American Civil War

American Civil War
CivilWarUSAColl.png
Clockwise from top:
DateApril 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865[a]
(4 years and 44 days)[b][1][2]
Location
Result Union victory
Territorial
changes
Dissolution of the Confederate States of America
Belligerents
 United States (Union)  Confederate States (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
United States Abraham Lincoln X
United States Ulysses S. Grant
and others...
Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis
Confederate States of America Robert E. Lee
and others...
Strength
2,200,000[c]
698,000 (peak)[3][4]
750,000–1,000,000[c][5]
360,000 (peak)[3][6]
Casualties and losses
  • 110,000+  / (DOW)
  • 230,000+ accident/disease deaths[7][8]
  • 25,000–30,000 died in Confederate prisons[3][7]

365,000+ total dead[9]

Total: 828,000+ casualties
  • 94,000+  / (DOW)[7]
  • 26,000–31,000 died in Union prisons[8]

290,000+ total dead

Total: 864,000+ casualties
  • 50,000 free civilians dead[10]
  • 80,000+ slaves dead (disease)[11]
  • Total: 616,222[12]–1,000,000+ dead[13][14]

The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865; also known by other names) was a civil war in the United States. It was fought between the United States (the Union[f] or "the North") and the Confederacy ("the South"), which was formed by states that seceded. The central cause of the war was the dispute over whether slavery would be permitted to expand into the western territories, leading to more slave states, or be prevented from doing so, which was widely believed would place slavery on a course of ultimate extinction.

Decades of political controversy over slavery were brought to a head by the victory in the 1860 U.S. presidential election of Abraham Lincoln, who opposed slavery's expansion into the west. An initial seven southern slave states responded to Lincoln's victory by seceding from the United States and, in 1861, forming the Confederacy. The Confederacy seized U.S. forts and other federal assets within their borders. Led by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy ultimately came to control over half of U.S. territory in eleven of the 34 U.S. states that then existed. Four years of intense combat, mostly in the South, ensued.

During 1861–1862 in the war's Western Theater, the Union made significant permanent gains—though in the war's Eastern Theater the conflict was inconclusive. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in states in rebellion to be free, which made ending slavery a war goal. To the west, the Union destroyed the Confederate's river navy by the summer of 1862, then much of its western armies, and seized New Orleans. The successful 1863 Union siege of Vicksburg split the Confederacy in two at the Mississippi River. In 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee's incursion north ended at the Battle of Gettysburg. Western successes led to General Ulysses S. Grant's command of all Union armies in 1864. Inflicting an ever-tightening naval blockade of Confederate ports, the Union marshaled resources and manpower to attack the Confederacy from all directions. This led to the fall of Atlanta in 1864 to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, followed by his march to the sea. The last significant battles raged around the ten-month Siege of Petersburg, gateway to the Confederate capital of Richmond. The Confederates abandoned Richmond, and on April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant following the Battle of Appomattox Court House, setting in motion the end of the war.

A wave of Confederate surrenders followed. On April 14, just five days after Lee's surrender, Lincoln was assassinated. As a practical matter, the war ended with the May 26 surrender of the Department of the Trans-Mississippi but the conclusion of the American Civil War lacks a clear and precise historical end date. Confederate ground forces continued surrendering past the May 26 surrender date until June 23. By the end of the war, much of the South's infrastructure was destroyed, especially its railroads. The Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and four million enslaved black people were freed. The war-torn nation then entered the Reconstruction era in an attempt to rebuild the country, bring the former Confederate states back into the United States, and grant civil rights to freed slaves.

The Civil War is one of the most extensively studied and written about episodes in U.S. history. It remains the subject of cultural and historiographical debate. Of particular interest is the persisting myth of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. The American Civil War was among the first wars to utilize industrial warfare. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, the ironclad warship, and mass-produced weapons were all widely used during the war. In total, the war left between 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers dead, along with an undetermined number of civilian casualties, making the Civil War the deadliest military conflict in American history.[g] The technology and brutality of the Civil War foreshadowed the coming World Wars.


