The American Civil War (1861-1865), also known by several other names, was a civil war between the United States of America (the “Union”) and the Southern slave states of the newly formed Confederate States of America under Jefferson Davis. The Union included all of the Free states and the five slaveholding Border States. The Union was led by Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party. The Republicans opposed the expansion of slavery into territories owned by the United States, and their victory in the presidential election of 1860 resulted in seven Southern states declaring their secession from the Union even before Lincoln initiated the American civil war which threatened the unity and integrity of United States of America.

The civil war was the deadliest in American history and it caused 620,000 soldier deaths and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. The victory in the war ended slavery in the United States and restored the Union by settling the issues of nullification and secession and strengthened the role of the federal government. The social, political, economic and racial issues of the war continue to shape contemporary American thought.



A strong correlation was shown between the degree of support for secession and the number of plantations in the region; states of the deep South which had the greatest concentration of plantations were the first to secede. The upper South slave states of Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee had fewer plantations and rejected secession until the Fort Sumter crisis forced them to choose sides. Border States had fewer plantations still and never seceded. The percentage of Southern whites living in families that owned slaves was 36.7 percent in the lower South, 25.3 percent in the upper South and 15.9 percent in the Border States that fought mostly for the Union. Ninety-five percent of blacks lived in the South, comprising one third of the population there as opposed to one percent of the population of the North. Consequently, fears of eventual emancipation were much greater in the South than in the North.

The Supreme Court decision of 1857 in Dred Scott v. Sandford added to the controversy. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s decision said that slaves were “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”, and that slavery could spread into the territories. Lincoln warned that “the next Dred Scott decision” could threaten Northern states with slavery.

Northern politician Abraham Lincoln said, “this question of Slavery was more important than any other; indeed, so much more important has it become that no other national question can even get a hearing just at present. “The slavery issue was related to sectional competition for control of the territories, and the Southern demand for a slave code for the territories was the issue used by Southern politicians to split the Democratic Party to two, which all but guaranteed the election of Lincoln and secession. When secession was an issue, South Carolina planter and state Senator John Townsend said the “our enemies are about to take possession of the Government, but they intend to rule us according to the caprices of their fanatical theories, and according to the declared purposes of abolishing slavery.” Similar opinions were expressed throughout the South in editorials, political speeches and declaration of reasons for secession. Even though Lincoln had no plans to outlaw slavery where it existed, Southerners throughout the South expressed fears for the future of slavery.

Southern concerns included not only economic loss but also fears of racial equality. The Texas Declaration of Causes for Secession said the non-slave-holding states were “proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or colour”. and that the African race “were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race”. Alabama secessionist E. S. Daragan said the emancipation would make Southerners feel “demoralized and degraded.

Bringing in the 1830s, the U. S. Postmaster General refused to allow mail which carried abolition pamphlets to the South Northern teachers suspected of any tinge of abolitionism were expelled from the South, and abolitionist literature was banned. Southerners rejected the denials of Republicans that they were abolitionists. John Brown’s said on the federal Harpers Ferry Armory greatly increased Southern fears of slave insurrections. The North felt threatened as well, for as Eric Foner concludes. “Northerners came to view slavery as the very antithesis of the good society, as well as a threat to their own fundamental values and interest.”


Southern Culture

Although only a small share of free southerners owned slaves, southerners, of all classes often defended the institutions of slavery-threatened by the rise of free labour abolitionist movements in the northern states-as the cornerstone of their social order.

Based on a system of plantation slavery, the social structure of the South was far more stratified and patriarchal than that of the North. In 1850, there were around 350,000 slaveholders in a total free southern population of about six million. Among slaveholders, the concentration of slave ownership was unevenly distributed.  Perhaps around seven percent of slaveholders owned roughly three-quarters of the slave population. The largest slaveholders, generally owners of large plantations, represented the top stratum of southern society. They benefited from economies of scale and needed large numbers of slaves on big plantations to produce profitable labour-intensive crops like cotton. This plantation-owing elite, known as, “slave magnates,” was comparable to the millionaires of the following century.

In the 1850s, as large plantation owner’s out-competed smaller farmers, more slaves were owned by fewer planters. Yet, while the proportion of the white population consisting of slaveholders was on the decline on the even of the Civil War perhaps filling below around a quarter of free southerners in 1860-poor whites and small farmers generally accepted the political leadership of the planter elite.

