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American Civil War: About

US Civil War

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Civil War, 1861-1865

The Civil War in the United States began in 1861, after decades of simmering tensions between northern and southern states over slavery, states’ rights and westward expansion. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 caused seven southern states to secede and form the Confederate States of America; four more states soon joined them. The War Between the States, as the Civil War was also known, ended in Confederate surrender in 1865. The conflict was the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American soil, with some 620,000 of 2.4 million soldiers killed, millions more injured and much of the South left in ruin.

In the mid-19th century, while the United States was experiencing an era of tremendous growth, a fundamental economic difference existed between the country’s northern and southern regions. In the North, manufacturing and industry was well established, and agriculture was mostly limited to small-scale farms, while the South’s economy was based on a system of large-scale farming that depended on the labor of Black enslaved people to grow certain crops, especially cotton and tobacco.

Growing abolitionist sentiment in the North after the 1830s and northern opposition to slavery’s extension into the new western territories led many southerners to fear that the existence of slavery in America—and thus the backbone of their economy—was in danger. In 1854, the U.S. Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which essentially opened all new territories to slavery by asserting the rule of popular sovereignty over congressional edict. Pro- and anti-slavery forces struggled violently in “Bleeding Kansas,” while opposition to the act in the North led to the formation of the Republican Party, a new political entity based on the principle of opposing slavery’s extension into the western territories. After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case (1857) confirmed the legality of slavery in the territories, the abolitionist John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 convinced more and more southerners that their northern neighbors were bent on the destruction of the “peculiar institution” that sustained them. Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 was the final straw, and within three months seven southern states–South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas–had seceded from the United States.

Even as Lincoln took office in March 1861, Confederate forces threatened the federal-held Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. On April 12, after Lincoln ordered a fleet to resupply Sumter, Confederate artillery fired the first shots of the Civil War. Sumter’s commander, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered after less than two days of bombardment, leaving the fort in the hands of Confederate forces under Pierre G.T. Beauregard. Four more southern states–Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee –joined the Confederacy after Fort Sumter. Border slave states like Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland did not secede, but there was much Confederate sympathy among their citizens.

Though on the surface the Civil War may have seemed a lopsided conflict, with the 23 states of the Union enjoying an enormous advantage in population, manufacturing (including arms production) and railroad construction, the Confederates had a strong military tradition, along with some of the best soldiers and commanders in the nation. They also had a cause they believed in: preserving their long-held traditions and institutions, chief among these being slavery.

In the First Battle of Bull Run (known in the South as First Manassas) on July 21, 1861, 35,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson forced a greater number of Union forces (or Federals) to retreat towards Washington, D.C., dashing any hopes of a quick Union victory and leading Lincoln to call for 500,000 more recruits. In fact, both sides’ initial call for troops had to be widened after it became clear that the war would not be a limited or short conflict. Continue reading from History Channel

From Our Collection

Link to Robert E. Lee and me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule in the Catalog
Link to LIFE Explores The Civil War: On the Front Lines in Freading
A Sin By Any Other Name by Robert W. Lee in the Catalog
Link to The War That Forged A Nation by James McPherson in the Catalog
Link to The Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant in the Catalog
Link to Crooked Path To Abolition by James Oakes in the Catalog
Link to
Link to Civil War Medicine edited by Robert Hicks in Freading
Link to Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era by Joseph Fry in the Catalog
Link to Inventing Equality: Reconstructing the Constitution in the Aftermath of the Civil War by Michael Bellesiles in the Catalog
Link to LIFE Explores The Civil War: Generals in the Field in Freading
Link to Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War by S.C. Gwynne in the Catalog
Link to The Zealot and the Emancipator by H.W. Brands in the Catalog
Link to The Second Founding by Eric Foner in the Catalog
Link to The Three-Cornered War by Megan Kate Nelson in the Catalog
Link to How The South Won The Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson in the Catalog
Link to A Diary From Dixie by Mary Boykin Chesnut in Freading
Link to Bill O'Reilly's Legends & Lies: The Civil War by David Fisher in the Catalog
Link to Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times by David S. Reynolds in the Catalog
Link to Recollectinos of a Civil War Medical Cadet by Burt Green Wilder in Freading
Link to
Link to The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known by Paul Taylor in Freading
Link to Confederate General Stephen Elliott by Michael Thomas in Freading
Link to James Riley Weaver's Civil War: The Diary of a Union Cavalry Officer and Prisoner of War, 1863-1865 edited by John Schlotterbeck in Freading
Link to Rebels in the Making by William Barney in the Catalog
Link to At the Forefront of Lee's Invasion by Robert Wynstra in Freading
Link to Lincoln's Spies by Douglas Waller in the Catalog
Link to Our Little Monitor by Anna Gibson Holloway in Freading
Link to All the Powers of Earth by Sidney Blumenthal in the Catalog
Link to A Worse Place Than Hell by John Matteson in the Catalog
Link to Every Drop of Blood by Edward Achorn in the Catalog
Link to Grant's Tomb by Louis Picone in the Catalog
Link to Congress At War by Fergus M. Bordewich in the Catalog
Link to The Lincoln Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch in the Catalog
Link to Civil War Barons by Jeffrey D Wert in the Catalog
Link to The Civil War: The Final Year Told By Those Who Lived It edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean in the Catalog
Link to Lincoln's Lieutenants by Stephen W. Sears in the Catalog
Link to Women's War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War by Stephanie McCurry in the Catalog
Link to Thaddeus Stevens by Brue Levine in the Catalog
Link to Stanton by Walter Stahr in the Catalog
Link to The Great Partnership by Christian Keller in the Catalog

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