The American Civil War (also known by other names) was a civil war in the United States from 12 April 1861 to 09 May 1865 (last shot fired 22 June 1865), fought between northern states loyal to the Union and southern states that had seceded to form the Confederate States of America. The civil war began as a result of the unresolved controversy of the enslavement of black people in the southern states.
After Abraham Lincoln won the November 1860 presidential election on an anti-slavery platform, an initial seven slave states declared their secession from the country to form the Confederacy. War broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, just over a month after Lincoln’s inauguration. An additional four slave states joined the Confederacy in the following two months. The Confederacy grew to control at least a majority of territory in those eleven states (out of the 34 US states in February 1861), and it claimed the additional states of Kentucky and Missouri by assertions from native secessionists fleeing Union authority. These states were given full representation in the Confederate Congress throughout the Civil War. The two remaining slave states, Delaware and Maryland, were invited to join the Confederacy, but Delaware declined and nothing substantial developed in Maryland due to intervention by federal troops.
The Confederate states were never diplomatically recognised as a joint entity by the government of the United States, nor by that of any foreign country. The states that remained loyal to the US were known as the Union. The Union and the Confederacy quickly raised volunteer and conscription armies that fought mostly in the South for four years. Intense combat left between 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers dead, along with an undetermined number of civilians. The Civil War remains the deadliest military conflict in American history, and accounted for more American military deaths than all other wars combined until the Vietnam War.
The war effectively ended on 09 April 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Appomattox Court House. Confederate generals throughout the Southern states followed suit, the last surrender on land occurring 23 June. Much of the South’s infrastructure was destroyed, especially its railroads. The Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and four million enslaved Black people were freed. The war-torn nation then entered the Reconstruction era in a partially successful attempt to rebuild the country and grant civil rights to freed slaves.
The Civil War is one of the most studied and written about episodes in US history, and remains the subject of cultural and historiographical debate. Of particular interest are the causes of the Civil War and the persisting myth of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. The American Civil War was among the earliest industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships and iron-clad ships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. The mobilisation of civilian factories, mines, shipyards, banks, transportation, and food supplies all foreshadowed the impact of industrialisation in World War I, World War II, and subsequent conflicts.
The practice of slavery in the United States was one of the key political issues of the 19th century. Slavery had been a controversial issue during the framing of the Constitution, but the issue was left unsettled. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, four million of the 32 million Americans were black slaves.
In the 1860 presidential election, Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, supported banning slavery in all the US territories (parts of the US that are not states). The Southern states viewed this as a violation of their constitutional rights, and as the first step in a grander Republican plan to eventually abolish slavery. The three pro-Union candidates together received an overwhelming 82% majority of the votes cast nationally: Republican Lincoln’s votes centred in the north, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas’ votes were distributed nationally and Constitutional Unionist John Bell’s votes centred in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The Republican Party, dominant in the North, secured a plurality of the popular votes and a majority of the electoral votes nationally; thus Lincoln was elected president. He was the first Republican Party candidate to win the presidency. The South was outraged, and before his inauguration, seven slave states with cotton-based economies declared secession and formed the Confederacy. The first six to declare secession had the highest proportions of slaves in their populations, with an average of 49%. Of those states whose legislatures resolved for secession, the first seven voted with split majorities for unionist candidates Douglas and Bell (Georgia with 51% and Louisiana with 55%), or with sizable minorities for those unionists (Alabama with 46%, Mississippi with 40%, Florida with 38%, Texas with 25%, and South Carolina, which cast Electoral College votes without a popular vote for president).
Eight remaining slave-holding states continued to reject calls for secession. Outgoing Democratic President James Buchanan and the incoming Republicans rejected secession as illegal. Lincoln’s 04 March 1861, inaugural address declared that his administration would not initiate a civil war. Speaking directly to the “Southern States”, he attempted to calm their fears of any threats to slavery, reaffirming, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the United States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” After Confederate forces seized numerous federal forts within territory claimed by the Confederacy, efforts at compromise failed and both sides prepared for war. The Confederates assumed that European countries were so dependent on “King Cotton” that they would intervene, but none did, and none recognised the new Confederate States of America.
Hostilities began on 12 April 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter. While in the Western Theatre the Union made significant permanent gains, in the Eastern Theatre, the conflict was inconclusive during 1861-1862. In September 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal. To the west, the Union destroyed the Confederate river navy by summer 1862, then much of its western armies, and seized New Orleans. The successful 1863 Union siege of Vicksburg split the Confederacy in two at the Mississippi River. In 1863, Robert E. Lee’s Confederate incursion north ended at the Battle of Gettysburg. Western successes led to Ulysses S. Grant’s command of all Union armies in 1864. Inflicting an ever-tightening naval blockade of Confederate ports, the Union marshalled resources and manpower to attack the Confederacy from all directions, leading to the fall of Atlanta to William Tecumseh Sherman and his march to the sea. The last significant battles raged around the Siege of Petersburg. Lee’s escape attempt ended with his surrender at Appomattox Court House, on 09 April 1865. While the military war was coming to an end, the political reintegration of the nation was to take another 12 years, known as the Reconstruction era.
Causes of Secession
The causes of secession were complex and have been controversial since the war began, but most academic scholars identify slavery as the central cause of the war. James C. Bradford wrote that the issue has been further complicated by historical revisionists, who have tried to offer a variety of reasons for the war. Slavery was the central source of escalating political tension in the 1850s. The Republican Party was determined to prevent any spread of slavery to newly formed states, and many Southern leaders had threatened secession if the Republican candidate, Lincoln, won the 1860 election. After Lincoln won, many Southern leaders felt that disunion was their only option, fearing that the loss of representation would hamper their ability to promote pro-slavery acts and policies.
Slavery was the main cause of disunion. The issue of slavery had confounded the nation since its inception, and increasingly separated the United States into a slaveholding South and a free North. The issue was exacerbated by the rapid territorial expansion of the country, which repeatedly brought to the fore the issue of whether new territory should be slaveholding or free. The issue had dominated politics for decades leading up to the war. Key attempts to solve the issue included the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, but these only postponed an inevitable showdown over slavery.
Although there were opposing views even in the Union States, most Northern soldiers were mostly indifferent on the subject of slavery, while Confederates fought the war mainly to protect a Southern society of which slavery was an integral part. From the anti-slavery perspective, the issue was primarily about whether the system of slavery was an anachronistic evil that was incompatible with republicanism. The strategy of the anti-slavery forces was containment – to stop the expansion and thus put slavery on a path to gradual extinction. The slave-holding interests in the South denounced this strategy as infringing upon their Constitutional rights. Southern whites believed that the emancipation of slaves would destroy the South’s economy, due to the large amount of capital invested in slaves and fears of integrating the ex-slave black population. In particular, Southerners feared a repeat of “the horrors of Santo Domingo”, in which nearly all white people – including men, women, children, and even many sympathetic to abolition – were killed after the successful slave revolt in Haiti. Historian Thomas Fleming points to the historical phrase “a disease in the public mind” used by critics of this idea, and proposes it contributed to the segregation in the Jim Crow era following emancipation. These fears were exacerbated by the 1859 attempt of John Brown to instigate an armed slave rebellion in the South.
Slavery was illegal in much of the North, having been outlawed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was also fading in the border states and Southern cities, but it was expanding in the highly profitable cotton districts of the rural South and Southwest. Subsequent writers on the American Civil War looked to several factors explaining the geographic divide.
The abolitionists – those advocating the end of slavery – were very active in the decades leading up to the Civil War. They traced their philosophical roots back to the Puritans, who strongly believed that slavery was morally wrong. One of the early Puritan writings on this subject was “The Selling of Joseph,” by Samuel Sewall in 1700. In it, Sewall condemned slavery and the slave trade and refuted many of the era’s typical justifications for slavery.
The American Revolution and the cause of liberty added tremendous impetus to the abolitionist cause. Slavery, which had been around for thousands of years, was considered “normal” and was not a significant issue of public debate prior to the Revolution. The Revolution changed that and made it into an issue that had to be addressed. As a result, shortly after the Revolution, the northern states quickly started outlawing slavery. Even in southern states, laws were changed to limit slavery and facilitate manumission. The amount of indentured servitude (temporary slavery) dropped dramatically throughout the country. An Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves sailed through Congress with little opposition. President Thomas Jefferson supported it, and it went in effect on 01 January 1808. Benjamin Franklin and James Madison each helped found manumission societies. Influenced by the Revolution, many individual slave owners, such as George Washington, freed their slaves, often in their wills. The number of free blacks as a proportion of the black population in the upper South increased from less than 1% to nearly 10% between 1790 and 1810 as a result of these actions.
The establishment of the Northwest Territory as “free soil” – no slavery – by Manasseh Cutler and Rufus Putnam (who both came from Puritan New England) would also prove crucial. This territory (which became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota) doubled the size of the United States. If these had been slave states, and their electoral votes gone to Abraham Lincoln’s main opponent, Lincoln would not have been elected president. The Civil War would not have been fought.
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the abolitionists, such as Theodore Parker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Frederick Douglass, repeatedly used the Puritan heritage of the country to bolster their cause. The most radical anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, invoked the Puritans and Puritan values over a thousand times. Parker, in urging New England Congressmen to support the abolition of slavery, wrote that “The son of the Puritan … is sent to Congress to stand up for Truth and Right…” Literature served as a means to spread the message to common folks. Key works included Twelve Years a Slave, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, American Slavery as It Is, and the most important: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the best selling book of the 19th century aside from the Bible.
By 1840 more than 15,000 people were members of abolitionist societies in the United States. Abolitionism in the United States became a popular expression of moralism, and led directly to the Civil War. In churches, conventions and newspapers, reformers promoted an absolute and immediate rejection of slavery.
