American Civil War
|American Civil War|
Clockwise from top:
|United States (Union)||Confederate States (Confederacy)|
|Commanders and leaders|
Abraham Lincoln X|
Ulysses S. Grant
Robert E. Lee
|Casualties and losses|
|This article is part of a series on the|
|Post-Cold War Era||1991–2008|
The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865; also known by other names) was a civil war in the United States. It was fought between the Union[f] ("the North") and the Confederacy ("the South"), the latter formed by states that had seceded. The central cause of the war was the dispute over whether slavery would be permitted to expand into the western territories, leading to more slave states, or be prevented from doing so, which was widely believed would place slavery on a course of ultimate extinction.
Decades of political controversy over slavery were brought to a head by the victory in the 1860 U.S. presidential election of Abraham Lincoln, who opposed slavery's expansion into the western territories. An initial seven southern slave states responded to Lincoln's victory by seceding from the United States and, in February 1861, forming the Confederacy. The Confederacy seized U.S. forts and other federal assets within their borders. Led by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy asserted control over about a third of the U.S. population in eleven of the 34 U.S. states that then existed. Four years of intense combat, mostly in the South, ensued.
During 1861–1862 in the
A wave of Confederate surrenders followed. On April 14, just five days after Lee's surrender,
The Civil War is one of the most extensively studied and
Causes of secession
The causes behind Southern states' decision to secede were complex and have been historically controversial; most academic scholars identify slavery as the central cause of the war. The causes are further complicated by some
Disagreements among states about the future of slavery were the main cause of disunion and the war that followed. Slavery had been controversial during the framing of the Constitution, which, because of compromises, ended up with proslavery and antislavery features. The issue of slavery had confounded the nation since its inception and increasingly separated the United States into a slaveholding South and a free North. The issue was exacerbated by the rapid territorial expansion of the country, which repeatedly brought to the fore the question of whether new territory should be slaveholding or free. The issue had dominated politics for decades leading up to the war. Key attempts to resolve the matter included the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, but these only postponed the showdown over slavery that would lead to the Civil War.
The motivations of the average person were not necessarily those of their faction;
The abolitionists—those advocating the end of slavery—were active in the decades leading up to the Civil War. They traced their philosophical roots back to Puritans, who believed that slavery was morally wrong. One of the early Puritan writings on this subject was The Selling of Joseph, by Samuel Sewall in 1700. In it, Sewall condemned slavery and the slave trade and refuted many of the era's typical justifications for slavery.
The American Revolution and the cause of liberty added tremendous impetus to the abolitionist cause. Slavery, which had been around for thousands of years, was considered normal and was not a significant issue of public debate prior to the Revolution. The Revolution changed that and made it into an issue that had to be addressed. As a result, during and shortly after the Revolution, the Northern states quickly started outlawing slavery. Even in Southern states, laws were changed to limit slavery and facilitate manumission. The amount of indentured servitude dropped dramatically throughout the country. An Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves sailed through Congress with little opposition. President Thomas Jefferson supported it, and it went into effect on January 1, 1808, which was the first day that the Constitution (Article I, section 9, clause 1) permitted Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves. Benjamin Franklin and James Madison each helped found manumission societies. Influenced by the Revolution, many slave owners freed their slaves, but some, such as George Washington, did so only in their wills. The number of free black people as a proportion of the black population in the upper South increased from less than 1 percent to nearly 10 percent between 1790 and 1810 as a result of these actions.
The establishment of the Northwest Territory as "free soil"—no slavery—by Manasseh Cutler and Rufus Putnam (who both came from Puritan New England) would also prove crucial. This territory (which became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota) doubled the size of the United States.
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, abolitionists, such as
A more unusual abolitionist than those named above was Hinton Rowan Helper, whose 1857 book, The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It, "[e]ven more perhaps than Uncle Tom's Cabin ... fed the fires of sectional controversy leading up to the Civil War." A Southerner and a virulent racist, Helper was nevertheless an abolitionist because he believed, and showed with statistics, that slavery "impeded the progress and prosperity of the South, ... dwindled our commerce, and other similar pursuits, into the most contemptible insignificance; sunk a large majority of our people in galling poverty and ignorance, ... [and] entailed upon us a humiliating dependence on the Free States...."
