the American Civil War

Oversimplified: the American Civil War

The American Civil War was a conflict fought between 1861 and 1865, between the United States and a group of Southern states. There were specifically 11, which seceded the US, meaning they separated from the nation to become independent. These states included, in chronological order: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Between 1815 and 1861, the economy of the Northern states underwent rapid modernization and diversification. While agriculture, particularly smaller farms dependent on free labor, continued to be a major sector in the North, industrialization was gaining quite a lot of importance. Additionally, Northerners made significant investments in an extensive and diverse transportation infrastructure, encompassing canals, roads, steamboats, and railroads. They also directed substantial resources into financial industries such as banking and insurance. Furthermore, the North developed a robust communications network, featuring affordable and widely accessible newspapers, magazines, books, and the telegraph.

In contrast, the Southern economy primarily revolved around large farms, known as plantations, focusing on the cultivation of commercial crops like cotton and heavily relying on enslaved individuals as the primary workforce. Unlike Northerners, who invested in industries and infrastructure like factories and railroads, Southerners directed their financial resources predominantly toward acquiring slaves, surpassing even investments in land. Surprisingly, as of 1860, a significant 84 percent of the capital invested in manufacturing was in the free (nonslaveholding) states.

Despite the economic strategy differing from the North, Southerners perceived this approach as a wise business decision until as late as 1860. The price of cotton, the quintessential crop defining the South, experienced a remarkable surge in the 1850s, leading to a proportional increase in the value of slaves, considered property. Consequently, by 1860, the per capita wealth of Southern whites had doubled that of Northerners. Moreover, three-fifths of the wealthiest individuals in the country were Southerners.

In 1819, the United States Congress faced the pivotal decision of whether to admit Missouri as a state, with Missouri expressing the desire to be admitted as a slave state. A faction of Northern representatives in Congress expressed dissatisfaction with this proposition, leading to an impasse in reaching a consensus on the matter. Subsequently, the deliberations encountered difficulty in finding a resolution.

Missouri Compromise and Kansas-Nebraska Act

Ultimately, a breakthrough occurred when Maine petitioned for admission to the Union as a free state, meaning it would not permit slavery. In response to this proposal, Congress reached an agreement to admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. This landmark resolution, formalized in 1820, became widely recognized as the Missouri Compromise. Notably and remarkably, the Compromise not only facilitated the admission of these states but also included a stipulation prohibiting the institution of slavery north of the southern border of Missouri.

However, the duration of the Missouri Compromise persisted until the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 by the United States Congress. This legislative measure delineated the establishment of Kansas and Nebraska as new territories within a region where the institution of slavery had previously been prohibited (north of the Southern border of Missouri). Nevertheless, the act introduced a provision enabling the inhabitants of these territories to exercise their discretion in determining the permissibility of slavery within their respective jurisdictions. In the case of Kansas, the implementation of the act produced many armed conflicts, where proponents of slavery from the Southern states confronted Northern abolitionists. This contentious struggle unfolded as Southerners advocated for the continuation of slavery, while their Northern counterparts, the abolitionists, ardently sought to bring an end to the institution.

the American Civil War

Decisive event towards war

Throughout the decade, the divergence between the two factions intensified, and political leaders found it progressively challenging to manage the conflict through compromise. The culmination occurred when Abraham Lincoln, the representative of the explicitly antislavery Republican Party, emerged victorious in the 1860 presidential election. In response, seven Southern states followed through with their earlier threat, seceding from the Union and forming the Confederate States of America, with Jefferson Davis as their Confederate president.

The Northern states that remained faithful to the United States during the Civil War were collectively referred to as the Union. Four states—Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware—opted to remain within the Union despite permitting slavery, earning them the designation of border states. Furthermore, the western counties of Virginia chose not to align with the Confederacy and later affiliated themselves with the Union, forming the state of West Virginia. As the war unfolded, the Union possessed several strategic advantages over the Confederacy, including a larger population, more developed industries, and an extensive railway network. Nevertheless, the Confederacy distinguished itself with superior military leadership.

Main episodes throughout the war

The American Civil War, spanning from 1861 to 1865, unfolded on two major battlefronts. In the East, encompassing Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, intense fighting occurred, while the Western front originated along the Mississippi River and subsequently expanded.

In 1861, hostilities commenced with Confederate forces capturing Fort Sumter in South Carolina. This event prompted both sides to rapidly mobilize armies. A pivotal battle at Bull Run in July dealt a significant blow to the Union forces, causing them to retreat to Washington, D.C.

The year 1862 witnessed Union successes in the West, including the capture of Confederate forts in Tennessee and victory at the Battle of Shiloh. The Union navy also seized New Orleans. Meanwhile, notable naval battles occurred in Virginia.

In the East, General Robert E. Lee achieved victories at Bull Run and Fredericksburg, while in the West, the Union triumphed at Antietam. Following this, President Lincoln’s focus shifted to emancipation, leading to the Emancipation Proclamation and increased Black enlistment in the Union army.

In 1863, Lee faced defeat at Gettysburg, marking a turning point in favor of the Union. Simultaneously, Ulysses S. Grant secured Vicksburg, gaining control of the Mississippi River.

The years 1864–65 witnessed Grant assuming command of all Union armies, engaging in Virginia, while Sherman advanced through Georgia. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta and subsequent march to Savannah marked significant Union successes. By March 1865, Lee faced dwindling resources, and Grant’s capture of Richmond in April led to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9. By the end of May, all Confederate armies had surrendered, effectively concluding the Civil War.

the American Civil War
Leonor Piedrafita Alfaro
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the American Civil War