Abolitionist sentiment was not strictly religious or moral in origin. The Whig Party became increasingly opposed to slavery because they saw it as inherently against the ideals of capitalism and the free market. Whig leader William H. Seward (who would serve in Lincoln’s cabinet) proclaimed that there was an “irrepressible conflict” between slavery and free labour, and that slavery had left the South backwards and undeveloped. As the Whig party dissolved in the 1850’s, the mantle of abolition fell to its newly formed successor, the Republican Party.
Between 1803 and 1854, the United States achieved a vast expansion of territory through purchase, negotiation, and conquest. At first, the new states carved out of these territories entering the union were apportioned equally between slave and free states. Pro- and anti-slavery forces collided over the territories west of the Mississippi.
With the conquest of northern Mexico west to California in 1848, slaveholding interests looked forward to expanding into these lands and perhaps Cuba and Central America as well. Northern “free soil” interests vigorously sought to curtail any further expansion of slave territory. The Compromise of 1850 over California balanced a free-soil state with stronger fugitive slave laws for a political settlement after four years of strife in the 1840s. But the states admitted following California were all free: Minnesota (1858), Oregon (1859), and Kansas (1861). In the Southern states the question of the territorial expansion of slavery westward again became explosive. Both the South and the North drew the same conclusion: “The power to decide the question of slavery for the territories was the power to determine the future of slavery itself.”
The South argued that just as each state had decided to join the Union, a state had the right to secede – leave the Union – at any time. Northerners (including President Buchanan) rejected that notion as opposed to the will of the Founding Fathers, who said they were setting up a perpetual union. Historian James McPherson writes concerning states’ rights and other non-slavery explanations:
While one or more of these interpretations remain popular among the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other Southern heritage groups, few professional historians now subscribe to them. Of all these interpretations, the states’-rights argument is perhaps the weakest. It fails to ask the question, states’ rights for what purpose? States’ rights, or sovereignty, was always more a means than an end, an instrument to achieve a certain goal more than a principle.
Sectionalism resulted from the different economies, social structure, customs, and political values of the North and South. Regional tensions came to a head during the War of 1812, resulting in the Hartford Convention, which manifested Northern dissatisfaction with a foreign trade embargo that affected the industrial North disproportionately, the Three-Fifths Compromise, dilution of Northern power by new states, and a succession of Southern presidents. Sectionalism increased steadily between 1800 and 1860 as the North, which phased slavery out of existence, industrialised, urbanised, and built prosperous farms, while the deep South concentrated on plantation agriculture based on slave labour, together with subsistence agriculture for poor whites. In the 1840s and 1850s, the issue of accepting slavery (in the guise of rejecting slave-owning bishops and missionaries) split the nation’s largest religious denominations (the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches) into separate Northern and Southern denominations.
Historians have debated whether economic differences between the mainly industrial North and the mainly agricultural South helped cause the war. Most historians now disagree with the economic determinism of historian Charles A. Beard in the 1920s, and emphasize that Northern and Southern economies were largely complementary. While socially different, the sections economically benefited each other.
Owners of slaves preferred low-cost manual labour with no mechanisation. Northern manufacturing interests supported tariffs and protectionism while Southern planters demanded free trade. The Democrats in Congress, controlled by Southerners, wrote the tariff laws in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, and kept reducing rates so that the 1857 rates were the lowest since 1816. The Republicans called for an increase in tariffs in the 1860 election. The increases were only enacted in 1861 after Southerners resigned their seats in Congress. The tariff issue was a Northern grievance. However, neo-Confederate writers have claimed it as a Southern grievance. In 1860-1861 none of the groups that proposed compromises to head off secession raised the tariff issue. Pamphleteers North and South rarely mentioned the tariff.
Nationalism and Honour
Nationalism was a powerful force in the early 19th century, with famous spokesmen such as Andrew Jackson and Daniel Webster. While practically all Northerners supported the Union, Southerners were split between those loyal to the entire United States (called “Unionists”) and those loyal primarily to the Southern region and then the Confederacy.
Perceived insults to Southern collective honour included the enormous popularity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the actions of abolitionist John Brown in trying to incite a rebellion of slaves in 1859.
While the South moved towards a Southern nationalism, leaders in the North were also becoming more nationally minded, and they rejected any notion of splitting the Union. The Republican national electoral platform of 1860 warned that Republicans regarded disunion as treason and would not tolerate it. The South ignored the warnings; Southerners did not realise how ardently the North would fight to hold the Union together.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 was the final trigger for secession. Efforts at compromise, including the Corwin Amendment and the Crittenden Compromise, failed. Southern leaders feared that Lincoln would stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course toward extinction. The slave states, which had already become a minority in the House of Representatives, were now facing a future as a perpetual minority in the Senate and Electoral College against an increasingly powerful North. Before Lincoln took office in March 1861, seven slave states had declared their secession and joined to form the Confederacy.
According to Lincoln, the American people had shown that they had been successful in establishing and administering a republic, but a third challenge faced the nation, maintaining a republic based on the people’s vote against an attempt to overthrow it.
Outbreak of War
The election of Lincoln provoked the legislature of South Carolina to call a state convention to consider secession. Before the war, South Carolina did more than any other Southern state to advance the notion that a state had the right to nullify federal laws, and even to secede from the United States. The convention unanimously voted to secede on 20 December 1860, and adopted the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union”. It argued for states’ rights for slave owners in the South, but contained a complaint about states’ rights in the North in the form of opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act, claiming that Northern states were not fulfilling their federal obligations under the Constitution. The “cotton states” of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit, seceding in January and February 1861.
Among the ordinances of secession passed by the individual states, those of three – Texas, Alabama, and Virginia – specifically mentioned the plight of the “slaveholding states” at the hands of Northern abolitionists. The rest make no mention of the slavery issue and are often brief announcements of the dissolution of ties by the legislatures. However, at least four states – South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas – also passed lengthy and detailed explanations of their causes for secession, all of which laid the blame squarely on the movement to abolish slavery and that movement’s influence over the politics of the Northern states. The Southern states believed slaveholding was a constitutional right because of the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution. These states agreed to form a new federal government, the Confederate States of America, on 04 February 1861. They took control of federal forts and other properties within their boundaries with little resistance from outgoing President James Buchanan, whose term ended on 04 March 1861. Buchanan said that the Dred Scott decision was proof that the South had no reason for secession, and that the Union “was intended to be perpetual”, but that “The power by force of arms to compel a State to remain in the Union” was not among the “enumerated powers granted to Congress”. One-quarter of the US Army – the entire garrison in Texas – was surrendered in February 1861 to state forces by its commanding general, David E. Twiggs, who then joined the Confederacy.
As Southerners resigned their seats in the Senate and the House, Republicans were able to pass projects that had been blocked by Southern senators before the war. These included the Morrill Tariff, land grant colleges (the Morrill Act), a Homestead Act, a transcontinental railroad (the Pacific Railroad Acts), the National Bank Act, the authorisation of United States Notes by the Legal Tender Act of 1862, and the ending of slavery in the District of Columbia. The Revenue Act of 1861 introduced the income tax to help finance the war.
On 18 December 1860, the Crittenden Compromise was proposed to re-establish the Missouri Compromise line by constitutionally banning slavery in territories to the north of the line while guaranteeing it to the south. The adoption of this compromise likely would have prevented the secession of every Southern state apart from South Carolina, but Lincoln and the Republicans rejected it. It was then proposed to hold a national referendum on the compromise. The Republicans again rejected the idea, although a majority of both Northerners and Southerners would likely have voted in favour of it. A pre-war February Peace Conference of 1861 met in Washington, proposing a solution similar to that of the Crittenden compromise; it was rejected by Congress. The Republicans proposed an alternative compromise to not interfere with slavery where it existed but the South regarded it as insufficient. Nonetheless, the remaining eight slave states rejected pleas to join the Confederacy following a two-to-one no-vote in Virginia’s First Secessionist Convention on 04 April 1861.
On 04 March 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president. In his inaugural address, he argued that the Constitution was a more perfect union than the earlier Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, that it was a binding contract, and called any secession “legally void”. He had no intent to invade Southern states, nor did he intend to end slavery where it existed, but said that he would use force to maintain possession of Federal property. The government would make no move to recover post offices, and if resisted, mail delivery would end at state lines. Where popular conditions did not allow peaceful enforcement of Federal law, US marshals and judges would be withdrawn. No mention was made of bullion lost from US mints in Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina. He stated that it would be US policy to only collect import duties at its ports; there could be no serious injury to the South to justify the armed revolution during his administration. His speech closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union, famously calling on “the mystic chords of memory” binding the two regions.
The South sent delegations to Washington and offered to pay for the federal properties and enter into a peace treaty with the United States. Lincoln rejected any negotiations with Confederate agents because he claimed the Confederacy was not a legitimate government, and that making any treaty with it would be tantamount to recognition of it as a sovereign government. Secretary of State William Seward, who at the time saw himself as the real governor or “prime minister” behind the throne of the inexperienced Lincoln, engaged in unauthorised and indirect negotiations that failed. President Lincoln was determined to hold all remaining Union-occupied forts in the Confederacy: Fort Monroe in Virginia, Fort Pickens, Fort Jefferson and Fort Taylor in Florida, and Fort Sumter – located at the cockpit of secession in Charleston, South Carolina.
Battle of Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter is located in the middle of the harbour of Charleston, South Carolina. Its garrison had recently moved there to avoid incidents with local militias in the streets of the city. Lincoln told its commander, Major Anderson to hold on until fired upon. Confederate president Jefferson Davis ordered the surrender of the fort. Anderson gave a conditional reply that the Confederate government rejected, and Davis ordered General P.G.T. Beauregard to attack the fort before a relief expedition could arrive. He bombarded Fort Sumter on 12-13 April, forcing its capitulation.