Several factors helped explain why slavery was not under serious threat of internal collapse from any moves for democratic change initiated from the South, First, given the opening of new territories in the West for white settlement, many non-slave owners also perceived a possibility that they, too, might own slaves at some point in their life.

Second, small free farmers in the South often embraced hysterical racism, making them unlikely agents for internal democratic reforms in the South. The principle of white supremacy, accepted by almost all white southerners of all classes, made slavery seem legitimate, natural, and essential for a civilized society. White racism in the South was sustained by official systems of repression such as the “slave codes” and elaborate codes of speech, behaviour and social practices illustrating the subordination of blacks to whites. For example, the “Slave patrols” were among the institutions bringing together southern whites of all classes in support of the prevailing economic and racial order. Serving as slave “patrollers” and overseers” offered white southerners positions of power and honour. these positions gave even poor white southerners the authority to stop, search, whip, maim, and even kill any slave travelling outside his or her plantation. Slave “patrollers” and “overseers” also won prestige in their communities. Policing and punishing blacks who transgressed the regimentation of slave society was a valued community service in the South, where the fear of free blacks threatening law and order figured heavily in the public discourse of the period.

Third, many small farmers with a few slaves and yeomen were linked to elite planters through the market economy in many areas, small farmers depended on local planter elites for access to cotton gins, for markets, for their feed and livestock, and for loans. Furthermore, whites of varying social castes, including poor whites and “plain folk” who worked outside or at least in the periphery of the market economy, mighty be linked to elite planters through extensive kinship networks. For example, a poor white person might be the cousin of the richest aristocrat of his county and share the same militant support of slavery as his richer relatives.

Thus, by the 1850s, Southern slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike felt increasingly encircled psychologically and politically in the national political arena because of the rise of free socialism and abolitionism in the Northern states. Increasingly dependent on the North for manufactured goods, for commercial services, and for loans, and increasingly cut off from the flourishing agricultural regions of the Northwest, they faced the prospects of a growing free labour and abolitionist movement in the North.



Antislavery movements in the North gained momentum in the 1830s and 1840s , a period of rapid transformation of Northern society that inspired a social and political reformism. Many of the reformers of the period, including abolitionists, attempted in one way or another to transform the lifestyle and work habits of labour, helping workers respond to the new demands of an industrializing, capitalizing society.

Antislavery, like many other reform movements of the period, was influenced by the legacy of the great Second Great Awakening, a period of religious revival in the new country stressing the reform of individuals which was still relatively fresh in the American memory. Thus, while the reform spirit of the period was expressed by a variety of movements with often-conflicting political goals, most reform movements shared a common feature in their emphasis on the Great Awakening principle of transforming the human personality through discipline, order, and restraint. “Abolitionist” had several meanings at the time. the followers of William Lloyd Garrison, including Wendell Phillips and Frederick, Douglass, demanded the “immediate abolition of slavery”, hence the name. A more pragmatic group of abolitionists like Theodore Weld and Arthur Tappan, wanted immediate action, but that action might well be a programme of gradual emancipation, with a long intermediate stage. “Antislavery men”, like John Qunicy Adams, did what they could to limit slavery and end it where possible, but were not part of any abolitionist group. For example, in 1841 Adams represented the Amistad African slaves in the Supreme Court of the United States and argued that they should be set free. In the last years before the war, “antislavery” could mean the Northern majority, like Abraham Lincoln, who opposed expansion of slavery or its influence, as by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, or the Fugitive Slave Act. Many Southerners called all these abolitionists, without distinguishing them from the Garrisonians. James McPherson explains the abolitionist’s deep beliefs: “All people were equal in God’s sight; the souls of black folks were as valuable as those of whites; for one of God’s children to enslave another was a violation of the Higher Law, even if it was sanctioned by the Constitution.

Stressing the Yankee Protestant ideals of self-improvements, industry, and thrift, most abolitionists-most notably William Lloyd Garrison-condemned slavery as a lack of control over one’s own destiny and the fruits of one’s labour.

Wendell Phillips, one of the most ardent abolitionists, attacked the Slave power  and pressed dissolution of union as early as 1845: “The experience of the fifty years Shows us the slaves trebling in numbers-slaveholders monopolizing the offices and descanting the policy of the Government-prostituting the strength and influence of the Nation to the support of slavery here and elsewhere-trampling on the rights of the free States, and making the courts of the country their tools. To continue this disastrous alliance longer is madness…. Why prolong the experiment?

