History of the American Civil War

History of the American Civil War

The American Civil War, also known as the War between the States and the War of the Rebellion, was fought primarily over the issue of slavery. However, the consensus for national unity had allowed compromisers to find solutions.Slavery was different. The majority felt concern not for the existence of slavery but its possible extension into new lands.However, feeling insecure in its future as the West developed and the prospect of additional free states loomed, the South pushed for a better deal. In retrospect, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, viewed at the time as a win for the pro-slavery forces, instead set in motion the events that resulted in the formation of the Republican Party. At Fort Sumter, they provoked a war they couldn`t win and were determined not to compromise, leading in the end to the loss of everything they fought for.The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law on May 31, 1854. At the urging of Horace Greeley, the adherents to the new party adopted the name "Republican," to recall the original party of Thomas Jefferson.The Kansas-Nebraska Act had been intended as a means to offer the South the future state of Kansas in exchange for the organization of the Nebraska territory. With the responsibility to decide slavery handed to the settlers through the principle of Popular Sovereignty, waves of settlers of both persuasions streamed into Kansas and bloody fighting broke out. Competing state constitutions were "adopted" by extralegal methods, and when the residents finally got a chance to freely express their will, they chose to be free rather than slave.While gaining nothing for the South, the Kansas-Nebraska Act galvanized Northern opinion and by 1860, the remnants of the Whig, Free-Soiler and No-Nothing parties had all gravitated to the Republicans. Meeting in their 1860 convention, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln for president and adopted a platform calling for the abolition of slavery. The Democratic Party split due to the insistence of its Southern branch for a strongly pro-slavery platform. The remnant compromisers became the Constitutional Union Party and fielded their own candidates for president. In the Election of 1860, the Republicans won and Lincoln earned a majority in the Electoral Colelge with only a plurality of the vote.Waiting long enough to be certain of the results, South Carolina called a convention and seceded in December. Others followed and in February, seven former states of the Union created the Confederate States of America. With the indecisive James Buchanan still in the White House, the Confederates were able to seize federal military installations and property within their boundaries with impunity.Upon his inauguration in March, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was faced with the problem of Fort Sumter at the mouth of Charleston harbor in South Carolina. The bombardment killed no one, but two men died during the ceremony following.Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion and so many signed up that by July, Washington DC was bursting with Union soldiers. Soon, everyone realized that a long war was in store.On the political front, President Lincoln had to contend with opposition within his own party from the Radical Republicans, who favored a more aggressive approach to emancipation and a punitive attitude towards the rebels. The Republicans lost some seats in the 1862 elections and prior to the Election of 1864 seemed on the verge of losing the White House. Seeking a coalition, the Republicans ran Lincoln with a Democrat, Andrew Johnson, as vice-president under the banner of the National Union Party. Military successes late in 1864 carried Lincoln to victory in November.In Europe, there was generally more support for the Confederacy than the Union, particularly among the ruling classes, but this inclination was tempered by a consideration of the likely winner. A number of Confederate raiders, such as the Alabama were built in English shipyards and at times, both the French and English seemed on the brink of recognition, but as the tide of war showed a greater chance of Union victory, both chose neutrality.At the outbreak of the war, the Union advantage in manufacturing was enormous. The South was able to develop a wartime manufacturing capability, but never on the same scale.After Bull Run, the activity was relatively low for the balance of 1861. In the eastern theater, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy kept a series of Union generals at bay with brilliant tactics. In the summer of 1863, Confederate forces invaded Maryland and threatened Pennsylvania, but were turned back at the Battle of Gettysburg.In the West, General Ulysses S. Grant achieved significant victories, New Orleans was captured in late April, 1862, and the Mississippi River was soon open to Union navigation. Chattanooga, Tennessee, was captured in 1863, opening the way for Sherman`s drive to Atlanta and subsequent March to the Sea in 1864.Lincoln brought General Grant east and gave him command of all Union armies in 1864. Huge losses during The Wilderness and later campaigns did not shake Lincoln`s support for Grant. He disengaged from Grant but found himself cut off.The end came quickly at Appamattox Courthouse. In a final tragedy, Abraham Lincoln was asssassinated before he could lead the nation to a lasting reconciliation.


A Brief Overview of the American Civil War

The Civil War is the central event in America's historical consciousness. While the Revolution of 1776-1783 created the United States, the Civil War of 1861-1865 determined what kind of nation it would be. The war resolved two fundamental questions left unresolved by the revolution: whether the United States was to be a dissolvable confederation of sovereign states or an indivisible nation with a sovereign national government and whether this nation, born of a declaration that all men were created with an equal right to liberty, would continue to exist as the largest slaveholding country in the world.

Northern victory in the war preserved the United States as one nation and ended the institution of slavery that had divided the country from its beginning. But these achievements came at the cost of 625,000 lives--nearly as many American soldiers as died in all the other wars in which this country has fought combined. The American Civil War was the largest and most destructive conflict in the Western world between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the onset of World War I in 1914.

National Archives

The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states. When Abraham Lincoln won election in 1860 as the first Republican president on a platform pledging to keep slavery out of the territories, seven slave states in the deep South seceded and formed a new nation, the Confederate States of America. The incoming Lincoln administration and most of the Northern people refused to recognize the legitimacy of secession. They feared that it would discredit democracy and create a fatal precedent that would eventually fragment the no-longer United States into several small, squabbling countries.

The event that triggered war came at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay on April 12, 1861. Claiming this United States fort as their own, the Confederate army on that day opened fire on the federal garrison and forced it to lower the American flag in surrender. Lincoln called out the militia to suppress this "insurrection." Four more slave states seceded and joined the Confederacy. By the end of 1861 nearly a million armed men confronted each other along a line stretching 1200 miles from Virginia to Missouri. Several battles had already taken place--near Manassas Junction in Virginia, in the mountains of western Virginia where Union victories paved the way for creation of the new state of West Virginia, at Wilson's Creek in Missouri, at Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, and at Port Royal in South Carolina where the Union navy established a base for a blockade to shut off the Confederacy's access to the outside world.

But the real fighting began in 1862. Huge battles like Shiloh in Tennessee, Gaines' Mill, Second Manassas, and Fredericksburg in Virginia, and Antietam in Maryland foreshadowed even bigger campaigns and battles in subsequent years, from Gettysburg in Pennsylvania to Vicksburg on the Mississippi to Chickamauga and Atlanta in Georgia. By 1864 the original Northern goal of a limited war to restore the Union had given way to a new strategy of "total war" to destroy the Old South and its basic institution of slavery and to give the restored Union a "new birth of freedom," as President Lincoln put it in his address at Gettysburg to dedicate a cemetery for Union soldiers killed in the battle there.

