ates from 1861 to 1865. The result of a long-standing controversy over slavery, war broke out in April 1861, when Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated. The nationalists of the Union proclaimed loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States of America, who advocated for states’ rights to expand slavery.
Among the 34 U.S. states in February 1861, seven Southern slave states individually declared their secession from the U.S. to form the Confederate States of America, or the South. The Confederacy grew to include eleven slave states. The Confederacy was never diplomatically recognized by the United States government, nor was it recognized by any foreign country . The states that remained loyal, including the border states where slavery was legal, were known as the Union or the North.
The North and South quickly raised volunteer and conscription armies that fought mostly in the South over four years. The Union finally won the war when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Appomattox Court House followed by a series of surrenders by Confederate generals throughout the southern states. Four years of intense combat left 620,000 to 750,000 soldiers dead, a higher number than the number of American military deaths in all other wars combined. Much of the South’s infrastructure was destroyed, especially the transportation systems, railroads, mills and houses. The Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and 4 million slaves were freed. The Reconstruction Era overlapped and followed the war, with the process of restoring national unity, strengthening the national government, and granting civil rights to freed slaves throughout the country. The Civil War is the most studied and written about episode in American history.
Prelude to war
In the 1860 presidential election, Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, supported banning slavery in all the U.S. territories. 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 centered in the north, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas’ votes were distributed nationally and Constitutional Unionist John Bell’s votes centered 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, so Lincoln was constitutionally elected president. He was the first Republican Party candidate to win the presidency. However, 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, a total of 49 percent. The first seven with state legislatures to resolve for secession included split majorities for unionists Douglas and Bell in Georgia with 51% and Louisiana with 55%. Alabama had voted 46% for those unionists, Mississippi with 40%, Florida with 38%, Texas with 25%, and South Carolina cast Electoral College votes without a popular vote for president. Of these, only Texas held a referendum on secession.
Eight remaining slave states continued to reject calls for secession. Outgoing Democratic President James Buchanan and the incoming Republicans rejected secession as illegal. Lincoln’s March 4, 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 recognized the new Confederate States of America.
Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter. While in the Western Theater the Union made significant permanent gains, in the Eastern Theater, the battle was inconclusive from 1861-1862. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal. Slavery was the central source of escalating political tension in the 1850s. The Republican Party was determined to prevent any spread of slavery, 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 a major cause of disunion. Although there were opposing views even in the Union States, most northern soldiers were largely indifferent on the subject of slavery, while Confederates fought the war largely 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 containmentto 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.
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 in 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.
Sectionalism refers to the different economies, social structure, customs and political values of the North and South. Pamphleteers North and South rarely mentioned the tariff, and when some did, for instance, Matthew Fontaine Maury and John Lothrop Motley, they were generally writing for a foreign audience.
The South argued that each state had the right to secedeleave the Unionat any time, that the Constitution was a “compact” or agreement among the states. Northerners rejected that notion as opposed to the will of the Founding Fathers who said they were setting up a perpetual union.
Senator Stephen A. Douglas proclaimed the doctrine of territorial or “popular” sovereignty—which asserted that the settlers in a territory had the same rights as states in the Union to establish or disestablish slavery as a purely local matter. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 legislated this doctrine. In Kansas Territory, years of pro and anti-slavery violence and political conflict erupted; the congressional House of Representatives voted to admit Kansas as a free state in early 1860, but its admission in the Senate was delayed until January 1861, after the 1860 elections when southern senators began to leave.
The fourth theory was advocated by Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis, one of state sovereignty, also known as the “Calhoun doctrine”, named after the South Carolinian political theorist and statesman John C. Calhoun. Rejecting the arguments for federal authority or self-government, state sovereignty would empower states to promote the expansion of slavery as part of the Federal Union under the U.S. Constitution. “States’ rights” was an ideology formulated and applied as a means of advancing slave state interests through federal authority. As historian Thomas L. Krannawitter points out, the “Southern demand for federal slave protection represented a demand for an unprecedented expansion of federal power.” These four doctrines comprised the major ideologies presented to the American public on the matters of slavery, the territories and the U.S. Constitution prior to the 1860 presidential election.
