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American Civil War - Statistics and Facts

The American Civil War was the deadliest military conflict in the history of the United States, claiming almost as many American lives as all other wars combined. Almost 10 percent of the entire population enlisted, in a four year long conflict that would shape the future of American history.


Most historians accept that the primary cause of the war was the issue of slavery, particularly whether slavery should be extended into new states. As migration and industrialization along the eastern seaboard increased, the North grew less dependent on slave labor; the issue of slavery then changed from an economic to a moral issue. While slavery was gradually abolished in the North, nationwide abolition threatened the elites' livelihoods in the predominantly agricultural South, where slave labor was essential for maintaining economic output. Abraham Lincoln's victory in the 1860 election was seen as a major step toward nationwide abolition, and was followed by the secession of eleven states from the Union, and the formation of the Confederate States of America.

Outbreak of the war

The war began within a month of Lincoln's inauguration, on April 12, 1861, but the crisis leading up to it started in December of 1860. After South Carolina's secession, the Union Army forces in Charleston refused to abandon their post, and eventually took refuge in Fort Sumter on December 26 - after declining an invitation to surrender in the early hours of April 12, Confederate forces besieged the fort, marking the beginning of the American Civil War (although there were no fatalities during this battle). In the first two years, conflict in the more densely populated Eastern Theater was relatively even, although the Union gained a stronger foothold in the East, taking the South's largest city, New Orleans, by sea in April 1962. Five border states remained neutral throughout the war, however their citizens enlisted in both armies, which occasionally saw family members opposing one another on the battlefield. Within a year of the war's outbreak, both forces developed into two of the most advanced armies in the world; these developments were reflected in the increased ferocity and scale of the battles as the war progressed, such as Antietam and Shiloh.

Generals take the stage

General Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862, and used his tactical prowess and leadership skills to hold the southern border against (predominantly larger) Union forces. It was at this time that future-President Ulysses S. Grant also emerged as the most successful General in the Union Army. Following Grant's decisive victories in the Vicksburg Campaign, Lee focused the Confederacy's attacks on the eastern front. After victory at Chancellorsville, Lee invaded the North, but his forces were met by General George Meade's Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg. This was a decisive victory for the Union, but was the costliest battle of the war, and is seen by many as the war's turning point.

The war turns

Following his victories in the Chattanooga campaign, Grant was promoted to Lieutenant General, and then focused his attention on defeating Lee. In 1864, Grant's Overland Campaign pushed Lee's forces back through Virginia, at great cost to both sides. It was at this time that the Union's superior manpower, resources and mobility proved decisive in determining the war's outcome. The Union army was able to replace their casualties with new conscripts, due to a higher population, and their financial reserves meant they could afford to pay recruits more than their opponents. Grant's war of attrition, and heavy losses at battles such as the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, caused many disheartened Confederate soldiers to desert. By early 1865, the Confederate cause was lost, and on April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the war.


Five days later, as part of a wider conspiracy to assassinate the Union leadership and reinvigorate the Confederate cause, President Lincoln was shot and assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. The assassination was met with condemnation from many Confederate leaders, and cast a shadow over the nation's relief at the war's ending. Vice President Andrew Johnson then ascended to the presidency, before Ulysses S. Grant was elected in 1868. The final slaves were freed on June 19, 1965 - this day later became known as Juneteenth, and was made a federal holiday in 2021. A period of Reconstruction lasted until 1877, however, the legacy of the war and slavery continue to be felt today. Racial inequality was maintained for a century after the war's end, especially in the South, through a series of oppressive policies known as Jim Crow laws; the 1960s then saw great strides toward equality following the civil rights movement and equal rights legislation, however systematic inequalities in areas such as housing, income, and criminal justice continue to pose challenges..


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