American Civil War

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American Civil War
Date 1861-1865
Place Principally in the Southern United States; also in Eastern, Central and Southwestern regions
Result Defeat of seceding CSA
United States of America
(Flag of the USA)
Confederate States of America
(Flag of the CSA)
Abraham Lincoln Jefferson Davis
2,803,300 1,064,200

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

KIA: 74,500

Total dead: 198,500
Wounded: 137,000+

See also:
Battles of the American Civil War

The American Civil War (18611865) was fought in North America within the United States of America, between twenty-three mostly northern states of the Union and the Confederate States of America, a coalition of eleven southern states that declared their independence and claimed the right of secession from the Union in 1860-1861. The war claimed more American lives than any other conflict in history, with approximately 560,000 total killed (1.78% of population) and over 970,000 casualties (3.09% of population). The causes of the war, and even the name of the war itself, are still debated (see the article Naming the American Civil War).


The division of the country

Map of the division of the states during the Civil War.  Blue represents Union states, including those admitted during the war; light blue represents Union states which permitted slavery; red represents Confederate states. Unshaded areas were not states before or during the Civil War.
Map of the division of the states during the Civil War. Blue represents Union states, including those admitted during the war; light blue represents Union states which permitted slavery; red represents Confederate states. Unshaded areas were not states before or during the Civil War.

The Deep South

Seven states seceded shortly after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 – even before he was inaugurated:

These States of the Deep South, where slavery and cotton plantation agriculture 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 (see also: Confederate States Constitution). After the Battle of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Lincoln called for troops from all remaining states to recover the forts, resulting in the secession of four more states: Virginia (April 17, 1861), Arkansas (May 6, 1861), North Carolina (May 20, 1861), and Tennessee (June 8, 1861).

Border States

Main article: Border states (Civil War)

Along with the northwestern counties 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.

Delaware, which in the 1860 election had voted for Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, had few slaves and never considered secession. Maryland also voted for Breckinridge, and after rioting in Baltimore and other events had prompted a Federal declaration of martial law, its legislature rejected secession (April 27, 1861). Both Missouri and Kentucky remained in the Union, but factions within each state organized "secessions" that were recognized by the CSA.

In Missouri, the State government under Governor Claiborne F. Jackson, a southern sympathizer, evacuated the state capital of Jefferson City and met in-exile at the town of Neosho, Missouri, adopting a secession ordinance that was recognized by the Confederacy on October 30, 1861, while the Union organized a competing State government by calling a constitutional convention that had originally been convened to vote on secession. (See also: Missouri secession).

Map of territory claimed by the Confederacy
Map of territory claimed by the Confederacy

Although Kentucky did not secede, for a time it declared itself neutral. During a brief occupation by the Confederate Army, Southern sympathizers organized a secession convention, inaugurated a Confederate Governor, and gained recognition from the Confederacy.

Residents of the northwestern counties of Virginia organized a secession from Virginia, with a plan for gradual emancipation, 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 declarations of martial law by the Confederacy. Conversely, the southern half of the Federal Territory of New Mexico voted to secede, and was accepted into the Confederacy as the Territory of Arizona (see map below), with its capital in Mesilla (now part of New Mexico). Although the northern half of New Mexico never voted to secede, the Confederacy did lay claim to this territory and briefly occupied the territorial capital of Santa Fe between March 13 and April 8, 1862, but never organized a territorial government.

Origins of the conflict

Main articles: Origins of the American Civil War, Timeline of events
Slave "patrollers," mostly poor whites, were given the authority to stop, search, whip, maim, and even kill any slave who violated the slave codes. In their agitation against the South, abolitionists cited the slave codes as an example of the barbarism of Southern society. Above, a woodcut from the abolitionist Anti-Slavery Almanac (1839) depicts the capture of a fugitive slave by a slave patrol.
Slave "patrollers," mostly poor whites, were given the authority to stop, search, whip, maim, and even kill any slave who violated the slave codes. In their agitation against the South, abolitionists cited the slave codes as an example of the barbarism of Southern society. Above, a woodcut from the abolitionist Anti-Slavery Almanac (1839) depicts the capture of a fugitive slave by a slave patrol.

There had been a continuing contest between the states and the national government over the power of the latter, and over the loyalty of the citizenry, almost since the founding of the republic. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, for example, had defied the Alien and Sedition Acts, and at the Hartford Convention, New England voiced its opposition to President Madison and the War of 1812.