Abolitionists also attacked slavery as a threat to the freedom of white Americans, Defining freedom as more than a simple jack of restraint, antebellum reformers held that the truly free man was one who imposed restraints upon himself. Thus, for the anti-slavery reformers of the 1830s and 1840s, the promise of free labour and upward social mobility (opportunities for advancement, rights to own property, and to control one’s own labour) was central to the ideal of reforming individuals.

Controversy over the so-called Ostend Manifesto-which proposed U.S. annexation of Cuba as a slave state-and the Fugitive Slave Act kept sectional tensions alive before the issue of slavery in the West could occupy the country’s politics in the mid to late 1850s

Antislavery sentiment among some groups in the North intensified after the Compromise of 1850, when Southerners began appearing in Northern states to pursue fugitives or often to claim as slaves free African Americans who had resided there for years. Meanwhile, some abolitionists openly sought to prevent enforcement of the law. Violation of the Fugitive Slave Act was often open and organized in Boston – a city from which it was boasted that no fugitive had ever been returned. Theodore Parker and other members of the city’s elite helped form mobs to prevent enforcement of the law as early as April 1851. A pattern of public resistance emerged in city after city, notably in Syracuse in 1851 (culminating in the Jerry Rescue incident late that year), and Boston again in 1854. But the issue did not lead to a crisis until revived by the same issue underlying the Missouri Compromise of 1820.


Origin of the American Civil War

The main explanation for the origins of the American Civil War was slavery, especially the issue of the expansion of slavery into the territories. States’ rights and the tariff issue became entangled in the slavery issue, and were intensified by it. Other important factors were party politics, expansionism, sectionalism, economics and modernization in the Antebellum Period.

The United States was a nation divided into two distinct regions separated by the Mason-Dixon line. New England, the Northeast and Midwest had a rapidly growing economy based on family farms, industry, mining, commerce and transportation, with a large and rapidly growing urban population and no slavery outside the Border States. Its growth was fed by a high birth rate and large numbers of European immigrants, especially Irish, German, Polish and Scandinavian.

The South was dominated by a settled plantation system based on slavery, with rapid growth taking place in the Southwest, such as Texas, based on high birth rates and low immigration from Europe. There were few cities or towns, and little manufacturing except in border areas. Slave owners controlled politics and economics. Two-thirds of the Southern whites owned no slaves and usually were engaged in subsist ring agriculture, but support for slavery came from all segments of southern society.

Overall, the Northern population was growing much more quickly than the Southern population, which made it increasingly difficult for the South to continue to control the national government. Southerners were worried about the relative political decline of their region because the North was growing much faster in terms of population and industrial output.

In the interest of maintaining unity, politicians had mostly moderated opposition to slavery, resulting in numerous compromise such as the Missouri Compromise of 1820. After the Mexican-American War, the issue of slavery in the new territories led to the compromise of 1850. While the compromised assisted an immediate political crisis, it did not permanently resolve the issue of the Slave power (the power of slaveholders to control the national government)

Amid the emergence of increasingly virulent and hostile sectional ideologies in national politics, the collapse of the old Second Party System in the 1850s hampered efforts of the politicians to reach yet one more compromise. The compromise that was reached (the Kansas-Nebraska Act) outraged too many northerners. to the 1850s with the rise of the Republican Party, the first major party with no appeal in the South, the industrializing North and agrarian Midwest became committed to the economic ethos of free-labour industrial capitalism.

Arguments that slavery was undesirable for the nation had long existed. After 1840 abolitionists’ denounced slavery as more than a social evil – it was a moral wrong Many Northerners, especially leaders of the new Republican Party, considered slavery a great national evil and believed that a small number of Southern owners of large plantations controlled the national government with the goal of spreading that evil.

In 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln, who won the national election without receiving a single electoral vote from any of the Southern states, triggered the secession of the cotton states of the Deep South from the union and their formation of the Confederate States of America.


Causes of the war

The coexistence of a slave owning South with an increasingly anti-slavery North made conflict inevitable. Lincoln did not propose federal laws against slavery it already existed, but he had, in his 1856 House Divided Speech, expressed a desire to “arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction”. Much of the political battle in the 1850s focused on the expansion on slavery into the newly created territories. all of the organized terrorizes were likely to become free soil states, which increased the Southern movement toward secession. Both North and South assumed that if slavery could not expand it would wither and die.

