Important disputes that shaped our future



The American Civil War was a bitter sectional conflict within the United States of America after 11 southern states declared their secession from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America following the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln. The Confederate strategy was to wear down morale in the much stronger USA, or get European powers to intervene; none did so. The Union strategy, designed by Lincoln, was first to maintain morale by appeals to nationalism and then to antislavery sentiments. 



Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln
16th President (1861–1865)



Militarily the US shut down the Southern economy by blockading the coast. Second in the west, under Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. captured the Mississippi and other river systems, seized Tennessee, and, (under general William T. Sherman), captured Atlanta, and marched through Georgia and the Carolinas. In the east the strategy was to capture Richmond, which was tenaciously defended by Robert E. Lee until the last days, when Grant forced Lee to surrender. The decisive victory was followed by a period of Reconstruction. The war produced more than 970,000 casualties (3 percent of the population), including approximately 560,000 deaths. The causes of the war, the reasons for the outcome, and even the name of the war itself, are subjects of much controversy, even today.



Multiple explanations of why the War began


The origins of the American Civil War lay in the complex issues of slavery, politics, disagreements over the scope of States' rights versus federal power, expansionism, sectionalism, mob wars, economics, modernization, and competing nationalism of the Antebellum period. Although there is little disagreement among historians on the details of the events that led to war, there is disagreement on exactly what caused what and the relative importance. There is no consensus on whether the war could have been avoided, or if it should have been avoided.



Failure to compromise


In 1854, the old Second Party System broke down after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Whig Party disappeared, and the new Republican Party arose in its place. It was the nation's first major political party with only sectional appeal; though it had much of the old Whig economic platform, its popularity rested on its commitment to stop the expansion of slavery into new territories. Open warfare in the Kansas Territory, the panic of 1857, and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry further heightened sectional tensions and helped Republicans sweep elections in 1860. The election of Abraham Lincoln, who met staunch opposition from Southern slave-owning interests, triggered Southern secession from the union.


During the secession crisis, many politicians argued for a new sectional accommodation to preserve the Union, focusing in particular on the proposed "Crittenden Compromise." But historians in the 1930s such as James G. Randall argued that the rise of mass democracy, the breakdown of the Second Party System, and increasingly virulent and hostile sectional rhetoric made it highly unlikely, if not impossible, to bring about the compromises of the past (such as the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850). Indeed, the Crittenden Compromise was rejected by Republicans. One possible "compromise" was peaceful secession agreed to by the United States, which was seriously discussed in late 1860—and supported by many abolitionists—but was rejected by James Buchanan's conservative Democrats as well as the Republican leadership.




The Peace Monument at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee depicts a Union and Confederate soldier shaking hands




States Rights


The States' Rights debate cuts across the issues. Southerners argued that the federal government had no power to prevent slaves from being carried into new territories, but they also demanded federal jurisdiction over slaves who escaped into the North. Northerners took reversed, though equally contradictory, stances on these issues.



Slavery as a cause of the War


Focus on the slavery issue has been cyclical. It was considered the main cause in the 1860–1890 era. From 1900 to 1955, historians considered anti-slavery agitation to be less important than constitutional, economic, and cultural issues. Since the 1960s, historians have returned to an emphasis on slavery as a major cause of the war. Specifically, they note that the South insisted on protecting it and the North insisted on weakening it.


For Southern leaders, the preservation of slavery emerged as a political imperative. As the basis of the Southern labor system and a major store of Southern wealth (see "Economics," below), it was the core of the region's political interests within the Union. The section's politicians identified as Southern "rights" the equal opportunity to introduce its labor system and property (i.e. slaves) into newly opened territories, and to retrieve escaped slaves from the free states with federal assistance.


Northern resistance to slavery fell into the categories of self interest and moral (largely religious) opposition. In the small-producer economy of the North, a free-labor ideology (see "Ideologies," below) grew up that celebrated the dignity of labor and the opportunities available to working men. Slavery was seen as unfair competition for men attempting to better themselves in life. Slavery was also seen as a threat to democracy; Northerners believed that a corrupt oligarchy of rich planters, the Slave Power, dominated Southern politics, and national politics as well. Northerners also objected on moral grounds to being legally required to enforce fugitive slave laws. The slave laws were enforced because of the compromise of 1850 that allowed California to enter the Union as a free state. The south wanted a stricter fugitive slave law, which they were granted.