Alexander Gardner's famous photo of Confederate dead before the Dunker Church on the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md., 1862. Library of Congress

For three long years, from 1862 to 1865, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia staved off invasions and attacks by the Union Army of the Potomac commanded by a series of ineffective generals until Ulysses S. Grant came to Virginia from the Western theater to become general in chief of all Union armies in 1864. After bloody battles at places with names like The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, Grant finally brought Lee to bay at Appomattox in April 1865. In the meantime Union armies and river fleets in the theater of war comprising the slave states west of the Appalachian Mountain chain won a long series of victories over Confederate armies commanded by hapless or unlucky Confederate generals. In 1864-1865 General William Tecumseh Sherman led his army deep into the Confederate heartland of Georgia and South Carolina, destroying their economic infrastructure while General George Thomas virtually destroyed the Confederacy's Army of Tennessee at the battle of Nashville.

By the spring of 1865 all the principal Confederate armies surrendered, and when Union cavalry captured the fleeing Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Georgia on May 10, 1865, resistance collapsed and the war ended. The long, painful process of rebuilding a united nation free of slavery began.


Famous Birthdays

Robert E. Lee

1807-01-19 Robert E. Lee, American General who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War, born in Stratford Virginia (d. 1870)

    William Bowen Campbell, American politician and Civil War Brigadier General (Union Army), born in Sumner County, Tennessee (d. 1867) Abner Clark Harding, American politician and Civil War Brigadier General (Union Army), born in East Hampton, Connecticut (d. 1874) John A. Dahlgren, US Navy officer and inventor (Civil war Dahlgren-cannon), born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (d. 1870) James Henry Lane, US General during Civil War (Union) and Senator (Kansas), born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (d. 1866) Edwin Stanton, US Secretary of War during most of the American Civil War (1861-65) and US Attorney General (1860-61), born in Steubenville, Ohio (d. 1869) Anna Ella Carroll, American politician and civil war writer (Reconstruction), born in Pocomoke City, Maryland (d. 1894) St. John Richardson Liddell, American Civil War Confederate General, born in Wilkinson County, Mississippi (d. 1870) John Palmer Usher, Secretary of the Interior under Lincoln during US Civil War (1863-1865), born in Brookfield, New York (d. 1889) John M. Palmer, American politician (U.S. Senator from Illinois) and American Civil War General (Union), born in Eagle Creek, Kentucky (d. 1900)

Walt Whitman

1819-05-31 Walt Whitman, American poet (Leaves of Grass) and volunteer nurse during the Civil War, born in West Hills, New York (d. 1892)

    Daniel Harvey Hill, Confederate General (American Civil War), born in York District, South Carolina (d. 1889)

Gordon Granger

1822-11-06 Gordon Granger, American Major General during the Civil War (Union Army), born in Wayne County, New York (d. 1876)

    James Dunwoody Bulloch, Confederacy's chief foreign agent in Great Britain during the American Civil War, born in Savannah, Georgia (d. 1901) Thomas Alexander Scott, American businessman and Assistant Secretary of War (Civil War), born in Peters Township, Pennsylvania (d. 1881)

Stonewall Jackson

1824-01-21 Stonewall Jackson [Thomas Jonathan], Confederate general during the American Civil War, born in Clarksburg, Virginia (d. 1863)

    Cadmus M. Wilcox, American Major General (Confederate Army - American Civil War), born in Wayne County, North Carolina (d. 1890) William T. Wofford, Brigadier General (Confederate Army-American Civil War), born in Toccoa, Habersham County, Georgia (d. 1884) George Hull Ward, American general and Union officer in the American Civil War, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (d. 1863) Ambrose R. Wright, American Civil War General, born in Louisville, Georgia (d. 1872) J. Johnston Pettigrew, American lawyer and Confederate General in the American Civil War, born in Tyrrell County, North Carolina (d. 1863) Thomas J. Higgins, Union Army soldier during the American Civil War, recipient of America's highest military decoration (Medal of Honor), born in Huntington, Quebec, Canada (d. 1917) Alfred Pollard Edward, Civil War journalist, (d. 1872) Mary Edwards Walker, American surgeon and women's rights leader and only woman to receive Medal of Honor (bravery during Civil War), born in Oswego, New York (d. 1919)

J.E.B. Stuart

    James Henry Lane, Brigadier General during Civil War (Confederate), born in Mathews Court House, Virginia (d. 1907) Sally Louisa Tompkins, American nurse and philanthropist, only woman commissioned in Confederate army during US Civil War, born in Mathews City, Virginia (d. 1916)

John Singleton Mosby

1833-12-06 John S. Mosby, Confederate army cavalry battalion commander in the American Civil War, born in Powhatan County, Virginia (d. 1916)

    Walter Kittredge, American musician during American Civil War, born in Merrimack, New Hampshire (d. 1905) Elmer E. Ellsworth, American soldier who was the 1st Union officer killed in the American Civil War, born in Malta, New York (d. 1861) Strong Vincent, American army officer (died famously at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg), born in Waterford, Pennsylvania (d.1863) Charles C. Walcutt, American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, born in Columbus, Ohio (d. 1898)

George Armstrong Custer

1839-12-05 George Armstrong Custer, United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars, born in New Rumley, Ohio (d. 1876)

    William Harvey Carney, American Civil War soldier (first African-American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor), born in Norfolk, Virginia (d. 1908) Alfred Townsend George, American Civil War journalist, born in Georgetown, Delaware (d. 1914) Edward Burd Grubb, American Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General, born in Burlington, New Jersey (d. 1913) Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, American orator (Joan of Arc of the Civil War), born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (d. 1932) Walter Williams, claimed to be last survivor of Civil War (d. 1959) Isabella "Belle" Boyd, American actress and Confederate spy during US Civil War, born in Martinsburg, Virginia (d. 1900) Richard Conner, American Civil War Medal of Honor Recipient (d. 1924) John J. Toffey, American Civil War hero (d. 1911) Julian Scott, American artist and Civil War Medal of Honor recipient, born in Johnson, Vermont (d. 1901) Aleksandr Rodzyanko, Russian lieutenant-general and corps commander of the White Army during the Russian Civil War, born in Russia (d. 1970) Bruce Catton, American historian and writer (Civil War), born in Petoskey, Michigan (d. 1978) Henry Steele Commager, American historian (Atlas of Civil War), born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Ken Burns [Kenneth Lauren], American director and documentary film producer (The Civil War, Baseball), born in Brooklyn, New York

First Shots: Fort Sumter & First Bull Run

Civil War Photos / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

On April 12, 1861, the war began when Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor forcing its surrender. In response to the attack, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. While Northern states responded quickly, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas refused, opting to join the Confederacy instead. In July, Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell began marching south to take the rebel capital of Richmond. On the 21st, they met a Confederate army near Manassas and were defeated.


How America forgot the true history of the Civil War

Glasshouse Images / Alamy Stock Photo

After the clashes and white supremacist terror attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, the latest dimension of our unfolding national meltdown is over monuments to the Confederacy. In retaliation for the violence in Charlottesville, demonstrators pulled down a Confederate statue in Durham, several cities in the North quickly yanked theirs down, and several other places are considering the same thing. President Trump in turn complained about the "history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments."

