1861-1865 The Civil War
Great Emancipator or White Supremacist? • “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon equal footing of perfect equality; inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I…am in favor of the race which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.” -Abraham Lincoln
Taking Sides • The Confederate States of America • Most Southerners believed that the Republican victory posed an unacceptable threat to a way of life based upon slave labor. They assumed that the Western territories would become free states thus increasing the political imbalance in the Senate between free and slave states. • Led by South Carolina, seven states in the Deep South seceded before Lincoln took office.
Taking Sides • The firing upon Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops forced the states in the Upper South to take sides. It is important to note that slaves were scarce and Union support was strong in eastern Tennessee, western Virginia, and western North Carolina. Nonetheless, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas all seceded. The Confederate Congress meeting in Montgomery welcomed these states and moved its capital to Richmond, Virginia. The noted Civil War historian Bruce Catton underscored the significance of this move when he wrote that “American history has known few events more momentous than the secession of Virginia, which turned what started out to be a simple suppression of a rebellion into a four-year cataclysm.”
Taking Sides • The Border States • Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were all slaveholding Border States that remained in the Union. • Kentucky provided especially important industrial and agricultural resources that proved vital to the Union. Lincoln recognized Kentucky’s strategic importance when he declared, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”
The Balance of Power • Northern advantages • The North enjoyed a significant population advantage. In 1861, the 23 states in the Union had a population of about 22 million. In contrast, the 11 Confederate states had just 9 million people, about one-third of whom were slaves. • The North enjoyed an enormous advantage in industrial capacity. The Union produced over 90 percent of the nation’s manufactured goods. In addition, the Union had far more wagons, ships, and miles of railroad track than the Confederacy. • The North enjoyed a significant advantage in presidential leadership. Lincoln proved to be an inspiring leader and forceful commander-in-chief. He successfully held the Republican Party together despite its internal conflicts.
The Balance of Power • Northern disadvantages • When the war began, the north lacked an able group of military commanders. Lincoln had to frequently replace generals as he searched for commanders who could rival those of the South. • When the war began, the North did not enjoy a consensus on its war aims. While Lincoln’s announced goal was to preserve the Union, abolitionists argued that the Union should also fight to abolish slavery. Although most northern Democrats supported a war to save the Union, a vocal group of “Copperheads” called for peace by negotiation even if it risked the Union.
The Balance of Power • Southern advantages • The South enjoyed the advantage of fighting a defensive war on its own familiar territory. The South needed only to hold back the invading Union armies and wait for the North to tire of fighting a prolonged and costly war. • The South enjoyed the advantage of a strong military tradition that produced an exceptional group of experienced commanders. • The South enjoyed the initial advantage of believing that Great Britain would aid the Confederacy because its textile industry would grind to a halt without Southern cotton. However, this advantage proved to be illusory when “King Cotton diplomacy” failed.
The Balance of Power • Southern disadvantages • The disparity (inequality) in population, industrial capacity, and railroad mileage meant that the South could not sustain a prolonged war. • Jefferson Davis proved to be an ineffective political and military leader. He frequently quarreled with his Cabinet and failed to implement a consistent military strategy. • The Confederacy was founded on the principle of preserving states’ rights. But a strong central government is needed to conduct an efficient war effort. Independent-minded Confederate governors often frustrated the Davis government’s attempts to raise the money and troops it needed to fight the war.
Key Civil War Battles • Antietam/Sharpsburg • Lee and his battle-tested troops crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. Lee’s objectives included seizing the vital rail center at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, isolating Washington from the rest of the North and convincing Britain and France to recognize the Confederacy. • The two armies fought the bloodiest one-day battle of the war. The battle ended in a narrow Union victory forcing Lee to withdraw back across the Potomac into Virginia. Disappointed by McClellan’s failure to pursue Lee and gain a decisive victory, Lincoln removed his popular but hesitant general from command of the Army of the Potomac.