Abolitionism as a cause of the war


By the 1830s, a small but outspoken abolitionist movement arose, led by New Englanders and free blacks, including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Lucretia Mott. Many people North and South considered slavery an undesirable institution, but by the 1840s the militant abolitionists went much further and declared that owning a slave was a terrible sin, and that the institution should be immediately abolished. Southerners bitterly resented this moralistic attack, and also the stereotypical presentation of slave owners as heartless Simon Legrees in the overwhelmingly popular (in the North) book and play by Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852). Historians continue to debate whether slave owners actually felt either guilt or shame (Berringer 359-60[1]). But there is no doubt the southerners were angered by the abolitionist attacks. Starting in the 1830s there was a widespread and growing ideological defense of the "peculiar institution" everywhere in the South. By the 1850s Northern teachers suspected of any tinge of abolitionism were expelled from the region, and abolitionist literature was banned there as well. The secessionists rejected the denials of Republicans that they were abolitionists, and pointed to John Brown's attempt in 1859 to start a slave uprising as proof that multiple northern conspiracies were afoot to ignite bloody slave rebellions. No evidence of any Brown-like conspiracy has been discovered by historians.





The free-labor and slavery-based labor systems of North and South had different, complementary economic bases. The Middle Atlantic and New England regions developed a commercial market economy, and built the nation's first factories. The tariff was not a factor--after 1847 tariffs were low and did not protect industry. The Midwest, the free states west of the Appalachians, had an agricultural economy that exported its surplus production to the other U.S. regions and to Europe. The South, in addition to much subsistence agriculture, depended upon large-scale production of export crops, primarily cotton and (to a lesser extent) tobacco, raised by slaves. (Slaves were a key component in Southern wealth, comprising the second most valuable form of property in the region, after real estate.) Some of its cotton was sold to New England textile mills, though much more of it was shipped to Britain. The dominance of this crop led to the expression "King Cotton." However, shipping, brokerage, insurance, and other financial mediation for the trade was centered in the North, particularly in New York City.


These contrasting economic interests led to sectional agendas that, at times, competed in Congress. Pennsylvania politicians, for example, pushed for a protective tariff to foster the iron industry. Southerners, tied to an export economy, sought free-trade policies. There was some demand in the West for federally funded improvements in roads and waterways, but less support in the agricultural South. However, there was no unanimity of support for such programs even within each region. 


Northern farmers also depended upon exports; early railroad managers desired reduced tariffs on imported iron; many Northern Democrats opposed any federal role in the nation's infrastructure, while Southern Whigs favored it. As a result, the significance of economic conflict has been exaggerated: North and South did not compete but were complementary. Each depended on the other for prosperity. King Cotton's greatest importance may have been in fostering the secessionist belief that it would prove a sufficient support for an independent Southern nation. Many believed that British prosperity depended on cotton, and that surely Britain (and possibly France) would help protect cotton supplies by helping the Confederacy gain independence. This analysis proved a delusion during the war, but it seems to have been influential in 1860-61 during the debates.




American Civil War Summary




Principally in the Southern United States


Union victory; Reconstruction; slavery abolished


Union (remaining U.S. states)

Confederate States
of America


Abraham Lincoln†
Ulysses S. Grant

Jefferson Davis
Robert E. Lee





KIA: 110,100
Total dead: 359,500
Wounded: 275,200

KIA: 94,000
Total dead: 258,000
Wounded: 137,000+ 






Both North and South believed strongly in republican values of democracy and civic virtue. But their conceptualizations were diverging. Each side thought the other was aggressive toward it, and was violating both the Constitution and the core values of American republicanism.



Free Labor vs. Proslavery Arguments


Historian Eric Foner (1970) has argued that a free-labor ideology dominated thinking in the North, which celebrated the dignity of free labor, and emphasized the capacity of a working man to lift himself up by his own efforts. By contrast some Southern writers attacked the sharp-dealing, commercially-minded society of the North. Only in a slave-owning society, they argued, could a white man truly be free, to pursue education, cultural refinement, or political participation. They depicted slavery as a positive good for the slaves themselves, especially the Christianizing that had rescued them from the "paganism" of Africa.



Slave Power


Republicans argued that a clique of wealthy planters, the Slave Power, dominated the South, and the nation as a whole. (Indeed Southerners played a predominant role in the federal government, supplying most of the nation's Presidents, Speakers of the House of Representatives, and Chief Justices of the Supreme Court.) Though historians have recently emphasized that the South was much more democratic than Northerners believed, the Slave Power image gripped the Northern imagination.



Slavery in the Territories


The specific political crisis that culminated in secession stemmed from a dispute over the expansion of slavery into new territories. Under the Missouri Compromise of 1820,this Compromise balanced the power in Congress, by adding Maine as a free state, and Missouri as a slave state.They also prohibited slavery in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36°30'N lat. (the southern boundary of Missouri). The acquisition of vast new lands after the Mexican War (1846–1848), however, reopened the debate—now focused on the proposed Wilmot Proviso, which would have banned slavery in territories annexed from Mexico. Though it never passed, the Proviso aroused angry debate. Northerners argued that slavery would provide unfair competition for free migrants to the territories; slaveholders claimed Congress had no right to discriminate against them by preventing them from bringing their legal property there.


