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The American Civil War 2 Essay, Research Paper

The American Civil War

I. Background

The groundwork for the Civil War was laid many years before its actual start on April 12, 1861 with the firing on Fort Sumpter. One of the main reasons for the war; slavery, had been going on since before the formation of the United States. However it wasn t until the early 1850s that anyone had a real problem with slavery. From then on, it was only a matter of time before the greatest war ever fought on American soil would begin.

In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was put into effect. This law stated that anyone helping a runaway slave could face up to six months in jail, and a fine of 1,000 dollars. This new law meant that many slaves who had already escaped to the North and were living in freedom could now be captured and returned to their owners where they were almost guaranteed death or an unbearable life. Because of this, abolitionists mainly in the North and some in the South began to speak out even more than before on the unfairness of slavery.

Until 1852, most of those involved in the antislavery movement, were free black men and women who had lived as slaves and been granted their freedom by their former owners. This began to change however with the release of the novel Uncle Tom s Cabin in 1852. This book, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, showed many middle and upper class Northerners what life as a slave was like. It showed that even if you were a good person and a hard worker, you still could be beaten or killed by your owner for the simple fact that you belonged to him. In the novel, Stowe blamed the system not the slave owners for the cruelty. The novel finally showed large majorities of people what the slave system was like, and they didn t like it.

In 1854, the northern concern about slavery dramatically increased with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which stated that in order to build a new railroad, Kansas and Nebraska would be made territories. What made northerners angry however, was the fact that each of the new territories could decide on their own whether or not they wanted to own slaves, regardless of their geographical placement. The result of this was disastrous. When the time came for votes to be cast on whether or not the new territories were to be free or slave-owning, thousands of Missourians crossed into the new territories to vote in favor of slavery. Even though their votes were illegal, they were still counted and both territories became slave holding. Because of this, natives of Kansas who opposed slavery set up their own government in the town of Topeka. With two governments now trying to control the same territory, fighting was bound to break out.

The bloodshed finally came in the year 1856 when an army of 3,000 Missourians marched into the town of Lawrence and in broad daylight burned a hotel and destroyed a newspaper company. After hearing of this, a man named John Brown, determined to avenge the destruction of Lawrence, led a band of seven men to a settlement south of Lawrence where they believed some of the men responsible for the trouble were staying. In cold blood they murdered five people and then returned to their homes.

After what came to be known as the Pottawatomie Massacre, there was hardly any more blood shed in Kansas. Instead the politicians took over the battle and exaggerated the occurrences in order to win support. Soon many Northeastern residents were reading overblown news reports of Bloody Kansas.

Kansas was eventually made a free territory and for the next few years most of the slavery issue was handled politically. In 1859 however, John Brown returned on the scene with eighteen men, and together they temporarily captured a United States armory on the banks of the Potomac at Harper s Ferry. They were soon captured, and John Brown was tried for murder, conspiracy, and treason. He was found guilty and was hung for his crimes.

The election of 1860 paired Abraham Lincoln, a man very much against slavery, with southern favorite Stephen Douglas. It was a long hard campaign for Lincoln; after all, going head to head with a politician as seasoned as Douglas as well as having nearly half the country opposed to your ideals could never be easy. However in the end Lincoln persevered and won the election. Even the South who were very upset about the result still knew that he had won fair and square. Because of this they didn t complain; however, a few days after the election, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union.

II. The Civil War

The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 with the firing on Fort Sumter, a United States fort located in South Carolina, by the Confederate Army. By this time, the Confederacy consisted of eleven states and two territories. The Union consisted of nineteen states and six territories. It was clear that the Union not only had the advantage in land controlled, but also in manufacturing seeing that practically all the major cities at this time were controlled by them. However the Confederacy did have one very large advantage. Most of their citizens had grown up on farms and had a large knowledge of how to fight and use firearms. They also had another major advantage that they didn t realize at the time – most of the fighting was to be done on their land.

After the assault on Fort Sumter, in was time for each side to raise an army. The Union Army was far better supplied than the Confederates, but many of its members had no idea how to use firearms. This meant that a lot of time needed to be spent in training which didn t happen. As for a commanding general, Lincoln chose General Irvin McDowell, a West Point graduate with prior war experience.

The Confederacy, although poorly supplied and severely outnumbered, did not require as much training as the Union for the very simple reason that they knew how to fight. President Davis chose General Robert E. Lee as his commanding officer, a very wise decision considering Lee s track record. He had graduated top of his class at West Point, fought brilliantly as an officer in the Mexican War, and held the reputation as both an officer and a gentleman.

On July 21, 1861, these two inexperienced armies met for the first time twenty miles south of Washington at a small stream known as Bull Run. At first, it looked as though the Union was going to win this first battle in a very short time frame, but the Rebels rallied and using their fighting knowledge drove the Union almost back to Washington. At this point in the war, the South could probably have taken Washington in one quick stroke, but the Rebels seemed to be even more unorganized when they won than the Union when they lost. After every southern victory, instead of pursuing the enemy, they sat down and had a party, getting so drunk that they could barely march. Because of this, the Civil War turned out to be one of the longest wars in US history.

