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The Civil War

The Civil War was a war between the United States of America (the North, or Union) and eleven southern states that seceded from the United States to form the Confederate States of America (the South, or Confederacy). Beginning in 1861 and ending in 1865, it is the only war ever fought on American soil. The primary cause of the Civil War was rooted in the economic and social differences between the North and South. Before the War, the North was a rapidly growing industrial society with many cities and a substantial immigrant population that comprised a large portion of the workforce. Most northerners opposed slavery and sought financial help from the federal government to assist in protecting and expanding their industrial economy. The South, by contrast, was a relatively unchanging agricultural society with very few large cities and a plantation economy supported almost entirely by slave labor. Unlike the North, many citizens in the South wanted to preserve the institution of slavery and wanted the federal government to stay out of their affairs. As a result, the issues of slavery and states' rights became the primary catalysts for the war. By the war's end, more than 600,000 soldiers from both sides lost their lives, while the combined number of killed and wounded for both sides totaled more than one million. Of the numerous battles that took place throughout the war, approximately twenty-seven battles occurred in Georgia. These included the Battle of Chickamauga (September 1863) in northwest Georgia which, with more than 34,000 casualties, ranks as the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War; and the Atlanta Campaign (May to September 1864) which resulted in the capture and burning of the city of Atlanta by Union General William T. Sherman before his "March to the Sea".


In military terms, earthworks are types of fortifications constructed primarily from soil. As opposed to "permanent fortifications", which are built over long periods of time using long-lasting materials, earthworks are types of "field fortifications" that can be put together quickly by soldiers in the field using readily available materials such as earth, brush, and light timber. Earthworks serve many purposes with regard to both offensive and defensive military strategy. They can be used to strengthen positions of temporary strategic importance or to carry out attacks against other permanent or temporary fortifications. Earthworks were heavily relied upon as part of military operations during the Civil War by both the Union and Confederate armies. While various types of earthworks were used during the war, the most widely used were rifle pits, which were small ditches designed for up to 20 soldiers; and rifle trenches, which could be up to thousands of yards long and cover the entire front line of an army. Both of these types of earthworks allowed soldiers enough room to fire at opposing armies while also providing them with a good deal of protection against enemy fire. Earthworks were often protected by abatis, which were obstacles constructed by placing several fallen trees side by side in front of the earthworks, stripping them of their leaves, and sharpening the branches into points in order to slow down an advancing army's momentum.

Women's Role in the War

When American men went off to fight in the Civil War, the women they left behind found themselves taking on new roles and responsibilities that often went beyond taking care of the home. While it is well known that many women stayed at home carrying out duties that were previously taken care of by their husbands or, in the cases of many southern women, their slaves, a large number of women in the north and south became involved in activities more directly related to the war itself. Nowhere was this more evident than in the field of nursing, where women such as Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton, and countless others took on the responsibility of tending to wounded soldiers, cooking their meals, changing their bandages, and writing letters for them to send back home. On the home front, women took jobs as Sanitary and Christian Commission Workers with the responsibility of making, collecting, and distributing supplies to send to soldiers and hospitals across the country. Others worked in arsenals making ammunition and uniforms. For some, there was no place to be but in the middle of the action. Women known as "Vivandieres" travelled with the army units of their husbands or male relatives and acted as nurses and cooks for their regiments. Women such as Rose O'Neal Greenhow served in the war as spies and couriers, intercepting intelligence information from the enemy and delivering the information to soldiers they wanted to help. These female spies would often hide medicine, maps, letters, or ammunition in secret pockets sewn into their hoop skirts. Others would even hide these types of information in their hair, which they would neatly arrange in a bun or roll before placing the information inside. There were also hundreds of women who went even further by disguising themselves as men in order to actually participate in combat. Lastly, many slave women took advantage of less oversight on their plantations and fled in an effort to protect their children and reunite with lost family members. Others sought refuge with regiments of Union armies as they passed through the area. Regardless of what role they played, women found themselves with important responsibilities on both the front lines of battle and at home.

Additional Reading

The Civil War: Atlanta Homefront (New Georgia Encyclopedia)
Women During the Civil War (New Georgia Encyclopedia)

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