Confederate statues are generally not very aesthetically memorable. They are far more important for what they represent: a bill still being paid for over a century of deliberate forgetting and rewriting of the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Let me start with one important fact: The American Civil War was fought over slavery. Southern states seceded (and later started the war) in furious outrage over Abraham Lincoln being elected on a platform of restricting slavery's extent to the places in which it already existed. Rather than accept the result of the democratic process, secessionists decided to break the country apart and start a war to keep it that way. Preserving and extending slavery — which was the sole foundation of the Confederacy's political economy — was the objective of this war.

After the war came Reconstruction. Disgruntled ex-Confederates, assisted by the deeply racist President Andrew Johnson, attempted to return their states to a condition as close to slavery as possible — in essence overturning the result of the war (in which some 200,000 black Union soldiers had constituted one key to victory) through terrorism. Enraged Radical Republicans, with the strong support of President Ulysses S. Grant after he was elected, occupied the South with federal troops and enforced protection of black suffrage. From 1867-1876, while ex-slaves did not get meaningful economic help, their voting rights were protected.

But in 1873, there was a financial crisis, which wrecked Republican political fortunes and swept Democrats into control of the House of Representatives. With Republicans' orthodox capitalist measures only worsening the problem, and the party increasing swayed by racist Liberal Republicans who advocated more-or-less abandoning the party's most loyal voting block to Dixiecrat terrorism, Republicans abandoned Reconstruction in 1877 in return for the presidency. Over the next two decades, blacks were violently disenfranchised, their labor brutally exploited, and the white supremacist Jim Crow police state reigned in the South until the 1960s.

This story of chattel slavery, tyranny, white supremacy, and terrorism made rather unappetizing ad copy — as Grant later wrote, the Confederate cause was "one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse." Hence, ex-Confederates and associated sympathizers began to think up alternative histories that sounded better, starting right after the war ended. The major plank of this was the "Lost Cause," which argued that the war was not actually about slavery — instead it was about "state's rights." The antebellum South was cast as a sepia-toned paradise of noble gentlemen, virtuous ladies, and happy slaves. Ulysses Grant was smeared as a drunken butcher, while Robert E. Lee was virtually deified as the picture of honor and the greatest general in American history, if not the world. Reconstruction governments were depicted as hopelessly corrupt, and black men as unfit for the franchise.

As history, this was and is absolutely preposterous. The very idea that some abstract concept of "state's rights" could motivate a war that killed nearly a fifth of the South's white male population was ludicrous on its face (as compared to defense of property which was worth more than all the industrial and transportation capital in the U.S. put together). What's more, as Edward Bonekemper writes in The Myth of the Lost Cause, Confederates were not remotely subtle about why they were seceding. Slavery was straightforwardly cited as the casus belli by most top Confederate officials, many of whom also laid down lengthy slavery apologias. Protection of slavery was written into the Confederate constitution, as well as most of the state-level versions.

This obvious truth was also visible in recruitment. Slaves were a major potential source of soldiers, but Southern politicians reacted with stunned outrage to proposals to give slaves their freedom in return for joining the army. Increasingly desperate proposals for this fell completely flat until the war was nearly over, and only passed in the most halfhearted and experimental form a month before Union victory. As one Confederate officer put it, arming slaves would "contravene the principles upon which we fight."

Bonekemper also convincingly argues that the cult of Robert E. Lee is similarly backwards. Indeed, he argues the South likely could have won the Civil War if Lee hadn't been such an abysmal strategist. The North did have a large advantage in manpower and resources, but unlike almost every other civil war, they also had to conquer a large, politically established country. In an age when military technology heavily favored defense, the Confederacy likely could have held on and survived if they had simply bunkered down and waited for mounting Union casualties to lead the government to give up. Instead, Lee wasted vast resources and thousands of troops he could not afford to lose by repeatedly mounting failed invasions of the North. Even his tactics were sometimes quite poor as well, as when he ordered perhaps the dumbest attack in the history of American warfare at Gettysburg. All this drained the western Confederacy of men and supplies, helping Grant to pull off the finest piece of generalship of the war in his Vicksburg campaign, and left Lee unable to defend effectively against Grant's final victorious campaign in 1864-65.

It was Grant who was the best general of the war, and Lee — who lost by far the largest proportion of his men out of any general on either side — who was the senseless butcher.

The slurs of Reconstruction were just as mendacious. Southern state governments were no more corrupt than Northern ones during this period, and blacks were if anything better than whites on this score — especially when you account for all the terrorism. The object of "Redemption" was to disenfranchise and subjugate blacks, nothing more.

But never underestimate the capacity of people to forget. Southern historians repeated the Lost Cause agitprop over and over. The fact that maintaining democracy during Reconstruction required constant use of force to fight white terrorism helped enormously in this effort. Northern voters and politicians grew tired, wondering how long they'd have to keep fighting the same battle. Viewing the conflict as a noble tragedy on both sides — and not a heroic fight against a profoundly evil tyranny — became more and more tempting. As direct memories of the Civil War faded and Union veterans started to die off, Northern whites — who were on average only somewhat less racist than Southern ones — began to internalize the Lost Cause and the associated slurs of Reconstruction.

Eventually this became the hegemonic view among most white Americans. Assisted by Hollywood blockbusters like Gone with the Wind, whites put the Civil War in the past by forgetting what it was all about and by looking past or quietly approving of Jim Crow terror. As Josh Marshall writes, "the North and the South made a tacit bargain in the years after the Civil War to valorize Southern generals as a way to salve the sting of Southern defeat and provide a cultural and political basis for uniting the country with more than military force . what was gained it was gained at a terrible price and a price paid more or less solely by black citizens."

Nearly all the Confederate statuary was put up several decades after the Civil War to celebrate the victory of Jim Crow — and a nontrivial number during the 1960s to spit in the face of the Civil Rights Movement. They are symbols of white supremacy, each and every one of them. They exist because white Americans did not have the moral courage to preserve Southern democracy — purchased with some 750,000 lives and abandoned after only 12 years.

But because of the successful Lost Cause propaganda campaign, most people do not realize this and take Trump's side on the statue question.

If the federal government had beaten ex-Confederate terrorists into submission for as long as it took — particularly in the crucial two years after the war, when Johnson's stubborn racism allowed them to regroup and regain some initiative, we would not be having this crisis. Instead tyranny displaced democracy in the American South, white Americans swallowed a lot of comforting lies to cover up that fact, and open racism continued to thrive — only partly beaten back by the civil rights advances of the 1960s. Violent white supremacy lives today, as does political racism from conservative Southern politicians, who are to this day working feverishly to disenfranchise as many black Americans as possible, because of that moral failure.

Let us remember this the next time some conservative argues, as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts did when he gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, that measures to protect American democracy from racist tyranny are "based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day." White terror today grows up the frame of a historical trellis well over 150 years old. Perhaps someday America's history of racism can truly be buried. But first, it must be killed.


How Did the Civil War End?

With Grant in charge, the Union Army began to fight the Confederates more aggressively.
In 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman led his troops on his famous March to the Sea, capturing and destroying anything they came across, which further deprived the Confederates of the food and supplies they so desperately needed.

While Sherman was on his March to the Sea, Grant marched his troops towards General Robert E. Lee and his army in Northern Virginia.

