Battles of Fredericksburg and Wyse Fork.
Augusto Rodriguez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico when the island was still a Spanish possession. He
immigrated to the United States in the 1850s. The 1860 census of New Haven, Connecticut, shows there were 10
Puerto Ricans living there, among them Augusto Rodriguez, who resided in Columbus Ave.
During the 1800s, commerce existed between the ports of the eastern coast of the United States and Puerto Rico.
Ship records show that many Puerto Ricans traveled on ships that sailed from and to U.S. and Puerto Rico. Many of
them settled in places such as New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Upon the outbreak of the American Civil
War, many Puerto Ricans joined the ranks of military armed forces, however since Puerto Ricans were Spanish
subjects they were inscribed as Spaniards.
In 1862, Rodriguez volunteered and joined the 15th Connecticut Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, also
known as the “Lyon Regiment” in honor of Nathaniel Lyon the first general officer killed in the U.S. Civil War,
organized August 25, 1862 at New Haven. The Regiment left Connecticut for Washington, D.C., on August 28 and
was attached to Casey’s Provisional Brigade, Military District of Washington, serving in the defenses of Washington
until September 17, 1862.
From December 1-6, the 15th Connecticut Regiment marched to Fredericksburg, Virginia and was assigned to the
2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac commanded by Major Maj. General Ambrose E.
Burnside. Lieutenant Rodriguez led his men in the Battle of Fredericksburg, which was fought against General
Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia from December 12-15. The battle resulted in a disastrous
defeat for General Burnside and the Union Army. Burnside attempted to make an offensive movement on January
20, 1863, in which Lt. Rodriguez and the men of the 15th Connecticut Regiment were involved. However, the
offensive, which became known as the “Mud March“, was aborted because of constant rain.
On March 1865, Lt. Rodriguez and the 15th Connecticut Regiment were assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division,
District of Beaufort, N. C., Dept. North Carolina. From March 8-10, Lt. Rodriguez once more led his men combat in
the Battle of Wyse Fork, a confrontation against a Confederate army being gathered under Confederate General
Joseph E. Johnston and Union troops under the command of Major General John M. Schofield. The final outcome of
the battle resulted in a Union victory.
The 15th Connecticut Regiment was assigned to provost duty as part of the garrison upon the occupation of Kinston,
North Carolina by Union forces. They performed this duty until June 6th, when it was ordered to New Bern, North
The regiment was mustered out in June 27, 1865 and Rodriguez was discharged in New Haven on July 12, 1865.
Little is known about what became of Lt. Rodriguez, except that as a civilian he became a firefighter in New Haven,
plus the records show that he was also a proprietor of a cigar store, a bartender and saloon keeper.
The American Civil War (1861–1865), often referred to simply as The Civil War in the United States, was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (“the Confederacy”); the other 25 states supported the federal government (“the Union“). After four years of warfare, mostly within the Southern states, the Confederacy surrendered and slavery was outlawed everywhere in the nation. Issues that led to war were partially resolved in the Reconstruction Era that followed, though others remained unresolved.
In the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, had campaigned against expanding slavery beyond the states in which it already existed. The Republicans strongly advocated nationalism, and in their 1860 platform they denounced threats of disunion as avowals of treason. After a Republican victory, but before the new administration took office on March 4, 1861, seven cotton states declared their secession and joined to form the Confederate States of America. Both the outgoing administration of President James Buchanan and the incoming administration rejected the legality of secession, considering it rebellion. The other eight slave states rejected calls for secession at this point. No country in the world recognized the Confederacy.
Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each state to recapture federal property, which led to declarations of secession by four more slave states. Both sides raised armies as the Union seized control of the border states early in the war and established a naval blockade. Land warfare in the East was inconclusive in 1861–62, as the Confederacy beat back Union efforts to capture its capital, Richmond, Virginia, notably during the Peninsular Campaign. In September 1862, the Confederate campaign in Maryland ended in defeat at the Battle of Antietam, which dissuaded the British from intervening. Days after that battle, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal.
In 1863, Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s northward advance ended in defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg. To the west, the Union gained control of the Mississippi River after the Battle of Shiloh and Siege of Vicksburg, splitting the Confederacy in two and destroying much of their western army. Due to his western successes, Ulysses S. Grant was given command of the eastern army in 1864, and organized the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan and others to attack the Confederacy from all directions, increasing the North’s advantage in manpower. Grant restructured the union army, and put other generals in command of divisions of the army that were to support his push into Virginia. He fought several battles of attrition against Lee through the Overland Campaign to seize Richmond, though in the face of fierce resistance he altered his plans and led the Siege of Petersburg which nearly finished off the rest of Lee’s army. Meanwhile, Sherman capturedAtlanta and marched to the sea, destroying Confederate infrastructure along the way. When the Confederate attempt to defend Petersburg failed, the Confederate army retreated but was pursued and defeated, which resulted in Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The American Civil War was one of the earliest true industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. The practices of total war, developed by Sherman in Georgia, and of trench warfare around Petersburg foreshadowed World War I in Europe. It remains the deadliest war in American history, resulting in the deaths of 620,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. Historian John Huddleston estimates the death toll at ten percent of all Northern males 20–45 years old, and 30 percent of all Southern white males aged 18–40. Victory for the North meant the end of the Confederacy and of slavery in the United States, and strengthened the role of the federal government. The social, political, economic and racial issues of the war decisively shaped the reconstruction era that lasted to 1877.
Causes of secession
The causes of the Civil War were complex, and have been controversial since the war began. The issue has been further complicated by historical revisionists, who have tried to improve the image of the South by lessening the role of slavery. Slavery was the central source of escalating political tension in the 1850s. The Republican Party was determined to prevent any spread of slavery, and many Southern leaders had threatened secession if the Republican candidate, Lincoln, won the 1860 election. Following Lincoln’s victory, many Southern whites felt that disunion had become their only option.
While not all Southerners saw themselves as fighting to preserve slavery, most of the officers and over a third of the rank and file in Lee’s army had close family ties to slavery. To Northerners, in contrast, the motivation was primarily to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln consistently made preserving the Union the central goal of the war, though he increasingly saw slavery as a crucial issue and made ending it an additional goal. Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation angered both Peace Democrats (“Copperheads”) and War Democrats, but energized most Republicans. By warning that free blacks would flood the North, Democrats made gains in the 1862 elections, but they did not gain control of Congress. The Republicans’ counterargument that slavery was the mainstay of the enemy steadily gained support, with the Democrats crushed at the 1863 elections in Ohio when they tried to resurrect anti-black sentiment.
The slavery issue addressed not only the well-being of the slaves (although abolitionists raised the issue) but also the question of whether slavery was an anachronistic evil that was incompatible with American values or a profitable economic system protected by the Constitution. All sides agreed slavery exhausted the land and had to find new lands to survive. The strategy of the anti-slavery forces was to stop the expansion and thus put slavery on a path to gradual extinction.
To the South this strategy made Southerners second-class citizens and trampled their Constitutional rights. The anti-slavery movement in the United States had roots in the Declaration of Independence. Slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
By 1804 all the Northern states (states north of the Mason-Dixon line) had passed laws to abolish slavery gradually. Congress in 1807 banned the international slave trade. Slavery faded in the border states and urban areas but expanded in highly profitable cotton states of the Deep South.
