Key Facts & Summary:
- The Civil War was fought in 1861 after decades of tensions between the south and northern states over slavery, westward expansion and state rights.
- The election of Abraham Lincoln, as President, caused eleven states to cede from the Union beginning with South Carolina and formed the Confederate States of America.
- The Conflict ended in 1865 with the death of 620,000 soldiers of the 2.4 million who fought the war.
Throughout the 19th Century, the US experienced tremendous growth that amplified the difference between the north and the southern states. In the North was manufacturing and industry with few small-scale farmers while the south had large-scale plantation farmers who mostly depended on slave labour for cash crops such as cotton and tobacco.
In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act that provided that new territories would, by popular sovereignty, as opposed to the Congressional decision, determine their individual policy regarding slavery. Kansas was flooded with pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates whose violent campaigns led to the term “Bleeding Kansas.” Bleeding Kansas also led to the establishment of the Republican Party founded on the principle of opposition to slavery.
In 1857, Dred Scott decision confirmed the legality of slavery in the southern states and in the westward expansion, but the abolitionist movement convinced the southerners that the north was bent on dismantling the institution of slavery.
In the aftermath of the second great awakening, abolitionists advocated for the emancipation of slaves, the majority of whom were in the south with the underlying principle of equality of men before God. In addition to the above, southern states perceived that the federal government did not respect their rights due to the restrictions on slavery in the south and in the westward expansion.
However, the election of President Lincoln a Republican in November 1860, who was openly opposed to slavery, caused some seven states; South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas–had ceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America in 1861.
The Civil War
The North seemed to enjoy an advantage over the south with states with an economy centred on manufacturing including arms and railroad construction. However, the Confederate army had a strong military tradition, and some of the best soldiers were in the southern states.
The first shot of the Civil War was fired by the Confederate army as they successfully took control over Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. In response to Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the military, as Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas also ceded to join the Confederacy as the other northern states heeded to Lincoln’s call.
On 21 July 1861 the battle of Bull Run, the first official battle of the Civil War was fought when 35,000 Confederate soldiers near Manassas under the command of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson forced Union forces under the control of Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell to retreat towards Washington D.C., to the disappointment of the Union who hoped for a quick victory. After that, both sides increased the number of men available for the war, after it became clear that the war would take a while.
The President put Maj. Gen. George McClellan in command of the Union army of the Potomac. In 1862, he was defeated in seven-day battle after moving south to forge an attack at Richmond via the Peninsula. The defeat led to the rise of Gen. Robert E. Lee of the Confederate army, who after his win in Manassas, he began to move north in Maryland.
In September Lee began the first Confederate invasion of the North, in Maryland and met with McClellan who engaged against Lincoln orders, forcing Lee to retreat to a defence position to Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg.
Three days later, Lee who was reinforced by Jackson, was attacked by the Army of the Potomac at Antietam leading to the bloodiest single day war of the Civil War. The Confederate suffered 13, 724 casualties out of 52,000 troops while the Union suffered 12, 410 out of 69,000 soldiers. The Union won forcing Lee to retreat to Virginia. Lincoln was however not happy with McClellan, who though beloved by his troops, was slow in pursuit of the Confederate army and sent Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside.
The Emancipation Proclamation
Lincoln, following the victory at Antietam, issued a proclamation of Emancipation for the slaves in the seceded states and not the border states that were still loyal to the Union. The proclamation ensured some 186,000 black soldiers joined the Union army, and 38,000 died by the time that war ended.
Gen Ambrose was defeated at Fredericksburg and was replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker who was defeated by Lee at Chancellorsville, Virginia. The Confederate army suffered 13,000 casualties which were around 22 per cent of their troops while the Union 15 per cent during the battle. Lee moved forward to launch another offensive near Gettysburg, southern Pennsylvania against General George Meade on 1 June. The Confederate army suffered another the loss.
The Union did not launch a counter-attack and Lee, and his army fled back to Virginia. The Union army was reconstituted and Maj. Gen. John Pope was made commander. The commander was successful in removing another band the Confederate army from the Mississippi River together with Brig. Gen Ulysses S. Grant in May 1863 after Grant’s success in the siege of Vicksburg. Earlier in Feb, Gen Ulysses had captured Forts Henry and Donelson. He had also defeated the Confederate army at Shiloh, and Stone River both in Tennessee and led the campaign that captured New Orleans. The Confederates were again defeated in their attempts to capture Kentucky and defeated again in November in Chattanooga by the Union army under the leadership of Grant.
In March 1864, Grant was placed in charge of all the Union armies following his consecutive victories. He left William T. Sherman and went west to pursue the Confederate army in northern Virginia. He suffered heavy casualties in Battle of the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania (both May 1864), at Cold Harbor (early June) but still managed to secure Petersburg.
On the other hand, Sherman sized Atlanta by September and gathered some 60,000 Union troops in what has been labelled the “March to the Sea” capturing Georgia and Savanah by 21 December. By Mid-February 1865, Sherman has captured Columbia and Charleston South Carolina and North Carolina by mid-April.
On 9 April, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. On April 14 John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln at Ford’s theatre while another band of the Confederate army surrendered on April 26, bringing the Civil War to an end.