American Civil War

American Civil War
Clockwise from top: Battle of Gettysburg, Union Captain John Tidball's artillery, Confederate prisoners, ironclad USS Atlanta, ruins of Richmond, Virginia, Battle of Franklin
Date April 12, 1861May 9, 1865 (by proclamation) [1]
(4 years, 3 weeks and 6 days)
( Last shot fired June 22, 1865)
Location Southern United States, Northeastern United States, Western United States, Atlantic Ocean

Union victory

United States United States   Confederate States
Commanders and leaders

United States Abraham Lincoln
United States Ulysses S. Grant
United States William T. Sherman
United States David Farragut
United States George B. McClellan
United States Henry Halleck
United States George Meade

Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis
Confederate States of America Robert E. Lee  Surrendered
Confederate States of America J. E. Johnston  Surrendered
Confederate States of America G. T. Beauregard  Surrendered
Confederate States of America A. S. Johnston 
Confederate States of America Braxton Bragg  Surrendered


2,200,000: [a]

698,000 (peak) [2][ better source needed] [3]

750,000–1,000,000: [a] [4]

360,000 (peak) [2] [5]
Casualties and losses

110,000+ killed in action/died of wounds
230,000+ accident/disease deaths [6] [7]
25,000–30,000 died in Confederate prisons [2] [6]

365,000+ total dead [8] 282,000+ wounded [7]
181,193 captured [2]
[ better source needed] [9]

Total: 828,000+ casualties

94,000+ killed in action/died of wounds [6]
26,000–31,000 died in Union prisons [7]

290,000+ total dead
137,000+ wounded
436,658 captured [2]
[ better source needed] [10]

Total: 864,000+ casualties
50,000 free civilians dead [11]
80,000+ slaves dead [12]
Total: 785,000–1,000,000+ dead [13] [14]

The American Civil War was fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865. The result of a long-standing controversy over slavery, war broke out in April 1861, when Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated. The nationalists of the Union proclaimed loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States, who advocated for states' rights to expand slavery.

Among the 34 U.S. states in February 1861, seven Southern slave states individually declared their secession from the U.S. to form the Confederate States of America, or the South. The Confederacy grew to include eleven slave states. The Confederacy was never diplomatically recognized by the United States government, nor was it recognized by any foreign country (although the United Kingdom and France granted it belligerent status). The states that remained loyal to the U.S. (including the border states where slavery was legal) were known as the Union or the North.

The Union and Confederacy quickly raised volunteer and conscription armies that fought mostly in the South over four years. The Union finally won the war when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Appomattox Court House, followed by a series of surrenders by Confederate generals throughout the southern states. Four years of intense combat left 620,000 to 750,000 people dead, a higher number than the number of U.S. military deaths in all other wars combined (at least until approximately the Vietnam War). [15] Much of the South's infrastructure was destroyed, especially the transportation systems, railroads, mills and houses. The Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and 4 million slaves were freed. The Reconstruction Era (1863–1877) overlapped and followed the war, with the process of restoring national unity, strengthening the national government, and granting civil rights to freed slaves throughout the country. The Civil War is the most studied and written about episode in U.S. history. [16]

Prelude to war

In the 1860 presidential election, Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, supported banning slavery in all the U.S. territories. The Southern states viewed this as a violation of their constitutional rights and as the first step in a grander Republican plan to eventually abolish slavery. The three pro-Union candidates together received an overwhelming 82% majority of the votes cast nationally: Republican Lincoln's votes centered in the north, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas' votes were distributed nationally and Constitutional Unionist John Bell's votes centered in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The Republican Party, dominant in the North, secured a plurality of the popular votes and a majority of the electoral votes nationally, so Lincoln was constitutionally elected president. He was the first Republican Party candidate to win the presidency. However, before his inauguration, seven slave states with cotton-based economies declared secession and formed the Confederacy. The first six to declare secession had the highest proportions of slaves in their populations, a total of 49 percent. [17] The first seven with state legislatures to resolve for secession included split majorities for unionists Douglas and Bell in Georgia with 51% and Louisiana with 55%. Alabama had voted 46% for those unionists, Mississippi with 40%, Florida with 38%, Texas with 25%, and South Carolina cast Electoral College votes without a popular vote for president. [18] Of these, only Texas held a referendum on secession.

Eight remaining slave states continued to reject calls for secession. Outgoing Democratic President James Buchanan and the incoming Republicans rejected secession as illegal. Lincoln's March 4, 1861, inaugural address declared that his administration would not initiate a civil war. Speaking directly to the "Southern States", he attempted to calm their fears of any threats to slavery, reaffirming, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the United States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." [19] After Confederate forces seized numerous federal forts within territory claimed by the Confederacy, efforts at compromise failed and both sides prepared for war. The Confederates assumed that European countries were so dependent on " King Cotton" that they would intervene, but none did, and none recognized the new Confederate States of America.

Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter. While in the Western Theater the Union made significant permanent gains, in the Eastern Theater, the battle was inconclusive from 1861–1862. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal. [20] To the west, by summer 1862 the Union destroyed the Confederate river navy, then much of their western armies, and seized New Orleans. The 1863 Union Siege of Vicksburg split the Confederacy in two at the Mississippi River. In 1863, Robert E. Lee's Confederate incursion north ended at the Battle of Gettysburg. Western successes led to Ulysses S. Grant's command of all Union armies in 1864. Inflicting an ever-tightening naval blockade of Confederate ports, the Union marshaled the resources and manpower to attack the Confederacy from all directions, leading to the fall of Atlanta to William T. Sherman and his march to the sea. The last significant battles raged around the Siege of Petersburg. Lee's escape attempt ended with his surrender at Appomattox Court House, on April 9, 1865. While the military war was coming to an end, the political reintegration of the nation was to take another 12 years, known as the Reconstruction Era.

The American Civil War was one of the earliest true industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships and iron-clad ships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. The mobilization of civilian factories, mines, shipyards, banks, transportation and food supplies all foreshadowed the impact of industrialization in World War I, World War II and subsequent conflicts. It remains the deadliest war in American history. From 1861 to 1865, it is estimated that 620,000 to 750,000 soldiers died, [21] along with an undetermined number of civilians. [b] By one estimate, the war claimed the lives of 10 percent of all Northern males 20–45 years old, and 30 percent of all Southern white males aged 18–40. [23]

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