Key Civil War Battles • The Union victory at Antietam persuaded Great Britain and France to remain neutral. • The Union victory at Antietam enabled Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
Key Civil War Battles • Vicksburg • Vicksburg was a seemingly impregnable fortress that commanded a key portion of the Mississippi River. • Led by General Ulysses S. Grant, the Union forces captured Vicksburg following a long siege. The fall of Vicksburg gave the Union control of the Mississippi River thus splitting the Confederacy in half.
Key Civil War Battles • Sherman’s March to the Sea • Sherman captured Atlanta in September 1864. His victory helped boost Lincoln’s sagging popularity thus enabling the President to defeat the Democratic candidate General McClellan in the November election. • Sherman burned Atlanta on November 15, 1864. He then began his famous “March to the Sea.” Determined to wage a total war on the people of Georgia, Sherman’s army promptly made the Georgians “feel the hard hand of war.” His soldiers burned homes, ruined crops, killed animals, and destroyed railroad tracks as they left a path of destruction 60 miles wide. Sherman arrived in Savannah in time to present the city to President Lincoln as a Christmas present.
Key Congressional Actions • The Republican Congress • During the 1840s and 1850s, Southern congressmen consistently blocked tariff, railroad, banking, and land policies favored by the North and West. • The secession of the Southern states enabled the Republicans to dominate Congress. They promptly passed a series of landmark acts with far-reaching social and economic consequences.
Key Congressional Actions • The Homestead Act, 1862 • Under the terms of the Homestead Act a settler twenty-one years old or older could acquire a free tract of 160 acres of surveyed public land. Title to the land went to the settler after five years of continuous residence. • The Homestead Act opened the Great Plains to settlers. By 1935, 1.6 million homesteaders received 270 million acres of federal lands.
Key Congressional Actions • The Morrill Land Grant Act, 1862 • The Morrill Land Grant Act stipulated that public lands be donated to the states for the purpose of providing colleges to train students in agriculture and mechanical arts. • Land-grant colleges played an important role in promoting agriculture, engineering, and veterinary medicine.
Key Congressional Actions • The First Transcontinental Railroad, 1862 • Prior to the Civil War, Southern congressmen strongly supported a transcontinental railroad that would link New Orleans with Los Angeles. • Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Congress approved a transcontinental route connecting Omaha, Nebraska with Sacramento, California. The government provided the Central Pacific and Union Pacific companies with generous loans and extensive land grants.
Key Congressional Actions • The National Banking Act of 1863 • Banking policies had been a source of contention since the formation of the First National Bank in 1791. The rising cost of financing the Civil War highlighted the urgent need for a national currency and orderly banking system. • The National Banking Act of 1863 established a national banking system to provide a uniform national currency. No additional important changes were made in the nation’s banking system until the Federal Reserve Act was passed in 1913.
African Americans and the Civil War • Contraband • The Civil War disrupted plantation life throughout the South. Soon thousands of escaped slaves sought refuge behind Union lines. • Contraband was the official term given to fugitive slaves who sought protection behind Union lines. The First Confiscation Act authorized Union troops to seize all property, including slaves, used on behalf of the Confederacy.
African Americas and the Civil War • The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 • President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, 1863. The proclamation declared that all slaves in the areas “wherein the people…are this day in rebellion…are, and hence forward shall be free.” • It is important to understand that the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves living in states that had rebelled against the Union. It did not free slaves in Border States such as Kentucky and Missouri. Slavery was not legally and completely abolished until the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. • The Emancipation Proclamation strengthened the Union’s moral cause. The Civil War was now widened into a crusade against slavery. • With slavery doomed, public opinion in Britain and France swung decisively behind the Union cause. The Emancipation Proclamation thus ended any chance that the European powers would support the Confederacy.
African Americans and the Civil War • Black soldiers • The Emancipation Proclamation permitted blacks to join the federal army. Frederick Douglass urged blacks to rally to the Union cause. “The iron gate of our prison,” he told them, “stands half open.” • Approximately 180,000 African Americans served in the Union army. Although black soldiers fought with a great valor, they were paid less than white soldiers of equal rank. More than 38,000 black soldiers lost their lives during the Civil War.