Secession, The Civil War, and Reconstruction summary study guide




Secession, The Civil War, and Reconstruction summary study guide


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Secession, The Civil War, and Reconstruction summary study guide

Secession, The Civil War, and Reconstruction

There are many events that can be connected to the beginnings of Civil War in the United States. For example, issue of states rights continued to plague the nation throughout the 1850's.  States in the South simply said that as a state that they had the right to allow for slavery. The Supreme Court case involving Dred Scott further reinforced the idea that slavery was legal and could be expanded beyond the slave states. For them each state was an independent entity that voluntarily entered the Union and signed the Constitution and therefore they could voluntarily leave as the Union did not enforce the Fugitive Slave Act requiring runaway slaves to be returned to their owners and also the denied states equal rights in their territories.

However, one book in particular created a stir in the North in which people became more informed about the issue of slavery.  The book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” written by Harriet Beecher Stowe who was even credited by President Lincoln as “this is the woman who started the war.” This was in reference to her fictitious story about a slave in the South who is eventually killed by his master.


During this tumultuous period Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were pitted against each other in the race for the Illinois US Senate seat. It was at this time that Lincoln, the underdog in the election, made a name for himself in the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates.  Lincoln started his campaign with the "House Divided" speech. In it he stated:

 "A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.  I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all none thing or all the other."

The two men toured the state of Illinois for almost two months debating the issue of slavery in seven different towns.   Douglas had stated that he favored the idea of popular sovereignty or the people decide on the issue of slavery in new territories.  He said that Lincoln would grant full citizenship to African-Americans so that there would be total equality amongst whites and African-Americans.

Lincoln countered Douglas' idea of popular sovereignty with the argument that Douglas was actually promoting the expansion of slavery by allowing for the people to decide.  Lincoln went on to take a stand on the issue of equality by stating that: "I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors out of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people." However he made it clear that he was clearly against slavery.   Douglas won the election by a small margin, but Lincoln's ability as politician and debater earned him a national reputation.


In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States despite not winning any Southern states.  The election itself featured Stephen Douglas who represented the northern states Democratic Party.  The southern states nominated John Breckenridge of Kentucky who vowed to uphold slavery.  Another party, the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell of Tennessee who did not take a stand on slavery.  Southern states hand already threatened to secede or leave the Union as they feared the total abolition of slavery in their states.  The state of South Carolina actually seceded from the Union in December of 1860.

In a desperate attempt to preserve the Union, Senator John Calhoun proposed an amendment that would allow for slavery south of the 36°30° parallel and all territories “hereafter acquired.”  The Southern states rejected this proposal in defiance.  By February 1861, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida had joined South Carolina in secession.  Delegates from these states then met in Montgomery, Alabama and created a new nation called the Confederate States of America.   Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was elected as their president.  The Confederate States justified their secession based upon states rights.

President Lincoln inauguration speech reflected his desire to keep the nation intact or together.  The states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas had not yet committed to either side.  In his inaugural speech Lincoln said "We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passions may have strained, it must break our bonds of affection."  Lincoln made it clear that secession was not an option as federal property was located in the South.

The day after his inauguration Lincoln was informed that the Confederates had demanded that the federal soldiers Fort Sumter located in Charleston, South Carolina surrender.  Lincoln asked that supplies be sent to the fort without any military intervention.  However, President Davis of the Confederacy instead decided that the fort should be attacked.  On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops opened fire on the fort thus forcing the Union soldiers to surrender two days later.  Lincoln took immediate action and called up volunteers to fight for the Union.  The Southern states of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee then voted to join the Confederacy.  The Civil War had begun.

Four slave states made the decision to remain in the Union - Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Missouri.  Each of these states faced a difficult decision in that many people favored slavery, but also feared the consequences of leaving the Union.  In the states of Missouri and Kentucky families were split with some joining the Union army and others joining the Confederate army.  Missouri was a key state based upon its location on Mississippi River, whereas Kentucky was located on the Ohio River, which was also a key transportation route.


War Strategies

When the war started each side had a different strategy to end the war.  The North was focused on bringing the Southern states or Confederacy back to the Union.   As the war continued on ending slavery also became a goal in ending the war.  Militarily, the North would blockade or close Southern ports thus preventing any goods from entering or leaving the region making it difficult for the South to earn money from cotton exports. Second, the North would attempt to gain full control of the Mississippi River, which was a major supply route and also divided the Confederate states.  The final strategy was to gain control of Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital.