In 1828 and 1832 the Congress passed protective tariffs to benefit trade in the northern states. It was deemed a "Tariff of Abominations" and its provisions would have imposed a significant economic penalty on South Carolina and other southern states if left in force. South Carolina dealt with the tariffs by adopting the Ordinance of Nullification, which declared both the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void within state borders. The legislature also passed laws to enforce the ordinance, including authorization for raising a military force and appropriations for arms. In response to South Carolina's threat, Congress passed a "Force Bill" and President Andrew Jackson sent seven small naval vessels and a man-of-war to Charleston in November 1832. On December 10, he issued a resounding proclamation against the nullifiers.

On the eve of the Civil War, the United States was a nation composed of four quite distinct regions: the Northeast, with a growing industrial and commercial economy and an increasing density of population; the Northwest, now known as the Midwest, a rapidly expanding region of free farmers where slavery had been forever prohibited under the Northwest Ordinance; the Upper South, with a settled plantation system and (in some areas) declining economic fortunes; and the Southwest, a booming frontier-like region with an expanding cotton economy. With two fundamentally different labor systems at their base, the economic and social changes across the nation's geographical regions – based on wage labor in the North and on slavery in the South – underlay distinct visions of society that had emerged by the mid-nineteenth century in the North and in the South.

Before the Civil War, the Constitution provided a basis for peaceful debate over the future of government, and had been able to regulate conflicts of interest and conflicting visions for the new, rapidly expanding nation. For many years, compromises had been made to balance the number of "free states" and "slave states" so that there would be a balance in the Senate. The last slave state admitted was Texas in 1845, with five free states admitted between 1846 and 1859. The admission of Kansas as a slave state had recently been blocked, and it was due to enter as a free state instead in 1861. The rise of mass democracy in the industrializing North, the breakdown of the old two-party system, and increasingly virulent and hostile sectional ideologies in the mid-nineteenth century made it highly unlikely, if not impossible, to bring about the gentlemanly compromises of the past (such as the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850) necessary to avoid crisis. Also the existence of slave labor in the South made the Northern States the preferred destination for new immigrants from Europe resulting in an increasing dominance of the North in Congress and in Presidential elections, due to population size.

Sectional tensions changed in their nature and intensity rapidly during the 1850s. The United States Republican Party was established in 1854. The new party opposed the expansion of slavery in the Western territories. Although only a small share of Northerners favored measures to abolish slavery in the South, the Republicans were able to mobilize popular support among Northerners and Westerners who did not want to compete against slave labor if the system were expanded beyond the South. The Republicans won the support of many ex-Whigs and Northern ex-Democrats concerned about the South's disproportionate influence in the Senate, the Buchanan administration, and the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the profitability of cotton, or "King Cotton," as it was touted, solidified the South's dependence on the plantation system and its foundation: slave labor. A small class of slave barons, especially cotton planters, dominated the politics and society of the South.

Abraham Lincoln16th President (1861-1865)
Abraham Lincoln
16th President (1861-1865)

Southern secession was triggered by the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a moderate in his opposition to slavery. He pledged to do all he could to oppose the expansion of slavery into the territories (thus also preventing the admission of any additional slave states to the Union); but he also said the federal government did not have the power to abolish slavery in the states in which it already existed, and that he would enforce Fugitive Slave Laws. The southern states expected increasing hostility to their "peculiar institution"; not trusting Lincoln, and mindful that many other Republicans were intent on complete abolition of slavery. Lincoln had even encouraged abolitionists with his 1858 "House divided" speech[1], though that speech was also consistent with an eventual end of slavery achieved gradually and voluntarily with compensation to slave-owners and resettlement of former slaves.

In addition to Lincoln's presidential victory, the slave states had lost the balance of power in the Senate and were facing a future as a perpetual minority after decades of nearly continuous control of the presidency and the Congress. Southerners also felt they could no longer prevent protectionist tariffs such as the Morrill Tariff.

The Southern justification for a unilateral right to secede cited the doctrine of states' rights, which had been debated before with the 1798 Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, and the 1832 Nullification Crisis with regard to tariffs.

Before Lincoln took office, seven states seceded from the union, and attempted to establish an independent southern government, the Confederate States of America on February 9, 1861. They took control of federal forts and property within their boundaries, with little resistance from President Buchanan. Ironically, by seceding, the rebel states weakened any claim to the territories that were in dispute, canceled any obligation for the North to return fugitive slaves, and assured easy passage of many bills and amendments they had long opposed. The Civil War began when 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.

Narrative summary

Battles of the American Civil War by Theater, Year
Battles of the American Civil War by Theater, Year

Lincoln's victory in the presidential election of 1860 triggered South Carolina's secession from the Union. Lincoln was not even on the ballot in nine states in the South. Leaders in South Carolina had long been waiting for an event that might unite the South against the anti-slavery 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 pre-war peace conference of 1861 met at Washington, D.C. The remaining southern states as yet remained in the Union. Several seceding states seized federal forts within their boundaries; President Buchanan made no military response.