During the next year, the war remained fairly uneventful. There were a few small battles, but none were very decisive. The Union had chosen a new Commanding Officer by this point. His name was General George B. McClellan. General McClellan was a strong critic of President Lincoln, but nevertheless carried out his orders. The union by this time had also set up a blockade of ships outside Confederate ports that caused the naval war to reach new heights because of the new ironclad ships used by both sides. As for the ground war, all was fairly quiet until August 29, 1862 when General Pope of the Union Army of the Potomac attacked General Lee at the Second Battle of Bull Run. The results of this encounter were much the same as the first, with Lee’s troops first halting the union advance and then driving them back. After this defeat, President Lincoln, very upset at Pope s actions, relieved him of command of his units and gave control of the Army of the Potomac to his Commanding Officer, Gen. McClellan.

After this Confederate victory, Lee moved his troops onward to the defenses around Washington and on September 4 crossed the Potomac into Maryland. General McClellan was at this point unsure of Lee s position so he too crossed the Potomac. There he found in an abandoned Confederate camp, a copy of Lee s battle plans. McClellan, after uncovering Lee s position, moved his troops to intercept Lee s advance at a branch of the Potomac known as Antietam Creek.

The Battle of Antietam began on September 17 and the bloodshed raged on until early evening that night. By this time, the Union Army had lost an estimated twelve thousand men, the Confederacy an estimated thirteen thousand. Since the margins were so close neither side had much of an advantage, and the fighting continued the next day until that night the Confederates retreated back over the Potomac and the Union had finally won a battle.

The next major confrontation between the North and the South came in December of 1862 when the Union Army crossed the Rappahannock River and occupied the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Fredericksburg was located fifty miles north of Richmond, and the Union felt that if they could win here, they could march straight to the Confederate Capital.

The fighting began around eleven o clock on the morning of December 13 and continued until nightfall. By the end of the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Union Army had suffered an estimated twelve thousand casualties and retreated back over the Rappahannock. This defeat had a large affect on the Union soldiers, especially after their huge victory at Antietam, and they wondered if there was any chance of them ever winning this war. It was a few months before both sides met again in a strategic battle. This would turn out to be the longest battle of the war.

The Battle of Chancellorsville began on May 1, 1863 and lasted until May 5, 1863. General Lee decided to divide his troops, and attack the Union from two sides. General Jackson would take his troops to the right flank of the Union while General Lee would attack straight on. Lee s technique worked, and even though outnumbered, he won another victory for the Confederacy. Unfortunately for the Confederates, General Jackson suffered a fatal wound and eventually died from loss of blood. The loss of General Jackson was a major blow to Lee. As a result of the loss at Chancellorsville, the Union Army now desperately needed a victory, if they hoped to win the war.

The victory needed by the Union came a month later in what is referred to today as the turning point of the war. After Lee s victory at Chancellorsville, he and his troops invaded Union territory coming as far north as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There, General George G. Meade, and a very large portion of the Union Army met them. The fighting lasted from July 1 to July 3 with the Union displaying some of the best fighting in U.S. history. In a last ditch effort on July 3, Lee sent General George E. Pickett and over fifteen thousand soldiers across an open field right into the heart of the Union Army. In a stunning upset the Union fended them off and the Battle of Gettysburg became the turning point of the Civil War.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, General Lee retreated back to Confederate territory, where the last battles of the war were to be fought. By this time, Lincoln had given command of his army to a very young general by the name of Ulysses S. Grant. General Grant had won numerous victories in the West especially in Tennessee and along the Mississippi River. His siege and defeat of the Confederates at Vicksburg, gave the Union control of the Mississippi River, a vital artery in supplying the new states and territories in the West with needed supplies and the troops with food and equipment.

In 1864 Grant ordered General William Sherman to take his troops and march to Atlanta destroying every Confederate institution in his way. This included railroad tracks, bridges, towns, and armories. Anything that helped the Confederate Army was to be destroyed. Sherman succeeded and on September 1864, triumphantly marched into Atlanta. Sherman however didn t stop there. Next he turned his path of destruction north and on April 3, 1865 reached and burned the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia.

Shortly after Sherman s attack on Richmond, General Grant s forces cut the final railroad line leading to Petersburg, the new headquarters of the Confederate Army. Realizing that he could not win, General Lee retreated west and on Sunday April 9, 1865 surrendered to General Grant at the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House. The bloodiest war in US history had, after almost exactly four years of fighting, come to an end.

III. Reconstruction

After the war, the South rejoined the Union and reconstruction began. Because the Union had won the war, Congress now had the power to pass the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished all forms of slavery. The Fourteenth stated that all blacks born or naturalized in the US were now citizens of the United States as well as of their own state in which they lived. And the Fifteenth stated that all black males over the age of twenty-one had the right to vote. These Amendments passed by Congress continued the late President Lincoln s work for racial equality. But no matter how hard they tried, they could never completely free the country of the horrible curse of racism. As for the physical destruction caused by the war, only time could heal all wounds. The plantations of the south suffered tremendously and it would be a long time before any crops could be grown again. The destruction caused by General Sherman s March to the Sea would take years to repair, but eventually it to would dealt with.

The Civil War was the bloodiest in the history of our country. It destroyed our land, our families, and our lives. They say we are doomed to repeat what we don t learn from the past. I hope we have learned that there are other ways than war to resolve our national differences.

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