The Civil War was the most convulsive and significant war in American history. After the Constitution was adopted by all of the States in 1789, uniting the States into one nation, differences between the States had been worked out through compromises. By 1861 these differences between the Northern States, which included the Western States, and the Southern States had become so great that compromise would no longer work. Therefore, a conflict started within our nation that was called the Civil War.
Although causes of the Civil War have long time been debated by historians, there are many reasons that are agreed on. For more than thirty years arguments between the North and South had been growing. One of these controversies was about taxes paid on goods brought into this country from foreign countries. This kind of tax is called a tariff. In 1828 Northerners helped get the “Tariff Act” passed. It raised the prices of manufactured products from Europe, which were sold mainly in the South. The purpose of the law was to encourage the South to buy the North’s products. It angered the Southern people to have to pay more for the goods they wanted from Europe or pay more to get goods from the North. Either way the Southern people were forced to pay more because of the efforts of Northern businessmen. Though most of tariff laws had been changed by the time of the Civil War, the Southern people still remembered how they were treated by the Northern people. In the years before the Civil War the political power in the Federal Government, centered in Washington D.C., was changing. The Northern and Mid-Western States were becoming more powerful as the populations increased. The Southern States were losing political power. Just as the original thirteen colonies fought for their independence, the Southern States felt a growing need for freedom from the central Federal authority in Washington D.C. They felt that each State should make its own laws. This issue was called “State’s Rights”. Some Southern States wanted to break away from the United States of America and govern themselves. (The Civil War Homepage)
Probably the most emotional issue of the cause of the Civil War was over the issue of slavery. Farming was the South’s main industry and cotton was the primary farm product. Not having the use of machines, it took a great amount of human labor to pick cotton. The people in the South needed more people (slaves) to work the cotton for them that is why large number of slaves were used in the South. Many slaves were also used to provide labor for the various household chores that needed to be done. Many Northerners thought that owning slaves was wrong, for any reason. Thus, the disagreement. Some of those Northerners loudly disagreed with the South’s laws and beliefs concerning slavery. Except slavery had been a part of the Southern way of life for well over 200 years and they didn’t want to give it up without a fight. The Constitution of the United States guaranteed the right to own property and protected against anyone taking their property. To them a slave was property. The people of the Southern States did not like the Northern people telling them that owning slaves was a great wrong. A person either believes that slavery is right or that slavery is wrong, so how can two people arguing over this issue come to a compromise? (The American Civil War).
Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860. He vowed that he would keep the country united and the new western territories would be free from slavery. Many Southerners were afraid that he would not sympathetic to their way of life and would not treat them fairly. South Carolina was the first State to separate from the United States soon after the election of Abraham Lincoln. Six other Southern States quickly followed and also left. These States joined together and formed a new nation, which they named the Confederate States of America. They elected Jefferson Davis as their first president. On April 12, 1861 the Confederate States of America attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, which was held by Federal (Union) troops and flew the United States flag. As open conflict kept rising, other United States resigned and joined the Confederacy. The fighting of the Civil War would take four years to end. This country would remain united and slavery would come to an end. (This Hallowed Ground).
The Great Battles of the Civil War were waged all across this great country. From New Mexico and Tennessee to Vermont and Florida, hundreds of thousands of Americans died in this struggle for freedom. Two of the most famous battle are the Battle of Fort Sumter and the Battle of Gettysburg. (Fire and Thunder).
The Battle of Fort Sumter strangely ended with no casualties. On April 10, 1861, Gen. Beauregard, in command of the provisional Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina, demanded the surrender of the Union garrison of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Garrison commander Anderson refused. On April 12, Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, which was unable to reply effectively. At 2:30 p.m., April 13, Major Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter, evacuating the garrison on the following day. The bombardment of Fort Sumter was the opening engagement of the American Civil War. Although there were no casualties during the bombardment, one Union artillerist was killed and three wounded (one mortally) when a cannon exploded prematurely while firing a salute during the evacuation on April 14. (New Age Encyclopedia).
