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The Bloodiest War In Our History


Links to Virginia regions and the Civil War sites and attractions.

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Why did Americans take up arms against one another in the bloodiest war our nation has ever experienced?

dead confederate soldiers at Spotsylvania, VA Americans, both Northerners and Southerners, black and white, came face to face with battlefield slaughter and death as never before.  These deaths were two percent of the total American population in the North and South. If two percent of the American people were to die in a war fought today, the number of American deaths would be more than six million. The death toll in the Civil War nearly equals the number of Americans who died in all the nation's other wars from the Revolution to Vietnam. An undetermined number of civilians were killed during this conflict and others were deeply scarred by the struggle.

Both sides were willing to sustain such punishment and keep fighting because the stakes were so great: nationality and freedom.

If the Confederacy lost the war, it would cease to exist, and the institution of African-American slavery that was a cornerstone of Southern society would also cease to exist. If the Union lost, the United States would become two nations, and a potential pattern would have been created for further division into several nations until there was no “nation” at all.

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What have been the long-term implications of this massive struggle?

slaves on plantationMore than four million men, women, and children who had known no other life than slavery suddenly found themselves freed. The end of slavery did not stop racism, discrimination, and segregation. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments added equal civil and political rights in the Constitution, but the issue of racial justice that came to the forefront in the Civil War era is still with us today. It took another 100 years until the force of the federal government began guarantees that provided equal protection and voting rights for African Americans.

Before the Civil War, the post office was the only agency of the federal government that touched the average citizen. After the war, there was a rapid expansion of federal powers at the expense of the states. The controversy over federal-state relations is still very much an issue today.

The fires of this terrible struggle forged the framework of our country.

The issues at the heart of the Civil War still remain relevant. The struggle for equality for all Americans, the appropriate reach of the federal government, and the attempts to reconcile differing cultural values under a single national flag continue to pass through the prism of that conflict.

So we honor the legacy for which so many Americans shed so much blood. We invite and encourage you to explore the heritage of the Civil War by regions or topics, and learn the broader meanings the Civil War has for us, the Americans of that time and of ours.

tombstones at arlington


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