The attack on Fort Sumter rallied the North to the defence of American nationalism. Historian Allan Nevins underscored the significance of the event:
“The thunderclap of Sumter produced a startling crystallization of Northern sentiment. … Anger swept the land. From every side came news of mass meetings, speeches, resolutions, tenders of business support, the muster of companies and regiments, the determined action of governors and legislatures.”
Union leaders incorrectly assumed that only a minority of Southerners were in favour of secession and that there were large numbers of southern Unionists that could be counted on. Had Northerners realised that most Southerners favoured secession, they might have hesitated at attempting the enormous task of conquering a united South.
Lincoln called on all the states to send forces to recapture the fort and other federal properties. The scale of the rebellion appeared to be small, so he called for only 75,000 volunteers for 90 days. The governor of Massachusetts had state regiments on trains headed south the next day. In western Missouri, local secessionists seized Liberty Arsenal. On 03 May 1861, Lincoln called for an additional 42,000 volunteers for a period of three years.
Four states in the middle and upper South had repeatedly rejected Confederate overtures, but now Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina refused to send forces against their neighbours, declared their secession, and joined the Confederacy. To reward Virginia, the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond.
Attitude of the Border States
Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky were slave states that were opposed to both secession and coercing the South. West Virginia then joined them as an additional border state after it separated from Virginia and became a state of the Union in 1863.
Maryland’s territory surrounded the United States’ capital of Washington, D.C., and could cut it off from the North. It had numerous anti-Lincoln officials who tolerated anti-army rioting in Baltimore and the burning of bridges, both aimed at hindering the passage of troops to the South. Maryland’s legislature voted overwhelmingly (53-13) to stay in the Union, but also rejected hostilities with its southern neighbours, voting to close Maryland’s rail lines to prevent them from being used for war. Lincoln responded by establishing martial law and unilaterally suspending habeas corpus in Maryland, along with sending in militia units from the North. Lincoln rapidly took control of Maryland and the District of Columbia by seizing many prominent figures, including arresting one third (1/3) of the members of the Maryland General Assembly on the day it reconvened. All were held without trial, ignoring a ruling by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court Roger Taney, a Maryland native, that only Congress (and not the president) could suspend habeas corpus (Ex parte Merryman). Federal troops imprisoned a prominent Baltimore newspaper editor, Frank Key Howard, Francis Scott Key’s grandson, after he criticised Lincoln in an editorial for ignoring the Supreme Court Chief Justice’s ruling.
In Missouri, an elected convention on secession voted decisively to remain within the Union. When pro-Confederate Governor Claiborne F. Jackson called out the state militia, it was attacked by federal forces under General Nathaniel Lyon, who chased the governor and the rest of the State Guard to the southwestern corner of the state. In the resulting vacuum, the convention on secession reconvened and took power as the Unionist provisional government of Missouri.
Kentucky did not secede; for a time, it declared itself neutral. When Confederate forces entered the state in September 1861, neutrality ended and the state reaffirmed its Union status while trying to maintain slavery. During a brief invasion by Confederate forces in 1861, Confederate sympathizers organised a secession convention, formed the shadow Confederate Government of Kentucky, inaugurated a governor, and gained recognition from the Confederacy. Its jurisdiction extended only as far as Confederate battle lines in the Commonwealth and went into exile for good after October 1862.
After Virginia’s secession, a Unionist government in Wheeling asked 48 counties to vote on an ordinance to create a new state on 24 October 1861. A voter turnout of 34 percent approved the statehood bill (96 percent approving). The inclusion of 24 secessionist counties in the state and the ensuing guerrilla war engaged about 40,000 Federal troops for much of the war. Congress admitted West Virginia to the Union on 20 June 1863. West Virginia provided about 20,000-22,000 soldiers to both the Confederacy and the Union
A Unionist secession attempt occurred in East Tennessee, but was suppressed by the Confederacy, which arrested over 3,000 men suspected of being loyal to the Union. They were held without trial.
General Features of the War
The Civil War was a contest marked by the ferocity and frequency of battle. Over four years, 237 named battles were fought, as were many more minor actions and skirmishes, which were often characterised by their bitter intensity and high casualties. In his book The American Civil War, John Keegan writes that “The American Civil War was to prove one of the most ferocious wars ever fought”. In many cases, without geographic objectives, the only target for each side was the enemy’s soldier.
As the first seven states began organising a Confederacy in Montgomery, the entire US army numbered 16,000. However, Northern governors had begun to mobilise their militias. The Confederate Congress authorised the new nation up to 100,000 troops sent by governors as early as February. By May, Jefferson Davis was pushing for 100,000 men under arms for one year or the duration, and that was answered in kind by the US Congress.
In the first year of the war, both sides had far more volunteers than they could effectively train and equip. After the initial enthusiasm faded, reliance on the cohort of young men who came of age every year and wanted to join was not enough. Both sides used a draft law – conscription – as a device to encourage or force volunteering; relatively few were drafted and served. The Confederacy passed a draft law in April 1862 for young men aged 18 to 35; overseers of slaves, government officials, and clergymen were exempt. The US Congress followed in July, authorising a militia draft within a state when it could not meet its quota with volunteers. European immigrants joined the Union Army in large numbers, including 177,000 born in Germany and 144,000 born in Ireland.
When the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in January 1863, ex-slaves were energetically recruited by the states and used to meet the state quotas. States and local communities offered higher and higher cash bonuses for white volunteers. Congress tightened the law in March 1863. Men selected in the draft could provide substitutes or, until mid-1864, pay commutation money. Many of those eligible pooled their money to cover the cost of anyone drafted. Families used the substitute provision to select which man should go into the army and which should stay home. There was much evasion and overt resistance to the draft, especially in Catholic areas. The draft riot in New York City in July 1863 involved Irish immigrants who had been signed up as citizens to swell the vote of the city’s Democratic political machine, not realising it made them liable for the draft. Of the 168,649 men procured for the Union through the draft, 117,986 were substitutes, leaving only 50,663 who had their services conscripted.
In both the North and South, the draft laws were highly unpopular. In the North, some 120,000 men evaded conscription, many of them fleeing to Canada, and another 280,000 soldiers deserted during the war. At least 100,000 Southerners deserted, or about 10 percent; Southern desertion was high because, according to one historian writing in 1991, the highly localised Southern identity meant that many Southern men had little investment in the outcome of the war, with individual soldiers caring more about the fate of their local area than any grand ideal. In the North, “bounty jumpers” enlisted to get the generous bonus, deserted, then went back to a second recruiting station under a different name to sign up again for a second bonus; 141 were caught and executed.
From a tiny frontier force in 1860, the Union and Confederate armies had grown into the “largest and most efficient armies in the world” within a few years. European observers at the time dismissed them as amateur and unprofessional, but British historian John Keegan concluded that each outmatched the French, Prussian and Russian armies of the time, and but for the Atlantic, would have threatened any of them with defeat.
The number of women who served as soldiers during the war is estimated at between 400 and 750, although an accurate count is impossible because the women had to disguise themselves as men.
Women also served on the Union hospital ship Red Rover and nursed Union and Confederate troops at field hospitals.
Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honour, served in the Union Army and was given the medal for her efforts to treat the wounded during the war. Her name was deleted from the Army Medal of Honour Roll in 1917 (along with over 900 other, male, MOH recipients); however, it was restored in 1977.
Perman and Taylor (2010) write that historians are of two minds on why millions of men seemed so eager to fight, suffer and die over four years:
Some historians emphasize that Civil War soldiers were driven by political ideology, holding firm beliefs about the importance of liberty, Union, or state rights, or about the need to protect or to destroy slavery. Others point to less overtly political reasons to fight, such as the defense of one’s home and family, or the honor and brotherhood to be preserved when fighting alongside other men. Most historians agree that no matter what a soldier thought about when he went into the war, the experience of combat affected him profoundly and sometimes altered his reasons for continuing the fight.
At the start of the civil war, a system of paroles operated. Captives agreed not to fight until they were officially exchanged. Meanwhile, they were held in camps run by their army. They were paid, but they were not allowed to perform any military duties. The system of exchanges collapsed in 1863 when the Confederacy refused to exchange black prisoners. After that, about 56,000 of the 409,000 POWs died in prisons during the war, accounting for nearly 10% of the conflict’s fatalities.
The small US Navy of 1861 was rapidly enlarged to 6,000 officers and 45,000 men in 1865, with 671 vessels, having a tonnage of 510,396. Its mission was to blockade Confederate ports, take control of the river system, defend against Confederate raiders on the high seas, and be ready for a possible war with the British Royal Navy. Meanwhile, the main riverine war was fought in the West, where a series of major rivers gave access to the Confederate heartland. The US Navy eventually gained control of the Red, Tennessee, Cumberland, Mississippi, and Ohio rivers. In the East, the Navy supplied and moved army forces about and occasionally shelled Confederate installations.
Modern Navy Evolves
The Civil War occurred during the early stages of the industrial revolution. Many naval innovations emerged during this time, most notably the advent of the ironclad warship. It began when the Confederacy, knowing they had to meet or match the Union’s naval superiority, responded to the Union blockade by building or converting more than 130 vessels, including twenty-six ironclads and floating batteries. Only half of these saw active service. Many were equipped with ram bows, creating “ram fever” among Union squadrons wherever they threatened. But in the face of overwhelming Union superiority and the Union’s ironclad warships, they were unsuccessful.
In addition to ocean-going warships coming up the Mississippi, the Union Navy used timberclads, tinclads, and armoured gunboats. Shipyards at Cairo, Illinois, and St. Louis built new boats or modified steamboats for action.
