American Civil War

Ddetailed Description of the American Civil War

Jan 20, 2020 at Superb Free History Essays Online

American Civil War (1861 - 1865)

The goal of this paper is to provide a detailed description of the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). It highlights significant historical, cultural, economic and strategic factors contributing to the causes and development of the conflict. Furthermore, the paper provides the effect of these factors, with a detailed explanation of the intentions of each side in the war. Finally, a conclusion is drawn from the analysis of the conflict, as well as the manifestation and arguments on its outcome.

American Civil War is also known as the war between the Southern and Northern States. It began in the year 1861 and lasted for four years. The United States federal government and eleven Southern States that claimed their right to gain independence from the Union were the rivaling sides. The growing friction was a culmination of a set of factors which include armed hostilities, slavery, trade, as well as the principle of state’s rights.

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The friction can also be attributed to the fundamental differences of a persistent nature which existed between the economies of the Southern and Northern States: the North had a developed and growing manufacturing sector based on small farms that utilized free labor, while the economy of the South relied on large plantations where slave labor was used. In the 1840’s, in a view of creating new states, the North decided to end slavery along with the western territories. This move was opposed by the Southern States since they thought that the efforts of the North to block slavery expansion would, in the long run, endanger slaveholdings present in the Southern States. As a result, by the 1950s a considerable number of people in the North called for the abolition of slavery; however, the Southerners threatened to separate from the Union as a way of protecting their right to continue with slaveholding.

In 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected as the President the Southern States actualized their warning and seceded. Eleven Southern states organized to form what they named the Confederate States of America. It was explained by the fact the President-elect held antislavery positions, and the South feared that their right might be infringed.


On April 12, 1861, the war declared and after bloodless bombardment which lasted for 34 hours, Robert Anderson lost Fort Sumter in South Carolina to the Confederate troops. When the war began Union President called for 75,000 soldiers for a three months service, and directed the treasury secretary to advance $2 million to be used for raising the troops. He also suspended the injunction of habeas corpus. On its part, until that time the Confederate government had called for 100,000 soldiers to serve for six months, though the number was increased to 400,000.

At first sight, it was evident that 23 states which remained in the union outnumbered the 11 seceded states. The population of the North was 21 million, and the South held 9 million people. Out of the total population of the South, 3.5 million people were slaves. In addition, the federal government-owned approximately 100,000 manufacturing plants, as opposed to 18,000 situated in the South along the Potomac River. The Federals also had an advanced railway network since over 70 percent of railroads were situated in the North. Moreover, they had a 30-to-1 superiority in relation to arms production, a 2-to-1 manpower edge, and a great predominance of financial and commercial resources in their command. The North also had an established and functional government, with regular soldiers that were small in number but efficient. However, the Confederate States were not preordained to defeat. The Southern militiamen were unsurpassed in interior line combating, and again their military tradition had gained root in the history of the Union prior to 1860. Furthermore, the Confederate coastline of approximately 5,600 km seemed to disregard blockade, and Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President anticipated being rendered a considerable foreign aid, as well as intervention. Confederate militiamen were fighting for independence and against certain institutions like slavery. Indeed, their cause was not unusual enough because other countries had won sovereignty aligned with equally heavy tasks.

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The two sides were faced with command problems. People considered Davis to be more superior to Lincoln as a commander-in-chief. Davis was a graduate, a glorious hero of the Mexican War; he showed himself as a proficient Secretary of War during the reign of President Franklin Pierce and Mississippi senator. Whereas Lincoln had served in the legislature of Illinois and was an unexceptional member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and being in this position he only did of short military service during the Black Hawk War, and his performance was not good. Davis possessed desired and appropriate qualities for a commander-in-chief, such as honesty, determination, firmness, dignity, patience, energy and restraint; however, his success was flawed by his inability to delegate responsibility to juniors, as well as excessive pride. Conversely, it took time for Lincoln to accumulate experience and in 1984 he had transformed into a consummate military leader. He had to learn a number of tactical and strategic matters, as well as the principles of appointing commanders. After the two adversary commanders called for soldiers and the war was lengthening indefinitely, the two parties began to train a considerable number of volunteers as militiamen.

