Civil War

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CIVIL WAR. Historians have long debated the causes of the Civil War. They have argued that a split developed between the industrialized North and the agricultural South as both sections vied for control of the nation. Closely related is the belief that the two sections fought over the tariff, which, some have stated, protected Northern manufactures. Others have contended that the war erupted over states' rights. Northerners advocated a more expanded federal government than did Southerners, who held fast to a federal system in which the preponderant power lay with the states. Some have also suggested that politicians in the 1850s failed by their own in competency to broker a compromise to the sectional controversy during the secession crisis, so that the nation blundered into civil strife.

Each of these explanations has serious shortcomings. The Northern states accounted for two of every three farms in the United States, and Southern staple crop production, especially cotton, provided raw material for many Northern factories. The tariff was not a powerful political issue in the critical decade leading up to the war. Nor did Southerners complain about the import duty when it protected regional interests, such as those of sugar growers. Like their Southern countrymen, many Northerners—perhaps even a majority—believed instates' rights, and on the surface, the differences of opinion were not sufficient to warrant separation or war. The blundering generation argument assumes that politicians in Washington were unusually incompetent in the 1850s or that there was room to compromise on the vital moral issue of the day: slavery. There is little evidence to substantiate charges of massive political incompetence and the argument plays down the buildup of mistrust that controversies and compromises had generated since the Missouri Crisis four decades earlier. The willingness of so many millions of people to march off to war or endure hardships for their section proves just how deeply people in the North and South felt about the great issues of their day.

Slavery, Secession, and the War's Onset

Slavery lay at the root of the Civil War. The Republican Party dedicated itself to blocking the expansion of the "peculiar institution," and many of its leaders had publicly avowed their desire to see slavery abolished. Southern states had maintained that if a member of the Republican Party were elected president, they would secede. When the voters chose the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1860, seven slave states voted to leave the union and began to form a Southern confederacy. In their ordinances of secession or justifications, they stated clearly that they dissolved their connection to the United States to protect slavery. As the state of Mississippi argued, "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery." Slavery had divided families, religions, institutions, political parties, and finally, the nation itself.

Although the U.S. Constitution did not specifically forbid secession, Lincoln and most Northerners believed that the concept would undercut the linchpin of any democratic republic, respect for the outcome of fair elections. By allowing secession, a group could nullify the expressed wishes of the people acting under constitutional law.

Northerners viewed the union and the Constitution as sacrosanct. It was the basis for the world's great experiment, a democratic republic, a kind of beacon of light for people everywhere. All freedoms derived from the Constitution and the union. For those who had gone before them and for future generations, they had an obligation to preserve that system.

Representatives from the seceding states met during the months of February and March in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a new government, the Confederate States of America. The convention chose Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as provisional president and Alexander Stephens of Georgia as provisional vice president. The constitution itself greatly resembled that of the United States. Major distinctions included a single, six-year term as president, a line-item veto for the president, and a provision stipulating that states could not secede from the country. The most fundamental difference, according to Stephens, rested with the underlying premise: the United States acknowledged the notion that all men were created equal, whereas the Confederate States of America insisted that "the negro is not the equal of the white man" and that "slavery …is his natural and normal condition."

The fighting began when the Lincoln administration determined to preserve the union and to protect federal property. Lincoln attempted to maintain Union control of several forts on Confederate soil, including Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. As food supplies for the garrison began to run low, the president let it be known that he would send a resupply ship that would carry no munitions of war. The plan forced the Rebels' hand. If the Confederacy allowed the ship to deposit supplies safely, it would be tolerating the existence of a United States fort not just on Confederate soil, but in the birthplace of secession. Such a presence was a slap at the viability of the new nation. The other alternative would be for the new Confederate government to employ force to prevent the re-supply, and thus commit the first act of violence. Rather than endure the insult of a Union post on secessionist soil, the Confederates began shelling Fort Sumter on 12 April. After a thirty-four-hour bombardment, the garrison surrendered. In response to the attack, Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand militiamen to suppress the insurrection. The war was on.

Rather than fight their fellow slave states, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas seceded and joined the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy then shifted its seat of government from Montgomery to Richmond, Virginia. While the new Confederate capital would be only 110 miles from Washington, D.C., and in a more exposed area than Montgomery, the choice of Richmond made good sense. Richmond was a larger city and could better accommodate the new government. It was the seat of vital manufacturing operations that would be essential to preserve during the war and it served as a key railroad nexus in a powerful agricultural state. Moving the capital to Richmond had the effect of bonding Virginia more strongly to the Confederacy. The site also reminded everyone of the legacy to the American Revolution and the work of the founding fathers. Secessionists insisted that they were the true inheritors of the Constitution, one that forged compromises to permit slave ownership. Like their forefathers, they would fight a war for independence to protect their rights.

Comparative Advantages

The Union possessed the preponderance of resources. It had a population of twenty-two million, well educated and with a sound work ethic. Ninety percent of U.S. manufacturing was produced in the loyal states and virtually all arms manufacturing took place there. One half of its adult males listed farming as their occupation, and the region's output of food crops was staggering. Almost three times as many draft animals, an extremely valuable wartime asset, were in Northern hands. The Union had a vast financial network, with four of every five bank accounts, huge gold reserves, and ready access to commercial credit, all of which were essential to finance a massive war. It had a sophisticated and modern railroad network, with two and one-half times as many miles as the South, and a large commercial fleet to carry trade and, in wartime, to haul supplies. Finally, the Union inherited a small U.S. Army, numbering around sixteen thousand, with experienced officers, and a U.S. Navy with only twenty-three active ships, but an industrial base that could transform it into the largest and probably the best in the world.

As history has demonstrated time after time, however, overwhelming resources do not guarantee victory. Furthermore, the Confederacy had some advantages of its own. It had a population of 9 million, 5.5 million of whom were white, scattered over an area of almost 750,000 square miles. Its white citizenry, on the whole, was educated and motivated to support the cause. The seceding states produced some superb military leaders, many from the regular army. One in eight regular army officers resigned their commissions to join the Confederacy. A number of them were among the most respected, including Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Joseph E. Johnston, to name a few. To join those, the South had hundreds of graduates from military schools such as the Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel, who could teach recruits the basics in drill, tactics, and soldierly comportment. Even more so than their revolutionary ancestors, they had a wealth of experienced politicians on the state, local, and national levels. And perhaps most importantly, the Confederacy had to be conquered to lose. A stalemate was tantamount to Rebel victory.

Over the course of the war, the Confederacy steadily lost a resource on which it had depended heavily: its slave population. Confederates expected their 3.5 million slaves would help produce foodstuffs, manufacture materials for the army and their people, and serve the Rebel cause in sundry other ways. Instead, hundreds of thousands of slaves ultimately escaped to Union lines, many of them taking up arms against their old masters. Other slaves disrupted life on the home front, generated fears of servile insurrections while most of the young adult white males were away in the service, slowed production of essential wartime commodities, or aided the Union armies in many different ways.

From a legal standpoint, the war began when Lincoln called out the militiamen and ordered the Union navy to blockade Confederate ports. Internationally, the Confederacy achieved recognition as a belligerent, but never received recognition as an independent state by any foreign power. No nation attempted to intervene, although the British government considered it and the French government offered to mediate, an overture the United States rebuffed.

Before Lincoln's first Congress met in July 1861, the president adopted measures that gave the Union war policy its controlling character. Besides proclaiming an insurrection, calling out militia, and blockading Rebel ports, he suspended the habeas corpus privilege, expanded the regular army, directed emergency expenditures, and in

general assumed executive functions beyond existing law. That summer, Congress ratified his actions and in 1863, by a five to four vote, the U.S. Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of his executive decisions in the Prize Cases. In general, Lincoln's method of meeting the emergency and suppressing disloyal tendencies was to employ arbitrary executive power, such as his extensive program of arbitrary arrests, wherein thousands of citizens were thrust into prison on suspicion of disloyal or dangerous activity. These prisoners were held without trial, deprived of their usual civil rights, and subjected to no accusations under the law. Such policies, which Lincoln justified as necessary for the survival of the union, led to severe and widespread criticism of the Lincoln administration. Yet it cannot be said that Lincoln became a dictator. He allowed freedom of speech and of the press, contrary examples being exceptional, not typical. He tolerated newspaper criticism of himself and of the government, interposed no party uniformity, permitted free assembly, avoided partisan violence, recognized opponents in making appointments, and above all submitted his party and himself, even during war, to the test of popular election.

Confederate president Jefferson Davis also faced dissent, but Davis suffered from the additional burden of attempting to build a government and a nation during wartime. Many Confederates opposed the kind of concentration of power under the central government that was necessary to prosecute the war. With only one political party, vicious factions emerged, heaping sharp criticism on the overworked Davis and many of his appointees.

Enlistment and Conscription

Neither side was prepared for war, yet both sides rallied around their flag and cause. That regular army of only sixteen thousand men was transformed into two massive national armies. Before the war was over, the Union would maintain more than one million men in uniform at one time; the Confederacy's peak estimate was about one half that number. In order to draw people into military service, both sides relied primarily on volunteers. Locals organized companies, batteries, or regiments and offered them to the governor, who then tried to convince the secretary of war to accept them. Those early waves of recruits left home with a hero's good-bye. Over time, the celebrations ceased as more and more men failed to return home.

Early in the war, both sides had more volunteers than they could arm and clothe, and many frustrated volunteers were not accepted. By 1862, however, matters began to change. Most of the Confederates who enlisted in 1861 did so for a one-year term. As both sides geared up for spring offensives, the Davis administration and his generals feared their armies would dissolve. In April 1862, the Confederate Congress passed laws that established all white males between ages eighteen and thirty-five as eligible for military service. Everyone called into service would be subject to a three-year term, unless the war ended sooner, and those people already in service who were of draft age had their terms of service extended to three years. This was the first conscription act in American history. Draftees had the opportunity to hire substitutes, and in October 1862 the act was amended so that individuals who owned more than twenty slaves could acquire an exemption for an adult white male. Throughout the remainder of the war, the Confederacy continued to draft, expanding the age limits on both ends, and to recruit to fill its ranks. The Confederacy eventually forbade substitutes as well.

The Lincoln administration suffered similar problems. In The summer of 1862, dismal Union progress in the East convinced most people that the war would extend on for years. As enlistment slowed to a trickle, the Northern government also resorted to conscription through the Militia Act of 17 July 1862, which could keep individuals in uniform for only nine months. This proved so unsatisfactory that Congress replaced it with a stronger law in March 1863, establishing state quotas for three-year terms of service. Local communities raised bounty money to lure individuals to enlist, there by reducing or filling their draft quotas. For those slots that volunteers did not fill, locals would have to draft. Inmost cases, results were achieved by the threat of being drafted and the amount of money available as bounty for recruits.

Recruitment policies in the North and the South generated complaints against both governments, including charges that it was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight, and even sparked draft riots. In The end, though, comparatively few soldiers were drafted. Conscription acted as a stick to encourage enlistments, while bounties and avoiding the shame of being drafted were the carrots.

Virtually all of those who entered the two armies did so with naive notions of military service, duty, and combat. Disease took greater tolls on their ranks than did enemy shot and shell. Perceptions of glory faded as hard-ships mounted. Approximately one in eight, unwilling to endure the sacrifices and suffering any longer, deserted. Yet for the bulk of those who donned the blue and the gray, their commitment to cause and comrades sustained them through the most trying moments. Over time, they learned to be skilled soldiers, men who knew how to execute on the battlefield and care for themselves in camp. They took pride in themselves, their units, and their service and vowed to stay the course until they achieved victory or all hope was lost.

The Early War

The first major engagement of the war took place in July 1861, near Manassas Junction, Virginia. Confederates under Major General P. G. T. Beauregard had assembled in northern Virginia to defend the area and guard the connection of the Manassas Gap Railroad from the Shenandoah Valley, running east-west, and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, which sliced from southwest Virginia toward Washington, D.C. A Union army of a little more than thirty thousand men, the largest ever assembled for battle in American history, under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, pushed southwest from Washington. After marching all night, McDowell's columns engaged the Confederates around a creek called Bull Run. McDowell feigned an attack on the Rebel right and swung wide on the opposite side, crossing Bull Run and rolling up on Beauregard's left. Just as it appeared that the Union would win the day, two events occurred. Soldiers under Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson held firm, like a "stone wall," and critical reinforcements from the Shenandoah

Valley under Major General Joseph E. Johnston arrived by rail to bolster the defenders. As the Union attackers grew exhausted, the Confederates launched a counterattack that swept the battlefield. President Davis, who arrived that afternoon, joined his generals in trying to mount a pursuit, but Confederate confusion in victory was almost as bad as Union panic in defeat. The Federals fled back to Washington, having endured a staggering three thousand casualties; in triumph, the Confederates suffered almost two thousand losses.

Lincoln promptly replaced McDowell with Major General George B. McClellan, a highly touted engineer who oversaw a minor Union victory in western Virginia. McClellan accumulated and trained a massive army, but tarried so long that winter fell before he moved out. Meanwhile, McClellan politicked to remove the aged commanding general of all Union armies, Winfield Scott, and got himself installed. "I can do it all," a cocky McClellan boasted.

The following spring, after much prodding from Lincoln, the Union army shifted its base by water to the Virginia coast east of Richmond and began an arduous advance up the peninsula between the York and James Rivers. As the Union forces neared Richmond, Confederates under Joseph E. Johnston attacked; Johnston was badly wounded, and the Federals held.

To replace Johnston, Davis chose his military adviser, General Robert E. Lee, a highly regarded West Point graduate who had not achieved much success theretofore. With his back up against Richmond, Lee drew Stonewall Jackson's men in from the Shenandoah Valley, where they had conducted a spectacular campaign against superior Union numbers, and launched a massive surprise attack on McClellan's right flank. In the Seven Days' Battles in June and July 1862, Lee's army failed to crush McClellan, but it drove the Federals back twenty miles to the protection of the Union navy. With the fight whipped out of McClellan, Lee began moving northward in August. At the Battle of Second Manassas, Lee crushed a Union army under Major General John Pope, and then turned on the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry and crossed over into Maryland in September. A lost copy of the Confederate invasion plan, which a Union soldier had discovered and passed on to headquarters, emboldened McClellan, who had replaced Pope. He fought Lee to a draw at Antietam in the single bloodiest day of fighting in the war, with combined casualties of nearly twenty-three thousand. After the fight, Lee fell back to Virginia while McClellan dawdled until an exasperated Lincoln replaced him with Major General Ambrose P. Burnside. In just three months, though, Lee had completely reversed Rebel fortunes in the East and had established himself as the great Confederate general.

Emancipation and Black Enlistment

Strangely enough, despite Lee's overall achievements, the Union repulse of Lee's raid offered Lincoln an opportunity to transform the war. With the failure of McClellan's Richmond campaign, Lincoln had decided on emancipation and black enlistment. The war was all about slavery, Lincoln had concluded, and if the nation reunited, the United States would have to settle the slavery issue and move beyond it. Federal recruitment, moreover, had slowed to a trickle. The largest untapped resource available was African Americans. They produced for the Confederacy; they could contribute in and out of uniform to the Union.

Despite the hopes of Lincoln and other politicians to keep blacks out of the war, they had forced their way to the heart of it from the beginning. In April 1861, several slaves who were being used for Confederate military construction projects fled to Union lines. The Union general, Benjamin Butler, declared them contraband of war and subject to confiscation, in accordance with international law, and then hired them to work for the Union army. Congress established Butler's ruling as the law of the land in the First Confiscation Act in August 1861. But soon, slaves who worked for the Rebel army began arriving with family members who had not labored on Rebel military projects and the original law broke down as many Union officers were loath to return anyone to slavery. In July 1862 Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which allowed the president to authorize the seizure of any Rebel property, including slaves. It also passed legislation that enabled Lincoln to use blacks for any military duties he found them competent to perform.

Lincoln issued his most important executive pronouncement, the Emancipation Proclamation, in September 1862, just after the Battle of Antietam. In it, Lincoln announced that slaves in all areas beyond control of Union armies on 1 January 1863, would become free. Based on his powers as commander in chief, Lincoln rightly believed that slavery aided the Confederacy and that its destruction would strengthen the Union effort. Yet the program also fulfilled one of Lincoln's dreams: the destruction of an immoral institution. By eradicating it, Lincoln altered the Union goal from a war to restore the Union to one that would destroy slavery as well. The decision generated some opposition, but in the end, those who were principally responsible for enforcing the proclamation, the Union soldiery, embraced it as a vital step in winning the war.

Although Lincoln waited to issue his emancipation decree until the Union won its next victory—almost three months later—he had begun bringing blacks into Union uniform in the summer of 1862. He tried to control the experiment carefully, but after black troops fought heroically at the Battles of Port Hudson, Milliken's Bend, and Fort Wagner in 1863, he authorized a dramatic expansion of black enlistment. Blacks served in segregated units, largely under white officers, and in time they proved to be an invaluable force in the Union war effort.

Union Progress in the Western Theater

While the Yankees struggled to achieve positive results in the eastern theater, out west their armies made great progress. Ulysses S. Grant, a West Point graduate who resigned under a cloud in 1854, emerged as an unlikely hero. In February 1862, he launched an outstandingly effective campaign against Confederate forces at Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, respectively. In conjunction with the Union gun-boat fleet, he secured Fort Henry and then besieged the prize, Fort Donelson and its garrison of nearly twenty thousand men. Although some Confederates escaped, its fall resulted in the first great Union victory of the war and shattered the cordon of Rebel defenses in the Kentucky-Tennessee region. Several weeks later, Union troops occupied Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, and by the end of March, Grant's reinforced command had occupied a position around Shiloh Church near the Mississippi border.

