Monday, February 2, 2015

Some less talked about positives of the American Civil War

This is not a defense of wars, but the American Civil War had several positives coming out of it, and I thought I'd outline them briefly. Of course, it was at a great cost of 600,000 lives, about 2 percent of the entire US population at the time. Everybody knows about the biggest achievement of the war, which was also in large part the main engine behind the war: the abolition of slavery. Here I will mention some of the other, often overlooked positives:

1. For the first time, the recently discovered Bromine was used for healing and cleaning wounds. It improved standards of hygiene in wartime medical assistance in a big way, significantly reducing casualties where soldiers succumbed not to bullet wounds but to the ensuing gangrene.

2. Before the civil war, nursing was a primarily male occupation. With this war, the need for nursing outgrew the supply that men alone could furnish, bringing women in large numbers into the nursing profession. Alongside textile mills of the same period, this paved the way for women getting out of their houses for work in large numbers.

3. Working as a nurse at the time of the war inspired Carla Barton to start the American Red Cross post the war, an organization that has since saved millions of lives.

4. Embalming, the practice of using zinc chloride and arsenic for the preservation of the dead bodies of soldiers was an innovation of the civil war, which meant that the bodies could be received by their families, even weeks later, in recognizable and non-decomposed conditions for their last rites.

5. Telegram got a boost by Lincoln as a method of mapping and devising macro and micro level strategies. This would continue to remain a masterstroke of wartime planning for decades to come, including during the world wars.

6. In many ways, it was the first modern war. Before the civil war, the battle capacity of any regiment was limited by how much artillery they could carry with them. Once they were out of supplies, they could fight no longer. This was the first war to isolate supplies from actual offensives, by employing railroads to continually and strategically supply new arms to the fighting troops.

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