After Lincoln was elected president in 1860, seven southern states, believing that Lincoln planned to end slavery everywhere in the United States in spite of his promises to permit what the Southerners called their “peculiar institution” to persist in the South, seceded from the Union, intent upon forming a new nation in the South called the Confederate States of America. The original seceding states were: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.


In his first inaugural address Lincoln firmly stated that secession was unconstitutional, but he also attempted to stress the common ties between the North and the South and he said that the North would not be the aggressor or initiate hostilities. Lincoln hoped that war could be avoided and that Southerners would acknowledge that a common American history bound the North and South together, and he appealed to the Southerners to consider the “better angels of our nature” and refrain from forcing a war upon the North through taking illegal and unconstitutional measures, i.e., the use of force in defiance of federal authority.


Southerners viewed Lincoln’s inaugural address with distrust and continued to believe he intended to abolish slavery, not only in the Western territories and border states, but everywhere in the United States.


By early 1861 the Confederate states occupied all federal forts and armories in the South except for two. One of these was Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The North did not want to lose the fort because to do so would be an admission that South Carolina was truly out of the Union. The Confederates began to attack the fort with artillery on April 12, 1861 when the North attempted to re-supply the fort with unarmed supply ships.


Fort Sumter fell on April 15, 1861. No one was killed or seriously wounded on either side, but much of the fort caught fire and ammunition was running low, so the Northern commander Major Robert Anderson surrendered. This was the beginning of the Civil War as the South had now actually initiated fighting against the North.


On April 15 Lincoln publicly proclaimed the existence of a “rebellion” in the South and called for the loyal states to provide 75,000 militiamen to put down the uprising. Throughout the course of the war, Lincoln continued to refer to the war as a rebellion and to the Southerners as rebels engaged in an insurrection against the legitimate authority of the federal government. He did so because he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Confederate States of America. In his mind, there was no Confederacy, but instead only rebel states illegally violating the U.S. constitution.


Four more Southern states seceded after Lincoln called for troops: Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Four other slave states – Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland – remained within the Union due to their strong economic ties with the North and Lincoln’s quick use of federal troops to secure these states, particularly in the case of Maryland which surrounded Washington, D.C. on three sides. To lose Maryland would be to place the Northern capital city within easy reach of the Confederate army.


Both sides believed the war would be over very quickly. The North hoped to subdue the South in a few decisive battles. Lincoln’s call for troops promised recruits that would only have to serve for three months. Instead the war lasted until 1865.


The South hoped to win by fighting a defensive war, protecting its territory until the Union grew tired of the struggle. The South believed that if it won several decisive victories it would gain the support of important European countries such as France and England which depended upon Southern cotton for their textile industries.


The respective advantages and disadvantages of the North and South to a great extent helped to determine the outcome of the war.


Northern Advantages

Greater population

More manufacturing

Agricultural productivity

Natural resources

Superior finances

Superior transportation (particularly railroads),

The border states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri)

New states in the west (Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas) for men, food and resources 100,500 factories compared to the South’s 20,600.

The North had 92% of the nation's industries, almost all of the coal, iron, copper and other metals, and most of the gold.

Industrial growth occurred in the North with the demand for war supplies and materials.

$189,000,000 in bank deposits

Confederate wealth was mainly in land and slaves which could not be converted readily into military advantages.

The South only had $47,000,000 in bank deposits.

Better transportation in the North meant the North could move troops and supplies more easily and get food and raw materials from the Midwest.

Northern trade with nations overseas was also possible and important for the wartime economy.

Ulysses S. Grant of Illinois took over as commander of forces after a series of disappointing generals. Lincoln believed the earlier generals such as George McClellan were not aggressive enough and were too cautious, unwilling to take the fight to the Confederates, but Grant and also Sherman proved to be the “fighting generals” Lincoln was looking for.

Population: 24 million. 24 northern, western, and border states.


Southern Advantages

The South had only to fight a defensive war and protect territory until the North grew tired of fighting and gave up.

The South believed it had only to sway the Northern public against the war with a few decisive victories on Northern territory, and then, Southerners hoped, the North would give up the attempt to forcefully reunite the nation.

The North had to conquer a territory the size of Western Europe.

Numerous West Point graduates as generals.

Robert E. Lee of Virginia, a brilliant general who previously served the U.S. Army, commanded Confederate forces.

Southerners were used to outdoor living and firearms. They knew the territory well.

King Cotton - Southerners believe the textile mills of Great Britain and France depended on the Southern cash crop. They hoped these countries would aid the South after the South demonstrated its ability to win in Northern territory.

Slaves could grow food and aid the army with their labor while white men did the fighting.

Population: 9 million, which included 3,500,000 slaves. Eleven states in the Confederacy.


Strategies Developed During the War.