The rivals used different core strategies with Davis opting for a defensive approach, though the Confederates had an early avenue of success if they had launched a grand offensive into the Northern States before the federal government found capable commanders. Lincoln, on the other hand, had to attack, capture, and hold the strongholds of the Confederacy. Such a strategy was supported by the maintenance of morale through nationalistic appeals and antislavery sentiments. By use of military, the Union shot down the economy of the Confederates by blockading the coastline, it also captured Mississippi and seized Tennessee. Furthermore, the western campaign conquered Atlanta, Carolina, and Georgia. The strategy for the eastern part was to seize Richmond and at last, Grant forced Robert Lee to surrender. The surrender was marked by a decisive victory and paved the way for reconstruction. The outcome of the war was over 970,000 casualties including nearly 560,000 deaths. Besides, the factors that led to the war, the name of the war, and reasons that support the outcome remain subjects of controversy.

Twenty-three states remained loyal after the onset of the war: Wisconsin, Vermont, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Delaware, Connecticut, and California. Other rebel states were added after being reconquered, such as Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Nevada. The territories of Washington, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, Dakota, and Colorado fought on the Union side during the war. There were seven states, which seceded being led by South Carolina, and they adopted a governmental model similar to that of the Union with a provisional constitution. The capital of the Confederate States of America was situated in Montgomery, Alabama. In February 1861, a pre-war conference was held in Washington with an objective to stop the war, but it failed. The Confederates seized all forts within their borders except for Fort Sumter. There was no military response from President Buchanan, but in Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts, governors secretly began purchasing weapons and raising militiamen for retaliatory actions.

During his inauguration ceremony, the President-elect Abraham Lincoln made it clear that secession was illegal, and that military invasion would not be used, but force will be applied in order to ensure ownership of federal property. President Lincoln declined to negotiate with the Confederate delegation that was sent during the ceremony and maintained that Confederacy was illegal.

On April 12, Confederate soldiers attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina until it was surrendered by the Federal troops. Lincoln called for troops from the united states for a three-month service, but four states, and most importantly, Virginia rejected the call and seceded. As a gratitude sign, the Confederates moved their capital to Richmond, Virginia. Some localities, particularly, Eastern Tennessee, were against the secession.

A U.S. Army General Winfield Scott developed the Anaconda plan as a tool to be used in the war and to ensure minimal bloodshed. The plan suggested an idea of using Union blockade along the coastline to strangulate the radical economy. In addition, it was expected that the invasion and capture of Mississippi would lead to a split of the South. The President accepted the plan but ignored Scott’s caution against an instantaneous attack on Richmond.

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In May 1861 Lincoln declared a barricade of all ports in the South, all international and local duties were eliminated, and it led to a collapse of the Southern economy. British investors had to build small and fast blockade runners that conveyed military supplies from the Bahamas and Cuba in exchange for tobacco and cotton. The well-known marine battle was held in Hampton Roads in 1862 and ended with the frustration of the efforts of the Confederate to break the barricade.

Eastern Front in 1861 – 1863

In July 1861, there was a ferocious resistance of Confederate soldiers at Manassas, Virginia. Union troops were forced to retreat to Washington, D.C. It was during the first battle named in Manassas that the Union troops lost their positions to the Confederates, and in order to stop other slave states from seceding, the government pronounced that the war was meant to protect the Union and not to abolish slavery. In 1862, Lincoln urged Major Gen. McClellan to use offensive operations, and in spring McClellan attacked Virginia from the peninsula between, the James River and the York River. Though the troops managed to reach Richmond gates, their advance was halted resulting in a defeat by Robert Lee, and the Union troops were forced to retreat. McClellan troops were taken to reinforce John Pope’s forces in Virginia.

Similarly, Pope was defeated both in the Second Bull Run as well as in the Northern Virginia Operation. After the outcome of the Second Bull Run, Confederates conducted their initial offensive operation in the North. The attack was led by Gen. Lee supported by 55,000 soldiers. On September 5, they invaded Maryland. This forced President Lincoln to restore McClellan troops, and on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg a battle named Battle of Antietam took place. It marked the bloodiest day in the war history of America. In the battle, Lee’s army retreated, and it was declared to be a Union victory since it halted the invasion. Furthermore, it served as a justification for the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. Major Gen. McClellan was substituted by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside because the former failed to command a successful continuation of the Battle of Antietam. Burnside suffered an instantaneous defeat when more than 10,000 soldiers were killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg.

