Difference between revisions of "American Civil War"

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!colspan="2" align="center" style="color: white; height: 30px; background: navy  no-repeat scroll top left;"|American Civil War (Union)
!colspan="2" align="center" style="color: white; height: 30px; background: navy  no-repeat scroll top left;"|American Civil War (Union)

Revision as of 13:06, 26 March 2007

American Civil War (Union)
War of Northern Aggression (Southern)
Begun April 12, 1861
Ended April 9, 1865
Casualties 970,000
Total dead 620,000
United States of America
President Abraham Lincoln
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles
Secretary of State William Seward
Confederate States of America
President Jefferson Davis
Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker, Judah P. Benjamin, George W. Randolph, James Seddon, John C. Breckinridge
Secretary of the Navy Stephan Mallory
Secretary of State Robert Toombs, Robert M.T. Hunter, Judah P. Benjamin

The American Civil War was a conflict which took place from 1861 to 1865, involving the government of the United States of America and eleven southern states which seceded from the Union and formed their own government called the Confederate States of America. The worst war ever fought in American history, it involved casualties of nearly a million soldiers and civilians, roughly three percent of the country's total population.


The American Civil War has been called by other titles: the War Between the States and the War of Northern Aggression are popular titles in the South, as is the informal title The Lost Cause. Officially, the United States government has called it the War of the Rebellion. The term "civil war" is most accurate, as it not only involved state against state from a common country, but the splitting of families as well; fathers would take sides against sons, and brother would fight against brother in many battles. In one sad case, Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia Regiment would die for the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg, killed on his father's farm. (TL 15, pp. 154-155)

Prelude to war

Description of the North prior to 1860

The chief characteristic of the North was its industrialization, which was rapid. Plants to manufacture metal goods sprang up almost as fast as they were invented, and after manufacture they spread quickly. One example was John Deere, who in 1840 was manufacturing a new stainless-steel plow that he had invented barely three years before; by 1848 the plows were selling at the rate of a thousand a year. By 1857, Deere and his partner had expanded with the manufacture of so much farm equipment that the Middle West was made the country's greatest wheat-producing area. Farm equipment also included the first examples of steam-powered plows, and in 1859 there were contests as to who could build and deploy the best plow. One such plow at a contest at Freeport, Illinois caused an official committee to declare the machine could "plow 25 acres a day at 62.5 cents an acre" versus a normal manual charge of $2.50 an acre. (Nevins, pg 166-168)

Inventions were not limited to farming. Locomotives, sewing machines, shoe peggers, reapers, augers, turbines, hydraulics, power looms, rotary presses, and more seemingly raced out of factories. Standardization was also an American invention, meaning replacement parts could be made and ordered to replace something broken within the machine instead of replacing the machine itself, as Connecticut's Samuel Colt first demonstrated with his new revolver. And to keep up with the exporting demand, Northern shipyards produced so many ships that they threatened to eclipse their chief rival, Great Britain. (TL 1, pg 18)

The North was also a melting pot of immigration. Northern cities were crowded and boisterous, and expanding rapidly. New York's population had jumped from 515,000 to 814,000 in the 1850's; Chicago's had gone from its 1837 incorporation with barely more than 4,000 people to over 112,000 by 1860. (TL 1, pg 16)

Description of the South prior to 1860

The South was largly agrarian. A Southern boast, "Cotton is king!" became very true by the 1850's, as cotton was grown, harvested, and shipped to market in vast quantities. The number of bales in 1849 was 2 million; by 1859 it had jumped to 5.7 million, amounting to more than half of all American exports and seven-eighths of the total amount of cotton in the world. (TL 1, pg 10)

Southern life was set by a landed gentry, the small minority of well-to-do planters. They practiced a cultivated chivalry, kindness towards those of inferior status, a code of honor among equals, and a gallantry towards women. The money made from cotton was spent on goods manufactured in the North, as well as imports from Europe. They had a taste for well-bred horses, quality firearms, foxhounds, and the belles from fine Southern families. And they also studied astudiously the arts of war, often spending large sums of money to send themselves or their sons to military schools. One Mississippi planter, Jefferson Davis, remarked that only in the South "did a gentlemen go to a military academy who did not intend to follow the profession of arms." (TL 1, pg 12)

But the South had several serious drawbacks. Its population at 1860 was roughly 9 million people, of whom more than 3 million were slaves, versus more than 21 million in the North. There were only 18,000 manufacturing plants of any kind in the South, as opposed to the North's more than 100,000. Of these, only two were capable of producing rolled iron, one which produced gunpowder, and none capable of producing firearms; there were twenty-seven gun manufacturers in Massachusetts alone. More than 70% of all railroad mileage was north of the Ohio River; the South had the remainder.


Before the Civil War, the individual states, particularly in the South, shared a belief that each state was sovereign. Sovereignty included jurisdiction over, and the handling of, each state's affairs, which invariably included their own public and private institutions.

Yet the "peculiar institution" cited more often than anything else in defending states' rights was the Southern institution of slavery.