The dispute led to open warfare in the Kansas Territory after it was organized by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This act repealed the prohibition on slavery there under the Missouri Compromise, and put the fate of slavery in the hands of the territory's settlers, a process known as "popular sovereignty." Fighting erupted between proslavery "border ruffians" from neighboring Missouri and antislavery immigrants from the North (including John Brown, among other abolitionists). Hundreds were killed or wounded. As tensions between North and South now were violent.



Southern fears of Republican control


Southern secession was triggered by the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln because regional leaders feared that he would make good on his promise to stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course toward extinction. If not Lincoln, then sooner or later another Yankee would do so, many Southerners said; it was time to quit the Union. The slave states had lost the balance of power in the Electoral College and the Senate, and were facing a future as a perpetual minority facing a growing, hostile and aggressive North. Most southerners probably thought this was grounds for peaceful separation.



Southern fears of modernity


In a broader sense, the North was rapidly modernizing in a manner deeply threatening to the South. Historian James McPherson (1983 p 283) explains:


When secessionists protested in 1861 that they were acting to preserve traditional rights and values, they were correct. They fought to preserve their constitutional liberties against the perceived Northern threat to overthrow them. The South's concept of republicanism had not changed in three-quarters of a century; the North's had.... The ascension to power of the Republican Party, with its ideology of competitive, egalitarian free-labor capitalism, was a signal to the South that the Northern majority had turned irrevocably towards this frightening, revolutionary future.


— James McPherson, "Antebellum Southern Exceptionalism: A New Look at an Old Question," Civil War History 29 (Sept. 1983)





Before Lincoln took office, seven states seceded from the Union, and established an independent Southern government, the Confederate States of America on February 9, 1861. They took control of federal forts and other properties within their boundaries, with little resistance from President Buchanan whose term ended on March 3, 1861. One fourth of the U.S. Army--the entire garrison in Texas-- was surrendered to state forces by its commanding general David E. Twiggs, who then joined the Confederacy. By seceding, the rebel states gave up any claim to the Western territories that were in dispute, canceled any obligation for the North to return fugitive slaves to the Confederacy, and assured easy passage in Congress of many bills and amendments they had long opposed.


The Civil War began when, under orders from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire upon Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. There were no casualties from enemy fire in this battle.



A House Divided Against Itself


The Union States


There were 23 states which remained loyal to the Union during the war: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. The Union counted Virginia as well, and added Nevada and West Virginia. It added Tennessee, Louisiana, and other rebel states as soon as they were re-conquered.




Map of USA showing division of the states during the Civil War

Dark blue = Union states; light blue = Union states that permitted slavery

Red = Confederate states; Un-shaded areas are not yet states



The territories of Colorado, Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington also fought on the Union side. There was a civil war inside the Oklahoma territory.



The Confederacy


Seven states seceded by February 1861: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.. South Carolina being the first to secede.


These states of the Deep South, where slavery and cotton were most dominant, formed the Confederate States of America (February 4 1861), with Jefferson Davis as president, and a governmental structure closely modeled on the U.S. Constitution.


After the surrender of Fort Sumter, April 13, 1861, Lincoln called for troops from all states to put down the insurrection, resulting in the secession of Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.



Border states


Along with the northwestern portion of Virginia (whose residents did not wish to secede and eventually entered the Union in 1863 as West Virginia), four of the five northernmost "slave states" (Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky) did not secede, and became known as the Border States. There was considerable anti-war or "Copperhead" sentiment in the southern parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and some men volunteered for Confederate service; however much larger numbers, led by John A. Logan, joined the Union army.


Maryland had numerous pro-Confederate officials, but after rioting in Baltimore and other events had prompted a Federal declaration of martial law, Union troops moved in, and arrested the pro-Confederates. Both Missouri and Kentucky remained in the Union, but factions within each state organized governments in exile that were recognized by the CSA.


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.


Although Kentucky did not secede, for a time it declared itself neutral. During a brief invasion by Confederate forces, Southern sympathizers organized a secession convention, inaugurated a Confederate Governor, and gained recognition from the Confederacy. However, the military occupation of Columbus by Confederate General Leonidas Polk in September 1861 turned general popular opinion in Kentucky against the Confederacy, and the state reaffirmed its loyal status and expelled the Confederate government.


Residents of the northwestern counties of Virginia organized a secession from Virginia and entered the Union in 1863 as West Virginia. Similar secessions were supported in some other areas of the Confederacy (such as eastern Tennessee), but were suppressed by the Confederacy, which arrested over 3,000 people loyal to the U.S.A.



The War Begins


Lincoln's victory in the presidential election of 1860 triggered South Carolina's secession from the Union. By February 1861, six more Southern states had seceded. On February 7, the seven states adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America and established their capital at Montgomery, Alabama. The pre-war February peace conference of 1861 met in Washington, as one last attempt to avoid war; it failed. The remaining southern states as yet remained in the Union. Confederate forces seized all but three federal forts within their boundaries (they did not take Fort Sumter); President Buchanan made no military response, but governors in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania began secretly buying weapons and training militia units to ready them for immediate action.