By 1840 more than 15,000 people were members of abolitionist societies in the United States. Abolitionism in the United States became a popular expression of
Abolitionist sentiment was not strictly religious or moral in origin. The Whig Party became increasingly opposed to slavery because it saw it as inherently against the ideals of capitalism and the free market. Whig leader William H. Seward (who would serve as Lincoln's secretary of state) proclaimed that there was an "irrepressible conflict" between slavery and free labor, and that slavery had left the South backward and undeveloped. As the Whig party dissolved in the 1850s, the mantle of abolition fell to its newly formed successor, the Republican Party.
Manifest destiny heightened the conflict over slavery. Each new territory acquired had to face the thorny question of whether to allow or disallow the "peculiar institution". Between 1803 and 1854, the United States achieved a vast expansion of territory through purchase, negotiation, and conquest. At first, the new states carved out of these territories entering the union were apportioned equally between slave and free states. Pro- and anti-slavery forces collided over the territories west of the Mississippi River.
The Mexican–American War and its aftermath was a key territorial event in the leadup to the war. As the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo finalized the conquest of northern Mexico west to California in 1848, slaveholding interests looked forward to expanding into these lands and perhaps Cuba and Central America as well. Prophetically, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that "Mexico will poison us", referring to the ensuing divisions around whether the newly conquered lands would end up slave or free. Northern free-soil interests vigorously sought to curtail any further expansion of slave territory. The Compromise of 1850 over California balanced a free-soil state with a stronger federal fugitive slave law for a political settlement after four years of strife in the 1840s. But the states admitted following California were all free: Minnesota (1858), Oregon (1859), and Kansas (1861). In the Southern states, the question of the territorial expansion of slavery westward again became explosive. Both the South and the North drew the same conclusion: "The power to decide the question of slavery for the territories was the power to determine the future of slavery itself."
By 1860, four doctrines had emerged to answer the question of federal control in the territories, and they all claimed they were sanctioned by the Constitution, implicitly or explicitly. The first of these theories, represented by the Constitutional Union Party, argued that the Missouri Compromise apportionment of territory north for free soil and south for slavery should become a constitutional mandate. The failed Crittenden Compromise of 1860 was an expression of this view.
The second doctrine of congressional preeminence was championed by Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party. It insisted that the Constitution did not bind legislators to a policy of balance—that slavery could be excluded in a territory, as it was in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, at the discretion of Congress. Thus Congress could restrict human bondage, but never establish it. The ill-fated Wilmot Proviso announced this position in 1846. The Proviso was a pivotal moment in national politics, as it was the first time slavery had become a major congressional issue based on sectionalism, instead of party lines. Its support by Northern Democrats and Whigs, and opposition by Southerners, was a dark omen of coming divisions.
Senator Stephen A. Douglas proclaimed the third doctrine: territorial or "popular" sovereignty, which asserted that the settlers in a territory had the same rights as states in the Union to allow or disallow slavery as a purely local matter. The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 legislated this doctrine. In the Kansas Territory, political conflict spawned "Bleeding Kansas", a five-year paramilitary conflict between pro- and anti-slavery supporters. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to admit Kansas as a free state in early 1860, but its admission did not pass the Senate until January 1861, after the departure of Southern senators.
The fourth doctrine was advocated by Mississippi Senator (and soon to be Confederate President) Jefferson Davis. It was one of state sovereignty ("states' rights"), also known as the "Calhoun doctrine", named after the South Carolinian political theorist and statesman John C. Calhoun. Rejecting the arguments for federal authority or self-government, state sovereignty would empower states to promote the expansion of slavery as part of the federal union under the U.S. Constitution. These four doctrines comprised the dominant ideologies presented to the American public on the matters of slavery, the territories, and the U.S. Constitution before the 1860 presidential election.
A long-running dispute over the origin of the Civil War is to what extent states' rights triggered the conflict. The consensus among historians is that the Civil War was not fought about states' rights. But the issue is frequently referenced in popular accounts of the war and has much traction among Southerners. Southerners advocating secession argued that just as each state had decided to join the Union, a state had the right to secede—leave the Union—at any time. Northerners (including pro-slavery President Buchanan) rejected that notion as opposed to the will of the Founding Fathers, who said they were setting up a perpetual union.
