Civil War

In the three months that followed the elections of Abraham Lincoln, seven states seceded from the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Representatives from these states quickly established a new political organization - the Confederate States of America and Jefferson Davis was elected the president.

The Southern states seized and occupied most of the federal forts within their borders or off their shores. Only four remained in the hands of the Union. Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor was the most important. In April 1861, general Pierre T. Beauregard (South) demanded major Robert Anderson to surrender the fort, which was garrisoned by federal troops. When he refused to comply with this demand, the Southern rebels opened the fire on Fort Sumter and the Civil War began. After 34 hours of bombardment, the fort was severely damaged and Anderson was forced to surrender.

The people of each section entered the war with high hopes for an early victory. The Union was stronger not only in population, but also in industrial resources. The 23 states of the North had about 22 million people, while 11 states of the South had only a little more than 9 million people, including nearly 4 million black slaves. The North had a tremendous advantage in industrial development, making almost all of its war supplies, while the South had to depend on foreign imports. Similarly, the network of railways in the north contributed to federal military prospects. On the other hand, the Confederates had the advantage of fighting on their home territory, and their morale was excellent. They also had superb soldiers and generals, but the Union forces greatly outnumbered them.

In spite of all advantages, the North was not very successful at first. The generals of the Confederacy were much more able than those of the Union. The unity of purpose made the South very strong enemy and the Confederates won some victories in the early part of the war. A military turning point of the war came in 1863, when Southern general Robert E. Lee marched north into Pennsylvania, and at Gettysburg he met the Union army. The largest battle ever fought on American soil ensued. After three days, the Confederates were defeated.

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln at last found a capable general Ulysses S. Grant and made him a commander of all the Union forces. Although there was no doubt about the victory of the North, the South fought on till complete exhaustion. Richmond, the capital of the Southern Confederacy was captured on April 1, 1865. Finally, on April 9 the end of the war came, when General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House. Five days later, on April 14, Lincoln was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth. After this conflict the South was devastated and subjected to military occupation. The Civil War was the most traumatic episode in American history. It has been estimated that 120,000 men were killed in action during the conflict, and further 64,000 died of their wounds. More than 186,000 died of a variety of different illnesses. Even today, the scars have not entirely healed. In general however, it can be said that the war resolved two fundamental questions that had divided the United States since 1776. It put an end to slavery, which was completely abolished in 1865 by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, and it also decided that America was not a collection of states, but a single indivisible nation.