Major Events of The Civil War


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Ft. Sumter....Where it all began!

Fort Sumter, on an island in Charleston Harbor, was in a dangerous situation: FEDERAL property on Confederate soil. Lincoln notified Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy) that he was sending food and supplies to the Fort. With no arms included, this was not a hostile act.

The Confederates thought otherwise. They attacked Fort Sumter April 12 @ 4:30am, and the next day Union Major Robert Anderson surrendered the Fort. With no causalities, rebel yells, and a Confederate victory the Civil War began!

1st Battle of Bull Run...."Stonewall" Jackson

In the early part of the war, both sides hoped for a quick victory. Geography played a key role in the conflict. Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, were only a short distance from one another. Northerners hoped that by capturing the Confederate capital at Richmond, the war would be quickly over.

In July 1861, a Union army of 30,000 soldiers marched towards Richmond but was defeated at the Battle of Manassas (also called the Battle of Bull Run). Confederate General Jackson and other Confederate leaders, commanding 22,000 soldiers, forced the Union army to retreat. General Thomas Jackson displayed remarkable skill on the battlefield, which inspired his soldiers. He is widely regarded as on of the best Confederate commanders. Later, he was accidentally shot by Confederate troops retiring from battle. Because of his resolve during this battle, Jackson earned the nickname "Stonewall" Jackson.

Battle of Antietam....Bloodiest DAY in the war!

The Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day of fighting in the Civil War, with a combined total of more than 27,000 casualties. It was also a decisive victory for the Union and gave Abraham Lincoln the confidence he needed to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, which effectively changed the Union's war aims to include the abolition of slavery and increased manpower by allowing black soldiers to participate.

Prior to Antietam, Confederate General Robert E. Lee planned an invasion of the North through western Maryland. His goals were many: to take some pressure off of Virginia, which was being smashed by Union forces: to attract recruits in Maryland, a border state with strong Confederate sympathies; and to win a major victory on Union soil with the intent of forcing Lincoln to bargain for peace.

Lee's primary goal, however, was the capture of the Union railroad center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He hoped to take the town by dividing his army. While he moved into Pennsylvania, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson would capture the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, then hook up with Major General James Longstreet's three divisions and join Lee near Harrisburg.

The plan might have worked, but through an incredible twist of fate, Union General McClellan came into possession of a copy of Lee's plans, which had been found wrapped around some cigars near an abandoned Confederate camp. However, McClellan considered that the order might be a trap and failed to act on them for nearly 16 hours.

Lee, meanwhile, was informed that his plans were now in the hands of the enemy and worked hard to protect his three vulnerable flanks. But fighting broke out in a number of locations along the planned route, and the Confederates experienced heavy casualties. On September 15, Lee was planning a retreat back into Virginia when he learned that Jackson had taken Harpers Ferry and collected some much needed supplies. Lee quickly changed his mind and ordered all of his divisions to meet. McClellan, again overly cautious, allowed Lee's forces to converge. On September 17, he finally attacked; 75,000 Union troops faced just over 40,000 Confederates.

Lee's left flank, led by Stonewall Jackson, was almost annihilated during the Union onslaught. The rebel soldiers took a horrible pounding until they were reinforced by two fresh Confederate divisions, who fought back with amazing vigor. Within just 20 minutes, an astounding 2,200 Union soldiers were killed or wounded in an area known as the West Woods, and the Union was forced to retreat.

Later in the day, the Union army focused on decimating the Confederate center. The Union's remaining divisions attacked the Confederate line for three brutal hours, resulting in such carnage that the narrow street on which it occurred became known as Bloody Lane. The assault broke the Confederate center, and Union forces crossed Antietam Creek to attack Lee's right flank. Lee's army probably would have been destroyed during the ensuing battle if it hadn't been reinforced by a division led by A.P. Hill, which arrived after a grueling 30-mile march from Harpers Ferry. Upon arrival, Hill's men launched a blistering counterattack that helped keep the Union forces at bay.

Had the Union continued their assault, it's very likely that they could have completely devastated Lee's army. But instead of making one final push, they let their troops rest, as did Lee. Lee retreated back to Virginia on the evening of September 18, having lost nearly a quarter of his army at Antietam.

Emancipation Proclamation.....Ended slavery in the SOUTH!

President Lincoln did not originally believe he had the power to end slavery. However, as the war progressed, he believed he should do so if it would help save the Union. Lincoln used the victory at Antietam as the occasion for announcing the Emancipation Proclamation. The death toll was now so great that Lincoln wanted to give the war effort a greater moral purpose. Lincoln also wanted to prevent Britain and France, which opposed slavery, from taking sides with the South. Finally, he wanted to prevent Southern states from using black troops for combat and to keep border states, such as Missouri, from deserting the North for the South.

