American Civil War
The American Civil War was fought in the United States from 1861 until 1865 between the northern states, popularly referred to as the USA, or the Union, the North, or the Yankees; and the seceding southern states, commonly referred to as the Confederate States of America, the CSA, the Confederacy, the South, the Rebels, or Dixie. Individual soldiers who fought for the North were referred to as Billy Yank; those who fought for the South were called Johnny Reb.
The most common and most neutral term for this conflict in the U.S. is simply The Civil War, but this name has never carried official status. The first legally-sanctioned term originated out of a Northeastern wartime usage; the officially-commissioned 1880 U.S. War Department report and compilation of Union and Confederate army records was entitled The War of the Rebellion. The usage of The War Between the States, as preferred by some reenactment and Southern heritage groups to this day, is based upon a Congressional resolution of the 1920's declaring this the proper designation for the war, in deference to those who asserted that the generic category of "civil war" did not apply to the events of 1861-65 in the United States. The War Between the States is also the name used on the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington.
The war had a host of unusual or biased monikers as well; usage of these terms today often signifies an affiliation with one side of the conflict or the other. Some preferred Southern names, in addition to The War Between the States, included The War of Northern Aggression, The War of Southern Independence, Mr. Lincoln's War, The War of Secession or, simply, The War; more obscure Southern terms include The Second American Revolution and The War in Defense of Virginia. A particular favorite in the immediate postwar South was The Late Unpleasantness. However, most of these names are not in common usage today, except among Southern nationalist, historical and cultural groups such as the League of the South (LS) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). Northerners were known to refer to the conflict as The War of the Rebellion (often seen on veterans' monuments in Massachusetts) or The War of Southern Rebellion, The War to Save the Union and The War for Abolition; these names are in even rarer modern use than their pro-Southern counterparts, due to comparatively lesser interest in Civil War heritage study in the North.
The international term 'American Civil War' is very rarely used in the United States.
The division of the country
Several states seceded right after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. They were South Carolina (December 20, 1860) Mississippi (January 9, 1861), Florida (January 10, 1861), Alabama (January 11, 1861), Georgia (January 19, 1861), Louisiana (January 26, 1861), and Texas (February 1, 1861). These Deep South States, where slavery and cotton plantation agriculture were most dominant, formed the Confederate States of America February 4, 1861, with Jefferson Davis as its President, and with a Constitution closely modeled on the U.S. Constitution (see also Confederate States Constitution). After the attack on Fort Sumter, 4 more states seceded. They were Virginia (April 17, 1861), Arkansas (May 6, 1861), Tennessee (May 7, 1861), and lastly, North Carolina (May 20, 1861).
Four "slave states" did not secede, and one seceding State split, and these are known as the Border States. Delaware never considered secession. The Maryland Legislature rejected secession (April 27, 1861), but only after the rioting in Baltimore and other events had prompted a federal declaration of martial law. Missouri and Kentucky remained in the Union, but in both, minorities organized "secessions", which were recognized by the Confederate States of America. In Missouri, the State government, dominated by Confederates, dissolved, with some officials forming a State government-in-exile in Confederate territory; the Union government of Missouri was organized by a constitutional convention, originally called to vote on secession. Although Kentucky did not secede, for a time, it declared itself neutral in the conflict, and southern sympathizers organized a secession convention, and swore in a Confederate Governor, during a brief sojurn by the Confederate Army. Unionists in Virginia organized the state of West Virginia from Virginia's northwestern counties, entering the Union in 1863.
Origins of the conflict
For details see the main article Origins of the American Civil War. See also the Timeline of events leading to the American Civil War.
The American Civil War originated in the lethal combination of ambiguities in the federalist structure laid down by the Constitution, with contention over federal slavery policy, a dispute which placed one region with a strong economic interest in slavery against the rest of the country, which had no such interest and harbored moral objections.
Contention over federal policy toward slavery was originally ignited by the country's adoption of an egalitarian ideology during the Revolution. It had been resolved in the Constitution, by a series of expedient compromises, leavened by a general conviction that slavery would gradually fade away, as reforms and gradual emancipation took hold, over future decades. Programs of gradual emancipation were adopted in most northern States, and a tradition of voluntary emancipation, coupled with the idea of sending freed slaves back to Africa, took hold in Virginia, Delaware and Maryland.