After Grant captured the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Va in April of 1865, the Confederate’s line of commands were completely disrupted.

The Civil War finally came to an end after Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia became trapped by invading Union forces in Appomattox county, Va and were forced to surrender.
This prompted similar surrenders by remaining Confederate troops across the South, which finally brought the Civil War to a close.

To learn more about the Civil War, check out the following article on the Best Books About the Civil War.


Access options

My thanks, without implication of responsibility for remaining errors, go to Galen Burghardt, Ronald Ehrenberg, Stanley Engerman, Robert Fogel, Claudia Goldin, and an anonymous referee of this Journal.

1 There are numerous anthologies and commentaries on the issue of the cause of the Civil War, but the following are useful, representative statements containing references for further reading: Pressly , Thomas J. , ed., Americans Interpret Their Civil War ( Princeton : Princeton University Press , 1964 )Google Scholar Rozwenc , Edwin C. , ed., The Causes of the American Civil War ( Boston : D. C. Heath , 1961 )Google Scholar Stampp , Kenneth M. , ed., The Causes of the Civil War ( Englewood Cliffs : Prentice Hall, 1965 )Google Scholar David M. Potter, “The Literature on the Background of the Civil War” in Potter , David M. , The South and the Sectional Conflict ( Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press , 1968 )Google Scholar and (a review of recent literature) Lee Benson, “Explanations of American Civil War Causation: A Critical Assessment and a Modest. Proposal to Reorient and Reorganize the Social Sciences” in Benson , Lee , Toward the Scientific Study of History ( Philadelphia : J. B. Lippincott, 1972 ).Google Scholar

2 A good statement of the conflicting objectives which each of the parties faced and therefore the necessity of recognizing some trade-off or compromise between them is contained in David M. Potter, “Why the Republicans Rejected Both Compromise and Secession” in Knowles , George Harmon , ed., The Crisis of the Union ( Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press , 1965 ).Google Scholar

3 An excellent summary and explanation of this subject is contained in Fogel , Robert W. and Engerman , Stanley. L. , Time on the Cross ( Boston : Little, Brown and Co. , 1974 ).Google Scholar

4 Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross, p. 96.

5 Goldin , Claudia Dale , “The Economics of Emancipation” The Journal of Economic History , XXXIII (March 1973 ).Google Scholar This estimate compares very closely with the assessment of slaves (adjusted for the included populations) made by the Confederate government in July of 1861. See Todd , Richard Cecil , Confederate Finance , ( Athens : Univ. of Georgia Press , 1954 ) p. 199 .Google Scholar

6 An important corollary of this discussion is that the primary and predominant effect of the abolition of slavery (without compensation) would most likely be a transfer of earnings from slave owners to the freemen. Third parties, such as northerners, would be affected little on net. Slavery is implicitly a method of distributing the returns from labor differently than the distribution of benefits which result from free labor. In either case, however, the value of the labor effort is derived from the resulting output. The demand for cotton or any other antebellum southern crop should have been independent of the form of labor input except insofar as it affected the price of the final product (cotton textiles, for example). One might conjecture that slavery—as opposed to free labor—would produce cotton much cheaper because the grower would need only to provide the subsistence for slaves while he would be required to pay the (much higher) prevailing wage rates for free labor. That view, however, is very misleading. The real cost of slave labor to its employer was slave maintenance plus the opportunity cost of the investment in acquiring him. (The same phenomenon appeared when slaves were hired by the year rather than purchased. The hire rate was at least several times as large as room and board expenses for the slave.) Furthermore the opportunity cost of using slaves tended to rise to the level of free labor because, when it was less, potential employers had reason to purchase slaves to capture those extra profits thereby bidding up the price of the slaves. Thus the cost of producing cotton tended to be equalized whichever labor system was employed in providing it and northerners had little economic stake in the institutions which the South utilized to organize its economy. This argument should be hedged, however, by the possible existence of economies of scale in the utilization of slaves not otherwise possible with free labor. See Engerman , Stanley L. “Some Considerations Relating to Property Rights in Man,” The Journal of Economic History , XXXIII (March 1973 ). Engerman's paper is the best comprehensive treatment currently available of the role of slavery in its broader context as a property right. See also Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross, pp. 232–246.Google Scholar

7 The basic framework is presented in Davis , Lance E. and North , Douglass C. , Institutional Change and American Economic Growth ( New York : Cambridge University Press , 1971 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar


Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, 1866

The first published collection of Civil War photographs, this two-volume set features the work of Alexander Gardner and ten other photographers who traveled to camps, forts, and battlefields to document the four-year conflict.

In the 1860s, photo-illustrated books were expensive and painstaking to produce. Each volume of Gardner’s Sketch Book contains fifty original albumen prints, mounted on boards and bound together with the accompanying text. Because of low public demand, only about 200 sets were printed, making this a rare treasure of American photographic history.


This article presents a timeline of American history through the Civil War. Please click on any of the dates to learn more about that date’s events and please post a comment using the Disqus commenting system on any article you click on to let us know your thoughts about that historic event.