At the end of the battle, he was replaced by Joseph Hooker, who was unable to defeat Lee’s army and suffered a humiliating loss in May 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville. It was the cause of his replacement with Maj. Gen. George Meade. It was the appointment of Meade made during the second invasion by Lee. The Battle of Gettysburg was won by Meade, and it represents the most significant victory in the history of North America. Some people consider the period to be the turning point of the war. Confederates suffered 28,000 casualties against 23,000 federal casualties. Lincoln was disappointed with Meade’s failure to intercept Lee’s surrender, and due to this, he moved to the Western front in search of effective leadership.

Western Front in 1861 – 1863

Despite numerous successes achieved by the Confederate soldiers in the East, they failed drastically at the Western front. In the Battle of Pea Ridge, the Confederate soldiers were defeated at the early stage, and the invasion of Polk’s troops in Kentucky revealed that the state was anti-Confederacy since the state had declared to its neutrality. A number of states that include Tennessee and Nashville were seized in 1862 by the Union and Missouri, Louisiana and New Orleans were captured by the Union navy. The Union army was led by a tactician and strategist Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant. Ulysses won the battles at Forts Donelson and Henry, and the success of the Battle of Vicksburg strengthened the Federal command of the Mississippi River. Maj. Grant also defeated Bragg in Tennessee forcing Confederate soldiers out of Tennessee, and as a result, it opened an offensive route to Atlanta and the Confederacy heart.

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The Causes of the American Civil War

The origins of the American Civil War are to be found in complex institutions of slavery, economics, modernization, expansionism, politics, sectionalism, as well as disagreements over the extent of state rights against federal power.

Failure to Compromise

Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, there was a collapse of the second party system. The new Republican Party replaced the Whig Party. It was a leading political power with the sectional appeal, though it was mostly based on the Whig economic platform. The popularity of the party relied on its commitment to cease the spreading of slavery into new states. The warfare in Kansas territory, 1857 panic, and the raid on Harper’s Ferry by John Brown increased tensions, and it helped Republicans win the elections in 1860. The victory of President Abraham Lincoln was opposed by the Southern States because of the slaveholding interests, and as such, it triggered the secession of the South from the union. During the crisis, a considerable number of politicians vowed for a sectional accommodation through the so-called Crittenden Compromise in order to protect the Union. Republicans rejected the compromise, and the only concession was a peaceful secession. Though it was approved by the U.S. and supported by a significant number of abolitionists, Republican authorities and conservative Democrats rejected it.

State Rights

The Southern states argued that the federal government was not able to prevent the expansion of slavery to new states, and Southerners demanded federal jurisdiction over slaves who had escaped to the North. The Northerners maintained views that were equally contradictory and reversed concerning the issues.


The issue of slavery was considered to be a key contributing factor for the period from 1860 to 1890, but historians of the 1900-1955 era argue that antislavery sentiments were less significant than cultural, economic and constitutional issues. Since the 1960’s historians reverted to slavery as to the main contributor to the war. They maintain that Southerners were fighting to protect it, while the Northerners insisted on abolishing it. Leaders from the South regarded protection of slavery as a politically essential issue. The political interests of the region in the Union included the labor system. The Southern authorities identified it as their right to have equal opportunities in relation to the introduction of their labor system to new territories, as well as the ability to return escaped slaves from the North with the assistance of the federal government. The opposition of the federal government to slavery was based on morality and self-interest. The North celebrated labor dignity as well as workers' opportunities through a free-labor ideology because of the small-scale producer economy. Northern states regarded slavery as a democracy threat, as well as unfair competition for men who want to succeed in life. Northerners also supported the abolition of slavery on moral grounds since they were required to put into effect fugitive slave laws. The Southerners wished a fugitive slave law to be stricter, and the Union granted it to them.


The abolitionist movement emerged in the 1830’s. In the beginning, it was small-scale and clearly manifested. The movement was led by the free black-skinned and New Englanders. A considerable number of people in the Northern and Southern States regarded slavery as an unwelcome institution. By the 1840s, abolitionism expanded and affirmed that slave ownership was an awful sin, and the institution of slavery was supposed to be abolished. In terms of morality, the Southerners resented the stereotypical presentation of slave owners as cruel and pitiless. Indeed, the Southerners were outraged by the attacks of the abolitionists, and in the 1830’s there was a growing and widespread ideological defense of the institution of slavery within the Southern borders. In the 1850’s there were incidents of the expulsion of Northern teachers who supported abolitionism, and the abolitionist literature was banned in the region. The Southerners argued that Republicans sentiments conveying that secessionist was abolitionist were meant to trigger bloody slave uprisings.