By 1820, however, skyrocketing demand for cotton, driven by the industrial revolution, made cotton plantations, and slavery, enormously profitable in the most southern States. The rise of what later became known as King Cotton interrupted the progress of gradual emancipation in the South, just as the same industrial revolution was driving vast economic and social change in the northern States, where slavery had ended or was ending. In the southern States, where slavery persisted and, indeed, burgeoned, and especially in those areas where cotton plantations were prevalent, a reactionary political interest in defending slavery as an institution, developed, after 1820. Liberal political philosophies and religious convictions regarding social progress combined, in the rest of the country, to produce a small, but vigorous antislavery movement committed to abolition, and a general opinion hostile to slavery.
In 1819, when a northern congressman suggested that Missouri enter the Union, committed to gradual emancipation of its slaves, a firestorm of controversy was ignited, which ended with the Missouri Compromise, admitting Missouri as a slave State, but forbidding slavery in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase territory, north of Missouri's southern boundary. The controversy served to illuminate the role of the Senate, where the number of Senators from slave States and free States was exactly balanced, in maintaining the interests of the pro-slavery forces, who were easily bested in the House of Representatives, which the more populous northern States dominated. The Missouri Compromise also admitted Maine as a State, to balance Missouri in the Senate.
The political structure, laid down by the U.S. Constitution, left ambiguous the relationship of the individual States to the Federal government. Although the Constitution declared the Federal government "supreme" within areas of Federal responsibility, it left the States almost entirely independent of the Federal government, and vice versa. The Federal government was not dependent on the States, fiscally, and, having its own employees and officials, operated as independently as the States. State governments were established by State constitutions, and the politics of their governance was only loosely related to the national politics of Federal governance.
Politicians with a secure political base at the State, but not the Federal (or "national") level, had an incentive to challenge Federal power with State power, and such controversies kept alive a thread of political thought, originating in Anti-Federalist opposition to ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which sought to circumscribe centralized, Federal power with local, State power. Many controversies, major and minor, in the early years of the Constitution, were framed as questions about the extent of Federal authority, granted but limited by the Constitution, and as conflicts between the Federal government and States, independently asserting their authority. In the 1820's, just as a nationalist Supreme Court, led by John Marshall and Joseph Story, was solidifying the legal precedents and legal opinions, undergirding the Nationalist interpretation of Federal supremacy, the States' Rights ideology, which argued for the independent power of the States and circumscription of the Federal government's authority, was adopted by John C. Calhoun, as he became the leader of the reactionary, pro-slavery forces.
In 1832, Calhoun precipitated the Nullification Crisis, in protest against the high rates of the Federal tariff. Calhoun prompted his own State of South Carolina, to assert a State power to "nullify" the Federal tariff, within its own bounds, which was met by President Jackson, threatening military enforcement of Federal law. The crisis was resolved by a revision of the tariff, but Calhoun succeeded in impressing southerners with the need for some power countervailing whatever majority controlled the Federal government, as well as the notion that "southern" interests could conflict with "northern" interests in a vital way. In subsequent years, "nullification" would fade as a doctrine, in favor of "secession": State action to withdraw the State entirely from Federal jurisdiction, that is, to "leave the Union". The threat of secession would be used by reactionary, pro-slavery forces as both a lever in national politics, to obtain concessions from a reluctant majority, and as an organizing principle for the project of creating an independent Southern Republic, where slavery would be secure.
The generation of politicians, who came to national prominence during and after the War of 1812, were nationalists, and inclined to devise compromises to hold the country together. The two political parties, which took shape in the aftermath of Andrew Jackson's rise to the Presidency were both national in scope and ambition, and helped to resolve regional differences in interest in favor of coherent national policies of compromise and cooperation. Slavery questions, with their strong regional cleavage, threatened both national political parties. Minor political parties, often with an antislavery agenda, emerged repeatedly in the 1840's and early 1850's, as both parties shed supporters over slavery questions.