Historian James McPherson points out that even if Confederates genuinely fought over states' rights, it boiled down to states' right to slavery. McPherson writes concerning states' rights and other non-slavery explanations:
While one or more of these interpretations remain popular among the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other Southern heritage groups, few professional historians now subscribe to them. Of all these interpretations, the states'-rights argument is perhaps the weakest. It fails to ask the question, states' rights for what purpose? States' rights, or sovereignty, was always more a means than an end, an instrument to achieve a certain goal more than a principle.
States' rights was an ideology formulated and applied as a means of advancing slave state interests through federal authority.
Historians have debated whether economic differences between the mainly industrial North and the mainly agricultural South helped cause the war. Most historians now disagree with the economic determinism of historian Charles A. Beard in the 1920s, and emphasize that Northern and Southern economies were largely complementary. While socially different, the sections economically benefited each other.
Owners of slaves preferred low-cost manual labor with no mechanization. Northern manufacturing interests supported tariffs and protectionism while Southern planters demanded free trade.
Nationalism and honor
Nationalism was a powerful force in the early 19th century, with famous spokesmen such as
Perceived insults to Southern collective honor included the enormous popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin and abolitionist John Brown's attempt to incite a slave rebellion in 1859.
While the South moved towards a Southern nationalism, leaders in the North were also becoming more nationally minded, and they rejected any notion of splitting the Union. The Republican national electoral platform of 1860 warned that Republicans regarded disunion as treason and would not tolerate it. The South ignored the warnings; Southerners did not realize how ardently the North would fight to hold the Union together.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 was the final trigger for secession. Southern leaders feared that Lincoln would stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course toward extinction. However, Lincoln would not be inaugurated until five months after the election, which gave the South time to secede and prepare for war in the winter and spring of 1861.
According to Lincoln, the American people had shown that they had been successful in establishing and administering a republic, but a third challenge faced the nation: maintaining a republic based on the people's vote, in the face of an attempt to destroy it.
Outbreak of the war
The election of Lincoln provoked the legislature of South Carolina to call a state convention to consider secession. Before the war, South Carolina did more than any other Southern state to advance the notion that a state had the right to nullify federal laws, and even to secede from the United States. The convention unanimously voted to secede on December 20, 1860, and adopted a secession declaration. It argued for states' rights for slave owners in the South, but contained a complaint about states' rights in the North in the form of opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act, claiming that Northern states were not fulfilling their federal obligations under the Constitution. The "cotton states" of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit, seceding in January and February 1861.
Among the ordinances of secession passed by the individual states, those of three—Texas, Alabama, and Virginia—specifically mentioned the plight of the "slaveholding states" at the hands of Northern abolitionists. The rest make no mention of the slavery issue and are often brief announcements of the dissolution of ties by the legislatures.
As Southerners resigned their seats in the Senate and the House, Republicans were able to pass projects that had been blocked by Southern senators before the war. These included the
In December 1860, the Crittenden Compromise was proposed to re-establish the Missouri Compromise line by constitutionally banning slavery in territories to the north of the line while guaranteeing it to the south. The adoption of this compromise likely would have prevented the secession of the Southern states, but Lincoln and the Republicans rejected it. Lincoln stated that any compromise that would extend slavery would in time bring down the Union. A pre-war February Peace Conference of 1861 met in Washington, proposing a solution similar to that of the Crittenden compromise; it was rejected by Congress. The Republicans proposed an alternative compromise to not interfere with slavery where it existed but the South regarded it as insufficient. Nonetheless, the remaining eight slave states rejected pleas to join the Confederacy following a two-to-one no-vote in Virginia's First Secessionist Convention on April 4, 1861.
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 it was a binding contract, and called any secession "legally void". He had no intent to invade Southern states, nor did he intend to end slavery where it existed, but said that he would use force to maintain possession of federal property, including forts, arsenals, mints, and customhouses that had been seized by the Southern states. The government would make no move to recover post offices, and if resisted, mail delivery would end at state lines. Where popular conditions did not allow peaceful enforcement of federal law, U.S. marshals and judges would be withdrawn. No mention was made of bullion lost from U.S. mints in Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina. He stated that it would be U.S. policy to only collect import duties at its ports; there could be no serious injury to the South to justify the armed revolution during his administration. His speech closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union, famously calling on "the mystic chords of memory" binding the two regions.