Then, early on 6 April, Confederates under General Albert Sidney Johnston launched a vicious attack. Grant, caught unprepared, saw his men driven back. Valiant fighting and some timely reinforcements saved the day, however, and the following afternoon, Union troops swept

the field. Johnston was wounded and bled to death on the first day of fighting. At Shiloh, Grant's army suffered thirteen thousand casualties, horrifying politicians and civilians alike, and he soon found his reputation damaged and his command responsibilities curtailed.

When his superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck, returned East to become the new general in chief that summer, however, Grant was given a second chance. On 1 May 1862, Union forces began entering New Orleans; opening the entire length of the Mississippi River became a high priority. Grant began the difficult task of securing Vicksburg, Mississippi, a Confederate bastion located high on bluffs that dominated the Mississippi River. After months of toil and failure, including a repulsed assault on the bluffs, Grant finally conceived a way to defeat the Rebels. With Navy help, he shifted his army below the city in April 1863 by marching men along the opposite bank and shuttling them across the river. He then pushed inland toward Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and turned on Vicksburg. Over the course of several weeks, in perhaps the most brilliant campaign of the war, Grant's forces defeated two Confederate armies in five separate battles and then laid siege to the city. On 4 July 1863, the Vicksburg garrison of nearly thirty thousand men surrendered. Grant had captured his second army, and with news of the fall of Vicksburg, the Confederates at Port Hudson, Louisiana, surrendered, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River and isolating a large portion of the Confederacy.

After a Union disaster at Chickamauga, Georgia, in September, Grant was brought in to preserve the Federal hold on Chattanooga, Tennessee. With extensive reinforcements and an audacious assault up a steep incline called Missionary Ridge, Grant's command shattered the Rebel positions. The victory drove the Confederates back into Georgia and pushed Grant's star into the ascendancy. In March 1864, Grant was promoted to lieutenant general, commander of all U.S. forces, while his key subordinate, William Tecumseh Sherman, took over in the West.

The Road to Union Victory

To the east, the Union army under Burnside suffered a disastrous repulse at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862. Again in April and May 1863, the same reinforced army under Major General Joseph Hooker was crushed by a much smaller force under Lee. In the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson led a brilliant flanking march that surprised and routed the Union forces, but that night Jackson sustained an accidental mortal wound from his own troops.

With some momentum from the Chancellorsville victory, Lee decided to raid Pennsylvania and perhaps

convince the Northern public that continuation of the war was pointless. His troops marched through Maryland and approached Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, before pulling back. At a vital crossroad village called Gettysburg, Lee and Hooker's new replacement, Major General George G. Meade, fought the most costly battle of the war. After three days and close to fifty thousand casualties, Lee withdrew back to Virginia, his third-day assault having been repulsed. For the second time, Lee had invaded the Union states and failed.

For the spring campaign of 1864, Grant determined to launch simultaneous offensives to squeeze the outnumbered Confederates. He elected to travel alongside Meade's army in Virginia, while Sherman commanded a group of armies in the West that advanced toward Atlanta. Against Grant, Lee put up a bold defense. His Army of Northern Virginia inflicted unprecedented losses, some sixty thousand, in seven weeks at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and elsewhere, yet the Yankees kept the initiative. Eventually, Grant was able to lock Lee's army up in a siege around Petersburg. Yet he could not crush Lee's men.

Meanwhile, to the westward, Sherman had more success against the Confederates, led by Joseph E. Johnston. Sherman largely avoided the enormous casualties of the eastern theater, holding and then turning his Rebel opponents. By mid-July, as the Confederates backed up near Atlanta, President Davis replaced Johnston with the aggressive John Bell Hood. Hood did what Davis expected of him: fight. But in each instance, the Confederates lost. In early September, Sherman forced the Rebel defenders out of Atlanta, a victory that ensured Lincoln's reelection two months later.

By mid-November, Sherman—with three-fifths of his army—began his famous March to the Sea, wrecking railroads, consuming foodstuffs, and proving to the Southern people that their armies could not check these massive Union raids. The other two-fifths of his army served as the core of a large force under Major General George Thomas that crushed the remainder of Hood's army around Nashville, a victory that elevated the importance of Sherman's march all the more.

On water, the Union navy contributed mightily to the ultimate victory. Those original twenty-three active vessels increased to more than 700 thanks to Northern shipbuilding. With this huge fleet, the Federal blockade closed ports or discouraged trading ships, while the wood and ironclad river boats supported land campaigns on the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi Rivers and also along the coast. In January 1865, the Union sealed the last significant port city, Wilmington, with the fall of Fort Fisher.

That same month, Sherman launched a destructive overland campaign through the Carolinas, once again

wrecking railroads; eating foodstuffs; destroying anything of military value; terrifying civilians; and in the case of South Carolina, burning homes and towns. By late March, the end was in sight. Sherman's army had reached central North Carolina and could be in Virginia in a few weeks. Grant, meanwhile, slowly extended his superior numbers around Lee's flank, severing the railroads that supplied Richmond and Petersburg and penetrating the Confederate rear. His works outflanked, Lee abandoned the Petersburg-Richmond line and took flight westward, hoping to swing around Grant's army and unite with Johnston, who was back in command opposing Sherman. Before Lee could escape, a Union force under Philip Sheridan boxed him in and he surrendered at Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1865.Several weeks later, Johnston surrendered to Sherman near Durham, North Carolina, and all Confederate resistance soon succumbed.

Sustaining the Soldier and Civilian Populations

Approximately 2.25 million served in the Union army, and from 800,000 to 900,000 donned Confederate gray. The Union had over 20,000 African American sailors and almost 180,000 African American soldiers, about 150,000 of whom came from the Confederate States. In the final stages of the war, the Confederacy attempted to create black regiments, with very limited success.

With a large industrial and agricultural base, the Union provided better for its soldiery. After some initial scandals over ostensibly shoddy clothing and shoes and accusations of profiteering on a grand scale, the Northern states churned out vast quantities of food, clothing, weapons, ammunition, and other equipment necessary for war, while providing for its domestic market as well. To offset the labor loss of the up to one million young males who were in service at a given time, women took to the fields and factories and owners adopted more labor-saving machinery. Through hard work, cooperation, technology, and innovation, the Union produced enough food and clothing to provide for those soldiers in the field, the people at home, and in some cases, a number of people in Europe.

To pay for the war, the Union Congress raised the tariff dramatically and passed into law a series of taxes, including the first income tax, under the Internal Revenue Act of 1862.Despite this heavy taxation by the Lincoln administration, much of the war was financed by bond sales and the printing of paper money called greenbacks. The banker Jay Cooke and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase convinced the Northern public to buy long-term war bonds.(Cooke's firm alone sold over $1.2 billion worth.) The paper money circulated as legal tender. Still, inflation drove prices up to twice their prewar level,

causing considerable hardship for those on fixed wages and those who did not grow their own food. Families and communal organizations attempted to ease the burden on those with breadwinners in uniform.

Philanthropic organizations also contributed to the well-being of the soldiers. The United States Sanitary Commission was formed to combat the atrocious conditions in Union hospitals. The group promoted cleanliness, better medical care, proper nursing, and a host of other issues to improve care for the sick and injured. The U.S. Christian Commission championed religion through the publication of vast amounts of religious tracts. For those seeking spiritual comfort or for activity-starved soldiers in camp, these readings filled an important void.

The Davis administration lacked the established apparatus to collect taxes, and with the Union blockade, little in the way of import taxes entered the coffers. Congressional laws establishing an income tax, a levy on agricultural products at the source, and a duty on the buying and selling of most basic goods generated more frustration with the government than revenue. The government floated war bonds, which raised a little more than a third of the needed funds. The Confederates generated the remainder by printing money. Early on, the notes circulated reasonably well, but as the fortunes of war declined and the amount of paper money in circulation escalated, its value plummeted. Late in the war, these paper notes were more a keepsake than a circulating medium.

The Confederate States performed minor miracles in creating a munitions industry, but in other areas, scarcity plagued the armies and the civilian population. Refugees flooded cities, driving up prices and reducing the amount of food crops harvested. Despite an extraordinary agricultural base, southerners devoted too many acres to the production of tobacco and cotton and not enough to food. A congressional resolution and state laws tried to rectify this problem, but they did not succeed satisfactorily. Other basic items, like clothing and shoes, became so rare that only the well-off could afford them. People made do with makeshift footgear, homespun garments, whatever they could. Still, basic shortages damaged morale and resulted in protests and even riots. In one instance, Davis tossed all the money he had in his pockets into a crowd to quell a bread riot.

With limited financial means, huge government expenses, and shortages, inflation rates soared. By the last two years of the war, prices rose so rapidly that many Southern farmers refused to sell their crops and livestock to the Confederate government; the authorized price could not keep up with escalating market prices. In order to feed and supply soldiers, many commissary and quartermaster officials simply impressed the goods or foodstuffs

and provided receipts to the owner. Even though Confederate law authorized these seizures, they alienated many people from the Confederate cause and did little to check inflation. Throughout the war, but especially in the last few months, soldiers and civilians alike suffered severe shortages.

Military Strategy and Administration

Both the Lincoln and the Davis administrations ran their respective war efforts well. For the most part they managed military affairs effectively, appointed fairly competent officers (although both sides suffered through a few dreadful politicians who were appointed as generals), and adopted sensible strategies. Davis was aware of both the demands for protection from all Confederate citizens and the limited resources available to provide it. He therefore attempted to employ what historians have called an "offensive-defensive" strategy. Davis oversaw the creation of large military departments. He had the officers in charge position their major army or armies along the logical invasion routes, and called on them to concentrate their forces to defeat major Union advances. Whenever they had opportunities, Davis encouraged offensives, even raids into Union territories. Those raids would take the war to the enemy, compelling the Northern public to taste the hazards of invasion. He also hoped to draw valuable supplies from the Northern populace. While there was some Confederate guerrilla fighting, the Davis administration never embraced it, largely because guerrilla warfare would have exposed their people and property, including slaves, to Federal harassment, destruction, or confiscation.

When both sides optimistically believed the war would be of relatively brief duration, Lincoln embraced Win-field Scott's Anaconda Plan, which called for a blockade, river gunboats to penetrate deep into the Confederacy, and Union armies to slice their way through the rebellious territory. As the war expanded, Lincoln urged his generals to target the Confederate armies as their objectives, not simply Confederate territory. With Rebel military forces crushed, resistance would collapse, Lincoln believed. He skillfully tapped diplomacy to keep European powers and their money out of the conflict, and he used a blockade to cut off supplies to the under-industrialized Confederacy. By proclaiming emancipation, Lincoln won over all advocates of human rights, co-opted those in the North who criticized him for his slowness to embrace the concept, and allowed him to use a weapon that worked doubly, depriving Southerners of a valuable laborers force and putting them to work for the Union cause as soldiers, sailors, teamsters, stevedores, cooks, and farmers. Where Lincoln failed as a strategist was in his belated grasp of the value of Grant and Sherman's raiding strategy. Both generals realized that by marching Union armies directly through the Confederacy, destroying military resources and terrifying Southern people, they could promote the destruction of Rebel armies without suffering the staggering losses of direct military campaigns. Lincoln acquiesced because of his faith in those commanders, a faith that events fully justified, not just in Georgia and the Carolinas but also in Virginia under Philip Sheridan. Those marches destroyed valuable supplies, severed rail connections, damaged Southern morale, and caused mass desertions as soldiers abandoned the army to look after their loved ones.

The greatest administrative failure was in the area of prisons. Neither side prepared adequately for the huge number of captives as both sections assumed that they would exchange or parole prisoners regularly. But two major factors resulted in the breakdown of exchange. The Confederates claimed that many of the prisoners Grant took at Vicksburg were paroled illegally and could therefore return to service without formal exchange. The second revolved around black soldiers. The Confederacy resisted notions of treating them like white soldiers, and refused to exchange them. In response, the trading cartel broke down and prison populations soared beyond anyone's expectations. Lacking adequate preparation, camps quickly became overcrowded. Food, clothing, and housing shortages developed, and sanitary problems escalated as a consequence of these conditions. Over fifty-six thousand men died from the spread of disease as a result of overcrowding and food and clothing shortages in these horrible prison camps.

Confederate and Union Politics

In the political arena, the Confederate Congress exhibited some foresight when it established conscription and passed innovative taxing legislation, but it generally got mired in the inconsequential and failed to address many important issues in a timely way. Congress never passed legislation to flesh out a Supreme Court and other important pieces of legislation died of inertia or petty squabbles. Quite a number of legislators used the halls of Congress as a forum in which to bash Davis, his appointees, and the policies they opposed. Davis's popular election to the presidency in 1861 was unopposed, but administration critics had already begun to complain publicly. The congressional elections of 1863 reflected the public's growing disillusionment. When the second Congress convened in May 1864, clear opponents of Davis fell just short of a majority in both houses. Without organized political parties, however, opposition to the Davis administration splintered. In just one instance did Congress override a presidential veto, and only on a minor postage bill.

Lincoln's relationship with Congress and his own party varied. Early in his administration, with Republicans in the clear majority after secession, Congress passed into law all of the party's important planks for promoting economic growth and opportunity: an increase in the tariff; a homestead bill that offered free western land to anyone agreeing to settle on it; land subsidies for the construction of a transcontinental railroad; and federal land grants to promote agricultural and mechanical colleges. In addition to war legislation, Congress established the first national currency in the Legal Tender Act. Yet the president's relations with Congress and his own party waxed and waned in accordance with progress in the war. The failure of eastern campaigns in 1862, perhaps compounded by an initial backlash to the Emancipation Proclamation, resulted in Republican losses at the polls that year.

Numerous individuals within the Republican Party came to believe that Lincoln was not up to the job of president. They began lobbying to dump him from the 1864 ticket, rallying around John C. Frémont or Salmon Chase. Like so many other people, both men and their supporters underestimated Lincoln's political savvy, and the president outmaneuvered them to secure renomination.

Much has been made about divisions between Lincoln and the more extreme wing in his own party, the Radical Republicans. In fact, Lincoln generally got along with the radical element. His differences with them were often minor policy distinctions, issues of timing or arguments over legislative versus executive power, not necessarily policy objectives.

Many administration critics outside the Republican Party, fueled by wartime failures, huge casualty lists, the draft, emancipation, and civil rights violations, organized into the Peace Democrats. These Copperheads, as supporters of the war called them, made some election gains in 1862, and their leading spokesman, Clement L. Vallandigham, almost won the governorship of Ohio in 1863.

During the difficult days in the summer of 1864, with the armies of both Grant and Sherman apparently bogged down, and Confederate Jubal Early threatening Washington, it appeared to Lincoln that he would not win reelection. The Democratic Party nominated for president the former general George B. McClellan, a pro-war administration critic, on a peace platform. Yet Lincoln stayed the course, and the war issue turned his way when Sheridan defeated Early and Sherman captured Atlanta. With the overwhelming support of Union soldiers, who detested the Copperheads, Lincoln and the Union Party (a coalition of Republicans and pro-war Democrats) swept the 1864 election.

Between his reelection and his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth in April 1865, Lincoln endorsed several important initiatives to help those who had been held in bondage to succeed after the war. He pressed for passage and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery; encouraged and signed into law the Freedmen's Bureau Bill, which created an organization to assist blacks in the transition from slavery to freedom; and began discussing with close political friends the idea of giving blacks the vote.

Davis and Lincoln As Leaders

Most modern scholars believe that Jefferson Davis did a competent job as Confederate president under extremely adverse circumstances. However, his inability to under-stand alternative viewpoints and his lack of personal charm served him badly. The distinction of Lincoln, on the other hand, was discernible not in the enactment of laws through his advocacy, nor in the adoption of his ideals as a continuing postwar policy, nor even in his persuasion of Republicans to follow his lead. Rather, the qualities that marked him as a leader were vision, personal tact, fairness toward opponents, popular appeal, dignity and effectiveness in state papers, absence of vindictiveness, and withal a personality that was remembered for its own uniqueness while it was almost canonized as a symbol of the Union cause. Military success, though long delayed, and the dramatic martyrdom of his assassination must also be reckoned as factors in Lincoln's fame. On the Southern side, the myth of the lost cause has diminished the true role of slavery in the war and has elevated the reputation of numerous talented Confederate individuals, most notably Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, to extraordinary heights.

The Consequences of the War

The cost of the war was staggering. Some 258,000 Confederates soldiers gave their lives for slavery and an independent nation; more than 360,000 Federals paid the ultimate price for the union. In addition, one-half million sustained wounds in the war and untold thousands permanently damaged their health by contracting wartime illnesses. From a monetary standpoint, the best guess places the cost of the war at $20 billion. The Confederate States alone suffered an estimated $7.4 billion worth of property damage. In fact, so devastated was the Southern economy that it was not until well into the twentieth century that its annual agricultural output reached the 1860 level.

Among the other consequences of the war, the union was established as inviolate. The central government would continue to increase its power at the expense of the states, and the Northern vision of rights, economic opportunity, and industrialization would prevail. For African Americans, in addition to the abolition of slavery forever, the Fourteenth Amendment granted them citizenship. Unfortunately, the court system refused to apply the due process and equal protection clause of that amendment to African Americans, and it was not long before whites regained control in the South and stripped blacks of many of their newfound rights. Southern whites even managed to circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote. All the while, as Southern whites restored themselves to power and forced blacks into a subordinate position, a Northern public, tired of war and reform, acquiesced. It took another one hundred years for blacks to gain their civil liberties.


