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A short history of the American Civil War

The American civil war was fought 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., The South), calling themselves the Confederate States of America or the "Confederacy". 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 is also known in the South as the War Between the States or (now half-humorously) as the War of Northern Aggression. More obscure or regional names were The War of Southern Independence, The Second American Revolution, and the War in Defence of Virginia. Northern sources after the War often referred to it as the War of the Rebellion.

The states which seceded consisted of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Several '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.

McClellan reached the gates of Richmond in the spring of 1862, but when 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 stratgist 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 Carolina.

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 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.

To learn more - use these online Internet resources


  • Artillery Units
  • Battles
  • Confederacy
  • Confederate Units
  • Memoirs
  • Navies
  • Prisons
  • Union Units
  • Women Soldiers

    • Cyndi's List   - Including over 72,500 Civil War links. Over 60,000 are categorized and cross-referenced in more than 120 categories.

    • The American Civil War Homepage   - The official National Park Service Civil War Web Site. Offers information on Parks, education, battlefield protection, soldiers and sailors, and African Americans in the Civil War.

    • American Civil War - Categorized links, general resources, documentary records, and state and local studies. Maintained by Dr. George H. Hoemann, University of Tennessee.
    • American Civil War - From the University of Northern Texas, this site was created with the intent of linking to as many primary documents from the period of the secession crisis as is reasonably possible, with the goal of shedding light on the causes of secession, hence of the war.
    • American Civil War - Includes flags, maps and timeline, casualties of the civil war, battles and statistics, women in the war, life stories and people search.
    • The American Civil War from 1861-1865 - Contains information and links about Lincoln, Lee, Grant, Gettysburg, Appomattox, Bull Run, Antietam, other battles and Civil War History.
    • American Civil War Home - Shotgun's Civil War site - including overviews of many different aspects of the war, biographies, battle summaries, photographs, selected official records, and Fox's Regimental losses.
    • 1860-1865 Signal Corps. Historical Overview
    • Astrocartography of the Secession of South Carolina - Essay on the astrocartography of the Civil War, focus on how the planetary metaphors of Mars and Pluto were reflected in this historic event, by astrocartographer Rob Couteau.
    • Battles and Leaders of the Civil War - Includes informational pages on many leaders and battles of the Civil War.
    • Bits of Blue and Gray: An American Civil War Notebook - The site honors both Union and Confederate Soldiers. It includes archives. letters. poetry,songs, and monthly columns.
    • Canadians in the American Civil War - Describes the involvement of Canadian citizens in the US Civil War (1861-65).
    • Casey's On-Line Virtual Civil War Archive - A virtual library of Civil War military histories, Union manuals and documents, includes links to other resources.
    • Civil War - A presentation of information about the battles and soldiers, in addition to a vast array of photographs and links.
    • Civil War - An online resource for Civil War information.
    • The Civil War - The American Battlefield Protection Program's site for Civil War Battlefields and related issues. On-line publications, features, publications to order, and links to National Civil War Parks.
    • Civil War Academy - Information about many aspects of the most bloody conflict in United States history.
    • Civil War Archive - A collection of American Civil War regimental histories, letters from home and diary excerpts.
    • Civil War at Smithsonian - Examines the Civil War through the Smithsonian Institutes extensive collections. It includes resources, a detailed timeline, and images with detailed descriptions.
    • Civil War Battles - Repository of information about Civil War battles, people, a timeline, and a summary.
    • Civil War Bookshelf - Trends in Civil War publishing, CW historiography, CW civic remembrance, and pop culture.
    • Civil War Chaplains - Description of qualifications and the role of Civil War chaplains, who shared every part of the soldiers' lives. Includes some photographs.
    • Civil War Continues - Dedicated to all who fought in the Civil War it includes music, photos, veterans, weapons, and time lines.
    • Civil War Defenses of Washington, D.C. - A historical overview of the fortifications that guarded Washington during the Civil War and their current condition.
    • A Civil War Haiku - A haiku verse by Melissa Whelan inspired by the American Civil War; an ode of homage to the valor of our most deadly conflict.
    • Civil War Heritage - Contains information about Confederate and Union Generals, and Rock Island Prison.
    • The Civil War Home Page - A collection of Civil War related links, photos, letters and diaries, documents, and battle reports.
    • The Civil War in Kentucky - Provides a listing of battles and skirmishes, forts and military camps, Heritage Trail events, an annotated list of books and resource links.
    • Civil War Index Page - Categorized links, includes archives, bibliographies, books and "Gateways" category. A list of Civil War links frequently updated and maintained by Prof. Jim Janke of Dakota State University.
    • Civil War Information - Civil War information including battles, events and people of the American Civil War.
    • Civil War Maps Collection - Library of Congress collection of reconnaissance, sketch, coastal, and theater-of-war maps depicting troop activities and fortifications.
    • Civil War Medicine - Covers medicine at the start of the war, medical technology, amputations, transport, and a bibliography.
    • Civil War Rosters - All States - A list of regimental roster links by state.
    • Civil War Search - A directory and a Civil War search based on Google custom search engine.
    • Civil War Signal Corps - Descriptions, manuals and photographs of the signal equipment and methods used during the American Civil War.
    • Civil War Slang - Civil War Slang for all "fresh fish" or "top rail skunks."
