Overview of the American Civil War
Hi and welcome to this brief overview of the United States Civil War, its causes, and results… that should be easy enough to do in less than ten minutes, right?
Okay, first, let’s just glance at the big picture. The war officially began in 1861 and finished in 1865, but there were lots of things that built up to this over a period of 30-40 years! Let’s try to discuss the buildup, real quick.
Here’s a list of important events and things to know before we jump in to the big picture.
1828 | Congress passed the Tariff of 1828. It also is called the “Tariff of Abominations” by its opponents in the cotton South.
1830 | In North Carolina v. Mann, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that slaveowners had absolute authority over their slaves and could not be found guilty of committing violent acts against them.
1831 | Nat Turner’s Rebellion
1833 | The Compromise Tariff of 1833, the North’s pseudo apology for the Tariff of Abominations
1846 – 1850 | The Wilmot Proviso
1850 | The Compromise of 1850
1854 – 1861 | Bleeding Kansas
1857 | Dred Scott v. Sanford
1859 | John Brown’s Raid
And those are just some of the political issues going on. Economically, the North and South differed in nearly every way. The North was growing in urban populations (people who lived inside of cities), whilst the Southern population remained largely dispersed. The Northern states were increasingly industrialized and had 5 times the number of factories as the south, as well as 90% of the nation’s skilled workers.
The South’s economy depended heavily on agriculture and international trade. Therefore, tariffs and import duties weighed extra heavily on the South. Tobacco and cotton were especially important to the economy so weather also impacted their GDP, which was less than half of that of the North. Once the war started, the North would hamstring the South’s economy by creating a trade embargo and then out-produce weaponry at a rate of 30 to 1. Population-wise, the North contained 2.5 times the number of people, which would mean a vastly outnumbered Southern force.
So, now that we’ve gotten some of our general issues out of the way, let’s start a war.
Many people will say that the Civil War was all about slavery, but that’s only partially true. Yes, some Southern leaders argued it was, men like Alexander H. Stephens, who said, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
But, as with every story, there’s more than meets the eye. You see, some Southerners argued it wasn’t so much about slavery as it was about the North pushing them around politically and saying they were not allowed to leave the Union. They argued that just like when the colonies revolted against the oppression of Britain during the American Revolution, the Southern States had a right to revolt against the oppression of the North.
Now, you may be wondering, uh, what oppression are you talking about? The Southerners are the ones with slaves. Well, the South argued that the over-taxation on all their internationally traded goods, the increased centralization of the government (decreasing the power of the States), and the general ridicule for Southern culture was an affront that should not have to be endured.
“Simply, that the machinery of the Federal Government, under which we have lived, and which was designed for the common benefit, has been made the means of despoiling the South, to enrich the North; … the workings of the iniquitous tariffs, under the operation of which the South had, in effect, been reduced to a dependent colonial condition, almost as abject, as that of the Roman provinces, under their proconsuls; the only difference being, that smooth-faced hypocrisy had been added to robbery, inasmuch as we had been plundered under the forms of law.
We are, in fact, fighting for independence.” – Gen. Raphael Semmes
The South believed the Constitution amounted to a contract that could be left freely by a state, since it was originally entered into freely by the States. To which, Lincoln unequivocally said. “No”
“I hold that, in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the union of these States is perpetual….It follows….that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union;” – President Lincoln.
So, let’s talk the major moments of the war.
April 12, 1861- Southern forces fire upon Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The Civil War has formally begun.
April 15, 1861- President Lincoln calls for 75,000 militia to stop the rebellion, four additional southern states secede from the Union in the following weeks. Lincoln requests 43,000 more volunteers.
June 3, 1861- A skirmish near Philippi in western Virginia, is the first clash of Union and Confederate forces in the east.
June 10, 1861- Battle of Big Bethel, the first land battle of the war is in Virginia.
June 20, 1861- At the culmination of the Wheeling Convention, what later became West Virginia, officially separated from Virginia.
July 21, 1861- The Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas). Thomas Jonathan Jackson becomes “Stonewall” Jackson.
August 10, 1861- Battle of Wilson’s Creek, The Confederate victory emphasizes the strong southern presence west of the Mississippi River.
August 28-29, 1861- Fort Hatteras at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, falls to Union naval forces. This begins the first Union efforts to close southern ports along the Carolina coast
February 6, 1862- Surrender of Fort Henry, Tennessee. The loss of this southern fort on the Tennessee River opened the door to Union control of the river.