The Confederacy experimented with the submarine CSS Hunley, which did not work satisfactorily, and with building an ironclad ship, CSS Virginia, which was based on rebuilding a sunken Union ship, Merrimack. On its first foray on 08 March 1862, Virginia inflicted significant damage to the Union’s wooden fleet, but the next day the first Union ironclad, USS Monitor, arrived to challenge it in the Chesapeake Bay. The resulting three hour Battle of Hampton Roads was a draw, but it proved that ironclads were effective warships. Not long after the battle, the Confederacy was forced to scuttle the Virginia to prevent its capture, while the Union built many copies of the Monitor. Lacking the technology and infrastructure to build effective warships, the Confederacy attempted to obtain warships from Great Britain. However, this failed as Great Britain had no interest in selling warships to a nation that was at war with a far stronger enemy, and it meant it could sour relations with the US.
By early 1861, General Winfield Scott had devised the Anaconda Plan to win the war with as little bloodshed as possible. Scott argued that a Union blockade of the main ports would weaken the Confederate economy. Lincoln adopted parts of the plan, but he overruled Scott’s caution about 90-day volunteers. Public opinion, however, demanded an immediate attack by the army to capture Richmond.
In April 1861, Lincoln announced the Union blockade of all Southern ports; commercial ships could not get insurance and regular traffic ended. The South blundered in embargoing cotton exports in 1861 before the blockade was effective; by the time they realized the mistake, it was too late. “King Cotton” was dead, as the South could export less than 10% of its cotton. The blockade shut down the ten Confederate seaports with railheads that moved almost all the cotton, especially New Orleans, Mobile, and Charleston. By June 1861, warships were stationed off the principal Southern ports, and a year later nearly 300 ships were in service.
British investors built small, fast, steam-driven blockade runners that traded arms and luxuries brought in from Britain through Bermuda, Cuba, and the Bahamas in return for high-priced cotton. Many of the ships were designed for speed and were so small that only a small amount of cotton went out. When the Union Navy seized a blockade runner, the ship and cargo were condemned as a prize of war and sold, with the proceeds given to the Navy sailors; the captured crewmen were mostly British, and they were released.
The Southern economy nearly collapsed during the war. There were multiple reasons for this: the severe deterioration of food supplies, especially in cities, the failure of Southern railroads, the loss of control of the main rivers, foraging by Northern armies, and the seizure of animals and crops by Confederate armies.
Most historians agree that the blockade was a major factor in ruining the Confederate economy; however, Wise argues that the blockade runners provided just enough of a lifeline to allow Lee to continue fighting for additional months, thanks to fresh supplies of 400,000 rifles, lead, blankets, and boots that the homefront economy could no longer supply.
Surdam argues that the blockade was a powerful weapon that eventually ruined the Southern economy, at the cost of few lives in combat. Practically, the entire Confederate cotton crop was useless (although it was sold to Union traders), costing the Confederacy its main source of income. Critical imports were scarce and the coastal trade was largely ended as well. The measure of the blockade’s success was not the few ships that slipped through, but the thousands that never tried it. Merchant ships owned in Europe could not get insurance and were too slow to evade the blockade, so they stopped calling at Confederate ports.
To fight an offensive war, the Confederacy purchased ships in Britain, converted them to warships, and raided American merchant ships in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Insurance rates skyrocketed and the American flag virtually disappeared from international waters. However, the same ships were reflagged with European flags and continued unmolested. After the war ended, the US government demanded that Britain compensate them for the damage done by the raiders outfitted in British ports. Britain acquiesced to their demand, paying the US $15 million in 1871.
Although the Confederacy hoped that Britain and France would join them against the Union, this was never likely, and so they instead tried to bring Britain and France in as mediators. The Union, under Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward worked to block this, and threatened war if any country officially recognised the existence of the Confederate States of America. In 1861, Southerners voluntarily embargoed cotton shipments, hoping to start an economic depression in Europe that would force Britain to enter the war to get cotton, but this did not work. Worse, Europe developed other cotton suppliers, which they found superior, hindering the South’s recovery after the war.
Cotton diplomacy proved a failure as Europe had a surplus of cotton, while the 1860-1862 crop failures in Europe made the North’s grain exports of critical importance. It also helped to turn European opinion further away from the Confederacy. It was said that “King Corn was more powerful than King Cotton”, as US grain went from a quarter of the British import trade to almost half. When Britain did face a cotton shortage, it was temporary, being replaced by increased cultivation in Egypt and India. Meanwhile, the war created employment for arms makers, ironworkers, and ships to transport weapons.
Lincoln’s administration failed to appeal to European public opinion. Diplomats explained that the United States was not committed to the ending of slavery, and instead repeated legalistic arguments about the unconstitutionality of secession. Confederate representatives, on the other hand, were much more successful by ignoring slavery and instead focusing on their struggle for liberty, their commitment to free trade, and the essential role of cotton in the European economy. The European aristocracy was “absolutely gleeful in pronouncing the American debacle as proof that the entire experiment in popular government had failed. European government leaders welcomed the fragmentation of the ascendant American Republic.”
US minister to Britain Charles Francis Adams proved particularly adept and convinced Britain not to openly challenge the Union blockade. The Confederacy purchased several warships from commercial shipbuilders in Britain (CSS Alabama, CSS Shenandoah, CSS Tennessee, CSS Tallahassee, CSS Florida, and some others). The most famous, the CSS Alabama, did considerable damage and led to serious post-war disputes. However, public opinion against slavery in Britain created a political liability for British politicians, where the anti-slavery movement was powerful.
War loomed in late 1861 between the US and Britain over the Trent affair, involving the US Navy’s boarding of the British ship Trent and seizure of two Confederate diplomats. However, London and Washington were able to smooth over the problem after Lincoln released the two. In 1862, the British government considered mediating between the Union and Confederacy, though even such an offer would have risked war with the United States. British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston reportedly read Uncle Tom’s Cabin three times when deciding on what his decision would be.
The Union victory in the Battle of Antietam caused them to delay this decision. The Emancipation Proclamation over time would reinforce the political liability of supporting the Confederacy. Realising that Washington could not intervene in Mexico as long as the Confederacy controlled Texas, France invaded Mexico in 1861. Washington repeatedly protested France’s violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Despite sympathy for the Confederacy, France’s seizure of Mexico ultimately deterred them from war with the Union. Confederate offers late in the war to end slavery in return for diplomatic recognition were not seriously considered by London or Paris. After 1863, the Polish revolt against Russia further distracted the European powers, and ensured that they would remain neutral.
Russia supported the Union, largely due to the view that the US served as a counterbalance to their geopolitical rival, the United Kingdom. In 1863, the Russian Navy’s Baltic and Pacific fleets wintered in the American ports of New York and San Francisco, respectively.
The Eastern theatre refers to the military operations east of the Appalachian Mountains, including the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina.
Army of the Potomac
Major General George B. McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac on July 26 (he was briefly general-in-chief of all the Union armies, but was subsequently relieved of that post in favour of Major General Henry W. Halleck), and the war began in earnest in 1862. The 1862 Union strategy called for simultaneous advances along four axes:
- McClellan would lead the main thrust in Virginia towards Richmond.
- Ohio forces would advance through Kentucky into Tennessee.
- The Missouri Department would drive south along the Mississippi River.
- The westernmost attack would originate from Kansas.
Army of Northern Virginia
The primary Confederate force in the Eastern theatre was the Army of Northern Virginia. The Army originated as the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac, which was organised on 20 June 1861, from all operational forces in northern Virginia. On 20 and 21 July, the Army of the Shenandoah and forces from the District of Harpers Ferry were added. Units from the Army of the Northwest were merged into the Army of the Potomac between 14 March and 17 May 1862. The Army of the Potomac was renamed Army of Northern Virginia on 14 March. The Army of the Peninsula was merged into it on 12 April 1862.
When Virginia declared its secession in April 1861, Robert E. Lee chose to follow his home state, despite his desire for the country to remain intact and an offer of a senior Union command.
Lee’s biographer, Douglas S. Freeman, asserts that the army received its final name from Lee when he issued orders assuming command on 01 June 1862.] However, Freeman does admit that Lee corresponded with Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston, his predecessor in army command, before that date and referred to Johnston’s command as the Army of Northern Virginia. Part of the confusion results from the fact that Johnston commanded the Department of Northern Virginia (as of 22 October 1861) and the name Army of Northern Virginia can be seen as an informal consequence of its parent department’s name. Jefferson Davis and Johnston did not adopt the name, but it is clear that the organisation of units as of 14 March was the same organisation that Lee received on 01 June, and thus it is generally referred to today as the Army of Northern Virginia, even if that is correct only in retrospect.
On 04 July at Harper’s Ferry, Colonel Thomas J. Jackson assigned Jeb Stuart to command all the cavalry companies of the Army of the Shenandoah. He eventually commanded the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry.
First Bull Run
In one of the first highly visible battles, in July 1861, a march by Union troops under the command of Major Geneal Irvin McDowell on the Confederate forces led by General P.G.T. Beauregard near Washington was repulsed at the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as First Manassas).
The Union had the upper hand at first, nearly pushing confederate forces holding a defensive position into a rout, but Confederate reinforcements under. Joseph E. Johnston arrived from the Shenandoah Valley by railroad, and the course of the battle quickly changed. A brigade of Virginians under the relatively unknown brigadier general from the Virginia Military Institute, Thomas J. Jackson, stood its ground, which resulted in Jackson receiving his famous nickname, “Stonewall”.
McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign; Jackson’s Valley Campaign
Upon the strong urging of President Lincoln to begin offensive operations, McClellan attacked Virginia in the spring of 1862 by way of the peninsula between the York River and James River, southeast of Richmond. McClellan’s army reached the gates of Richmond in the Peninsula Campaign,
Also in the spring of 1862, in the Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson led his Valley Campaign. Employing audacity and rapid, unpredictable movements on interior lines, Jackson’s 17,000 men marched 646 miles (1,040 km) in 48 days and won several minor battles as they successfully engaged three Union armies (52,000 men), including those of Nathaniel P. Banks and John C. Fremont, preventing them from reinforcing the Union offensive against Richmond. The swiftness of Jackson’s men earned them the nickname of “foot cavalry”.
