From Limited War to Total War in America

TitleFrom Limited War to Total War in America
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsMcPherson, James M., Stig Förster, and Nagler, Jörg
Book TitleOn the Road to Total War: The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification
PublisherCambridge University Press
CityNew York

A few years after the Civil War, Mark Twain described that great conflict as having “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” This profound transformation was achieved at enormous cost in lives and property. The 620,000 soldiers who lost their lives almost equaled the number of American soldiers killed in all the other wars this country has fought combined. If the same proportion of soldiers to the total American population were to be killed in a war fought today, the number of American war dead would be five million.

Fully one-quarter of the white men of military age in the South lost their lives. And that ghastly toll does not include an unknown number of civilian deaths, nearly all in the South, victims of malnutrition, disease, and exposure resulting from the destruction of resources and the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of people who became refugees. Altogether nearly 4 percent of the Southern people, black and white, civilians and soldiers, died as a consequence of the war. This percentage exceeded the toll of any country in World War I and was outstripped only by the region between the Rhine and the Volga in World War II. The amount of property and resources destroyed in the Confederate States is almost incalculable. It has been estimated at two-thirds of all assessed wealth, including the market value of slaves. As a proportion of national wealth in 1860, the abolition of slavery alone confiscated the equivalent of $3 trillion of property in the United States today. [Publisher]

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