The Civil War
The American civil war is a war fought between the years 1861 and 1865, which had a lasting impact on the American society for centuries to come. Also known with names such as the ‘war between states’ and ‘the war of secession’, the civil war is one of the most extensively discussed and written about topics. There were numerous biographies written on the wartime heroes and by the year 1932 (seven decades after the war) there were ninety-two biographies of Robert. E. Lee and forty million books printed on President Lincoln. However, the topic can never be over-studied as it is a vital part of the American history.
The war literally divided the country into two and affected the life of every American citizen. Some people had friends or neighbors in opposite camps, and in the border regions, like Kentucky and Missouri, there were many cases, where the members of the same family were in opposite camps. Even President Abraham Lincoln, had two of his brother-in-laws fighting for the confederacy. Such was the divisive nature of the war, and it had a profound impact on the American political scenario.
The war was fought between the Northern states and the Southern states that seceded from the Union. These Southern States formed an alliance known as the ‘Confederacy’. The reason of the conflict has its roots in various political, social, and economic differences that existed between these two factions in that period. During the days of the American Revolution and the framing and adoption of the constitution, both the sections remained united because of common interests. However, both the regions had stark differences that came into light in the decades that followed.
In the early nineteenth century, while the Northern economy was rapidly modernizing and diversifying, the South remained basically as an agrarian economy that heavily relied on the slavery institution to run its plantations. The cotton produced using slave labor was the backbone of the economy and thus, slavery was an important part of both the social and economic system of the region. In the North, meanwhile, slavery was seen as anarchism in the midst of an enlightened age. The rise of the abolitionists in the North during the 1830s further fuelled these differences.
The Missouri compromise entered, in the year 1820, between the two factions to regulate slavery in the Western territories, ensured peace for a few decades. However, the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed this act, and allowed the territories of Nebraska and Kansas to decide whether to allow slavery or not through popular sovereignty. The Northern abolition supporters viewed this change as an assertion of power by the South, and this led to the creation of the Republican Party.
During the 1860 election, the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, defeated the Democrat candidates and became the President of the country. This event acted as a catalyst to the already brimming differences, and the southern states initiated the process of secession. South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860 and was followed by six other southern states –Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida. Despite the best efforts of the outgoing president John Buchanan to avert a war, Lincoln inherited the Presidency with a conflict looming.
Lincoln was determined to hold on to fort Sumter, which the newly formed confederate government claimed. On April 12, 1861, the confederate army under Commander P. G. T. Beauregard fired at the fort Sumter and the civil war officially begun. Lincoln immediately ordered military action against the seven seceded states. These seven states were later joined by other states including North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas.
Both the Union and Confederate forces were inexperienced, yet during the first phase the confederates scored an important victory in the battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. This made Lincoln to rope in George B. McClellan, who led the forces in a victorious campaign in West Virginia, and after the retirement of Winfield Scott, he served as the chief Northern commander. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee was at the helm of the Southern army and under his able leadership, well supported by Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, the South scored some important victories. He saved Richmond in the seven days battle and emerged victorious in the second Bull Run Battle. These victories forced Lincoln to replace McClellan.
For an outsider assessing the war situation at the start, it would have seemed that the odds were stacked heavily in favor of the North. North had 23 states in its union as against 11 southern states. North had 21 million people living in its territories while the South had close to nine million (several of them were slaves), and the North had 70% of the railroads, and 100,000 manufacturing plants, while the territories south of the river Potomac had only 18,000 plants. However, the South did put up a valiant and tactically planned attack, and dragged the war for four long years. South believed they were fighting for a cause, which is saving the ‘Southern institutions’.
The Union army scored some important victories in Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863, which were turning points in the war that shifted the momentum in favor of the North. On Apr. 9, 1865 Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, at Appomattox Court House and the war was all but over. After the fall of the port of Galveston, Texas on June 2, 1965, the war was officially over. While it lasted it took the lives of an estimated 750,000 soldiers and many more civilians. 10% of Northern males between the age group of 20-45, and 20% of Southern males between the age group of 18-40 died in this struggle.
The war occupies a prominent position in the American history because it posed a serious question regarding the rights of the States, which is a political question that had behind it a moral issue. It was a true industrial war in which railways and telegraphs were used extensively. Both sides fought for the ideals they believed in, and had exceptional leaders commanding at the helm. The war, through resulted in numerous losses to life and property, left a rich legacy and as Lincoln put it, ‘the unified United States constituted the best hope of earth’.
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