The Davis government of the new Confederacy sent three delegates to Washington to negotiate a peace treaty with the United States of America. Lincoln rejected any negotiations with Confederate agents because he claimed 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. Lincoln instead attempted to negotiate directly with the governors of individual seceded states, whose administrations he continued to recognize.
Complicating Lincoln's attempts to defuse the crisis were the actions of the new Secretary of State,
Battle of Fort Sumter
The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces opened fire on the Union-held Fort Sumter. Fort Sumter is located in the middle of the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Its status had been contentious for months. Outgoing President Buchanan had dithered in reinforcing the Union garrison in the harbor, which was under command of Major Robert Anderson. Anderson took matters into his own hands and on December 26, 1860, under the cover of darkness, sailed the garrison from the poorly placed Fort Moultrie to the stalwart island Fort Sumter. Anderson's actions catapulted him to hero status in the North. An attempt to resupply the fort on January 9, 1861, failed and nearly started the war then and there. But an informal truce held. On March 5, the newly sworn in Lincoln was informed that the Fort was running low on supplies.
Fort Sumter proved to be one of the main challenges of the new Lincoln administration. Back-channel dealing by Secretary of State Seward with the Confederates undermined Lincoln's decision-making; Seward wanted to pull out of the fort. But a firm hand by Lincoln tamed Seward, and Seward became one of Lincoln's staunchest allies. Lincoln ultimately decided that holding the fort, which would require reinforcing it, was the only workable option. Thus, on April 6, Lincoln informed the Governor of South Carolina that a ship with food but no ammunition would attempt to supply the Fort. Historian McPherson describes this win-win approach as "the first sign of the mastery that would mark Lincoln's presidency"; the Union would win if it could resupply and hold onto the Fort, and the South would be the aggressor if it opened fire on an unarmed ship supplying starving men. An April 9 Confederate cabinet meeting resulted in President Davis's ordering General P. G. T. Beauregard to take the Fort before supplies could reach it.
At 4:30 am on April 12, Confederate forces fired the first of 4,000 shells at the Fort; it fell the next day. The loss of Fort Sumter lit a patriotic fire under the North. On April 15, Lincoln called on the states to field 75,000 volunteer troops for 90 days; impassioned Union states met the quotas quickly. On May 3, 1861, Lincoln called for an additional 42,000 volunteers for a period of three years. Shortly after this, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina seceded and joined the Confederacy. To reward Virginia, the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond.
Attitude of the border states
Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky were slave states whose people had divided loyalties to Northern and Southern businesses and family members. Some men enlisted in the Union Army and others in the Confederate Army. West Virginia separated from Virginia and was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863.
Maryland's territory surrounded the United States' capital of
In Missouri, an
Kentucky did not secede; for a time, it declared itself neutral. When Confederate forces entered the state in September 1861, neutrality ended and the state reaffirmed its Union status while maintaining slavery. During a brief invasion by Confederate forces in 1861, Confederate sympathizers organized a secession convention, formed the shadow
After Virginia's secession, a Unionist government in Wheeling asked 48 counties to vote on an ordinance to create a new state on October 24, 1861. A voter turnout of 34 percent approved the statehood bill (96 percent approving). Twenty-four secessionist counties were included in the new state, and the ensuing guerrilla war engaged about 40,000 federal troops for much of the war. Congress admitted West Virginia to the Union on June 20, 1863. West Virginia provided about 20,000–22,000 soldiers to both the Confederacy and the Union.
A Unionist secession attempt occurred in East Tennessee, but was suppressed by the Confederacy, which arrested over 3,000 men suspected of being loyal to the Union. They were held without trial.
The Civil War was a contest marked by the ferocity and frequency of battle. Over four years, 237 named battles were fought, as were many more minor actions and skirmishes, which were often characterized by their bitter intensity and high casualties. In his book The American Civil War, British historian John Keegan writes that "The American Civil War was to prove one of the most ferocious wars ever fought". In many cases, without geographic objectives, the only target for each side was the enemy's soldier.
