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The legacy of the Civil War

By David Harris
On April 18, 2011

This past week marks 150 years since the beginning of the greatest military conflict in American history: the Civil War. The four-year conflict between the Union North and the Confederate South cost our nation over 600,000 lives and brought the country into an era of social and infrastructural reconstruction.

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, let us see how the war is still affecting our society today.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Civil War was the abolishment of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation, signed Jan. 1, 1863, declared the freedom of slaves in the Union and territories - 50,000 immediately and the rest as Union armies advanced.

Although it received some criticism in the political realm by 19th century Democrats, it ultimately helped improve morale in the North as well as gain alliances with non-slave countries such as the United Kingdom, who prior to the 1863 proclamation aided the Confederacy because of the South's cotton supply.

In today's society, even though there is no visible slavery in the South, many corporations and companies have adopted a similar system within their businesses. Think about it: long shifts, very low pay, few days off, if any. It may not be recognizable at first, but these are the types of things that unions and other worker-friendly entities are combating even today.

Another effect of the Civil War that we see in today's society that is often overlooked is the Republican Party in the United States.

The party was organized in 1854, shortly before the war period, but was not widely recognized nationally as a major political entity until Lincoln, a Republican himself, became the party's first president.

The party over the years has grown from its humble roots as a pro-business party advocating for emancipation and protection for heavy industry to a conservative, pro-business party calling for lower taxes. Overall, the Republican Party is one of the instruments of the Civil War that will be around for generations to come.

A third effect of the Civil War is its lasting impression on future generations through the media and the reenactment. The media has portrayed the Civil War from numerous perspectives over the past 150 years, ranging from a "war to free the slaves" to a "battle to save the union."

Over time, depending on one's own interpretation of the war and geographic location, the war has been portrayed from a variety of different angles. For example, films such as "The Birth of a Nation," "Gods and Generals" and perhaps more famously, "Gone With the Wind," were set in the Civil War period.

Most of these films are adaptations from books with the same name, such as the three aforementioned films. Also, television series such as "The Blue and the Gray" take the Civil War and bring it to the viewing audience of the 20th century.

The reenactments of Civil War battles are the final commemoration we have. Some occur annually, and with this being the sesquicentennial, there will be plenty more than other years.

Reenactments allow those of all ages to experience the battles of generations ago in an interactive and personal way. From the more famous battles of Gettysburg and Antietam to the lesser-known battles of Shenandoah Valley and Chickamauga, both war enthusiasts and proud Americans are able to relive the fights which helped rebuild and redefine our nation.

These are just a few of the countless effects and modern-day links that we have to the Civil War in today's society. Although many believe that the war ended with a Confederate surrender, many of its effects are entwined with who we are as a nation and as American citizens. The shots have ceased fire, but the war continues on with our legacy.

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