After the Mexican War, interest in Western expansion exacerbated tensions over slavery. Southerners attempted to find additional areas in which to form slave States, to balance the prospect of additional free States in the West, but were frustrated. The admission of California as a free State, in the Compromise of 1850, pushed them toward desperation, while an onerous and unfair fugitive slave law, included in the same Compromise of 1850, alarmed antislavery activists. Pro-slavery interests appeared to gain effective control over the Democratic Party, while the Whig Party fell apart. The nationalist generation of politicians, of the War of 1812 -- men like Thomas Hart Benton, Henry Clay, Lewis Cass, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun -- left the political stage, with the Compromise of 1850. With the Whigs practically disbanded, the Democrats easily elected the President in 1852 and 1856, but the men they could nominate were weak northerners of few convictions and less ability. The lackluster presidencies of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan -- widely considered as two of the most unproductive presidents in United States history -- did little to cool the flames of war, which were beginning to flare up.
The Democratic Party's formula for a national consensus on slavery, adopted in the Presidential contest of 1848, was known as "popular sovereignty" and stated as a principle, the idea that the people of a territory organizing a new State should be free to democratically choose whether to institute slavery. In 1854, the Democrats, led by Senator Stephen Douglas, pushed through Congress, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, including a repeal of the Missouri Compromise, in order to give "popular sovereignty" a trial in Kansas. The competition to "capture" Kansas gave rise to an often violent conflict known as Bleeding Kansas, as well as a variety of fraudulent political maneuvers aimed at getting Kansas admitted with the pro-slavery Lecompton State constitution. The Democratic Party split when Senator Douglas opposed President Buchanan and the southern "Slavepower" (i.e. pro-slavery interest) in Congress, stopping the admission of Kansas as a slave State. Opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska policy of the Democrats, resulted in the formation of the Republican Party in 1855, on antislavery principles; the Republicans were quickly able to combine antislavery Democrats with the shards of various third parties and a great many former Whigs, outside of the South.
An attempt by a pro-slavery majority on the Supreme Court in 1857 to close the door on legal, antislavery agitation, in the case of Dred Scott only served to further alarm the Republicans. The antislavery rhetoric of the Republicans, in turn, further alarmed southerners, who demanded the "rights" granted them by the Supreme Court. A continuing series of dramatic incidents, including the caning of Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate and the raid by John Brown on Harper's Ferry, continued to inflame passions.
Frustrated in their attempts to bring in Kansas as a slave State, pro-slavery interests in Congress quietly opposed a number of measures related to western expansion, including free Homesteading, a trans-continental railroad and land subsidies to State colleges, which policies were wildly popular in the northern States. The inability of northern Democrats to deliver on these projects, despite the leadership of Stephen A. Douglas, weakened the northern Democratic party's credibility as the party of western expansion. The Republican Party united and campaigned on the single principle of opposition to further expansion of slavery, that is, formation of new Slave states in the Western territories, or the legalization of slavery in territories where it was illegal. By implication, the Republicans were opposed to the southern "Slavepower" political interest group, which had seemed to control the Democratic Party at critical moments in the 1840's and 1850's, and which was believed to be hindering popular measures related to western expansion. Thus, the Republican Party created a political alliance of those opposed to slavery on moral and ideological grounds with those enthusiastic about the project of building a modern industrial, continental nation.
The election campaign of 1860 developed into a four-way race, as the Democratic Party split, with one faction supporting Stephen A. Douglas, a fiercely nationalist Senator from Illinois and the author of both the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and another, predominantly southern faction, supporting John C. Breckinridge, Vice-President and later, a Kentucky Senator, and later still a Confederate Major General and Secretary of War. A conservative and aging remnant of the Whig Party formed as the Constitutional Union party, and tried to take no position on slavery. The Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln, a moderate opponent of slavery, but not an abolitionist.
In the northern States, the contest was mostly between Douglas and Lincoln, although President Buchanan's enmity toward Douglas led him to support Breckinridge, which divided the Democratic vote in some northern States. In the southern States, the contest was mostly between the Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell and Breckinridge. Lincoln did not personally campaign, as was customary, but Douglas, breaking with tradition, did. After the outcome became clear to Douglas, he campaigned in southern States, preaching and warning against disunion.
Lincoln won a majority of the Electoral College, with a plurality of the popular vote, by winning every free State, except New Jersey; Lincoln's Republican Party was not even on the ballot in most southern States. Although the emergence of a third party has affected the outcome in many other cases in U.S. Presidential electoral history, the presence of four parties in 1860, did not clearly determine the outcome; Lincoln won popular majorities in 15 States, enough to carry the Electoral College. Although last among the four in electoral votes, Stephan A. Douglas was second in the popular vote; the overwhelming majority supporting Bell, Douglas or Lincoln demonstrated the strong Unionist sentiment in the country as a whole.