Boritt, Gabor S., ed. Why the Confederacy Lost. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Cooper, William C., Jr. Jefferson Davis, American. New York: Knopf, 2000.

Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

———. Look Away!; A History of the Confederate States of America. New York: Free Press, 2002.

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

———, ed. Why the North Won the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1960.

Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Gienapp, William E. The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852– 1856. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Glatthaar, Joseph T. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. New York: Free Press, 1990.

Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Paludan, Phillip Shaw. "A People's Contest": The Union and the Civil War, 1861–1865. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

Roland, Charles P. An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1991.

Thomas, Emory M. The Confederate Nation, 1861–1865. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Joseph T.Glatthaar


See alsoAntietam, Battle of ; Appomattox ; Army, Confederate ; Army, Union ; Assassinations, Presidential ; Atlanta Campaign ; Bull Run, First Battle of ; Bull Run, Second Battle of ; Chattanooga Campaign ; Chickamauga, Battle of ; Cold Harbor, Battle of ; Confederate States of America ; Confiscation Acts ; Conscription and Recruitment ; Contraband, Slaves as ; Copperheads ; Donelson, Fort, Capture of ; Draft Riots ; Emancipation Proclamation ; Fredericksburg, Battle of ; Freedmen's Bureau ; Gettysburg, Battle of ; Inflation in the Confederacy ; Legal Tender Act ; Nashville, Battle of ; New Orleans, Capture of ; Petersburg, Siege of ; Radical Republicans ; Richmond Campaigns ; Sanitary Commission, United States ; Seven Days' Battles ; Sherman's March to the Sea ; Shiloh, Battle of ; Slavery ; Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of ; States' Rights in the Confederacy ; Suffrage: African American Suffrage ; Union Party ; Vicksburg in the Civil War ; White House of the Confederacy ; Wilderness, Battles of the ; andvol. 9:Benjamin Butler's Report on Contrabands of War ; A Confederate Blockade-Runner ; Emancipation Proclamation ; Gettysburg Address ; Head of Choctow Nation Reaffirms His Tribe's Position ; Robert E. Lee's Farewell to His Army ; Letter to President Lincoln from Harrison's Landing ;Letters from Widows to Lincoln Asking for Help ; Prisoner at Andersonville ; Second Inaugural Address ; South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession .

Civil War

views updated May 11 2018


The Civil War was the greatest transforming event in American culture. Its memories continue to haunt and inspire people, and it is impossible to imagine what the United States would look like today had it never happened. With some 620,000 deaths, more Americans died in the conflict than in all other wars combined until Vietnam. More than 10 percent of the population was directly involved, and almost every American had a close friend or family member who was killed or maimed in the war. The largest expenditure in a few Southern states after the war was payment for prosthetic limbs to its veterans. The war brought a centralized nation-state, a national income tax, conscription, and the emergence of large bureaucratic and regimented organizations in both the public and private sectors.

Slavery was of course the root of the war. But from the nation's founding (when the process of gradual emancipation began in the North) until 1850, the North and South agreed on a series of compromises that prevented the powder keg of slavery from exploding. The first compromise followed the crisis in 1819 over Missouri entering the Union as a slave state, which erupted "like a firebell in the night," as Thomas Jefferson put it (Life and Selected Writings, p. 698). It was the first major crisis over slavery, and it shattered a tacit agreement between the two regions that had been in place since the Constitution. Under the terms of the agreement, the North would not interfere with slavery in Southern states, and the South would recognize slavery as an evil that should be discouraged and eventually abolished whenever it was safe and feasible to do so. The agreement reflected the belief, shared by most of the Founding Fathers and framers of the Constitution, that slavery was wrong, the equivalent of America's "original sin," according to James Madison (quoted in Mellon, p. 158).

The Missouri crisis established the basic debates over slavery that persisted until the Civil War. During the controversy, the New York congressman James Tallmadge included an amendment that provided for gradual emancipation of Missouri's slaves, much as other Northern states had done. Northerners worried that if slavery became legally entrenched in Missouri, it would spread throughout the West. Rufus King, another New Yorker, was the first politician to apply a "higher law" to slavery; he stated that any law upholding slavery was "absolutely void, because [it is] contrary to the law of nature, which is the law of God" (Ernst, p. 372). The higher-law thesis would become a central rhetorical weapon in the writings of immediate abolitionists (those advocating an immediate end to slavery), including Freedom's Journal (1827–1829), the nation's first black newspaper; David Walker's Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829); William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator (1831–1865); and the organs of the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Liberty Party, the nation's first abolitionist party. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe all based their antislavery arguments on the higher-law thesis.

Southerners responded to the Missouri crisis by saying that Congress had no power to exclude slavery even in unorganized territories. They worried about losing representation in Congress, and with cotton production and slave prices on the rise, they became much more belligerent in their quest for national power and their defense of slavery. Restricting slavery, they said, implied eventual emancipation and racial equality. By the 1830s most Southern writers had abandoned the beliefs of their forefathers and viewed slavery as a positive good for masters, slaves, and society at large. Implicit in their proslavery rhetoric was their assumption that blacks were subhuman, more akin to domesticated animals than to humans.

The Missouri crisis was in essence a battle over the western frontier, which each side sought to control. In the compromise, which averted disunion and war, Missouri entered the Union as a slave state; but slavery was excluded from the remaining, unsettled portions of the Louisiana Territory north of 36° 30′ north latitude, the same latitude as the southern border of Missouri.

The frontier became the imaginative site where the battle over slavery and the future of America got played out. It was also a site occupied by Native Americans, who in the minds of Northern and Southern whites, needed to vanish to pave the way for American expansion. Some of the most popular and critical works of American literature beginning in the 1820s took as their setting the frontier, from James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales (1823–1841) and Lydia Maria Child's stories and novel Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times (1824) to Caroline Kirkland's A New Home—Who'll Follow? (1839) and the southerner William Gilmore Simms's fiction. The frontier became the site where writers explored the "rules of coexistence" between racially diverse groups of people, according to the cultural critic Jane Tompkins (p. 119). For many American writers, the frontier would determine the fate of America; it would also distinguish American from European literature, which had no comparable interracial frontier to draw on.

Political debates over slavery and the frontier were averted for more than twenty years after the Missouri Compromise, until 1845, when Texas entered the Union as a slave state. This period of illusory calm stemmed from two factors. First, from 1819 until 1845 there was no new territorial expansion, and under the terms of the Missouri Compromise, existing territories petitioned for statehood in pairs, with one free and one slave state entering the Union together. Second, from 1836 to 1844, the so-called gag rules automatically tabled all abolitionist petitions in Congress and effectively prevented explosive debates on the subject of slavery.

The annexation of Texas in early 1845 outraged northerners. John Quincy Adams, the last living Founding Father and a staunch antislavery congressman, described it as a "calamity" in his diary: "the day passes, and leaves scarcely a distinct trace upon the memory of anything, and precisely because . . . the heaviest calamity that ever befell myself and my country was this day consummated" (p. 574). As Adams anticipated, the annexation of Texas provoked hostilities with Mexico, which led in 1846 to the Mexican-American War. The war was perpetrated by southerners including President James K. Polk, and their sympathizers, in order to acquire more slave territory. It virtually doubled the size of the Union, bringing in California and the entire Southwest. Protests occurred throughout the North. Henry David Thoreau abandoned society for Walden Pond on 4 July 1845, partly in response to Southern belligerence. And the Free-Soil Party emerged out of the Liberty Party, offering a more conservative and inclusive alternative to the Liberty Party's radical platform. Free-Soilers sought to prohibit the further spread of slavery, which they hoped would lead to its ultimate extinction. The Liberty Party advocated an immediate end to slavery and was the party of choice among Northern blacks, including Frederick Douglass, James McCune Smith, and Henry Highland Garnet. But by the late 1840s, members also accepted violent resistance to slavery.


In the wake of the Mexican-American War the nation was on the verge of civil war, which was averted only by the Compromise of 1850. The compromise consisted of five basic parts, the most onerous of which was a stringent fugitive slave law that denied suspected fugitives the right to a jury trial and virtually legitimated slave stealing. The Fugitive Slave Law converted countless northerners to the antislavery cause. In their eyes the law put the federal government in the business of manhunting. And since all citizens could now be required to hunt down suspected fugitives, northerners could no longer wash their hands of slavery. The Fugitive Slave law inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) to write Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly (1852); and these two pieces of writing—the legislation and the novel—greatly exacerbated sectional hostilities and led to secession and war.

The Compromise of 1850 achieved the opposite of its intentions. Americans were increasingly unwilling to compromise, or to accept limits, the rule of law, and traditional boundaries. It is not coincidental that Herman Melville published one of the nation's great novels, Moby-Dick (1851), in the immediate wake of the Compromise of 1850. It highlights the costs of denying limits, ignoring rules, and seeking to vanquish all opposing, unknown forces in life. The black abolitionist James McCune Smith (1813–1865), who was one of the foremost intellectuals of the era, appreciated the political symbolism of the novel. Writing to his friend Frederick Douglass in Douglass's newspaper, he likened the Pequod, the whaling ship in Moby-Dick, to the ship of state in American politics. Captain Ahab, the ship's captain, like the leaders of America, were in pursuit of the wrong thing: the white whale, symbol of all evil, on the one hand; whiteness and respect for white laws on the other hand. The leaders of both settings, said McCune Smith, were thus sacrificing "the one thing needed in each society—human brotherhood—and the belief that all men are by nature free and equal" (quoted in Stauffer, p. 66). By ignoring the multiracial makeup of their country, American leaders were following the plight of the Pequod, in McCune Smith's estimation, and were heading toward destruction and death. His letter to Douglass, titled "Horoscope," was more accurate than he knew.

In effect civil war broke out even before the explosions shook Fort Sumter in April 1861. Small battles erupted when slave catchers attempted to arrest fugitives, and there were casualties at Boston and Christiana, Pennsylvania. In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened the northern territories of Kansas and Nebraska and repealed the Missouri Compromise, creating a battleground in Kansas. The Kansas Territory erupted in guerrilla-style civil war from 1855 to 1858 and led to the founding of the Republican Party, the demise of the Whig Party, and the destabilization of the two-party system. In 1857 the Supreme Court declared the Republican Party unconstitutional in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford case. In his opinion Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Southern slave owner, argued that Congress had no power to legislate slavery in territories or states; that blacks were "beings of an inferior order . . . so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit" (quoted in Finkelman, p. 61). In the wake of the Dred Scott decision, numerous black writers abandoned their faith in American ideals and advocated emigration.

The last spark leading to disunion was John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859, shortly before the 1860 presidential election. Brown's small army of sixteen whites and five blacks, and his "provisional constitution" that would govern those areas he hoped to liberate from slavery, terrified the South. The insurgents were captured, convicted of treason and murder, and Brown was sentenced to hang on 2 November. Although Abraham Lincoln and other Republicans sought to distance themselves from Brown, most southerners believed that he symbolized the spirit of the Republican Party and the North in general. While northerners considered Brown a madman and murderer, they also called him a martyr and respected his principled actions. During his imprisonment and trial, his prison writings (among the most powerful of the genre) were distributed throughout the North. The sympathetic outpouring for him, led by Lydia Maria Child, Thoreau, and Emerson, who said that Brown would "make the gallows like the cross" (quoted in Stauffer, p. 37), possibly helped Lincoln get elected. And in the immediate wake of Lincoln's election, Southern states began seceding.

The road to disunion contained some of America's most memorable literature: the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller; the autobiographical writings of Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and John Quincy Adams; the poetry of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; the speeches of Douglass, Lincoln, Charles Sumner, Theodore Parker, and Daniel Webster; the journalism of William Lloyd Garrison, Horace Greeley, and Douglass; and the fiction of Stowe, Child, Fanny Fern, Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Not all of these writers responded directly to sectional tensions; they often wrote in symbolic language, addressing the irreconcilable hopes and utopian ideals, as well as the costs, of American dreaming.


As Lincoln famously said in his second inaugural in March 1865, each side "read[s] the same bible, and pray[s] to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other" (p. 450). Well before the war, each side believed in a vision, sanctioned by God, of what the good society looked like. And each side fought and was willing to sacrifice everything to preserve its respective vision. For the South, this vision was the agrarian way of life, supported and upheld by slavery and governed by "natural aristocrats" who would create an eventual empire of slavery. Southern leaders borrowed from Aristotle, who articulated a natural slave ideal based on the premise that some men were born to rule and others to do the basic work of society. The North's vision of the good society was the free labor ideal, premised on the assumption that one could begin a career as an employee or apprentice and through hard work and the acquisition of a craft eventually become an independent artisan or entrepreneur and employ the next generation. Each vision threatened the other: northerners believed that southerners sought to extend slavery into every territory and state. And southerners thought that the North sought to abolish slavery throughout the nation.

What neither side understood was that the economic and industrial forces unleashed by the war not only helped to destroy slavery (through the manufacture of weapons, equipment, and railroads); they hastened the end of the free labor ideal. By waging total war to defend an older America, the North assured the demise of its own society as well as that of the agrarian and aristocratic South. Thus, one of the tragic ironies of the war, as the historian Eric Foner has noted, was that "each side fought to defend a distinct vision of the good society, but each vision was destroyed by the very struggle to preserve it" (p. 33).

Herman Melville (1819–1891) was one of the few Northern writers who understood such transforming effects of the war. In his poem from Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), "The Conflict of Convictions," he points to the transformation of the nation:

Power unanointed may come—
Dominion (unsought by the free)
And the Iron Dome,
Stronger for stress and strain,
Fling her huge shadow athwart the main;
But the Founders' dream shall flee.

(P. 17)

The power of the federal government, here symbolized by the "Iron Dome," would fling her shadow across the Main Streets of America and impose unprecedented dominion on communities and towns, thus destroying the founders' dream of a loose confederation of states and a decentralized government.

The transformation of culture by the war was reflected in the very language that Americans used to define themselves: before the war they referred to themselves in the plural case ("the United States of America are . . ."); after the war they used the singular ("the United States of America is . . ."). The change of case reflected a much greater cultural transformation, from a weak to powerful central government, from small shops to big business, and unrestricted capitalist expansion at levels that were previously unimaginable.

During the four years of war, few of the nation's prominent white male writers were productive. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) captured the war's relationship to established male writers in a letter to a friend in 1862: "I feel as if the great convulsion were going to make an epoch in our literature as in everything else (if it does not annihilate all), and that when we emerge from the war-cloud, there will be another and better . . . class of writers than the one I belong to" (quoted in Masur, p. 177). He worked in vain to complete three novels during the war, but they remained unfinished when he died in 1864. "War continues to interrupt my literary industry," he wrote a year before his death; "and I am afraid it will be long before Romances are in request again, even if I could write one" (Letters, p. 427). Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) likewise published little during the war. Walt Whitman (1819–1892), who worked as a nurse during the war, captured a sense of the futility of representing it in prose, as he wrote in his 1875 memoir, Memoranda during the War: "The real war will never get in the books" (quoted in Masur, p. 281). The normally prolific output of William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870) dwindled to one short novel during the four years of conflict. "I am literally doing nothing in letters," he confided to a friend. "It will need a year of peace to bring me back to that calm mood which Literature demands. . . . Literature, poetry especially, is effectually overwhelmed by the drums, & the cavalry, and the shouting" (quoted in Masur, pp. 213, 218).

Some scholars, especially the critics Edmund Wilson and Daniel Aaron, have taken these comments and the paucity of writings by white literary men as emblematic of all literature during the war. "The period of the American Civil War was not one in which belles lettres flourished," Wilson argued (p. ix). For Aaron, the war remained "unwritten": although "one would expect writers, the 'antennae of the race,' to say something revealing about the meaning, if not the causes, of the War," with "a few notable exceptions, they did not" (p. xviii).

There was, however, an enormous outpouring of popular literature during the four years of war, as the historian Alice Fahs has emphasized. Additionally, African American writers, from black soldiers to Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany, were enormously productive during the conflict, especially in essays and speeches; and Harriet Jacobs published her brilliant slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, in 1861. Women writers from Stowe and Child to Louisa May Alcott and Rebecca Harding Davis produced significant work, including Davis's masterpiece, Life in the Iron Mills (1861), and Alcott's Little Women (1868–1869), which became, after Uncle Tom's Cabin, the most successful novel of the nineteenth century and remained influential through the twentieth century.

From the end of the war until the 1880s, however, there was a dwindling of war-related publications. African American literary works published in the 1850s greatly exceeded the works published between 1867 and 1876, a period of legal freedom in which only two novels were published and slave narratives dwindled to a trickle. While black writers grappled with the problem of how to understand and represent freedom, many whites simply wanted to forget the conflict. As early as 1866, a subscription book publisher argued that people were "tired of being importuned to buy various Histories of the War" (quoted in Fahs, p. 313). Harper's Weekly, which had published hundreds of Civil War stories during the war, virtually abandoned the war as a topic or setting in the entire decade of the 1870s. As the publisher James Henry Harper noted, "the public was tired of reading about the war" (quoted in Fahs, p. 313).