The Battle of Gettysburg had more casualties than any other battle in the Civil War estimating 51,000 dead. Gen. Robert E. Lee concentrated his full strength against Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac at the crossroads county seat of Gettysburg. On July 1, Confederate forces concentrated on the town from west and north, driving Union defenders back through the streets to Cemetery Hill. During the night, reinforcements arrived from both sides. On July 2, Lee attempted to attack the Federals, first striking the Union left flank at the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, and the Round Tops with Longstreet’s and Hill’s divisions, and then attacking the Union right at Culp’s and East Cemetery Hills with Ewell’s divisions. By evening, the Federals retained Little Round Top and had repulsed most of Ewell’s men. During the morning of July 3, the Confederate infantry were driven from their last toe-hold on Culp’s Hill. In the afternoon, after a preliminary artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. The Pickett-Pettigrew assault, more popularly known as Pickett’s Charge, momentarily broke through the Union line but was driven back because of severe casualties. Stuart’s cavalry attempted to gain the Union rear but was closed off. On July 4, Lee began withdrawing his army toward Williamsport on the Potomac River. His line of wounded men stretched more than fourteen miles from the battle. (The Gettysburg Campaign).
Another battle of the war was the Battle of Bull Run 1. This was the next battle in line after the Battle of Fort Sumter. This was the first major land battle of the armies in Virginia. On July 16, 1861, the Union army under General Irvin McDowell marched from Washington against the Confederate army, which was drawn up behind Bull Run beyond Centreville. On the 21st, McDowell crossed at Sudley Ford and attacked the Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Fighting raged throughout the day as Confederate forces were driven back to Henry Hill. Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements (one brigade arriving by railroad from the Shenandoah Valley) extended and broke the Union right flank. The Federal retreat quickly deteriorated into a rout. Although victorious, Confederate forces were too disorganized to follow through. Confederate General Bee and Colonel Bartow were killed. Thomas J. Jackson earned the nom de guerre “Stonewall.” By July 22, the broken Union army reached the safety of Washington. This battle convinced the Lincoln administration that the war would be a long and costly affair. McDowell was relieved of command of the Union army and replaced by Major General George B. McClellan, who set out to reorganize and train the troops.
The next battle is the Battle of Shiloh. As a result of the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, the commander in the area, was forced to fall back, giving up Kentucky and much of West and Middle Tennessee. He chose Corinth, Mississippi as the staging area for an offensive against Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army, before the Army of the Ohio, under Major General Don Carlos Buell, could join it. The Confederate caution was a surprise, although a pleasant one, to the Union forces, and it took Grant some time to get a southern offensive, along the Tennessee River. Grant received orders to await Buell’s Army of the Ohio at the River. Grant did not choose to fortify his position; rather, he set about drilling his men, many of which were recruits. Attacking the Union troops on the morning of the 6th, the Confederates surprised them. Some Federals made stands and by afternoon, they had established a battle line at the sunken road, known as the “Hornets Nest.” Repeated Rebel attacks failed to carry the Hornets Nest, but artillery helped to turn the tide as Confederates surrounded the Union troops and captured, killed, or wounded most. Johnston had been mortally wounded earlier and his second General P.G.T. Beauregard took over. The Union troops made another line covering Pittsburg Landing. Fighting continued until after dark, but the Federals held. By the next morning, the combined Federal forces numbered about 40,000, outnumbering Beauregard’s army of less than 30,000. Beauregard was unaware of the arrival of Buell’s army, and launched an attack in response to an advance by William Nelson’s division of Buell’s army which was, at first, successful. Union troops stiffened and began forcing the Confederates back. Beauregard ordered a counterattack, which stopped the Union advance but did not break its battle line. At this point, Beauregard realized that he could not win so he retired from the field and headed back to Corinth. On the 8th, Grant sent General William T. Sherman, in pursuit of Beauregard. They ran into the Rebel rearguard at Fallen Timbers. Forrest’s aggressive tactics influenced the Union troops to return to Pittsburg Landing. Grant’s mastery of the Confederate forces continued. The Confederates continued to fall back until launching their August offensive. (The Battle That Changed the Civil War).
The battle following the Battle of Shiloh is the Battle of Antietam. On September 16, 1862 Major General George B. McClellan confronted Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland. September 17, Hooker’s corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee’s left flank that began the bloodiest day in American military history. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller’s cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up. Late in the day, Burnside’s corps finally got into action, crossing the stone bridge over Antietam Creek and rolling up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the assaults. After dark, Lee ordered the battered Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley.
