By May 10, 1865, when U.S. President Andrew Johnson declared armed resistance at an end, vast areas of the South lay in ruins. Four years of brutal combat had taken the lives of an estimated 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, shattered illusions, and fueled social reform movements. In the South, the war gave birth to the “Lost Cause” mythology that idealized Southern life and Confederate principles.
Four million Americans who had been considered property in 1860 would be recognized as American citizens with ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. Yet this fact did not erase prejudice. After all eleven Confederate States were readmitted to the Union and the turbulent Reconstruction Era came to a close in 1877, the limited progress some black Southerners had made during the immediate postwar period was largely reversed. It would be more than a century before the promise of equal rights embodied in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution began to be fully realized.
Yet the Civil War did resolve the primary issues that sparked the conflict. After more than 200 years, slavery was forever outlawed on American soil; and this terrible struggle determined that the great experiment in representative democracy—the United States of America—would not perish from the earth.
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