Digging Deeper

I. Background and Colonial Development – 1500-1763

  1. On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus, the Italian adventurer sailing into the unknown in the name of the Spanish Crown, landed in the Bahamas, the landing that became known as the “discovery” of America (or, “The New World” if you prefer).
  2. On March 15, 1493, Christopher Columbus made his triumphant return from his first voyage to the New World, a momentous occasion in human history and especially noteworthy for the Spanish Crown that he sailed for.
  3. On March 5, 1496, in the wake of the tremendous news about the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World, King Henry VII of England granted “letters patent” to John Cabot, an Italian sailor and adventurer, along with his sons, to explore the world on behalf of the English Crown.
  4. On December 27, 1512, the King and Queen of Spain issued the Laws of Burgos, a set of rules for how Spaniards were to treat Native Americans in the Caribbean islands colonized by Spain.
  5. On June 9, 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier became the first European (White) man to discover the mighty St. Lawrence River, the gateway into North America for European explorers.
  6. On July 22, 1587, a detachment of English settlers landed at Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina, with the intention of establishing a colony.
  7. On August 18, 1587, Virginia Dare was born in the Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina.
  8. On May 24, 1607, 100 English settlers went ashore at a site chosen for the Jamestown Colony, the first permanent English settlement in mainland North America.
  9. On July 25, 1609, the excellently named British ship, Sea Venture, encountered serious storms while crossing the Atlantic Ocean en route to Virginia, and was purposely run ashore to prevent loss of the ship and passengers.
  10. On June 23, 1611, the ship appropriately named Discovery, captained by explorer Henry Hudson, was in what is now called Hudson Bay and was the scene of a mutiny.
  11. On April 5, 1614, a milestone in European and Native American relations was reached when John Rolfe, English colonist, married Pocahontas, Native American princess!
  12. On December 4, 1619, 38 British settlers landed from the ship, Margaret (out of Bristol, England) along the North shore of the James River in Virginia in order to found a new town in the Virginia Colony called Berkeley Hundred.
  13. On August 5, 1620, the Mayflower set out from England with another ship, the Speedwell, on its first attempt to take Puritans to the New World.
  14. On August 5, 1620, 2 small English sailing ships left Southampton Water in England on a trip to the New World, carrying a group of Puritans seeking a land where they could practice their brand of religion without interference.
  15. On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, headed for The New World in America. Many Americans are under the false impression that these were the first white settlers of North America, and of course, they got history wrong!
  16. On November 11, 1620, while anchored in Provincetown Harbor (off Cape Cod), the male passengers of the Mayflower wrote and signed a document known as The Mayflower Compact.
  17. On March 16, 1621, only about 4 months after landing at Plymouth Rock and setting up their new colony in what was then called Plymouth Colony (Now Massachusetts and Maine) the Pilgrims that had traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower had their first friendly contact with a Native person, and that contact came as quite a shock!
  18. On March 22, 1621, the European (basically British) colonists of Plymouth Colony, a “Pilgrim” venture for displaced religious zealots to find a place to practice their religion in peace, signed a peace treaty with Chief (or “Sachem”) Massasoit of the Wampanoag Native American coalition of tribes that had occupied what is now Massachusetts.
  19. On May 24, 1626, Peter Minuit, Director of New Netherland, bought the island of Manhattan (in modern day New York City) from Native-Americans for goods valued at 60 guilders, the equivalent of $24.
  20. On April 20, 1657, the Dutch masters of the colony of New Amsterdam, later to become New York City, made the historic move of granting religious freedom to two dozen Jewish refugees that had fled oppression in Recife, Holland, in 1654 when the Portuguese conquered that city.
  21. On August 12, 1676, John Alderman, known as a “Praying Indian” because he was a Native American converted to Christianity, shot and killed Chief Metacomet of the Wampanoag people, thus ending the conflict known as King Phillip’s War.
  22. On August 7, 1679, a small ship named Le Griffon (The Griffon) that had been built under the direction of famous explorer of the New World René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was towed to a point on the Niagara River from which it became the first European sailing vessel worthy of the designation “ship” to ever sail the Great Lakes.
  23. On June 2, 1692, the trial of Bridget Bishop began, starting a reign of terror in Salem, Massachusetts known as The Salem Witch Trials.
  24. On August 19, 1692, five accused “witches” were executed in Salem, Massachusetts.
  25. On September 19, 1692, Giles Corey, age 81, became a footnote in the history of America by becoming the first and only man to be “pressed” to death during legal proceedings.
  26. On September 22, 1692, eight people convicted of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials were executed by hanging.
  27. On October 9, 1701, the town of Saybrook, Connecticut was the setting for the founding of The Collegiate School of Connecticut, the institution of higher learning that became Yale University, one of if not the most esteemed colleges or universities in the United States and the world.
  28. On November 29, 1729, the Native American Natchez people who had been living peacefully with their French colonist neighbors in the area of what is now Natchez, Mississippi rose up and attacked the French, killing 138 men, 56 children and 35 women at the French Fort Rosalie.
  29. On May 29, 1733, the colonial government of New France located in Quebec City reaffirmed the right of Canadians (meaning European Canadians, citizens of New France) to own and keep slaves.
  30. On May 25, 1738, a treaty was finally signed, ending the war between Maryland and Pennsylvania known as The Conojocular War, or Cresap’s War.
  31. On September 9, 1739, the Stono Slave Rebellion, the largest slave revolt in pre-revolutionary British America took place in Charleston, South Carolina.

II. Revolutionary Era: Emergence of Democracy – 1763-1800

  1. On May 7, 1763, the Indian versus Colonist conflict known as Pontiac’s War in a nod to the Native American chief that had put together a confederation of Native people in an attempt to oust British colonists from the Great Lakes region, including Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois.
  2. On June 2, 1763, as part of a general Indian (Native American) uprising known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, Chippewa warriors captured Fort Michilmackinac (present day Mackinaw City) by storming the fort.
  3. On June 7, 1769, frontiersman and American legend Daniel Boone first laid eyes on the forests, hills and valleys of Kentucky, and this epic moment in US History is commemorated by the Kentucky Historical Society as National Daniel Boone Day each year on June 7th.
