A History of the American Civil War

By Tim Lambert


The Civil War was not caused just by the question of slavery. North and South were also divided over tariffs. The northern states began to industrialize in the early 19th century. By the middle of the century, the North was becoming an industrial, urban society. Northerners wanted tariffs to protect their industries. However, the South remained an agricultural society. Its economy was based on plantations worked by slaves. Southerners objected to tariffs because they bought goods from the North or Europe and tariffs made them more expensive. North and South were quite different economically and culturally.

The Civil War was finally provoked by the election of Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865 as president. Lincoln did not believe he had the power to abolish slavery in states where it already existed. However, he firmly opposed the expansion of slavery into territories of the USA, which were likely to become states in the future. His policy meant that in the future free states would outnumber slave ones. As a result of his election, South Carolina ceded from the union on 20 December 1860. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed it early in 1861. Together they formed the Confederate States of America on 4 February 1861. Jefferson Davis(1808-1889) became the President.

Fighting began on 12 April 1861. Fort Sumter was a Unionist stronghold under Major Robert Anderson. On 12 April Confederate General Beauregard ordered the Unionists to evacuate the fort. The Unionists rejected his terms and that day southern artillery bombarded the fort. Fort Sumter was forced to surrender the next day but the Unionist soldiers were allowed to retreat to the north. Afterward, both sides began arming for war. Following Fort Sumter, Arkansas ceded from the Union on 6 May 1861. It was followed by Tennessee and North Carolina.

However, the South was easily outmatched by the North. In the South, there were only 5 1/2 million whites and over 3 1/2 million slaves. The North outnumbered the South by 4 to 1 in men of military age. Furthermore, while the North had begun to industrialize the South remained an agricultural society. About 90% of the manufacturing industry was in the north of 2/3 of US railroads. Furthermore, the South suffered from disunity. Since they were firm believers in states’ rights the Confederate states could not form a firmly united federation. Despite these disadvantages, the South won some early victories.


In July 1861 General Beauregard was in charge of 22,000 Confederate troops at Manassas Junction by the Bull Run River. General McDowell marched south with over 30,000 Unionist soldiers. They attacked the Confederates on 21 July 1861. However, they were held in check by troops led by Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Eventually, the Unionists retreated.

However, in the west, the Unionists won a significant victory at Shiloh on 6-7 April 1862. On the first day, the Confederates had some success but they were unable to drive the Unionists off the field completely. Unionist reinforcements arrived that night and on 7 April the Confederates were forced to retreat with heavy losses. In Louisiana, Unionists occupied New Orleans on 1 May 1862.

In April 1862 the Army of the Potomac, led by General McClellan began the Peninsular Campaign. They captured Yorktown on 4 May 1862. By late May McClellan reached the outskirts of Richmond. However, in late June 1862, General Robert E. Lee attacked and fought a series of battles called ‘The Seven Days’. McClellan was forced to retreat.

In August 1862 the two armies clashed at a battle known as Second Bull Run or Second Manassas. It was a decisive southern victory and the northern army retreated. Lee invaded the north and the two armies fought at Antietam. Lee was forced to retreat into Virginia. However, the Unionists were severely defeated at Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862. Robert E. Lee won another brilliant victory at Chancellorsville in May 1863.

A Civil War cannon