As the first seven states began organizing a Confederacy in Montgomery, the entire U.S. army numbered 16,000. However, Northern governors had begun to mobilize their militias. The Confederate Congress authorized the new nation up to 100,000 troops sent by governors as early as February. By May, Jefferson Davis was pushing for 100,000 soldiers for one year or the duration, and that was answered in kind by the U.S. Congress.
In the first year of the war, both sides had far more volunteers than they could effectively train and equip. After the initial enthusiasm faded, reliance on the cohort of young men who came of age every year and wanted to join was not enough. Both sides used a draft law—
In both the North and South, the draft laws were highly unpopular. In the North, some 120,000 men evaded conscription, many of them fleeing to Canada, and another 280,000 soldiers deserted during the war. At least 100,000 Southerners deserted, or about 10 percent; Southern desertion was high because, according to one historian writing in 1991, the highly localized Southern identity meant that many Southern men had little investment in the outcome of the war, with individual soldiers caring more about the fate of their local area than any grand ideal. In the North, "bounty jumpers" enlisted to get the generous bonus, deserted, then went back to a second recruiting station under a different name to sign up again for a second bonus; 141 were caught and executed.
From a tiny frontier force in 1860, the Union and Confederate armies had grown into the "largest and most efficient armies in the world" within a few years. Some European observers at the time dismissed them as amateur and unprofessional, but historian John Keegan concluded that each outmatched the French, Prussian, and Russian armies of the time, and without the Atlantic, would have threatened any of them with defeat.
At the start of the Civil War, a system of paroles operated. Captives agreed not to fight until they were officially exchanged. Meanwhile, they were held in camps run by their army. They were paid, but they were not allowed to perform any military duties. The system of exchanges collapsed in 1863 when the Confederacy refused to exchange black prisoners. After that, about 56,000 of the 409,000 POWs died in prisons during the war, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the conflict's fatalities.
Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor, served in the Union Army and was given the medal for her efforts to treat the wounded during the war. Her name was deleted from the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917 (along with over 900 other Medal of Honor recipients); however, it was restored in 1977.
The small U.S. Navy of 1861 was rapidly enlarged to 6,000 officers and 45,000 sailors in 1865, with 671 vessels, having a tonnage of 510,396. Its mission was to blockade Confederate ports, take control of the river system, defend against Confederate raiders on the high seas, and be ready for a possible war with the British Royal Navy. Meanwhile, the main riverine war was fought in the West, where a series of major rivers gave access to the Confederate heartland. The U.S. Navy eventually gained control of the Red, Tennessee, Cumberland, Mississippi, and Ohio rivers. In the East, the Navy shelled Confederate forts and provided support for coastal army operations.
The Civil War occurred during the early stages of the industrial revolution. Many naval innovations emerged during this time, most notably the advent of the ironclad warship. It began when the Confederacy, knowing they had to meet or match the Union's naval superiority, responded to the Union blockade by building or converting more than 130 vessels, including twenty-six ironclads and floating batteries. Only half of these saw active service. Many were equipped with ram bows, creating "ram fever" among Union squadrons wherever they threatened. But in the face of overwhelming Union superiority and the Union's ironclad warships, they were unsuccessful.
In addition to ocean-going warships coming up the Mississippi, the Union Navy used timberclads, tinclads, and armored gunboats. Shipyards at Cairo, Illinois, and St. Louis built new boats or modified steamboats for action.
The Confederacy experimented with the
By early 1861, General Winfield Scott had devised the Anaconda Plan to win the war with as little bloodshed as possible, which called for blockading the Confederacy and slowly suffocating the South to surrender. Lincoln adopted parts of the plan, but chose to prosecute a more active vision of war. In April 1861, Lincoln announced the Union blockade of all Southern ports; commercial ships could not get insurance and regular traffic ended. The South blundered in embargoing cotton exports in 1861 before the blockade was effective; by the time they realized the mistake, it was too late. "King Cotton" was dead, as the South could export less than 10 percent of its cotton. The blockade shut down the ten Confederate seaports with railheads that moved almost all the cotton, especially New Orleans, Mobile, and Charleston. By June 1861, warships were stationed off the principal Southern ports, and a year later nearly 300 ships were in service.