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 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, 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 recapture the forts and preserve the Union. Most Northerners believed that a quick brutal victory for the Union would crush the nascent rebellion, and so Lincoln only called for volunteers for 90 days. This resulted in four more states voting to secede. 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.

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.

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

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 13, 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), again forcing it to retreat to Virginia, never to launch a full-scale invasion of the North again.

Western Theater 1861–1863

While the Confederate forces had numerous successes in the Eastern theater, they crucially failed in the West. Confederate forces 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 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. New Orleans, Louisiana, was captured 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 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 in Georgia, near the Tennessee border, where Bragg, reinforced by the corps of James Longstreet (from Lee's army in the east), defeated Rosecrans despite the heroics of George Henry Thomas and forced him to retreat 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 Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, driving Confederate forces out of Tennessee.

Trans-Mississippi Theater 1861–1865

Though geographically isolated from the battles to the east, a number of military actions took place in the Trans-Mississippi theater, a region encompassing states and territories to the west of the Mississippi River. In 1861 Confederates launched a successful campaign into the territory of present day Arizona and New Mexico. Residents in the southern portions of this territory adopted a secession ordinance of their own and requested that Confederate forces stationed in nearby Texas assist them in removing Union forces still stationed there. The Confederate territory of Arizona was proclaimed by Col. John Baylor after victories at Mesilla, New Mexico, and the capture of several Union forces. Confederate troops were unsuccessful in attempts to press northward in the territory and withdrew from Arizona completely in 1862 as Union reinforcements arrived from California.

The Battle of Glorieta Pass was a small skirmish in terms of both numbers involved and losses (140 Federal, 190 Confederate). Yet the issues were large, and the battle decisive in resolving them. The Confederates might well have taken Fort Union and Denver had they not been stopped at Glorieta. As one Texan put it, "if it had not been for those devils from Pike's Peak, this country would have been ours".
This small battle smashed any possibility of the Confederacy taking New Mexico and the far west territories. In April, Union volunteers from California pushed the remaining Confederates out of present-day Arizona at the Battle of Picacho Pass. In the eastern part of the United States, the fighting dragged on for three more years, but in the Southwest the war was over. [2]

The Union mounted several attempts to capture the trans-Mississippi regions of Texas and Louisiana from 1862 until the war's end. With ports to the east under blockade or capture, Texas in particular became a blockade-running haven. Referred to as the "back door" of the Confederacy, Texas and western Louisiana continued to provide cotton crops that were transferred overland to Matamoros, Mexico, and shipped to Europe in exchange for supplies. Determined to close this trade, the Union mounted several invasion attempts of Texas, each of them unsuccessful. Confederate victories at Galveston, Texas, and the Battle of Sabine Pass repulsed invasion forces. The Union's disastrous Red River Campaign in western Louisiana, including a defeat at the Battle of Mansfield, effectively ended the Union's final invasion attempt of the region until the final fall of the Confederacy. Isolated from events in the east, the Civil War continued in the Trans-Mississippi theater for several months after Robert E. Lee's surrender. The last battle of the war occurred at Palmito Ranch in southern Texas—ironically a Confederate victory.

The End of the War 1864–1865

Jefferson DavisFirst and only President of the Confederate States of America
Jefferson Davis
First and only President of the Confederate States of America

At the beginning of 1864, Grant was promoted to lieutenant general and 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. He left 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. Therefore, scorched earth tactics would be required in some important theaters. He devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of Confederacy from multiple directions: Grant, Meade, and Benjamin Butler would move against Lee near Richmond; Franz Sigel would invade the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman would invade Georgia, defeat Joseph E. Johnston, and capture Atlanta; George Crook and William W. Averell would operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; and 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. He pinned down the Confederate army in the Siege of Petersburg, where the two armies engaged in trench warfare for over nine months.

After two failed attempts (under Sigel and David Hunter) to seize key points in the Shenandoah Valley, Grant finally found a commander, Philip Sheridan, aggressive enough to prevail in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Sheridan was sent in response to a raid by the aggressive Jubal Early, whose corps reached the outer defenses of Washington before withdrawing back to the Valley. Sheridan proved to be more than a match for Early, and defeated him in a series of battles, including a final decisive defeat at Cedar Creek, Sheridan then proceeded to destroy the agricultural and industrial base of the Valley, a strategy similar to the scorched-earth tactics Sherman would later employ in Georgia.