The South's strategy was to gain independence as a nation, thus preserving the right to own slaves.  The military strategy was to defend their territory until the North would eventually grow tired of fighting.  The South would also depend on Britain and France for support from the cotton exports.

Both sides had clear strengths and weaknesses.  The North had a sizable advantage in that most of the factories were located in the region making it easier to produce material for the war.  Moreover, most of the nation's population and railways were also located in the North.  However, to win the war required the North to invade the South, thus the military would not be fighting on familiar soil.

The South was faced with little industry and a weak banking system, which could finance the war.  Moreover, due to the lack of industry, weapons and necessary supplies would be in short order and this would eventually have an impact on the war's outcome. However, the South possessed a military advantage in that most of the military leadership was more experienced than that of the North. Because of this the first couple years of the war had the South winning major battles.

Advantages and Disadvantages North


Advantages and Disadvantages South


The War
As the Civil War began, many people expected the Union to win a quick decision.  The first battle of the war occurred near Washington, D.C.  People were so confident that the North would win easily that many people planned to picnic to watch the Union and the Confederacy fight.  However, the Confederate soldiers forced the Union soldiers to run away.  The outcome of the battle shocked the North, but President Lincoln was ready to act.  He signed two bills requesting a total of 1 million soldiers.  Lincoln also chose a new general, George B. McClellan, to head the Union Army in the east.
Later battles were extremely bloody.  The Battle of Shiloh saw 20,000 soldiers dead or injured over two days.  The bloodiest battle was the Battle of Antietam where over 23,000 soldiers were killed or injured in one day.  Both of these battles were won by the Union and helped them gain confidence.  President Lincoln used the battles to take action against slavery.
As the war went on, attitudes toward slavery began to change.  More Northerners believed that slavery was helping the war effort in the South.  In the North's view, anything that weakened slavery struck a blow against the Confederacy.  Lincoln was aware that public opinion had shifted and was convinced that slavery helped the South continue fighting because every enslaved person who worked enabled a white Southerner to fight in the Confederate army.  On January 1, 1863 Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all enslaved people in the Confederacy.  Even though it applied only to areas under Confederate control, African Americans in the North cheered Lincoln's decision.  Lincoln hoped that the Emancipation Proclamation would encourage slaves in the south to run away.  Eventually, this lead to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.

Conditions of War
At the start of the war, men in both the North and South rushed to volunteer for their armies.  Their enthusiasm did not last.  In spite of some moments of calm, the reality of war was never far away.  Both sides suffered terrible losses.  The new rifles used during the Civil War fired with greater accuracy than the muskets of earlier wars.  Medical facilities were overwhelmed by the thousands of casualties in each battle.  Rebel soldiers suffered from a lack of food and supplies.  One reason for Lee's invasion of Maryland in 1862 was to allow his army to feed off Maryland's crops.  Faced with such horrors, many men deserted.  About 1 of every 11 Union soldiers and 1 of every 8 Confederate soldiers ran away because of fear, hunger, or sickness.
In times of war, people often fill new roles.  Women in the North and South became teachers and office workers, and they managed farms.  Women performed many jobs that helped the soldiers and armies.  They rolled bandages, wove blankets, and made ammunition.  Many women collected food, clothing, and medicine to distribute to the troops.  Some women served as spies.  Harriet Tubman spied for the North.  Belle Boyd, of Virginia, informed Confederate generals of Union army movements in the Shenandoah Valley.  Some women disguised themselves as men and became soldiers.
Thousands of women served as nurses.  At first, many doctors did not women nurses because they felt that women were too delicate for such work.  Also, it was considered improper for women to tend the bodies of unknown men.  However, some women disregarded these objections.  In the North, Clara Barton became famous for her work with wounded soldiers.  In the South, Sally Tompkins established a hospital for soldiers in Richmond, Virginia.