Johnston halted McClellan’s advance at the Battle of Seven Pines, but he was wounded in the battle, and Robert E. Lee assumed his position of command. General Lee and top subordinates James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson defeated McClellan in the Seven Days Battles and forced his retreat.
Second Bull Run
The Northern Virginia Campaign, which included the Second Battle of Bull Run, ended in yet another victory for the South. McClellan resisted General-in-Chief Halleck’s orders to send reinforcements to John Pope’s Union Army of Virginia, which made it easier for Lee’s Confederates to defeat twice the number of combined enemy troops.
Emboldened by Second Bull Run, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the North with the Maryland Campaign. General Lee led 45,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Maryland on 05 September. Lincoln then restored Pope’s troops to McClellan. McClellan and Lee fought at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on 17 September 1862, the bloodiest single day in United States military history. Lee’s army checked at last, returned to Virginia before McClellan could destroy it. Antietam is considered a Union victory because it halted Lee’s invasion of the North and provided an opportunity for Lincoln to announce his Emancipation Proclamation.
When the cautious McClellan failed to follow up on Antietam, he was replaced by Major General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside was soon defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862, when more than 12,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded during repeated futile frontal assaults against Marye’s Heights. After the battle, Burnside was replaced by Major General Joseph Hooker.
Hooker, too, proved unable to defeat Lee’s army; despite outnumbering the Confederates by more than two to one, his Chancellorsville Campaign proved ineffective and he was humiliated in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Chancellorsville is known as Lee’s “perfect battle” because his risky decision to divide his army in the presence of a much larger enemy force resulted in a significant Confederate victory. Gen. Stonewall Jackson was shot in the arm by accidental friendly fire during the battle and subsequently died of complications. Lee famously said: “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.”
The fiercest fighting of the battle – and the second bloodiest day of the Civil War – occurred on 03 May as Lee launched multiple attacks against the Union position at Chancellorsville. That same day, John Sedgwick advanced across the Rappahannock River, defeated the small Confederate force at Marye’s Heights in the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, and then moved to the west. The Confederates fought a successful delaying action at the Battle of Salem Church.
General Hooker was replaced by Major General George Meade during Lee’s second invasion of the North, in June. Meade defeated Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg (01 to 03 July 1863). This was the bloodiest battle of the war, and has been called the war’s turning point. Pickett’s Charge on 03 July is often considered the high-water mark of the Confederacy because it signalled the collapse of serious Confederate threats of victory. Lee’s army suffered 28,000 casualties (versus Meade’s 23,000). However, Lincoln was angry that Meade failed to intercept Lee’s retreat.
The Western theatre refers to military operations between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, including the states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as parts of Louisiana.
Army of the Tennessee and Army of the Cumberland
The primary Union forces in the Western theatre were the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Cumberland, named for the two rivers, the Tennessee River and Cumberland River. After Meade’s inconclusive fall campaign, Lincoln turned to the Western Theatre for new leadership. At the same time, the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg surrendered, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River, permanently isolating the western Confederacy, and producing the new leader Lincoln needed, Ulysses S. Grant.
Army of Tennessee
The primary Confederate force in the Western theatre was the Army of Tennessee. The army was formed on 20 November 1862 when General Braxton Bragg renamed the former Army of Mississippi. While the Confederate forces had numerous successes in the Eastern Theatre, they were defeated many times in the West.
Fort Henry and Fort Donelson
The Union’s key strategist and tactician in the West was Ulysses S. Grant, who won victories at Forts Henry (06 February 1862) and Donelson (11 to 16 February 1862), earning him the nickname of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, by which the Union seized control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Nathan Bedford Forrest rallied nearly 4,000 Confederate troops and led them to escape across the Cumberland. Nashville and central Tennessee thus fell to the Union, leading to attrition of local food supplies and livestock and a breakdown in social organisation.
Leonidas Polk’s invasion of Columbus ended Kentucky’s policy of neutrality and turned it against the Confederacy. Grant used river transport and Andrew Foote’s gunboats of the Western Flotilla to threaten the Confederacy’s “Gibraltar of the West” at Columbus, Kentucky. Although rebuffed at Belmont, Grant cut off Columbus. The Confederates, lacking their gunboats, were forced to retreat and the Union took control of western Kentucky and opened Tennessee in March 1862.
At the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing), in Tennessee in April 1862, the Confederates made a surprise attack that pushed Union forces against the river as night fell. Overnight, the Navy landed additional reinforcements, and Grant counter-attacked. Grant and the Union won a decisive victory – the first battle with the high casualty rates that would repeat over and over. The Confederates lost Albert Sidney Johnston, considered their finest general before the emergence of Lee.
Union Navy Captures Memphis
One of the early Union objectives in the war was the capture of the Mississippi River, to cut the Confederacy in half. The Mississippi River was opened to Union traffic to the southern border of Tennessee with the taking of Island No.10 and New Madrid, Missouri, and then Memphis, Tennessee.
In April 1862, the Union Navy captured New Orleans. “The key to the river was New Orleans, the South’s largest port [and] greatest industrial center.” US Naval forces under Farragut ran past Confederate defences south of New Orleans. Confederate forces abandoned the city, giving the Union a critical anchor in the deep South. which allowed Union forces to begin moving up the Mississippi. Memphis fell to Union forces on 06 June 1862, and became a key base for further advances south along the Mississippi River. Only the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, prevented Union control of the entire river.
Bragg’s second invasion of Kentucky in the Confederate Heartland Offensive included initial successes such as Kirby Smith’s triumph at the Battle of Richmond and the capture of the Kentucky capital of Frankfort on 03 September 1862. However, the campaign ended with a meaningless victory over Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell at the Battle of Perryville. Bragg was forced to end his attempt at invading Kentucky and retreat due to lack of logistical support and lack of infantry recruits for the Confederacy in that state.
Bragg was narrowly defeated by Major General William Rosecrans at the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee, the culmination of the Stones River Campaign.
Naval forces assisted Grant in the long, complex Vicksburg Campaign that resulted in the Confederates surrendering at the Battle of Vicksburg in July 1863, which cemented Union control of the Mississippi River and is considered one of the turning points of the war.
The one clear Confederate victory in the West was the Battle of Chickamauga. After Rosecrans successful Tullahoma Campaign, Bragg, reinforced by Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps (from Lee’s army in the east), defeated Rosecrans, despite the heroic defensive stand of Major General George Henry Thomas.
Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga, which Bragg then besieged in the Chattanooga Campaign. Grant marched to the relief of Rosecrans and defeated Bragg at the Third Battle of Chattanooga, eventually causing Longstreet to abandon his Knoxville Campaign and driving Confederate forces out of Tennessee and opening a route to Atlanta and the heart of the Confederacy.
The Trans-Mississippi theatre refers to military operations west of the Mississippi River, not including the areas bordering the Pacific Ocean.
The first battle of the Trans-Mississippi theatre was the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The Confederates were driven from Missouri early in the war as a result of the Battle of Pea Ridge.
Extensive guerrilla warfare characterised the trans-Mississippi region, as the Confederacy lacked the troops and the logistics to support regular armies that could challenge Union control. Roving Confederate bands such as Quantrill’s Raiders terrorised the countryside, striking both military installations and civilian settlements. The “Sons of Liberty” and “Order of the American Knights” attacked pro-Union people, elected officeholders, and unarmed uniformed soldiers. These partisans could not be entirely driven out of the state of Missouri until an entire regular Union infantry division was engaged. By 1864, these violent activities harmed the nationwide anti-war movement organising against the re-election of Lincoln. Missouri not only stayed in the Union but Lincoln took 70% of the vote for re-election.
Numerous small-scale military actions south and west of Missouri sought to control Indian Territory and New Mexico Territory for the Union. The Battle of Glorieta Pass was the decisive battle of the New Mexico Campaign. The Union repulsed Confederate incursions into New Mexico in 1862, and the exiled Arizona government withdrew into Texas. In the Indian Territory, civil war broke out within tribes. About 12,000 Indian warriors fought for the Confederacy and smaller numbers for the Union. The most prominent Cherokee was Brigadier General Stand Watie, the last Confederate general to surrender.
After the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863, General Kirby Smith in Texas was informed by Jefferson Davis that he could expect no further help from east of the Mississippi River. Although he lacked resources to beat Union armies, he built up a formidable arsenal at Tyler, along with his own Kirby Smithdom economy, a virtual “independent fiefdom” in Texas, including railroad construction and international smuggling. The Union, in turn, did not directly engage him. Its 1864 Red River Campaign to take Shreveport, Louisiana, was a failure and Texas remained in Confederate hands throughout the war.
Lower Seaboard Theatre
The Lower Seaboard theatre refers to military and naval operations that occurred near the coastal areas of the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) as well as the southern part of the Mississippi River (Port Hudson and south). Union Naval activities were dictated by the Anaconda Plan.
One of the earliest battles of the war was fought at Port Royal Sound, south of Charleston. Much of the war along the South Carolina coast concentrated on capturing Charleston. In attempting to capture Charleston, the Union military tried two approaches, by land over James or Morris Islands or through the harbour. However, the Confederates were able to drive back each Union attack. One of the most famous of the land attacks was the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, in which the 54th Massachusetts Infantry took part. The Federals suffered a serious defeat in this battle, losing 1,500 men while the Confederates lost only 175.
Fort Pulaski on the Georgia coast was an early target for the Union navy. Following the capture of Port Royal, an expedition was organised with engineer troops under the command of Captain Quincy A. Gillmore, forcing a Confederate surrender. The Union army occupied the fort for the rest of the war after repairing.