Despite compromises in 1820 and 1850, the slavery issues exploded in the 1850s. The new Republican Party angered slavery interests by demanding the end to its expansion. The Republican idea was that without expansion slavery would eventually die out (as it did in other nations).Abraham Lincoln, for example, in his 1858 House Divided Speech, called for America 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 of slavery into the newly created territories. Eric Foner notes that both North and South assumed that if slavery could not expand, it would wither and die. Lincoln in 1845 explained how slavery could die a natural death: “we should never knowingly lend ourselves directly or indirectly, to prevent that slavery from dying a natural death — to find new places for it to live in, when it can no longer exist in the old.” With tobacco and cotton wearing out the soil so fast, the South needed to expand to new lands, and many wanted to reopen the international slave trade.
Southern fears of losing control of the federal government to antislavery forces, and Northern resentment of the influence that the Slave Poweralready wielded in government, brought the crisis to a head in the late 1850s. Disagreements between Abolitionists and others over the morality of slavery, the scope of democracy and the economic merits of free labor versus 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). In 1860, the last national political party, the Democratic Party, split along sectional lines.
Northerners ranging from the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to the moderate Republican leader Lincoln stressed Jefferson’s declaration that all men are created equal. Lincoln mentioned this proposition many times, including his 1863 Gettysburg Address.
Almost all the inter-regional crises 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. The 1793 invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney increased by fiftyfold the quantity of cotton that could be processed in a day and greatly increased the demand for slave labor in the South. There was controversy over adding the slave state of Missouri to the Union that led to the Missouri Compromise of 1820. A gag rule prevented discussion in Congress of petitions for ending slavery from 1835–1844, while Manifest Destiny became an argument for gaining new territories, where slavery could expand. The acquisition of Texas as a slave state in 1845 along with territories won as a result of the Mexican–American War (1846–1848) 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 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe greatly increased Northern opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
John Brown being adored by an enslaved mother and child as he walks to his execution on December 2, 1859.
The 1854 Ostend Manifesto was an unsuccessful Southern attempt to annex Cuba as a slave state. The Second Party System broke down after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which replaced the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery with popular sovereignty, allowing the people of a territory to vote for or against slavery. The Bleeding Kansas controversy over the status of slavery in the Kansas Territory included massive vote fraud perpetrated by Missouri pro-slavery Border Ruffians. Vote fraud led pro-South Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchananto attempt to admit Kansas as a slave state. Buchanan supported the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution.
Violence over the status of slavery in Kansas erupted with the Wakarusa War, the Sacking of Lawrence, the caning of Republican Charles Sumner by the Southerner Preston Brooks, the Pottawatomie Massacre, the Battle of Black Jack, the Battle of Osawatomie and theMarais des Cygnes massacre. The 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision allowed slavery in the territories even where the majority opposed slavery, including Kansas.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 included Northern Democratic leader Stephen A. Douglas‘ Freeport Doctrine. This doctrine was an argument for thwarting the Dred Scott decision that, along with Douglas’ defeat of the Lecompton Constitution, divided the Democratic Party between North and South. Northern abolitionist John Brown‘s raid at Harpers Ferry Armory was an attempt to incite slave insurrections in 1859. The North-South split in the Democratic Party in 1860 due to the Southern demand for a slave code for the territories completed polarization of the nation between North and South.
James Hopkinson’s Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63.
Scars of whipped slave. This famous 1863 photo was distributed by abolitionists to illustrate what they saw as the barbarism of Southern society. The victim likely suffered from keloid, according to Kathleen Collins, making the scars more prominent and extensive.
Support for secession was strongly correlated to 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.
As of 1860 the percentage of Southern families that owned slaves has been estimated to be 43 percent in the lower South, 36 percent in the upper South and 22 percent in the border states that fought mostly for the Union. Half the owners had one to four slaves. A total of 8000 planters owned 50 or more slaves in 1850 and only 1800 planters owned 100 or more; of the latter, 85% lived in the lower South, as opposed to one percent in the border states. According to the 1860 U.S. census, 393,975 individuals, representing 8 percent of all US families, owned 3,950,528 slaves.
Ninety-five percent of African-Americans lived in the South, comprising one third of the population there as opposed to one percent of the population of the North, chiefly in larger cities like New York and Philadelphia. 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 escalated 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”. Taney then overturned the Missouri Compromise, which banned slavery in territory north of the 36°30′ parallel. He stated, “[T]he Act of Congress which prohibited a citizen from holding and owning [enslaved persons] in the territory of the United States north of the line therein is not warranted by the Constitution and is therefore void.”
Southern Democrats praised the Dred Scott decision, but Republicans branded it a “willful perversion” of the Constitution. They argued that if Scott could not legally file suit, the Supreme Court had no right to consider the Missouri Compromise’s constitutionality. Lincoln warned that “the next Dred Scott decision” could threaten Northern states with slavery.
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 in 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 that, “our enemies are about to take possession of the Government, that 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 declarations of reasons for secession. Even though Lincoln had no plans to outlaw slavery where it existed, whites 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 that the non-slave-holding states were “proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color”, and that the African race “were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race”. Alabama secessionist E. S. Dargan warned that whites and free blacks could not live together; if slaves were emancipated and remained in the South, “we ourselves would become the executioners of our own slaves. To this extent would the policy of our Northern enemies drive us; and thus would we not only be reduced to poverty, but what is still worse, we should be driven to crime, to the commission of sin.”
Beginning in the 1830s, the US 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. 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 interests.”
During the 1850s, slaves left the border states through sale, manumission and escape, and border states also had more free African-Americans and European immigrants than the lower South, which increased Southern fears that slavery was threatened with rapid extinction in this area. Such fears greatly increased Southern efforts to make Kansas a slave state. By 1860, the number of white border state families owning slaves plunged to only 16 percent of the total. Slaves sold to lower South states were owned by a smaller number of wealthy slave owners as the price of slaves increased.
Even though Lincoln agreed to the Corwin Amendment, which would have protected slavery in existing states, secessionists claimed that such guarantees were meaningless. Besides the loss of Kansas to free soil Northerners, secessionists feared that the loss of slaves in the border states would lead to emancipation, and that upper South slave states might be the next dominoes to fall. They feared that Republicans would use patronage to incite slaves and antislavery Southern whites such as Hinton Rowan Helper. Then slavery in the lower South, like a “scorpion encircled by fire, would sting itself to death.”
According to historian Chandra Manning, both Union and Confederate soldiers who did the actual fighting believed slavery to be the cause of the Civil War. He argues that a majority of Confederate soldiers fought to protect slavery, which they viewed as an integral part of southern economy, culture, and manhood. Further, he argues that Union soldiers believed the primary reason for the war was to bring emancipation to the slaves. However, many Union soldiers did not fully endorse the idea of shedding their own blood for African American slaves, whom they viewed as inferior. Manning’s research involved reading military camp newspapers and personal correspondence between soldiers and families during the Civil War. Manning stated that the primary debate in Confederate states over secession was not over state rights, but rather “the power of the federal government to affect the institution of slavery, specifically limiting it in newly added territories.” Other historians, such as Eric Foner, argue that no two people held the same motivations. He argues that while some were motivated mainly by slavery, most were motivated by some mixture of politics, culture, nationalism, honor, or any other number of motivations.
