From The Election of Lincoln to the Surrender at Appomattox Election of 1860:
When Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860, southern supporters of slavery called the south to secede from the Union. They argued that since they had voluntarily joined the U.S., they could also voluntarily leave the U.S.
Southern Secession Begins:
First to secede was South Carolina, which left the Union on December 20, 1860. Over the next six weeks, six other states followed suit, which brought the original “South” to be:
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina & Texas.
The Confederacy is Formed:
On February 8, 1861, the Confederate States of America was established at a convention that took place in Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery became the original capital of the Confederacy, but early on, the capital of the Confederacy was moved to Richmond, Virginia.
On February 4, 1861, representatives from the seven states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, that had already seceded from the United States, met in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a new republic.
On February 8, the convention announced the establishment of the Confederate States of America and declared itself the provisional Congress of the Confederacy.
Ft. Sumter - First Shots Fired:
Hopes for a nonviolent settlement to the splitting of the U.S. died after the attack on Fort Sumter, which became the location of the first shots fired of the Civil War. In January of 1861, prior to Lincoln’s inauguration, a federal ship that had been sent to deliver supplies to federal troops at the fort was fired upon, causing the ship to have to turn back. This left Major Robert Anderson and his men at Ft. Sumter, short of supplies.
Upon taking office, President Lincoln was faced with the decision on how to handle the situation at Ft. Sumter. Lincoln wanted to keep the country intact initially, he believed that the South could be brought back into the Union. Should he react with strong military action, that could agitate the South. On the other hand, he had to consider the fate of Major Anderson and his men, who were surrounded by Confederate soldiers.
Lincoln informed the governor of South Carolina that he was sending in supplies of food and such, but that no soldiers or weapons were being sent in. He hoped that the Confederacy would allow this action on humanitarian principles. As it turned out, Confederate General Pierre G.T. Beauregard demanded that Anderson and his men surrender. Anderson refused, whereupon, on April 12, 1861, Beauregard began a 34-hour bombardment of Ft. Sumter. Two days later, on April 14, 1861, Major Anderson surrendered.
President Lincoln accepts the reality that a quick reconciliation will not take place. He sends word to the governors of the remaining Union states that the U.S. must assemble a formidable army.
It was the opinion of most people of the time, both Northerners and Southerners, was that the war would be a very short one. At the onset, it was unthinkable that the war could possibly rage on for the next four years!
The Confederacy Gains New States:
After the shelling of Ft. Sumter, four more Southern states join the Confederacy:
Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee, joined the Confederacy.
The War Begins:
After Ft. Sumter, both sides are confident of an early victory. In May 1861, Union troops crossed the Potomac River, captured Alexandria, Virginia, and moved into northwest Virginia.
The First Battle of Bull Run - Manassas, Virginia
July 1861, Manassas, Virginia, a main railroad junction that is strategically important to the Union Army and to the Confederacy, as well (just 25 miles from Washington D.C.!).
The Confederacy originally chose its capital to be Montgomery, Alabama, but they later decided to change it to Richmond, Virginia. The Confederate Congress was scheduled to begin meeting on July 20, 1861 at the new location of their capital, in Richmond.
Someone in the North thought it would be a good idea to send Union soldiers down to Manassas and engage the Confederate army that was there. If this worked, the Union could pinch off the Confederate supply lines that ran through the Manassas junction.
It was assumed that there would be a Union victory, and that from Manassas, the Union soldiers could make the (relatively) short march down to Richmond.
It was believed that by taking control of Richmond, the Confederate Congress would not be able to convene, that this would throw the Confederacy into chaos, and as the result, it would be easy to bring the war to a quick end.
First Major Battle of the Civil War:
On July 21, 1861, at Manassas, more specifically, at a small stream called Bull Run, the FIRST MAJOR BATTLE of the Civil War took place.
35,000 (mostly inexperienced) Union troops, led by General Irvin McDowell, would go up against a smaller Confederate contingent of about 20,000 men (also quite inexperienced) that was commanded by General Pierre G.T. Beauregard.
