The American Civil War
in the United States of America between the northern states, popularly
referred to as the "Union", and the seceding southern states (in the U.S.,
), calling themselves the Confederate States of America or the
"Confederacy" between 1861 and 1865. There is considerable debate about
causes that may have motivated the states to war, such as state's rights
with respect to the federal government, taxation, and imbalance of trade.
But there is no question that the salient issue in the minds of the public
and popular press of the time, and the histories written since, was the
issue of slavery. Slavery had been abolished in most northern states, but
was legal and important to the economy of the Confederacy, which depended
on cheap agricultural labor.
The war was and is also known in the South as The War Between the
States, The War of Northern Aggression, The War of Southern
Independence, or simply as The War. More obscure southern names
for the war include The Second American Revolution and The War
in Defence of Virginia. Northerners often referred to it as The
War of the Rebellion, The War to Save the Union, or The War
The states which seceded consisted of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia,
Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas
and Virginia. Three 'slave states' did not secede: Delaware, Maryland,
and Kentucky. Although Kentucky did not secede, it declared itself neutral
in the conflict. Delaware and Maryland were garrisoned by Union forces
throughout the war to prevent their secession. Missouri's government split,
with a Unionist government in the capitol and a secessionist government-in-exile
run from Camden, Arkansas and Marshall, Texas. The state of West Virginia
was created by the secession from Virginia of its northwestern counties,
and added to the Union in 1863.
The Union was led by President Abraham Lincoln and the Confederacy by
President Jefferson Davis.
It started with Lincoln's victory in the presidential election of 1860,
which made South Carolina's secession from the Union a foregone conclusion.
The state had long been waiting for an event that would 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. 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. But the South turned
deaf ears, and on April 12, guns opened fire on the federal troops stationed
at Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor.
A near-immediate march by Union troops on the Confederate capital of
Richmond, Virginia, was halted in the battle of First Bull Run, whereupon
they were forced back to Washington, DC by Confederate troops under the
command of Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston. Major General
George McClellan took control of the Union Army of the Potomac (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 when
Robert E. Lee defeated him in the Seven Days Campaign, he was relieved
of command of the Army of the Potomac. His successor, John Pope, was beaten
spectacularly by Lee at Second Bull Run in August. Lincoln then restored
McClellan, who won a bloody, almost Pyhrric victory at the Battle of Antietam
near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862. Lee's army, checked at
last, returned to Virginia.
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 Fredricksburg, and was replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker,
too, proved unable to defeat the enemy, and was relieved after the Battle
of Chancellorsville in May 1863. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade,
who again checked Lee on an invasion of Union-held territory at 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 its namesake state.
While the Confederate forces had some success in the Eastern theater
holding on to their capital, fortune did not smile upon them in the West.
Confederate forces were driven from Missouri early in the war, holding
that key strategic state for the Union.
Nashville, Tennessee fell early in 1862. The Mississippi was opened
up to Vicksburg with the taking of Island No. 10 and New Madrid, Missouri
and then Memphis, Tennessee. New Orleans 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, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Chattanooga,
Tennessee, driving Confederate forces out of Tennessee. Grant understood
the concept of total war and realized, 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 control of all the 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 faced
stalemate at the battle of the Wilderness and took large numbers of casualties
at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor but Grant was tenacious and kept pressing
the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee. He slowly
ground down the Confederate armies; he laid siege to their forces in the
siege of Petersburg while General William Tecumseh Sherman marched on Atlanta
and laid waste to much of the rest of Georgia and parts of South and North
The war ended in 1865 with the surrender of Confederate forces. Lee
surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on 9 April 1865 at Appomattox
Court house. Joseph E Johnston, who was in charge of the Army of Tennessee
in North Carolina, surrendered his troops to Sherman shortly thereafter.
The last Conferdate land forces surrendered by June 1865. Confederate naval
units surrendered as late as November of 1865.
Major battles included First Bull Run, Second Bull Run, Shiloh, The
Seven Days, Antietam, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and the siege of Petersburg.
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. The Union's naval blockade of the Confederate coast was one of the
most ambitious of its kind up to that time, and was the first major blockade
under the Declaration of Paris of 1856.
Significant Southern military leaders included Robert E Lee, Thomas
Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, and P.G.T. Beauregard. Northern leaders
included Ulysses Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and George Meade
This war ended with the emancipation of all slaves held in the Confederate
States. Slaves were not freed in the remaining states until the passage
of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution by 3/4 of the states, which
did not occur until December of 1865, 8 months after the end of the war.
A great deal of ill-will among the Southern survivors resulted from the
total warfare practiced during the war by the Union armies and the "reconstruction"
program forced on the former Confederacy by the Union victors.
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.