    • Civil War Slang - Listing of slang terms still used in today's language.
    • Civil War Soldier - Description of soldiers from each side, timeline of events and key dates, gallery of pictures, and other resources.
    • Civil War Story - Includes a wide range of civil war related material with over one hundred pages and photos.
    • Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society - Includes recruiting posters for New York City regiments of volunteers; stereographic views documenting the mustering of soldiers and of popular support for the Union in New York City; photography showing the war's impact, both in the north and south; and drawings and writings by ordinary soldiers on both sides.
    • Civil War Weapons - Descriptions and photos of Civil War weapons, including small arms, edged weapons, and artillery.
    • Civil War Zone - A collection of Civil War related biographies, documents, songs, chronology, battle orders, links, and recipes.
    • CJ's Civil War - A complete overlook of the War; including maps, indexes, statistics, flags, lists of battles, and photo gallery. Dedicated to the 13th W. Virginia.
    • Fort Craig - A southwestern fort and a Civil war Battlefield, where Confederate General Sibley fought Union General E.R.S. Canby. A New Mexico historical site.
    • George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War - The mission of the center is to promote scholarly research war through the development of a database that contains pertinent military, socio-economic and medical data on Union and Confederate servicemen, with initial emphasis on West Virginia's soldiers.
    • Great American History - Free educational material on the American Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, site provides an outline, library, and lesson plans.
    • Hispanics in America's Defense - History of Civil War units containing men of Spanish ancestry who fought for the Confederacy and the Union.
    • Historical Natural History: Insects and the Civil War - The fact that microbes caused more death than hostile fire is well known to the student of the American Civil War. This account reveals the influence of insects on soldiering during the Civil War.
    • The Historical New York Times Project - 1860-1866 - Digitized text for Civil War Years 1860-1866.
    • The History Education Homepage - Includes Civil War personalities, battles, and causes for the conflict.
    • The History Place - U.S. Civil War 1861-1865 - An easy-to-use American Civil War timeline with many original photographs and interesting quotes.
    • The Hospital Steward's Tent - A site for information about Civil War hospital stewards. Includes a list of Civil War medicines.
    • Intelligence in the American Civil War - The works of Edwin C. Fishel, a noted author in the area of intelligence, reveals covert operations, spies and intrigue gathered from his research on the role of intelligence in the Civil War.
    • Mason-Dixon Line Civil War Home Page - From authentic 19th century recipes, to medicine, well-researched period clothing and little-known Civil War facts, this web-site captures real life on the home and war-front.
    • Matts Civil War - Links about the American Civil War.
    • Mikes Civil War Artifacts - Relics of the Civil War. Site offers information about insignias of rank and branch of service, documents from the conflict, uniforms, and related collector information.
    • The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 - An illustrated account of five days of mayhem in July 1863, which included the lynching of eleven black men.
    • North Carolina Troops - Contains various Confederate and Federal regiments from the Civil War Period.
    • Photographic History of the Civil War - An etext of the 1912 10 volume edition, in PDF files of 50 page segments per volume. A rich collection of photographs, maps and memoirs of the great war.
    • RareMap Collection - American Civil War - Pictures of maps used in the conflict.
    • Religion in the Civil War: The Northern Side - Overview, online resources, and guidance for classroom discussion. On TeacherServe from the National Humanities Center.
    • Remembering The Civil War - A history of the war to preserve its memories.
    • Scots in the Civil War - The stories of men and women born in Scotland who fought in the American Civil War.
    • Storypath: A Nation Divided - A social studies curriculum unit in the Storypath series dealing with the Civil War, specifically the area around Chattanooga.
    • The United States Civil War - This site has information on the U.S. Civil War and the people in it, as well as some of the battles fought.
    • U.S. Army Military History Institute - Provides searchable databases of bibliographical and biographical holdings and unit histories; online access to document descriptions and photographs.
    • US Civil War Generals - A concise index to the generals who fought on both sides of the US Civil War, and has been specifically prepared for the Internet.
    • US Civil War: Internet Modern History Sourcebook - A series of historical primary on-line resources intended to serve the needs of teachers and students in college survey courses in American history.
    • US Civil War Online - Provides discussion forums, links, and information about the War Between The States
    • U.S. CivilWar Center - Site promotes the study of the American Civil War.
    • The Valley of the Shadow, Two Communities in the American Civil War - Hypermedia archive of thousands of primary sources. Follows two communities before, during, and after the American Civil War, Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania.
    • Virginia Civil War Battles - Virginia Civil War information including battles and the State flag history.
    • The War of the Rebellion in Cornell University's Making of America - Complete online text of the Official Records of the Civil War.
    • West Point Atlas - Follow the events of the Civil War with digital versions of maps created by the United States Military Academy's Department of History.
    • The Western Theater in the Civil War - Information about the Army of the Cumberland and George H. Thomas source page and the Army of Tennessee and Braxton Bragg source page.
    • Wikipedia: Origins of the Americal Civil War - Four-part article exploring the causes of the conflict.
    • A Year of Glory - A detailed account of the first twelve months of the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee, from his assumption of command on June 1, 1862, to the eve of the climactic battle at Gettysburg.

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