Causes of the American Civil War

From 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War was fought between the northern and southern states of the United States of America. It was a tumultuous period of American history as the country, rooted in deeply entrenched differences over issues of slavery, states’ rights, and regional identity. The war pitted the Union (northern states) and the Confederacy (southern states) which resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives. It brought profound social, economic, and political changes that shaped the trajectory of the U.S. for generations to follow. The American Civil War was a crucible of national identity, testing the resilience of the Union and leaving a mark on the collective consciousness of the nation.

Before the start of the war, the country had simmering tensions for decades over slavery, states’ rights, and western expansion. During the mid-19th century, the U.S. was experiencing an era of growth, and the northern and southern regions had stark economic differences. The Union’s manufacturing and industry were well established with most agriculture coming from small farms. In contrast, the Confederacy’s economy was based on large farms, or plantations, dependent on Black enslaved people to grow crops such as cotton and tobacco. During the 1830s, the North’s abolitionist mindset opposed the extension of slavery into the new western territories, stoking Southern fears that the existence of slavery in America could be eradicated, meaning the key element of their economy was in danger.


The Kansas-Nebraska Act

United States Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, designed to address the expansion of slavery into new territories acquired from Mexico following the Mexican-American War. The act aimed to organize the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to determine their status regarding slavery through popular sovereignty. The act intensified the tensions between North and South, leading to violent conflicts where pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers clashed in a series of confrontations known as “Bleeding Kansas.” This played a pivotal role in pushing the nation closer to the outbreak of the American Civil War.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dread Scott case in 1857 which confirmed the legality of slavery in the territories, abolitionists became angry. Finally, the election of Abraham Lincoln in November of 1860 was the final straw. Within three months, seven southern states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) had seceded from the United States.


The Beginning of the American Civil War

The first year of the Civil War began with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, marking the war’s official commencement. Both sides mobilized their forces, and early battles like Bull Run (First Manassas) highlighted the war’s complexity. The initial year foreshadowed the challenges ahead as the nation confronted propound divisions. The second year marked a critical phase characterized by significant military campaigns. Battles such as Shiloh, Seven Days, and Antietam underscored the war’s brutal nature. The implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation in September aimed to clarify the war’s purpose by declaring slaves in Confederate-held territories free. The Union’s successes in the West, particularly the capture of New Orleans and victories at Fort Henry and Donelson, bolstered Northern morale. Through setbacks like the Peninsula Campaign, Confederate triumphs in the East prolonged the struggle.


The Year 1863

The year 1863 marked the third year of the American Civil War. It bore witness to pivotal moments that influenced the course of conflict. The Union secured crucial victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, marking a turning point in the war. General Ulysses S. Grant was successful at the siege of Vicksburg in July and opened the Mississippi River to Union control, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two. Meanwhile, the Battle of Gettysburg was a major Union triumph as General Robert E. Lee attempted to invade the North. President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was and continues to be one of the most powerful speeches in U.S. history as it provoked somber pride, patriotism, and reflection of American lives spent in the Civil War. Simultaneously, the Emancipation Proclamation went into full effect, affirming the Union’s commitment to ending slavery.

General Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of all Union forces by 1864, implementing a strategy of attrition to wear down the Confederate Army. Brutal battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the Siege of Petersburg contributed to the grim toll of the war. General William T. Sherman’s March to Sea laid waste to Georgia, further diminishing the Confederacy’s resources. The year witnessed the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln, symbolizing the Northern commitment to seeing the war through to its end. The official surrender of the Confederates occurred on April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

The American Civil War remains a poignant chapter, forging a path through a landscape of profound division and sacrifice, ultimately reshaping the nation and affirming the enduring commitment to a more perfect union.



Author: Maerie Morales