The desire—indeed the need—to forget the conflict manifested itself in a disdain for professional soldiers. The Army and Navy Journal complained in 1883 that since the war, the designation of "soldier" seemed "to be a synonym for all that is degrading and low, and whenever" people meet someone "bearing it they cannot forbear showing their contempt" (quoted in Linderman, p. 272). Veterans themselves sought to forget, and a widespread disillusionment, or "void of disorientation," set in after the war. The Civil War historian Bruce Catton explained the collective feeling of veterans in these terms: they "lost something; if not life itself, then the dreams or illusions of youth which once seemed to give life its meaning. . . . Like Adam, they had been cast out of the enchanted garden, leaving innocence behind" (p. 159). This sense of loss affected the entire generation that lived through the war. The resurgence of interest in the war in the 1880s and 1890s came from a younger generation, which understood the war through memories and stories rather than experience. Yet the ways in which they understood and represented reality had been profoundly changed by the war.

Thus, the transformation of American literature after the war did not occur suddenly; it happened gradually, and did not become prominent until the 1880s, during the resurgence of interest in the war. A shift in the zeitgeist, or collective identity of America, had demanded a reconceptualization of what American literature should be, what forms it took, and what was deemed acceptable. The changes can be summarized in four broad categories: (1) the ascendancy of fiction; (2) the rise of realism; (3) the displacement of God; and (4) the masculinization of society.


From the Revolution to the Civil War, American statesmen and leaders were fearful of fiction. They accurately understood its subversive power: fiction empowered individuals; it catered to people's passions, fancies, and whims, which threatened republican ideas of order and rationality. At least through President Andrew Jackson's administration, politicians were quite vocal in their belief that fiction threatened the very fabric of society and led to chaos, licentiousness, destruction, and revolution. Jefferson captured the prevailing sentiment in 1818 when he referred to the novel as "poison":

When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real business of life. (Writings, pp. 1411–1412)

The nation's cultural gatekeepers were correct in fearing that fiction would fuel ambition, the bane of republican government, and threaten to subvert the existing hierarchy. Fiction offered people a way to imagine themselves anew. It gave them new visions, hopes, and dreams for transforming themselves as they read in books about everyday people who resembled them.

As a result of this attack, writers claimed that their prose was truthful in spirit if not in fact. They passed their novels off as nonfiction, referring to them as "narratives," "true" stories, or travelogues. From the Revolution until the Civil War, most of the nation's prominent writers—from Hector St. John Crevecoeur and Susanna Rowson to Charlotte Temple, Hannah Foster, Washington Irving, Cooper, Melville, and Stowe—suggested that their fiction was history or truthful representations of how things really were. (Melville, by beginning the narrative of Moby-Dick with the suggestion, "Call me Ishmael," raised questions about the veracity of the narrator; from a marketing point of view, it was a bad strategy, for his novel did not sell well.)

Early critics of the novel were in one sense prophetic in their fears that the novel would tear the nation asunder by unleashing passions that would be ungovernable. When Stowe met Lincoln at the White House in 1862, the president is said to have greeted her with the words: "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!" Lincoln was not the only one who believed that Stowe's novel was one of the causes of the Civil War. The social forces that led to war also brought the art of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Mark Twain (1835–1910) went so far as to blame the war on Sir Walter Scott, whose romances southerners had devoured throughout the antebellum era. Scott, Twain argued in Life on the Mississippi (1883),

sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm. . . . Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war. (P. 327)

After the Civil War, writers no longer apologized for their fiction or tried to pass it off as nonfiction. And cultural gatekeepers no longer had a moral problem with fiction per se. In a sense one could say that before the war, writers aspired to the condition of history and wrote "people's history"—a history of their new nation focusing on the little people. After the war, writers aspired to the condition of fiction; they dispensed with material facts in order to get at psychological truths and to understand the surreal apocalypse of war. Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), one of the most popular writers after the war, marks the transition; Little Women is a war novel focusing on the home front, and it does not apologize for its fictional form. By contrast, before the war, one of the nation's most popular writers, James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851), defined himself as a historian and was generally read as such. And Stowe, in the last chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin, sought to add legitimacy to her novel by asserting that "the separate incidents that compose the narrative are, to a very great extent, authentic, occurring, many of them, either under [Stowe's] own observation, or that of her personal friends" (p. 618). Soon after Uncle Tom's Cabin was published, Stowe published A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin: Presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon Which the Story Is Founded, Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work (1853), which corroborated with "facts and documents" her fictional story.

The ascendancy of fiction, and the commercial success of writers like Alcott, whose royalties far outstripped those of Cooper, related as well to the rise of a literary hierarchy during and after the war. The liter-ary marketplace was divided into three forms of fiction: sensational fiction, which was published in story papers and dime novels (that cost a dime to purchase); domestic fiction, which resembled the narratives published before the war; and "high" or "highbrow" literature, which was published, often serially, in such prestigious magazines as the Atlantic Monthly. The emergence of a rigid literary hierarchy was part of a larger cultural hierarchy brought on by the war. The new marketplace also provided many more outlets for writers to make a living from their work than had existed in the antebellum era.


The effects of the war also helped to destroy romantic and sentimental modes of writing, whereby writers sought to ennoble their readers, offer ideal visions of society, and avoid the seamy side of life. Realism, which first emerged in France in the 1830s as a term signifying a general rejection in the visual arts of academic models and "studio" work, emphasized firsthand experience and direct observation in a material world. Realism coincided with the rise of a regimented, corporate society; it sought to depict life in its daily, unheroic, and unsentimental rhythms. Realism rejected the bourgeois emphasis on stability, security, and middle-class values and focused on working-class or morally problematic protagonists.

Rebecca Harding Davis's (1831–1910) novella Life in the Iron Mills coincided with the firing on Fort Sumter and is sometimes referred to as one of the first works of American realism. Her novella highlights the exploitation of laborers that would only get worse after the war. The name of her protagonist, Hugh Wolfe, suggests his identity. He seems more like an animal, a beast of burden, than a human. Despite his poverty and lack of education, he creates beautiful sculpture out of the waste in the iron mill where he works. Yet he is no moralist in the traditional sense: he drinks and steals, and commits suicide while in jail. Yet these crimes are not considered moral transgressions: "But was there right or wrong for such as he?" the narrator asks of Hugh Wolfe. "What was right? And who had ever taught him?" (p. 68).

The popular and critical success of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885),written in the vernacular voice of a poor uneducated boy, would have been unthinkable before the war. While many antebellum writers experimented with dialect, their narrators were educated moralists. Stowe uses dialect throughout Uncle Tom's Cabin; but her narrator is a sentimental moralist. After the war such sentimentalism and overt moralism was increasingly treated with disdain by writers ranging from Davis and Twain to Henry James, William Dean Howells, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Edith Wharton.

With so many people having needlessly died in the conflict, irony and the abridgment of hope, moral certainty, and illusion became an acceptable, even desirable, mode of telling stories. Melville's line in Battle-Pieces, "what like a bullet can undeceive," fore-shadows the shattering of illusion and the rise of irony as a way to understand the world (p. 63). Irony replaced the loss of moral certainty. After the war, reformers increasingly concluded that "moral certainty" was something they "should sacrifice a little of in exchange for order," as Louis Menand has noted (p. 59). It is no coincidence that Melville and Hawthorne, the great ironists of the 1840s and 1850s, were also opposed to war and the moral certainties on which it was based. Hawthorne longed for peace throughout the war, even at the cost of letting the Confederacy remain a separate nation with slavery still intact: "Amputation [disunion] seems to me much the better plan, and all we ought to fight for is the liberty of selecting the point where our diseased members [the South] shall be lopt off" (quoted in Masur, pp. 165–166). In Battle-Pieces, Melville characterized the war spirit in the poem "Misgivings," saying, "Nature's dark side is heeded now" (p. 13). And in the last poem of the collection, "A Meditation," the poet describes how

. . . something of a strange remorse
Rebelled against the sanctioned sin of blood,
And Christian wars of natural brotherhood.

(P. 241)


The war created a profound crisis of faith in the collective consciousness of Americans. This crisis can be seen in the shift of soldiers' attitudes from the beginning to the end of the war. As the historian Gerald Linderman has shown in his 1987 book, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, Northern and Southern soldiers believed at the beginning of the war that with faith in God, coupled with courage, they would survive and conquer the enemy. But as the war dragged on, soldiers became disillusioned and no longer believed that God would protect them. They increasingly felt like objects rather than actors in events; and by war's end many had become fatalists. Soldiers on both sides reenlisted in the last year of the war in order to gain a thirty-day furlough, in which they could see loved ones before returning to battle and probable death. This displacement of God is understandable when one recognizes that most Americans in both the North and South defined the war in apocalyptic terms. With the end of the war, it was as though the apocalypse had come, but the new age was nowhere in sight.

In antebellum writings as diverse as Uncle Tom's Cabin, Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and the Leatherstocking Tales, God interferes with and affects the affairs of the world. He is everywhere in Uncle Tom's Cabin, which sold more copies than any other book in the nineteenth century save the Bible. Uncle Tom is a Christlike hero whose death will, the narrator predicts, redeem the sins of the nation. Even in works by Melville, in which the narrator has a much more nuanced attitude toward God, central characters such as Ahab in Moby-Dick see themselves as prophets fulfilling providential destiny.

After the war, writers increasingly began to secularize religious language rather than dispense with religious tropes altogether. The opening lines of Davis's Life in the Iron Mills offers a good example. The narrator describes a town filled with smoke, rolling "sullenly in slow folds from the great chimneys of the iron-foundries," settling in "slimy pools on the muddy streets" and seeping into the homes. "Here, inside," the narrator continues, "is a little broken figure of an angel pointing upward from the mantel-shelf; but even its wings are covered with smoke and black" (pp. 39–40). In iron mills, she suggests, the wings of angels get broken, much as the hopes of men are destroyed; the emblems of God have been cloaked with the smoke and grit by an indifferent world.

The opening pages of Huckleberry Finn similarly invert antebellum conceptions of God and spirituality. Huck hates being "sivilized" and rejects Christian morality. When Miss Watson tells him that Tom Sawyer will go to hell, Huck responds that he wants to go there as well. And in the climactic scene in the novel, Huck vows, "All right, then, I'll go to hell," after tearing up the letter he has written that upholds the law and reveals the whereabouts of the fugitive Jim (p. 223).

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), often referred to as a "representative American" because he transformed himself from the poorest of the poor (a slave) to an independent entrepreneur (newspaperman and orator), was representative in his attitudes toward God as well. From his first speeches in 1841 through the Civil War, he frequently called on God to help him and his nation, even though he rejected conventional doctrines and denominations. Like other black and white abolitionists, Douglass drew from scripture and sought to "come out" from corrupt institutions and churches. Throughout the 1850s he defined himself as a prophet and millennialist and treated the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bible as sacred texts. The principles of the Declaration of Independence, if fulfilled, "would release every slave in the world and prepare the earth for a millennium of righteousness and peace," he argued, adding, "I believe in the millennium" (Frederick Douglass Papers, pp. 529, 553). He likened the war to Revelations 12, where Michael and his angels battle against Satan. But after the war he gradually abandoned his faith in God as immanent or indwelling. A heaven on earth increasingly seemed to him a dangerous illusion. He became more secular in his worldview and no longer believed that God could change the world or affect the laws of nature. In his third autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, revised in 1892), he castigated blacks for believing that they could procure "help from the Almighty." By remaining true to their faith, blacks were "false to fact" and thus to history, he argued. Material facts and the laws of nature now trumped "all the prayers of Christendom" (p. 480).


The Civil War was the nation's first "total war," and it penetrated the home as well as the battlefield. The mentality of war destroyed the status of the domestic sphere as a sacred site that would ennoble and nurture its inhabitants. Women increasingly sought to participate in the battles of life along with men, in part as a means to gain power and basic rights.

As a result of the war, a crisis of manhood occurred among Northern white men from 1860 to 1870, which coincided with the dwindling output among New England men who had been prominent and prolific writers before the war. During the same decade, especially during the war years, women's writings burgeoned. "Woman has now taken to her pen . . . and is flourishing it with a vengeance," wrote a journalist in Frank Leslie's Illustrated on 10 October 1863 (quoted in Young, p. 7).

The crisis came to a head in 1869, when Stowe published "The True Story of Lady Byron's Life" in the Atlantic Monthly, followed by Lady Byron Vindicated: A History of the Byron Controversy in 1870. In these works Stowe attacked Lord Byron, accusing him of incest with his half sister, among other sins, and championing her friend Lady Byron as one of Europe's great intellectuals and literary figures. The male backlash was virtually unprecedented in American literature. The Atlantic, which catered primarily to literary men, lost fifteen thousand subscribers in the immediate wake of Stowe's article. Throughout the country, newspaper and magazine editors excoriated Stowe. Lord Byron had long been viewed as a symbol of the male liberator and freedom fighter par excellence. For numerous male readers, to attack Byron was tantamount to attacking the mass of Northern men who had fought in the war to save their nation.

The male backlash against Stowe reflected changes in literature and culture. The backlash was "a symptom of the polarization of literature along gender lines" that became especially prominent after the war, according to Stowe's biographer Joan Hedrick (p. 370). Stowe's attack on Lord Byron occurred at the end of a decade in which concepts of manhood were in a state of flux and would ultimately become codified in the 1880s by proponents of American realism and an embrace of masculine virtue.

John William De Forest's (1826–1906) Civil War novel, Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty (1867), a loosely autobiographical book based on his wartime experience, explored these new meanings of manhood. In the novel De Forest distinguished between Northern and Southern manhood; while the former is superior, it is not without its genteel, feminine qualities, which he viewed as problematic. But fortunately the war accelerated Northern combativeness and martial vigor, resulting in a healthier mixture of physical strength and moral fortitude, coupled with virtue, that constituted the essential ingredients of the "redeemed" nation's manhood. "The old innocence of the peaceable New England farmer and mechanic had disappeared from these war-seared visages and had been succeeded by an expression of hardened combativeness, not a little brutal," the narrator says happily (p. 248). And the novel's protagonist, Edward Colburne, has similarly been transformed: "He is a better and stronger man for having fought three years, out-facing death and suffering. Like the nation, he has developed and learned his powers" (p. 468).

Alcott brilliantly captured the emerging masculinization of culture in her two war novels, Hospital Sketches (1863) and Little Women (1868). In each book, her female protagonists become, in effect, men. More than virtually any other writer of her era, Alcott understood the crisis of manhood caused by the war; and she transformed herself and her leading characters into masculine women for profit, opportunity, and the good of society. While Lillie Ravenel, the female protagonist of Miss Ravenel's Conversion, learns to love and appreciate Northern manhood, Alcott and her characters become like men in order to vanquish their enemies, redeem their nation, and assert their independence. And she acknowledges that sentimentality can be dangerous, even fatal, in war. In effect, a war mentality had invaded her domestic sphere, and Alcott responded as a man.

This new masculinist ethos, which became widespread in the 1880s, is one of the defining aspects of realism. But affirmations of a martial ideal and the attack on sentimentalism were already in place in 1870, especially by a new generation of writers. Emerson and Hawthorne understood that the Civil War would create a new, realistic, and masculine form of representation. De Forest partly attributed the war to a crisis of gender, while also lauding its effects on Northern men. Alcott saw the war as a means to reconcile men and women, North and South. She attacked the corrupt influences of masculinity, especially men's efforts to control, govern, and exploit women, by creating masculine men. In a sense, she borrowed from her war experiences and affirmed a battlefield code, becoming like the enemy in order to subdue him. With the vast economic transformation after the Civil War and the ever-increasing exploitation of labor, war had become an apt metaphor for life.

See alsoAbolitionist Writing; Battle-Pieces;The Liberator;Proslavery Writing; Slave Narratives; Slave Rebellions; Slavery; Uncle Tom's Cabin


Primary Works

Adams, John Quincy. The Diary of John Quincy Adams, 1794–1845. New York: Longmans, Green, 1928.

Alcott, Louisa May. Hospital Sketches. 1863. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004.

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. 1868–1869. Edited by Elaine Showalter. New York: Penguin, 1989.

Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills. 1861. Edited by Cecelia Tichi. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1998.

De Forest, John William. Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty. 1867. Edited by Gary Scharnhorst. New York: Penguin, 2000.

Douglass, Frederick. The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series 1, vol. 3. Edited by John Blassingame. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985.

Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. 1881. Rev. ed. 1892. New York: Collier, 1962.

Finkelman, Paul. Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1997.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Letters, 1857–1864. Edited by Thomas Woodson et al. Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, volume 18. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1987.

Jefferson, Thomas. The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Adrienne Koch and William Peden. New York: Modern Library, 1944.

Jefferson, Thomas. Writings. Edited by Merrill Peterson. New York: Library of America, 1984.

Lincoln, Abraham. Selected Speeches and Writings. New York: Library of America, 1992.

Masur, Louis P., ed. The Real War Will Never Get in the Books: Selections from Writers during the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Melville, Herman. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War. 1866. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin: Presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon Which the Story Is Founded, Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work. 1853. Bedford, Mass.: Applewood, 1998.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Lady Byron Vindicated: A History of the Byron Controversy. Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1870.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. "The True Story of Lady Byron's Life." Atlantic Monthly, September 1869.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. 1852. Edited by Ann Douglas. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Civil Disobedience. 1854, 1849. New York: Penguin, 1983.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1885. Edited by Thomas Cooley. New York: Norton, 1999.

Twain, Mark. Life on the Mississippi. 1883. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Walker, David. David Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. 1829. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

Whitman, Walt. The Portable Walt Whitman. Edited by Mark Van Doren. New York: Penguin, 1973.

