Civil War

By: Cooper Orange

Kansas and Nebraska Act

  • The Kansas-Nebrask Act was an 1854 bill that mandated “popular sovereignty”–allowing settlers of a territory to decide whether slavery would be allowed within a new state’s borders. Proposed by Stephen A. Douglas–Abraham Lincoln’s opponent in the influential Lincoln-Douglas debates–the bill overturned the Missouri Compromise’s use of latitude as the boundary between slave and free territory. The conflicts that arose between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers in the aftermath of the act’s passage led to the period of violence known as Bleeding Kansas.
  • southern senators objected; the region lay north of latitude 36°30′ and so under the terms of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 would become a free state. To gain the southerners’ support, Douglas proposed creating two territories in the area–Kansas and Nebraska–and repealing the Missouri Compromise line. The question of whether the territories would be slave or free would be left to the settlers under Douglas’s principle of popular sovereignty. Presumably, the more northern territory would oppose slavery while the more southern one would permit it.
  • By the time Kansas was admitted to statehood in 1861 after an internal civil war, southern states had begun to secede from the Union. The Independent Democrats and many northern Whigs abandoned their affiliations for the new antislavery Republican party, leaving southern Whigs without party links and creating an issue over which the already deeply divided Democrats would split even more. The railroad was eventually built but not along the route Douglas wanted and with funds voted by a Republican Congress during a Republican Civil War administration.


  • The Battle of Gettysburg, which took place July 1–3, 1863, was a decisive victory for the North and marked the turning point of the Civil War. Called the "High Water Mark of the Rebellion," the Confederate defeat in Pennsylvania dealt a blow from which the South never fully recovered. Gettysburg was also the bloodiest battle of the war, with more than 51,000 casualties, including 7,863 dead (3,155 Union troops died and 4,708 Confederate). Learn about Gettysburg and other battles of the Civil War.
  • The Town of Gettysburg, population 2,000, was a town on the rise. It boasted three newspapers, two institutes of higher learning, several churches and banks, but no shoe factory or warehouse. The ten roads that led into town are what brought the armies to Gettysburg. The shoe myth can be traced to a late-1870s statement by Confederate general Henry Heth.
  • The first day’s fighting (at McPherson’s Ridge, Oak Hill, Oak Ridge, Seminary Ridge, Barlow’s Knoll and in and around the town) involved some 50,000 soldiers of which roughly 15,500 were killed, wounded, captured or missing. The first day in itself ranks as the 12th bloodiest battle of the Civil War—with more casualties than the battles of Bull Run and Franklin combined.
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Dred Scott Case

  • Dred Scott, a black slave, and his wife had once belonged to army surgeon John Emerson, who had bought him from the Peter Blow family of St. Louis. After Emerson died, the Blows apparently helped Scott sue Emerson’s widow for his freedom, but lost the case in state court. Because Mrs. Emerson left him with her brother John Sanford (misspelled Sandford in court papers), a New York citizen, Scott sued again in federal court, claiming Missouri citizenship. Scott’s lawyers eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Missouri Compromise because he had traveled north of the 36°30′ line, whereas the Court’s southerners wanted to rule the compromise unconstitutional. Among several opinions, Taney’s was both the most important and the most tortuous. He ruled that blacks, slave or free, could not be citizens (Curtis showed this to be counter to precedent). Nor could Scott have become free by traveling north of the Missouri Compromise line; slavery, Taney said, could not be banned in the territories. Six justices agreed that Scott was not a citizen, but disagreed over whether a freed slave could become a citizen. Nelson concurred in the ruling but not in its reasoning, and McLean and Curtis dissented.
  • The Dred Scott case remained the subject of noisy constitutional and historical debate and contributed to the divisions that helped lead to Abraham Lincoln’s election and the Civil War.
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  • By the summer of 1863, Union advances from the Memphis in the North and New Orleans in the South had constricted Confederate control of the Mississippi River to a small section stretching from Port Hudson, Louisiana to the fortified city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
  • Early in the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, gesturing to a map of the region, declared to his military advisors that Vicksburg is the key and that the failure to capture this city meant hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the states of the far South. For not only would the capture of Vicksburg benefit the commercial interests and military operations of the Union, but Vicksburg was also a vital logistical link to the resource-rich Trans-Mississippi. It was here at Vicksburg that huge quantities of molasses, cane sugar, sheep, oxen, cattle, mules, sweet potatoes, butter, wool, and salt, were transported across the great river and onto every corner of the Confederacy.
  • In 1899, Confederate veteran Stephen Dill Lee supervised the establishment of the 1,800 acre Vicksburg National Military Park, which was then transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. The park was the site of the raising of the ironclad USS Cairo in the 1960s, one of the landmark achievements of American Civil War preservation. Despite its significance, the other battlefields of the Vicksburg campaign, were largely unpreserved until recent years. Since its The Civil War Trust has saved a total of 796 acres on the battlefields of Raymond, Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, and Port Gibson.
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