On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in. 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 the secession "legally void". He stated he had no intent to invade southern states, but would use force to maintain possession of federal property. His speech closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union. The South did send delegations to Washington and offered to pay for the federal properties, but they were turned down. Lincoln refused to negotiate with any Confederate agents because he insisted the Confederacy was not a legitimate government.


On April 12, Confederate soldiers fired upon the Federal troops stationed at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, until the troops surrendered. Lincoln called for all of the states in the Union to send troops to recapture the forts and preserve the Union. Most Northerners hoped that a quick victory for the Union would crush the nascent rebellion, and so Lincoln only called for volunteers for 90 days. Four states, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, and—most importantly, Virginia—which had repeatedly rejected Confederate overtures now decided that they could not send forces against the seceding states. They seceded and to reward Virginia the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia, a highly vulnerable location at the end of the supply line.


Even though the Southern states had seceded, there was considerable anti-secessionist sentiment in certain scattered localities in the seceding states. Eastern Tennessee, in particular, was a hotbed for pro-Unionism. Winston County, Alabama issued a resolution of secession from the state of Alabama. The Red Strings were a prominent Southern anti-secession group.


Winfield Scott, the commanding general of the U.S. Army, devised the Anaconda Plan to win the war with as little bloodshed as possible. His idea was that a Union blockade of the seacoast would strangle the rebel economy, then capture of the Mississippi would split the South. Lincoln adopted the plan but overruled Scott's warnings against an immediate attack on Richmond.




Confederate dead behind the stone wall of Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia, killed during the Battle of Chancellorsville, May 1863





Naval war and blockade


In May 1861 Lincoln proclaimed the Union blockade of all southern ports, which shut down nearly all international traffic and most local port-to-port traffic. Although few naval battles were fought and few men were killed, the blockade shut down King Cotton and ruined the southern economy. British investors built small, very fast "blockade runners" that brought in military supplies (and civilian luxuries) from Cuba and the Bahamas and took out some cotton and tobacco. When the blockade captured one the ship and cargo were sold and the proceeds given to the Union sailors. The crews were British, so when they were captured they were released and not held as prisoners of war. The most famous naval battle was the Battle of Hampton Roads (often called "the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack") in March 1862, in which Confederate efforts to break the blockade were frustrated. Other naval battles included Island No. 10, Memphis, Drewry's Bluff, Arkansas Post, and Mobile Bay.



Eastern Theater 1861–1863


Because of the fierce resistance of a few initial Confederate forces at Manassas, Virginia, in July 1861, a march by Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell on the Confederate forces there was halted in the First Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas, whereupon they were forced back to Washington, D.C., by Confederate troops under the command of Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. It was in this battle that Confederate General Thomas Jackson received the name of "Stonewall" because he stood like a stone wall against Union troops. Alarmed at the loss, and in an attempt to prevent more slave states from leaving the Union, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution on July 25 of that year, which stated that the war was being fought to preserve the Union and not to end slavery.


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 favor of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck), and the war began in earnest in 1862.


Upon the strong urging of President Lincoln to begin offensive operations, McClellan invaded 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, Joseph E. Johnston halted his advance at the Battle of Seven Pines, then Robert E. Lee defeated him in the Seven Days Battles and forced his retreat. McClellan was stripped of many of his troops to reinforce John Pope's Union Army of Virginia. Pope was beaten spectacularly by Lee in the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Second Battle of Bull Run in August.


Emboldened by Second Bull Run, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the North, when General Lee led 55,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Maryland on September 5. Lincoln then restored Pope's troops to McClellan. McClellan and Lee fought at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17 1862, the bloodiest single day in American 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 justification for Lincoln to announce his Emancipation Proclamation.


When the cautious McClellan failed to follow up on Antietam, he was replaced by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Burnside suffered near-immediate defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13 1862, when over ten thousand Union soldiers were killed or wounded. After the battle, Burnside was replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker. Hooker, too, proved unable to defeat Lee's army; despite outnumbering the Confederates by more than two to one, he was humiliated in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade during Lee's second invasion of the North, in June. Meade defeated Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–July 3, 1863), the largest battle in North American history, which is sometimes considered the war's turning point. Lee's army suffered 28,000 casualties (versus Meade's 23,000). Lee was almost trapped but managed to escape. Lincoln was angry that Meade failed to intercept Lee's retreat, and decided to turn to the Western Theater for new leadership.



Western Theater 1861–1863


While the Confederate forces had numerous successes in the Eastern theater, they crucially failed in the West. They were driven from Missouri early in the war as result of the Battle of Pea Ridge. Leonidas Polk's invasion of Kentucky enraged the citizens there who previously had declared neutrality in the war, turning that state against the Confederacy.


