It is hard to imagine how a country as huge as America could have torn itself apart during the Civil War, but it nearly did just that in 1861 – 1863. It lost 600,000 of it’s own people in a bitter battle which was rooted in – among other things – disagreements about the abolition of slave labour. The Confederate States in the South wanted to retain the slave labour that had generated all their wealth; the Unionists in the North wanted to abolish it. The US almost ripped itself in half down the fault line of the mighty Mississippi..
“There they lay, the blue and grey intermingled; the same rich, young American blood flowing out in little rivulets of crimson, each thinking he was in the right.”
There are so many – but these are the ones that really stood out for me:
- 600,000 lives were lost (20,000 at Vicksburg) – roughly 50:50 on each side. For every 1 soldier lost in battle, 2 were lost to disease.
- Vicksburg held the key to the war because it was: the nexus of river and rail: the highest point along the river between Memphis and the Gulf of Mexico; flanked by bluffs; at a bend in the river, which slowed down the boats
- The South never really had a chance of winning as the population in the North was 22 million versus only 5.4 million in the South. The South was short on men, firepower and supplies.
- During the 47 day siege of Vicksburg, the Unionists threw mules into the Glass Bayou to contaminate the water used by the town and hasten its surrender.
- Although the civil war led to the abolition of slavery, the battle over civil rights continued to rage through to the 1960s. There was still segregation in Vicksburg as late as 1972.
- One of the Unionist soldiers was actually a woman (Jenny Hodgers – alias Albert Cashier) who disguised herself as a man. It wasn’t discovered until she was taken to hospital long after the war for medical treatment.
- Amazingly enough, negroes fought on both sides.
- Huge, heavily armoured ships called ironclads were built by the Unionists for the assault on Vicksnbury. They built 7 of these massive vessels in just 100 days. The well preserved remains of one – the Cairo – is preserved at the National Military Park.
- Carpetbaggers – After the war, Northerners who moved South during Reconstruction in the 1860s and 70s were the original carpetbaggers, named for their suitcases. It was a derogatory term then and it continues to be associated with opportunism and exploitation by outsiders.
- Scallywags White Southerners who supported Reconstruction and the Republican Party, after the War. The word was used as a slur in Southern partisan debates.
- Sold down the river: Slaves who caused trouble were sold from the northern slave states into the much harsher conditions on plantations in the lower Mississippi – this is where the phrase “sold down the river” originated. It was a fate much feared.
- When the Civil War was finally all over, the mood was summed up by Lincoln’s phrase “With Malice Toward None, with charity for all …’ The United States could have looked so different today if the war had gone the other way. Are there still tensions between North and South today? Not really, according to locals – “maybe just among a few of the old timers”?