The Civil War

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was a massive, devastating conflict which changed the nation forever.

By the end of the war, slavery in the United States would be destroyed and the power of the federal government over that of the states would be redefined.  The Union (northern) states, with their economic, population, and manufacturing advantages triumphed over the Confederate (southern) states, despite the Confederacy having a distinct advantage in military leadership throughout much of the conflict.

The war had a severe effect on civilians in the southern states unfortunate enough to be in the path of the Union army.  The concept of Total War—in which all of an enemy’s assets (not just its military ones) were considered a legitimate target—meant that the destruction of the war was widespread.

The political aspects of the war were as significant as the military ones.  In the North, the lack of resounding military success for the first three years of the war made Lincoln a vulnerable target for Peace Democrats in the 1864 election.  On both sides, socioeconomic divisions undermined the war effort as conscription (forced enlistment into the military during the war) was heavily weighted toward the lower end of the economic spectrum.  Racial divisions, as well, complicated the war as the Southern states sought to keep their slave-based economy productive and the northern states struggled over how to integrate free African-Americans into the military effort.

Life on the Homefront
A letter from Robert E. Lee to his wife
Frederick Douglass: Men of Color, to Arms!
The Election of 1864