novel The Red Badge of Courage and also provided detailed contextual reference.

  • Summary Central from http://summarycentral.tripod.com/theredbadgeofcourage.htm accessed on March 25, 2007

The Summary Central provides a summary of The Red Badge of Courage and was found helpful as an aid to review and revise the more detailed version of the book. The summary Central also has a second summary on The Red Badge of Courage which can be accessed on http://summarycentral.tripod.com/theredbadgeofcourage2.htm

  • University of Virginia, Ongoing Hypertext Projects from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/CRANE/title.html accessed on March 25, 2007.

This link provides detailed critical reviews that Stephen Crane received particularly with reference to his book The Red Badge of Courage along with the full text of the chapter of the book. Part of the website accessible on http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/CRANE/images/section3.html provides a detailed discussion on the paintings of the American Civil War in comparison to the imagery drawn in The Red Badge of Courage.

  • Waugh, John C., 20 Good Reasons to Study the Civil War. Abilene, McWhiney Foundation Press, 2004.

The book is an easy reader of the American Civil War and provides a general understanding of the importance of the war for the American Civil society. It helps a researcher on the American nation to evaluate the underlying conflicts which though not sorted by the American Civil War have still helped in developing a realistic understanding of the problems that the American society faces.

  • Woodworth, Steven E., (Ed.), The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research.  Westport, Greenwood Publishing Group Inc., 1996

The book is a collection of well-researched essays on the American Civil War, which provides a well organized literature on various topics related to the War, which includes strategic issues that affected the war such as ordnance, social conditions, and economic factors, each of which is written in a bibliographic essay by an expert on the subject.

Primary Sources (including web links)

  • The American Civil War Homepage, http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/warweb.html#letters

An online resource it is a compilation of material from various sources and includes primary sources and accounts of the American Civil War. The volume of information available in this website is immense and as such it needs to be evaluated in-depth to analysis each material available therein.

  • American Civil War,  http://www.historyteacher.net/AHAP/Weblinks/AHAP_Weblinks13.htm#Docs

An online resource website providing a host of Web-links and Primary resources on various aspects of the American Civil War.

  • American Memory, http://memory.loc.gov/

American Memory is a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. The site offers a wide range of historial material related to the period ofteh American Civil War.

  • Civil War and Reconstruction, http://www.mrburnett.net/civilwar.html

This online resource provides suitable reference material on individual episodes of the Civil War. Though most of the information has been compiled from various sources, yet the website is seemingly an authentic reference area.

The National Archives,

  •             http://www.archives.gov/research/civil-war/index.html

Major source of authentic online information on the Civil War including detailed records and articles of relevance.

  • University of Virginia Library, http://etext.virginia.edu/civilwar/

Called the Electronic Text Center, the online database is home to a variety of primary source material on the American Civil War, including letters, diaries and newspapers.

Other Sources

  1. Bowman, John S. The Civil War Almanac. New York: World Almanac Publications, 1983.
    Brownlee, Richard S. Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West 1861-1855.
    Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1958.
  2. Catton, Bruce Reflections on the Civil War. New York: Doubleday, 1981.
  3. Chowder, Ken. A Writer Who Lived the Adventures He Portrayed. Washington: Smithsonian, 1995.
  4. Davis, Linda H. Badge of Courage the Life of Stephen Crane. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
  5. Jackson, William Camp Chase Gazette: March 1999. Marietta, OH: Camp Chase Gazette Publishing, 1999.
  6. McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001.
  7. McPherson, James M. What They Fought For 1861-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.
  8. Pearman, Michael Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
  9. Vance, Roger L. Civil War Times: April 2005. Leesburg, VA: Premedia, Publication, 2005.
  10. Vance, Roger L. Civil War Times: June 2004. Leesgurg, VA: Permedia, Publication, 2004.
  11. Vance, Roger L. Civil War Times: May 2004. Leesburg, VA: Permedia, Publication, 2004.
  12. Vance, Roger L. Civil War Times: May 2004. Leesburg, VA: Permedia, Publication, 2003
  13. Gallagher, Gary., The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War. (Osceola: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2003)
  14. Woodworth, Steven. The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research. (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group Inc, 1996)
  15. Heidler, David. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. (London: Norton &  Company Ltd, 2000)
  16. Gallagher, Gary. The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War. (Osceola: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2003)
  17. Ibid.
  18. Gallagher, Gary. The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War. (Osceola: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2003)
  19. Ibid.
  20. Katcher, Philip. American Civil War Armies. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 1987)
  21. Heidler, David. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. (London: Norton &  Company Ltd, 2000)
  22. Gallagher, Gary. The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War. (Osceola: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2003)
  23. Heidler, David. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. (London: Norton &  Company Ltd, 2000)
  24. Heidler, David. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. (London: Norton &  Company Ltd, 2000)
  25. Gallagher, Gary. The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War. (Osceola: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2003) Heidler.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Gallagher, Gary. The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War. (Osceola: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2003)
  28. Heidler, David. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. (London: Norton &  Company Ltd, 2000)
  29. Woodworth, Steven. The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research. (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group Inc, 1996)

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A Review of The American Civil War. (2016, Jun 10). Retrieved from


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