Status of the states, 1861.
States that seceded before April 15, 1861
States that seceded after April 15, 1861
Union states that permitted slavery
Union states that banned slavery
Sectionalism refers to the different economies, social structure, customs and political values of the North and South. It increased steadily between 1800 and 1860 as the North, which phased slavery out of existence, industrialized, urbanized and built prosperous farms, while the deep South concentrated on plantation agriculture based on slave labor, together with subsistence farming for the poor whites. The South expanded into rich new lands in the Southwest (from Alabama to Texas).
However, slavery declined in the border states and could barely survive in cities and industrial areas (it was fading out in cities such as Baltimore, Louisville and St. Louis), so a South based on slavery was rural and non-industrial. On the other hand, as the demand for cotton grew the price of slaves soared. Historians have debated whether economic differences between the industrial Northeast and the agricultural South helped cause the war. Most historians now disagree with the economic determinism of historian Charles Beard in the 1920s and emphasize that Northern and Southern economies were largely complementary.
Fears of slave revolts and abolitionist propaganda made the South militantly hostile to abolitionism. Southerners complained that it was the North that was changing, and was prone to new “isms”, while the South remained true to historic republican values of the Founding Fathers (many of whom owned slaves, including Washington, Jefferson and Madison). Lincoln said that Republicans were following the tradition of the framers of the Constitution (including the Northwest Ordinance and the Missouri Compromise) by preventing expansion of slavery.
The issue of accepting slavery (in the guise of rejecting slave-owning bishops and missionaries) split the largest religious denominations (the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches) into separate Northern and Southern denominations. Industrialization meant that seven European immigrants out of eight settled in the North. The movement of twice as many whites leaving the South for the North as vice versa contributed to the South’s defensive-aggressive political behavior.
The Territorial Crisis and the United States Constitution
Between 1803 and 1854, a vast expansion of US territory was achieved through purchase, negotiation and conquest. These acquisitions included over a million and a quarter square miles acquired in just the last decade of this period alone. Of the states carved out of these territories by 1845, all had entered the union as slave states: Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida and Texas, as well as the southern portions of Alabama and Mississippi. And with the conquest of northern Mexico, including California, in 1848, slaveholding interests looked forward to the institution flourishing in these lands as well. Southerners also anticipated garnering slaves and slave states in Cuba and Central America. Northern free soil interests vigorously sought to curtail any further expansion of slave soil. It was over these territorial disputes that the proslavery and antislavery forces collided over the future of slavery in America.
The existence of slavery in the southern states was far less politically polarizing than the explosive question of the territorial expansion of the institution in the west. Moreover, Americans were informed by two well-established readings of the Constitution regarding human bondage. First, that the slave states had complete autonomy over the institution within their boundaries; and second, that the domestic slave trade – trade among the states – was immune to federal interference.
With the outlawing and criminalization of the Atlantic slave trade in 1808 and 1820, the only constitutionally feasible strategy available to freesoilers to attack slavery was to restrict its introduction into the territories. A policy of “containment” – limiting slavery to where it already existed – would set the institution on a trajectory towards “ultimate extinction”.Slaveholding interests fully grasped the danger that this strategy posed to the security and perpetuation of human bondage. Both the South and the North drew an identical conclusion: “The power to decide the question of slavery for the territories was the power to determine the future of slavery itself.”
Four doctrines, each mutually irreconcilable, emerged to provide the answer to the question of federal control in the territories. All these theories claimed to be sanctioned by, or derived from, the Constitution – either explicitly or implicitly. The traditional or “conservative” position was based on Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”
From these enumerated powers, two of the four doctrines emerged, each arguing that Congress had full authority to decide the fate of slavery in the territories. The precedents of theNorthwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820 were cited by proponents of federal control. In each of these historic compromises, the territories under consideration were divided into an explicitly designated free-soil region, as well as an undesignated region lacking a slavery exclusion clause. In other words, the legislation provided for, but did not require, a balance between free-soil and slave-soil. In all areas not placed off-limits to slavery, the institution was quickly established there.
Here, the two traditional or “conservative” doctrines parted ways. The Constitutional Union Party regarded Congressional allocation of free-soil and, implicitly, slave-soil territory as an established method of compromise. Any dispute over slavery expansion was to end in similar apportionments. The Crittenden Compromise of 1860 was an expression of this political outlook.
The Republican Party, which also championed federal control over territories, rejected this narrow interpretation of the precedents. They insisted that the clause conveying authority to Congress in the territories did not bind legislators to any particular policy; slavery could be constitutionally excluded altogether in a territory at their discretion.
The only caveat the Republicans issued was that the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment be applied in the territories to slavery: Congress might positively prohibit slavery, but they could never establish it; to do so, according to the Republicans, would amount to a federal mandate for slavery and violate the principles of the Declaration of Independence.
Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas and his southern Democratic Party allies devised the third of these political theories: territorial sovereignty. By this doctrine Congress would relinquish direct federal control over the internal affairs of territories regarding slavery. In this respect, territorial sovereignty (also known as “popular” or “squatter” sovereignty) diverged sharply from the two aforementioned conservative theories.
Douglas declared that “the people of every separate political community” – be it a state, a territory, or otherwise – “have an inalienable right to govern themselves” with respect to local concerns. Among these local concerns, Douglas included slavery. When challenged to explain how territorial sovereignty trumped the role of Congress as enumerated in Article Four, he replied this way: that Congress was empowered only to confer authority into the hands of the territorial government, but never to exercise any direct control, including the establishment of social institutions.
The fourth in this quartet of constitutional doctrines was that of state sovereignty (also known as states’ rights). Among the principles of state sovereignty was that all authority regarding the institution of slavery in the territories resided in the slave states themselves. The role of the federal government was merely to enable the implementation of slave state laws when residents of the states entered the territories.
As early as 1847, shortly after the introduction of the Wilmot Proviso, the ideology of state sovereignty emerged as a rebuttal and antidote to free soil claims to the Mexican Cession. South Carolinian statesman John C. Calhoun asserted that the federal government in the territories was only the trustee or agent of the several sovereign states, obliged not to discriminate among the states and hence incapable of forbidding the bringing into any territory of anything that was legal property in any state. He concluded that citizens from every state had the right to take their property to any territory.
State sovereignty gave the laws of the slaveholding states extra-jurisdictional effect. The slave-owner and his property would settle in a territory much as a colonist settled in early colonial America; all rights and privileges recognized in the mother country (or sovereign slave state) would be retained by the colonists in their new home (US territory). The United States federal government would be bound by law to protect the settlers sovereign “rights” and intercede on their behalf if state statutes were threatened.
Essentially, “states’ rights” was an ideology formulated and applied as a means of advancing slave state interests through federal authority and thwarting free state interests, by application of the same federal authority. As historian Thomas L Krannawitter points out, “[T]he Southern demand for federal slave protection represented a demand for an unprecedented expansion of federal power.”
By 1860, these four doctrines comprised the major ideologies presented to the American public on the matters of slavery, the territories and the US Constitution.