Secondary Works

Aaron, Daniel. The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War. New York: Knopf, 1973.

Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Brodhead, Richard H. Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Catton, Bruce. Reflections on the Civil War. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981.

Crane, Gregg D. Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Davis, David Brion. Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Ernst, Robert. Rufus King: American Federalist. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968.

Fahs, Alice. The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature of the North and South, 1861–1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Foner, Eric. Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776–1854. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black." In The New American Studies: Essays from Representations, edited by Philip Fisher, pp. 319–345. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Linderman, Gerald F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War. New York: Free Press, 1987.

McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992.

Mellon, Matthew T. Early American Views on Negro Slavery. Boston: Meador, 1934.

Menand, Louis. "John Brown's Body." Raritan 22, no. 2 (2002): 59.

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.

Rohrbach, Augusta. Truth Stranger Than Fiction: Race, Realism, and the U.S. Literary Marketplace. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Samuels, Shirley. Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Silber, Nina. The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865–1900. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Sizer, Lyde Cullen. The Political Work of Northern Women Writers and the Civil War, 1850–1872. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Slotkin, Richard. The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1986.

Stauffer, John. The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790–1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982.

Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. 1962. New York: Norton, 1994.

Young, Elizabeth. Disarming the Nation: Women's Writing and the American Civil War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

John Stauffer

Civil Wars

views updated May 23 2018

Civil Wars





Since the end of World War II (19391945), civil wars (wars within nations) have surpassed interstate wars (wars between nations) as the most frequent and destructive forms of organized armed conflict in the world. The Correlates of War Project, a major data archive on armed conflict, reports that there were only twenty-three interstate wars between 1945 and 1997, resulting in 3.3 million battle deaths. By contrast, there were more than four times as many civil wars (108), resulting in almost four times as many casualties (11.4 million; Sarkees 2000).

A second shift in the patterns of conflict is that until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, almost all of the civil wars that occurred since 1945 took place in third world nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By contrast, the interstate wars that punctuated the historical record of the three centuries prior to World War II took place primarily in Europe among the major powers of the international system (Holsti 1996). Yet from 1945 until 1991, Europe was almost completely free of armed conflict on its soil (Holsti 1992, p. 37; 1996).

A third salient pattern in the recent wave of civil wars is that once a nation experienced one civil war, it was very likely to experience a second one. The 108 civil wars in the Correlates of War data set occurred in only fifty-four nations. Only twenty-six of those nations had one and only one civil war, while the remaining twenty-eight nations had at least two and as many as five separate civil wars. Thus, for a certain subset of nations, civil war is a chronically recurrent condition.

One encouraging trend to emerge since the end of the Cold War is the willingness of the international community to broker negotiated settlements to civil wars and to support those settlements with peacekeeping forces. Nineteen of the twenty-six civil wars that ended in negotiated settlements were resolved after 1988, including United Nations (UN)mediated settlements to protracted civil wars in Cambodia, Mozambique, and El Salvador, to name but a few. Not all of these peace settlements have lasted: the peace established by settlement agreements in Angola, Colombia, and Lebanon, for example, later broke down into renewed civil war. However, when negotiated settlements are supported by UN peacekeeping forces, the resulting peace has proven to be rather durable (Fortna 2004; Doyle and Sambanis 2000).


The term civil war is used to describe organized armed conflict between the armed forces of a sovereign state and one or more rebel organizations drawn from the population of that nation. Two subtypes of civil war can be distinguished: revolutions and secessionist revolts. In a revolution, the rebels seek to overthrow the existing government and assume control of the state themselves. Civil wars in Nicaragua (19781979), El Salvador (1979 1992), and Cambodia (19701975, 19791991) are examples of revolutionary civil wars. In a secessionist revolt, the rebels seek not to take over the existing state but to gain independence from it by creating a second sovereign nation-state out of a portion of the territory of the original nation. The Tamil revolt in Sri Lanka that began in 1983, the Eritrean revolt against Ethiopia (1974 1990), and the Biafra revolt in Nigeria (19671970) are examples of secessionist revolts.

A further distinction among civil wars concerns whether they are ethnic conflicts or not. Among revolutionary civil wars, those that are nonethnic or ideological typically involved peasant-based insurgencies in nations where the agricultural sector dominates the economy. Where land ownership is concentrated in the hands of a small landed elite, the large peasant majority is often relegated to a life of poverty as landless or land-poor cultivators. When an authoritarian state employs repression to preserve the prerogatives of the landed elite against peasant-based dissident movements, revolutionary insurgencies can arise by drawing support from landless and land-poor peasants. The civil wars in El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala followed this pattern.

In ethnic conflicts, the same issues of inequality and repression generate the grievances that motivate rebels and their supporters. However, ethnicity adds another dimension to the conflict between state and society. In ethnic revolutions, ethnicity and inequality often coincide: those who are victims of various forms of inequality are from one ethnic group, while those who enjoy a disproportionate share of the advantages available in the nation are from a different ethnic group. Ethnic divisions add cultural and identity issues to the fuel of conflict. Members of one ethnic group fear the suppression of their culture, language, religion, and heritage at the hands of a regime dominated by a rival ethnic group. Where ethnic groups out of power are concentrated in geographic enclaves, their response to this ethnic security dilemma is often to launch a secessionist war aimed at establishing their homeland as a separate sovereign nation. The Eritrean secession from Ethiopia fits this pattern. Where ethnic groups are more intermixed geographically, groups out of power often resort to revolutionary violence in an attempt to overthrow a state dominated by their ethnic rivals and to establish themselves in power. The ethnic revolutions in Angola and Rwanda fit this pattern.


The observable patterns of conflict discussed earlier provide some clues as to the factors that make a nation more or less susceptible to the outbreak of civil war. The fact that until 1991 almost all civil wars occurred in third world nations suggests that factors common to third world nations but not postindustrial democracies or former Leninist regimes might be implicated in the causal process leading to civil war. One such feature is that almost all of these nations were at one time colonies of European powers. Colonial powers harnessed the economies of these regions to serve the demands of markets in Europe and North America. In so doing, they disrupted existing patterns of agricultural production for local markets, as well as the patterns of community organization that supported that production and provided indigenous communities with reliable survival strategies (Migdal 1988).

Decolonization may have conferred formal sovereignty on former colonies, but rarely did the departing colonial power endow the postcolonial state with the institutional capacity or economic wherewithal to develop a strong and effective state capable of providing its constituents with civil order and a reasonable level of material well-being. Lacking legitimacy based on effective performance, weak states came to perceive any dissident challengepeaceful or otherwiseas a threat to the state itself. The weak state responded with the one policy instrument at its disposal: military repression. Repression forced challengers to resort to violence of their own in order to advance their claims and defend themselves against the state. This cycle of violence begetting violence often escalated to civil war.

Empirical research on predictors of civil war onset provides support for the proposition that the weak state syndrome described above is associated with susceptibility to civil war. A number of correlates of the weak state syndrome consistently distinguish nations that experience civil war from those that do not. Not surprisingly, civil wars are more likely to occur among nations that have lower levels of economic development (Fearon and Laitin 2003; Collier and Hoeffler 1998). Where poverty is widespread, the opportunity costs of participating in armed rebellion are lower: participants have less to lose by joining an armed rebellion than would be the case were they more prosperous. Rebel recruiting is facilitated by low levels of economic well-being (Collier and Hoeffler 1998). Economic underdevelopment also constrains the capacity of the state to respond to dissident movements with accommodative reforms that might defuse tensions short of armed conflict.

Other dimensions of state strength affect a nations susceptibility to civil war as well. Although the evidence is mixed, there is some support for the proposition that both democracies and autocracies are less likely to experience civil war than weak authoritarian regimes (Henderson and Singer 2000; Auvinen 1997; Hegre et al. 2001). The institutions of democracy provide aggrieved groups with an alternative to violence as a means to seek redress of their grievances. Elected leaders have an electoral incentive to address those grievances with accommodative policies, and they risk electoral costs if they respond with repression. Highly autocratic regimes are also relatively immune to civil war because the overwhelming coercive capacity of such states precludes armed uprisings by repressing dissent preemptively.

It is the weak authoritarian regimes (anocracies) or nations undergoing the transition to democracy that are the most susceptible to civil war (Hegre et al. 2001). They lack both the institutional capacity to resolve popular grievances through accommodative policies and the coercive capacity to repress dissent preemptively. When faced with a dissident challenge, such regimes attempt to repress it but fail, confronting dissidents with the choice of withdrawing from politics and suffering in silence or adopting violent tactics of their own to overthrow the incumbent regime.


One feature of civil wars that has drawn considerable attention recently has been the question of their duration (how long they last) and their outcome (whether they end in a government victory, a rebel victory, or some sort of negotiated settlement). Civil wars do tend to last longer than interstate wars: the 108 civil wars described in the Correlates of War lasted an average of 1,665 days, whereas the twenty-three interstate wars lasted only 480 days on average. Because civil wars have lasted so long, new civil wars began at a faster rate than ongoing wars ended (until about 1994), with the result being a relentless accumulation of ongoing civil wars (Fearon 2004). The long duration of civil wars also accounts for their destructiveness. The rate at which casualties occur is usually lower in civil wars than in interstate wars; interstate wars are, on average, more intensely destructive. However, because civil wars last so much longer than interstate wars, their cumulative death toll usually exceeds that of interstate wars.

The duration of civil wars also affects their outcome. There is evidence that military victories by either the government or the rebels usually occur fairly early in the conflict if they occur at all. For rebel movements especially, the evidence suggests that if they are going to win, victory will occur within the first two or three years of the conflict. Governments, too, tend to win early if they win at all (Mason et al. 1999). Past some point (about eight to ten years into the civil war), neither side is likely to achieve military victory, and they settle into what William Zartman has termed a mutually hurting stalemate (1993, p. 24), whereby neither side has the capacity to defeat the other, but both sides have the capacity to deny victory to their rival.

It is at this point that civil wars become ripe for resolution. Third-party mediationusually by the United Nationscan bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict. While negotiated settlements are more likely than military victories to be followed by renewed conflict (Licklider 1995), negotiated settlements supported by UN peacekeeping forces are more likely to last (Fortna 2004; Doyle and Sambanis 2000). Peacekeepers provide both sides with credible guarantees that they can disarm and demobilize without fear of their rival violating the agreement and achieving through deception what they could not achieve on the battlefield (Walter 2002). Data from the UNs Department of Peacekeeping Operations indicate that forty-seven of the sixty peacekeeping operations established since 1945 have been deployed in civil wars, and forty-three of those were deployed after the cold war ended. Thus, UN brokering of peace agreements and deployment of peacekeeping forces have brought about a decline in the frequency, duration, and deadliness of civil wars, developments that offer some hope for future trends in the frequency, duration, and destructiveness of civil war.

SEE ALSO Coup dEtat; Destabilization; Diplomacy; Dissidents; Genocide; Guerilla Warfare; Lebanese Civil War; Peace; Spanish Civil War; U.S. Civil War; United Nations; Yugoslavian Civil War


Auvinen, Juha. 1997. Political Conflict in Less Developed Countries, 198189. Journal of Peace Research 34: 177195.

Collier, Paul, and Anke Hoeffler. 1998. On the Economic Causes of Civil War. Oxford Economic Papers 50 (4): 563573.

Correlates of War Project.

Doyle, Michael, and Nicholas Sambanis. 2000. International Peacebuilding: A Theoretical and Quantitative Analysis. American Political Science Review 94: 779801.

Fearon, James D. 2004. Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer Than Others. Journal of Peace Research 41 (3): 275301.

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T. David Mason

Civil War of 1917–1922

views updated May 29 2018

CIVIL WAR OF 19171922

The most decisive chapter of the Russian Revolution, the civil war raged between October 1917 and 1922. The traumatic experience of civil war served as a defining moment for the new Soviet state by embedding itself into both the people's and the state's outlook and behavior.

The origins of the Russian civil war can be found in the discrediting of the tsarist government that took place before World War I; in the social divisions that shaped politics before and during the Revolution of 1917; and in the Bolshevik leadership's belief in the importance of civil war, in the imminence of world revolution, and in the acceptability of applying coercion in setting up a dictatorship of the proletariat. Although historians disagree over when the civil war began, dating the event to the October Revolution of 1917 makes sense, because that is how contemporaries understood it. Moreover, armed opposition to the new Bolshevik government, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom ), arose immediately after October when officers of the Imperial Army, Mikhail Alexeyev, Lavr Kornilov, Anton Denikin, Alexei Kaledin, and others, formed the first counterforce known as the Volunteer Army, based in southern Russia.

During the civil war the Bolsheviks, or Reds (renamed "communists" in 1918), waged war against the Whites. A term used loosely to refer to all factions that battled against the Bolsheviks, the Whites were a more diverse group than the Bolshevik label of "counterrevolution" suggests. Those who represented the country's business and landowning elite did tend to express monarchist sentiments. In addition, Cossack military units that had enjoyed self-government and other privileges likewise held conservative political views. But many White officers opposed the autocracy and even harbored reformist beliefs.

Much more complicated were the Bolsheviks' relations with Russia's moderate socialists, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), and with both parties' numerous offshoots, who wished to establish a government that would include all socialist parties. The internecine struggle within the socialist camp persisted throughout the civil war, and flared up after the Bolsheviks routed the Whites in 1920. Fearing a White victory, the moderate socialists complicated this scenario by throwing their support behind the Reds at critical junctures. Moreover, left-wing factions within these parties allied themselves with the Bolsheviks. For instance, until mid-1918 the Bolsheviks stayed afloat in part owing to the support of the Left SRs, who broke from their parent party following the October Revolution of 1917 to join the Bolsheviks.

In some locales the Bolshevik-Left SR coalition even weathered the controversy over the Brest-Litovsk Peace with Germany, signed in March 1918, which otherwise sundered the alliance with the Left SRs, who withdrew from the Lenin government in protest. The peace ceded eastern Poland, the Baltic states, Finland, and Ukraine to Germany, as well as Transcaucasia to Turkey, in return for an end to hostilities. Ratifying the treaty sparked heated debate within the Communist Party, especially among the so-called Left Communists led by Nikolai Bukharin who backed the idea of a revolutionary war against Germany. Later, from September 1918 until October 1920, renegade Left SRs formed a new party called the Revolutionary Communists (RCs), who participated in a ruling coalition with the Bolsheviks in many Volga provinces and the Urals. The Bolshevik attitude toward the socialist groups that supported the Reds reflected the overall strength of Soviet power at any given time. When vulnerable, the Bolsheviks welcomed their socialist allies; otherwise the Bolsheviks sought to manipulate them through a process of co-optation amid repression.

Political opposition to the Bolsheviks became more resolved after they closed down the Constituent Assembly in January 1918. Elected just days after the October Revolution, the assembly was slated to determine Russia's political future. Although Lenin did not dare cancel the elections, he had no reservations about dispensing with the assembly after the SRs and related populist parties won a plurality of just under half of the votes cast. Capturing roughly a quarter of the popular vote, the Bolsheviks fared best in the cities and within the armed forces. Recognizing the need for a military force more formidable than the worker Red Guards who had backed the Bolsheviks' bid for power in October, Lenin established the Red Army under Leon Trotsky shortly after dispersing the Constituent Assembly. Trotsky recruited ex-tsarist officers to command the Reds, appointing political commissars to all units to monitor such officers and the ideological education of recruits. That spring, support for the Bolsheviks within the proletariat began to erode as the Mensheviks made a comeback.

This early phase of the civil war ended with a spate of armed conflicts in Russian towns along the Volga in May and June 1918 between Bolshevik-run soviets (councils) and Czechoslovak legionnaires. Prisoners of war from the Austro-Hungarian armies, the legionnaires had agreed to be transported across Siberia and from there to the Western front in order to join the Allies in the fight to defeat the Central Powers. The Czechoslovaks' clash with the Soviet government emboldened the SR opposition to set up an anti-Bolshevik government, the Committee to Save the Constituent Assembly, Komuch, in the Volga city of Samara in June 1918. Many delegates elected to the Constituent Assembly congregated there before the city fell to the Bolsheviks that November. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks expelled Mensheviks and SRs from local soviets, while the Kadets convened in the Siberian city of Omsk in June 1918 to establish a Provisional Siberian Government (PSG). The rivalry between Samara and Omsk resulted in the last attempt to form from below a national force to oppose Bolshevism, a state conference that met in Ufa in September and set up a five-member Directory after its French revolutionary namesake. But in November the military removed the socialists and installed Admiral Kolchak in power. Remaining official leader of the White movement until defeat forced him to resign in early 1920, he kept his headquarters in Siberia.

Although its role is often exaggerated, international ("Allied") intervention bolstered the White cause and fuelled Bolshevik paranoia, providing "evidence" for the party's depictions of the Whites as traitorous agents of imperialist foreign powers. Dispatching troops to Russia to secure military supplies needed in the war against Germany, the Allies deepened their involvement as they came to see Bolsheviks as a hostile force that promoted world revolution, renounced the tsarist government's debts, and violated Russia's commitment to its allies by concluding a separate peace with Germany. Allied intervention on behalf of the Whites became more active with the end of World War I in November 1918, when the British, French, Japanese, Americans, and other powers sent troops to Russian ports and rail junctures. Revolutionary stirrings in Germany, the founding of the Third Communist International in Moscow in March 1919, and the establishment of a soviet republic in Hungary at roughly the same time heightened the Allies' fears of a Red menace. Yet the Allied governments could not justify intervention in Russia to their own war-weary people. Lacking a common purpose and resolve, and often suspicious of one another, the Allies extended only half-hearted support to the Whites, whom they left in the lurch by withdrawing from Russia in 1919 and 1920 except for the Japanese who kept troops in Siberia for several more years.

