It is estimated that the Civil War cost $8 billion, which, including destruction of property, derangement of the power of labor, pension system and other economic losses, is increased to $30 billion. To this total is added the human cost of 620,000 battlefield deaths – the war killed one out of every four Southern white males between 20 and 40 — and at least 50,000 civilians dead from indiscriminate Northern bombardment of cities, and starvation.
In the immediate postwar and its two million men in blue mustered out, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) became a rich political endorsement as Northern politicians lined up to offer higher pensions in return for votes.
The Most Costly Price of the Civil War
“War always intrenches privilege in the councils of the nation. The power of the financier is increased. He is called in to rule. Otherwise the state would not go on. Such was our own experience as a result of the Civil War.
Prior to 1861 a democratic spirit prevailed in the nation. Economy was the note in government expenditures. The Civil War ushered on a new era. The need for revenue brought about a merger of the protected interests of Pennsylvania and New England and the banking interests of Wall Street with the Treasury Department, a merger which has continued ever since.
Corruption born of army contracts and war profits penetrated into Congress and the various departments of the government. The public domain of the West was squandered in land grants to the Pacific Railroads with no concern for posterity. The richest resources of the nation were given away. For years after the war, privilege was ascendant and democracy reached to lowest ebb in our history.
Taxes were collected not for the needs of the government, but to maintain a protectionist policy. Revenues were squandered and pork-barrel methods prevailed. Pensions were recklessly granted to prevent a treasury surplus, while appropriations for rivers and harbors, for public buildings, and other purposed became the recognized practice of congressional procedure.
For fifty years the reactionary influences which gained a foothold during the Civil War maintained their control of the government. This was the most costly price of the Civil War, far more costly than the indebtedness incurred or the economic waste involved.”
(Why War? Frederic C. Howe, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918, excerpt pp. 313-314)