Meanwhile, Sherman marched from Chattanooga to Atlanta, Georgia, defeating 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. Leaving Atlanta, and his base of supplies, Sherman's army marched with an unclear destination, laying waste to much of the rest of Georgia in his celebrated "March to the Sea", and reaching the sea at Savannah, Georgia in December 1864. Burning towns and plantations as they went, Sherman's armies hauled off crops and killed livestock to retaliate and to deny use of these economic assets to the Confederacy, a consequence of Grant's scorched earth doctrine. 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.

Lee attempted to escape from the besieged Petersburg and link up with Johnston in North Carolina, but he was overtaken by Grant. He surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House. Johnston surrendered his troops to Sherman shortly thereafter at a local family's farmhouse in Durham, North Carolina. 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, ironically, with a Confederate victory. All Confederate land forces surrendered by June 1865. Confederate naval units surrendered as late as November 1865, with the last actions being attacks on private New England whaling ships by the CSS Shenandoah in the Bering Strait through June 28, 1865.

Analysis of the War

Why the Union prevailed (or why the Confederacy was defeated) in the Civil War has been a subject of extensive analysis and debate. Advantages widely believed to have contributed to the Union's success include:

  • The more industrialized economy of the North, which aided in the production of arms and munitions.
  • The Union significantly outnumbered the Confederacy.
  • Strong compatible railroad links between Union cities, which allowed for the relatively quick movement of troops. (It should be noted, however, that the Confederacy had more railroads per capita than any other country at the time.)
  • The Union's larger population and greater immigration during the war, allowing for a larger pool of potential conscripts.
  • The Union's possession of the U.S. merchant marine fleet and naval ships, which led to its successful blockade of Confederate ports.
  • The Union's more established government, which may have resulted in less infighting and a more streamlined conduct of the war.
  • The moral cause assigned to the war by the Emancipation Proclamation, which may have given the Union additional incentive to continue the war effort, and also may have encouraged international support.
  • The recruitment of African-Americans, including freed slaves, into the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.
  • The Confederacy's possible squandering of resources on early audacious conventional offensives and its failure to fully use its advantages in guerrilla warfare against Union communication and transportation infrastructure.
  • The Confederacy's failure to win military support from any foreign powers, mostly due to the Battle of Antietam, and the well-timed release of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Major land battles

For more details on this topic, see Battles of the American Civil War.

The ten costliest land battles, measured by casualties (killed, wounded, captured, and missing) were:

Battle (State) Dates Confederate
Union Commander Conf. Forces Union Forces Victor Casualties
Battle of Gettysburg


July 13, 1863 Robert E. Lee George G. Meade 75,000 82,289 Union 51,112
U: 23,049
C: 28,063
Battle of Chickamauga


September 1920, 1863 Braxton Bragg William Rosecrans 66,326 58,222 Conf. 34,624
U: 16,170
C: 18,454
Battle of Chancellorsville


May 14, 1863 Robert E. Lee Joseph Hooker 60,892 133,868 Conf. 30,099
U: 17,278
C: 12,821
Battle of Spotsylvania Court House


May 819, 1864 Robert E. Lee Ulysses S. Grant 50,000 83,000 Unknown 27,399
U: 18,399
C: 9,000
Battle of Antietam


September 17, 1862 Robert E. Lee George B. McClellan 51,844 75,316 Union 26,134
U: 12,410
C: 13,724
Battle of the Wilderness


May 57, 1864 Robert E. Lee Ulysses S. Grant 61,025 101,895 Unknown 25,416
U: 17,666
C: 7,750
Second Battle of Manassas


August 2930, 1862 Robert E. Lee John Pope 48,527 75,696 Conf. 25,251
U: 16,054
C: 9,197
Battle of Stones River


December 31, 1862 Braxton Bragg William S. Rosecrans 37,739 41,400 Union 24,645
U: 12,906
C: 11,739
Battle of Shiloh


April 67, 1862 Albert Sidney Johnston
P.G.T. Beauregard
Ulysses S. Grant 40,335 62,682 Union 23,741
U: 13,047
C: 10,694
Battle of Fort Donelson


February 1316, 1862 John B. Floyd
Simon B. Buckner
Ulysses S. Grant 21,000 27,000 Union 19,455
U: 2,832
C: 16,623
Dead soldiers lie where they fell on the field at Antietam
Dead soldiers lie where they fell on the field at Antietam

Other major land battles included First Bull Run, The Seven Days, Perryville, Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, the Siege of Petersburg, and the battles of Franklin and Nashville. There was also Jackson's Valley Campaign, the Atlanta Campaign, Red River Campaign, Missouri Campaign, Valley Campaigns of 1864, and many coastal and river battles.

