The American Vision © 2010
The Civil War, 1861-1865
This chapter details the battles of the Civil War and looks at how the war impacted the nation's people, economy, and spirit.
Section 1 compares the North's and South's advantages and disadvantages at the start of the Civil War. The North's large population, transportation systems, naval force, and many resources made the Union well equipped for waging a war. In addition, the Union drew financial support from the national treasury, tariffs, and Northern banks. In contrast, the Confederacy's lack of sufficient revenue and worsening financial state made funding the war effort difficult. The South had the advantage of superior military leaders, but it lacked transportation networks and industry. The ability to supply large armies became important because the Civil War became the first “modern” war. New technologies, such as more accurate guns, made war more deadly and created a need for more soldiers.
Section 2 looks at the early battles of the Civil War. The first battle of the Civil War, fought in Virginia on July 21, 1861, gave the Confederates a taste of victory. The Union defeat convinced Lincoln that he would have to utilize all resources to defeat the Confederacy. The Union implemented its plan to seal off the Confederacy's major ports, gain control of the lower Mississippi River, and capture New Orleans. In the West, General Ulysses S. Grant's campaign to seize control of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers secured Union control of all of Kentucky and most of western Tennessee. The Battle of Shiloh gave Grant a victory, but at a high price. In the East, major campaigns waged in the Southern states inflicted heavy casualties. Confederate General Robert E. Lee's defeat at Antietam led to the bloodiest one-day battle in all of American history. The battle's losses convinced Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
Section 3 describes life during the Civil War. The South's failing economy led to food shortages, riots, and poor morale. In contrast, the North's growing industries supplied Union troops, while innovations in agriculture helped maintain crop production. On both sides, women supported the war effort by working in factories, running farms and businesses, and taking on nursing tasks in army hospitals. When the Emancipation Proclamation officially permitted African Americans to enlist, many rushed to service. Many Union and Confederate soldiers expected to endure hardships, but most were not prepared for the horrors of war. The battles produced huge number of casualties and wounded. In the camps, infection spread quickly, disease was rampant, and amputations were a common measure to address appalling wounds. Prisoners of war, especially those held by the South, endured conditions that were especially dreadful.
Section 4 reviews the battles that marked the turning point in the Civil War. In 1863 General Grant's siege on Vicksburg, Mississippi, captured the last major Confederate stronghold on the river and cut the South in two. General Lee's leadership kept Union troops away from the Confederate capital and sent Union troops running in Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Virginia. Confident from his victories, Lee decided to launch a northern invasion. When the armies met in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, however, Union troops overwhelmed the Confederates. Over one-third of the Confederate army died on the fields of Gettysburg. The defeat proved to be the turning point of the war. From that point forward, the Confederacy remained on the defensive. President Lincoln visited the site of the battle and delivered one of the best-known orations in American history. Intense fighting in Tennessee resulted in Union control of Chattanooga and cleared the way for an invasion of Georgia.
Section 5 describes the final battles of the Civil War. In May and June of 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant relentlessly attacked General Robert E. Lee's Confederate forces in Virginia. At the same time, Union General Sherman marched from Chattanooga toward Atlanta. After Sherman took control of Atlanta, his troops set fires that destroyed more than one-third of the city. From Atlanta, Sherman's army cut a path of destruction that reached to Georgia's coast and north into South Carolina. Southerners were demoralized, but Atlanta's capture revitalized Northern support for the war. Voters reelected the president, and Lincoln took it as a mandate to end slavery permanently. Lee's race to escape Grant's forces in southwestern Virginia ended at Appomattox Courthouse. In the terms of surrender, Grant was generous to the Confederates. Lincoln outlined his plan for restoring the Southern states to the Union, but he would never see his plans through. Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865, shocked an already weary nation.