At first, it looked like a victory would be won by the Union, however, the battle seemed to play out rather slowly. This enabled Beauregard to contact General Joseph Johnson, in the nearby Shenandoah Valley. Johnson sent 11,000 men to reinforce General Beauregard.
As the fighting intensified, the tide turned against McDowell and his men. By this time, there was incredible carnage on the battlefield. What was left of the Union army turned around and began running away from the enemy in a disorganized fashion.
No one was prepared for what they might experience on the battlefield that day. Bodies, and parts of bodies were everywhere.
The Southerners were too stunned to give chase. The Confederacy had gained an important victory.
The Union counted 460 dead, more than 1,100 wounded, and more than 1,300 missing.
The Confederacy put its losses at 378 dead, 1,500 wounded, and 30 missing.
After Bull Run, President Lincoln replaced McDowell with General George B. McCllelan as commander of the newly created Army of the Potomac. As the war would progress, McClellan would be categorized as one who tended to over estimate enemy strength, and one who proceeded with extreme caution. For these traits, he would find himself in conflict with Commander in Chief, Lincoln.
The Border States:
Although militarily, most of 1861 is considered to have been a stalemate, the North was successful in securing the border states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, even though there were pockets of secessionists within these states.
Maryland was important because of its proximity to Washington D.C. Baltimore was important because it was a major railroad link to the Midwest. Kentucky and Missouri were important to the North because they controlled the approaches to the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland river valleys, through which the Union could use to penetrate the South.
Secessionist governments were actually established in Kentucky and Missouri, but these states officially remained in the Union. This means that the residents of these two states were split on the issues of slavery and secession.
The western counties of Virginia chose to split from eastern Virginia. Virginia became part of the Confederacy, West Virginia chose to become part of the Union, and was admitted into the United States in 1863. That’s why today, we have the separate states of Virginia, and West Virginia.
The Seven Days’ Battle - Virginia
In the spring of 1862, General McClellan, with an army of 100,000 men launches an offensive, designed to take the Confederate capital of Richmond. In the Battle of Fair Oaks and Seven Pines Confederate General Joseph Johnson is wounded and Robert E. Lee is sent in to take command the Army of Northern Virginia.
The over-cautious McClellan, overestimates the enemy strength and halts his march to Richmond, and requests reinforcements before attacking. Around the same time, Confederate General, “Stonewall” Jackson moves an army within close proximity of Washington D.C. The North, believing that Jackson’s troops might attack, deny McClellan’s request for reinforcements and keep those troops close to the capital.
General Jackson retreats and reinforces Robert E. Lee near Richmond, giving Lee a force of 85,000 men to attack McClellan. This becomes known as the Seven Days’ Battle. Although neither side was able to claim a clear victory, McClellan ends up retreating, leaving Richmond under Confederate control.
Second Battle of Bull Run
On August 28-30, 1862, in the Second Battle of Bull Run, the combine Confederate forces of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and James Longstreet inflicted heavy casualties on Union troops, which once again, sends them reeling back to Washington D.C.
Battle of Antietam - Maryland
In September of 1862, Robert E. Lee, with 50,000 troops, startled the North by invading Maryland. His goal was to demoralize the North and to prove to foreign nations that the Confederacy was solid, and that it and should be recognized. Once again, in what becomes the Battle of Antietam, McClellan, with a force of 90,000, goes head to head with Lee. It is estimated that Northern casualties totaled 12,000 killed or wounded and Confederate casualties totaled 12,700 killed or wounded. Lee was forced to retreat back to Virginia. Surprisingly, McClellan made no attempt to cut off Lee’s retreat. This angered President Lincoln, who in turn relieved McClellan from his command.
Battle of Fredericksburg - Virginia
In Late 1862, the Army of the Potomac, this time commanded by General Ambrose Burnside, attempts to take Richmond. The Confederate defenses are too much for the North. At Fredericksburg, Virginia, the Union suffers more than 10,000 killed or wounded and retreats back to Washington D.C. For this failure, General Burnside is relieved of his command.
