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The US Civil War was the deadliest event in American history, but not the bloodiest civil war or even the worst conflict of the 19th century. Generations of writing about the Civil War from a domestic perspective have generated false impressions about which aspects of the conflict were unique and which more commonplace. The American conflict was one of a number of national struggles in the mid-19th century. Some of these—the wars for Italian and German unification, for instance—are well known but are rarely considered alongside the US experience. Other conflicts—the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Polish Uprising of 1863, or the Taiping Rebellion—occurred concurrently with the Civil War but because of their imperial context are usually treated separately. Americans, and people around the world, consumed news about all these conflicts. They compared, contrasted, and evaluated behavior based on what they saw, seeking both internal reassurance about their own ways of war-making and external validation in the form of allies and material support. Historians gain a better understanding of which Civil War participants experienced lethal violence and why by contextualizing those actions as the participants themselves did—within a global framework.

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American history is replete with instances of counterinsurgency. An unsurprising reality considering the United States has always participated in empire building, thus the need to pacify resistance to expansion. For much of its existence, the U.S. has relied on its Army to pacify insurgents. While the U.S. Army used traditional military formations and use of technology to battle peer enemies, the same strategy did not succeed against opponents who relied on speed and surprise. Indeed, in several instances, insurgents sought to fight the U.S. Army on terms that rendered superior manpower and technology irrelevant. By introducing counterinsurgency as a strategy, the U.S. Army attempted to identify and neutralize insurgents and the infrastructure that supported them. Discussions of counterinsurgency include complex terms, thus readers are provided with simplified, yet accurate definitions and explanations. Moreover, understanding the relevant terms provided continuity between conflicts. While certain counterinsurgency measures worked during the American Civil War, the Indian Wars, and in the Philippines, the concept failed during the Vietnam War. The complexities of counterinsurgency require readers to familiarize themselves with its history, relevant scholarship, and terminology—in particular, counterinsurgency, pacification, and infrastructure.