Another battle is the Battle of Fredricksburg. On November 14, 1862 Burnside, now in command of the Army of the Potomac, sent a corps to occupy the vicinity of Falmouth near Fredericksburg. The rest of the army soon followed. Lee reacted by positioning his army on the heights behind the town. On December 11, Union engineers laid five pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock under fire. On the 12th, the Federal army crossed over, and on December 13, Burnside mounted a series of assaults on Prospect Hill and Marye’s Heights that resulted in a lot of casualties. Meade’s division, on the Union left flank, briefly broke into Jackson’s line but was driven back by a counterattack. Union generals C. Feger Jackson and George Bayard, and Confederate generals Thomas R.R. Cobb and Maxey Gregg were killed. On December 15, Burnside called off the offensive and recrossed the river, ending the campaign. Burnside initiated a new offensive in January 1863, which quickly bogged down in the winter mud. The abortive “Mud March” and other failures led to Burnside’s replacement by Major General Joseph Hooker in January 1863.
Another was the Battle of Chancellorsville. On April 27, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker led the V, IX, and XII Corps on a campaign to turn the Confederate left flank by crossing the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers above Fredericksburg. Passing the Rapidan via Germanna and Ely’s Fords, the Federals concentrated near Chancellorsville on April 30 and May 1. The III Corps was ordered to join the army via United States Ford. Sedgwick’s VI Corps and Gibbon’s division remained to demonstrate against the Confederates at Fredericksburg. In the meantime, Lee left a covering force under Maj. Gen. Jubal Early in Fredericksburg and marched with the rest of the army to confront the Federals. As Hooker’s army moved toward Fredericksburg on the Orange Turnpike, they encountered increasing Confederate resistance. Hearing reports of overwhelming Confederate force, Hooker ordered his army to suspend the advance and to concentrate again at Chancellorsville. Pressed closely by Lee’s advance, Hooker adopted a defensive posture, thus giving Lee the initiative. On the morning of May 2, Lt. Gen. T.J. Jackson directed his corps on a march against the Federal left flank, which was reported to be “hanging in the air.” Fighting was sporadic on other portions of the field throughout the day, as Jackson’s column reached its jump-off point. At 5:20 pm, Jackson’s line surged forward in an overwhelming attack that crushed the Union XI Corps. Federal troops rallied, resisted the advance, and counterattacked. Disorganization on both sides and darkness ended the fighting. While making a night reconnaissance, Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men and carried from the field. J.E.B. Stuart took temporary command of Jackson’s Corps. On May 3, the Confederates attacked with both wings of the army and massed their artillery at Hazel Grove. This finally broke the Federal line at Chancellorsville. Hooker withdrew a mile and entrenched in a defensive “U” with his back to the river at United States Ford. Union generals Berry and Whipple and Confederate general Paxton were killed; Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded. On the night of May 5-6, after Union reverses at Salem Church, Hooker recrossed to the north bank of the Rappahannock. This battle was considered by many historians to be Lee’s greatest victory.
The Battle of Vicksburg is the next battle in line. In May and June of 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s armies converged on Vicksburg, investing the city and entrapping a Confederate army under General John Pemberton. On July 4, Vicksburg surrendered after prolonged siege operations. This was the climax of one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the war. With the loss of Pemberton’s army and this important stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy was effectively split in half. Grant’s successes in the West boosted his reputation, leading ultimately to his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.
Then there was the Battle of Chickamauga. After the Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans renewed his offensive, aiming to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. The three army corps comprising Rosecrans’ s army split and set out for Chattanooga by separate routes. In early September 1863, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered in Tennessee and Georgia and forced Bragg’s army out of Chattanooga, heading south. The Union troops followed it and brushed with it at Davis’ Cross Roads. Bragg was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to meet a part of Rosecrans’s army, defeat them, and then move back into the city. On the 17th he headed north, intending to meet and beat the XXI Army Corps. As Bragg marched north on the 18th, his cavalry and infantry fought with Union cavalry and mounted infantry which were armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Fighting began in earnest on the morning of the 19th, and Bragg’s men hammered but did not break the Union line. The next day, Bragg continued his assault on the Union line on the left, and in late morning, Rosecrans was informed that he had a gap in his line. In moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosencrans created one, and James Longstreet’s men promptly exploited it, driving one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. George H. Thomas took over command and began consolidating forces on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill. Although the Rebels launched determined assaults on these forces, they held until after dark. Thomas then led these men from the field leaving it to the Confederates. The Union retired to Chattanooga while the Rebels occupied the surrounding heights.