Union Success at Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson – Tennessee
General U.S. Grant comes up with a plan to split the Confederacy in two, by taking control of the Mississippi Valley. This cuts off the flow of Confederate men and supplies from Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas. With the support of some ironclad ships, Grant is able to capture Ft. Henry (February 6, 1862) and Ft. Donelson (February 16, 1862), both in Tennessee. This gives the Union strategic control of the Mississippi River.
The Capture of New Orleans - Louisiana
In April of 1862, Admiral David Farragut penetrates Confederate defenses at the mouth of the Mississippi and forces the surrender of New Orleans.
The Emancipation Proclamation
In looking back on the Civil War, one might incorrectly assume that the Union was fighting the South to end the institution of slavery. In actuality, the North was at war with the South because of the belief that it was unconstitutional to secede. President Lincoln believed that he was bound by the Constitution to reunite the South with the North, by any means.
In a letter to Horace Greeley, an abolitionist newspaper editor, President Lincoln expressed his views about abolition as a Civil War objective, when he wrote:
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not to either save or destroy slavery…” On a personal level, Lincoln was opposed to slavery. As president, however, he felt that he lacked the legal authority to abolish it. By 1862, it was clear that slave labor was an economic tool that the Confederacy was effectively using for its war effort. Every slave working in a field or in a factory was thus producing something of value that could be used directly against the North, or that could be converted into cash for the purchase of war supplies, weapons and ammunition. Although not an original objective of the Northern war strategy, freeing the slaves became a Lincoln decision that slowly developed, as the war progressed.
In the fall of 1862, as Lee retreated south from Antietam, Lincoln announced that on January 1, 1863, slaves in areas of rebellion against the government of the U.S. would be free.
The Emancipation Proclamation - continued
When January 1, 1863 arrived, President Lincoln formalized the Emancipation Proclamation by writing:
“I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, …in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion...do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are and henceforward shall be free…” Students should understand that the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to places that were under Confederate control. The Proclamation did nothing to free slaves in enslaved border states, nor did it free slaves living in the South where the Union had taken control, thus, it should be noted that the Emancipation Proclamation did not bring an immediate end to slavery.
Immediate Effects of the Emancipation Proclamation:
Slaves in Confederate controlled territory were motivated to escape to freedom in the North.
It encouraged African Americans to join the Union Army in its fight against the Confederacy.
By 1865, nearly 180,000 African Americans had enlisted in the Union army.
In total, African Americans comprised 10% of the troops that served in the Union army.
Battle of Vicksburg - Mississippi
May – July 1863: U.S. Grant attacks the last remaining Confederate stronghold in the west, Vicksburg. The Confederate defenses are too strong for Grant to break, and he is unsuccessful in his attack. Grant is able to regroup, and in a second assault on Vicksburg, he prevails. With the taking of Vicksburg, the Union has fully accomplished its objective of splitting the Confederacy.
Battle of Chancellorsville - Virginia
By 1863, General “Fighting Joe” Hooker is in command of the Union’s Army of the Potomac. With an army of 130,000 he prepares to engage Lee, whose strength is about 60,000 men at that time, at Fredericksburg. Hooker attempts to flank Lee’s army, which turns out to be an unsuccessful maneuver. Hooker is then forced to retreat to nearby Chancellorsville, where a three-day battle ensues. Hooker suffers heavy losses and retreats fully from the area. Lee ends up losing 1/5 of his men. He also loses Stonewall Jackson, who was considered to be a brilliant general.
Battle of Gettysburg - Pennsylvania
Encouraged by his victory at Chancellorsville, Lee advances his army into Northern territory. He hopes to win a major northern battle, in order to set the stage for a negotiated peace between the Union and the Confederacy. In June, 1863, a Confederate army of 75,000 men reaches southern Pennsylvania. Once again, it is the Army of the Potomac that responds. This time, under the command of General George Meade, with a Union strength of approximately 85,000. The two massive armies of Lee and Meade converge near the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The fighting begins on July 1, 1893, and lasts for 3 days. Many historians cite Gettysburg as the battle that turned the tide of the Civil War.
