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Summary of the Civil War Essay

Fought 1861-1865, the American Civil War was the result of decades of sectional tensions between the North and South. Focused on slavery and states rights, these issues came to a head following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Over the next several months eleven southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. During the first two years of the war, Southern troops won numerous victories but saw their fortunes turn after losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863. From then on, Northern forces worked to conqueror the South, forcing them to surrender in April 1865.

Causes & Secession:

The roots of the Civil War can be traced to increasing differences between North and South and their growing divergence as the 19th century progressed. Chief among the issues were expansion of slavery into the territories, the South’s declining political power, states rights, and the retention of slavery. Though these issues had existed for decades, they exploded in 1860 following the election of Abraham Lincoln who was against the spread of slavery. As the result of his election, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas seceded from the Union.

Fort Sumter & First Bull Run:

On April 12, 1861, the war began hen the South opened fire on Fort 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. Union forces commanded began marching south to take the rebel capital of Richmond. On the 21st, they met a Confederate army near Manassas and were defeated.

War in the East, 1862-1863:

Following the defeat at Bull Run, Gen. In early 1862, they shifted the army south to attack Richmond. He was defeated and forced to retreat after the Seven Days Battles. The rise of Robert E. Lee to the command of Confederate forces in the East. Shortly thereafter, a second Union army was defeated by Lee at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Lee began to move north into Maryland. McClellan was sent to intercept and met Lee at Antietam. Despite having a larger force and knowledge of Lee’s positions, McClellan was overcautious and failed to achieve a decisive victory. The win at Antietam permitted Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the South and altered the Union’s war aims. Union engaged Lee near Chancellorsville. Though outnumbered 2-to-1, Lee outmaneuvered them and forced them to retreat.

War in the West, 1861-1863:

In February 1862, forces under Gen. Grant captured Forts Henry & Donelson. Two months later he defeated a Confederate army at Shiloh. Union naval forces captured New Orleans. To the east, Confederate attempted to invade Kentucky, but was repelled at Perryville. He was beaten again at Stones River. Grant now focused his attention on capturing Vicksburg and opening the Mississippi River. After a false start, his troops swept through Mississippi and laid siege to the town in1863.

Turning Points – Gettysburg & Vicksburg:

1863, Lee began to move north towards Pennsylvania with Union troops in pursuit. Following the defeat at Chancellorsville, Lincoln turned to Gen. George Meade to take over the Army of the Potomac. Elements of the two armies clashed at Gettysburg. After three days of heavy fighting, Lee was defeated and forced to retreat. Grant successfully concluded the siege of Vicksburg, opening the Mississippi to shipping and cutting the South in two. Combined these victories were the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

War in the West, 1863-1865:

In summer 1863, Union troops advanced into Georgia and were defeated at Chickamauga. Fleeing north, they were besieged at Chattanooga. Grant was ordered to save the situation and did so winning victories at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

War in the East, 1863-1865:

1864, Grant came east to deal with Lee. Despite heavy casualties, Grant pressed south, fighting at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor. Unable to get through Lee’s army to Richmond, Grant attempted to cut the city off by taking Petersburg. Lee arrived first and a siege began. Lee was forced to evacuate the city and retreat west, allowing Grant to take Richmond. On April 9, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House.

Aftermath & Casualties:

On April 14, five days after Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln was assassinated. The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was killed by Union troops. Lincoln’s death cast a pall across the nation and elevated Vice President Andrew Johnson to the presidency. With the end of fighting a period known as Reconstruction began, with Union troops occupying Southern states and overseeing their gradual reintegration into the Union. Following the war, three amendments were added to the Constitution:

* 13th: Abolished slavery
* 14th: Extension of legal protection regardless of race
* 15th: Abolished all racial restrictions on voting

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