The Confederates began the war short on military supplies and in desperate need of large quantities of arms which the agrarian South could not provide. Arms manufactures in the industrial North were restricted by an arms embargo, keeping shipments of arms from going to the South, and ending all existing and future contracts. The Confederacy subsequently looked to foreign sources for their enormous military needs and sought out financiers and companies like S. Isaac, Campbell & Company and the London Armoury Company in Britain, who acted as purchasing agents for the Confederacy, connecting them with Britain's many arms manufactures, and ultimately becoming the Confederacy's main source of arms.
To get the arms safely to the Confederacy, British investors built small, fast, steam-driven blockade runners that traded arms and supplies brought in from Britain through Bermuda, Cuba, and the Bahamas in return for high-priced cotton. Many of the ships were lightweight and designed for speed and could only carry a relatively small amount of cotton back to England. When the Union Navy seized a blockade runner, the ship and cargo were condemned as a prize of war and sold, with the proceeds given to the Navy sailors; the captured crewmen were mostly British, and they were released.
The Southern economy nearly collapsed during the war. There were multiple reasons for this: the severe deterioration of food supplies, especially in cities, the failure of Southern railroads, the loss of control of the main rivers, foraging by Northern armies, and the seizure of animals and crops by Confederate armies. Most historians agree that the blockade was a major factor in ruining the Confederate economy; however, Wise argues that the blockade runners provided just enough of a lifeline to allow Lee to continue fighting for additional months, thanks to fresh supplies of 400,000 rifles, lead, blankets, and boots that the homefront economy could no longer supply.
Surdam argues that the blockade was a powerful weapon that eventually ruined the Southern economy, at the cost of few lives in combat. Practically, the entire Confederate cotton crop was useless (although it was sold to Union traders), costing the Confederacy its main source of income. Critical imports were scarce and the coastal trade was largely ended as well. The measure of the blockade's success was not the few ships that slipped through, but the thousands that never tried it. Merchant ships owned in Europe could not get insurance and were too slow to evade the blockade, so they stopped calling at Confederate ports.
To fight an offensive war, the Confederacy purchased arms in Britain and converted British-built ships into
Dinçaslan argues that another outcome of the blockade was oil's rise to prominence as a widely used and traded commodity. The already declining whale oil industry took a blow as many old whaling ships were used in blockade efforts such as the Stone Fleet, and Confederate raiders harassing Union whalers aggravated the situation. Oil products that had been treated mostly as lubricants, especially kerosene, started to replace whale oil used in lamps and essentially became a fuel commodity. This increased the importance of oil as a commodity, long before its eventual use as fuel for combustion engines.
Although the Confederacy hoped that Britain and France would join them against the Union, this was never likely, and so they instead tried to bring the British and French governments in as mediators. The Union, under Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward, worked to block this and threatened war if any country officially recognized the existence of the Confederate States of America. In 1861, Southerners voluntarily embargoed cotton shipments, hoping to start an economic depression in Europe that would force Britain to enter the war to get cotton, but this did not work. Worse, Europe turned to Egypt and India for cotton, which they found superior, hindering the South's recovery after the war.
Cotton diplomacy proved a failure as Europe had a surplus of cotton, while the 1860–62 crop failures in Europe made the North's grain exports of critical importance. It also helped to turn European opinion further away from the Confederacy. It was said that "King Corn was more powerful than King Cotton", as U.S. grain went from a quarter of the British import trade to almost half. Meanwhile, the war created employment for arms makers, ironworkers, and ships to transport weapons.
Lincoln's administration initially failed to appeal to European public opinion. At first, diplomats explained that the United States was not committed to the ending of slavery, and instead repeated legalistic arguments about the unconstitutionality of secession. Confederate representatives, on the other hand, started off much more successful, by ignoring slavery and instead focusing on their struggle for liberty, their commitment to free trade, and the essential role of cotton in the European economy. The European aristocracy was "absolutely gleeful in pronouncing the American debacle as proof that the entire experiment in popular government had failed. European government leaders welcomed the fragmentation of the ascendant American Republic." However, there was still a European public with liberal sensibilities, that the U.S. sought to appeal to by building connections with the international press. As early as 1861, many Union diplomats such as Carl Schurz realized emphasizing the war against slavery was the Union's most effective moral asset in the struggle for public opinion in Europe. Seward was concerned that an overly radical case for reunification would distress the European merchants with cotton interests; even so, Seward supported a widespread campaign of public diplomacy.