  4. On March 5, 1770, in an incident then known as “The Incident on King Street” British soldiers gunned down 5 American patriots and wounded another 6.
  5. On March 5, 1770, British soldiers opened fire on a group of unarmed American protesters, killing 5 (either 3 or 4 immediately, one dying later), an event referred to as The Boston Massacre, sometimes called the first shots fired in the American Revolutionary War.
  6. On April 14, 1772, the building tension toward open rebellion of Americans against the British erupted in New Hampshire in an incident known as The Pine Tree Riot.
  7. On October 12, 1773, Eastern State Hospital was established, the first insane asylum in what is now the United States.
  8. On December 16, 1773, Americans proved that they were not willing to be pushed around by a government that levied onerous taxes upon them, and this displeasure was expressed in the civil act of defiance known to us today as The Boston Tea Party.
  9. On April 14, 1775, Benjamin Franklin along with Benjamin Rush founded the first abolitionist society in the US, The Society For the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage.
  10. On April 22, 1775, Patrick Henry delivered a speech that may well have led to the successful formation of the United States.
  11. On June 12, 1775, British General Thomas Gage declared martial law in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  12. On July 8, 1775, the Continental Congress, forerunner of what would become the government of the United States, signed the so called “Olive Branch Petition,” a last ditch effort to prevent a war of independence against Britain by the American Colonies.
  13. On October 13, 1775, an order of the Continental Congress established the Continental Navy, later better known as the United States Navy, the greatest maritime fighting force the world has ever seen.
  14. On November 7, 1775, in an announcement known as “Dunmore’s Proclamation,” the first movement to free African-Americans from slavery (also known as “emancipation”) took place when the Royal Governor of Virginia offered freedom to any slave willing to fight for the British against the Colonies in the American Revolution.
  15. On November 10, 1775, the finest fighting force in the history of the world was born when the United States Marine Corps was established in a Philadelphia tavern by Samuel Nicholas.
  16. On December 3, 1775, the Alfred, a merchant ship purchased by the Continental Congress was commissioned under Captain Dudley Saltonstall and became the first to fly what would become the American Flag.
  17. On January 10, 1776, the pamphlet Common Sense by American patriot Thomas Paine was published.
  18. On March 3, 1776, the Continental Navy and Continental Marines, the forces that would become the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps, conducted the first amphibious operation in US military history when a raid on Nassau in the Bahamas was conducted, known as The Raid on Nassau or sometimes called The Battle of Nassau.
  19. On July 2, 1776, The Thirteen British Colonies voted to declare themselves independent from the crown.
  20. On July 4, 1776, The United States Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress.
  21. On September 7, 1776, American patriot Ezra Lee made the first attack by a submarine against a surface warship in history against the HMS Eagle in New York Harbor.
  22. On September 7, 1776, American revolutionary Ezra Lee attempted to use his invention, a submarine he called the Turtle, in combat.
  23. On July 2, 1777, Vermont became the first territory in what had just (kind of) become the United States to abolish slavery.
  24. On September 27, 1777, the Continental Congress, precursor to the United States Congress, fled the American capital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (our first capital city) as British troops closed in.
  25. On June 24, 1779, the largest battle of the American Revolutionary War began at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea at the British Fortress of Gibraltar.
  26. On August 13, 1779, a combined US Naval and ground expeditionary force was defeated after a 3 week campaign known as The Penobscot Expedition, the worst defeat in US Navy history until the surprise attack against Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
  27. On October 11, 1779, Polish cavalry officer and American Brigadier General, Casimir Pulaski, died of wounds incurred during the Battle of Savannah (Georgia) during the American Revolutionary War.
  28. On October 19, 1781, British and German forces outnumbered 2 to 1 by American and French forces finally surrendered after a 3 week siege of Yorktown, Virginia.
  29. On March 8, 1782, people once again proved how hate can lead to innocent lives began violently taken when Ninety-six Native Americans were massacred at Gnadenhutten, Ohio, the first European settlement in Ohio.
  30. On September 3, 1783, the treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War was signed in Paris, France, thus becoming known as the Treaty of Paris.
  31. On August 29, 1786, disgruntled Massachusetts farmers disgusted by high taxes, economic hardships and civil rights violations formed an organized force of protesters and shut down the county court at Northampton, the beginning of an insurrection known as Shays’s Rebellion, 4000 rebels under the leadership of Daniel Shays with the goal of overthrowing the government.
  32. On June 14, 1789, the Rev. Elijah Craig first distilled whiskey from maize (corn).
  33. On July 14, 1789, Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie finally reached the mouth of the river named after him, a failed attempt to find a route to the Pacific Ocean.
  34. On September 29, 1789, the United States Department of War established a regular US Army for the first time, a modest force of only several hundred men.
  35. On October 2, 1789, President George Washington sent to the States for ratification a list of Amendments to the Constitution, a list we now refer to as “The Bill of Rights.”
  36. On November 6, 1789, Pope Pius VI appointed Jesuit priest John Carroll as the first Catholic bishop in the United States, although he had earlier been ex-communicated!
  37. On March 1, 1790, the first census in the history of the United States was authorized, with some interesting results.
  38. On January 2, 1791, Lenape and Wyandot Native Americans massacred 12 to 14 White settlers near what is now Stockport, Morgan County, Ohio.
  39. On July 17, 1791, hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (you can see why he is usually just called “Lafayette”) led the French National Guard against a riotous mob of around 10,000 angry French revolutionaries, gunning down about 50 of the rebels in the action.
  40. On October 13, 1792, the cornerstone for the White House was laid in the capital city of the United States, known as Washington, D.C. (the city of Washington within the District of Columbia).
  41. On March 14, 1794, American inventor Eli Whitney patented his greatest invention.
  42. On March 27, 1794, the United States Congress authorized the building and purchase of a fleet of 6 frigates, ships that would become the core of what became a standing US Navy, a naval fighting force that would eventually rule the oceans for many decades, ruling the waves from World War II to the present.
  43. On February 7, 1795, the 12th state need to ratify the 11th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (North Carolina) voted to ratify the Amendment, thus making it part of the law of the land.