In April 1862, a Union naval task force commanded by Commander David D. Porter attacked Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which guarded the river approach to New Orleans from the south. While part of the fleet bombarded the forts, other vessels forced a break in the obstructions in the river and enabled the rest of the fleet to steam upriver to the city. A Union army force commanded by Major General Benjamin Butler landed near the forts and forced their surrender. Butler’s controversial command of New Orleans earned him the nickname “Beast”.
The following year, the Union Army of the Gulf commanded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks laid siege to Port Hudson for nearly eight weeks, the longest siege in US military history. The Confederates attempted to defend with the Bayou Teche Campaign, but surrendered after Vicksburg. These two surrenders gave the Union control over the entire Mississippi.
Several small skirmishes were fought in Florida, but no major battles. The biggest was the Battle of Olustee in early 1864.
Pacific Coast Theatre
The Pacific Coast theatre refers to military operations on the Pacific Ocean and in the states and Territories west of the Continental Divide.
Conquest of Virginia
At the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made Grant commander of all Union armies. Grant made his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac and put Major General William Tecumseh Sherman in command of most of the western armies. Grant understood the concept of total war and believed, along with Lincoln and Sherman, that only the utter defeat of Confederate forces and their economic base would end the war. This was total war not in killing civilians but rather in taking provisions and forage and destroying homes, farms, and railroads, that Grant said “would otherwise have gone to the support of secession and rebellion. This policy I believe exercised a material influence in hastening the end.” Grant devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the entire Confederacy from multiple directions. Generals George Meade and Benjamin Butler were ordered to move against Lee near Richmond, General Franz Sigel (and later Philip Sheridan) were to attack the Shenandoah Valley, General Sherman was to capture Atlanta and march to the sea (the Atlantic Ocean), Generals George Crook and William W. Averell were to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia, and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks was to capture Mobile, Alabama.
Grant’s Overland Campaign
Grant’s army set out on the Overland Campaign intending to draw Lee into a defence of Richmond, where they would attempt to pin down and destroy the Confederate army. The Union army first attempted to manoeuvre past Lee and fought several battles, notably at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbour. These battles resulted in heavy losses on both sides and forced Lee’s Confederates to fall back repeatedly. At the Battle of Yellow Tavern, the Confederates lost Jeb Stuart.
An attempt to outflank Lee from the south failed under Butler, who was trapped inside the Bermuda Hundred river bend. Each battle resulted in setbacks for the Union that mirrored what they had suffered under prior generals, though unlike those prior generals, Grant fought on rather than retreat. Grant was tenacious and kept pressing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia back to Richmond. While Lee was preparing for an attack on Richmond, Grant unexpectedly turned south to cross the James River and began the protracted Siege of Petersburg, where the two armies engaged in trench warfare for over nine months.
Sheridan’s Valley Campaign
Grant finally found a commander, General Philip Sheridan, aggressive enough to prevail in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Sheridan was initially repelled at the Battle of New Market by former US vice president and Confederate General John C. Breckinridge. The Battle of New Market was the Confederacy’s last major victory of the war and included a charge by teenage VMI cadets. After redoubling his efforts, Sheridan defeated Major General Jubal A. Early in a series of battles, including a final decisive defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Sheridan then proceeded to destroy the agricultural base of the Shenandoah Valley, a strategy similar to the tactics Sherman later employed in Georgia.
Sherman’s March to the Sea
Meanwhile, Sherman maneuvered from Chattanooga to Atlanta, defeating Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood along the way. The fall of Atlanta on 02 September 1864, guaranteed the re-election of Lincoln as president. Hood left the Atlanta area to swing around and menace Sherman’s supply lines and invade Tennessee in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Union Major General John Schofield defeated Hood at the Battle of Franklin, and George H. Thomas dealt Hood a massive defeat at the Battle of Nashville, effectively destroying Hood’s army.
Leaving Atlanta, and his base of supplies, Sherman’s army marched with an unknown destination, laying waste to about 20 percent of the farms in Georgia in his “March to the Sea”. He reached the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah, Georgia, in December 1864. Sherman’s army was followed by thousands of freed slaves; there were no major battles along the March. Sherman turned north through South Carolina and North Carolina to approach the Confederate Virginia lines from the south, increasing the pressure on Lee’s army.
The Waterloo of the Confederacy
Lee’s army, thinned by desertion and casualties, was now much smaller than Grant’s. One last Confederate attempt to break the Union hold on Petersburg failed at the decisive Battle of Five Forks (sometimes called “the Waterloo of the Confederacy”) on April 1. This meant that the Union now controlled the entire perimeter surrounding Richmond-Petersburg, completely cutting it off from the Confederacy. Realising that the capital was now lost, Lee decided to evacuate his army. The Confederate capital fell to the Union XXV Corps, composed of black troops. The remaining Confederate units fled west after a defeat at Sayler’s Creek.
The Confederacy Surrenders
Initially, Lee did not intend to surrender but planned to regroup at the village of Appomattox Court House, where supplies were to be waiting and then continue the war. Grant chased Lee and got in front of him so that when Lee’s army reached Appomattox Court House, they were surrounded. After an initial battle, Lee decided that the fight was now hopeless, and surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on 09 April 1865, at the McLean House. In an untraditional gesture and as a sign of Grant’s respect and anticipation of peacefully restoring Confederate states to the Union, Lee was permitted to keep his sword and his horse, Traveller.
On 14 April 1865, President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathiser. Lincoln died early the next morning. Lincoln’s vice president, Andrew Johnson, was unharmed as his would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, lost his nerve, so he was immediately sworn in as president. Meanwhile, Confederate forces across the South surrendered as news of Lee’s surrender reached them. On 26 April 1865, the same day Boston Corbett killed Booth at a tobacco barn, General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered nearly 90,000 men of the Army of Tennessee to Major General William Tecumseh Sherman at Bennett Place near present-day Durham, North Carolina. It proved to be the largest surrender of Confederate forces. On 04 May, all remaining Confederate forces in Alabama and Mississippi surrendered. President Johnson officially declared an end to the insurrection on 09 May 1865; Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was captured the following day. On 02 June, Kirby Smith officially surrendered his troops in the Trans-Mississippi Department. On 23 June, Cherokee leader Stand Watie became the last Confederate general to surrender his forces.
Union Victory and Aftermath
Explaining the Union Victory
The causes of the war, the reasons for its outcome, and even the name of the war itself are subjects of lingering contention today. The North and West grew rich while the once-rich South became poor for a century. The national political power of the slaveowners and rich Southerners ended. Historians are less sure about the results of the post-war Reconstruction, especially regarding the second-class citizenship of the Freedmen and their poverty.
Historians have debated whether the Confederacy could have won the war. Most scholars, including James McPherson, argue that Confederate victory was at least possible. McPherson argues that the North’s advantage in population and resources made Northern victory likely but not guaranteed. He also argues that if the Confederacy had fought using unconventional tactics, they would have more easily been able to hold out long enough to exhaust the Union.
|Population||1860||22,100,000 (71%)||9,100,000 (29%)|
|1864||28,800,000 (90%)||3,000,000 (10%)|
|Free||1860||21,700,000 (81%)||5,600,000 (19%)|
|Slave||1860||490,000 (11%)||3,550,000 (89%)|
|Soldiers||1860-1864||2,100,000 (67%)||1,064,000 (33%)|
|Railroad Miles||1860||21,800 (71%)||8,800 (29%)|
Confederates did not need to invade and hold enemy territory to win but only needed to fight a defensive war to convince the North that the cost of winning was too high. The North needed to conquer and hold vast stretches of enemy territory and defeat Confederate armies to win. Lincoln was not a military dictator and could continue to fight the war only as long as the American public supported a continuation of the war. The Confederacy sought to win independence by out-lasting Lincoln; however, after Atlanta fell and Lincoln defeated McClellan in the election of 1864, all hope for a political victory for the South ended. At that point, Lincoln had secured the support of the Republicans, War Democrats, the border states, emancipated slaves, and the neutrality of Britain and France. By defeating the Democrats and McClellan, he also defeated the Copperheads and their peace platform.
Many scholars argue that the Union held an insurmountable long-term advantage over the Confederacy in industrial strength and population. Confederate actions, they argue, only delayed defeat. Civil War historian Shelby Foote expressed this view succinctly: “I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back … If there had been more Southern victories, and a lot more, the North simply would have brought that other hand out from behind its back. I don’t think the South ever had a chance to win that War.”
A minority view among historians is that the Confederacy lost because, as E. Merton Coulter put it, “people did not will hard enough and long enough to win.” According to Charles H. Wilson, in The Collapse of the Confederacy, “internal conflict should figure prominently in any explanation of Confederate defeat.” Marxist historian Armstead Robinson agrees, pointing to class conflict in the Confederate army between the slave owners and the larger number of non-owners. He argues that the non-owner soldiers grew embittered about fighting to preserve slavery and fought less enthusiastically. He attributes the major Confederate defeats in 1863 at Vicksburg and Missionary Ridge to this class conflict. However, most historians reject the argument. James M. McPherson, after reading thousands of letters written by Confederate soldiers, found strong patriotism that continued to the end; they truly believed they were fighting for freedom and liberty. Even as the Confederacy was visibly collapsing in 1864-1865, he says most Confederate soldiers were fighting hard. Historian Gary Gallagher cites General Sherman who in early 1864 commented, “The devils seem to have a determination that cannot but be admired.” Despite their loss of slaves and wealth, with starvation looming, Sherman continued, “yet I see no sign of let-up—some few deserters—plenty tired of war, but the masses determined to fight it out.”
Also important were Lincoln’s eloquence in rationalising the national purpose and his skill in keeping the border states committed to the Union cause. The Emancipation Proclamation was an effective use of the President’s war powers. The Confederate government failed in its attempt to get Europe involved in the war militarily, particularly Britain and France. Southern leaders needed to get European powers to help break up the blockade the Union had created around the Southern ports and cities. Lincoln’s naval blockade was 95% effective at stopping trade goods; as a result, imports and exports to the South declined significantly. The abundance of European cotton and Britain’s hostility to the institution of slavery, along with Lincoln’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico naval blockades, severely decreased any chance that either Britain or France would enter the war.