Both Reds and Whites turned increasingly to terror in the second half of 1918, utilizing it as a substitute for popular support. Calls to overthrow Soviet power, followed by the assassination of the

German ambassador in July, which the Bolsheviks depicted as the start of a Left SR uprising designed to undercut the Brest-Litovsk Peace, provided the Bolsheviks with an excuse to repress their one-time radical populist allies and to undermine the Left SRs' popularity in the villages. Moreover, with Lenin's knowledge, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed on July 16, 1918. Following an attempt on Lenin's life on August 30, the Bolsheviks unleashed the Red Terror, a ruthless campaign aimed at eliminating political opponents within the civilian population. The Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution and Sabotage (Cheka), set up in December 1917 under Felix Dzerzhinsky, carried out the Red Terror. Seeking to reverse social revolution, the Whites savagely waged their own ideological war that justified the use of terror to avenge those wronged by the revolution. Putting to death communists and their sympathizers, and massacring Jews in Ukraine and elsewhere, the Whites were determined to sweep the "Germano-Bolsheviks" from power.

The Whites posed a more serious threat to the Red republic after the Allies defeated Germany in late 1918 and decided to back the Whites' cause. Soon, the Whites engaged the Reds along four fronts: southern Russia, western Siberia, northern Russia, and the Baltic region. Until their rout in 1920, White forces controlled much of Siberia and southern Russia, while the Reds, who moved their capital to Moscow in March 1918, clung desperately to the Russian heartland. The Whites' ambitious three-pronged attack against Moscow in March 1919 most likely decided the military outcome of their war against the Reds. Despite their initial success, the Whites went down in defeat that November, after which their routed forces replaced General Denikin with Petr Wrangel, the most competent of all of the White officers. Coinciding with an invasion of Russia by forces of the newly resurrected Polish state, the Whites opened one final offensive in the spring of 1920. When Red forces overcame Wrangel's army in November, he and his troops evacuated Russia by sea from the Crimea. In the meantime, the Bolsheviks' conflict with the Poles ended in stalemate; the belligerent parties signed an armistice in October 1920, followed by the Treaty of Riga in 1921, which transferred parts of Ukraine and Belorussia to Poland.

Apart from their military encounters with the Whites, the Bolsheviks also had to contend with a front behind their own lines because of the appeal of rival socialist parties and because Bolshevik economic policies alienated much of the working class and drove the peasantry to rise up against the requisitioning of grain and related measures. Known subsequently as war communism, the series of ad hoc policies designed to prosecute the war and to experiment with socialist economic principles was characterized by centralization, state ownership, compulsion, the extraction of surplusesespecially requisitioning of grain, forced location of labor, and a distribution system that rhetorically privileged the toiling classes. Despite the popularity of Bolshevik land reform, which placed all land in the hands of peasants, requisitioning and other measures carried out in 1919 with shocking brutality drove the peasantry into the opposition. The effect of Bolshevik economic policies on the starving and dying cities as well as the party's violations of the political promises of 1917 also turned workers anti-Bolshevik by civil war's end.

Studies tapping long-closed Russian archives underscore the vast scale of workers' strikes and violent peasant rebellions known collectively as the Green movement throughout Russia in early 1921. The enormity of the opposition convinced the communists to replace war communism with the New Economic Policy (NEP), which swapped the hated grain requisitioning with a tax in kind and restored some legal private economic activity. The necessity of this shift in policy from stick to carrot was made clear when, in early March 1921, sailors of the Kronstadt naval fortress rose up against the Bolsheviks whom they had helped bring to power. Demanding the restoration of Soviet democracy without communists, the sailors met with brutal repression that the party's top leaders sanctioned. Although most historians view the Kronstadt uprising, worker disturbances, the peasant movement, and the introduction of the NEP as the last acts of the civil war, after which the party mopped up remaining pockets of opposition in the borderlands, the famine of 1921 can be said to mark the real conclusion to the conflict, for it helped to keep the Bolsheviks in power by robbing the population of initiative. Holding the country in its grip until late 1923, the famine took an estimated five million lives; millions more would have perished without relief provided by foreign agencies such as the British Save the Children Fund and the American Relief Administration.

Moreover, the Bolshevik Party took advantage of mass starvation to end its stalemate with the Orthodox Church. Believing that a materialistic worldview needed to replace religion, the Bolsheviks had forced through a separation of church and state in 1917 and removed schools from church supervision. Once famine hit hard, the party leadership promoted the cause of Orthodox clergy loyal to Soviet power, so-called red priests, or renovationists, who supported the party's determination to use church valuables to finance famine relief. Party leaders allied with the renovationists out of expediency: They had every intention of eventually discarding them when they were no longer needed.

The defeat of the Whites, the end of the war with Poland, and famine made it possible for the Lenin government to focus on regaining breakaway territories in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, Siberia, and elsewhere, where issues of nationalism, ethnicity, religion, class, foreign intervention, and differing levels of economic development and ways of life complicated local civil wars. Russians had composed approximately 50 percent of the tsarist empire's multinational population in which more than a hundred languages were spoken. An increasingly contradictory and even repressive tsarist nationality policies had given rise to numerous grievances among the non-Russian population, but only a minority of intellectuals in the outlying areas before World War I had championed the emergence of independent states. The Revolution of 1917, however, gave impetus to national movements as the provisional government struggled to maintain its authority in the face of potent new challenges from some of the country's minorities.

In January 1918 the Commissariat of Nationalities headed by Joseph Stalin confirmed the Soviet government's support of self-determination of the country's minorities, and characterized the new state as a Federation of Soviet Republics. The first Soviet constitution of July 1918 reiterated these claims, without specifying the nature of federalism. The cost of survival, however, made it necessary to be pragmatic and flexible. For this reason, Lenin soon made it clear that the interests of socialism were more important than the right of self-determination.

Indeed, by 1918 independent states had arisen on the Soviet periphery. Fostered by intellectuals and politicians, local nationalisms tended to develop into political movements with popular support in territories most affected by industrial development. Often, however, class and ethnic conflicts became entangled as these territories turned into major battlefields of the civil war and arenas of foreign intervention.

For instance, Ukraine, where the activities of peasant rebel Nestor Makhno obscured the intertwining hostilities among Reds, Whites, Germans, and Poles, changed hands frequently. Under the black flag of anarchism, Makhno first formed a loose alliance with the communists, but then battled against Red and White alike until Red forces crushed his Insurgent Army in 1920. In the Caucasus, Georgian Mensheviks, Armenian Dashnaks, and Azeri Musavat established popular regimes in 1917 that attempted a short-lived experiment at federalism in 1918 before hostilities between and within the groups surfaced, leaving them to turn to foreign protectors. By 1922 the Red Army had retaken these territories, as well as the mountain regions of the northern Caucasus, where they fought against religious leaders and stiff guerrilla resistance. In Central Asia the Bolsheviks faced stubborn opposition from armed Islamic guerrillas, basmachi, who resisted the Bolshevik takeover until 1923. The Bolsheviks' victory over these breakaway territories led to the founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in December 1922. Smaller than its predecessor, the new Soviet state had lost part of Bessarabia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as part of Ukraine, Belorussia, and Armenia. Granting statehood within the framework of the Russian state to those territories it had recaptured, the Soviet government set up a federation, a centralized, multiethnic, anti-imperial, socialist state.

In accounting for the Bolshevik victory in the civil war, historians have emphasized the relative discipline, self-sacrifice, and centralized nature of the Bolshevik Party; the party's control over the Russian heartland and its resources; the military and political weaknesses of the Whites, who, concentrated on the periphery, relied on Allied bullets and misunderstood the relationship between social policy and military success; the local nature of peasant opposition; the inability of the Bolsheviks' opponents to overcome their differences; the tentative nature of Allied intervention; the effectiveness of Bolshevik propaganda and terror; and, during the initial stage of the conflict, the support of workers and the neutrality of peasants. In defeating the Whites, the Bolsheviks had survived the civil war, but the crisis of early March 1921 suggests that mass discontent with party policies would have continued to fuel the conflict if the party had not ushered in the NEP and if the famine had not broken out.

The Russian civil war caused wide-scale devastation; economic ruin; loss of an estimated seven to eight million people, of whom more than five million were civilian casualties of fighting, repression, and disease; the emigration of an estimated one to two million others; and approximately five million deaths caused by the famine of 19211923. Moreover, the civil war destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, producing a steep decline in the standard of living as industrial production fell to less than 30 percent of the pre-1914 level and the amount of land under cultivation decreased sharply. The civil war also brought about deurbanization, created a transient problem of enormous proportions, militarized civilian life, and turned towns into breeding grounds for diseases. Furthermore, war communism strengthened the authoritarian streak in Russian political culture and contributed to the consolidation of a one-party state as the population turned its attention to honing basic survival strategies.

The price of survival was the temporary naturalization of economic life, famine, and the entrenchment of a black market and a system of privileges for party members. While the sheer enormity of the convulsion brought about a primitivization of the entire social system, it was not simply a matter of regression, but also of new structuring, which focused on the necessities of physical survival. The social fabric absorbed those everyday practices that had been mediated or modified in these extreme circumstances of political chaos and economic collapse, as the desire to survive and to withdraw from public life created problems that proved difficult to solve and undermined subsequent state efforts to reconfigure society. In this regard the civil war represented a formative, even defining experience for the Soviet state.

See also: bolshevism; brest-litovsk peace; famine of 19211922; green movement; kolchak, alexander vasilievich; left socialist revolutionaries; lenin, vladimir ilich; menhsheviks; october revolution; red guards; red terror; socialist revolutionaries; sovnarkom; war communism; white army


Brovkin, Vladimir N. (1994). Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War: Political Parties and Social Movements in Russia, 19181922. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Figes, Orlando. (1997). A People's Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution. New York: Viking.

Holquist, Peter. (2002). Making War, Forging Revolution: Russia's Continuum of Crisis, 19141921. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kenez, Peter. (1977). Civil War in South Russia, 19191920: The Defeat of the Whites. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Koenker, Diane P.; Rosenberg, William G.; and Suny, Ronald G., eds. (1989). Party, State, and Society in the Russian Civil War: Explorations in Social History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mawdsely, Evan. (1987). The Russian Civil War. Boston: Allen & Unwin.

McAuley, Mary. (1991). Bread and Justice: State and Society in Petrograd, 19171922. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Patenaude, Bertrand M. (2002). Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Pereira, G. O. (1996). White Siberia: The Politics of Civil War. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Raleigh, Donald J. (2002). Experiencing Russia's Civil War: Politics, Society, and Revolutionary Culture in Saratov, 19171922. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Roslof, Edward E. (2002). Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Revolution, 19051946. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Smele, Jonathan. (1996). Civil War in Siberia: The Anti-Bolshevik Government of Admiral Kolchak, 19181920. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Swain, Geoffrey. (1996). The Origins of the Russian Civil War. London: Longman.

Donald J. Raleigh

Civil War

views updated May 18 2018

Civil War

The Emancipation Proclamation did more than free the slaves in those states that were in rebellion. After encouraging freed slaves to refrain from violence (except in self-defense) and to work for wages, Lincoln continued: "And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service." This did not mark the beginning of black military service in the United States, or even in the Civil War. Despite official bans on black service, African American men had been welcomed into the ranks during wartime (though they were not so welcome during peace) since the Revolution.

The Right to Fight

Kansas, South Carolina, and Louisiana had already formed unofficial all-black regiments, many of whom had seen combat by the time Lincoln's proclamation was issued. Still, the numbers had been small, and the very idea was controversial. "We want you damn niggers to keep out of this," one Cincinnati man wrote. "This is a white man's war" (McPherson 1965, p. 29). Many blacks disagreed. After listing the freedoms available in the North, the New York newspaper the Anglo-African asked: "Are these rights worth the having? If they are then they are worth defending with all our might and at any cost. It is illogical, unpatriotic, nay mean and unmanly in us to shrink from the defense of these rights and privileges" (McPherson 1965, p. 34). Former slave Frederick Douglass agreed: "Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States" (Litwack 1979, p. 72).

The Emancipation Proclamation opened the way for African American military service on a large scale. Douglass and other prominent African Americans, such as William Wells Brown and Sojourner Truth, served as recruiters. Two of Douglass's sons served in the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. By the end of the war, around 180,000 blacks would serve in the U.S. Army, with another 19,000 in the Navy; only 1 percent of the North's population, they comprised 10 percent of the Union Army (Cullen 1992, p. 81).

The officers in the USCT (United States Colored Troops) were white. Many had volunteered for this particular service, often having been active in abolitionist movements before the war. Blacks who had been serving as officers in preexisting regiments were pressured into stepping down. The troops themselves were not homogenous; some had escaped from slavery only days or weeks before, others had been born into freedom. Despite the antislavery sentiments of the white officers, even the most well-meaning of them could at times be condescending and paternalistic. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a New England abolitionist and colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, referred to his troops as "Sambo." He also noted that "they are simple, docile, and affectionate almost to the point of absurdity. The same men who stood fire in the open field with perfect coolness, on the late expedition, have come to me blubbering in the most irresistibly ludicrous manner on being transferred from one company in the regiment to another" (Higginson 1870, p. 10). He was likely unable to make the connection between the impact of transfer and the impact of the auction block, which had separated so many black families. Higginson did note, however, that his men responded much better to mildness than to severity as a result of their previous experiences, and that they had "a great deal of pride as soldiers." One of the regiment's sergeants, Prince Rivers, later described their first parade march thus: "And when dat band wheel in before us, and march on,—my God! I quit dis world altogeder" (Higginson 1870, pp 43-44). Higginson also noted the religious nature of his troops, calling them a "Gospel army" and claiming that the white camps seemed "rough and secular" in comparison (1870, p. 59). Perhaps the recollections of Corporal Adam Allston best illustrate Higginson's remarks: "When I heard de bombshell a-screamin' troo de woods like de Judgment Day, I said to myself, 'if my head was took off tonight, dey couldn't put my soul in de torments, perceps [except] God was my enemy!' And when de rifle-bullets came whizzin' across de deck, I cried aloud, 'God help my congregation! Boys, load and fire!" (Higginson 1870, p. 93).

Prejudice in the Military

Blacks had won the privilege of service, but before they came under literal fire from Confederates they would first face racism from their own military. The lack of black officers was only the beginning. Black troops were compelled to perform a disproportionate amount of "fatigue duty"—digging ditches, building forts, cleaning latrines—and as a result the number of deaths due to sickness was much higher for black than for white troops. Despite promises that pay rates would be equal, blacks were paid $10 monthly from which $3 was deducted for clothing expenses, whereas white troops were paid $13 with no deductions. When black soldiers angrily protested, some were shot or jailed. Jim Cullen quotes from a regimental commander's letter to the Massachusetts governor: "They enlisted because men were called for. They would rather work and fight until they are mustered out of the Service, without any pay than accept from the Government less than it gives to other soldiers … and by so accepting acknowledge that because they have African blood in their veins, they are less men, than those who have saxon" (Cullen 1992, pp. 84-85). As one of Higginson's South Carolina troops put it. "We'se gib our sogerin' to de Guv'mint, Cunnel, but we won't 'spise ourself so much for take de seben dollar" (Higginson 1870, p. 252). Congress finally rectified the situation, restoring equal pay and provisions in July 1864.

Before the Emancipation Proclamation, a small number of black volunteers had been involved in skirmishes. In 1863, however, African Americans, many of whom had begun to fear they would spend the entire war in fatigue duty, saw large-scale combat. In that summer's Vicksburg campaign, black troops fought—and gained a measure of respect—at the battles of Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend. It was in South Carolina a month later, in July 1863, that Union colored troops gained their most lasting national distinction. The Union assault on Fort Wagner, off the coast of Charleston, was a military failure but captured the imagination of the Northern public. The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the son of prominent New England abolitionists, suffered heavy losses; Gould himself was killed. Confederates stripped the dead, officers included, and buried them in a common grave. Newspapers and poets lionized both the regiment and its commander for their courage. Following as it did on the heels of the New York City Draft Riots, in which blacks were victimized by rioters, the battle at Fort Wagner inspired public acclaim for black soldiers who were willing to fight and die for the Union while white rioters were not. Indeed, Sergeant Robert Simmons of the Fifty-Fourth died at Fort Wagner three days after his nephew was murdered in New York by rioters. As Lincoln wrote a month later, addressing Democrats opposed to emancipation: "You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you…." (McPherson 1996, p. 105).


On May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls and a handful of fellow slaves took control of a Confederate gunboat, the Planter, while the boat's three white officers were ashore. Smalls guided the vessel out of a harbor in Charleston, South Carolina, past five Confederate forts, and—after picking up several family members—raised a white flag and sailed boldly into the Union fleet. Smalls would serve as a navy captain and later a congressman from South Carolina. Below is his statement to the press he wrote on August 27, 1862, from his new home of Washington, D.C.:

Mr. Editor: In your paper of yesterday it is stated that an application had been made for me … for a passage to Central America. I wish it understood that I have made no such application; but, at the same time, I would express my cordial approval of every kind and wise effort for the liberation and elevation of my oppressed race.