III. Expansion of American Democracy – 1800-1850

  1. On February 17, 1801, the Presidential election of the United States faced its first major test of the system put in place to elect the President when the Electoral College voted, and the result was that the contest between Thomas Jefferson/Aaron Burr, incumbent President John Adams/Charles Pinckney, and John Jay resulted in a failure of a candidate to earn an electoral majority.
  2. By statute enacted on October 31, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson was authorized to take possession of various territories ceded by France to the United States of America in what is known as the Louisiana Purchase.
  3. On February 16, 1804, the U.S. Navy conducted a stunningly audacious raid to deny the enemy the use of an American warship by concocting a ruse that allowed American sailors into the jaws of the enemy harbor to sink a captured American frigate.
  4. On March 1, 1805, the United States government was reeling from a never to be repeated political power play!
  5. On April 27, 1805, the United States Marine Corps conducted one of their first famous missions, one immortalized in the Marines’ Hymn, by taking the Tripolitan city of Derna and raising the American flag, the first time the Flag of the United States was raised on foreign soil.
  6. On February 19, 1807, former Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, the same guy that shot Alexander Hamilton to death in a duel while Burr was serving as Vice President, was arrested for treason.
  7. On May 5, 1809, Mary Kies became the first woman granted a US patent.
  8. On February 11, 1812, Elbridge Gerry, the Governor of Massachusetts, was accused of manipulating voting districts in a bizarre, uneven way in order to tailor voting demographics to suit his own political benefit.
  9. On June 1, 1813, the commander of the USS Chesapeake, James Lawrence, lay dying, and uttered the immortal words, “Don’t give up the ship!”
  10. On August 30, 1813, a force of about 1,000 warriors of a faction of the Creek Nation Native Americans known as the “Red Sticks” attacked Fort Mims in Alabama, killing almost all its defenders and many civilians as well.
  11. On December 30, 1813, during the War of 1812, arson-happy British troops set the small city of Buffalo, New York ablaze as a means of punishing the upstart Americans.
  12. On July 19, 1814, Samuel Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and although he lived only to the age of 47 became rich and famous as the man that made the repeating firearm a practical reality.
  13. On September 14, 1814, while observing the Battle of Baltimore from a British ship, lawyer Francis Scott Key penned the poem, The Defence of Fort McHenry, the words that would be adapted as our (the USA) National Anthem.
  14. On July 27, 1816, US gunboat #154 fired a cannon shot regarded as the deadliest single cannonball ever fired by the US Navy.
  15. In August of 1819, the Nantucket whaling ship, Essex, set sail on a two and a half year whaling voyage that on November 20, 1820 turned into eternity!
  16. In 1820, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, a short story of speculative fiction by American author Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859), was published in his collection of essays and short stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
  17. On February 6, 1820, The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America (better known as the American Colonization Society) sent the first 86 African Americans back to Africa to form a new country of freed slaves and free born African Americans, Liberia.
  18. On August 25, 1823, mountain man and fur trapper Hugh Glass was attacked by a Grizzly Bear while on a fur taking and exploring expedition in what is now South Dakota.
  19. On December 1, 1824, it was determined that the vote for the presidential election of 1824 did not have a winner!
  20. On February 9, 1825, the United States of America had the only incident (so far) of no presidential candidate winning a majority of the Electoral votes in a presidential election, forcing the House of Representatives to elect our next president.
  21. On this date, September 29, 1825, American soldier, revolutionary, and farmer Daniel Shays (c.1747–1825) died at age 78 in Sparta, New York.
  22. On September 11, 1826, Captain William Morgan was arrested in Batavia, New York, supposedly on a charge of failing to pay a debt.
  23. On December 25, 1826, cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point cracked the annals of history with an Eggnog Riot!
  24. On May 28, 1830, US President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, a law allowing the President to negotiate with tribes still located in the Southern United States to be moved West of the Mississippi River.
  25. On January 30, 1835, for the first time in American History an assassination attempt was made on the President of the United States.
  26. On June 2, 1835, American showman and huckster Phineas T. Barnum began his first tour of the US with his circus, later called “The Greatest Show on Earth,” and then “Barnum and Bailey’s Circus,” “Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth,” and finally “Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus.”
  27. On November 24, 1835, the Texas Provincial Government (Permanent Council) authorized the creation of a mounted para-military police force to enforce laws throughout The Republic of Texas and protect its borders.
  28. On February 25, 1836, Samuel Colt of Hartford Connecticut made good on the “All men are created equal” theme by making sure they stayed that way.
  29. On March 5, 1836, Samuel Colt formed Patent Arms Manufacturing, the forerunner of Colt’s Firearms Manufacturing Company which in turn became today’s Colt’s Manufacturing Company.
  30. On March 6, 1836, the most celebrated defeat in American history ended in a massacre!
  31. On September 5, 1836, Sam Houston was elected as the first president of the Republic of Texas.
  32. On December 14, 1836, a war between the States ended, but one you may not be familiar with.
  33. On February 8, 1837, the United States Senate elected Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky as the incoming Vice President of the United States, the only time in US history that the Senate was required to make such an election due to the failure of any Vice Presidential candidate to garner enough Electoral votes to get elected.
  34. On July 15, 1838 while delivering a speech at Harvard Divinity School, Ralph Waldo Emerson described Jesus as a “great man,” but not “God.”
  35. On September 3, 1838, Frederick Douglas, an African American slave in Maryland, finally made good on an escape attempt, using trains, ferry boats, and steam boats to find his way to Pennsylvania, a “free” state.
  36. On October 27, 1838, Missouri’s governor issued an order for all Mormons to leave the state or face extermination!
  37. On April 4, 1841, a stunned nation learned that for the first time in American history a serving president died while in office!
  38. On March 30, 1842, Dr. Crawford Long, an American surgeon, made the first known use of ether as a general anesthetic.
  39. On February 28, 1844, a steam powered, sail and propeller (screw) driven US Navy corvette, the USS Princeton, one of the newest and most modern ships in America’s fleet, was sailing on the Potomac River with a large retinue of US Government officials aboard including the President of the United States when she experienced one of those terrible maritime experiences we at History andHeadlines call a “Naval Oops Moment.”
  40. On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse Code (well, duh!) and of the telegraph, famously sent the message “What Hath God Wrought?” to inaugurate his new telegraph.
  41. On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), was shot to death by a mob with blackened faces in a Carthage, Illinois jail while awaiting trial for treason.
  42. On January 29, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe, the Baltimore writer of such classics as “The Telltale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Goldbug,” published his famous poem, “The Raven,” certainly one of if not the most renowned poem in American literature, and ranks among the most famous of poems.
  43. On December 5, 1847, Jefferson Finis Davis of Mississippi was elected to the United States Senate.
  44. On July 19, 1848, somewhat earlier than you may have imagined, the modern Women’s Rights movement began with a 2 day convention held in Seneca Fall, New York.
  45. On September 13, 1848, a Vermont railroad worker suffered a bizarre injury when a 3-foot metal rod went right through his head and proceeded to land 80 feet away.
  46. On September 13, 1848, a railroad worker was skewered with an iron rod over an inch in diameter.
  47. On July 9, 1850, US President Zachary Taylor died after consuming mass quantities of fresh fruit and iced milk at a July 4th fund raising and holiday celebration.
  48. On September 9, 1850, in the middle of the California Gold Rush, California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state of the United States.

