A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
By Tim Lambert
THE OUTBREAK OF CIVIL WAR
The civil war was finally provoked by the election of Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865 as president. Lincoln did not believe he had the power to abolish slavery in states where it already existed. However he firmly opposed the expansion of slavery into territories of the USA, which were likely to become states in future. His policy meant that in future free states would outnumber slave ones. As a result of his election South Carolina ceded from the union on 20 December 1860. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas followed it early in 1861. Together they formed the Confederate States of America on 4 February 1861. Jefferson Davis(1808-1889) became the President.
Fighting began on 12 April 1861. Fort Sumter was a unionist stronghold under Major Robert Anderson. On 12 April the Confederate General Beauregard ordered the unionists to evacuate the fort. The unionists and rejected his terms and that day southern artillery bombarded the fort. Fort Sumter was forced to surrender the next day but the unionist soldiers were allowed to retreat to the north. Afterwards both sides began arming for war.
Following Fort Sumter Arkansas ceded from the union on 6 May 1861. It was followed by Tennessee and North Carolina.
However the south was easily outmatched by the north. In the south there were only 5 1/2 million whites and over 3 1/2 million slaves. The north outnumbered the south 4 to 1 in men of military age. Furthermore while the north had begun to industrialise the south remained an agricultural society. About 90% of manufacturing industry was in the north of 2/3 of US railroads. Furthermore the south suffered from disunity. Since they were firm believers in states rights the confederate states could not form a firmly united federation.
Despite these disadvantages the south won some early victories.
THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
In July 1861 General Beauregard was in charge of 22,000 confederate troops an Manassas Junction by the Bull Run River. General McDowell marched south with over 30,000 unionist soldiers. They attacked the confederates on 21 July 1861. However they were held in check by troops led by Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson. Eventually the unionists retreated.
However in the west the unionists won a significant victory at Shiloh on 6-7 April 1862. On the first day the confederates had some success but they were unable to drive the unionists off the field completely. Unionist reinforcements arrived that night and on 7 April the confederates were forced to retreat with heavy losses. In Louisiana unionists captured New Orleans on 25 April and Baton Rouge on 12 May.
In April 1862 the Army of the Potomac, led by General McClellan began the Peninsular Campaign. They captured Yorktown on 4 May 1862. By late May McClellan reached the outskirts of Richmond. However in late June 1862 General Robert E. Lee attacked and fought a series of battles called 'The Seven Days'. McClellan was forced to retreat.
In August 1862 the two armies clashed at a battle known as Second Bull Run or Second Manassas. It was a decisive southern victory and the northern army retreated. Lee invaded the north and the two armies fought at Antietam. Lee was forced to retreat into Virginia.
However the unionists were severely defeated at Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862. Robert E. Lee won another brilliant victory at Chancellorsville in May 1863.
Lee invaded the north again in June 1863. The turning point of the war was at Gettysburg in July 1863. The two armies clashed on 1-3 July. At first the confederates had some success. Eventually, however, they were forced to retreat with heavy losses. The south also suffered defeat at Vicksburg on the Mississippi. General Grant laid siege to the town and captured it on 4 July 1863. From the middle of 1863 the south's fortunes gradually waned. In November the south suffered another defeat at Chattanooga.
In May 1864 both sides suffered heavy losses at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. The unionists were unable to capture Petersburg or Richmond for many months.
Meanwhile, after Chattanooga, General Sherman began to advance through Georgia towards the sea. His army entered Atlanta on 3 September 1864. On 21 December 1861 Sherman's troops captured Savannah on the coast. The confederacy was cut in half. Then, in February 1865, Sherman headed north into South Carolina. He captured Columbia on 19 February 1865. Then he pressed on into North Carolina.
Further north Robert E. Lee faced increasing pressure from Grant's forces in Virginia. On 2 April 1864 the confederates abandoned Petersburg and Richmond. Finally on 9 April 1865 Lee surrendered to Grant at Appotomax Court House. That was effectively the end of the civil war. The rest of the confederate forces surrendered soon afterwards. Johnston surrendered to Sherman on 18 April and the last confederate army surrendered on 26 May 1865.
However Lincoln did not live to see the end of the war. John Wilkes Booth assassinated him on 15 April 1865. Lincoln was watching a play in Ford's Theater when Booth shot him in the head. Andrew Johnson took his place.
19th Century Weapons
The industrial revolution transformed warfare. Railways meant armies could be transported much faster than before. The telegraph meant that messages could also be transmitted much faster.
At the beginning of the 19th century Sir William Congreve (1772-1828) developed the Congreve rocket. These rockets were used at Copenhagen in 1807 and they set most of the town on fire. However rockets lacked both range and accuracy and after the Napoleonic Wars they fell from favour.
Meanwhile in 1807 a Scot named Alexander Forsyth patented the percussion cap. When a trigger was pulled a hammer hit a container of fulminate of mercury, which exploded and ignited the charge of gunpowder. The percussion cap replaced the flint lock.
In 1837 Johann von Dreyse invented the first breech loading firearm, the needle-gun. It was adopted by the Prussian army in 1841. Over the following decades the breech loading rifle was refined and improved.
Breech loading guns greatly increased the rate of fire. The British army began using breech loading guns in 1865.
The range of guns was improved by rifling. Some guns had been rifled for centuries but it only became commonplace in the 19th century.
In the late 19th century rifles were improved further by the introduction of magazines, which greatly increased the rate of fire.
Meanwhile in 1835 Samuel Colt invented the revolver. Traditionally the cavalry fought with pistols and swords but the revolver made swords obsolete.
In the 19th century many people experimented with machine guns. In 1862 Richard Gatling invented the Gatling gun.
War at sea was changed by exploding shells, by steam engines and by iron ships. In 1858 the French launched La Gloire. It was made with plates of iron fixed onto timber. However in 1860 Britain launched HMS warrior. This ship was made with an iron hull instead of a wooden hull with iron plates fixed on. Soon the traditional gun deck on warships was replaced by turret guns on the top deck. The first American ironclads were the Merrimac and the Monitor.
A History of the USA