Historian Don Doyle has argued that the Union victory had a major impact on the course of world history. The Union victory energized popular democratic forces. A Confederate victory, on the other hand, would have meant a new birth of slavery, not freedom. Historian Fergus Bordewich, following Doyle, argues that:
The North’s victory decisively proved the durability of democratic government. Confederate independence, on the other hand, would have established an American model for reactionary politics and race-based repression that would likely have cast an international shadow into the twentieth century and perhaps beyond.”
Scholars have debated what the effects of the war were on political and economic power in the South. The prevailing view is that the southern planter elite retained its powerful position in the South. However, a 2017 study challenges this, noting that while some Southern elites retained their economic status, the turmoil of the 1860s created greater opportunities for economic mobility in the South than in the North.
The war resulted in at least 1,030,000 casualties (3% of the population), including about 620,000 soldier deaths – two-thirds by disease, and 50,000 civilians. Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker believes the number of soldier deaths was approximately 750,000, 20% higher than traditionally estimated, and possibly as high as 850,000. The war accounted for more American deaths than in all other US wars combined.
Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white men aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and 18% in the South. About 56,000 soldiers died in prison camps during the War. An estimated 60,000 men lost limbs in the war (approximately one in thirteen veterans were amputees).
Union army dead, amounting to 15% of the over two million who served, was broken down as follows:
- 110,070 killed in action (67,000) or died of wounds (43,000).
- 199,790 died of disease (75 percent was due to the war, the remainder would have occurred in civilian life anyway).
- 24,866 died in Confederate prison camps.
- 9,058 killed by accidents or drowning.
- 15,741 other/unknown deaths.
- 359,528 total dead.
In addition there were 4,523 deaths in the Navy (2,112 in battle) and 460 in the Marines (148 in battle).
Black troops made up 10% of the Union death toll, they amounted to 15% of disease deaths but less than 3% of those killed in battle. Losses among African Americans were high, in the last year and a half and from all reported casualties, approximately 20% of all African Americans enrolled in the military lost their lives during the Civil War. Notably, their mortality rate was significantly higher than white soldiers:
[We] find, according to the revised official data, that of the slightly over two million troops in the United States Volunteers, over 316,000 died (from all causes), or 15.2 percent. Of the 67,000 Regular Army (white) troops, 8.6 percent, or not quite 6,000, died. Of the approximately 180,000 United States Colored Troops, however, over 36,000 died, or 20.5 percent. In other words, the mortality “rate” amongst the United States Colored Troops in the Civil War was thirty-five percent greater than that among other troops, even though the former were not enrolled until some eighteen months after the fighting began.
Confederate records compiled by historian William F. Fox list 74,524 killed and died of wounds and 59,292 died of disease. Including Confederate estimates of battle losses where no records exist would bring the Confederate death toll to 94,000 killed and died of wounds. Fox complained, however, that records were incomplete, especially during the last year of the war, and that battlefield reports likely under-counted deaths (many men counted as wounded in battlefield reports subsequently died of their wounds). Thomas L. Livermore, using Fox’s data, put the number of Confederate non-combat deaths at 166,000, using the official estimate of Union deaths from disease and accidents and a comparison of Union and Confederate enlistment records, for a total of 260,000 deaths. However, this excludes the 30,000 deaths of Confederate troops in prisons, which would raise the minimum number of deaths to 290,000.
The United States National Park Service uses the following figures in its official tally of war losses:
- Union – 853,838:
- 110,100 killed in action.
- 224,580 disease deaths.
- 275,154 wounded in action.
- 211,411 captured (including 30,192 who died as POWs).
- Confederate – 914,660:
- 94,000 killed in action.
- 164,000 disease deaths.
- 194,026 wounded in action.
- 462,634 captured (including 31,000 who died as POWs).
While the figures of 360,000 army deaths for the Union and 260,000 for the Confederacy remained commonly cited, they are incomplete. In addition to many Confederate records being missing, partly as a result of Confederate widows not reporting deaths due to being ineligible for benefits, both armies only counted troops who died during their service and not the tens of thousands who died of wounds or diseases after being discharged. This often happened only a few days or weeks later. Francis Amasa Walker, superintendent of the 1870 census, used census and surgeon general data to estimate a minimum of 500,000 Union military deaths and 350,000 Confederate military deaths, for a total death toll of 850,000 soldiers. While Walker’s estimates were originally dismissed because of the 1870 census’s undercounting, it was later found that the census was only off by 6.5% and that the data Walker used would be roughly accurate.
Analysing the number of dead by using census data to calculate the deviation of the death rate of men of fighting age from the norm suggests that at least 627,000 and at most 888,000, but most likely 761,000 soldiers, died in the war. This would break down to approximately 350,000 Confederate and 411,000 Union military deaths, going by the proportion of Union to Confederate battle losses.
Deaths among former slaves has proven much harder to estimate, due to the lack of reliable census data at the time, though they were known to be considerable, as former slaves were set free or escaped in massive numbers in an area where the Union army did not have sufficient shelter, doctors, or food for them. University of Connecticut Professor James Downs states that tens to hundreds of thousands of slaves died during the war from disease, starvation, or exposure and that if these deaths are counted in the war’s total, the death toll would exceed one (1) million.
Losses were far higher than during the recent defeat of Mexico, which saw roughly thirteen thousand American deaths, including fewer than two thousand killed in battle, between 1846 and 1848. One reason for the high number of battle deaths during the war was the continued use of tactics similar to those of the Napoleonic Wars at the turn of the century, such as charging. With the advent of more accurate rifled barrels, Minié balls, and (near the end of the war for the Union army) repeating firearms such as the Spencer Repeating Rifle and the Henry Repeating Rifle, soldiers were mowed down when standing in lines in the open. This led to the adoption of trench warfare, a style of fighting that defined much of World War I.
The wealth amassed in slaves and slavery for the Confederacy’s 3.5 million blacks effectively ended when Union armies arrived; they were nearly all freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Slaves in the border states and those located in some former Confederate territory occupied before the Emancipation Proclamation were freed by state action or (on 06 December 1865) by the Thirteenth Amendment.
The war destroyed much of the wealth that had existed in the South. All accumulated investment Confederate bonds was forfeit; most banks and railroads were bankrupt. The income per person in the South dropped to less than 40% of that of the North, a condition that lasted until well into the 20th century. Southern influence in the US federal government, previously considered, was greatly diminished until the latter half of the 20th century. The full restoration of the Union was the work of a highly contentious post-war era known as Reconstruction.
During the Reconstruction era, national unity was slowly restored, the national government expanded its power, and civil and political rights were granted to freed black slaves through amendments to the Constitution and federal legislation.
Slavery as a War Issue
Abolishing slavery was not a Union war goal from the outset, but it quickly became one. Lincoln’s initial claims were that preserving the Union was the central goal of the war. In contrast, the South saw itself as fighting to preserve slavery. While not all Southerners saw themselves as fighting for slavery, most of the officers and over a third of the rank and file in Lee’s army had close family ties to slavery. To Northerners, in contrast, the motivation was primarily to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. However, as the war dragged on it became clear that slavery was the central factor of the conflict. Lincoln and his cabinet made ending slavery a war goal, which culminated in the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation angered both Peace Democrats (“Copperheads”) and War Democrats, but energised most Republicans. By warning that free blacks would flood the North, Democrats made gains in the 1862 elections, but they did not gain control of Congress. The Republicans’ counterargument that slavery was the mainstay of the enemy steadily gained support, with the Democrats losing decisively in the 1863 elections in the northern state of Ohio when they tried to resurrect anti-black sentiment.
The Emancipation Proclamation enabled African-Americans, both free blacks and escaped slaves, to join the Union Army. About 190,000 volunteered, further enhancing the numerical advantage the Union armies enjoyed over the Confederates, who did not dare emulate the equivalent manpower source for fear of fundamentally undermining the legitimacy of slavery.
During the Civil War, sentiment concerning slaves, enslavement and emancipation in the United States was divided. Lincoln’s fears of making slavery a war issue were based in a harsh reality: abolition did not enjoy wide support in the west, the territories, and the border states. In 1861, Lincoln worried that premature attempts at emancipation would mean the loss of the border states, and that “to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.” Copperheads and some War Democrats opposed emancipation, although the latter eventually accepted it as part of total war needed to save the Union.
At first, Lincoln reversed attempts at emancipation by Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Generals John C. Frémont (in Missouri) and David Hunter (in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) to keep the loyalty of the border states and the War Democrats. Lincoln warned the border states that a more radical type of emancipation would happen if his gradual plan based on compensated emancipation and voluntary colonisation was rejected. But only the District of Columbia accepted Lincoln’s gradual plan, which was enacted by Congress. When Lincoln told his cabinet about his proposed emancipation proclamation, Seward advised Lincoln to wait for a victory before issuing it, as to do otherwise would seem like “our last shriek on the retreat”. Lincoln laid the groundwork for public support in an open letter published in abolitionist Horace Greeley’s newspaper.
In September 1862, the Battle of Antietam provided this opportunity, and the subsequent War Governors’ Conference added support for the proclamation. Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on 22 September 1862, and his final Emancipation Proclamation on 01 January 1863. In his letter to Albert G. Hodges, Lincoln explained his belief that “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong … And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling … I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”
Lincoln’s moderate approach succeeded in inducing border states, War Democrats and emancipated slaves to fight for the Union. The Union-controlled border states (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia) and Union-controlled regions around New Orleans, Norfolk and elsewhere, were not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation. All abolished slavery on their own, except Kentucky and Delaware. Still, the proclamation did not enjoy universal support. It caused much unrest in the Western states, where racist sentiments led to great fear of abolition. There was some concern that the proclamation would lead to succession of Western states, and prompted the stationing of Union troops in Illinois in case of rebellion.