War loomed in late 1861 between the U.S. and Britain over the
The Union victory in the Battle of Antietam caused the British to delay this decision. The Emancipation Proclamation over time would reinforce the political liability of supporting the Confederacy. Realizing that Washington could not intervene in Mexico as long as the Confederacy controlled Texas, France invaded Mexico in 1861. Washington repeatedly protested France's violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Despite sympathy for the Confederacy, France's seizure of Mexico ultimately deterred it from war with the Union. Confederate offers late in the war to end slavery in return for diplomatic recognition were not seriously considered by London or Paris. After 1863, the Polish revolt against Russia further distracted the European powers and ensured that they would remain neutral.
Russia supported the Union, largely because it believed that the U.S. served as a counterbalance to its geopolitical rival, the United Kingdom. In 1863, the Russian Navy's Baltic and Pacific fleets wintered in the American ports of New York and San Francisco, respectively.
The Eastern theater refers to the military operations east of the Appalachian Mountains, including the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina.
- Army of the Potomac
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac on July 26, 1861 (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. The 1862 Union strategy called for simultaneous advances along four axes:
- McClellan would lead the main thrust in Virginia towards Richmond.
- Ohio forces would advance through Kentucky into Tennessee.
- The Missouri Department would drive south along the Mississippi River.
- The westernmost attack would originate from Kansas.
- Army of Northern Virginia
The primary Confederate force in the Eastern theater was the
When Virginia declared its secession in April 1861, Robert E. Lee chose to follow his home state, despite his desire for the country to remain intact and an offer of a senior Union command.
On July 4 at Harper's Ferry, Colonel
In one of the first highly visible battles, in July 1861, a march by Union troops under the command of
The Union had the upper hand at first, nearly pushing confederate forces holding a defensive position into a rout, but Confederate reinforcements under Joseph E. Johnston arrived from the Shenandoah Valley by railroad, and the course of the battle quickly changed. A brigade of Virginians under the relatively unknown brigadier general from the Virginia Military Institute, Thomas J. Jackson, stood its ground, which resulted in Jackson receiving his famous nickname, "Stonewall".
Upon the strong urging of President Lincoln to begin offensive operations, McClellan attacked Virginia in the spring of 1862 by way of the
Also in the spring of 1862, in the Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson led his
Johnston halted McClellan's advance at the Battle of Seven Pines, but he was wounded in the battle, and Robert E. Lee assumed his position of command. General Lee and top subordinates James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson defeated McClellan in the Seven Days Battles and forced his retreat.
Emboldened by Second Bull Run, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the North with the
When the cautious McClellan failed to follow up on Antietam, he was replaced by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Burnside was soon defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, when more than 12,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded during repeated futile frontal assaults against Marye's Heights. After the battle, Burnside was replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker.
Hooker, too, proved unable to defeat Lee's army; despite outnumbering the Confederates by more than two to one, his Chancellorsville Campaign proved ineffective and he was humiliated in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Chancellorsville is known as Lee's "perfect battle" because his risky decision to divide his army in the presence of a much larger enemy force resulted in a significant Confederate victory. Gen. Stonewall Jackson was shot in the arm by accidental friendly fire during the battle and subsequently died of complications. Lee famously said: "He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm."
The fiercest fighting of the battle—and the second bloodiest day of the Civil War—occurred on May 3 as Lee launched multiple attacks against the Union position at Chancellorsville. That same day, John Sedgwick advanced across the Rappahannock River, defeated the small Confederate force at Marye's Heights in the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, and then moved to the west. The Confederates fought a successful delaying action at the Battle of Salem Church.
Gen. Hooker was replaced by Maj. Gen.
The Western theater refers to military operations between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, including the states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee, as well as parts of Louisiana.
- Army of the Tennessee and Army of the Cumberland
The primary Union forces in the Western theater were the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Cumberland, named for the two rivers, the Tennessee River and Cumberland River. After Meade's inconclusive fall campaign, Lincoln turned to the Western Theater for new leadership. At the same time, the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg surrendered, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River, permanently isolating the western Confederacy, and producing the new leader Lincoln needed, Ulysses S. Grant.
