- Understand Lincoln’s goal at the outset of the war
- Understand why Southern states seceded
- Describe the key events of the war
- Explain how the North eventually won
- Describe how the meaning of the war changed
- Evaluate Abraham Lincoln
With the election of Abraham Lincoln and a Republican Congress, Southern states were on edge. Concerned that their way of life was in jeopardy states threatened to leave the Union. Using Calhoun’s logic of his theory of nullification, the states chose to be part of the Union and could, therefore, chose to leave if they wanted too. The first to leave was South Carolina, before Lincoln had even taken office. But others soon followed. After Fort Sumter, even more left. States still in theUnionargued that the southern states did not have a legal right to secede and were, therefore, rebelling.
The war started in 1861 at Fort Sumter. The Confederate Army attacked the Union fort, which is in South Carolina. Historians point out Southern advantages at the outset of the war. Most of the top generals in the country were from the South, such as Robert E. Lee. After the war started, Lincoln had trouble finding a competent leader for the Union army. Ulysses S. Grant didn’t get appointed until half-war into the war afterLincolnwas frustrated by several generals unwilling to attack the Confederates.
The Battle of Antietam stands as the bloodiest single day in American military history. This battle gave an indication of the nature of the Civil War, which was deadlier than previous wars due to the introduction of weapons created by industrialization. In 1863, the turning point of the war, the Battle of Gettysburg, took place. The South invaded into Pennsylvania and the Union was able to stop their advance and started pushing the Confederate forces back into the South.
Union General Grant was appointed soon after and began fighting a war of attrition, meaning that he would wear down the South to try and get them to quit. A good example of this is General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea. Sherman’s army destroyed everything in its path on it’s way from Atlanta, Georgia. Confederate General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. The North had too many advantages over the South, most particularly its industry to mass produce weapons and other war materials. The Civil War had the highest cost of human life of any American war. 620,000 soldiers died and 412,200 were wounded.
Even before the war and while states were seceding Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in some border states in the interest of national security. This meant that the government could throw anyone in jail without due process. Lincoln has been criticized for this action, but deemed it necessary to prevent more states from seceding and later to help the war effort.
The Union and Confederate armies instituted a draft. For the first time in American history, citizens were required to serve in the military during war. The draft laws of the day, however, allowed for the wealthy to buy their way out of military service. Consequently, the war was mostly fought by the lower classes of society.
Lincoln was a moderate on the issue of slavery. He advocated for stopping the spread of slavery into the new territories and containing it to where it already existed. Once the states seceded,Lincoln sought to preserve the Union and did not want to let them go. Once this conflict turned into a war, Lincoln was still committed to keeping the Union together and did not intend to end slavery.
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery,”Lincoln wrote in a letter in 1862. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
Emancipation Proclamation (1862)
Lincoln issued an Executive Order known as the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which was an ultimatum threatening to free the slaves in all the states that seceded if they did not return to theUnion. None of the Confederate states returned, so the slaves in those territories were freed. Some historians argue that Civil War didn’t start over slavery, but with this action, slavery became the unmistakably central issue of the war.
Lincoln had said back in 1858 that “’A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect theUnionto be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
The Gettysburg Address (1863)
The Gettysburg Address is a speech by Abraham Lincoln and is one of the most well known speeches in United States history. It was delivered by Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863. This was still during the American Civil War, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the decisive Battle of Gettysburg. Abraham Lincoln’s carefully crafted address was just over two minutes long. In it, Lincoln invoked the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and redefined the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as “a new birth of freedom” that would bring true equality to all of its citizens, and that would also create a unified nation in which states’ rights were no longer dominant.
Beginning with the now-iconic phrase “Four score and seven years ago,” Lincoln referred to the events of the Civil War and described the ceremony at Gettysburg as an opportunity not only to consecrate the grounds of a cemetery, but also to dedicate the living to the struggle to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The 13th Amendment
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was proposed in the House in April 1864, while the Civil War was still being fought. It proposed to outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude. It did not pass in the Senate until January 1865. It finally became law in December of 1865, after the war had been over for half a year.
Lincoln’s Reconstruction Plan and Assassination
Lincoln was re-elected in 1864 as the war raged. Once the war was over, Lincoln called for a plan to rebuild the nation and bring the Confederate states back into the Union. His plan was to be forgiving and sought not to punish the South. Before his Reconstruction program was in place,Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater by southern actor John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was the first of four American presidents to be assassinated. The death of Lincoln would put Reconstruction into a tail spin.