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The North adopted a free-labor system, whereas the South was relying on the slavery-based system. The two systems had different but corresponding economic bases. The North had a vast commercial and financial economy and exported agricultural products, but the South used slaves in its large-scale production of export crops such as tobacco and cotton. However, such agencies as brokerage, shipping, financial mediation and insurance for the cotton trade were concentrated in New York City. The divergent economic interests yielded sectional agendas, which normally became subjects of rivalry in Congress. For instance, Pennsylvania politicians lobbied the introduction of a protective tariff that would strengthen the iron industry.

On their side, the Southerners supported liberated trade since they relied on exports. The West also demanded more infrastructural development in the region but less funding in the Southern part. Northern Democrats opposed government role in infrastructure development, but the Southerners favored it. The economic conflict between the two regions has been exaggerated since the two depended on each other in terms of prosperity. The South fostered secession believing that the creation of an independent nation will guarantee sufficient support. Confederates believed that Britain, as well as France, could intervene and support them in their quest for independence since the countries depended on cotton supplies. The analysis conducted during 1860-61 debates proved to be influential, but during the war, it became a figment of the imagination.


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Fear of Republican Control

The election of Abraham Lincoln triggered the desire for Southern secession since regional leaders thought that the president would stop slavery expansion as promised and eventually slavery would become extinct. The Southerners believed that it was time to leave the Union and, in addition, Confederates had lost power balance in the Senate as well as Electoral College. In such conditions, they were a perpetual minority in the Union dominated by the North, and they thought it was a sufficient ground for peaceful secession.

Fear of Modernization

Southerners engaged in War because they wanted to protect their rights and values from the modernity prevalent in the North.

End of the War

In 1864, Lincoln appointed Grant as the general of the entire Union armies. Grant was familiar with war matters and shared the same idea with Lincoln and Sherman that the only way to end the war was to defeat Confederate forces, as well as their economic base. As a result, he devised a strategy that was aimed at striking the heart of Confederacy from several directions. During Grant’s Overland Campaign, federal forces in the East fought a lot of battles in an attempt to defeat Lee. Butler failed to outflank Lee in the south, and despite astounding losses, Grant was determined, and he continued with his strategy to force Lee’s troops back to Richmond. He defeated the Confederate soldiers after nine-month trench warfare in the blockade of Petersburg. By 1864, Grant discovered that General Philip Sheridan was an aggressive commander who was able to triumph in the Valley Campaigns. Gen. Phillip managed to gain victories in a number of battles, and in the long run, destroyed the valley’s agricultural base. Sherman later employed this strategy in Georgia. In the meantime, Sherman defeated the Confederate army and captured Atlanta.

The fall of Atlanta marked a significant factor for American citizens to approve of Abraham Lincoln's re-election bid as the Union President. Sherman destroyed plantation as his troops marched through Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean and thousands of liberated slaves followed him. The end for Lee together with his army became inevitable when Sherman advanced Virginia from the south. Lee tried to escape from Petersburg to connect with Johnston, but Grant’s army overtook him since they were equipped better and had more rest before it. At last, Lee and Johnston surrendered their troops and agreed to join the Union. The last battle was the siege of Palmito Ranch in May 1865, though it ended with Confederates victory, all Confederate soldiers admitted defeat by June 1865.

The outcome of the war was predestined and due to it, there were no chances for the South to win. This is attributed to the insurmountable advantage held by the North in terms of population, industrial-strength as well as the determination for victory. On the other hand, the South had an equal opportunity to gain its independence since the Southerners were on a defensive front, which required less military resources. The success of the Union is attributed to a number of factors, which include industrialized economy, political system, immense population, excellent railroads network, extensive commercial and financial resource base, and a more efficient government. This was also attributed to the inability of the Confederates to replace their lost manpower in the battle.

The end of the war meant a lot to the Northern leaders. It was not only an end of the physical combat but a platform for ensuring their chief goals of eliminating slavery, as well as repudiation of Confederate nationalism. Reconstruction was undertaken after the end of the war up to 1877 where rapidly changing and complex policies were launched. It is true that the war had an enduring influence on American culture and politics. For a long period after the war, the Republicans used war casualties as their electoral tactic, whereas the war memories and reconstruction united the South in a democratic block, which is a necessary element of national politics. Thus, the ghosts of the disagreement still remain in America.

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