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Civil War Trust

Viewing the Impact of Civil War Battles from the Outside - www.civilwar.org

One of the most interesting things about American history is the way the rest of the world learns it. We get our fill of the Revolutionary War starting in elementary school and of Civil War battles starting around grade 8. But for students in Europe, for example, our Revolutionary War is considered a British civil war, and our American Civil War is hardly taught at all, except that it happened and resulted in the end of legal slavery in the United States.

But any students who paid attention in their high school U.S. history class understand that the ideas and ideals that led men and boys to die across hundreds of Civil War battlefields played a central role in our country’s development through the 20th Century and thus directly affect our global position today. Though for the rest of the world and many of our elementary and middle school students the Civil War was fought over the end of slavery, President Abraham Lincoln very clearly fought the war to preserve the Union, while the secession was prompted by a desire to preserve a slavery that they felt, perhaps rightly if not as proximately as they expected, was a threatened institution.

Despite this fact, the impact of the way the world perceives the outcome of those savage American Civil War battles should not be lost on us; it finally ended legal slavery in one of the last countries to still allow it. Before that, we were more backwards than most of the world, and afterword, with our cotton exports at a fraction of their pre-war levels we continued to be a minor player in the eyes of world powers through the rest of the 19th Century.

Yet this Brothers’ War also laid the foundation for a country that would spend the next 150 years – 2011 and 2012 mark a number of 150-year anniversaries relating to the outbreak of the war – sending its troops to die across the globe in defense of a set of values that were essential to the country’s founding and were redefined by that war. In the Civil War, men left their homes, marched great distances, and killed each other over ideals such as state self-determination, the sanctity of a national union, and ultimately, the right of all human beings to be free from enslavement. By considering the monumental event, which was much more than the sum of hundreds of Civil War battles, from the perspective of outsiders, we can see more clearly why the war has national and international importance.

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