The last battle in the Civil War was the Battle of Cold Harbor. On May 31, 1864 Sheridan’s cavalry seized the crossroads of Old Cold Harbor. Early on June 1, relying on their new repeating carbines and weak strengthening, Sheridan’s troopers threw back an attack by Confederate infantry. Confederate reinforcements arrived from Richmond and from the Totopotomoy Creek lines. Late on June 1, the Union Corps reached Cold Harbor and assaulted the Confederate works with some success. By June 2, both armies were on the field, forming on a seven-mile front that extended from Bethesda Church to the Chickahominy River. At dawn June 3, the Corps, followed later by the IX Corps, assaulted along the Bethesda Church-Cold Harbor line and were slaughtered at all points. Grant commented in his journal that this was the only attack he wished he had never ordered. The armies confronted each other on these lines until the night of June 12, when Grant again advanced by his left flank, marching to James River. On June 14, the II Corps was ferried across the river at Wilcox’s Landing by transports. On June 15, the rest of the army began crossing on a 2,200-foot long pontoon bridge at Weyanoke. Abandoning the approaches to Richmond, Grant sought to shift his army quickly south of the river to threaten Petersburg. (The Battlefields of the Civil War).
One of the biggest parts of the Civil war was the music. 1860 was one of the most musical decades in American history, and in no other war than the Civil War did music play such an important role among the soldiers. Robert E. Lee wrote in 1864, “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.” A certain type of music called AmeriMusic was founded in 1996 for the purpose of offering a wide variety of music of primarily American origins as performed by classically trained musicians. The founder, Douglas Jimerson, was trained as an opera singer, pianist, and musicologist. (The Civil War Homepage)
The Civil War is said to be the first true modern war. This conflict brought forth the use of the first air force, hot air balloons, and machine guns. The War was also the first to be reported and presented with photography. In addition, it was the first total war, meaning war was not only inflicted on soldiers, but civilians, land and cities as well. More important than, perhaps, any of the above characteristics is the role that women played in this terrible four-year conflict.
Unlike any war before this, women played an enormous part in the lives of soldiers’, family and home life, and they had a significant hand in how the War progressed and eventually ended. With the men running off left and right to sign up for the cause, women were left behind to carry out the man’s duties at home. As the War progressed, many women of the South had to take on the work of the slaves who had either been freed, or run away. Both the departures of the men and the slaves transformed the women’s lives to more than existence of domesticity.
Women saw the War as an opportunity to be leaders in the fight for abolition and equality. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were organizers of the National Women’s Loyalty League which called for a constitutional amendment to end slavery. They fought for the woman’s right to vote, argued against differences in pay between men and women in manufacturing jobs, and fought for the right to be nurses in the effort to ease the pain that this War was inflicting.
In addition to all this, women went as far as to be spies and soldiers for both sides. Knowing that women were not able by law to enlist as soldiers, some disguised themselves as men and served in both the Union and Confederate Armies. Many who did this were able to avoid getting caught, and served until either getting wounded or until the War’s end. Other women decided that being a spy was the best way to serve, and there were dozens of Southern, female spies in Washington DC, as well as one Northerner being in the Confederate White House.
Probably the most significant role of women was nursing. Thousands of women at the War’s outset left their homes to take care of dying soldiers. At first, many men were angered by this new role, and felt that it was unlady-like for women to care for naked and enlisted men. As the war raged on, however, and casualties were coming in at ever increasing numbers, demand for women nurses skyrocketed, and even those doctors who protested so loudly against women being in the operating rooms with them had to silence themselves. The United States Sanitary Commission, organized by the women of the North, ran kitchens, distributed medical supplies and inspected army camps to insure a standard of cleanliness. Over 3,000 Union women became unpaid nurses during the conflict, and Dorthea Dix, appointed head of the nursing corps, went unpaid for the entire four years at her post. Southern nurses were equally as vital to their cause setting up the largest, most efficient hospital on either side in Richmond, Virginia.
When talking about the Civil War, it is too often spoke of as a man’s war, fighting on the battlefields or serving on ship in the navy. Men ran the shows in both Washington and Richmond, recruited the soldiers, and organized the supply lines and military operations. It was the women, however, who were the lifelines of the Union and Confederacy. It was the women who tended the wounded tirelessly, ensured sanitary conditions and fought for causes that men were unable and possibly unwilling to fight for. The women’s role in the Civil War is just as significant as the man’s, and this fact should not be left out. (Women in the Civil War)
Of course we all know how it ends. Slavery is now abolished and after a long history of racism and segregation, we are more unified now than we were then. There are still the occasional “Hate Crimes” that are crimes attacking one particular race. Although our world will never be in perfect harmony with each other, we will never forget the turmoil and bloodshed of the thousands of men who died for our present day freedom.