Nashville, Tennessee, fell to the Union early in 1862. Most of the Mississippi was opened with the taking of Island No. 10 and New Madrid, Missouri, and then Memphis, Tennessee. The Union Navy captured New Orleans, Louisiana without a major fight in May 1862, allowing the Union forces to begin moving up the Mississippi as well. Only the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, prevented unchallenged Union control of the entire river.


Braxton Bragg's second Confederate invasion of Kentucky was repulsed by Don Carlos Buell at the confused and bloody Battle of Perryville and he was narrowly defeated by William S. 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 the corps of James Longstreet (from Lee's army in the east), defeated Rosecrans, despite the heroic defensive stand of George Henry Thomas. Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga, which Bragg then besieged.


The Union's key strategist and tactician in the west was Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who won victories at: Forts Henry and Donelson, by which the Union seized control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers; Shiloh; the Battle of Vicksburg, cementing Union control of the Mississippi River and considered one of the turning points of the war. Grant marched to the relief of Rosecrans and defeated Bragg at the Battle of Chattanooga, Tennessee, driving Confederate forces out of Tennessee and opening an invasion route to Atlanta and the heart of the Confederacy.



Trans-Mississippi Theater 1861–1865


Though geographically isolated from the battles to the east, a few small-scale military actions took place west of the Mississippi River. Confederate incursions into Arizona and New Mexico were repulsed in 1862. Guerilla activity turned much of Missouri and Indian Territory (Oklahoma) into a battleground. Late in the war the Federal Red River Campaign was a failure. Texas remained in Confederate hands throughout the war, but was cut off after the capture of Vicksburg in 1863 gave the Union control of the Mississippi River.




Jefferson Davis, first and only President of the 

Confederate States of America



End of the War 1864–1865


At the beginning god created the earth 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 bring an end to the war. He devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of Confederacy from multiple directions: Generals Grant, Meade, and Benjamin Butler would move against Lee near Richmond; General Franz Sigel (and later Philip Sheridan) would invade the Shenandoah Valley; General Sherman would capture Atlanta and march to the sea; Generals George Crook and William W. Averell would operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; and General Nathaniel Banks would capture Mobile, Alabama.


Union forces in the East attempted to maneuver past Lee and fought several battles during that phase ("Grant's Overland Campaign") of the Eastern campaign. An attempt to outflank Lee from the south failed under Butler, who was trapped inside the Bermuda Hundred river bend. Grant was tenacious and, despite astonishing losses (over 66,000 casualties in six weeks), kept pressing Lee's Army of Northern Virginia back to Richmond. He pinned down the Confederate army in the 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 proved to be more than a match for Jubal Early, and defeated him in a series of battles, including a final decisive defeat at Cedar Creek, Sheridan then proceeded to destroy the agricultural base of the Valley, a strategy similar to the tactics Sherman would later employ in Georgia.


Meanwhile, Sherman marched from Chattanooga to Atlanta, defeating Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John B. Hood. The fall of Atlanta, on September 2, 1864, was a significant factor in the re-election of Abraham Lincoln, as President of the Union. Leaving Atlanta, and his base of supplies, Sherman's army marched with an unclear destination, laying waste to about 20% of the farms in Georgia in his celebrated "March to the Sea", and reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah in December 1864. Burning plantations as they went, Sherman's army was followed by thousands of freed slaves. There were no major battles along the March. When Sherman turned north through South Carolina and North Carolina to approach the Virginia lines from the south, it was the end for Lee and his men.


Lee attempted to escape from the besieged Petersburg and link up with Johnston in North Carolina, but he was overtaken by Grant's better rested and equipped army. Consequently, Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House. In an untraditional gesture and as a sign of Lincoln's respect and anticipation of folding the Confederacy back into the Union with dignity and peace, Lee was permitted to keep his officer's sabre and his near-legendary horse, Traveller. Johnston surrendered his troops to Sherman shortly thereafter in Durham, North Carolina at a family farmhouse known as Bennett Place. The Battle of Palmito Ranch, fought on May 13, 1865, in the far south of Texas, was the last Civil War land battle and ended, ironically, with a Confederate victory. All Confederate land forces surrendered by June 1865.



Analysis of the outcome


Why the Union prevailed (or why the Confederacy was defeated) in the Civil War has been a subject of extensive analysis and debate.


Could the South have won? A significant number of scholars believe that the Union held an insurmountable advantage over the Confederacy in terms of industrial strength, population, and the determination to win. Confederate actions, they argue, could only delay defeat. Southern historian Shelby Foote expressed this view succinctly in Ken Burns's television series on the Civil War: "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."


