History of the Civil War
The Civil War was the most important event in U.S. history.When the Southern Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter in 1861, no one in the North expected a long drawn out war. But it lasted four years and took over six hundred thousand casualties. The Civil War was the most important event in U.S. history.
Origins of the war
The problem that precipitated the war was slavery. The South was not content to keep it in the Southern states but wanted to move into the expanding territories of the west. The Compromise of 1820 was designed to keep slavery out of the Louisiana territory north of the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri.
One problem the south saw was that many northern states did not want to return runaway slaves; another was the encouragement of runaway slaves with the Underground Railroad. The election of Abraham Lincoln was the final straw as Southerners saw Lincoln as an anti-slavery president.
Seven deep south states seceded by February 1861, starting with South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. These seven states formed the Confederate States of America with Jefferson Davis as president. Later they were joined by Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.
The Anaconda Plan
The initial impetus was for a short war won by a blockade. This was the Anaconda Plan devised by General Winfield Scott, the commander of the U.S. Army. The plan involved a Union blockade of the main ports to weaken the Confederate economy. The Mississippi would be captured and this would split the South. Lincoln endorsed the plan but he refrained from attacking Richmond. The blockade was effective.
The war campaign in the east and west
Two separate theaters developed during the course of the war. Initially the Union was successful in the western theater, whereas the Confederacy was successful in the eastern theater. Initially, Lincoln's plan was to end the session but not deal with the slavery issue.
The beginning of the Civil War
The attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April 1861 started the war. Several battles won by the South at the beginning surprised the North who didn't think there was going to a long war. The Battle of Bull Run was a northern defeat and throughout the year, Robert E. Lee, the confederate general, was able to meet the Northern army and win.
In 1862, battles such as Shiloh and Antietam caused massive casualties. Only after winning some battles in the eastern theatre did Lincoln in September 1862 issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The focus on the war became ending slavery.
In the west, The Union's Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant won victories at Forts Henry and Donelson. He seized control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Numerous battles including Shiloh and Vicksburg cemented the Union's control of the Mississippi River. Strategically this was considered one of the turning points of the war. Grant was able to drive Confederate forces out of Tennessee and opened a route to Atlanta; a way to the heart of the Confederacy was now available.
In the east, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee won a series of victories over Union armies, led by General George McClellan but Lee's reverse at Gettysburg in early July of 1863 proved the turning point. In the eastern theatre, Lincoln could not find a strong general. He fired McClellan, then brought him back and then fired him again.
At the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made Grant commander of all Union armies. Grant made Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman commander of most of the western armies. Grant believed that only the utter defeat of Confederate forces and their economic base would bring an end to the war. Both Lincoln and Sherman held similar views.
This was the final year of the war in which General Sherman marched to Atlanta and laid waste to the countryside. General Grant chased Lee across the countryside which culminated with the surrender at the Appomattox courthouse on April 9, 1865. President Lincoln was assassinated in April 15, 1865 six days after the war ended.
Of all of the histories available, the history of the Civil War by Shelby Foote is considered among the best and the Ken Burns documentary series is considered the best adaptation for television.