Southern fears of losing control of the federal governments to antislavery forces, and Northern fears that the slave power already controlled the government, brought the crisis to a head in the late 1850s. Sectional disagreements over the morality of slavery, the scope of democracy and the economic merits of free labour vs. slave plantations caused the Whig and “Know-Nothing” parties to collapse, and new ones to arise (the Free Soil Party in 1848, the Republicans in 1854, the Constitutional Union). In 1860, the last remaining national political party, the Democratic Party, split along sectional lines.

Both North and South were influenced by the ideas of Thomas Jefferson. Southerners emphasized, in connection with slavery, the states’ rights ideas mentioned in Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions. Northerners ranging from the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to the moderate Republican leader Abraham Lincoln emphasized Jefferson’s declaration that all men are created equal. Lincoln mentioned this proposition in the Gettysburg Address. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said that slavery was “the cornerstone of the Confederacy” after Southern states seceded. After Southern defeat, Stephens said that the war was not about slavery but states’ rights, and became one of the most ardent defenders of the Lost Cause.

All but one inter-regional crisis involved slavery, starting with debates on the three-fifths clause and a twenty year extension of the African Slave Trade in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. There was controversy over adding the slave state of Missouri to the Union that led to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Nullification Crisis over the Tariff of 1828 (although the tariff was low after 1846), the Gag rule that prevented discussion in Congress of petitions for ending slavery from 1835-1844, the acquisition of Texas as a slave state in 1845 and Manifest Destiny as an argument for gaining new territories where slavery would become an issue after the Mexican –American War (1846-1848) which resulted in the Compromise of 1850. The Wilmot Proviso was an attempt by Northern politicians to exclude slavery from the territories conquered from Mexico. The extremely popular antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe greatly increased Northern opposition the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

The 1854 Ostend Manifesto was a Southern attempt to take over Cuba as a slave state. Even rival plans for Northern vs. Southern routes for a transcontinental railroad became entangled in the Bleeding Kansas controversy over slavery. The Second Party Systems broke down after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in1854. This replaced the Missouri compromise ban on slavery with popular sovereignty. in 1856 Congressional arguments over slavery became violent when Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Radical Republican Senator Charles Sumner with a cane after Sumner’s “Crime against Kansas” speech. The Dred Scott Decision and Lecompton Constitution of 1857 were Southern attempts to admit Kansas to the Union as a slave state. The Lincoln Douglas debates of 1858, John Brown’s raid in 1859 and the split in the Democratic Party in 1860 polarized the nation between North and South. The election of Lincoln in 1860 was the final trigger for secession. During the secession crisis, many sought compromise. Two of these attempts were the “Corwin Amendment” and “Crittenden Compromise”. All attempts at compromise failed.

Other factors include sectionalism (caused by the growth of slavery in the deep South while slavery was gradually phased out in Northern states) and economic differences between North and South, although most modern historians disagree with the extreme economic determinism of historian Charles Beard. There was the polarizing effect of slavery that split the largest religious denominations (the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches) and controversy caused by the worst cruelties of slavery (whippings, mutilations and families split apart). The fact that seven immigrants out of eight settled in the North, plus the fact that twice as many whites left the South for the North as vice versa, contributed to the South’s defensive aggressive political behaviour.

Southern secession was triggered by the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln because regional leaders feared that he would stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course towards extinction. Many Southerners thought either Lincoln or another Northerner would abolish slavery, and that it was time to secede. The slave states, which had already become a minority in the House of Representatives, were now facing a future as a perpetual minority in the Senate and Electoral College against an increasingly powerful North.


Beginning of the war

Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election of 1860 triggered South Carolina’s declaration of secession from the Union. By February 1861, six more Southern states made similar declarations. On February 7, the seven states adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate State of America and established their temporary capital at Montgomery, Alabama. A pre-war February peace Conference of 1861 met in Washington in a failed attempt at resolving the crisis. The remaining eight slave state rejected pleas to join the Confederacy, Confederate forces seized most of the federal forts within their boundaries (they did not take Fort Sumter); President Buchanan protested but made no military response aside from a failed attempt to re-supply Fort Sumter Via the ship Star of the West (the ship was fired upon the Citadel cadets), and no serious military preparations. However, governors in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania quietly began buying weapons and training militia units.

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as President in his inaugural address, he argued that the Constitution was a more perfect union than the earlier Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, that if was a binding contract, and called any secession “legally void”. He stated he had no intent to invade Southern states, nor did he intend to end slavery where it existed, but that he would use force to maintain possession of federal property. His speech closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union.