The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in rebelling states (Confederate states), not in the loyal border states. It was the most controversial document of Lincoln's presidency. The announcement of the Proclamation was met with both hostility and jubilation in the North. On approving it, Lincoln remarked, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that i was doing right, than I do in signing this paper."

The Emancipation Proclamation had two important immediate effects. (1) It disrupted the Confederacy's agricultural economy, as slaves fled plantations. (2) It ended all chances of British or French intervention. The British and French governments had been very sympathetic to the Confederate States, which supplied them with cotton. However, the Emancipation Proclamation cast the North on the moral high-road as the emancipator of slaves, struggling against the pro-slave Confederacy. Slavery was condemned by both Britain and France.

Battle of Gettysburg.....Bloodiest BATTLE & turning point of the war!

As the war continued, the South was slowly being strangled by the Northern naval blockade. Southern cotton piled up on docks without being shipped. Union ships also captured Southern cities along the Mississippi River.

In the summer of 1863, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee moved north in a bold attempt to cut off Washington D.C. from the rest of the Union. Union and Confederate armies met at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After three days of heavy fighting, Lee retreated. The battle was the turning point of the war. Lee's army suffered heavy casualties and was never able to go on the offensive against the North. Lincoln later gave his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, at the site of the battle. Lincoln was invited to the battlefield of Gettysburg in 1863 to dedicate a cemetery to the Union soldiers who had died there. He spoke for only two minutes. Simply and eloquently, Lincoln explained the meaning of the Civil War to the 20,000 who had come to see him.

By this point in the war, Lincoln began to feel that the war was being fought not just to preserve the Union but to test the system of democracy itself. The purpose of the war was to see if the American experiment in democracy, launched in 1776, could survive. Lincoln told his listeners that those who had sacrificed their lives had already made hold the ground where they were buried. The best that those still living could do was to continue with the terrible task that the fallen soldiers had died for.

Siege of Vicksburg....Mississippi River

**A Siege is a military operation in which an army surrounds a city and cuts it off from ALL outside supplies in order to force it to surrender**

General Grant and other Union commanders wanted to capture key southern positions along the Mississippi River. The capture of New Orleans fell to the Union. After that, the only strong defenses at Vicksburg, Mississippi, stood in his way.

The southern defenders of Vicksburg had an important advantage - the city's high bluffs overlooking the river. These bluffs allowed the Confederacy under General Pemberton to cover the area with heavy guns. Previous attempts to take Vicksburg by land and sea had failed.

In the spring of 1863 (the same time as Gettysburg) Union General Grant blocked southern forces from aiding Vicksburg. he then surrounded the city with his troops. The Siege of Vicksburg lasted about six weeks! As supplies ran out, the residents and soldiers inside the city survived by eating horses, dogs, and rats. "We are utterly (completely) cut off from the world, surrounded by a circle of fire," wrote one woman. "People do nothing but eat what they can get, sleep when they can and dodge the shells." In late June a group of Confederate soldiers sent General Pemberton a warning letting stating, "The army is now ripe for mutiny (rebellion), unless it can be fed. If you can't feed us, you'd better surrender us, horrible as the idea is." There was no real hope of relief. Confederate General Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River.

Surrender at Appomattox......The war is finally over!

The devastation caused by Union armies in the South caused many Confederates to lose hope. General Lee's army slowly dwindled. By late 1864, half of his soldiers had deserted to return home to protect their families.

In April 1865, Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, fell to Union armies. A few days later, Lee met Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Under the terms of the agreement, the officers and men of Lee's Confederate army surrendered and were pardoned. All Confederate arms were collected by Union troops as captured property. Both generals signed the document of surrender. The war was finally over!

Lee and Grant set outstanding examples of reconciliation: Following the surrender, Grant silenced Union celebrations, saying, "The war is over; the rebels are our countrymen again." Lee swore allegiance to the United States, influencing thousands of his devoted ex-soldiers to do the same. He became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, where he told students: "Make your sons Americans." He once warned a professor to stop speaking disrespectfully of Grant, under penalty of being fired.

After the war: How do you reunite a broken country?

After the Civil War the United States entered into a time called Reconstruction. This was the process of the U.S. Government used to readmit the Confederate states to the Union immediately after the Civil War and rebuild the country. This process lasted from 1865 to 1877.

Five days after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre.

During Reconstruction three important amendments were ratified.

1865: The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery to this day.

1868: The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution declared that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens including African Americans.

1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Note that this amendment did NOT grant women of any race the right to vote.

An easy way to remember these amendments is "Free Citizens Vote"