The Civil War touched every person and influenced every institution more profoundly than any other event in American history. It is virtually impossible to measure the human costs of the Civil War, the hardships and suffering it caused. What we do know is that millions of people grieved for the loss of loved ones. In all, around 360,000 Union soldiers died as a direct result of the war. The Confederacy lost 260,000 dead. Many more soldiers were wounded; some wounds maimed their victims for life. The overall number of dead that resulted from the Civil War nearly equals the number of American soldiers killed in every other military action up to the present.
Not only were civilians deeply scarred by the war, but no aspect of society, economy, or political system was spared. After being mere spectators at the war's early battles, civilians in the war zone later would become unwilling participants and victims of the war's expanding scope and horror. The extreme demands of wartime industry and the loss of traditional family breadwinners to military service caused hardship, but also presented opportunities to women for employment, volunteerism, and activism that previously had been unavailable to them. While many of these gains would be temporary, the Civil War nonetheless represents an important step forward in American society's view of the role of women.
After the war, the federal government pursued a program of political, social, and economic restructuring across the South-including an attempt to accord legal equality and political power to former slaves. Reconstruction became a struggle over the meaning of freedom, with former slaves, former slaveholders and Northerners adopting different definitions. Eventually, faced with increasing opposition by white Southerners and some Northerners, the government abandoned efforts for Black equality in favor of sectional reconciliation between whites.
[Information courtesy of the Library of Congress and the National Park Service.]