February 22, 1862- Jefferson Davis is inaugurated as President of the Confederate States of America.
March 9, 1862- The naval battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (the old USS “Merrimack”), is the first “ironclads”, is fought in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
April 24-25, 1862- A Union fleet of gunships under Admiral David Farragut passes Confederate forts guarding the mouth of the Mississippi River. On April 25, the fleet arrived at New Orleans where they demanded the surrender of the city. Within two days the fort falls into Union hands and the mouth of the great river is under Union control.
June 6, 1862- Battle of Memphis, Tennessee. The Mississippi River is now under complete Union control.
September 17, 1862- The Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg), Maryland, is the bloodiest single day of the U.S. Civil War.
January 1, 1863- The Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect. Applauded by many abolitionists including Frederick Douglass, there are others who feel it does not go far enough to totally abolish slavery.
March 3, 1863- Conscription, or the drafting of soldiers into military service, begins in the North. It had begun in the South the year before.
May 1-4, 1863- The Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia. Is General Lee’s greatest victory but results in the death of “Stonewall” Jackson.
July 1-3- The Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The bloodiest battle in the Civil War dashes Robert E. Lee’s hopes for a successful invasion of the North.
July 13, 1863- Draft Riots begin in New York City and elsewhere as disgruntled workers and laborers, seething over the draft system that seemingly favors the rich, attack the draft office and African American churches. The riots continue through July 16.
November 19, 1863- Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. President Abraham Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address.
February 17, 1864- Is the first successful submarine attack of the Civil War. The CSS H.L. Hunley, a seven-man submersible craft, attacked the USS Housatonic outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Struck by the submarine’s torpedo, the Housatonic broke apart and sank, taking all but five of her crew with her. Likewise, the Hunley was also lost and never heard from again until discovered in 1995 at the spot where it sank after the attack.
February 27, 1864- In Georgia, Camp Sumter Prison Camp opens. Universally referred to as Andersonville Prison Camp, it will become notorious for overcrowded conditions and a high death rate among its inmates.
June 8, 1864- Abraham Lincoln is nominated by his party for a second term as president.
July 11-12, 1864- Attack on the Defenses of Washington
November 8, 1864- Abraham Lincoln is re-elected president of the United States.
April 3, 1865- The Union troops occupy Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.
April 9, 1865- Is the Battle of Appomattox Court House and Surrender, Appomattox Court House, Virginia. After an early morning attempt to break through Union forces blocking the route west to Danville, Virginia, Lee seeks an audience with General Grant to discuss terms. That afternoon in the parlor of Wilmer McLean, Lee signs the document of surrender.
On April 12, the Army of Northern Virginia formally surrenders and is disbanded.
April 14, 1865- President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. On the same day, Fort Sumpter, South Carolina is re-occupied by Union troops.
April 26, 1865- General Joseph Johnston signs the surrender document for the Confederate Army of the Tennessee and miscellaneous southern troops attached to his command at Bennett’s Place near Durham, North Carolina.
May 4, 1865- General Richard Taylor surrenders Confederate forces in Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana.
May 10, 1865- Confederate President Jefferson Davis is captured near Irwinville, Georgia.
So, that was a LOT of information and you may not really care or know what to do with it all, so let me help you wrap it all up. The war drug on far longer than one might expect, if you just looked at statistics.
The North produced 3,200 firearms to every 100 produced in the South. Only about 40 percent of the Northern population was still engaged in agriculture by 1860, as compared to 84 percent of the South.
Free states attracted the vast majority of the waves of European immigration through the mid-19th century. About seven-eighths of foreign immigrants settled in free states. As a consequence, the population of the states that stayed in the Union was approximately 23 million as compared to a population of 9 million in the states of the Confederacy. This translated directly into the Union having 3.5 million men of military age – as compared to 1 million for the South. About 75 percent of Southern males fought the war, as compared to about half of Northern men.
The North had five times the number of factories as the South, and over ten times the number of factory workers. In addition, 90% of the nation’s skilled workers were in the North.
The South should have stood no chance, but due to blunders from the North, excellent military leadership in the South, and other political factors a long, bloody war resulted. There are, of course, many many other things we could discuss in this video, but it’s already super long, I’m losing my breath, my mouth is dry, etc. so maybe another time. Until then, thanks for watching, be sure to like and subscribe, and as always, happy studying.