Beginning in the American Revolution and accelerating after the War of 1812, the people of the United States grew in the sense that their country was a national republic based on the belief that all people had inalienable political liberty and personal rights which could serve as an important example to the rest of the world. Previous regional independence movements such as the Greek revolt in the Ottoman Empire, the division and redivision of the Latin American political map, and the British-French Crimean triumph leading to an interest in redrawing Europe along cultural differences, all conspired to make for a time of upheaval and uncertainty about the basis of the nation-state.
In the world of 19th century self-made Americans, growing in prosperity, population and expanding westward, “freedom” could mean personal liberty or property rights. The unresolved difference would cause failurefirst in their political institutions, then in their civil life together.
Nationalism and honor
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 and those loyal primarily to the southern region and then the Confederacy. C. Vann Woodward said of the latter group,
Perceived insults to Southern collective honor included the enormous popularity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Outbreak of the war
The election of Lincoln caused the legislature of South Carolina to call a state convention to consider secession. Prior to 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, secede from the United States. The convention summoned unanimously voted to secede on December 20, 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 threeTexas, Alabama, and Virginiaspecifically 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 statesSouth Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texasalso 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 February 4, 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 March 4, 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.” the National Banking Act and the authorization of United States Notes by the Legal Tender Act of 1862. The Revenue Act of 1861 introduced the income tax to help finance the war.
On December 18, 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 have voted in favor 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 April 4, 1861.
On March 4, 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”.
However, much of the North’s attitude was based on the false belief that only a minority of Southerners were actually in favor of secession and that there were large numbers of southern Unionists that could be counted on. Had Northerners realized that most Southerners really did favor 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. With the scale of the rebellion apparently small so far, Lincoln 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 May 3, 1861, Lincoln called for an additional 42,000 volunteers for a period of three years. 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 to stay in the Union, but also rejected hostilities with its southern neighbors, 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 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 U.S. Supreme Court Roger Taney, a Maryland native, that only Congress could suspend habeas corpus . Indeed, federal troops imprisoned a prominent Baltimore newspaper editor, Frank Key Howard, Francis Scott Key’s grandson, after he criticized 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. The inclusion of 24 secessionist counties
As the first seven states began organizing a Confederacy in Montgomery, the entire U.S. army numbered 16,000. However, Northern governors had begun to mobilize their militias. The Confederate Congress authorized 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 U.S. 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 lawconscriptionas a device to encourage or force volunteering; relatively few were actually 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.
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 eligibles 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 great 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 realizing it made them liable for the draft. At least 100,000 Southerners deserted, or about 10 percent. In the South, many men deserted temporarily to take care of their distressed families, then returned to their units. 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. 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 percent of the conflict’s fatalities.
The small U.S. 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, if the U.S. Navy could take control. In the East, the Navy supplied and moved army forces about, and occasionally shelled Confederate installations.
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 percent 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.
Modern navy evolves
The Civil War occurred during the early stages of the industrial revolution and subsequently 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 own ironclad warships, they were unsuccessful.
The Confederacy experimented with a submarine, which did not work well, and with building an ironclad ship, the CSS Virginia, which was based on rebuilding a sunken Union ship, the Merrimack. On its first foray on March 8, 1862, the Virginia inflicted significant damage to the Union’s wooden fleet, but the next day the first Union ironclad, the USS Monitor, arrived to challenge it in the Chesapeake Bay. The resulting three hour battle between the Ironclads was a draw, but it marked the worldwide transition to ironclad 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 Britain.
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 simply 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, 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; they simply stopped calling at Confederate ports.
To fight an offensive war, the Confederacy purchased ships from 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, the U.S. demanded that Britain pay for the damage done, and Britain paid the U.S. $15 million in 1871.
