Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recommended: Comparing the American Civil War and the Great War

I just discovered this excellent article at the New Yorker.  It's a topic I wrote on years ago, but, of course, this is much better written.

Two Wars and the Long Twentieth Century

Trenches, Petersburg, VA, 1864 (National Archives)

. . . A case can be made that the American Civil War anticipated, in important ways, the transformations that have so often been attributed to the years between 1914 and 1918. The Civil War might well be viewed as the beginning of a “long twentieth century”: in its introduction of a scale of death that came to be associated with a later era, in what Williamson Murray and MacGregor Knox, historians of the First World War, have called warfare’s new combination of “industrial firepower and logistics with the fighting power and staying power that nationalism could generate”; in its mobilization of mass armies through the novel introduction of conscription; in its associated reliance on citizens both in battle and on the home front to sustain the conflict; and in a resulting emergence of new conceptions of citizenship and its privileges, which affected both the living and the dead. The violence of the American Civil War interrupted an age that saw itself as one of growing benevolence and humanitarianism, introducing a startling awareness of man’s capacities for destruction that found its terrible fulfillment between 1914 and 1918. . .

Read the full article here:


  1. Fascinating article - thanks for sharing.

  2. Excellent article.

    It does suffer from being too Anglo-centric. I understand the limitations of Faust's speaking situation (presenting in the UK), but the WWI experience of other countries would really complicate the picture. For example, France, Serbia, and the Ottomans suffered much higher casualty totals as a proportion of their populations.

    Moreover, Faust's structure of comparing the two wars skips over wars fought in the meantime, which were much more important in determining military doctrine in 1914.

  3. How true: machine guns, trenches, aerial recon, modern logistic trains, repeating rifles, artillery support for infantry & cavalry, submarines, mines, torpedoes, iron warships, steam power, ambulances, hospital considerations for combat...