Nationalism and honor
Nationalism was a powerful force in the early 19th century, with famous spokesmen like Andrew Jackson and Daniel Webster. While practically all Northerners supported the Union, Southerners were split between those loyal to the entire United States (called “unionists”) and those loyal primarily to the southern region and then the Confederacy. C. Vann Woodward said of the latter group, “A great slave society…had grown up and miraculously flourished in the heart of a thoroughly bourgeois and partly puritanical republic. It had renounced its bourgeois origins and elaborated and painfully rationalized its institutional, legal, metaphysical, and religious defenses….When the crisis came it chose to fight. It proved to be the death struggle of a society, which went down in ruins.” Perceived insults to Southern collective honor included the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1854) and the actions of John Brown in 1859.
While the South moved toward a Southern nationalism, leaders in the North were also becoming more nationally minded, and 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:
- we denounce those threats of disunion…as denying the vital principles of a free government, and as an avowal of contemplated treason, which it is the imperative duty of an indignant people sternly to rebuke and forever silence. The South ignored the warnings: Southerners did not realize how ardently the North would fight to hold the Union together.
Everyone agreed that states had certain rights—but did those rights carry over when a citizen left that state? The Southern position was that citizens of every state had the right to take their property anywhere in the U.S. and not have it taken away—specifically they could bring their slaves anywhere and they would remain slaves. Northerners rejected this “right” because it would violate the right of a free state to outlaw slavery within its borders. Republicans committed to ending the expansion of slavery were among those opposed to any such right to bring slaves and slavery into the free states and territories. The Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857 bolstered the Southern case within territories, and angered the North.
Secondly the South argued that each state had the right to secede—leave the Union—at any time, that the Constitution was a “compact” or agreement among the states. Northerners (including 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 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 state’s-rights argument is perhaps the weakest. It fails to ask the question, state’s rights for what purpose? State’s rights, or sovereignty, was always more a means than an end, an instrument to achieve a certain goal more than a principle.
Slave power and free soil issues
Antislavery forces in the North identified the “Slave Power” as a direct threat to republican values. They argued that rich slave owners were using political power to take control of the Presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court, thus threatening the rights of the citizens of the North.
“Free soil” was a Northern demand that the new lands opening up in the west be available to independent yeoman farmers and not be bought out by rich slave owners who would buy up the best land and work it with slaves, forcing the white farmers onto marginal lands. This was the basis of the Free Soil Party of 1848, and a main theme of the Republican Party. Free Soilers and Republicans demanded a homestead law that would give government land to settlers; it was defeated by Southerners who feared it would attract to the west European immigrants and poor Southern whites.
The Democrats in Congress, controlled by Southerners, wrote the tariff laws in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, and kept reducing rates, so that the 1857 rates were the lowest since 1816. The South had no complaints but the low rates angered Northern industrialists and factory workers, especially in Pennsylvania, who demanded protection for their growing iron industry. The Whigs and Republicans complained because they favored high tariffs to stimulate industrial growth, and Republicans called for an increase in tariffs in the 1860 election. The increases were finally enacted in 1861 after Southerners resigned their seats in Congress.
Historians in recent decades have minimized the tariff issue, noting that few Southerners in 1860–61 said it was of central importance to them. Some secessionist documents do mention the tariff issue, though not nearly as often as the preservation of slavery.
Election of Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President (1861–1865)
The election of Lincoln in November 1860 was the final trigger for secession. Efforts at compromise, including the “Corwin Amendment” and the “Crittenden Compromise“, failed. Southern leaders feared that Lincoln would stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course toward extinction. 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. Before Lincoln took office in March 1861, seven slave states had declared their secession and joined to form the Confederacy.
Battle of Fort Sumter
The Lincoln Administration, just as the outgoing Buchanan administration before it, refused to turn over Ft. Sumter—located in the middle of the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Jefferson Davis ordered the surrender of the fort. Union Maj. Anderson gave a conditional reply which the Confederate government rejected, and Davis ordered Beauregard to attack the fort before a relief expedition could arrive. After a heavy bombardment on April 12–13, 1861 (with no intentional casualties), the fort surrendered. On April 15, Lincoln then called for 75,000 troops from the states to recapture the fort and other federal property.
Rather than furnish troops and access for an attack on their fellow southern states, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas elected to join them in secession. North and South the response to Ft. Sumter was an overwhelming demand for war to uphold national honor. Only Kentucky tried to remain neutral. Hundreds of thousands of young men across the land rushed to enlist.
The Union: blue, yellow (slave);
The Confederacy: brown
*territories in light shades; control of Confederate territories disputed
Secession of South Carolina
South Carolina did more to advance nullification and secession than any other Southern state. South Carolina adopted the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” on December 24, 1860. 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. All the alleged violations of the rights of Southern states were related to slavery.
Before Lincoln took office, seven states had declared their secession from the Union. They established a Southern government, the Confederate States of America on February 4, 1861. They took control of federal forts and other properties within their boundaries with little resistance from outgoing President James Buchanan, whose term ended on March 4, 1861. Buchanan said that the Dred Scott decision was proof that the South had no reason for secession, and that the Union “was intended to be perpetual”, but that “the power by force of arms to compel a State to remain in the Union” was not among the “enumerated powers granted to Congress”. One quarter of the U.S. Army—the entire garrison in Texas—was surrendered in February 1861 to state forces by its commanding general, David E. Twiggs, who then joined the Confederacy.
As Southerners resigned their seats in the Senate and the House, Republicans were able to pass bills for projects that had been blocked by Southern Senators before the war, including the Morrill Tariff, land grant colleges (the Morill Act), a Homestead Act, a transcontinental railroad (the Pacific Railway Acts), the National Banking Act and the authorization of United States Notes by the Legal Tender Act of 1862. The Revenue Act of 1861 introduced the income tax to help finance the war.
Seven Deep South cotton states seceded by February 1861, starting with South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. These seven states formed the Confederate States of America (February 4, 1861), with Jefferson Davis as president, and a governmental structure closely modeled on the U.S. Constitution.
Following the attack on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called for a volunteer army from each state. Within two months, an additional four Southern slave states declared their secession and joined the Confederacy: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. The northwestern portion of Virginia subsequently seceded from Virginia, joining the Union as the new state of West Virginia on June 20, 1863. By the end of 1861, Missouri and Kentucky were effectively under Union control, with Confederate state governments in exile.
The Union states
Twenty-three states remained loyal to the Union: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland,Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, andWisconsin. During the war, Nevada and West Virginia joined as new states of the Union. Tennessee and Louisiana were returned to Union military control early in the war.
The territories of Colorado, Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington fought on the Union side. Several slave-holding Native Americantribes supported the Confederacy, giving the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) a small, bloody civil war.
The border states in the Union were West Virginia (which separated from Virginia and became a new state), and four of the five northernmost slave states (Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky).
Maryland had numerous pro-Confederate officials who tolerated anti-Union rioting in Baltimore and the burning of bridges. Lincoln responded with martial law and sent in militia units from the North. Before the Confederate government realized what was happening, Lincoln had seized firm control of Maryland and the District of Columbia, by arresting all the prominent secessionists and holding them without trial (they were later released).
In Missouri, an elected convention on secession voted decisively to remain within the Union. When pro-Confederate Governor Claiborne F. Jackson called out the state militia, it was attacked by federal forces under General Nathaniel Lyon, who chased the governor and the rest of the State Guard to the southwestern corner of the state. (See also: Missouri secession). In the resulting vacuum, the convention on secession reconvened and took power as the Unionist provisional government of Missouri.
