American Civil War

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In this great struggle, this form of government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed. There is more involved in this contest than is realized by everyone.
~ Abraham Lincoln
The American Civil War (ACW), also known as the War between the States or simply the Civil War was the America version of civil war fought from 1861 to 1865 between the United States (the "Union" or the "North") and several Southern slave states that declared their secession and formed the Confederate States of America (the "Confederacy" or the "South"). The war had its origin in the fractious issue of slavery, especially the extension of slavery into the western territories. Foreign powers did not intervene. After four years of bloody combat that left over 600,000 soldiers dead and destroyed much of the South's infrastructure, the Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and the difficult Reconstruction process of restoring national unity and guaranteeing rights to the freed slaves began.

Background

In the 1860 presidential election, Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, opposed expanding slavery into United States' territories. Lincoln won, but before his inauguration on March 4th, 1861; seven slave states with cotton-based economies formed the Confederacy. Outgoing Democratic President James Buchanan and the incoming Republicans rejected secession as illegal. Lincoln's inaugural address declared his administration would not initiate civil war. Eight remaining slave states continued to reject calls for secession. Confederate forces seized numerous federal forts within territory claimed by the Confederacy. A Peace Conference failed to find a compromise, and both sides prepared for war. The Confederates assumed that European countries were so dependent on "King Cotton" that they would intervene; none did and none recognized the new Confederate States of America.

Hostilities began on April 12th, 1861; when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter, a key fort held by Union troops in South Carolina. Lincoln called for each state to provide troops to retake the fort; consequently, four more slave states joined the Confederacy, bringing their total to eleven. The Union soon controlled the border states and established a naval blockade that crippled the southern economy. The Eastern Theater was inconclusive in 1861–62. The autumn 1862 Confederate campaign into Maryland (a Union state) ended with Confederate retreat at the Battle of Antietam, dissuading British intervention. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal. To the west, by summer 1862 the Union destroyed the Confederate river navy, then much of their western armies, and the Union siege of Vicksburg split the Confederacy in two at the Mississippi River. In 1863, Robert E. Lee's Confederate incursion north ended at the Battle of Gettysburg. Western successes led to Ulysses S. Grant command of all Union armies in 1864. In the Western Theater, William Tecumseh Sherman drove east to capture Atlanta and marched to the sea, destroying Confederate infrastructure along the way. The Union marshaled the resources and manpower to attack the Confederacy from all directions, and could afford to fight battles of attrition through the Overland Campaign towards Richmond, the Confederate capital. The defending Confederate army failed, leading to Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th, 1865. Five days later, on April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater by Southern loyalist John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln's death was part of a larger conspiracy in which Booth and his associates (Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt), tried to eliminate the three most powerful officials in the United States government (President Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward), but fortunately, Lincoln was the only one who was killed, so two of the three murder attempts failed. While Booth was preparing his opportunity to kill Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, Powell only managed to seriously disfigure the bedridden Seward at his mansion and Atzerodt did not go through his task in killing Johnson and wandered away from the Kirkwood Hotel. Two weeks after Lincoln’s death, on April 26, 1865, Booth was shot to death at a tobacco barn by Union Corporal Boston Corbett. In the coming months after the deaths of Lincoln and Booth, eight conspirators were tried for the conspiracy of Lincoln’s Assassination. Four of the eight conspirators (Powell, Herold, Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt) were hanged on July 7, 1865.

The end of the Civil War also lead to the formation of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan as a means of continuing the Confederacy's pro-slavery beliefs. The Klan would go on to become the most notorious and violent hate group in American history.

The American Civil War was one of the earliest true industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. The mobilization of civilian factories, mines, shipyards, banks, transportation and food supplies all foreshadowed World War I. It remains the deadliest war in American history, accounting for more American military deaths than all other wars combined until the Vietnam War and resulting in the deaths of an estimated 750,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties.