The Civil War 1861-1865

Both North and South expected the Civil War to end quickly; but, as the discussion of the military engagements of the first two years illustrates, both were mistaken. In 1862, in an attempt to adjust to the likelihood of a prolonged conflict, the Confederacy adopted the first conscription law in the history of the United States. This is the first mention of the changes brought to the South by the war. These changes also included:

1. centralization of political and economic power;

2. increased urban growth;

3. increased industrialization;

4. changed roles for women;

5. mass poverty, labor shortages, food shortages, and runaway inflation; and

6. class conflict.

The theme of change is also apparent in the discussions of the war in the American West and in the discussion of the war's economic, political, and social impact on northern society.

In the midst of this change, slavery, the institution that was the underlying cause of the war, was seldom mentioned by either Jefferson Davis or Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's silence on the issue during the first year of the war reflected both his hope that a compromise could be reached with the South and his attempt to keep intact the coalitions that constituted the Republican Party. In dealing with the subject in 1862, he took a conservative and racist approach. When Congress attempted to lead on the slavery question, Lincoln at first refused to follow; and when abolitionists prodded him on the question, he distinguished between official duty and personal wishes. When the President did act, it was to offer the Emancipation Proclamation a document that was legally wanting but politically and morally of great meaning. Then, in 1864, he supported a constitutional ban on slavery by supporting the Thirteenth Amendment.

Ultimately, Jefferson Davis also addressed the slavery issue. Dedicated to independence for the Confederacy, Davis became convinced that emancipation was a partial means to that end. Although he faced serious opposition on the issue, Davis pushed and prodded the Confederacy toward emancipation, but his actions came too late to aid the Confederate cause.

The experience of war also changed the individual soldiers who served in the Confederate and Union armies. Accustomed to living largely unrestricted lives in rural areas, many had difficulty adjusting to the military discipline that robbed them of their individuality. Subjected to deprivation and disease and surrounded by dead, dying, and wounded colleagues, the reality of war had a profound emotional impact on those who experienced it. However, the commonality of these experiences and the sense of dedication to a common task forged bonds among soldiers that they cherished for years.

The last two years of the war brought increasing anti-government sentiment in both South and North. More widespread in the South, such sentiment involved the planters who seemed committed only to their own selfish interests the urban poor and the rural masses. The deep-rooted nature of southern war resistance affected the war effort, and the internal disintegration of the Confederacy was furthered by disastrous defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. It was in this atmosphere that southern peace movements emerged, more anti-Davis representatives were elected to the Confederate Congress, and secret antiwar societies began to form. Antiwar sentiment also emerged in the North; but, in large part because of Lincoln's ability to communicate with the common people, it never reached the proportions of southern opposition to the war effort. Opposition in the North was either political in nature (the Peace Democrats) or was undertaken by ordinary citizens subject to the draft (the New York draft riot).

In light of the political nature of the antiwar movement in the North, Lincoln feared for his re-election prospects in 1864. However, owing to the success of northern efforts to prevent diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy by Great Britain and France and to Sherman's successful march on Atlanta and his subsequent march to the sea, Lincoln's re-election was assured. The transforming fire proceeded to its conclusion with Lee's surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, followed by Lincoln's assassination five days later. The era of the Civil War had ended; the era of Reconstruction began.

Civil War 1861-1865

1860 Seven states in the Deep South launch the first wave of secession.

1861 Confederates fire on Fort Sumter, Lincoln calls for troops, and the Civil War begins. Four more states in the upper South secede in a second wave of secession.  South wins First Battle of Manassas in Virginia.

1862 Union advance against Robert E. Lee in Peninsula Campaign stalls.
South wins Second Battle of Manassas. South is rebuffed at Battle of Antietam in Maryland. President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation. Congress passes Pacific Railroad Act, chartering transcontinental railroad. Morrill Act establishes land-grant universities. Homestead Act provides free land in the West. Militia Act initiates Union conscription.

1863 After winning Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville,
South invades Pennsylvania and loses Battle of Gettysburg. Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant take Vicksburg on the Mississippi River. Enrollment Act centralizes mobilization effort.

1864 William T. Sherman achieves fall of Atlanta and leads "March to the Sea."Lincoln defeats former general George McClellan in presidential election.Grant?s army approaches Richmond through the Wilderness and lays siege to Petersburg, Virginia.

1865 Fall of Petersburg prompts Lee?s surrender at Appomattox Court House.Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinates Lincoln.

1863 Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.
Lincoln announces his Ten-Percent Plan for Reconstruction.

1864 Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana establish governments.

1865 Freedmen's Bureau created. Thirteenth Amendment ratified. Lincoln?s assassination. Andrew Johnson launches presidential Reconstruction.

1865-66 Southern states institute Black Codes.

1866 Congress passes Civil Rights Bill over Johnson's veto. Ku Klux Klan founded. Congress approves the Fourteenth Amendment. Tennessee readmitted to Congress. Republicans sweep midterm congressional elections.

1867 Congressional Reconstruction begins with the Military Reconstruction Act. Congress passes Tenure of Office Act. Thaddeus Stevens's land reform proposal defeated.

1867-68 Southern states hold constitutional conventions.

1868 Fourteenth Amendment ratified. House impeaches President Johnson; Senate acquits him. Seven more southern states readmitted to Congress. Ulysses S. Grant elected president.

1869 Congress approves the Fifteenth Amendment. Transcontinental railroad completed. Democratic Redeemers begin to win power in the South.

1870 Fifteenth Amendment ratified. Last three southern states readmitted to Congress.

1870-71 Congress passes the Enforcement Acts.

1872 Credit Mobilier scandal exposed.

1873 Panic of 1873 launches economic depression. Supreme Court decides Slaughterhouse Cases.

1874 Democrats win control of House for first time since 1856.

1875 Civil Rights Act passed. Mississippi Redeemers institute the "Mississippi Plan."

1876 Disputed Hayes-Tilden presidential election produces political crisis.

1877 Compromise of 1877 leads to inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes.President Hayes withdraws all federal troops from the South. Last remaining Republican governments in the South fall.


Globalization: It is useful to view this war to preserve the Union as part of a larger global trend to consolidate and centralize nation-states. This also occurred in Europe, Russia, and Japan.

Politics and Citizenship: Lincoln was a masterful political leader, perhaps America's greatest president. His use of federal power, and some abuses of that power, and conceptions of democracy as expressed in his "Gettysburg Address" have helped define modern America.

Slavery and Its Legacies: The Civil War ended slavery in America; however, it is important to note the active role that slaves themselves took to ensure that outcome, both in the Union and the Confederacy.

War and Diplomacy: The Civil War had an extraordinary impact on all aspects of American life. The Union victory was a victory of the Hamiltonian over the Jeffersonian vision for America, an end to the question of federal supremacy, and the end of slavery although a caste system based on race remained.

Digital History

Civil War

The American Civil War was the largest military conflict in the Western world between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. It cost 600,000 American lives, more than in World War I and World War II combined. Its social consequences were especially far-reaching. The war resulted in the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans. It also brought vast changes to the nation's financial system, fundamentally altered the relationship between the states and the federal government, and became modern history's first total war. It is truly the central event in American history.

The election of a Republican president opposed to the expansion of slavery into the western territories led seven states in the lower South to secede from the Union and to establish the Confederate States of America. After Lincoln notified South Carolina?s governor that he intended to resupply Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the Confederacy fired on the installation, leading the President to declare that an insurrection existed in the South.

Early in the war, the Union succeeded in blockading Confederate harbors, and by mid-July 1862 it had divided the Confederacy in two by wresting control of Kentucky, Missouri, and much of Tennessee, as well as the Mississippi River. In the Eastern Theater in 1861 and 1862, the Confederacy stopped Union attempts to capture its capital in Richmond, Virginia. In September 1862 (at Antietam in Maryland) and July 1863 (at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania), Robert E. Lee tried and failed to provoke European powers intervention in the war by winning a victory on Northern soil.

After futile pleas to the border states to free slaves voluntarily, Lincoln in the summer of 1862 decided that emancipation was a military and political necessity. The Emancipation Proclamation transformed the war from a conflict to save the Union to a war to abolish slavery. It also authorized the enlistment of African Americans. During the war Congress also adopted policies that altered American society.  The Homestead Act, which offered free public land to western settlers; and land grants, that supported construction of a transcontinental railroad. The government also raised the tariff, enacted the first income tax, and established a system of federally-chartered banks. The Union lost about 360,000 troops during the Civil War and the Confederacy about 260,000. This is almost as many soldiers as have died in all other American wars combined, and in December 1865, the 13th Amendment to the constitution ended slavery in the United States.

The Civil War
As the Civil War rages, all eyes turn to Vicksburg, where limited war becomes total war. Professor Miller looks at the ferocity of the fighting, at Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and at the bitter legacy of the battle -- and the war. 

Lecture Outlines

Secession and Civil War 1860-1865


The Civil War

Economic Impact of Civil War

Civil War and Reconstruction 1861-1877

Student Assignments 

Civil War Webquest ws