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 trying to maintain slavery. During a brief invasion by Confederate forces, Confederate sympathizers organized a secession convention, inaugurated a governor, and gained recognition from the Confederacy. The rebel government soon went into exile and never controlled Kentucky.
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% approved the statehood bill (96% approving). The inclusion of 24 secessionist counties in the 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 3000 men suspected of being loyal to the Union. They were held without trial.
Over 10,000 military engagements took place during the war, 40% of them in Virginia and Tennessee. Since separate articles deal with every major battle and many minor ones, this article only gives the broadest outline. For more information see List of American Civil War battles and Military leadership in the American Civil War.
The beginning of the war, 1861
Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election of 1860 triggered South Carolina’s declaration of secession from the Union. By February 1861, an additional six Southern states made similar declarations. On February 7, the seven states adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States 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 states rejected pleas to join the Confederacy. Confederate forces seized most of the federal forts within their boundaries. President Buchanan protested but made no military response apart from a failed attempt to resupply Fort Sumter using the ship Star of the West, which was fired upon by South Carolina forces and turned back before it reached the fort. However, governors in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania quietly began buying weapons and training militia units.
The great meeting in Union Square, New York, to support the government, April 20, 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 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 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. However, Secretary of State William Seward engaged in unauthorized and indirect negotiations that failed.
Fort Monroe in Virginia, Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and Fort Pickens, Fort Jefferson, and Fort Taylor, all in Florida, were the remaining Union-held forts in the Confederacy, and Lincoln was determined to hold them all. Under orders from Confederate PresidentJefferson Davis, troops controlled by the Confederate government under P. G. T. Beauregard bombarded Fort Sumter on April 12, forcing its capitulation. Northerners rallied behind Lincoln’s call for all the states to send troops to recapture the forts and to preserve the Union, citing presidential powers given by the Militia Acts of 1792. 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 readied their state militias; they began to move forces the next day. Confederate sympathizers seized Liberty Arsenalin Liberty, Missouri on April 20, eight days after Fort Sumter. On May 3, 1861, Lincoln called for an additional 42,034 volunteers for a period of three years.
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. 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.
Anaconda Plan and blockade, 1861
Winfield Scott, the commanding general of the U.S. Army, devised the Anaconda Plan to win the war with as little bloodshed as possible. His idea was that a Union blockade of the main ports would weaken the Confederate economy; then the capture of theMississippi River would split the South. Lincoln adopted the plan in terms of a blockade to squeeze to death the Confederate economy, but overruled Scott’s warnings that his new army was not ready for an offensive operation because public opinion demanded an immediate attack.
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% of its cotton. British investors built small, fastblockade runners that traded arms and luxuries brought in from Bermuda, Cuba and the Bahamas in return for high-priced cotton and tobacco. When the Union Navy seized a blockade runner, the ship and cargo were sold and the proceeds given to the Navy sailors; the captured crewmen were mostly British and they were simply released. The Southern economy nearly collapsed during the war. Shortages of food and supplies were caused by the blockade, the failure of Southern railroads, the loss of control of the main rivers, foraging by Northern armies, and the impressment of crops by Confederate armies. The standard of living fell even as large-scale printing of paper money caused inflation and distrust of the currency. By 1864 the internal food distribution had broken down, leaving cities without enough food and causing bread riots across the Confederacy.
On March 8, 1862, the Confederate Navy waged a fight against the Union Navy when the ironclad CSS Virginia attacked the blockade. Against wooden ships, she seemed unstoppable. The next day, however, she had to fight the new Union warship USS Monitor in the Battle of the Ironclads. Their battle ended in a draw. The Confederacy lost the Virginia when the ship was scuttled to prevent capture, and the Union built many copies of Monitor. Lacking the technology to build effective warships, the Confederacy attempted to obtain warships from Britain.
Northern technology achieved another breakthrough on April 10–11, 1862, when a joint Army-Navy expedition reduced a major masonry fortification at Fort Pulaski guarding Savannah, Georgia. Employing the Parrott rifle cannon made masonry coastal defenses obsolete overnight. The Federals left a small garrison, releasing troops and ships for other blockading operations. The Union victory at the Second Battle of Fort Fisher in January 1865 closed the last useful Southern port and virtually ended blockade running.
Conscription and desertion
A Union Regimental Fife and Drum Corps
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—conscription—as a device to encourage or force volunteering; relatively few were actually drafted and served. The Confederacy passed a draft law in April 1862 for young men aged 18 to 35; overseers of slaves, government officials, and clergymen were exempt. The U.S. Congress followed in July, authorizing a militia draft within a state when it could not meet its quota with volunteers.
When the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in January 1863, ex-slaves were energetically recruited by the states, and used to meet the state quotas. States and local communities offered higher and higher cash bonuses for white volunteers. Congress tightened the law in March 1863. Men selected in the draft could provide substitutes or, until mid-1864, pay commutation money. Many eligibles pooled their money to cover the cost of anyone drafted. Families used the substitute provision to select which man should go into the army and which should stay home. There was much evasion and overt resistance to the draft, especially in Catholic areas. The great draft riot in New York City in July 1863 involved Irish immigrants who had been signed up as citizens to swell the machine vote, not realizing it made them liable for the draft. Of the 168,649 men procured for the Union through the draft, 117,986 were substitutes, leaving only 50,663 who had their personal services conscripted.
North and South, the draft laws were highly unpopular. An estimated 120,000 men evaded conscription in the North, many of them fleeing to Canada, and another 280,000 Northern soldiers deserted during the war, along with at least 100,000 Southerners, or about 10% all together. However, desertion was a very common event in the 19th century; in the peacetime Army about 15% of the soldiers deserted every year. In the South, many men deserted temporarily to take care of their families, then returned to their units.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.
Union soldiers in trenches before storming Marye’s Heights at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, May 1863.
Eastern theater 1861–1863
Because of the fierce resistance of a few initial Confederate forces at Manassas, Virginia, in July 1861, a march by Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell on the Confederate forces there was halted in the First Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas,McDowell’s troops were forced back to Washington, D.C., by the Confederates under the command of Generals Joseph E. Johnston andP. G. T. Beauregard. It was in this battle that Confederate General Thomas Jackson received the nickname of “Stonewall” because he stood like a stone wall against Union troops.
Alarmed at the loss, and in an attempt to prevent more slave states from leaving the Union, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution on July 25 of that year, which stated that the war was being fought to preserve the Union and not to end slavery.
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac on July 26 (he was briefly general-in-chief of all the Union armies, but was subsequently relieved of that post in favor of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck), and the war began in earnest in 1862. Upon the strong urging of President Lincoln to begin offensive operations, McClellan attacked Virginia in the spring of 1862 by way of the peninsulabetween the York River and James River, southeast of Richmond. Although McClellan’s army reached the gates of Richmond in thePeninsula Campaign, Johnston halted his advance at the Battle of Seven Pines, then General Robert E. Lee and top subordinates James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson defeated McClellan in the Seven Days Battles and forced his retreat. The Northern Virginia Campaign, which included the Second Battle of Bull Run, ended in yet another victory for the South. McClellan resisted General-in-Chief Halleck’s orders to send reinforcements to John Pope’s Union Army of Virginia, which made it easier for Lee’s Confederates to defeat twice the number of combined enemy troops.