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.
Ulysses 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. Though rebuffed at Belmont, Grant cut off Columbus. The Confederates, lacking their own gunboats, were forced to retreat and the Union took control of western Kentucky in March 1862.
In addition to ocean-going warships coming up the Mississippi, the Union Navy used timberclads, tinclads, and armored gunboats. Shipyards at Cairo, Illinois, and St. Louis built new boats or modified steamboats for action. They took control of the Red, Tennessee, Cumberland, Mississippi, and Ohio rivers after victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and supplied Grant’s forces as he moved into Tennessee. At Shiloh, 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 victorythe first battle with the high casualty rates that would repeat over and over. Memphis fell to Union forces on June 6, 1862, and became a key base for further advances south along the Mississippi River. On April 24, 1862, U.S. Naval forces under Farragut ran past Confederate defenses south of New Orleans. Confederate forces abandoned the city, giving the Union a critical anchor in the deep South.
Naval forces assisted Grant in the long, complex Vicksburg Campaign that resulted in the Confederates surrendering at Vicksburg, Mississippi in July 1863, and in the Union fully controlling the Mississippi River soon after.
In one of the first highly visible battles, a march by Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell on the Confederate forces near Washington was repulsed.
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac on July 26, and the war began in earnest in 1862. 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. Although McClellan’s army reached the gates of Richmond in the Peninsula Campaign, Gen. Hooker was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade during Lee’s second invasion of the North, in June. Meade defeated Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg . This was the bloodiest battle of the war, and has been called the war’s turning point. Pickett’s Charge on July 3 is often considered the high-water mark of the Confederacy because it signaled the collapse of serious Confederate threats of victory. Lee’s army suffered 28,000 casualties . However, Lincoln was angry that Meade failed to intercept Lee’s retreat, and after Meade’s inconclusive fall campaign, Lincoln turned to the Western Theater 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.
While the Confederate forces had numerous successes in the Eastern Theater, they were defeated many times in the West. They were driven from Missouri early in the war as a result of the Battle of Pea Ridge. Leonidas Polk’s invasion of Columbus, Kentucky ended Kentucky’s policy of neutrality and turned that state against the Confederacy. Nashville and central Tennessee fell to the Union early in 1862, leading to attrition of local food supplies and livestock and a breakdown in social organization.
The Mississippi 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, which allowed Union forces to begin moving up the Mississippi. Only the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, prevented Union control of the entire river.
General Braxton Bragg’s second Confederate invasion of Kentucky ended with a meaningless victory over Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell at the Battle of Perryville, although Bragg was forced to end his attempt at invading Kentucky and retreat due to lack of support for the Confederacy in that state. Bragg was narrowly defeated by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans at the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee.
The one clear Confederate victory in the West was the Battle of Chickamauga. Bragg, reinforced by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s corps, defeated Rosecrans, despite the heroic defensive stand of Maj. Gen. George Henry Thomas. Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga, which Bragg then besieged.
The Union’s key strategist and tactician in the West was Ulysses S. Grant, who won victories at Forts Henry and Donelson ; the Battle of Shiloh; and the Battle of Vicksburg, which cemented Union control of the Mississippi River and is considered one of the turning points of the war. Grant marched to the relief of Rosecrans and defeated Bragg at the Third Battle of Chattanooga, driving Confederate forces out of Tennessee and opening a route to Atlanta and the heart of the Confederacy.
Extensive guerrilla warfare characterized 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 terrorized 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 organizing against the re-election of Lincoln. Missouri not only stayed in the Union, Lincoln took 70 percent 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 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.
End of the war
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 Maj. Gen. 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. 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 were to attack the Shenandoah Valley, General Sherman was to capture Atlanta and march to the sea, 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 army set out on the Overland Campaign with the goal of drawing Lee into a defense of Richmond, where they would attempt to pin down and destroy the Confederate army. The Union army first attempted to maneuver past Lee and fought several battles, notably at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. These battles resulted in heavy losses on both sides, and forced Lee’s Confederates to fall back repeatedly. 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.