- Army of Tennessee
The primary Confederate force in the Western theater was the Army of Tennessee. The army was formed on November 20, 1862, when General Braxton Bragg renamed the former Army of Mississippi. While the Confederate forces had numerous successes in the Eastern Theater, they were defeated many times in the West.
The Union's key strategist and tactician in the West was Ulysses S. Grant, who won victories at Forts Henry (February 6, 1862) and Donelson (February 11 to 16, 1862), earning him the nickname of "Unconditional Surrender" Grant, by which the Union seized control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Nathan Bedford Forrest rallied nearly 4,000 Confederate troops and led them to escape across the Cumberland. Nashville and central Tennessee thus fell to the Union, leading to attrition of local food supplies and livestock and a breakdown in social organization.
At the Battle of Shiloh, in Shiloh, Tennessee in April 1862, the Confederates made a surprise attack that pushed Union forces against the river as night fell. Overnight, the Navy landed additional reinforcements, and Grant counter-attacked. Grant and the Union won a decisive victory—the first battle with the high casualty rates that would repeat over and over. The Confederates lost Albert Sidney Johnston, considered their finest general before the emergence of Lee.
One of the early Union objectives in the war was the capture of the Mississippi River, to cut the Confederacy in half. The Mississippi River was opened to Union traffic to the southern border of Tennessee with the taking of Island No. 10 and New Madrid, Missouri, and then Memphis, Tennessee.
In April 1862, the
Bragg's second invasion of Kentucky in the Confederate Heartland Offensive included initial successes such as Kirby Smith's triumph at the Battle of Richmond and the capture of the Kentucky capital of Frankfort on September 3, 1862. However, the campaign ended with a meaningless victory over Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell at the Battle of Perryville. Bragg was forced to end his attempt at invading Kentucky and retreat due to lack of logistical support and lack of infantry recruits for the Confederacy in that state.
Bragg was narrowly defeated by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans at the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee, the culmination of the Stones River Campaign.
Naval forces assisted Grant in the long, complex
The one clear Confederate victory in the West was the
Rosecrans retreated to
The Trans-Mississippi theater refers to military operations west of the Mississippi River, encompassing most of Missouri, Arkansas, most of Louisiana, and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Trans-Mississippi District was formed by the Confederate Army to better coordinate
The first battle of the Trans-Mississippi theater was the Battle of Wilson's Creek (August 1861). The Confederates were driven from Missouri early in the war as a result of the Battle of Pea Ridge.
Extensive guerrilla warfare characterized the trans-Mississippi region, as the Confederacy lacked the troops and the logistics to support regular armies that could challenge Union control. Roving Confederate bands such as Quantrill's Raiders terrorized the countryside, striking both military installations and civilian settlements. The "Sons of Liberty" and "Order of the American Knights" attacked pro-Union people, elected officeholders, and unarmed uniformed soldiers. These partisans could not be entirely driven out of the state of Missouri until an entire regular Union infantry division was engaged. By 1864, these violent activities harmed the nationwide anti-war movement organizing against the re-election of Lincoln. Missouri not only stayed in the Union but Lincoln took 70 percent of the vote for re-election.
Numerous small-scale military actions south and west of Missouri sought to control
After the fall of
Lower Seaboard theater
The Lower Seaboard theater refers to military and naval operations that occurred near the coastal areas of the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) as well as the southern part of the Mississippi River (Port Hudson and south). Union Naval activities were dictated by the Anaconda Plan.
One of the earliest battles of the war was fought at
Fort Pulaski on the Georgia coast was an early target for the Union navy. Following the capture of Port Royal, an expedition was organized with engineer troops under the command of Captain Quincy A. Gillmore, forcing a Confederate surrender. The Union army occupied the fort for the rest of the war after repairing it.
In April 1862, a Union naval task force commanded by Commander
The following year, the Union
Several small skirmishes were fought in Florida, but no major battles. The biggest was the Battle of Olustee in early 1864.
Pacific Coast theater
The Pacific Coast theater refers to military operations on the Pacific Ocean and in the states and Territories west of the Continental Divide.
Conquest of Virginia
At the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made Grant commander of all Union armies. Grant made his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac and put Maj. Gen.