IV. Challenge to Democracy – 1850-1865

  1. On October 18, 1851, the Herman Melville classic, Moby Dick, was first published under its original or alternate title, The Whale.
  2. On March 20, 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s story about an African-American family enslaved in the Antebellum South was published.
  3. On January 26, 1856, elements of the United States Marine Corps fought a battle against a most unlikely of opponents, Native American warriors of the tribes in the Washington Territory, a battle with the catchy sounding name, The Battle of Seattle.
  4. On May 22, 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina had had it!
  5. On June 9, 1856, 500 Mormons left Iowa and headed for Salt Lake City, Utah.
  6. On September 12, 1857, the SS Central America sank in a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina, taking with her most of her passengers and crew and 30,000 pounds of gold from California.
  7. On February 19, 1859, New York Congressman Daniel E. Sickles made history as the first person acquitted by reason of “temporary insanity.”
  8. On March 3, 1859, the largest sale of African slaves in the United States came to a sad conclusion near Savannah, Georgia when the last slaves formerly owned by plantation owner Pierce Mease Butler (1806-1867) were sold in order for Butler to satisfy his considerable debts.
  9. On April 4, 1859, the familiar Southern anthem, “Dixie,” alternatively known as “Dixie Land,” “Dixie’s Land,” and “I Wish I Was in Dixie,” made its public debut performed by the blackface troupe Bryant’s Minstrels as the closing number of their show.
  10. On April 25, 1859, Daniel Sickles, Congressman, Army general and diplomat, became the first person to successfully use the “temporary insanity” defense to beat a murder rap.
  11. On April 13, 1861, the US Army installation known as Fort Sumter located at Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, surrendered to the rebellious forces of the fledgling Confederate States of America after a bombardment.
  12. On April 19, 1861, an angry mob with pro-secessionist intentions attacked US Army troops on the streets of Baltimore, an event known as The Baltimore Riot of 1861, or alternately as The Pratt Street Riot or even the more dramatic Pratt Street Massacre
  13. On June 3, 1861, in the first organized land battle (barely a battle in reality) of the American Civil War, the Union Army with 3000 men routed an untrained force of 800 Confederate volunteers in what it now West Virginia at Philippi, a small town that today has only about 3000 residents.
  14. On July 26, 1861, Major General George McClellan was appointed the commander of the Army of the Potomac, a move President Lincoln hoped would instill professionalism and competence to that Army.
  15. On August 5, 1861, the Federal Government of the United States instituted its first income tax to help pay for the Civil War .
  16. On October 23, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln, defender of the Union of the United States, illegally suspended the rule of Habeas Corpus, the Constitutional protection of Americans against being held in confinement without charges and due process.
  17. On November 20, 1861, certain representatives of some Kentucky counties calling themselves the Confederate Government of Kentucky seceded from the Union of the United States of America.
  18. On March 8, 1862, during the American Civil War, perhaps the most important naval battle of the war began, a battle that would see the first clash of ironclad/armored warships.
  19. On May 13, 1862, a black African-American slave, Robert Smalls, serving as a ship’s pilot on the CSS Planter, a Confederate armed steamship, managed to steal the ship and turn it over to US Navy forces outside Charleston, South Carolina.
  20. On July 12, 1862, a congressional resolution was signed into law authorizing the Army to issue the Medal of Honor to enlisted soldiers (only) for “personal valor.”
  21. On July 16, 1862 and July 16, 1882 we commemorate the birthdays of 2 significant African-American women, Ida Wells (who first developed statistics on lynching in the US) and VA Johnson (the first African-American woman to argue before the Supreme Court).
  22. On July 16, 1862, David Farragut was appointed a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, the first officer to hold that rank.
  23. On July 23, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln finally found a replacement for General George B. McClellan as General-in-Chief of the Union Army when he appointed General Henry W. Halleck.
  24. On September 13, 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia and their commander, Robert E. Lee, suffered a catastrophic blunder when Lee’s battle plans for the upcoming Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg to the Rebels) were found near Fredricksburg, Maryland by Union soldiers.
  25. On September 17, 1862, the same day that the bloodiest 1 day battle in American military history was fought (Antietam, or Sharpsburg) the civilian population of suburban Pittsburgh was touched by the worst civilian disaster of the Civil War when the Allegheny Arsenal blew up, killing 78 workers, mainly women (down to 15 years old).
  26. On December 12, 1862, the United States ship, USS Cairo, an iron-clad gunboat of the City Class, was sunk in the Yazoo River by a remotely detonated Confederate “torpedo,” what naval mines were called back then.
  27. On December 17, 1862, the stormy history of civil rights in United States was once again shamefully marred when Major General Ulysses S. Grant, future President of the United States, issued his infamous General Order No. 11 which expelled all Jews from Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, the states in the military district he commanded.
  28. On April 2, 1863, Southern women in Richmond, Virginia were at their wits end and had had enough, or more accurately had NOT had enough, because they and their families were starving for lack of food (aka, bread).
  29. On May 2, 1863, the Confederate States of America lost their best or second best general, because they shot him!
  30. On July 1, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania began, perhaps the most important battle of the US Civil War.
  31. On July 3, 1863, the Army of the Potomac fought a defensive battle against the Army of Northern Virginia at the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.
  32. On July 13, 1863, New Yorkers angry about military conscription (draft) started 3 days of rioting that would go down in history as the worst US riot ever.
  33. On October 15, 1863, The H. L. Hunley, a Confederate (the South!) submarine, sank during a test, killing its inventor and namesake, Horace L. Hunley.
  34. On November 24, 1863, Union forces under the command of future President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant captured Lookout Mountain as part of the campaign to relieve the siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee by Confederate General Braxton Bragg.
  35. On February 17, 1864, the CSS H.L. Hunley became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, although it had itself sunk twice before!
  36. On February 20, 1864, the Union and Confederate armies fought the Battle of Olustee, the largest land battle of the American Civil War (1861-1865) in Florida.
  37. On April 12, 1864, Confederate forces under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred a large part of the Federal troops defending Fort Pillow, Tennessee.
  38. On May 12, 1864, as part of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse (Virginia) Union and Confederate forces fought in the “Bloody Angle” resulting in thousands of casualties on both sides, just part of what was by far the bloodiest and most horrific war in American history.
  39. On October 19, 1864, military forces of the Confederate States of America invaded Vermont from a staging area in Quebec, Canada.
  40. On October 31, 1864, the people of the United States got a big treat in their Halloween basket, the newly minted State of Nevada, the 36th state of the Union, appropriately known as “The Silver State.”
  41. On November 25, 1864, a group of Confederate special forces operatives attempted to burn down New York City by starting fires in a plot orchestrated by Jacob Thompson, Inspector General of the Confederate States Army.
  42. On November 30, 1864, Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood set what has to be a record for an American general for getting his subordinate generals killed after ordering an epic fail charge against Union forces led by Major General John M. Schofield at the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee during the American Civil War.
  43. On March 25, 1865 , the long drawn out series of battles known to us as The Siege of Petersburg ended in Union victory by the forces under the command of Lt. General US Grant. General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia could no longer withstand the pressure of almost 10 months of trench and raid warfare by superior Union forces, and the under-supplied Confederates had to abandon Richmond, the Capital City of the Confederate States of America, and Petersburg, a nearby city vital to the supply lines into Richmond.
  44. On April 26, 1865, Union Army troopers of the US Cavalry shot the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, dead on the spot in spite of orders to take the murderer alive.
  45. On April 27, 1865 , the paddle-wheel steamboat, SS Sultana was carrying 2427 people when she blew up, killing 1800!
  46. On May 9, 1865, the American Civil War ended, or did it?
  47. On May 10, 1865 , Union troops ambushed, shot and captured infamous Confederate raider William Quantrill.
  48. On July 21, 1865 , a real life showdown resulting in face to face gunplay happened for the first time, the first of the classic duels we have come to know as a Wild West gunfight.
  49. On November 10, 1865 , the long sad saga of the Camp Sumter prisoner of war camp located in Andersonville, Georgia finally came to a conclusion of sorts when the Camp Commandant, Confederate Major Henry Wirz was hanged for the crimes of conspiracy and murder for his terrible treatment of Union soldiers held captive at the camp popularly known as “Andersonville.”
  50. On December 24, 1865 , 6 former Confederate veterans of the recently concluded US Civil War formed the first known chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization largely founded on the principles of White Supremacy and violence against African Americans and those not in agreement with Klan beliefs.

Question for students (and subscribers): What was the most interesting event in American history through the Civil War and why? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

If you liked this article and would like to receive notification of new articles, please feel welcome to subscribe to History and Headlines by liking us on Facebook and becoming one of our patrons!


American History Review: The American Civil War

Forcing readers out of their comfort zones is British military historian John Keegan’s stock in trade. So readers seeking a thorough overview of the Civil War, or even of its operational aspects, should be warned that he takes a very different approach. After affirming the war’s necessity in his third sentence, he presents a sophisticated shopping list of why it was not unavoidable.

He sees the conflict as a compound mystery. War erupts across a country whose founding principles emphasize peace and fraternity. Southerners who do not own slaves willingly fight for a slaveholding society. An exponentially overmatched South sustains four years of an unprecedented death grapple. “America is different,” Keegan concludes dryly.

Underlying all the key factors that shaped the war, in Keegan’s view, was the absence of obvious geographic objectives for either side. Armies were the only targets that guaranteed a decisive outcome to the sprawling conflict, and that made the Civil War among the fiercest ever waged. The improvised nature of the forces enhanced the ferocity. So did the high learning curves of both Union and Confederate troops. But as with the British Expeditionary Force of World War I, their tuition was paid in blood, not least because the available technology, from railroads to rifles, did not decisively favor either combatant.

Military and political leadership characterized more by personality than talent heightened the blood price. The war produced a host of colorful characters. But of the able ones— Grant, Lee, Sherman, perhaps even Jefferson Davis—only Lincoln showed greatness from beginning to end.

Leaders, like the troops, had no historical precedents to guide them for such an unstructured, chaotic conflict. Nor did they have much time for reflection as the series of battles unfolded. Strategy took a distant fourth place to operational, administrative and political matters while the fighting grew increasingly bloody and uncontrollable and mass slaughter came to represent success. A million casualties later, the Civil War emerged as America’s defining experience.

To respect Keegan’s virtuosity is not to accept his arguments tout court. This work will be controversial. But he presents an impressive body of ideas for specialists and general readers alike to ponder.

Originally published in the February 2010 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.


Watch the video: American Civil War. 3 Minute History