How the Civil War has Changed Your Life

8 Ways the Civil War Changed Your Life

Ambulances and hospitals

The Civil War began during a time when Medieval medicine was still being used. Each side entered the war with small squads of physicians mostly trained by textbooks (if trained at all). Four years later, armies of field-tested doctors, well-educated in anatomy, anesthesia and surgical practice, were now back in civilian communities ready to make great medical leaps in procedures and medical technology.


The nation’s first ambulance corps, organized to rush wounded soldiers to battlefront hospitals and using wagons developed and deployed for that purpose, was created during the Civil War. The idea was to collect wounded soldiers from the field, take them to a dressing station (kind of like today’s emergency room) and then transport them to the field hospital.

Before the Civil War, most people received health care at home. After the war, hospitals adapted from the battlefield model were being built all over the United States. The ambulance and nurses’ corps became fixtures, with the Civil War’s most famous nurse, Clara Barton, going on to establish the American Red Cross. Today’s modern hospital is a direct descendant of these first medical centers.

A National Paper Currency

In 1862 a national paper currency was enacted that would pay for the rapidly expanding government and at the same time drive commerce [the buying and selling of goods especially on a large scale and between different places] from coast to coast. The same year, with the Union’s expenses rising, the government had no way to continue paying for the war. The U.S. Treasury was nearly empty [of gold and silver] and Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary, brought the solution-treasury notes printed on the best banking paper [with Mr. Chase’s picture]. They were mostly printed with a green color and became known as “greenbacks.”

Memorial Day

Ever wonder why we display flags and memorialize fallen soldiers just as summer begins? Flowers, that’s why!

The first memorial days were group events organized in 1865 in both the North and South, by black and white, just a month after the war ended. Quickly evolving into an annual tradition, these “decoration days” were usually set for early summer, when most flowers would be available to lay on gravestones of fallen Civil War soldiers.

Decoration days helped the torn nation heal from its wounds. People told-and retold-their war stories, honored the memory of local heroes, and reconciled with former enemies.

After World War I, communities expanded the holiday to honor all who have died in military service, although the official national observance didn’t begin until 1971.

Technology and Communication

President Abraham Lincoln was a techie!

He was fascinated with the idea of applying new technology to war: In 1861, for example, after being impressed by a demonstration of ideas of balloon surveillance, he established the Balloon Corps, which would float hot-air balloons over enemy camps and spy on them.

President Lincoln also encouraged the development of rapid-fire weapons to modernize combat. In 1862 Lincoln personally tested the new Gatling Gun (picture on the left) on the side lawn of the White House. The Gatling Gun had been develop by Dr. Richard Gatling of Indianapolis, Indiana. It was an early version of a machine gun that had a crank-handle and several barrels that revolved and reload themselves to fire bullets rapidly.

But above all this, President Lincoln loved the telegram. Invented just a few decades earlier than the Civil War, the telegraph system had reached coast-to-coast in 1844.

It is recorded that the White House did not have a telegraph system installed so twice daily President Lincoln walked to the telegraph office of the War Department (on the site of today’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building, just west of the White House Click Here) to receive updates and to send orders to his generals on the front lines.

We Usually Identify Ourselves as Democrats or Republicans

Before 1854, you might have been a Whig, or a Free Soiler. But that year the Republican Party was founded by anti-slavery activists and refugees from other political parties to fight the iron grip of powerful southern Democrats.


As the name of their party suggests, these activists believed that the republic’s interests should take priority over the states’ interests. In the years before the war, many northern Democrats joined the new Republican party-and in 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican president-while southern Democrats led the march to secession.

The Beginning of War News Reporting

The Civil War was the first war in which people at home could learn about battles before the battles themselves were over. Eyewitness¬† accounts by reporters and soldiers were relayed via telegraph to the country’s 2,500 newspapers, printed almost immediately and quickly read by citizens desperate to know how their boys were doing. The Civil War created a tradition of intimate war reporting that still with us today.

Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

Within 5 years of the end of the Civil War these 3 amendments to the U.S. Constitution were added:


  1. 13th Amendment (1865): Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction…
  2. 14th Amendment (1868): All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside…
  3. 15th Amendment (1870): The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude [slavery]…


Before the Civil War, the concept of liberty and justice for all meant little unless you were white and male. Going beyond the abolition of slavery, the 14th and 15th amendments were the first extensions of citizenship and voting rights to minority groups.

We are all Americans

Before 1861, the residents of the United States looked upon themselves as a collection of loosely tied states. It took the Civil War to bring all citizens together to think of themselves as Americans.


After the massive losses of life at the Battle of Gettysburg, a national cemetery was dedicated and President Lincoln delivered one of greatest speeches in human history. It was known thereafter as the Gettysburg Address. As a memorial speech for the dead of Gettysburg Lincoln said, “That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


The effect of Lincoln’s speech, just 272 words, was radical and immediate. People began thinking of themselves as a single unit with a single goal. Because of Lincoln’s speech, and the people’s response to it, we live in a different America.