Emboldened by Second Bull Run, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the North. General Lee led 45,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginiaacross the Potomac River into Maryland on September 5. Lincoln then restored Pope’s troops to McClellan. McClellan and Lee fought at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest single day in United States military history. Lee’s army, checked at last, returned to Virginia before McClellan could destroy it. Antietam is considered a Union victory because it halted Lee’s invasion of the North and provided an opportunity for Lincoln to announce his Emancipation Proclamation.
When the cautious McClellan failed to follow up on Antietam, he was replaced by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Burnside was soon defeated at theBattle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, when over 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.
Confederate dead behind the stone wall of Marye’s Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia, killed during the Battle of Chancellorsville, May 1863
Hooker, too, proved unable to defeat Lee’s army; despite outnumbering the Confederates by more than two to one, he was humiliated in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Gen. Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men during the battle and subsequently died of complications. Gen. Hooker was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade during Lee’s second invasion of the North, in June. Meade defeated Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 to July 3, 1863). This was the bloodiest battle of the war, and has been called the war’s turning point. Pickett’s Charge on July 3 is often considered the high-water mark of the Confederacy because it signaled the collapse of serious Confederate threats of victory. Lee’s army suffered 28,000 casualties (versus Meade’s 23,000). However, Lincoln was angry that Meade failed to intercept Lee’s retreat, and 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.
Western theater 1861–1863
While the Confederate forces had numerous successes in the Eastern Theater, they were defeated many times in the West. They were driven from Missouri early in the war as a result of the Battle of Pea Ridge. Leonidas Polk‘s invasion of Columbus, Kentucky ended Kentucky’s policy of neutrality and turned that state against the Confederacy. Nashville and central Tennessee fell to the Union early in 1862, leading to attrition of local food supplies and livestock and a breakdown in social organization.
The Mississippi 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 Union Navy captured New Orleans without a major fight, which allowed Union forces to begin moving up the Mississippi. Only the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, prevented Union control of the entire river.
General Braxton Bragg‘s second Confederate invasion of Kentucky ended with a meaningless victory over Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell at the Battle of Perryville, although Bragg was forced to end his attempt at invading Kentucky and retreat due to lack of support for the Confederacy in that state. Bragg was narrowly defeated by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans at theBattle of Stones River in Tennessee.
The Battle of Chickamauga was one of the deadliest battles in the Western Theater.
The one clear Confederate victory in the West was the Battle of Chickamauga. Bragg, reinforced by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet‘s corps (from Lee’s army in the east), defeated Rosecrans, despite the heroic defensive stand of Maj. Gen. George Henry Thomas. Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga, which Bragg then besieged.
The Union’s key strategist and tactician in the West was Ulysses S. Grant, who won victories at Forts Henry and Donelson (by which the Union seized control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers); the Battle of Shiloh; and the Battle of Vicksburg, which cemented Union control of the Mississippi River and is considered one of the turning points of the war. Grant marched to the relief of Rosecrans and defeated Bragg at the Third Battle of Chattanooga, driving Confederate forces out of Tennessee and opening a route to Atlanta and the heart of the Confederacy.
Trans-Mississippi theater 1861–1865
Guerrilla activity turned much of Missouri into a battleground. Missouri had, in total, the third-most battles of any state during the war.The other states of the west, though geographically isolated from the battles to the east, saw numerous small-scale military actions. Battles in the region served to secure Missouri,Indian Territory, and New Mexico Territory for the Union. Confederate incursions into New Mexico territory were repulsed in 1862 and a Union campaign to secure Indian Territorysucceeded in 1863. Late in the war, the Union’s Red River Campaign was a failure. Texas remained in Confederate hands throughout the war, but was cut off from the rest of the Confederacy after the capture of Vicksburg in 1863 gave the Union control of the Mississippi River.
Conquest of Virginia and end of war: 1864–1865
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. William Tecumseh Sherman in command of most of the western armies. Grant understood the concept of total war and believed, along with Lincoln and Sherman, that only the utter defeat of Confederate forces and their economic base would end the war.This was total war not in terms of killing civilians but rather in terms of destroying homes, farms, and railroads. Grant devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the entire Confederacy from multiple directions. Generals George Meade and Benjamin Butler were ordered to move against Lee near Richmond, General Franz Sigel (and later Philip Sheridan) were to attack the Shenandoah Valley, General Sherman was to capture Atlanta and march to the sea (the Atlantic Ocean), Generals George Crook and William W. Averell were to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia, and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks was to capture Mobile, Alabama.
Union forces in the East attempted to maneuver past Lee and fought several battles during that phase (“Grant’s Overland Campaign“) of the Eastern campaign. Grant’s battles of attrition at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor resulted in heavy Union losses, but forced Lee’s Confederates to fall back repeatedly. An attempt to outflank Lee from the south failed under Butler, who was trapped inside theBermuda 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 theValley Campaigns of 1864. Sheridan was initially repelled at the Battle of New Market by former U.S. Vice President and Confederate Gen. John C. Breckinridge. The Battle of New Market would prove to be the Confederacy’s last major victory of the war. After redoubling his efforts, Sheridan defeated Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early in a series of battles, including a final decisive defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Sheridan then proceeded to destroy the agricultural base of the Shenandoah Valley, a strategy similar to the tactics Sherman later employed in Georgia.
Meanwhile, Sherman maneuvered 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, guaranteed the reelection of Lincoln as president. Hood left the Atlanta area to swing around and menace Sherman’s supply lines and invade Tennessee in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Union Maj. Gen. John Schofield defeated Hood at theBattle of Franklin, and George H. Thomas dealt Hood a massive defeat at the Battle of Nashville, effectively destroying Hood’s army.
Leaving Atlanta, and his base of supplies, Sherman’s army marched with an unknown destination, 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 lines 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 Lee 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.
Map of Confederate territory losses year by year
Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at the McLean House in the village of Appomattox Court House. In an untraditional gesture and as a sign of Grant’s respect and anticipation of peacefully restoring Confederate states to the Union, Lee was permitted to keep his sword and his horse,Traveller. On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer. Lincoln died early the next morning, and Andrew Johnson became president. Meanwhile, Confederate forces across the South surrendered as news of Lee’s surrender reached them.
Emancipation during the war
Black and White soldiers in the Union Army. 1860s
At the beginning of the war, some Union commanders thought they were supposed to return escaped slaves to their masters. By 1862, when it became clear that this would be a long war, the question of what to do about slavery became more general. The Southern economy and military effort depended on slave labor. It began to seem unreasonable to protect slavery while blockading Southern commerce and destroying Southern production. As one Congressman put it, the slaves “…cannot be neutral. As laborers, if not as soldiers, they will be allies of the rebels, or of the Union.”
The same Congressman—and his fellow Radical Republicans—put pressure on Lincoln to rapidly emancipate the slaves, whereas moderate Republicans came to accept gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization. Copperheadsand some War Democrats opposed emancipation, although the latter eventually accepted it as part of total war needed to save the Union.