After waiting, apparently in vain, for many years for our deliverance, a party consisting of nine men, myself included, of the city of Charleston, conferred freedom on ourselves, five women and three children; and to the Government of the United States we gave the Planter, a gunboat which cost nearly thirty thousand dollars, together with six large guns, from a 24-pounder howitzer to a 100-pounder Parrott rifle.

We are all now in the service of the navy, under the command of our true friend, Rear Admiral Dupont, where we wish to serve until the rebellion and slavery are alike crushed out forever.

                   Very respectfully, Robert Smalls

SOURCE: Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, MA), September 1, 1862.

Black soldiers, and sometimes the white officers who served with them, faced further danger if captured after battles. Reports of a Confederate threat to summarily execute all captured blacks led Lincoln to insist that captured black soldiers be treated as prisoners of war, no matter their status before the war, and vowed reprisals for executions. This ended the prisoner-exchange system that had been in place throughout the conflict. Confederate authorities issued no explicit order to execute blacks, but there were many instances of brutality and massacres nonetheless. In Virginia witnesses testified that, in the aftermath of the Battle of Saltville, the notorious Confederate guerrilla Champ Ferguson was seen coldly executing several black prisoners and some whites found in their company (Smith 2001, p. 46). The most widely reported incident occurred at Fort Pillow, in Tennessee. Almost 300 Union troops, most of them black, were killed after the battle; Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, future founder of the Ku Klux Klan, allegedly allowed the carnage and later claimed that the prisoners were firing their weapons at his soldiers. Black troops throughout the Union Army repeated the rallying cry "Remember Fort Pillow!" and fought more fiercely than ever.

Recognition for Valor in Battle

Fort Wagner was followed by several other prominent examples of black troops earning recognition from the press and high-ranking officers. The war's two largest engagements of black troops were the Battle of Nashville—in which they prevented Confederate commander John Bell Hood from reinforcing his weakened left flank, thus contributing greatly to the victory and eliciting praise from Union General George H. Thomas—and the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia. That siege culminated in the Battle of the Crater: Confederate defenses were breached by an explosive charge planted underneath them, after which Union forces surged through the resultant depression. Black troops had originally been slated to lead the charge, but Union leaders feared that the press would accuse them of deliberately using blacks as cannon fodder. The white troops who were sent in their stead got bogged down, and the ensuing confusion caused the black soldiers sent in behind them to be trapped and exposed, leading to heavy casualties. As James Lee McDonough (2004) notes, it was not victory but rather the African American troops' courage under fire, as at Fort Wagner a year earlier, that won them recognition.

The theme of manliness runs through many historical novels and films about black Union soldiers' experiences in the Civil War, which have stressed that these soldiers were not submissive victims but rather in command of their own fate. In the 1989 film Glory, about Shaw's all-black volunteer company and the Battle of Fort Wagner, Morgan Freeman's character tells his comrades, "The time's comin' when we're goin' to have to ante up and kick in like men. Like men!" Bound for the Promise-land, a modern fictionalized account of the Battle of the Crater by Troy D. Smith, portrays a black soldier waving his injured arm at white Union soldiers. "'We men!' he screamed at the top of his lungs. 'You hear me! We men!'… he half-choked as he repeated softly, to us, 'We men'" (Smith 2000, p. 174). There is no denying that blacks and whites alike equated black manhood with participation in combat. "Now we sogers are men—for the first time in our lives," a South Carolina sergeant told an audience in Philadelphia. "Now we can look our old masters in de face. They used to sell us and whip us, and we did not dare say one word. Now we ain't afraid, if they meet us, to run the bayonet through them" (Cullen 1992, p. 85). Yet W. E. B. Du Bois condemned this attitude: "How extraordinary and what a tribute to ignorance and religious hypocrisy, is the fact that in the minds of most people, even those of liberals, only murder makes men. The slave pleaded, he was humble; he protected the women of the South, and the world ignored him. The slave killed white men; and behold, he was a man" (Cullen 1992, p. 110).

For white Southerners, it must have seemed that the world had been turned upside down. Black men, many of them former slaves, stood guard over captured Confederate officers and patrolled occupied Southern towns. And they did this displaying a newfound confidence and pride. In the words of one such soldier, noticing his own former master among a group of prisoners: "Hello, massa; bottom rail top dis time!" (Litwack 1979, 102.)


Berlin, Ira, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowlands, eds. The Black Military Experience. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Cullen, Jim. "'I's a Man Now'": Gender and African American Men." In Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, ed. Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Du Bois, W. E. B. Black Reconstruction. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1935. (Repr., New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.)

Glatthaur, Joseph. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance between Black Soldiers and White Officers. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.

Glory. TriStar Pictures. 1989.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Army Life in a Black Regiment. Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1870.

Litwack, Leon F. Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. New York: Knopf, 1979.

McDonough, James Lee. Nashville: The Western Confederacy's Final Gamble. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004.

McPherson, James M. The Negro's Civil War: How Americans Felt and Acted during the War for the Union. New York: Pantheon, 1965. (Repr., New York: Vintage, 2003.)

McPherson, James M. "The Glory Story." In Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Smith, Troy D. Bound for the Promise-land. Lincoln: Writers Club Press, 2000.

Smith, Troy D. "Champ Ferguson: Don't You Beg and Don't You Dodge." Civil War Times Illustrated 40, no. 6 (2001): pp. 40-46, 72-73.

                                          Troy D. Smith

Civil War

views updated May 18 2018

Civil War

The American Civil War (1861–1865) is also known as the War Between the States or the War of the Rebellion. The issue of whether to expand slavery into federal territories and new states provoked existing tensions within the established states. When war finally broke out, the tensions created a geographic split of the states.

The southern states that chose to secede (leave the United States) formed the Confederate States of America , also known as the Confederacy. The northern states still considered themselves the United States and strove to restore the rebellious southern states to that union. Their army was called the Union army.

The tensions between the states were rooted in a few main issues. The expansion of slavery was an important question that arose from differences between northern and southern economies. Whether or not to expand slavery into new territories also emphasized the constitutional question of how much power the individual states had compared with the federal government. The northern and southern states had different answers to these questions.

Tension between economies

The southern states built their economy on plantation crops of cotton and tobacco . Plantations thrived in the South with the support of slaves, and the southern economy would collapse if slavery were abolished. Since these states needed to protect their interests, and what they considered to be their property, the southern states were very intent on keeping and expanding slavery.

Southern states wanted state laws, not federal laws, to decide whether slavery was allowed or not. A state's ability to maintain a strong, decisive, and independent government is called “popular sovereignty.” Under popular sovereignty, a state's legislation is more powerful than the federal government's legislation.

Northern states built their economy on the labor of immigrants within factories. Paying immigrants to work in factories costs money. Slavery, which did not cost as much to support, was an economic threat to the northern communities and industries. Instead of slavery, they supported the concept of “free labor,” which allowed jobs to be available to

the community. Because factories sent their goods to other states, the northern states wanted a strong union. They favored a strong central government that would unite the states and their economies.

Expansion of slavery

When the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803 (see Louisiana Purchase ), the question of slavery expansion arose. It quickly became a heated debate but was temporarily calmed when Congress passed the Missouri Compromise in 1820. The compromise allowed Missouri to be admitted into the Union as a slave state. It also created a geographic line that split the rest of the purchased territory into northern and southern halves. The northern half would not allow slavery, but the southern territories would have the right to choose for themselves.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act . It challenged the Missouri Compromise by allowing the two new northern states of Kansas and Nebraska to choose for themselves whether slavery would be allowed. The passage of this act sparked tensions that would eventually lead to the American Civil War.


The presidential election of 1860 was a complicated one that had four candidates. Former U.S. representative Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) of Illinois , a Republican, was elected. The Republican Party wanted to stop the expansion of slavery. Its members also believed in a strong federal government.

Though the Republican Party had no interest in abolishing slavery where it already was, the southern states feared Lincoln's upcoming administration. Before Lincoln's inauguration, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860. Mississippi , Florida , Alabama , Georgia , Louisiana, and Texas followed by February. Before Lincoln took office, they formed the Confederate States of America and elected their own president, U.S. senator Jefferson Davis (1808–1889) of Mississippi.

The war begins

When he entered office in March 1861, Lincoln was intent on maintaining and protecting federal property throughout the rebellious states. In April, he sent supply ships to the troops at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and told the Confederate troops not to interfere. Confederate forces, however, opened fire on the fort; Union officials there surrendered the next day. When Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the rebellion, Virginia , North Carolina , Tennessee , and Arkansas joined the Confederacy. The American Civil War had begun.

Battle of Bull Run

Lincoln called seventy-five thousand state militiamen into service for ninety days and later called for men to enlist for three years. Winfield Scott (1786–1866), commander of the U.S. army, crafted Lincoln's military plan to cut off Confederate access to supplies and to respond to rebellious attacks. Scott knew the Confederacy would eventually collapse without the important supplies from the outside.

Though Lincoln incorporated elements of the plan, both he and the public were impatient. He sent General Irvin McDowell (1818–1885) to attack the Confederate capital of Richmond. At the Battle of Bull Run , July 21, 1861, the two armies met for the first time. The Union army was soundly defeated and forced to flee back to Washington. With defeat, Lincoln began to prepare for a longer war.

Union general George B. McClellan

General George B. McClellan (1826–1885) was appointed to command the Army of the Potomac (the main eastern army of the Union) in the summer of 1861. When General Scott retired as U.S. army commander in November, Lincoln appointed McClellan to replace him. Though General McClellan was strong in some respects, he proved to be overly cautious. His resistance to mounting a major attack or to pursuing the enemy would frustrate Lincoln.

Confederate general Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) was a commanding general in the Confederate army. Originally approached by Lincoln to take field command of Union forces, Lee joined instead with his home state of Virginia to fight for the Confederate army. Lee's forces were an aggressive element that enjoyed several key victories. General Lee's surrender to Union general Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) at Appomattox Courthouse , Virginia, in April 1865, however, marked the beginning of the Confederate surrender and the end of the American Civil War.

The Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle at Antietam

By August 1862, the Confederate army's superior tactics had dealt the Union army multiple defeats. The Confederates had protected their capital of Richmond and were pushing the Union army back towards Washington. The Second Battle of Bull Run, August 28 through 30, was a Confederate victory that inspired Generals Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson (1824–1863) to move their troops into Maryland . Union general McClellan followed.

The two armies met on September 17 at Antietam. The resulting Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day of the American Civil War. While McClellan forced the Confederates back to Virginia, he refused to pursue them aggressively. The Confederate army escaped damaged, but intact. After the battle, Lincoln removed McClellan from command in November 1862.

Emancipation Proclamation

The victory at Antietam provided Lincoln with the success he waited for in order to announce the Emancipation Proclamation . Legally, the Union armies were unable to assist or use any escaped slaves that crossed into Union territory. Federal laws provided that the slaves were property and had to be returned to the owners. Since a few of the Union states were slaveholding states, Lincoln could not ignore these laws without upsetting these states.

The Union army, however, would benefit from the manpower of escaped slaves. Lincoln's solution was the Emancipation Proclamation, which he announced in September 1862 to take effect in January 1863. It declared slaves within the rebel states to be free. While it did not abolish slavery throughout the Union, it allowed the Union army to begin using the manpower of escaped slaves. It also set the tone for the eventual passage of the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution , which abolished slavery entirely.

Battle of Gettysburg

In June 1863 General Lee moved his army into Pennsylvania . Union general George Meade (1815–1872) moved to block him. The two armies clashed on July 1 in the Battle of Gettysburg . After three days of fighting, Lee was forced to retreat with a loss of nearly a third of his men. It was a major victory that marked the turning point of the war for the Union.

Union general Ulysses S. Grant and the Battle of Vicksburg

General Ulysses S. Grant was charged with overseeing the Union armies in the west. He experienced many successes, gaining control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers for the Union. His victory at the Battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi in July 1863 was significant. The victory allowed Grant to take the Confederate fortress guarding the Mississippi River and earned him Lincoln's attention. Grant was appointed to general in chief of the Union armies and came east to command the Army of the Potomac.

General Sherman and his “march to the sea”

Union general William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891) replaced Grant as the commander of the Union's western army. When General Grant began his charge to Richmond in 1864, he coordinated it with an attack on Atlanta, Georgia, by General Sherman. Sherman initially was stopped outside of Atlanta by Confederate troops.

By September, Sherman cut off Atlanta's supplies and captured the city. Determined to break the South's will to fight, he divided his army in half. As half held off the Confederate army to the north, the other half marched to capture the port of Savannah, Georgia. On their “march to the sea,” or Sherman's March , the soldiers destroyed everything in their path and took Savannah on December 20.

The siege at Petersburg

In May 1864, General Grant, now in charge of the Army of the Potomac, led his army in a push towards Richmond. They engaged General Lee in several battles and refused to allow him to withdraw. Grant hoped to cut off Richmond and force its surrender by capturing the vital rail junction at Petersburg, Virginia. General Lee, however, refused to surrender Petersburg, and the two armies settled into a siege.

The siege continued into the spring of 1865. On April 1, the last rail link into Petersburg was captured, and Richmond was cut off from the rest of the Confederacy. Grant blocked Lee's retreat into North Carolina. Lee's surrender to Grant on April 9 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, was the last major defeat of the war. The remaining Confederate troops surrendered nine days later, and the American Civil War was over.

Election of 1864 and the Thirteenth Amendment

Lincoln's reelection in 1864 was not certain to happen. The Union was growing weary of the war and the Union army was struggling. The victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, however, instilled confidence in Lincoln, and he was elected for a second term. It was a clear signal that the American people valued the Union and were ready to abolish slavery.

With Lincoln's reelection, the Republican Congress presented the Thirteenth Amendment for ratification, or approval by the states, on January 31, 1865. Ratified on December 6, 1865, the amendment officially ended slavery throughout the United States and made emancipation permanent. Ratification took place eight months after President Lincoln was assassinated.

At a great cost to the lives of the nation, the American Civil War produced an entirely different Union than existed before. Not only was slavery abolished, but states were now undeniably linked into a solid alliance. State powers were minimized and replaced by a strong, centralized federal government. This demanded that communities and states work together in new ways. The American Civil War changed the nation that Americans had known, and it would be a challenging path to reintegrating and reconstructing a whole nation.

Civil War

views updated May 29 2018


The Civil War was the greatest constitutional crisis in the nation's history. It tested the nation-state relationship and the powers of Congress, the President, and the courts. By ultimately destroying slavery, the conflict removed the most destructive element in the constitutional system and produced promises of equality under law throughout the United States. The addition of the thirteenth amendment, fourteenth amendment, and fifteenth amendment dramatically changed the structure of the federal system in important respects. In the short run these amendments ended slavery and gave state and national citizenship to over four million black men, women, and children. They also opened the door for black participation in politics. By the mid-twentieth century the amendments would place a great many individual rights under federal protection.

The was also finally settled the long-debated question of sovereignty. When a state and the national government clashed over ultimate authority, the national government would prevail. This primacy did not mean, however, that the states were stripped of power or influence. Both state and national governments involved themselves energetically and successfully in war-making and hence increased both their influence and their stature before the people. State and federal taxation increased along with state and federal expenditures for public projects. The war thus produced an ironic dual legacy: freedom for black Americans and a vital federal system in which states would retain significant, though no longer unique, influence over the amount of freedom these freedmen would exercise.

Because Congress was in recess when the conflict began, the President had to cope with the crisis alone. abraham lincoln answered secessionist rhetoric with a powerful argument that sustained national authority by noting the danger of anarchy in secession and by emphasizing the sovereignty of people, not states. "A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks, and limitations, and always changing easily, with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people," Lincoln said. To preserve the constitutional system that embodied this process, Lincoln was willing to lead the Union into war.

Lincoln marshaled northern resources to fight secession. He called for troops, paid $2 million from the treasury, pledged federal credit for $250 million more, and proclaimed a blockade of southern ports. These initiatives raised the constitutional problem of whether the conflict was legitimate at all, for Lincoln had acted without statutory authority and only Congress had power to declare war. In the March 1863 prize cases, the Supreme Court gave its answer on the disposition of several ships seized by the Union navy after Lincoln's 1861 blockade. The constitutional question was whether the President could blockade the South without a declaration of war by Congress. Emphasizing the distinction between an international war, which Congress had to declare, and a civil war thrust upon the President and demanding immediate response, the Court defined the war as an insurrection, thus recognizing the President's power to subdue the rebellion without recognizing the Confederacy as an independent nation. The Court also justified Lincoln's action on the basis of the Militia Act of 1795, which allowed the President to call up the federal militia to stop insurrections. Presidents john quincy adams, james k. polk, millard fillmore, and franklin pierce had established precedents in exercising this power, and the 1827 case of martin v. mott had sustained it.

Executive authority over civil liberties, the rights of civilian justice, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press provoked the most criticism. Fearing prorebel judges and juries in border states, Lincoln in 1861 suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the area between New York and Washington. This action gave the military control over civil liberty. Union soldiers arrested men near Baltimore for recruiting rebels and burning bridges linking Washington to the North. Chief Justice roger brooke taney went to Baltimore especially to challenge Lincoln's suspension of the writ. Congress, not the President, retained constitutional suspension authority, Taney claimed. But over fifty pamphlets quickly surfaced to debate the issue, and authoritative voices supported Lincoln. Lincoln ignored Taney, and habeas corpus remained suspended. In fact, in 1862 suspension of the writ was expanded to cover the entire North.