At Gettysburg, Lee’s judgment and tactical errors cost him the battle, and he is forced to retreat back to Virginia. Although the war will rage on for nearly two more years, the Confederate Army never fully recovers from the huge loss at Gettysburg.
The Gettysburg Address – November 19, 1863
When it was decided to dedicate a cemetery to the Union soldiers who had fought and died at Gettysburg, President Lincoln was invited to deliver a speech, in order to fill out the program. The key speaker was to be Edward Everett, who was the most famous public speaker of the time. Mr. Everett’s speech went on for two hours. In contrast to Everett, Lincoln delivered his remarks in a mere two minutes! Although short, President Lincoln, in those two minutes, very succinctly reminded the listeners just exactly what the Civil War fight was about.
The Gettysburg Address is the speech that begins with:
“Four Score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” At the time, some did not comprehend the power in Lincoln’s short and simple address. Mr. Everett, however seemed to grasp the eloquence of Lincoln’s speech. He immediately sent a letter to the president, in which he wrote:
“I wish I…had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.” The Gettysburg Address has become one of the most quoted speeches in the English language. It expresses both grief at the terrible cost of the war, as well as the reasons for renewed efforts to preserve the Union and the noble principles for which it stands.
Battle of the Wilderness
In May, 1864, General Grant once again attempts to take Richmond. This time Grant’s forces total 115,000 men, with Lee’s army at about 64,000. In May and June the two armies engage in three major successive battles, beginning with the Battle of the Wilderness. This two day battle is fought at virtually the same place as in the Battle of Chancellorsville, the year before. In the Battle of the Wilderness, Grant’s army takes major casualties but does not retreat. Instead of retreat, Grant attempts to maneuver his troops around the Confederates, in order to continue on to Richmond.
Battles at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor
Two days after the Battle of the Wilderness, the Confederates catch up with Grant and fighting begins on May 8, 1864 near the small town of Spotsylvania, Virginia. The fighting plays out over a period of almost two weeks. Once again, Grant incurs heavy losses, but he is able to continue a southward march towards Richmond.
By June, Grant has reached Cold Harbor, just 8 miles from Richmond. At dawn on June 3, Grant launches two direct charges against the heavily fortified Confederates. Grant loses 7,000 men and must change direction.
Fighting at Petersburg
Unable to reach Richmond, or to defeat Lee’s army, Grant attempts to cut off a supply line to Richmond by attacking the railroad town of Petersburg, Virginia. His hope is to force a surrender by cutting off the supplies of food to Richmond. Although he virtually destroys Petersburg, Grant’s attack fails. Beginning with the Battle of the Wilderness, casualties to Grant’s army reaches 65,000. Even though Lee’s army is able to hold against Grant, it becomes difficult for the Confederates to get replacement soldiers. In essence, the South was running out of men.
Sherman Takes Atlanta
As Grant’s army advances against Robert E. Lee, General William T. Sherman moves a Union army of 98,000 men from Chattanooga, Tennessee, south, towards Atlanta, Georgia. His goal is force the Confederates to fight his army, in which case, he believes he will prevail. Should the Confederates avoid an engagement, Sherman’s plan will be to take control of Atlanta, which at that time is an important center of industry.
In an effort to slow down Sherman’s advance upon Atlanta, Confederate commander Joseph Johnson employs a series of blocking maneuvers. Despite Johnson’s best efforts, General Sherman is able get to within a few miles of Atlanta, where in July, 1864, he is met by a Confederate army under the command of General James Hood. A series of battles unfold between the two armies, with Hood’s army incurring heavy casualties. With his troop strength reduced from about 62,000 to 45,000 at the hands of Sherman’s army, Hood retreats to Atlanta. By September, 1864, the Confederate army is forced to abandon Atlanta.