Lincoln's victory in the presidential election of 1860 triggered South Carolina's secession from the Union. Leaders in the state had long been waiting for an event that might unite the South against the antislavery forces. Once the election returns were certain, a special South Carolina convention declared "that the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states under the name of the 'United States of America' is hereby dissolved." By February 1, 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 remaining southern states as yet remained in the Union.
Less than a month later, on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States. In his inaugural address, he refused to recognize the secession, considering it "legally void". His speech closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union. The South, particularly South Carolina, ignored the plea, and on April 12, the South 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 defend the country against the secessionist forces. Most Northerners believed that a quick brutal victory for the Union would put out the rebellion, and so Lincoln only called for volunteers for 90 days. This was an impetus for the rest of the Southern states to vote for secession. Once Virginia seceded, the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia.
Even though the Southern states had seceded, there was considerable anti-secessionist sentiment within several of 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 created the Anaconda Plan as the Union's main plan of attack during the war.
As a Confederate force was built up by July 1861 at Manassas, Virginia, 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, DC by Confederate troops under the command of Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. Alarmed at the loss, and in an attempt to prevent more slave states from leaving the Union, the United States 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 McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac on July 26 (he was briefly given supreme command of all the Union armies, but was subsequently relieved of that post in favor of Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck), and the war began in earnest in 1862. Ulysses S. Grant gave the Union its first victory of the war, by capturing Fort Henry, Tennessee on February 6 of that year.
McClellan reached the gates of Richmond in the spring of 1862, but Robert E. Lee defeated him in the Seven Days Campaign; he was stripped of many of his troops to help create John Pope's Union Army of Northern Virginia. Pope was beaten spectacularly by Lee at Second Bull Run in August. Emboldened, 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 at White's Ford near Leesburg, Virginia into Maryland on September 5. Lincoln then restored Pope's troops to McClellan. McClellan won a bloody, almost Pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862. Lee's army, checked at last, returned to Virginia.
Antietam is considered a Union victory because it halted Lee's invasion of the North. It is less a victory than a bloody standoff, however; McClellan possessed a copy of Lee's orders and had overwhelming superiority on the battlefield. McClellan talked loudly of possessing Lee's battle plans, and a Confederate sympathizer overheard and rushed news to Lee's camp.
When 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, and was in his turn replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker, too, proved unable to defeat Lee's army, and was relieved after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade, who stopped Lee's invasion of Union-held territory at what is sometimes considered the war's turning point, the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), inflicting 28,000 casualties on Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and again forcing it to retreat to Virginia.
While the Confederate forces had some success in the Eastern theater holding on to their capital, they failed in the West. Confederate forces were driven from Missouri early in the war as result of the Battle of Pea Ridge.
Nashville, Tennessee fell to the Union early in 1862. The Mississippi was opened, at least to Vicksburg, with the taking of Island No. 10 and New Madrid, Missouri and then Memphis, Tennessee. New Orleans, Louisiana was captured in January, 1862, allowing the Union forces to begin moving up the Mississippi as well.
The Union's key strategist and tactician was Ulysses S. Grant, who won victories at Fort Donelson, Battle of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, driving Confederate forces out of Tennessee. Grant understood the concept of total war and believed, along with Lincoln, that only the utter defeat of Confederate forces would bring an end to the war.
At the beginning of 1864, Grant was given command of all Union armies. He chose to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac although Meade remained the actual commander of that army. Union forces in the East attempted to maneuver past Lee and fought several battles during that phase of the Eastern campaign: the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor. An attempt to outflank Lee from the South failed under Generals Butler and Smith, who were 'corked' into the Bermuda Hundred river bend. Grant was tenacious and kept pressing the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee. He extended the Confederate army, pinning it down in the Siege of Petersburg and, after two failed attempts (under Siegel and Hunter), finally found a commander, Philip Sheridan, who could clear the threat to Washington DC from the Shenandoah Valley.