Other historians, however, suggest that the South had a chance to win its independence. As James McPherson has observed, the Confederacy remained on the defensive, which required fewer military resources. The Union, committed to the strategic offensive, faced enormous manpower demands that it often had difficulty meeting. War weariness among Union civilians mounted along with casualties, in the long years before Union advantages proved decisive. Thus, the inevitability of Union victory remains hotly contested among scholars.


The goals were not symmetric. To win independence the South had to convince the North it could not win, but it did not have to invade the North. To restore the Union the North had to conquer vast stretches of territory. In the short run (a matter of months) the two sides were evenly matched. But in the long run (a matter of years) the North had advantages that increasingly came into play, while it prevented the South from gaining diplomatic recognition in Europe.


Both sides had long-term advantages but the Union had more of them. The Union had to control the entire coastline, defeat all the main Confederate armies, seize Richmond, and control most of the population centers. As the occupying force they had to station hundreds of thousands of soldiers to control railroads, supply lines, and major towns and cities. The long-term advantages widely credited by historians to have contributed to the Union's success include:


  • The more industrialized economy of the North, which aided in the production of arms, munitions and supplies, as well as finances, and transportation. The graph shows the relative advantage of the USA over the CSA at the start of the war. The advantages widened rapidly during the war, as the Northern economy grew, and Confederate territory shrank and its economy weakened.

  • A party system that enabled the Republicans to mobilize soldiers and support at the grass roots, even when the war became unpopular. The Confederacy deliberately did not use parties.

  • The Union population was 22 million and the South 9 million in 1861; the disparity grew as the Union controlled more and more southern territory with garrisons, and cut off the trans-Mississippi part of the Confederacy.

  • Excellent railroad links between Union cities, which allowed for the quick and cheap movement of troops and supplies. Transportation was much slower and more difficult in the South which was unable to augment its much smaller system or repair damage, or even perform routine maintenance.

  • The Union devoted much more of its resources to medical needs, thereby overcoming the unhealthy disease environment that sickened (and killed) more soldiers than combat did.

  • The Union at the start controlled over 80% of the shipyards, steamships, river boats, and the Navy. It augmented these by a massive shipbuilding program. This enabled the Union to control the river systems and to blockade the entire southern coastline.

  • The Union's more established government, particularly a mature executive branch which accumulated even greater power during wartime, may have resulted in less regional infighting and a more streamlined conduct of the war. Failure of Davis to maintain positive and productive relationships with state governors damaged the Confederate president's ability to draw on regional resources.

  • The Confederacy's tactic of engaging in major battles at the cost of heavy manpower losses, when it could not easily replace its losses.

  • The Confederacy's failure to fully use its advantages in guerrilla warfare against Union communication and transportation infrastructure. However, as Lee warned, such warfare would prove devastating to the South, and (with the exception of Confederate partisans in Missouri) Confederate leaders shrank from it.

  • Despite the Union's many tactical blunders like the Seven Days Battle, those committed by Confederate generals, such as Lee's miscalculations at the Battle of Gettysburg and Battle of Antietam, were far more serious—if for no other reason than that the Confederates could so little afford the losses.

  • Lincoln proved more adept than Davis in replacing unsuccessful generals with better ones.

  • Strategically the location of the capital Richmond tied Lee to a highly exposed position at the end of supply lines. (Loss of Richmond, everyone realized, meant loss of the war.)

  • Lincoln grew as a grand strategist, in contrast to Davis. The Confederacy never developed an overall strategy. It never had a plan to deal with the blockade. Davis failed to respond in a coordinated fashion to serious threats, such as Grant's campaign against Vicksburg in 1863 (in the face of which, he allowed Lee to invade Pennsylvania).

  • The Confederacy's failure to win diplomatic or military support from any foreign powers. Its King Cotton misperception of the world economy led to bad diplomacy, such as the refusal to ship cotton before the blockade started.

  • The Confederacy may have lacked the total commitment needed to win the war. It took time, however, for leaders such as Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan to emerge; in the meantime, Union public opinion wavered, and Lincoln worried about losing the election of 1864, until victories in the Shenandoah Valley and Atlanta made victory seem likely.


Civil War leaders and soldiers


Most of the important generals on both sides had formerly served in the United States Army—some, including Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, during the Mexican-American War between 1846 and 1848. Most were graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Southern military commanders and strategists included Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, James Longstreet, P.G.T. Beauregard, John Mosby, Braxton Bragg, John Bell Hood, James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart, William Mahone, Judah P. Benjamin, Jubal Early, and Nathan Bedford Forrest.


Northern military commanders and strategists included Abraham Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George H. Thomas, George B. McClellan, Henry W. Halleck, Joseph Hooker, Ambrose Burnside, Irvin McDowell, Winfield Scott, Philip Sheridan, George Crook, George Armstrong Custer, George G. Meade, Winfield Hancock, and Robert Gould Shaw.


