The Last Post


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Chapter 15 of David Davis’ Inhuman Bondage was a fitting ending for the course. Beginning with colonization and continuing all the way to the end of the syllabus, the content of this course seemed to largely revolve around the economic and moral implications of slavery. In the colonial days, slavery and indentured servants were imperative to the success of early settlements, but as time progressed, the issue of human bondage became more problematic, leading to the immense differences between free northern states and southern slave states. Davis (and ROMANGONE’s blog post) describes the Civil War as a revolutionary change in American society, with the emancipation of slavery dramatically altering the entire infrastructure of the south. Davis’ remarks on the size of the slave industry also shocked me. He stated that the “slaves’ value came to an estimated $3.5 billion in 1860 dollars … about $68.4 billion in 2003 dollars” (Davis, 298) and that “as a share of today’s gross national product, the slaves’ value would come to an estimated $9.7 trillion” (Davis, 298). The abrupt elimination of this massive economic system can only be described as one word: revolutionary.

The advent of the Civil War clearly marked the beginning of a new era of America, both culturally and politically, but also marked the beginning of a new era of warfare. Davis remarks that the Civil War was the “first [time] trench warfare and ultimately the first booby traps, the first rapid-firing Gatling guns and also self-igniting shells that showered soldiers with pieces of deadly shrapnel” (Davis, 301) were used in battle. All of these inventions were far removed from the bayonet and horse warfare of previous conflicts and eventually became the signifier of future total wars. The numbers during the conflict also reflect that of a total war, with “mobilized armed forces of about 2.1 million” (Davis, 300) with 620,000 military deaths, 260,000 of which were confederate soldiers (Davis, 300). In history class in high school, I was taught that World War I was the first total war, but after evaluating the Civil War, I believe a case can be made that the Civil War was in fact the first total war due to the number of deaths and advanced methods of fighting.

When Davis talks about the “Blue and Gray veterans l[eading] the way in focusing public attention on the minute details of each battle” (Davis, 305), I am reminded of the veterans I have met and the impact warfare had on their lives, as they too are able to recite in great detail the specific details of the conflicts they were engaged in. I am also reminded of my southern friends I have met at Davidson, and how all of them seem to have a “Civil War story.” Clearly the impact of the Civil War still holds an immense presence over American culture today.