After the first Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, both sides became aware that the war was not going to end quickly. They hunkered down and developed their strategies for victory.


Northern Strategy

Northern strategy was based on geography. The Appalachian mountains divided the South into the eastern theater and the western theater in which the North would fight simultaneously. Control of the Mississippi River would enable the North to penetrate deep into the South and keep the South from re-supplying its western forces. To restore the Union the North adopted a three part strategy: 1) capture Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate Capital; 2) gain control of the Mississippi River; and 3) institute a naval blockade of the South which would cut off the South from foreign markets needed for cotton exports.


Southern Strategy

The South hoped to win by seizing Washington, D.C. and striking northward through the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Southerners hoped that Southern victories on Northern territory would shatter northern moral, disrupt Union communications, win European support, and bring the war to a speedy end. The South hoped that French and British dependency on cotton would bring them to aid the South.


Unfortunately for the South, France and England had stockpiled cotton before the fall of Fort Sumter. When this cotton ran out they turned to Egypt and India for new supplies. The French also were preoccupied with events in Mexico where Napoleon III had sent troops to put down widespread opposition his installed Emperor Maximilian, the Archduke of Austria.


Northern Opposition to the War

Many northerners opposed the draft and did not believe it was worth dying to save the union or end slavery. Northern Democrats who sympathized with the south were known as Copperheads. They actively interfered with the war effort by giving anti-war speeches and publishing anti-war articles in newspapers. In an attempt to silence the Copperheads, Lincoln suspended some civil liberties, including the ancient legal right of habeas corpus – the right which protects American citizens from unlawful imprisonment.


What about the slaves?

The first goal of Lincoln and the North was to save the Union, not free the slaves. Some northerners rioted against blacks in northern cities during the war because they did not want to fight a war to free blacks. They feared that after the war, freed slaves would take their jobs in northern factories.


However, during the war there was an increase in abolitionist activity. Men like escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas and Horace Greeley, editor of the new York Tribune, tried to convince Lincoln and the government that there was a moral duty to emancipate the slaves.


Early on Lincoln was opposed to emancipation because he did not want to lose the support of the border slave states in the Union and because he did not believe he had the constitutional authority to end slavery. Finally though, Lincoln issued a military order to free slaves living in areas in rebellion against the United States, and he came to see the war as a great moral struggle to end what he always believed was an immoral institution.


The Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln wrote it on September 17, 1862, but did not make it public until after a union victory on September 22, 1862. It went into effect on January 1, 1863.

The Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves in border states or parts of Virginia that stayed with the Union (which later became West Virginia in 1863).

Why did Lincoln change his mind? Because of abolitionist pressure and because he began to see emancipation as a military necessity since freed slaves or “contraband” could be utilized as soldiers and laborers by the Union army. Lincoln also came to see the War as a great moral struggle against slavery


The Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 finally freed all slaves everywhere in the U.S. and territories. This was ratified by 3/4 of the states eight months after the War. 


After the Emancipation Proclamation, the enlistment of African American men in the Union forces was officially encouraged. By the end of the war nearly 180,000 African American men had served in the Union army. For much of the war they earned one-half  the pay of white soldiers until Congress finally equalized the pay scale in 1864. White officers commanded every black regiment. Although many whites believed that freed salves would not make good soldiers because they lacked discipline and courage, many Americans were impressed by the courage and dedication of African American soldiers.


The War lasted until the South surrendered at Appomattox Court House in 1865.

Major battles included Bull Run (1861), The Second Battle of Bull Run (1862), Antietam (1862), Gettsyburg (1863), Sherman's March (1864) and many more important battles which have been the subject of much study by military historians.


Costs of War

The South spent more than a billion dollars, and the North spent several times that amount. Including pensions for war veterans and other costs the total cost to the United States was ten billion dollars, which today would be worth much more than that amount.


369,000 Northern soldiers died.


258,000 Southern soldiers died.


Property, farms, homes, businesses were destroyed and in ruins in the South and border states.

There were uncounted losses of civilians from hunger, starvation, and disease. The United States entered the contentious era of Reconstruction as the Northerners attempted to re-establish the Union and remedy centuries of racial domination, without resounding success.


The war ended the institution of slavery in the United States and strengthened the Union by increasing the power of the federal government at the expense of the states, and settled the century long debate over the right of secession. It also furthered the development of industry in the North and proved that representative government could function during wartime as the Union held democratic elections for both federal and state offices during the War. The wealthy planter elite which had dominated Southern political, economic, social, and cultural life, and which had also factored significantly in national politics since the founding of the United States, lost property, power, political influence, and its central role in national affairs. Power and wealth shifted northward to the manufacturing centers of the northeast as wealthy industrialists rose to positions of power and influence during the age of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age.