The American Civil War Was NOT Unique

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To claim that the Civil War was unlike any other war since is to dispute the claims of countless historians who view it as a prelude or prototype for the type of wars that followed, “Library shelves groan with works pointing to the Civil War as a harbinger of “total war” in its modern form.” This claim, as well as overlooking strategies and tactics that have been applied and evolved through subsequent wars, overlooks the significance of ideological warfare and policies of a central government such as conscription, which have been practices employed since in a wartime context. It would appear more correct to claim then, that the Civil War was unlike any other war before as it validates evidence that points to it as the first ‘modern war’ and the first ‘total war’, namely in its tactics and its technology. But while it may be true that the Civil War marks the ‘firsts’ in several ways, to state that it was unlike any war before is to ignore continuities in American wartime tradition and strategy and principles from foreign wars. This essay will argue therefore that the Civil War was different from wars before it but differences were not total and continuities certainly existed, and that it has certainly found a place within the commentaries on other wars since.

One of the ways the Civil War has been argued as being unlike any war before is through the claim that it was the last Napoleonic, pre-modern war and the first ‘modern war.’ Janda agrees that if referring to technology, “they seem to be correct, as the Civil War represents the first mass conflict of the industrial age.” The way modernity and technology infused the Civil War and marked it as different from the wars before it was particularly significant in terms of ...

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... government and the growing fear at its power over the people, evident in the New York Draft riots. Such fears and disputes regarding conscription have manifested themselves in wars since, for example in Australia in the First World War. As an ideological war, the Civil War was significant also as one of the first with a major feature being “the similarity of white Southerners to their Northern counterparts,” with only distinct ideological differences, a feature that has been intrinsic since particularly to the Vietnam War.

To claim that the Civil War was unlike any war before or since is an argument which overlooks many of the continuities of time displayed in a history of warfare. Certainly it can be claimed to be the first type of war in several of its features, but entirely different isolates it from this history and leaves out very important aspects of it.
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