Many of the recent immigrants in North viewed freed slaves as competition for scarce jobs, and as the reason why the Civil War was being fought. Due in large part to this fierce competition with free blacks for labor opportunities, the poor and working class Irish Catholics generally opposed emancipation. When the draft began in the summer of 1863 they launched a major riot in New York City that was suppressed by the military, as well as much smaller protests in other cities. Many Catholics in the North had volunteered to fight in 1861, sending thousands of soldiers to the front and taking high casualties, especially at Fredericksburg; their volunteering fell off after 1862. Sentiment among German Americans was largely anti-slavery, especially among Forty-Eighters. Hundreds of thousands of German Americans volunteered to fight for the Union.
In 1861, Lincoln worried that premature attempts at emancipation would mean the loss of the border states, and that “to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.” At first, Lincoln reversed attempts at emancipation by Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Generals John C. Frémont (in Missouri) and David Hunter (in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) to keep the loyalty of the border states and the War Democrats.
Lincoln warned the border states that a more radical type of emancipation would happen if his gradual plan based on compensated emancipation and voluntary colonization was rejected. Only the District of Columbia accepted Lincoln’s gradual plan, which was enacted by Congress. When Lincoln told his cabinet about his proposed emancipation proclamation, Seward advised Lincoln to wait for a victory before issuing it, as to do otherwise would seem like “our last shriek on the retreat”.
In September 1862 the Battle of Antietam provided this opportunity, and the subsequent War Governors’ Conference added support for the proclamation. Lincoln had already published a letter encouraging the border states especially to accept emancipation as necessary to save the Union. Lincoln later said that slavery was “somehow the cause of the war”.
Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and his final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. In his letter to Hodges, Lincoln explained his belief that “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong … And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling … I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”
Since the Emancipation Proclamation was based on the President’s war powers, it only included territory held by Confederates at the time. However, the Proclamation became a symbol of the Union’s growing commitment to add emancipation to the Union’s definition of liberty. Lincoln also played a leading role in getting Congress to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment, which made emancipation universal and permanent.
Enslaved African Americans did not wait for Lincoln’s action before escaping and seeking freedom behind Union lines. From early years of the war, hundreds of thousands of African Americans escaped to Union lines, especially in occupied areas like Nashville, Norfolk and the Hampton Roads region in 1862, Tennessee from 1862 on, the line of Sherman’s march, etc. So many African Americans fled to Union lines that commanders created camps and schools for them, where both adults and children learned to read and write.
The American Missionary Association entered the war effort by sending teachers south to such contraband camps, for instance establishing schools in Norfolk and on nearby plantations. In addition, approximately 180,000 or more African-American men served as soldiers and sailors with Union troops. Most of those were escaped slaves. Probably the most prominent of these African-American soldiers is the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
Union Army soldier on his release from Andersonville prison in May, 1865. After the war, Henry Wirz, the prison’s commandant, was tried for war crimes by a military commission and executed.
Confederates enslaved captured black Union soldiers, and black soldiers especially were shot when trying to surrender at the Fort Pillow Massacre. This led to a breakdown of the prisoner and mail exchange program and the growth of prison camps such as Andersonville prison in Georgia, where almost 13,000 Union prisoners of war died of starvation and disease.
In spite of the South’s shortage of soldiers, most Southern leaders — until 1865 — opposed enlisting slaves. They used them as laborers to support the war effort. As Howell Cobb said, “If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” Confederate generals Patrick Cleburneand Robert E. Lee argued in favor of arming blacks late in the war, and Jefferson Davis was eventually persuaded to support plans for arming slaves to avoid military defeat. The Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox before this plan could be implemented.
Historian John D. Winters, in The Civil War in Louisiana (1963), referred to the exhilaration of the slaves when the Union Army came throughLouisiana: “As the troops moved up to Alexandria, the Negroes crowded the roadsides to watch the passing army. They were ‘all frantic with joy, some weeping, some blessing, and some dancing in the exuberance of their emotions.’ All of the Negroes were attracted by the pageantry and excitement of the army. Others cheered because they anticipated the freedom to plunder and to do as they pleased now that the Federal troops were there.”
The Emancipation Proclamation greatly reduced the Confederacy’s hope of getting aid from Britain or France. Lincoln’s moderate approach succeeded in getting border states, War Democrats and emancipated slaves fighting on the same side for the Union. The Union-controlled border states (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia) were not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation. All abolished slavery on their own, except Kentucky and Delaware.
The great majority of the 4 million slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, as Union armies moved south. The 13th amendment,ratified December 6, 1865, finally made slavery illegal everywhere in the United States, thus freeing the remaining slaves—65,000 in Kentucky (as of 1865), 1,800 in Delaware, and 18 in New Jersey as of 1860.
Historian Stephen Oates said that many myths surround Lincoln: “man of the people”, “true Christian”, “arch villain” and racist. The belief that Lincoln was racist was caused by an incomplete picture of Lincoln, such as focusing on only selective quoting of statements Lincoln made to gain the support of the border states and Northern Democrats, and ignoring the many things he said against slavery, and the military and political context within which such statements were made. Oates said that Lincoln’s letter to Horace Greeley has been “persistently misunderstood and misrepresented” for such reasons.
Blocking international intervention
Europe in the 1860s was more fragmented than it had been since before the American Revolution. France was in a weakened state while Britain was still shocked by their poor performance in the Crimean War. France was unable or unwilling to support either side without Britain, where popular support remained with the Union though elite opinion was more varied. They were further distracted by Germany and Italy, who were experiencing unification troubles, and by Russia, who was almost unflinching in their support for the Union.
Though the Confederacy hoped that Britain and France would join them against the Union, this was never likely, and so they instead tried to bring Britain and France 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 in order to get cotton.
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 way 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. When Britain did face a cotton shortage, it was temporary, being replaced by increased cultivation in Egypt and India. Meanwhile, the war created employment for arms makers, ironworkers, and British ships to transport weapons.
Charles Francis Adams proved particularly adept as minister to Britain for the U.S. and Britain was reluctant to boldly challenge the blockade. The Confederacy purchased several warships from commercial ship builders in Britain. The most famous, the CSS Alabama, did considerable damage and led to serious postwar disputes. However, public opinion against slavery created a political liability for European politicians, especially in Britain (who had herself abolished slavery in her own colonies in 1834).
War loomed in late 1861 between the U.S. and Britain over the Trent Affair, involving the U.S. Navy’s boarding of a British mail steamer to seize two Confederate diplomats. However, London and Washington were able to smooth over the problem after Lincoln released the two. In 1862, the British considered mediation—though even such an offer would have risked war with the U.S. Lord Palmerston reportedly read Uncle Tom’s Cabin three times when deciding on this.
The Union victory in the Battle of Antietam caused them to delay this decision. The Emancipation Proclamation over time would reinforce the political liability of supporting the Confederacy. Despite sympathy for the Confederacy, France’s own seizure of Mexico ultimately deterred them 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 continue to remain neutral.
Victory and aftermath
Comparison of Union and CSA
|Slave population, 1860
||21,788 miles (35,064 km) (71%)
||8,838 miles (14,223 km) (29%)
|Bales of cotton in 1860
|Bales of cotton in 1864
|Pre-war U.S. exports
Historians have debated whether the Confederacy could have won the war. Most scholars, such as James McPherson, argue that Confederate victory was at least possible. McPherson argues that the North’s advantage in population and resources made Northern victory likely but not guaranteed. He also argues that if the Confederacy had fought using unconventional tactics, they would have more easily been able to hold out long enough to exhaust the Union.