Since the Emancipation Proclamation was based on the President’s war powers, it only included territory held by Confederates at the time. However, the Proclamation became a symbol of the Union’s growing commitment to add emancipation to the Union’s definition of liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation greatly reduced the Confederacy’s hope of getting aid from Britain or France. By late 1864, Lincoln was playing a leading role in getting Congress to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment, which made emancipation universal and permanent.
Texas v. White
In Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869) the United States Supreme Court ruled that Texas had remained a state ever since it first joined the Union, despite claims that it joined the Confederate States; the court further held that the Constitution did not permit states to unilaterally secede from the United States, and that the ordinances of secession, and all the acts of the legislatures within seceding states intended to give effect to such ordinances, were “absolutely null”, under the constitution.
The war had utterly devastated the South, and posed serious questions of how the South would be re-integrated to the Union. Reconstruction began during the war, with the Emancipation Proclamation of 01 January 1863, and it continued until 1877. It comprised multiple complex methods to resolve the outstanding issues of the war’s aftermath, the most important of which were the three “Reconstruction Amendments” to the Constitution: the 13th outlawing slavery (1865), the 14th guaranteeing citizenship to slaves (1868) and the 15th ensuring voting rights to slaves (1870). From the Union perspective, the goals of Reconstruction were to consolidate the Union victory on the battlefield by reuniting the Union; to guarantee a “republican form of government” for the ex-Confederate states; and to permanently end slavery – and prevent semi-slavery status.
President Johnson took a lenient approach and saw the achievement of the main war goals as realized in 1865, when each ex-rebel state repudiated secession and ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. Radical Republicans demanded proof that Confederate nationalism was dead and that the slaves were truly free. They came to the fore after the 1866 elections and undid much of Johnson’s work. In 1872 the “Liberal Republicans” argued that the war goals had been achieved and that Reconstruction should end. They ran a presidential ticket in 1872 but were decisively defeated. In 1874, Democrats, primarily Southern, took control of Congress and opposed any more reconstruction. The Compromise of 1877 closed with a national consensus that the Civil War had finally ended. With the withdrawal of federal troops, however, whites retook control of every Southern legislature; the Jim Crow period of disenfranchisement and legal segregation was ushered in.
The Civil War would have a huge impact on American politics in the years to come. Many veterans on both sides were subsequently elected to political office, including five US Presidents: General Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley.
Memory and Historiography
The Civil War is one of the central events in American collective memory. There are innumerable statues, commemorations, books and archival collections. The memory includes the home front, military affairs, the treatment of soldiers, both living and dead, in the war’s aftermath, depictions of the war in literature and art, evaluations of heroes and villains, and considerations of the moral and political lessons of the war. The last theme includes moral evaluations of racism and slavery, heroism in combat and heroism behind the lines, and the issues of democracy and minority rights, as well as the notion of an “Empire of Liberty” influencing the world.
Professional historians have paid much more attention to the causes of the war, than to the war itself. Military history has largely developed outside academia, leading to a proliferation of studies by non-scholars who nevertheless are familiar with the primary sources and pay close attention to battles and campaigns, and who write for the general public, rather than the scholarly community. Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote are among the best-known writers. Practically every major figure in the war, both North and South, has had a serious biographical study.
Memory of the war in the white South crystallised in the myth of the “Lost Cause”: that the Confederate cause was a just and heroic one. The myth shaped regional identity and race relations for generations. Alan T. Nolan notes that the Lost Cause was expressly “a rationalization, a cover-up to vindicate the name and fame” of those in rebellion. Some claims revolve around the insignificance of slavery; some appeals highlight cultural differences between North and South; the military conflict by Confederate actors is idealized; in any case, secession was said to be lawful. Nolan argues that the adoption of the Lost Cause perspective facilitated the reunification of the North and the South while excusing the “virulent racism” of the 19th century, sacrificing black American progress to white man’s reunification. He also deems the Lost Cause “a caricature of the truth. This caricature wholly misrepresents and distorts the facts of the matter” in every instance. The Lost Cause myth was formalized by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard, whose The Rise of American Civilization (1927) spawned “Beardian historiography”. The Beards downplayed slavery, abolitionism, and issues of morality. Though this interpretation was abandoned by the Beards in the 1940s, and by historians generally by the 1950s, Beardian themes still echo among Lost Cause writers.
The first efforts at Civil War battlefield preservation and memorialization came during the war itself with the establishment of National Cemeteries at Gettysburg, Mill Springs and Chattanooga. Soldiers began erecting markers on battlefields beginning with the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, but the oldest surviving monument is the Hazen Brigade Monument near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, built in the summer of 1863 by soldiers in Union Col. William B. Hazen’s brigade to mark the spot where they buried their dead following the Battle of Stones River. In the 1890s, the United States government established five Civil War battlefield parks under the jurisdiction of the War Department, beginning with the creation of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Tennessee and the Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland in 1890. The Shiloh National Military Park was established in 1894, followed by the Gettysburg National Military Park in 1895 and Vicksburg National Military Park in 1899. In 1933, these five parks and other national monuments were transferred to the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
The modern Civil War battlefield preservation movement began in 1987 with the founding of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (APCWS), a grassroots organisation created by Civil War historians and others to preserve battlefield land by acquiring it. In 1991, the original Civil War Trust was created in the mold of the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation, but failed to attract corporate donors and soon helped manage the disbursement of US Mint Civil War commemorative coin revenues designated for battlefield preservation. Although the two non-profit organisations joined forces on several battlefield acquisitions, ongoing conflicts prompted the boards of both organisations to facilitate a merger, which happened in 1999 with the creation of the Civil War Preservation Trust. In 2011, the organisation was renamed, again becoming the Civil War Trust. After expanding its mission in 2014 to include battlefields of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, the non-profit became the American Battlefield Trust in May 2018, operating with two divisions, the Civil War Trust and the Revolutionary War Trust. From 1987 through May 2018, the Trust and its predecessor organisations, along with their partners, preserved 49,893 acres of battlefield land through acquisition of property or conservation easements at more than 130 battlefields in 24 states.
The five major Civil War battlefield parks operated by the National Park Service (Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Chickamauga/Chattanooga and Vicksburg) had a combined 3.1 million visitors in 2018, down 70% from 10.2 million in 1970. Attendance at Gettysburg in 2018 was 950,000, a decline of 86% since 1970.
Civil War Commemoration
The American Civil War has been commemorated in many capacities ranging from the re-enactment of battles to statues and memorial halls erected, to films being produced, to stamps and coins with Civil War themes being issued, all of which helped to shape public memory. This varied advent occurred in greater proportions on the 100th and 150th anniversary. Hollywood’s take on the war has been especially influential in shaping public memory, as seen in such film classics as Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone with the Wind (1939), and more recently Lincoln (2012). Ken Burns’s PBS television series The Civil War (1990) is especially well remembered, though criticised for its historiography.
Numerous technological innovations during the Civil War had a great impact on 19th-century science. The Civil War was one of the earliest examples of an “industrial war”, in which technological might is used to achieve military supremacy in a war. New inventions, such as the train and telegraph, delivered soldiers, supplies and messages at a time when horses were considered to be the fastest way to travel. It was also in this war when countries first used aerial warfare, in the form of reconnaissance balloons, to a significant effect. It saw the first action involving steam-powered ironclad warships in naval warfare history. Repeating firearms such as the Henry rifle, Spencer rifle, Colt revolving rifle, Triplett & Scott carbine and others, first appeared during the Civil War; they were a revolutionary invention that would soon replace muzzle-loading and single-shot firearms in warfare. The war was also the first appearances of rapid-firing weapons and machine guns such as the Agar gun and the Gatling gun.
In Popular Culture
The Civil War is one of the most studied events in American history, and the collection of cultural works around it is enormous. This section gives an abbreviated overview of the most notable works.
- The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881) by Jefferson Davis.
- The Private History of a Campaign That Failed (1885) by Mark Twain.
- Texar’s Revenge, or, North Against South (1887) by Jules Verne.
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1890) by Ambrose Bierce.
- The Red Badge of Courage (1895) by Stephen Crane.
- Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell.
- North and South (1982) by John Jakes.
- The Birth of a Nation (1915, US).
- The General (1926, US).
- Operator 13 (1934, US).
- Gone with the Wind (1939, US).
- The Red Badge of Courage (1951, US).
- The Horse Soldiers (1959, US).
- Shenandoah (1965, US).
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966, Italy-Spain-FRG).
- The Beguiled (1971, US).
- Glory (1989, US).
- The Civil War (1990, US).
- Gettysburg (1993, US).
- The Last Outlaw (1993, US).
- Ride with the Devil (1999, US).
- Cold Mountain (2003, US).
- Gods and Generals (2003, US).
- North and South (miniseries).
- Lincoln (2012, US).
- 12 Years a Slave (2013, US).
- Free State of Jones (2016, US).
- The Beguiled (2017, US).
- Battle Hymn of the Republic.
- The Bonnie Blue Flag.
- John Brown’s Body.
- When Johnny Comes Marching Home.
- Marching Through Georgia.
- Video games:
- North & South (1989, FR).
- Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! (1997, US).
- Sid Meier’s Antietam! (1999, US).
- American Conqest: Divided Nation (2006, US).
- Forge of Freedom: The American Civil War (2006, US).
- The History Channel: Civil War – A Nation Divided (2006, US).
- Ageod’s American Civil War (2007, US/FR).
- History Civil War: Secret Missions (2008, US).
- Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (2009, US).
- Darkest of Days (2009, US).
- Victoria II: A House Divided (2011, US).
- Ageod’s American Civil War II (2013, US/FR).
- Ultimate General: Gettysburg (2014, UKR).
- Ultimate General: Civil War (2016, UKR).