America suffered its greatest losses in this
conflict involving its own people. While the North and South were
bound by a common goal during the American Revolution, the issue of
slavery became increasingly divisive, culminating in fracturing relations
between the two regions.
Signs of trouble emerged as early as 1820, when the Missouri Compromise
attempted to solve permanently the issue of whether or not slavery
would be allowed to expand into territories newly acquired by the
United States. The subsequent Compromise of 1850 similarly failed
to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the issue.
The election of an anti-slavery president,
Abraham Lincoln, in 1860, led South Carolina to set the precedent
for secession from the Union. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia,
Louisiana and Texas quickly followed South Carolinas example,
and the Confederate States of America was formed.
Warfare broke out when federal troops were moved to Fort Sumter, South
Carolina, and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard obeyed orders
to fire on the fort on April 12, 1861. Four more states seceded, creating
an 11-state Confederacy.
Over the next five years, Americans would fight Americans in some
of the most tragic battles in U.S. history. Early combat resulted
in Confederate victories, including Beauregard's defeat of Union General
Irvin McDowell at the first battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. In
1862, Confederate commander Robert
E. Lee foiled G.B. Mcclellan's Peninsular Campaign, but in September
of that year, Lee's Antietam Campaign was checked by McClellan. The
battle would be remembered as the bloodiest day of the war. Lincoln
drafted the Emancipation Proclamation soon afterwards, but the year
ended with a Union defeat at Fredericksburg on December 13.
The spring of 1863 brought a resounding Confederate victory at Chancellorsville
(May 2-4, 1863), but Lee lost his ablest general, "Stonewall" Jackson.
Confederate fortunes finally turned for the worse when Lee undertook
the disastrous Gettysburg
Campaign (June-July 1863).
In the meantime, the Union navy had blockaded the Southern coast,
and Admiral D.G.
Farragut had captured New Orleans in April 1862. In the West,
Grant's victory at Fort Donelson in February 1862 was followed by
a drawn-out battle at Shiloh on April 6 and 7.
In the final phases of the war, Grant forced Lee toward Richmond in
his Wilderness Campaign (May-June 1864), and besieged Petersburg.
Union General William T. Sherman won the Atlanta Campaign (May-September
1864) and led a destructive march through Georgia to the sea. The
Confederates evacuated Richmond after P.H. Sheridan's victory at Five
Forks on April 1, 1865. All his escape routes cut off, Lee was forced
to surrender to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. The Union had
only enjoyed victory for a few days when President Lincoln was assassinated
on April 14, but the Union had been preserved, and the seceded states
were readmitted after a period of Reconstruction.
All told, over 600,000 individuals lost their lives by the time the
Confederates surrendered in 1865. Although slavery was abolished and
the Union was restored, the Civil War's legacy, and issues of racial
inequality, continue to haunt the United States.
Find detailed maps of important Civil War
locations and events.