Political machinations and compromises

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed for the entry of Maine into the Union as a free state, and Missouri as a slave state. It was further agreed that slavery was to be excluded from territory north of the 36°30′ parallel, or the remaining western territories. Before admission could be granted to Missouri a clause in the state's constitution provoked controversy: the exclusion of "free negroes and mulattoes". Under Whig Henry Clay's influence in the U.S. senate, an act of admission was passed, upon condition that the controversial exclusionary clause should "never be construed to authorize the passage of any law" impairing the privileges and immunities of free citizens. The compromise seemed deliberately ambiguous in that it could be interpreted to indicate that free blacks and mulattos did not qualify as United States citizens, which would be put to direct test years later with a slave named Dred Scott. [1]

Another crisis arose from the request of the California Territory to be admitted to the Union as a free state; this was complicated by territory acquired in the southwest as a result of the Mexican War of 1848 and whether to extend slavery there. An omnibus bill drafted by Henry Clay called the Compromise of 1850 tried to give satisfaction to the southern states in addition to California's admission: the settlement of the Texas-New Mexico border dispute; the slavery question open for voting via popular sovereignty in the Utah and New Mexico territories as they were organized; the end of slave trading in the District of Columbia; and tough requirements concerning runaway slaves. [2]

All five measures were enacted in September, 1850 as a result of the efforts and support of Democratic senator Stephen A. Douglas and Whig senator Daniel Webster, and were accepted by moderates throughout the country as well as postponing Souther secession for another decade. But the seeds of discord were planted; the precident of popular sovereignty, championed by Douglas as the way for the public to vote whether or not they wanted slavery in their territories, led to the Kansas territory agitating for a similar provision. And the Fugitive Slave Act that was a part of the Compromise was so bitterly condemned that many moderates who have ignored slavery in the past became determined opponents to any extention of the institution into the territories. Many would risk jail rather than turn over runaway slaves to their owners as required by the new laws.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act (May 30, 1854), sponsored by Douglas, provided for the territorial organization of Kansas and Nebraska, using his principle the idea of popular sovereignty. Douglas had written the act in an effort to slow or halt the sectarianism over slavery's extension, but the Kansas-Nebraska Act merely increased the flames, and was attacked by free-soil and abolitionists as a capitulation to those who supported slavery. The Whig Party, ineffective in preventing it, largely disintegrated, and the Republican Party was born and soon became a viable political organization opposed to territorial expansion of slavery. Unfortunately on the heels of the act a migration of those for and against slavery would leave Missouri and seek to influence elections in the Kansas Territory, the result of which became a short conflict known as Bleeding Kansas, culminating in the May 21, 1856 sack of Lawrence, Kansas by pro-slavery men, and a massacre of a family a few days later by an abolitionist force led by a religious fanatic named John Brown. [3]

Dred Scott decision

Dred Scott was a slave owned by an Army physician who was transferred to the state of Wisconsin, a free state, for several years before a transfer to Missouri, a slave state. Scott sued on the grounds that his residence in a free state where slavery was illegal made him free. After a series of unsuccessful lawsuits, Scott appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where in 1856, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott vs. Sanford:

  • Blacks were not entitled to citizenship according to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Blacks were not entitled to freedom under the Ordinance of 1797 while within the area of the Northwest Territory, of which Wisconsin was a part.
  • The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibiting slavery north of Missouri and in free states was voided.

What the Dred Scott decision meant was any slave could be taken anywhere in the Union without fear that the owner of the slave would lose his property; a slave was private property, Taney stated, and according to the Fifth Amendment could not be taken from the owner without due process. [4]

The decision further frictionalized North/South relations, as a stunned North realized that free states had to support the institution of slavery.

Emergence of Lincoln

The Kansas-Nebraska Act caused much opposition in the country and led to the collapse of the Whig Party as an effective political organization. Many former Whigs, whose beliefs included the abolishment of slavery, flocked to the newly-formed Republican Party; their number would include a lawyer from Illinois who used the act to jump back into politics after a five-year absence, Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln launched his campaign for the Senate seat held by Douglas at the Republican State Convention in Springfield on June 16, 1858. The speech he gave has been called the "House Divided" speech, after the opening lines:

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South. [5]

Raid on Harpers Ferry

During the spring of 1858 John Brown held a meeting in Ontario between blacks and whites in which he stated his intentions to form a stronghold in the mountains between Virginia and Maryland for escaped slaves, even going so far as to adopt his own provisional constitution for the United States, which his group adopted. Several prominent Boston abolitionists also gave him financial and moral support.

By summer, 1859, Brown was in a rented farmhouse in Maryland, across the river from the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia; with him was an armed band of sixteen whites and five blacks. On the night of October 16, he raided the armoury and taken some sixty of the area's leading men as hostages, and hoped that slaves would get word of his forming an "army of emancipation", escape, and fight with him to liberate their fellow slaves. For the next thiry hours he and his men held out against the local militia, but on the following morning a small force of United States Marines led by Army colonel Robert E. Lee had quickly broken into the arsenal building, wounding Brown, and killing two of his sons and ten other followers. He was tried for murder, slave insurrection, and treason, and at the end he was convicted and hanged. The day he was to die he spoke no last words, merely handing a note to a guard on which he had written a last, prophetic statement: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." (TL 1, pp. 70-89)

1860 Presidential campaign


Secession of the Southern states

Ft. Sumter


  • Time-Life Books The Civil War, vol. 1 (Brother Against Brother), Time Inc, New York (1983)
  • Time-Life Books The Civil War, vol. 15 (Gettysburg), Time Inc, New York (1983)
  • Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union: A House Dividing, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, (1947)


The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion


Prelude to war

Emergence of Lincoln

1860 Presidential Campaign