Confederates did not need to invade and hold enemy territory to win, but only needed to fight a defensive war to convince the North that the cost of winning was too high. The North needed to conquer and hold vast stretches of enemy territory and defeat Confederate armies to win.
Some scholars, such as those of the Lost Cause tradition, argue that the Union held an insurmountable long-term advantage over the Confederacy in terms of industrial strength and population. Confederate actions, they argue, only delayed defeat. Civil War historian Shelby Foote expressed this view succinctly: “I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back…If there had been more Southern victories, and a lot more, the North simply would have brought that other hand out from behind its back. I don’t think the South ever had a chance to win that War.”
The Confederacy sought to win independence by out-lasting Lincoln; however, after Atlanta fell and Lincoln defeated McClellan in the election of 1864, all hope for a political victory for the South ended. At that point, Lincoln had succeeded in getting the support of the border states, War Democrats, emancipated slaves, Britain, and France. By defeating the Democrats and McClellan, he also defeated the Copperheads and their peace platform.
Also important were Lincoln’s eloquence in rationalizing the national purpose and his skill in keeping the border states committed to the Union cause. Although Lincoln’s approach to emancipation was slow, the Emancipation Proclamation was an effective use of the President’s war powers. The Confederate government failed in its attempt to get Europe involved in the war militarily, particularly the United Kingdom and France. Southern leaders needed to get European powers to help break up the blockade the Union had created around the Southern ports and cities.
Lincoln’s naval blockade was 95% effective at stopping trade goods; as a result, imports and exports to the South declined significantly. The abundance of European cotton and the United Kingdom’s hostility to the institution of slavery, along with Lincoln’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico naval blockades, severely decreased any chance that either the United Kingdom or France would enter the war.
The more industrialized economy of the North aided in the production of arms, munitions and supplies, as well as finances and transportation. The table shows the relative advantage of the Union over the Confederate States of America (CSA) at the start of the war. The advantages widened rapidly during the war, as the Northern economy grew, and Confederate territory shrank and its economy weakened. The Union population was 22 million and the South 9 million in 1861. The Southern population included more than 3.5 million slaves and about 5.5 million whites, thus leaving the South’s white population outnumbered by a ratio of more than four to one.
The disparity grew as the Union controlled an increasing amount of southern territory with garrisons, and cut off the trans-Mississippi part of the Confederacy. The Union at the start controlled over 80% of the shipyards, steamships, riverboats, and the Navy. It augmented these by a massive shipbuilding program. This enabled the Union to control the river systems and to blockade the entire southern coastline.
Excellent railroad links between Union cities allowed for the quick and cheap movement of troops and supplies. Transportation was much slower and more difficult in the South, which was unable to augment its much smaller rail system, repair damage, or even perform routine maintenance. The failure of Davis to maintain positive and productive relationships with state governors (especially Governor Joseph E. Brown of Georgia and Governor Zebulon Baird Vance of North Carolina) damaged his ability to draw on regional resources. The Confederacy’s “King Cotton” misperception of the world economy led to bad diplomacy, such as the refusal to ship cotton before the blockade started.
The Emancipation Proclamation enabled African-Americans, both free blacks and escaped slaves, to join the Union Army. About 190,000 volunteered, further enhancing the numerical advantage the Union armies enjoyed over the Confederates, who did not dare emulate the equivalent manpower source for fear of fundamentally undermining the legitimacy of slavery. Emancipated slaves mostly handled garrison duties, and fought numerous battles in 1864–65. European immigrants joined the Union Army in large numbers, including 177,000 born in Germany and 144,000 born in Ireland. The railroad industry became the nation’s largest employer outside of agriculture. The American Civil War was followed by a boom in railroad construction, which contributed to the Panic of 1873.
Slavery for the Confederacy’s 3.5 million blacks effectively ended when Union armies arrived; they were nearly all freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Slaves in the border states and those located in some former Confederate territory occupied prior to the Emancipation Proclamation were freed by state action or (on December 18, 1865) by the Thirteenth Amendment. The full restoration of the Union was the work of a highly contentious postwar era known as Reconstruction.
The war produced about 1,030,000 casualties (3% of the population), including about 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease.Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker believes the number of soldier deaths was approximately 750,000, 20% higher than traditionally estimated, and possibly as high as 850,000. The war accounted for roughly as many American deaths as all American deaths in other U.S. wars combined.
The causes of the war, the reasons for its outcome, and even the name of the war itself are subjects of lingering contention today. Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and 18% in the South.About 56,000 soldiers died in prisons during the Civil War.
One reason for the high number of battle deaths during the war was the use of Napoleonic tactics, such as charging. With the advent of more accurate rifled barrels, Minié balls and (near the end of the war for the Union army) repeating firearms such as the Spencer repeating rifle, soldiers were mowed down when standing in lines in the open. This led to the adoption of trench warfare, a style of fighting that defined the better part of World War I.
The war destroyed much of the wealth that had existed in the South. Income per person in the South dropped to less than 40% than that of the North, a condition which lasted until well into the 20th century. Southern influence in the US federal government, previously considerable, was greatly diminished until the latter half of the 20th century.
Reconstruction began during the war (and continued to 1877) in an effort to solve the issues caused by reunion, specifically the legal status of the 11 breakaway states, the Confederate leadership, and the freedmen. Northern leaders during the war agreed that victory would require more than the end of fighting. It had to encompass the two war goals: secession had to be repudiated and all forms of slavery had to be eliminated.
Lincoln and the Radical Republicans 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. These disputes became central to the political debates after the Confederacy collapsed.
Memory and historiography
The Civil War is one of the central events in America’s collective memory. There are innumerable statues, commemorations, books and archival collections. The memory includes the home front, military affairs, the treatment of soldiers, both living and dead, in the war’s aftermath, depictions of the war in literature and art, evaluations of heroes and villains, and considerations of the moral and political lessons of the war. The last theme includes moral evaluations of racism and slavery, heroism in combat and behind the lines, and the issues of democracy and minority rights, as well as the notion of an “Empire of Liberty” influencing the world. Memory of the war in the white South crystallized in the myth of the“Lost Cause”, which shaped regional identity and race relations for generations.
The year 2011 included the American Civil War’s 150th anniversary. Many in the South are attempting to incorporate both Black history and white perspectives. A Harris Poll given in March 2011 suggested that Americans were still uniquely divided over the results and appropriate memorials to acknowledge the occasion. While traditionally American films of the Civil War feature “brother versus brother” themes film treatments of the war are evolving to include African American characters. Benard Simelton, president of the AlabamaNAACP, said celebrating the Civil War is like celebrating the “Holocaust“. In reference to slavery Simelton said that black “rights were taken away” and that blacks “were treated as less than human beings.” National Park historian Bob Sutton said that slavery was the “principal cause” of the war. Sutton also claimed that the issue of state rights was incorporated by the Confederacy as a justification for the war in order to get recognition from Britain. Sutton went on to mention that during the 100th anniversary of the Civil War white southerners focused on the genius of southern generals, rather than slavery. In Virginia during the fall of 2010, a conference took place that addressed the slavery issue. During November 2010, black Civil War reenactors from around the country participated in a parade at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Hollywood’s take on the war has been especially influential in shaping public memory, as seen in such films as “Birth of a Nation,” “Gone with the Wind” and “Glory”.