End of War
Under the leadership of General William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, the Union army was able to win important battles at Vicksburg and Gettysburg.  These victories for the North weakened the South.  General Grant was given control over the union army and told by Lincoln to attack the Confederate army everywhere they could.  General Sherman sent his army into the South to capture Atlanta.  After Sherman was successful, he convinced Grant to let him try to march from Atlanta, Georgia to Savannah, Georgia.  As Sherman and his army went, they took food from the farms they found along the way, destroyed the fields, tore up railroad lines, and anything else that might be useful to the south.  This was known as “Sherman’s March.”  Sherman’s method of destroying everything that he and his army came across is known as “total war.”
While Sherman was engaging in total war, Grant was attempting to capture an important railroad center for the South at Petersburg.  After 9 months, the Union army, led by Grant, took control of Petersburg, cutting off the Confederate army from any way of getting new supplies.  The main general of the South, Robert E. Lee, realized that there was no way that the South could win the war.  On April 9, 1865 Lee surrendered to General Grant and the Union army at Appomatox Courthouse.
The Civil War was the most devastating conflict in American history.  More than 600,000 soldiers died, and the war cost billions of dollars of damage, most of it in the South.  The devastation had left the South’s economy in a state of collapse.  Roughly two thirds of the transportation system lay in ruins, with many bridges destroyed and miles of railroad twisted and useless.  The war also created bitter feelings among defeated Southerners that lasted for generations.
The war had other consequences as well.  The North’s victory saved the Union.  The federal government was strengthened and clearly more powerful that the individual states.  Finally, the war freed millions of African Americans.  The end of slavery, however, did not solve the problems that the newly freed African Americans were to face.



Before the war had ended President Lincoln had already created a plan to readmit the Confederate states . The South had been devastated by the many battles that destroyed crops, railroads and even whole cities. Because of this many agreed that the South should be rebuilt. This period of time following the Civil War is known as Reconstruction or time to rebuild.  Many different plans were proposed to readmit the states that had left the Union.  A group of legislators known as the Radical Republicans promoted a plan that most white males in states that had broken away had to take a loyalty oath to the Union.  Furthermore, no Confederate official could hold a public office and all states must include in their Constitution a clause to prohibit slavery. President Lincoln refused to sign this proposed law known as the Wade Davis Bill.

President Lincoln also wanted to make sure that freed African-Americans received assistance in adjusting to freedom.  The agency created by Congress with the Presidentt’s approval was known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.  It soon assisted former slaves by distributing food, clothing, and medical services.  In some areas of the South schools were set up to educate the recently freed slaves. 

However, as the plans were to rebuild the South were debated, tragedy struck the nation.  On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated as he and his wife sat watching a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C.  The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government and reinstate the Confederacy.  Wilkes was later killed as Union soldiers tracked him down.  The future of the country was now in the hands of those who wished to punish the Southern states for leaving the Union.  Vice President Andrew Johnson who was from Tennessee but was pro Union took over as President. 

As President Johnson did not favor giving African-Americans equal rights.  Instead he favored the idea of having white men retain power in the South.  Slavery itself was abolished under the 13th Amendment in 1865, but life for African-Americans did not improve much.  Southern States resorted to the passage of black codes, which were a way of controlling African Americans.  For example, an African-American could be fined for being unemployed and prohibited property ownership. 

Congress countered this attempt to deny African-American rights by passing the 14th Amendment which gave full citizenship to all people born in the United States.  Thus, most African-Americans gained citizenship. The 14th Amendment also stated that no state could take away a citizen’s life, liberty, or property without due process. This amendment would have a lasting effect as it continues to be debated in regards to people with disabilities, immigrants, and other groups. Congress made ratification of this amendment a requirement for Confederate states to rejoin the Union.

In a further attempt to give African-American rights that had been denied them, the 15th Amendment was ratified which prohibited states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to any male citizen because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Although intended to rebuild and change the governments of the South, Reconstruction was not necessarily successful. Some people from the who supported the Union called scalawags or “worthless rascals” by former Confederates wanted the major changes.  Other Northerners arrived in the South with intentions to profit with the rebuilding of the South.  These people were called carpetbaggers because they usually arrived with a suitcase made of carpet fabric.  Many Southerners opposed these groups because they viewed them as invaders and a threat to Southern traditions.

During this time secret societies such as the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) were created to wreak fear and violence among blacks and black sympathizers.  Democrats in the South, wealthy planters and others backed the KKK and other similar groups in order to preserve their way of life.  In order to prevent further progress for African-Americans policies of segregation in the form of Jim Crow laws, which created separate facilities for people of race, poll taxes or a fee that people had to pay in order to vote, and other laws were put into place. 


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Secession, The Civil War, and Reconstruction summary study guide