The American Civil War, also sometimes known as The War Between States, was the biggest American conflict in US soil and lasted from 1861 to 1865. The war was fought between the Northern States (the Union) and the Southern states (the Confederacy) and began on April 12, 1861, with the Confederate forces’ attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president.
The war was a result of the controversial and diverging opinions regarding slavery in America and was one of the defining moments of US history. It was the deadliest conflict in American land, with thousands killed and millions injured.
What caused the American Civil War
In the 19th Century, the economy of the South was heavily dependent on agriculture, and therefore the labor of enslaved black people. At the same time, in the North, abolitionist ideas grew steadily after the 1830s, which made the South fearful that the backbone of their economy, slavery, was in danger.
In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which effectively allowed slavery in all new territories of the United States. In a reaction to this, the North formed the Republican Party whose policies were founded on their opposition to slavery. This convinced southerners that the North was bent on destroying one of their oldest institutions.
Tensions rose when in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected as the first Republican President, resulting in seven states seceding from the United States.
The American Civil War
On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces staged an attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina and fired the first shots of the American Civil War. The federal forces that held the Fort surrendered and the Confederacy took control of it. After this, four more states seceded and joined the forces in South Carolina.
Even though the Confederacy was outnumbered by the 23 states that formed the Union, they had a strong military tradition and experience and were determined to protect their long-standing traditions, mainly slavery.
After the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, it became clear that this would not be a quick war as most people thought, and both sides had to call in for reinforcements.
September 17, 1862, saw the bloodiest day of the whole war during the Battle of Antietam. The Union Army of the Potomac attacked Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s forces and halted Confederate advances.
The Emancipation Proclamation
After the victory at Antietam, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863, freeing all slaves in the rebellious states. This resulted in the Confederacy losing the bulk of their labor forces, and 186,000 black soldiers joined the Union Army.
In July 1863 the Confederate forces lost sixty percent of their numbers after attempting to take Gettysburg and were forced to retreat to Virginia. This was the last invasion of the North by Southern forces.
After, the Siege of Vicksburg by Union general Ulysses S. Grant proved to be the turning point of the war.
The Union’s Victory
After the siege, Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to the Supreme Commander of the Union Army and General William Sherman began what would become known as the “March to the Sea”, capturing Georgia, Savannah, Columbia, and Charleston leaving the Confederacy almost completely defeated.
Robert E. Lee’s last attempt at victory happened with the attack on Fort Stedman, however, his forces were counterattacked and driven away, resulting in his capture by Union generals and subsequent surrendering on April 9, 1865, at the Battle of the Appomattox Court House effectively ending the American Civil War.
On April 14 Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed at Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth.
The Reconstruction Era
In the aftermath of the War, the Confederacy collapsed ad much of the South was left destroyed, mainly their transportation systems.
Slavery was abolished and 4 million slaves were freed, with black people being granted rights as American citizens after some amendments to the Constitution.
During the Reconstruction Era period, the country slowly regained its unity.