Modernity In The Civil War Essay

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What Modernity Meant to the Civil War:
Understanding how American Warfare became Modern
The definition of modern is relative to the time and space in which a historian might describe a society, situation, or technology, or as the Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “Of or relation to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past.” The problem with this, however, is that it is often difficult to look back on an historical event and differentiate between what was actually modern about that time and how historians impose a sense of modernity on an event that was the opposite. In Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, Latour explores the origins of modernity and how it “is always being thrown into the middle of a fight,” somehow “defining, by contrast, an archaic and stable past.” Only one removed from the historical event can look at it as an outsider, and even then it is difficult to remove ties that relate current history to that of the past. The readers of history cannot help but see it with a lens that is tinted with the problems of today.
When tens of thousands of books have been written about a four year or so period of history, it makes it a lot easier to derive some sort of unbiased narrative through the analysis of the existing texts in comparison to one another. The Civil War stood on the brink of a time between “attaque a outrance” and Napoleonic war methods and the movement towards total war and tactics applicable during the 20th century World Wars. Its ability to be labeled both pre-modern and modern comes from the Civil War’s transitional ideologies and location in history marked by both social and economic revolutions. Paddy Griffith and Edward Hagerman offer varied accounts of war that either characte...

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...n his volunteer-troops, rather than an “exceptionally well drilled and experienced army.” The Civil War required a “quickly improvised…realistic standard for mid-nineteenth century America.” Which, as Griffith points out, they either did “ineffectively or reverted to outdated tactics disastrously.” The developments of technology certainly had a very large role in the way the war was fought but what truly caused the shift from Napoleonic to modern warfare was the fact that America was not Europe and the battle was for a cause much more powerful than land acquisition and discourse with another nation, but rather ideological dissonance within. Both authors analyzed how the United States’ differed from the countries across the Atlantic in order to provide some explanation regarding the nature of the Civil War and why it took so many lives before it came to an end.

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