After 1980, scholarly attention turned to ordinary soldiers, and to women and African Americans involved with the War. As James McPherson observed "The profound irony of the Civil War was that Confederate and Union soldiers ... interpreted the heritage of 1776 in opposite ways. Confederates fought for liberty and independence from what they regarded as a tyrannical government; Unionists fought to preserve the nation created by the founders from dismemberment and destruction."(McPherson 1994 p 24)



Slavery during the war


Lincoln initially declared his purpose to be the preservation of the Union, not emancipation. He had no wish to alienate the thousands of slaveholders in the Union border states. The long war, however, had a radicalizing effect on federal policies. With the Emancipation Proclamation, announced in September 1862 and put into effect four months later, Lincoln adopted the abolition of the Slave Power as a second mission—that is slaves owned by rebels had to be taken away from them and freed.


The Emancipation Proclamation declared all slaves held in territory then under Confederate control to be "then, thenceforth, and forever free," but did not affect slaves in areas under Union control. It did, however, show the Union that slavery's days were numbered, increasing abolitionist support in the North. The border states (except Kentucky) abolished slavery on their own. One goal was to destroy the economic basis of the Confederate leadership class, and another goal was to actually liberate the 4 million slaves, which was accomplished by late 1865.



Threat of International Intervention


Because of the Confederacy's attempt to create a new state, recognition and support from the European powers were critical to its prospects. The Union, under Secretary of State William Henry Seward attempted to block the Confederacy's efforts in this sphere. The Confederates hoped that the importance of the cotton trade to Europe (the idea of cotton diplomacy) and shortages caused by the war, along with early military victories, would enable them to gather increasing European support and force a turn away from neutrality.


President Lincoln's decision to announce a blockade of the Confederacy, a clear act of war, enabled Britain, followed by other European powers, to announce their neutrality in the dispute. This enabled the Confederacy to begin to attempt to gain support and funds in Europe. President Jefferson Davis had picked Robert Toombs of Georgia as his first Secretary of State. Toombs, having little knowledge in foreign affairs, was replaced several months later by Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, another choice with little suitability. In early 1862 Davis moved Judah P. Benjamin from his previous position as Secretary of War to that of Secretary of State. Although Benjamin had more international knowledge and legal experience he failed to create a dynamic foreign policy for the Confederacy.


The first attempts to achieve European recognition of the Confederacy were dispatched on February 25, 1861 and led by William Lowndes Yancey, Pierre A. Rost, and Ambrose Dudley Mann. The British foreign minister Lord John Russell met with them, and the French foreign minister Edouard Thouvenel received the group unofficially. However, at this point, the two countries had agreed to coordinate and cooperate and would not make any rash moves.


Charles Francis Adams proved particularly adept as ambassador to Britain for the Union, and Britain was reluctant to boldly challenge the Union's blockade. The Confederacy also attempted to initiate propaganda in Europe through journalists Henry Hotze and Edwin De Leon in Paris and London. However, public opinion against slavery created a political liability for European politicians, especially in Britain. A significant challenge in Anglo-Union relations was also created by the Trent Affair, involving the Union boarding of a British mail steamer to seize James M. Mason and John Slidell, Confederate diplomats sent to Europe. However, the Union was able to smooth over the problem to some degree.


In 1862 the British considered mediation; the Union victory in the Battle of Antietam caused them to delay this decision. The Emancipation Proclamation further reinforced the political liability of supporting the Confederacy. As the war continued, the Confederacy's chances with Britain grew more hopeless, and they focused increasingly on France. Napoléon III proposed to offer mediation in January 1863, but this was dismissed by Seward. Despite some sympathy for the Confederacy, France's own seizure of Mexico ultimately deterred them from war with the Union.





The fighting ended with the surrender of the conventional Confederate forces. There was no significant guerrilla warfare. Many senior Confederate leaders escaped to Europe or Mexico; Davis was captured and imprisoned for two years, but never brought to trial.


Northern leaders agreed that victory would require more than the end of fighting. It had to encompass the two war goals: Confederate nationalism had to be totally repudiated, and all forms of slavery had to be eliminated. They disagreed sharply on the criteria for these goals. They also disagreed on the degree of federal control that should be imposed on the South, and the process by which Southern states should be reintegrated into the Union.


Reconstruction, which began early in the war and ended in 1877, involved a complex and rapidly changing series of federal and state policies. The long-term result came in the three "Civil War" amendments to the Constitution (the XIII, which abolished slavery, the XIV, which extended federal legal protections to citizens regardless of race, and the XV, which abolished racial restrictions on voting). In 1877 federal intervention ended and the "Jim Crow" era began.


