The American Civil War has the highest number of casualties of any American war to this day, with over 620,000 soldiers and many unnumbered civilians dead. The destruction of human lives throughout the war is startling, and the carnage has certainly been a subject of great interest for many Civil War historians; but the war didn’t only attack people, the war also attacked the natural environment. In the current age, there is widespread concern about the health of our environment and the sustainable use of the Earth’s natural resources. Throughout history, humans have exhausted natural resources and severely altered natural landscapes for the advancement of human interests. The American Civil War predates the earliest conservationists and environmentalists, such as Aldo Leopold (born 1887) and Gifford Pinchot (born 1865). During the Civil War there was very little understanding of the finite nature of our valued resources and there was no concept of sustainable use, but the soldiers and civilians of this time still had an immense impact on the natural environment, and they relied heavily on the riches that can be gleaned from it.
The map above highlights just some of the many events during the mid-1800s and the Civil War that negatively impacted the environment nationwide, such as the destruction of forests, the disruption of waterways, the wasting of natural resources, unsustainable whaling and hunting practices, drainage of wetlands, the loss of top soil and the disturbance of erosion patterns. Although the Civil War was enormously catastrophic to both people and the environment, some modern ecological thinking began at this time, and many battlegrounds have now become protected historical sites which provide areas safe from development where various species can flourish. The environment also had a strong influence on the war through many vectors, such as the difficult task of maneuvering troops through mountain terrain, wetlands, and dense forests, as well as the high incidence of mosquito-borne illnesses in wetlands, and the attempt by the Confederates to use these diseases as biological warfare against the Union. This website provides a new lens to study the Civil War through, and provides insight in to the immense ways that the war impacted the environment and vice versa.