Meanwhile General William Tecumseh Sherman marched from Chattanoga on Atlanta and laid waste to much of the rest of Georgia after he left Atlanta and marched to the sea at Savannah. Burning towns and plantations as they went, Sherman's armies hauled off crops and killed livestock to retaliate and to demonstrate Union power. 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, and for the Confederacy.
Advantages widely believed to have contributed to the Union's success include:
Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House. Joseph E. Johnston, who commanded Confederate forces in North Carolina, surrendered his troops to Sherman shortly thereafter. The Battle of Palmito Ranch, fought on May 13, 1865, in the far south of Texas was the last land battle of the war and ended with a Confederate victory. All Confederate land forces had surrendered by June 1865. Confederate naval units surrendered as late as November of 1865.
Main article: Battles of the American Civil War
Major battles included First Bull Run, Second Bull Run, Battle of Shiloh, The Seven Days, Antietam, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and the Siege of Petersburg. There was the Atlanta Campaign, Red River Campaign, Missouri Campaign, and many coastal battles.
Military developments in the war
The American Civil War is often called the first total war because of its tremendous drain on the economies of the participants. It was the first war fought after the Industrial Revolution which tapped an entire economy of an emerging first world power. It was also the first war between two industrialized nations.
The repeating rifle was first used in large quantities during the American Civil War. The American Civil War was also the first war in which trenches were dug on a wide scale, such as in defense of Vicksburg or at Cold Harbor. Also a first in the American Civil War was use of machine guns in warfare. Rifled artillery was also first used heavily during the war. Land mines were also introduced during the American Civil War, but were initially rejected as being inhumane.
A naval battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia was the first battle in history between steam-powered, iron-armored ships with shell-firing guns called ironclad. The Union's naval blockade of the Confederate coast was one of the most ambitious up to that time, and was the first major blockade under the Declaration of Paris of 1856. The CSS Hunley, a Confederate submarine, was built during the war. It was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship, the USS Housatonic.
Railroads were first used at the first Battle of Manassas to transport troops into combat. Telegraphs were also used on a wide scale to communicate orders between a capital and an army. The concept of Total War was also worked out, particularly during General Sherman's famous March to the Sea.
Civil War leaders
Significant Southern leaders included Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, James Longstreet, P.G.T. Beauregard, John Mosby, Braxton Bragg, James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart, Judah P. Benjamin, and Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Northern leaders included Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward, Edwin M. Stanton, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George B. McClellan, Henry W. Halleck, Joseph Hooker, Ambrose Burnside, Irvin McDowell, Philip Sheridan, George Crook, George Armstrong Custer, Christopher "Kit" Carson, John E. Wool, George G. Meade, and Abner Read.
During the War, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was written to free all slaves held in territory under Confederate control at the time of the Proclamation. Lincoln knew that the South was not bound to obey. However, many slaves after hearing that President Lincoln had "freed" them, walked right off plantations for the North. The South had no way of stopping them with all of the men and most of the older boys off fighting. Many believe the Proclamation was a symbol that the war was now openly about slavery. Slaves were not freed in the remaining states and parts of the Confederacy until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by 3/4 of the states, which did not occur until December of 1865, 8 months after the end of the war. A good deal of ill will among the Southern survivors resulted from the resulting shift of political power to the North, the destruction inflicted on the South by the Union armies as the end of the war approached, and the Reconstruction program instituted in the South by the Union after the war's end.
According to data from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the last surviving Union veteran of the conflict, Albert Woolson, died on August 2, 1956 at the age of 109, and the last Confederate veteran, John Salling, died on March 16, 1958 at the age of 112. However, William Marvel investigated the claims of both for a 1991 piece in the Civil War history magazine Blue & Gray. Using census information, he found that Salling was born in 1858, far too late to have served in the Civil War. In fact, he concluded, "Every one of the last dozen recognized Confederates was bogus." He found Woolson to be the last true veteran of the Civil War on either side; he had served as a drummer boy late in the war.
Many of the Union military leaders, such as Sheridan, Sherman and Custer would take the concept of total war and apply it to the Indian Wars on the Great Plains, which resulted in ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.
Bitterness about the war continues 150 years after the end of the war, with heated political debates still occuring over the use of Confederate Flags in public life. Many Southern whites have bumper stickers that say "The South shall rise again".