The South sent delegations to Washington and offered to pay for the federal properties and enter into a peace treaty with the United States. Lincoln rejected any negotiations with Confederate agents on the grounds that the Confederacy was not a legitimate government, and that making any treaty with it would be tantamount to recognition of it as a sovereign government. However, Secretary of State William Sewand engaged in unauthorized and indirect negotiations that failed.

Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, Fort Monroe, Fort Pickens and Fort Taylor were the remaining Union-held forth in the Confederacy, and Lincoln was determined to hold Fort Sumter, Under orders from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, troops controlled by the Confederate government under P. G. T. Beauregard bombarded the fort with artillery on April 12, forcing the fort’s capitulation Northerners rallied behind Lincoln’s call for all of the states to send troops to recapture the forts and to preserve the Union with the scale of the rebellion apparently small so far, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for 90 days. For months before that, several Northern governors had discreetly readies their state militias; they began to move forces the next day.

Four states in the upper South (Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia), which had repeatedly rejected Confederate overtures, now refused to send forces against their neighbors, declared their secession, and joined the Confederacy. To reward Virginia, the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond. The city was the symbol of the Confederacy; if it fell, the new nation would lose legitimacy. Richmond was in a highly vulnerable location at the end of a tortuous Confederate supply line. Although Richmond was heavily fortified, supplies for the city would be reduced by Sherman’s capture of Atlanta and cut off almost entirely when Grant besieged Petersburg and its railroads that supplied the Southern capital.


End of the war 1864-1865

The army of the Union had its Headquarters in the Potomac and Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was the in commander of the army. 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. This was total war not in terms of killing civilians but rather in terms of destroying homes, farms and railroad tracks. Grant devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the entire Confederacy from multiple directions.

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 Grant’s battles of attrition at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbour resulted in heavy Union losses, but forced Lee’s Confederates to fall back again and again. 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 65,000 casualties in seven 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 defeated Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early in a series of battles, including a final decisive defeat at the Battle of cedar Sheridan then proceeded to destroy the agricultural base of the Shenandoah valley, a strategy similar to the tactics Sheraman later employed in Georgia.

Meanwhile, Sherman marched from Chattanooga to Atlanta defeating Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood along the way. The fall of Atlanta, on September 2, 1864, was a significant factor in the re-election of Lincoln as president. Hood left the Atlanta area to menace Sheraman’s supply lines and invade Tennessee in the Franklin Nashville Campaign. Union Maj. Gen John M. Schofield defeated Hood at the Battle of Franklin, and George H. Thomas dealt Hood a massive defeat at the Battle of Nashville, effectively destroying Hood’s army.

Laying waste to about 20% of the farms in Georgia in his “March to the Sea”, he reached the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah, Georgia in December 1864. Sherman’s army was followed by thousands of freed slaves; there were no major battles along the March. Sherman turned north through South Carolina and North Carolina to approach the Confederate Virginia from the south, increasing the pressure on Lee’s army.

Lee’s army, thinned by desertion and casualties, was now much smaller than Grant’s. Union forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, forcing Le to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond. The Confederate capital fell to the Union XXV Corps, composed of black troops. The remaining Confederate units fled west and after a defeat  at Sayler’s Creek, it became clear to Robert E. Lee that continued fighting against the United States was both tactically and logistically impossible.

Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House in an untraditional gesture and as a sign of Grant’s respect and anticipation of spoiling the Confederacy back into the Union with dignity and peace, Lee was permitted to keep his officer’s sabre and his horse, Traveller, Johnston surrendered his troops to Sherman on April 26, 1865, in Durham, North Carolina. on June 23, 1865, at Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nations’ area of the Oklahoma Territory, Stand Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union representatives, becoming the last confederate general in the field to stand down. the last confederated naval force to surrender was the CSS Shenandoah on November 4, 1865, in Liverpool, England.



Northern leaders agreed that victory would require more than end of fighting. it had to encompass the two war goals: Secession 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.

All slaves in the Confederacy were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation which stipulated that slaves in Confederate-held areas, but not in Border States or in Washington, D.C.., were free. Slaves in the Border States and Union-controlled parts of the South were freed by state action or by the Thirteenth Amendment although slavery effectively ended in the U.S. in the spring of 1865. The full restoration of the Union was the work of a highly contentious post-war era known the Reconstruction.

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 Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment, which extended federal legal protections equality to citizens regardless of race: and the Fifteenth Amendment, which abolished racial restrictions on voting.