Sherman’s March to the Sea
After taking Atlanta, General Sherman receives permission from Ulysses Grant to capture the port of Savannah, Georgia. Before leaving Atlanta, he orders the city to be evacuated and burned. With Atlanta in ruins, Sherman marches a force of 62,000 Union soldiers the 300 miles to Savannah. By destroying bridges, factories, and railroad lines along the way, he leaves a trail of destruction behind. The small Confederate force at Savannah flees before Sherman’s arrival. On December 21, 1864, Sherman’s army is able to enter the city without having to fight its way in.
The Election of 1864
As the Election of 1864 approached, Lincoln, running for reelection, was concerned that the war was not going well, and that this reality would cause his defeat. Furthermore, members of his own party split off to form the “Radical Republicans,” and launch a candidate to run against the president. In an ironic twist, another candidate who runs against Lincoln, is General George McClellan, who Lincoln had earlier removed as commander of the Army of the Potomac. This becomes McClellan’s chance to even the score with his former boss. As the election plays out, Sherman’s capture of Atlanta changes the political climate in the north, which helps Lincoln to win reelection with 90% of the total electoral vote.
The Thirteenth Amendment
In February 1865, three months after Lincoln’s reelection, Congress passes the 13th Amendment, which outlaws the institution of slavery in the United States of America.
In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln speaks of how slavery had divided the nation. Included in his speech, was language aimed towards reconciliation and reunification with the South. It seems that he was looking ahead, towards an overall Union victory, and was thinking about what the best course of action would be for the country, once the fighting was over.
Sherman’s Takes the Carolinas
In February 1865, General Sherman sets out to take South Carolina. Since South Carolina was the first state to secede the Union, the idea is to lay conquer to the most treasonous of the Confederate states. Sherman’s goal is to destroy the South’s remaining resources and to demoralize the South. He accomplished both goals. Once in South Carolina, he utilized the same destructive tactics of burning virtually everything in sight.
On February 17, 1865, Sherman’s forces enter Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, whereupon half of the city is burned to the ground. By this stage of the Civil War, there is very little left of the Confederate army, but Sherman will have to fight General Johnson before completely taking North Carolina.
Surrender at Appomattox
By April of 1865, General Grant was attempting to put the final nail in the coffin of the Lee’s army, and thereby force the Confederates to give up completely. What was left of the Confederate fighting force, was approximately 35,000 poorly supplied men in and around the Confederate capital of Richmond. With Grant in pursuit of Lee’s army, Lee tries to avoid heavy battle contact, and attempts to slip around Grant’s army. On April 9, 1865, Lee’s army arrives at the small Virginia town of Appomattox Court House. At Appomattox, Grant is finally able to surround Lee. Realizing that he has no way out, Lee forces himself to do what he truly dreads as he says:
“There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” When Generals Grant and Lee meet, the terms of surrender are discussed and agreed upon. Grant informs Lee that in return for his surrender, Lee and his men can takes their horses and mules, and go home; that they would not be punished as traitors as long as they obeyed the laws where they lived. The two men signed the surrender papers and Lee rode away. When Union soldiers begin firing canon rounds in celebration, Grant orders them to stop, as a matter of respect to the beaten Confederate soldiers, who “…are our countrymen again.”. Lincoln is Assassinated
Tragically, Abraham Lincoln did not live to see the official end of the Civil War. On April 14, 1865, while attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C., the president was shot and killed by Southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth.
Booth escaped the theater but was chased by soldiers who caught up with him on a Virginia farm. Booth dies of a gunshot wound, and it is not clear whether or not the bullet came from one of the soldiers, or from Booth’s own gun.
Lincoln’s Funeral Train
It is decided to ship the body of the dead president from Washington D.C. to the president’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois. As the train that carried the body of Lincoln made the trip, it stopped at towns along the way where millions of people came out pay their last respects to the president who had led the nation through the Civil War.
The Legacy of Lincoln
Lincoln accomplished his goal of reuniting the United States.
With the passage of the 13th Amendment, Lincoln was instrumental in bringing a permanent end to the institution of slavery in the U.S.
Lincoln’s plan for reconstruction quickly restored the Southern economy, which ultimately strengthened America.