American Civil War
The American Civil War (1861–1865), often referred to as The Civil War in the United States, was a civil war fought over the secession of the Confederate States. 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (“the Confederacy”); the other 25 states supported the federal government (“the Union“). After four years of warfare, mostly within the Southern states, the Confederacy surrendered and slavery was abolished everywhere in the nation. Issues that led to war were partially resolved in the Reconstruction Era that followed, though others remained unresolved.
In the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, had campaigned against expanding slavery beyond the states in which it already existed. The Republicans strongly advocated nationalism, and in their 1860 platform they denounced threats of disunion as avowals of treason. After a Republican victory, but before the new administration took office on March 4, 1861, seven cotton states declared their secession and joined to form the Confederate States of America. Both the outgoing administration of President James Buchanan and the incoming administration rejected the legality of secession, considering it rebellion. The other eight slave states rejected calls for secession at this point. No foreign governments recognized the Confederacy.
Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired on a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each state to recapture federal property, which led to declarations of secession by four more slave states. Both sides raised armies as the Union seized control of the border states early in the war and established a naval blockade. Land warfare in the East was inconclusive in 1861–62, as the Confederacy beat back Union efforts to capture its capital, Richmond, Virginia, notably during the Peninsular Campaign. In September 1862, the Confederate campaign in Maryland ended in defeat at the Battle of Antietam, which dissuaded the British from intervening. Days after that battle, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal.
In 1863, Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s northward advance ended in defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg. To the west, the Union gained control of the Mississippi River after the Battle of Shiloh and Siege of Vicksburg, splitting the Confederacy in two and destroying much of their western army. Due to his western successes, Ulysses S. Grant was given command of all Union armies in 1864, and organized the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan and others to attack the Confederacy from all directions, increasing the North’s advantage in manpower. Grant restructured the union army, and put other generals in command of divisions of the army that were to support his push into Virginia. He fought several battles of attrition against Lee through the Overland Campaign to seize Richmond, though in the face of fierce resistance he altered his plans and led the Siege of Petersburg which nearly finished off the rest of Lee’s army. Meanwhile, Sherman captured Atlanta and marched to the sea, destroying Confederate infrastructure along the way. When the Confederate attempt to defend Petersburg failed, the Confederate army retreated but was pursued and defeated, which resulted in Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The American Civil War was one of the earliest true industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. The practices of total war, developed by Sherman in Georgia, and of trench warfare around Petersburg foreshadowed World War I in Europe. It remains the deadliest war in American history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 750,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. Historian John Huddleston estimates the death toll at ten percent of all Northern males 20–45 years old, and 30 percent of all Southern white males aged 18–40. Victory for the North meant the end of the Confederacy and of slavery in the United States, and strengthened the role of the federal government. The social, political, economic and racial issues of the war decisively shaped the reconstruction era that lasted to 1877.
Causes of secession
The causes of the Civil War were complex, and have been controversial since the war began. The issue has been further complicated by historical revisionists, who have tried to improve the image of the South by lessening the role of slavery. 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. Following Lincoln’s victory, many Southern whites felt that disunion had become their only option.
While not all Southerners saw themselves as fighting to preserve 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. Abraham Lincoln consistently made preserving the Union the central goal of the war, though he increasingly saw slavery as a crucial issue and made ending it an additional goal. Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation angered both Peace Democrats (“Copperheads”) and War Democrats, but energized 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 crushed at the 1863 elections in Ohio when they tried to resurrect anti-black sentiment.
Slavery – Main article: Slavery in the United States
The slavery issue addressed not only the well-being of the slaves (although abolitionists raised the issue) but also whether slavery was an anachronistic evil that was incompatible with American values or a profitable economic system protected by the Constitution. The strategy of the anti-slavery forces was to stop the expansion and thus put slavery on a path to gradual extinction. To the white South this strategy trampled their Constitutional rights.
Slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. By 1804 all the northern states had passed laws to abolish slavery gradually. Congress in 1807 banned the international slave trade. Slavery faded in the border states and urban areas but expanded in highly profitable cotton states of the Deep South.
Despite compromises in 1820 and 1850, the slavery issues exploded in the 1850s. The new Republican Party angered slavery interests by demanding the end to its expansion. Republicans believed that without expansion slavery would eventually die out. In 1845 Lincoln argued that slavery could die a natural death if contained, and mentioned this again in his 1858 House Divided Speech. Much of the political battle in the 1850s focused on the expansion of slavery, since most assumed that if slavery could not expand, it would wither and die. With tobacco and cotton wearing out the soil, the South believed it needed to expand slavery, and many wanted to reopen the international slave trade. Southern and northern resentments brought the crisis to a head in the late 1850s. Disagreements over slavery caused the Whig and “Know-Nothing” parties to collapse, and new ones to arise. In 1860, the last national political party, the Democratic Party, split along sectional lines. Northerners ranging from the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to the moderate Republican leader Lincoln stressed that all men are created equal.
Almost all the inter-regional crises involved slavery, starting with the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The invention of the cotton gin increased by fiftyfold the quantity of cotton that could be processed and greatly increased the demand for slave labor in the South. There was controversy over adding the slave state of Missouri to the Union that led to the Missouri Compromise of 1820. A gag rule prevented discussion in Congress of petitions for ending slavery from 1835–1844, while Manifest Destiny became an argument for gaining new territories, where slavery could expand. The acquisition of Texas as a slave state in 1845 along with territories won as a result of the Mexican–American War resulted in the Compromise of 1850. The Wilmot Proviso was an attempt by Northern politicians to exclude slavery from the territories conquered from Mexico. The popular anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe greatly increased Northern resentment of slavery.
Abolitionist John Brown being adored by an enslaved mother and child as he walks to his execution on December 2, 1859.
The 1854 Ostend Manifesto was an unsuccessful Southern attempt to annex Cuba as a slave state. The Second Party System broke down after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which replaced the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery with popular sovereignty, allowing the people of a territory to vote for or against slavery. The Bleeding Kansas controversy over the status of slavery in the Kansas Territory led pro-South Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan to attempt to admit Kansas as a slave state. Violence over the status of slavery in Kansas erupted with the Wakarusa War, the Sacking of Lawrence, the caning of Republican Charles Sumner by the Southerner Preston Brooks, and the Pottawatomie Massacre. The 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision allowed slavery in the territories even where the majority opposed slavery.