Major naval battles

For more details on this topic, see Naval Battles of the American Civil War.

Major naval battles included Battle of Island Number Ten, Battle of Hampton Roads, Battle of Memphis, Battle of Drewry's Bluff, Battle of Fort Hindman, and Battle of Mobile Bay. In addition to this, a Union blockade of Confederate ports throughout the war managed to deny supplies to the CSA.

Civil War leaders and soldiers

One of the reasons that the US Civil War wore on as long as it did and the battles were so fierce was that most 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, where Lee had been commandant for 3 years in the 1850s.

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, John Bell Hood, James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart, William Mahone, Judah P. Benjamin, Jubal Early, and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Northern leaders included Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward, Edwin M. Stanton, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George H. Thomas, 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, Winfield Hancock, Elihu Washburne, Abner Read, and Robert Gould Shaw.

Five men who served as Union officers eventually became presidents of the United States: Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley.

After the war, the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization open to Union war veterans, was founded in 1866. Confederate veterans formed the United Confederate Veterans in 1889. In 1905, a campaign medal was authorized for all Civil War veterans, known as the Civil War Campaign Medal. 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.

Women were not allowed to fight — though some did fight in disguise. Clara Barton became a leader of the Union Nurses and was widely known as the "Angel of the Battlefield." She experienced the horror of 16 battles, helping behind the lines to heal the injured soldiers. Barton organized a relief program that helped to better distribute supplies to wounded soldiers of both the North and South. After 1980 scholarly attention turned to ordinary soldiers, and to women and African Americans.

The question of slavery

As slavery and constitutional questions concerning states' rights were widely viewed as the major causes of the war, the victorious Union government sought to end slavery and to guarantee a perpetual union that could never be broken.

During the early part of the war, Lincoln, to hold together his war coalition of Republicans and War Democrats, emphasized preservation of the Union as the sole Union objective of the war, but with the Emancipation Proclamation, announced in September 1862 and put into effect four months later, Lincoln adopted the abolition of slavery as a second mission. 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 had little initial effect but served to commit the United States to the goal of ending slavery. The proclamation would be put into practical effect in Confederate territory captured over the remainder of the war.

Foreign diplomacy

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 peel off increasing European support and force a turn away from neutrality.

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. 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. Ultimately, on March 17, 1862, Jefferson selected Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana as Secretary of State, who although having more international knowledge and legal experience with international slavery disputes still failed in the end 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.

As the war continued, in late 1862, the British considered initiating an attempt to mediate the conflict. However, the unclear result of the Battle of Antietam caused them to delay this decision. Additionally, the issuing of 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, ultimately, France's own concerns in Mexico deterred them from substantially antagonizing the Union. As the Confederacy's situation grew more and more tenuous and their pleas increasingly ignored, in November 1864 Jefferson sent Duncan F. Kenner to Europe to test whether a promised emancipation could lead to possible recognition. The proposal was strictly rejected by both Britain and France.


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

The border States of Missouri and Maryland moved during the course of the war to end slavery, and in December 1864, the Congress proposed the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, barring slavery throughout the United States; the 13th Amendment was fully ratified by the end of 1865. The 14th Amendment, defining citizenship and giving the Federal government broad power to require the States to provide equal protection of the laws was adopted in 1868. The 15th Amendment guaranteeing black men (but not women) the right to vote was ratified in 1870. The 14th and 15th Amendments reversed the effects of the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision of 1857, but the 14th Amendment, in particular, had unanticipated and far-reaching effects.

From the election of 1876 until the election of 1964, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas gave no electoral votes to the Republican Party, with South Carolina and Louisiana making an exception only once each. Most other states that had seceded voted overwhelmingly against Republican presidential nominees also, with the same trend predominantly applying in state elections too. This phenomenon was known as the Solid South. However, starting with the election of 1964, this trend has almost completely reversed, and most of the Southern states have now become Republican strongholds.

A good deal of ill will among the Southern survivors resulted from the persistent poverty in South, the 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. Bitterness about the war continued for decades. Some Southerners, particularly in the Deep South, maintain that the Confederacy fought for a just cause, while some Northerners continue to regard the south as backward. Southerners sometimes display confederate flags and other Confederate symbols to show sectional pride or defiance against northern preeminence. However, most people on both sides have moved on.


There have been over 50,000 books published about the Civil War. It is often cited as the single subject with the most number of books published in the United States.


  • Eicher, David J., The Civil War in Books: An Analytical Bibliography, University of Illinois, 1997, ISBN 0-252-02273-4

Histories and biographies

Novels about the war

See also

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