American History Review: The American Civil War
Civil War Facts
Eastern Theater, Western Theater, Trans-Mississippi, Gulf Coast, Sioux Uprising
Union: over 2,100,000
Confederate: over 1,000,000
Civil War Casualties
Union: over 350,000
Confederate: over 250,000
Civil War Pictures
The Civil War was the first war that was widely photographed. Many American Civil War images, pictures, and photos have survived.
Civil War Maps
The Civil War made wide use of battle maps.
Civil War Timeline
See a timeline of events of the Civil War from 1861-1865. See events by year and important Civil War dates.
Civil War Battlefields
The battlefields of the Civil War crossed the nation and made famous many previously unknown towns, crossroads, and farms like Antietam Creek, Shiloh and Gettysburg.
More Civil War Facts
To view more Civil War facts and FAQs, please view our Civil War Facts page
Civil War Articles
Explore articles from the History Net archives about the Civil War
Civil War Summary: The American Civil War, 1861–1865, resulted from long-standing sectional differences and questions not fully resolved when the United States Constitution was ratified in 1789, primarily the issue of slavery and states rights. With the defeat of the Southern Confederacy and the subsequent passage of the XIII, XIV, and XV amendments to the Constitution, the Civil War’s lasting effects include abolishing the institution of slavery in America and firmly redefining the United States as a single, indivisible nation rather than a loosely bound collection of independent states.
It was a war that saw many “firsts” that included America’s first income tax, the first battle between ironclad ships, the first extensive use of black soldiers and sailors in U.S. service, the first use of quinine to treat typhoid fever, America’s first military draft, and many others. There were advances in medical treatment, military tactics, and the chaplain service. Over the course of the Civil War weapons ranged from obsolete flintlocks to state-of-the-art repeaters. During the Civil War, women took on new roles, including running farms and plantations and spying; some disguised themselves as men and fought in battle. All of the nation’s ethnic groups participated in the war, including Irish, Germans, American Indians, Jews, Chinese, Hispanics, etc.
Other Names for the Civil War
Northerners have also called the Civil War the War to Preserve the Union, the War of the Rebellion (War of the Southern Rebellion), and the War to Make Men Free. Southerners may refer to it as the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression. In the decades following the conflict, those who did not wish to upset adherents of either side simply called it The Late Unpleasantness. It is also known as Mr. Lincoln’s War and, less commonly, as Mr. Davis’ War.
Troop Strength and Casualties
Between April 1861 and April 1865, an estimated 1.5 million troops joined the war on the side of the Union and approximately 1.2 million went into Confederate service. An estimated total of 785,000-1,000,000 were killed in action or died of disease. More than twice that number were wounded but survived at least long enough to muster out. Casualties of the Civil War cannot be calculated exactly, due to missing records (especially on the Southern side) and the inability to determine exactly how many combatants died from wounds, drug addiction, or other war-related causes after leaving the service. An untold number of civilians also perished, primarily from disease as entire towns became hospitals.
Most naval actions occurred on rivers and inlets or in harbors, and include history’s first clash between two ironclads, the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (a captured and converted ship formerly called the Merrimac), at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on March 9, 1862. Other actions include the Battle of Memphis (1862), Charleston Harbor (1863), and Mobile Bay (1864), and the naval sieges of Vicksburg in 1862 and again in 1863. The most famous clash between ocean-going warships was the duel between USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama off Cherbourg, France, June 19, 1864. Throughout the war, the Union had a decided advantage in both numbers and quality of naval vessels.
The War Between The States Begins
On April 10, 1861, knowing that resupplies were on their way from the North to the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, provisional Confederate forces in the city demanded the fort’s surrender. The fort’s commander, Major Robert Anderson, refused. On April 12 the Confederates opened fire with cannon. At 2:30 p.m. the following day, Major Anderson surrendered.
On April 15, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the Southern rebellion, a move that prompted Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina to reverse themselves and vote in favor of secession. (Most of the western section of Virginia rejected the secession vote and broke away, ultimately forming a new, Union-loyal state, West Virginia.)
The United States had always maintained only a small professional army; the nation’s founders had feared a Napoleon-esque leader might rise up and use a large army to overthrow the government and make himself a dictator. Many graduates of the U.S. Army’s military academy, West Point, resigned their commissions in order to fight for the South—this was especially true in the cavalry arm, but no members of the artillery “went South.” The Lincoln Administration had to rely on large numbers of volunteers from the states and territories.
In Richmond, Virginia, the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, faced a similar problem in raising and equipping armies. Neither side expected a war of long duration. Volunteers were asked to serve for 90 days. “One big battle, and it’ll be over,” was the commonly expressed belief on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Southerners thought Northerners too weak and cowardly to fight. Northerners thought a dependence upon slave labor had rendered Southerners too weak both physically and morally to present a serious battlefield threat. Both sides were due for a rude awakening.
The Challenges of North and South
To win the war would require Lincoln’s armies and navy to subdue an area from the East Coast to the Rio Grande, from the Mason-Dixon Line to the Gulf of Mexico. To prevent a Northern victory, the South would have to defend that same large area, but with a smaller population and less industry than the North could ultimately bring to bear. A short war would favor the South, a long one the North.
Theaters of War
Actions in the war were divided into the Eastern Theater, primarily comprised of Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the coast of North Carolina. The Atlantic Coast farther south was the Lower Seaboard Theater. The Western Theater began west of the Alleghenies (West Virginia excepted) and continued to the Mississippi River, but it also included the interior of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Events farther west are considered to have occurred in the Trans-Mississippi Theater and the Far West.
The first inland clash between significant bodies of troops occurred on the morning of June 3, 1861, when 3,000 Union volunteers surprised 800 Confederates at Philippi in (West) Virginia. Lasting less than half an hour, the affair would barely qualify as a skirmish later in the war, but the Union victory there and subsequent ones in the region elevated the reputation of Major General George B. McClellan…..Read more