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  1. ^ Blair, William A. (2015). "Finding the Ending of America's Civil War". The American Historical Review. Oxford University Press. 120 (5): 1753–1766. doi:10.1093/ahr/120.5.1753. JSTOR 43697075. Retrieved July 29, 2022. Pennsylvania State University Professor William A. Blair wrote at pages 313-314: "the sheer weight of scholarship has leaned toward portraying the surrenders of the Confederate armies as the end of the war."; The New York Times: "END OF THE REBELLION.; THE LAST REBEL ARMY DISBANDS. Kirby Smith Surrenders the Land and Naval Forces Under His Command. The Confederate Flag Disappears from the Continent. THE ERA OF PEACE BEGINS. Military Prisoners During the War to be Discharged. Deserters to be Released from Confinement. [OFFICIAL.] FROM SECRETARY STANTON TO GEN. DIX". The New York Times. United States Department of War. May 29, 1865. Retrieved July 29, 2022.; United States Civil War Centennial Commission Robertson, Jr., James I. (1963). The Civil War. Washington, D.C.: Civil War Centennial Commission. OCLC 299955768. At page 31, Professor James I. Robertson, Jr. of Virginia Tech University and Executive Director of the U. S. Civil War Centennial Commission wrote, "Lee’s surrender left Johnston with no place to go. On April 26, near Durham, N. C., the Army of Tennessee laid down its arms before Sherman’s forces. With the surrender of isolated forces in the Trans-Mississippi West on May 4, 11, and 26, the most costly war in American history came to an end."
  2. ^ Among the many other contemporary sources and later historians citing May 26, 1865, the date that the surrender of the last significant Confederate force in the trans-Mississippi department was agreed upon, or citing simply the surrender of the Confederate armies, as the end date for the American Civil War hostilities are George Templeton Strong, who was a prominent New York lawyer; a founder, treasurer, and member of the Executive Committee of United States Sanitary Commission throughout the war; and a diarist. A diary excerpt is published in Gienapp, William E., ed. The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001, pp. 313-314 ISBN 978-0-393-97555-0. A footnote in Gienapp shows the excerpt was taken from an edited version of the diaries by Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds., The Diary of George Templeton Strong, vol. 2 (New York: The McMillan Company), pp. 600-601, which differs from the volume and page numbers of the original diaries; the actual diary is shown at https://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/islandora/object/nyhs%3A55249, the page in Strong's original handwriting is shown at that web page, it is Volume 4, pages 124-125: diary entries for May 23 (continued)-June 7, 1865 of the original diaries; Horace Greeley, The American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion in the United States, 1860-'65. Volume II. Hartford: O. D. Case & Company, 1866. OCLC 936872302. Page 757: "Though the war on land ceased, and the Confederate flag utterly disappeared from this continent with the collapse and dispersion of Kirby Smith's command...."; John William Draper, History of the American Civil War. [1] Volume 3. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1870. OCLC 830251756. Retrievfootnoed July 28, 2022. Page 618: "On the 26th of the same month General Kirby Smith surrendered his entire command west of the Mississippi to General Canby. With this, all military opposition to the government ended."; Jefferson Davis. The Rise And Fall Of The Confederate Government. Volume II. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881. OCLC 1249017603. Page 630: “With General E. K. Smith's surrender the Confederate flag no longer floated on the land; Page 663: “When the Confederate soldiers laid down their arms and went home, all hostilities against the power of the Government of the United States ceased.”; Ulysses S. Grant Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. Volume 2. [2] New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1886. OCLC 255136538. Page 522: "General E. Kirby Smith surrendered the trans-Mississippi department on the 26th of May, leaving no other Confederate army at liberty to continue the war."; Frederick H. Dyer A compendium of the War of the Rebellion. [3] Des Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Co., 1908. OCLC 8697590. Full entry on last Table of Contents page (unnumbered on download): "Alphabetical Index of Campaigns, Battles, Engagements, Actions, Combats, Sieges, Skirmishes, Reconnaissances, Scouts and Other Military Events Connected with the "War of the Rebellion" During the Period of Actual Hostilities, From April 12, 1861, to May 26, 1865"; Nathaniel W. Stephenson, The Day of the Confederacy, A Chronicle of the Embattled South, Volume 30 in The Chronicles Of America Series. [4] New Haven: Yale University Press; Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Co.; London: Oxford University Press, 1919. Page 202: "The surrender of the forces of the Trans-Mississippi on May 26, 1865, brought the war to a definite conclusion."; Bruce Catton. The Centennial History of the Civil War. Vol. 3, Never Call Retreat. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. p. 445. "and on May 26 he [E. Kirby Smith] surrendered and the war was over"; and Gary W. Gallagher, Stephen D. Engle, Robert K. Krick & Joseph T. Glatthaar, forward by James M. McPherson. The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War. New York: Osprey Publishing, Ltd., 2003 ISBN 978-1-84176-736-9. Page 308: "By 26 May, General Edward Kirby Smith had surrendered the Rebel forces in the trans-Mississippi west. The war was over."
  3. ^ a b c d e "Facts". National Park Service.
  4. ^ "Size of the Union Army in the American Civil War": Of which 131,000 were in the Navy and Marines, 140,000 were garrison troops and home defense militia, and 427,000 were in the field army.
  5. ^ Long, E. B. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac, 1861–1865. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971. OCLC 68283123. p. 705.
  6. ^ "The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies; Series 4 – Volume 2", United States War Dept., 1900.
  7. ^ a b c Fox, William F. Regimental losses in the American Civil War (1889).
  8. ^ a b c "DCAS Reports – Principal Wars, 1775 – 1991". dcas.dmdc.osd.mil.
  9. ^ Chambers & Anderson 1999, p. 849.
  10. ^ Cite error: The named reference StatsWarCost was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. ^ James Downs, "Colorblindness in the demographic death toll of the Civil War". Oxford University Press blog, April 13, 2012. "The rough 19th century estimate was that 60,000 former slaves died from the epidemic, but doctors treating black patients often claimed that they were unable to keep accurate records due to demands on their time and the lack of manpower and resources. The surviving records only include the number of black patients whom doctors encountered; tens of thousands of other slaves had no contact with army doctors, leaving no records of their deaths." 60,000 documented plus 'tens of thousands' undocumented gives a minimum of 80,000 slave deaths.
  12. ^ Toward a Social History of the American Civil War Exploratory Essays, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 4.
  13. ^ Cite error: The named reference recounting was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  14. ^ James Downs, "Colorblindness in the demographic death toll of the Civil War". Oxford University Press blog, April 13, 2012. "An 2 April 2012 New York Times article, 'New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll', reports that a new study ratchets up the death toll from an estimated 650,000 to a staggering 850,000 people. As horrific as this new number is, it fails to reflect the mortality of former slaves during the war. If former slaves were included in this figure, the Civil War death toll would likely be over a million casualties ...".

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