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 U.S. Vice President and Confederate Gen. John C. Breckinridge. The Battle of New Market was the Confederacy’s last major victory of the war. After redoubling his efforts, Sheridan defeated Maj. Gen. 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.
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 September 2, 1864, guaranteed the reelection 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 Maj. Gen. 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.
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 on April 1. This meant that the Union now controlled the entire perimeter surrounding Richmond-Petersburg, completely cutting it off from the Confederacy. Realizing 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.
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 April 9, 1865, at the McLean House. On June 23, Cherokee leader Stand Watie became the last Confederate General to surrender his forces.
Though 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 recognized 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 1860-62 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 U.S. 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 British ships to transport weapons.
U.S. minister to Britain Charles Francis Adams proved particularly adept and convinced Britain not to boldly challenge the blockade. The Confederacy purchased several warships from commercial shipbuilders in Britain . The most famous, the CSS Alabama, did considerable damage and led to serious postwar disputes. However, public opinion against slavery created a political liability for politicians in Britain, where the antislavery movement was powerful.
War loomed in late 1861 between the U.S. and Britain over the Trent affair, involving the U.S. 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 considered mediation between North and South- though even such an offer would have risked war with the U.S. British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston reportedly read Uncle Tom’s Cabin three times when deciding on this. Marxist historian Armstead Robinson agrees, pointing to a class conflict in the Confederates 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 1864-65, 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 upsome few desertersplenty tired of war, but the masses determined to fight it out.”
Also important were Lincoln’s eloquence in rationalizing 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 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:
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. The war accounted for more American deaths than in all other U.S. wars combined.
Based on 1860 census figures, 8 percent of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6 percent in the North and 18 percent in the South.
Union army dead, amounting to 15 percent of the over two million who served, was broken down as follows: Notably, their mortality rate was significantly higher than white soldiers:
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 . 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.
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, Minie balls and 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 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. Income per person in the South dropped to less than 40 percent of that of the North, a condition that lasted until well into the 20th century. Southern influence in the U.S. federal government, previously considerable, was greatly diminished until the latter half of the 20th century. 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. 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. Fremont and David Hunter 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 colonization 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 September 22, 1862, and his final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 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 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.
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, 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.
Reconstruction began during the war, with the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 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, which remain in effect to the present time: the 13th, the 14th and the 15th . 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 slaveryand 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 about to begin.
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. Practically every major figure in the war, both North and South, has had a serious biographical study.
Deeply religious Southerners saw the hand of God in history, which demonstrated His wrath at their sinfulness, or His rewards for their suffering. Historian Wilson Fallin has examined the sermons of white and black Baptist preachers after the War. Southern white preachers said:
In sharp contrast, Black preachers interpreted the Civil War as:
Memory of the war in the white South crystallized in the myth of the “Lost Cause”, shaping regional identity and race relations for generations. 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 African-American progress to a 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 interpretation of the Civil War presented by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard in The Rise of American Civilization was highly influential among historians and the general public until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Beards downplayed slavery, abolitionism, and issues of morality. They ignored constitutional issues of states’ rights and even ignored American nationalism as the force that finally led to victory in the war. Indeed, the ferocious combat itself was passed over as merely an ephemeral event. Much more important was the calculus of class conflict. The Beards announced that the Civil War was really:
The Beards themselves abandoned their interpretation by the 1940s and it became defunct among historians in the 1950s, when scholars shifted to an emphasis on slavery. However, Beardian themes still echo among Lost Cause writers.
Civil War commemoration
The American Civil War has been commemorated in many capacities ranging from the reenactment 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.
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, as well as the first appearances of rapid-firing weapons and machine guns such as the Agar gun and the Gatling gun.