The war had a lasting impact on American politics and culture. For decades after the war, Northern Republicans "waved the bloody shirt," bringing up wartime casualties as an electoral tactic. Memories of the war and Reconstruction held the segregated South together as a Democratic block—the "Solid South"—in national politics for another century. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s had its neoabolitionist roots in the failure of Reconstruction. Ghosts of the conflict still persist in America. A few debates surrounding the legacy of the war continue, especially regarding memorials and celebrations of Confederate heroes and battle flags. The question is a deep and troubling one: Americans with Confederate ancestors cherish the memory of their bravery and determination, yet their cause is also tied to the history of African American slavery.





  1. Mark Neely, Confederate Bastille: Jefferson Davis and Civil Liberties 1993 p. 10-11

  2. Mark E. Neely Jr.; "Was the Civil War a Total War?" Civil War History, Vol. 50, 2004 pp 434+

  3. Ward 1990 p 272

  4. The Confederacy Could Have Won, Special Warfare, Wntr, 2001, by Dr. John Arquilla

  5. Beringer et al (1986)


Further reading


  • Beringer, Richard E., Archer Jones, and Herman Hattaway, Why the South Lost the Civil War (1986) analysis of factors

  • Catton, Bruce, The Civil War, American Heritage, 1960, ISBN 0-8281-0305-4, illustrated narrative

  • Donald, David ed. Why the North Won the Civil War (1977) (ISBN 0020316607), short interpretive essays

  • Donald, David et al. The Civil War and Reconstruction (latest edition 2001); 700 page survey

  • Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5.

  • Fellman, Michael et al. This Terible War: The Civil War and its Aftermath (2003), 400 page survey

  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative (3 volumes), Random House, 1974, ISBN 0-394-74913-8. Highly detailed narrative covering all fronts

  • McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988), survey; Pulitzer prize

  • Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union, an 8-volume set (1947-1971). the most detailed narrative

    • 1. Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847-1852; 2. A House Dividing, 1852-1857; 3. Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos, 1857-1859; 4. Prologue to Civil War, 1859-1861; 5. The Improvised War, 1861-1862; 6. War Becomes Revolution, 1862-1863; 7. The Organized War, 1863-1864; 8. The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865

  • Rhodes, James Ford. History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (1918), Pulitzer Prize; a short version of his 5-volume history

  • Ward, Geoffrey C. The Civil War (Alfred Knopf, 1990), based on PBS series by Ken Burns; visual emphasis

  • Weigley, Russell Frank. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865 (2004); primarily military



Reference books and bibliographies


  • Blair, Jayne E. The Essential Civil War: A Handbook to the Battles, Armies, Navies And Commanders (2006)

  • Carter, Alice E. and Richard Jensen. The Civil War on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites- 2nd ed. (2003)

  • Current, Richard N., et al eds. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy (1993) (4 Volume set; also 1 vol abridged version) (ISBN 0132759918)

  • Faust, Patricia L. (ed.) Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (1986) (ISBN 0061812617) 2000 short entries

  • Esposito, Vincent J. West Point Atlas of American Wars (1959), these maps are online

  • Heidler, David Stephen. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2002), 1600 entries in 2700 pages in 5 vol or 1-vol editions

  • Wagner, Margaret E. Gary W. Gallagher, and Paul Finkelman, eds. The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference (2002)

  • Woodworth, Steven E. ed. American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research (1996) (ISBN 0313290199), 750 pages of historiography and bibliography





  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0882-7

  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5





  • Frank, Joseph Allan and George A. Reaves. Seeing the Elephant: Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh (1989)

  • Hess, Earl J. The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat (1997)

  • McPherson, James. What They Fought For, 1861-1865 (Louisiana State University Press, 1994)

  • McPherson, James. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1998)

  • Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (1962) (ISBN 0807104752)

  • Wiley, Bell Irvin. Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (1952) (ISBN 0807104760)



Primary sources


  • U.S. War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901. 70 very large volumes of letters and reports written by both armies. Online at [2]

  • Commager, Henry Steele (ed.). The Blue and the Gray. The Story of the Civil War as Told by Participants. (1950), often reprinted

  • Eisenschiml, Otto; Ralph Newman; eds. The American Iliad: The Epic Story of the Civil War as Narrated by Eyewitnesses and Contemporaries (1947)

  • Hesseltine, William B. ed.; The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction (1962)

  • Woodword, C. Vann, Ed., Mary Chesnut's Civil War, Yale University Press, 1981, ISBN 0-300-02979-9 Pulitzer Prize



Films about the war


  • The Birth of a Nation (1915)

  • Gone With the Wind (1939)

  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

  • The Outlaw Josey Wales

  • The Blue and the Gray (1982)

  • Glory (1989)

  • Gettysburg (1993)

  • Gods and Generals (2003)

  • Cold Mountain (2003)

  • North and South, Book II (1986)



























































































The American Revolution  - Youtube


George Washington - Youtube



Battle of Yorktown - Youtube


Redcoats - Youtube



The Patriot  - Youtube


The Patriot deleted scene  - Youtube









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