Key Facts & Summary:
- Americans fought the Civil War from the year 1861 to 1865 when eleven states seceded to form the Confederate States of America.
- The states seceded on account of the election of President Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 causing an eruption of conflict in April 1861.
The main reason behind the war was dependent on whether a state was from the north or south. For the Northern states, commonly referred to as the “Union” the battle was fought to restore unity to the nation and to ensure that Western Territories were free states. The Southern states, referred to as the “Confederacy”, on the other hand, fought the war to assert their rights as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence against a perception of Northern aggression and control.
The Civil War was as result of the interrelated issues of slavery, territorial and partisan political control. The tensions between the North and South were traceable to the origin and establishment of the Colonies. Upon Independence, the issue of slavery was never decidedly settled resulting in decades of compromise, negotiation, and unrest.
Maxon – Dixon Line
In the years between 1763 and 1767, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon English surveyors were sent to survey the line along parallel 39°43′ N. The survey was necessitated by a protracted dispute over the boundaries of the land grants given to the Penns, proprietors of Pennsylvania and the Calverts, proprietors of Maryland.
By the mid-19th Century, the culture and economy of the Northern and Southern states were radically different and divided by the Mason – Dixon line, that cut across Pennsylvania and Maryland marking the border between the free and the slave’s states.
By the Mid-1800s the northern state economies were mainly industrial based in comparison to the farming in the southern states. Northerners lived in large cities of the time like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. Southern states, on the other hand, maintained an agriculturally based economy that relied heavily on slave labour.
As the nation opened Westward, admitting new states, there was contention over whether the new states would be accepted as free or slave states. Every new state was a battleground between the north and south with power shifting in favour of the sides, depending on the state’s stance on slavery.
The Kansas – Nebraska Act in 1854 repealed the Missouri Compromise. The Act allowed the residents of Kansas to determine their slaveholding status through ballot initiatives. This caused an influx of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates into Kansas, with the objective of swaying the votes to their preferred side. There were a lot of bloody skirmishes, which earned the name “Bleeding Kansas”, and eventually Kansas joined as a free state in 1861.
Over time, the South believed the North was hindering the westward expansion of slavery. The violent encounters such as at Harper’s Ferry (1859) by John Brown, and importantly the shots fired at Fort Sumter (12 April 1861), significantly gave impetus to the war.
Causes of the War
The rights of states was also an issue that drove the states to war. Southern states felt that the federal government was too powerful and undermined their sovereignty. The rise of abolitionists such as John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Lloyd Garrison that began to advocate for an end of slavery also became a threat to the southern states. As the movement grew, the south became more and more discontent with the Union.
Lincoln in November 1860 was elected as president, and during his inauguration, in March 1861 Lincoln stated that the US Constitution was a binding contract and that the southern states lacked the legal basis to secede. He also said that he did not have any intention of banning slavery in states where it already existed and invading the southern states. He also stressed that he had no intention of justifying an armed rebellion from the south. However, he would use force to ensure that the federal government retained control of Forts in the south; Fort Sumter in Charleston, Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, and Fort Zachary Taylor at Key West.
On 4 February 1861, delegates from the seven seceded states met in Montgomery Alabama and produced the Confederate States Constitution adopted on 11 March 1861. The document was like the US Constitution but provided for explicit protection of the institution of slavery and pronounced state rights in a federal government. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, former Mexican-War veteran, previous US Senator and Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce regime was selected President. Alexander Stephens of Georgia was selected as vice president. Davis mobilised 100,000 volunteers to defend the Confederacy and instructed federal property in the seceded states to be seized.
The first shot of the Civil War was fired by the Confederate army at the federal-held Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederate army under Pierre G.T. Beauregard took over the fort from Commander Major Robert Anderson. After Fort Sumter, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia joined the other seven in the secession. Border slave states like Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland did not secede but were sympathetic to the Confederate cause.
In 1863 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom for over three million slaves in the South fulfilling his threat to issue the proclamation if the southern states did not renounce their rebellion. The declaration also came after the Union’s decisive victory in the battle of Antietam in Maryland in 1862 that led to the surrender of the Confederacy army in 1856 and the official end of the war in 1866.