3. Lumber heading west . The massive cut-down of American forests during the last third of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century intimately connected to the Civil War. The Homestead Act of 1862 unleashed long pent-up Yankee ambition to colonize western territories with midwestern-style family farms. Southern members of Congress had resisted the scheme because they preferred a Great Plains open to slavery. So when southerners withdrew to their own, Confederate, congress, Yankee ambition was finally realized. By coincidence, a thirty-year-long Union war against Plains Indians began the same year. Near extermination of the Plains' dominant quadruped, the bison, was underway, too, and the first transcontinental railroad was completed only four years after the war ended.
National Archives Oklahoma City, 1889
image enlargement "Now an enormous, virtually treeless landscape awaited transformation into farms and towns, demanding millions of linear feet of imported wood."
Library of Congress Oklahoma City, 1910
Now an enormous, virtually treeless landscape awaited transformation into farms and towns, demanding millions of linear feet of imported woodfor housing, barns, fences (even barbed wire must be nailed to posts), churches, town buildings of all sorts, and railway ties. The legendary Paul Bunyan's thousands of real-life lumberjack counterparts first supplied the demand from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota; then came Bunyan's southern brethren, black and whitesons and grandsons of liberated slaves and soldiers of both sides.
Bear Mountain, Pennsylvania, 1879
Library of Congress "Ultimately, it is the nineteenth-century North American
landscape itself that astounds."
Ultimately, it is the nineteenth-century North American landscape itself that astounds. It fueled an industrial revolution, sustained the massive damage of civil war, yet still had reserve capacity to power the juggernaut of rail, farm, and city-building across the center of the continent. The enormous costs of such heroic feats of construction were publicized with alarm even before the end of the Civil War. In 1864 George Perkins Marsh, an American diplomat in Italy and former congressman from Vermont, published Man and Nature: or Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action , a precocious work still honored by environmentalists, which approached the human-natural world relationship in a manner we would call ecological. Marsh's was not a lonely voice, either. I think it more than coincidental that young John Muir, already alienated by the rapacity of progress, had walked west, to the Sierras, and begun his life's work at wilderness preservation. And Frederick Law Olmsted, already renowned as co-designer of Central Park in Manhattan, spent parts of 1863 and '64 in California, studying the Yosemite Valley and recommending a preservation plan to the state government. One must think, then, that the Civil War is connected, causatively (within a larger context, to be sure) with the emergence of modern nature-protection. This broadest view yields the conclusionironic yet a serious onethat the Civil War means practically nothing and nearly everything, environmentally speaking.
Learning about the American Civil War is not only critical for students in the United States, it also has the potential to engage all kinds of learners in a variety of ways. Through essays and articles, engaging web-based activities, and primary source documents such as photos, letters, diaries, and literature, students of all ages that explore the websites we have compiled, will gain a balanced perspective of the Civil War. They can walk in the shoes of a slave bound for freedom on the Underground Railroad, or make strategic decisions as Union General Ulysses Grant. They will learn about popular music of the day, about life on the home front through the love letters of its soldiers, the significance of paper money, or the role of women during the Civil War.