The American Civil War, until halfway through the Vietnam War, was bloodier then all other American wars combined. Nearly one million soldiers were killed during its four years. From its ruins, a new freedom would come for millions of Americans previously held in bondage. The nation would pay a great cost for those four years, and the years after were no less turbulent. It would take nearly a century to complete the changes that the war brought about and many feel those changes have not yet been fulfilled.
(A Hollow Argument Southern Nationalism, Myth or Reality By Brian Pulito at civilwarhome.com)
The roots of this tragic conflict go back to the birth of the country. The founding fathers, for all their wisdom, could not solve all the differences between the original thirteen states.
The products of their labors, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, failed to totally define the relationship between the Federal Government and the States. The slavery question received no more than a partial and temporary solution.
The Civil War has been given many names: the War Between the States, the War Against Northern Aggression, the Second American Revolution, the Lost Cause, the War of the Rebellion, the Brothers’ War, the Late Unpleasantness. Walt Whitman called it the War of Attempted Secession. Confederate General Joseph Johnston called it the War Against the States. By whatever name, it was unquestionably the most important event in the life of the nation. It saw the end of slavery and the downfall of a southern planter aristocracy. It was the watershed of a new political and economic order, and the beginning of big industry, big business, big government. It was the first modern war and, for Americans, the costliest, yielding the most American fatalities and the greatest domestic suffering, spiritually and physically. It was the most horrible, necessary, intimate, acrimonious, mean-spirited, and heroic conflict the nation has ever known.
Between 1861 and 1865, Americans made war on each other and killed each other in great numbers — if only to become the kind of country that could no longer conceive of how that was possible. What began as a bitter dispute over Union and States’ Rights, ended as a struggle over the meaning of freedom in America. At Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said perhaps more than he knew. The war was about a “new birth of freedom.”
The Confederate States of America: South Carolina led the way out of the Union on December 20, 1860, and by March 1861, six more states, outraged over Lincoln’s election to the presidency and emboldened by South Carolina’s example, also seceded: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. After the bombardment of Fort Sumter Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina followed suit, bringing the number of states in the new Confederacy to eleven.
After her secession from the Union, South Carolina perceived herself as a sovereign state – the presence of Union forces in an armed fortress whose guns commanded her principal harbor was intolerable as it belied her independence. For President Lincoln the voluntary abandonment of this fortress was equally intolerable as it would be a tacit acknowledgment of South Carolina’s independent status.
Lincoln learned that the garrison at Fort Sumter was in trouble on the day he took office in March 1861. The garrison was running out of food and supplies and had no way of obtaining these on shore. The President ordered a relief expedition to sail immediately and informed the Governor of South Carolina of his decision. Alerted, General P.G.T Beauregard, commander of the Confederate military forces, realized he had to quickly force the evacuation of the fort before the relief expedition’s arrival. He would try threats first, and if these failed he would bombard the fort into submission.
Fort Sumter returned the Confederate fire. The artillery duel continued throughout April 12 and into the following day. Slowly, the fort was being destroyed. Fire broke out and threatened to explode the gunpowder stored in the fort’s magazine. At mid-day on April 13 a white flag of surrender was raised and the garrison evacuated the fort on the 14th. The next day, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to help put down the rebellion.
The Rubicon had been crossed. The next four years can only be described as an intensely fought conflict between two groups of Americans, each believing their cause was just. Over 380 major engagements were fought across 26 states. Brother fought brother; almost every family felt the pain of war. Important cities were left in ruins and a generation of young men were much diminished in number.
Americans are still dealing with the original issues addressed by the founding fathers, striving to meet the needs and desires of a large and diverse population. However, the sacrifices of their ancestors, those brave and noble men and women who struggled from Fort Sumter to Appomattox and beyond, helped create the foundation to form an even more perfect union.
In September 1862, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made ending slavery in the South a war goal, and dissuaded the British from intervening. Confederate commander Robert E. Lee won battles in the east, but in 1863 his northward advance was turned back at Gettysburg and, in the west, the Union gained control of the Mississippi River at the Battle of Vicksburg, thereby splitting the Confederacy.
(© Session Magazine 2008 – 2009)
Long-term Union advantages in men and material were realized in 1864 when Ulysses S. Grant fought battles of attrition against Lee as Union General William Sherman captured Atlanta, Georgia, and marched to the sea. Confederate resistance collapsed after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The war, the deadliest in American history, caused 620,000 soldier deaths and an undetermined number of civilian casualties, ended slavery in the United States, restored the Union, and strengthened the role of the federal government. The social, political, economic and racial issues of the war decisively shaped the reconstruction era that lasted to 1877, and continued into the 21st century.
(© Session Magazine 2008 – 2009)