The Union army arrested about 15,000 people; however, the vast majority were taken as rebel territory was occupied. The number of northern civilians subject to military law owing to the suspension of habeas corpus was limited, perhaps to a few hundred, and press, platform, and pulpit continued to sound with criticism of the "Lincoln dictatorship." On the other hand some newspapers, including the National Zeitung, the Philadelphia Evening Journal, the Chicago Times, and the New York World, were temporarily shut down, and the editors of others were arrested, held for short periods of time, and then released—a practice that often restrained their criticism. Furthermore, Lincoln defended the suspension policy with sweeping rhetoric that may have had its own chilling effect on criticism: "The man who stands by and says nothing when the peril of his government is discussed cannot be misunderstood. If not hindered he is sure to help the enemy."

In the most famous civil liberties case of the time, a leading Ohio Democratic congressman, Clement Vallandigham, was arrested in Ohio in 1863 for protesting General Burnside's prohibition of "declaring sympathy for the enemy." Tried and convicted by a military tribunal, Vallandigham was banished to the Confederacy after the Supreme Court denied itself jurisdiction of the case in Ex Parte Vallandigham (1864). Vallandigham and his arrest were popular causes, however, and the Democratic party sought votes with some success as the party of civil liberties throughout the conflict. Still, when northern voters had to choose between Lincoln's suspensions and Vallandigham's defiance, they usually sided with Lincoln and his explanation that preserving the constitutional system as a whole in wartime required limiting speech that threatened the war effort. The Confederate government also suspended the writ of habeas corpus, provoking protest from state-sovereignty radicals, but such protest did little to weaken the Confederacy.

The abiding health of the constitutional system in the North during the war was demonstrated by the ongoing electoral process, within which civil liberty restrictions could be discussed and debated and through which the voters might throw out of office the very government that was restricting civil liberties. In Dixie, too, elections continued for the Confederate Congress, although not for the presidency, which had a six-year term, beginning in 1861. One advantage the North had over the South was an established political system that generated alternatives, focused political discussion, used patronage to keep intraparty rivalries in line, and kept opposition to the administration within reasonable bounds. Confederate political quarrels, lacking party apparatus, became personal and hence more intense.

legislative power also expanded during the war, as Congress and executive cooperated to preserve and strengthen national authority. Legislators enacted a series of military drafts that brought national authority directly into the life of every American. Congress endorsed Lincoln's habeas corpus suspension in March 1863, although the tardiness of the Indemnity Act suggests the sensitivity of voters to the issue. Congress established the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War to investigate generals perceived as not vigorous enough or not in accord with republican party policies. Lincoln used committee pressure to prod generals toward advanced measures. The one major division between executive and legislative branches, over reconstruction, began with the antiLincoln diatribe of the Wade-Davis Manifesto, but soon found Lincoln and Congress working out their differences, agreeing on the need to protect freedmen and provide them with economic support through the Freedmen's Bureau Act. Wade and Davis both supported Lincoln for reelection in 1864, and just before his death Lincoln was apparently contemplating a change in his Reconstruction policies that would have moved him closer to Congress. The two branches still debated which southern governments should be restored to the Union—those following Lincoln's plan or Congress's alternative—but both agreed that once war ended Congress would effectively control the Reconstruction process.

There was no disagreement about the wartime economic program. The first federal income tax law, the creation of the first national currency in the Greenback Act of 1862, the development of a national banking system, the taxing out of existence of state-based currency, the huge subsidy to build railroads to the Pacific Ocean, the opening up of millions of acres to homesteading with the homestead act, the establishment of the Department of Agriculture, and the morrill act, which helped found and sustain major universities throughout the nation, all received Lincoln's unequivocal approval.

None of this national government activity was accompanied by federal regulation. The first national regulative agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission of 1887, lay twenty-two years into the postwar era. But people now accepted Congress's constitutional authority to shape the economy. Despite the Jeffersonian rhetoric of the Democratic party, it was the old Hamiltonian program and Hamiltonian views of national power, now infusing Whig and Republican political economy, that shaped national government policymaking. State governments, too, became more active. Some states set up public health boards and railroad oversight commissions. In the South, Reconstruction state governments established the region's first public schools. Cities also expanded their activities, having seen what government energy might accomplish.

The death of slavery was the largest constitutional change of the war. The conflict helped to resolve a growing contradiction within the constitutional system itself. On the one hand, the Constitution of 1787 recognized and protected slavery in several of its provisions. federalism left states free to determine whether they would be free or slave. The Supreme Court had declared the territories open to slavery. Democratic presidents had endorsed proslavery demands. On the other hand, by 1860 slavery had become, in many northern eyes, a major threat to constitutional liberties and the operation of the political/constitutional system.

The prewar era saw proslavery attempts to stifle antislavery voices—in Congress through gag rules, in the free states through anti-abolitionist mobs, and in politics generally through the prohibition of antislavery arguments in the slave states and the territories. All these efforts helped generate sectional parties. In addition, the South used threats of secession to protect slavery, thus hardening northern hostility to the peculiar institution and to what it termed "the Slave Power Conspiracy." People did not have to be racial egalitarians to be enemies of slavery. The threat to individual rights and the political process made slavery a target of northern hostility. The Constitution thus was at war with itself—promising open elections, free debate, the right to petition, the whole process of government by consent, on the one hand, and protecting slavery, on the other. The war ended the conflict.

Freed from obstruction by southern congressmen, the wartime northern Congress not only enacted much nationalizing legislation but also attacked slavery whenever the Constitution put it within congressional reach. Congress ended slavery in the district of columbia and in the territories. Then, acting on the theory that slaves might be contraband of war, Congress turned on the South and passed laws first confiscating property used directly to attack the Union (First Confiscation Act, August 1861) and then taking all slaves of rebels (Second Confiscation Act, July 1862). But these two laws freed no slaves, for the judicial procedures to prove disloyalty were too cumbersome. The laws did, however, demonstrate growing support for executive action against slavery.

Lincoln had two arenas in which he might act. In civilian areas his emancipation goals were restrained by the Constitution, which let states choose freedom or slavery. He asked border slave states to free their slaves. When that effort failed, he turned his attention to places still in rebellion, places where his constitutional war powers could operate. The emancipation proclamation of January 1, 1863, freed slaves wherever the Union advanced after that day, and it permitted freedmen to acquire claims on citizenship by serving as soldiers.

Emancipation ended the national government's protection for slavery, which had existed since 1787. With the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, the national government promised to eradicate, not defend, slavery. The death of slavery ended the reason for secession and for obstructing open debate in Congress and in the polity at large. It also meant that the institution that had most conspicuously challenged the ideal of equal justice under law was gone. As the Civil War ended, a robust constitutional system of active states and a proven nation awaited new challenges to that ideal.

Phillip S. Paludan

(see also: Confederate Constitution; Confiscation Acts; Constitutional History, 1861–1865; Executive Power; Executive Prerogative; Jeffersonianism; War Powers; Whig Party.)


Belz, Herman 1978 Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era. New York: Norton.

——1984 Lincoln and the Constitution: The Dictatorship Question Reconsidered. Fort Wayne, Ind.: Louis Warren Lincoln Library.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. 1979 Lincoln and the Constitution. In Cullom Davis, ed., The Public and Private Lincoln. Carbondale: University of Southern Illinois Press.

Hyman, Harold 1973 A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution. New York: Knopf.

——, and Wiecek, William 1982 Equal Justice Under Law: Constitutional Development, 1835–1875. New York: Harper & Row.

Mc Kitrick, Eric 1967 Party Politics and the Union and Confederate War Efforts. In Walter Dean Burnham and William Chambers, eds., The American Party System. New York: Free Press.

Neely, Mark E., Jr. 1991 The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, New York: Oxford.

Paludan, Phillip S. 1988 "A People's Contest": The Union and Civil War, 1861–1865. New York: Harper & Row.

Randall, James G. (1926) 1951 Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, rev. ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

civil wars

views updated Jun 08 2018

civil wars, 1642–51. Armed conflict between king and Parliament, which also involved invasions of Ireland and Scotland by parliamentary armies. The early Stuart monarchy was hobbled in two critical respects. Without a standing army or paid bureaucracy, it lacked the power to coerce its subjects. Without adequate income from legal sources (including parliamentary taxation) it lacked financial power. James I and Charles I attempted to augment their income by raising customs duties, levying forced loans, exploiting feudal fiscal privileges, and inventing a new form of non-parliamentary taxation—ship money. Although Parliament was, if anything, growing weaker during the decades prior to 1640, unparliamentary taxation, arbitrary arrest, and other Stuart high-handedness caused resentment and alienation among large segments of the nobility, gentry, lawyers, and merchants who comprised the political nation. A significant minority of these classes had imbibed puritan and common law doctrines that stiffened their defiance towards the absolutist pretensions of the king.

In 1629 Charles I dismissed Parliament, resolving never to call another. He might have succeeded but for the problem of the multiple kingdoms. During the 1630s he decided to bring Scottish religious practice into conformity with English by abolishing presbyterian worship and substituting an Anglican service. The Scots revolted, and Charles's two attempts to subdue them—the Bishops' wars of 1639 and 1640—were abject failures. Tax revenues dried up and his soldiers deserted in droves. At the insistence of the nobility he summoned Parliament. Once convened, the Commons refused him the taxes he desperately needed, voting assistance to the Scots instead. They then set about dismantling the apparatus of prerogative government, abolishing ship money, the courts of Star Chamber, High Commission, Wards, and others; passing a Triennial Act, depriving church courts of their punitive powers, and attainting Charles's chief minister Strafford. Charles ratified these changes, but with such ill grace that many doubted whether he would keep his word. Trust became a critical issue upon the outbreak of rebellion in Ireland in the autumn of 1641. As lord-lieutenant of Ireland, Strafford had ruled with a heavy hand. His absence, added to Charles's failure to guarantee the catholic inhabitants security of tenure on their estates, and fear of the resurgent strength of puritanism in the English Parliament, combined to ignite an uprising in Ulster which rapidly spread. Exaggerated reports of atrocities perpetrated against the protestant settlers in Ireland inflamed English opinion. It was universally accepted that an army should be mustered to crush the rebellion, but there was no agreement about entrusting the king with the command. Charles's attempt to arrest five of the parliamentary ringleaders whom he suspected of plotting to impeach the queen, together with the rumour that he had actually authorized the Ulster catholics to rise in rebellion, contributed to the deepening distrust of him. Parliament's demand for control of the sword, and Charles's refusal, was the immediate cause of the outbreak of armed conflict in the autumn of 1642.

Mistrust of the king was compounded by fear that he could not be counted on to defend England against the threat of international catholicism. Far from being a protestant champion, Charles was regarded by many as a crypto-papist. Thus legal and constitutional arguments about taxation, the rights of Parliament, and the extent of royal power were inflamed by religious panic. Religion more than any other single factor brought thousands of men to rally to the standard of either king or Parliament, to risk their lives, and to ‘sheathe their swords in [their countrymen's] bowels’.

If the civil wars were in one sense Europe's last wars of religion, they were also in their early phase a baronial conflict. The armies on both sides were led by aristocrats, and in the king's view it was the nobility, particularly Essex, ‘the chief rebel’, who had instigated the Civil War.

Despite its control of the midlands, the east, and the south-east including London, as well as its capture of the navy, there was nothing inevitable about Parliament's victory. Charles almost overthrew his foes at Edgehill (October 1642), while in 1643 there were a number of royalist victories and a drawn battle between the king's and Essex's armies at Newbury (September 1643). For all the efforts of John Pym to hold together the parliamentary coalition and to finance the war with new excise and assessment taxes, parliamentary fortunes reached their nadir in that year. Popular demand for an end to the war became increasingly insistent.

What turned the tide against Charles I was again the reality of multiple kingdoms. In return for a promise to uphold presbyterian church government and impose it in England, the Scots came to Parliament's aid with an army of 20,000. This bargain was sealed in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and the Scots army entered England early in 1644. The joint armies dealt a crushing blow to the king's forces under Prince Rupert and the earl of Newcastle at Marston Moor, near York (July 1644). However, this victory was almost frittered away by Essex when he allowed his army to become trapped by Charles at Lostwithiel in Cornwall (September 1644). Completely disenchanted with the aristocratic leadership of Parliament's armies, the win-the-war faction under Sir Henry Vane and Oliver Cromwell grasped the nettle, by purging the armies of their noble and parliamentary leadership, and creating the New Model Army out of the remains of the armies of Essex, Manchester, and Waller. Led by Sir Thomas Fairfax, and knit together by constant pay and religious indoctrination, this new army quickly put the royalist forces to flight at Naseby (June 1645), Langport (July 1645), and Bristol (September 1645). By May 1646 most royalists had surrendered and Charles had handed himself over to the Scots.

Refusing to accept the verdict of the battlefield, Charles dragged out peace negotiations with Parliament. Meanwhile, Denzil Holles and Sir Philip Stapleton, the political heirs of Essex, who had died in September 1646, moved to disband the New Model with only a fraction of its arrears of pay. The consequence was an army revolt, the seizure of the king at Holdenby, and the invasion of London. Charles attempted to exploit the rift between army and Parliament and redoubled his efforts to persuade the Scots to assist him. At the same time Fairfax, Cromwell, and Ireton struggled to control the Levellers who were striving to seize political control of the army in order to implement their programme of democracy, religious and economic liberty, and decentralization.

Early in 1648 royalist risings erupted in Kent, Essex, Wales, and the navy in anticipation of a Scottish intervention on behalf of the king. But the Scots were late, and the New Model Army had no difficulty crushing the revolts one by one. When the duke of Hamilton crossed the border in July with a small army, he attracted little support, so that Cromwell had no trouble destroying his forces between Preston and Uttoxeter (August 1648). Everywhere triumphant in battle, the army found to its chagrin that Parliament was still intent on negotiating peace with the king. To prevent such an outcome it occupied London, purged the House of Commons of those who favoured negotiation, and engineered the trial and execution of the king. Once the Rump Parliament had abolished monarchy and the House of Lords, it launched invasions of Ireland (1649) and Scotland (1650). In spite of Cromwellian ruthlessness at Drogheda and Wexford, Ireland took three years to subjugate. The Scots were devastated at Dunbar, east of Edinburgh (September 1650), but continued to resist, to the point of invading England a year later under Charles II. His forces scattered at Worcester (September 1651), the hapless king fled to the continent where he sojourned until disunity within the army and a generalized fear of quakers and other radicals paved the way for a bloodless restoration of monarchy. Although the king, lords, and Church of England were brought back in 1660, prerogative government was not. The constitutional changes of 1641 were preserved, while the legacy of the civil wars in radical thought, religious liberty, and parliamentary domination of the state re-emerged in the ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1688–9.

Ian Gentles


Gentles, I ., The New Model Army in England, Ireland and Scotland, 1645–1653 (Oxford, 1992);
Kenyon, J. , The Civil Wars of England (1988);
Morrill, J. , The Nature of the English Revolution (Harlow, 1993);
Russell, C. , The Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford, 1990).

Civil War

views updated Jun 27 2018

Civil War

The Civil War of 1922 to 1923 was a bitterly ironic conclusion to the struggle for independence and also a savage, destructive prelude to the history of independent Ireland. It resulted from a particular circumstance—a controversial article of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty—and from structural faults within both the Sinn Féin movement and the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The Anglo-Irish Treaty

A minority of Irish nationalists was passionately committed to achieving the republic that had been proclaimed during the Easter Rising in 1916; most, however, were satisfied with a less complete and less specific form of independence. These divisions were reinforced by civil-military tensions. During the course of the Anglo-Irish War of 1919 to 1921 many IRA units grew accustomed to acting without civilian authorization, and their members often regarded politicians with contempt. Such habits proved enduring. A final contributing factor to the split of 1921 was the growing distrust that had built up between some of the principal figures in the Irish leadership—in particular, between Eamon de Valera, who was president of Sinn Féin and the Dáil (the Irish parliament), and Michael Collins, the most significant military figure in the recent conflict. Collins and Arthur Griffith headed the Irish delegation that went to London, while de Valera remained behind in Dublin.

Before and during the negotiations the British rejected the idea of an Irish republic; their maximum concession was to accept the Irish Free State as a dominion that would have the same powers as Canada or South Africa. The Irish cabinet and the Dáil split over the treaty and in particular over the clause that laid down that members of the new Irish parliament would swear an oath of fidelity to the king. It was often wrongly described as an "oath of allegiance." Many radical nationalists could not accept this recognition of the Crown, and de Valera was among its harshest critics. The treaty's supporters argued that it represented the best terms that were then available and that it provided a basis from which further advances could be made. Opponents claimed that more concessions could have been extracted from the British, that the treaty abandoned the republic, and that the delegates had exceeded their powers by signing it. Partition did not feature prominently in the debates—only two deputies spoke about the matter at any length, one from each side—and it did not figure in the later Civil War. In 1921 and 1922 supporters and opponents of the treaty were concerned with questions of sovereignty, the republic, and the oath. They displayed little interest in Northern Ireland, which had already been established months before the treaty negotiations began.

The Dáil finally supported the treaty by sixty-four votes to fifty-seven, de Valera resigned as president and was defeated when he ran for reelection, and Collins became chairman of a new provisional government. He and his colleagues began taking over the administration of the future Free State from the British.

The Fight For a Republic

The treaty was popular with the Irish public, whose main concern was with peace, but most of the IRA was hostile. Without any clear lead from the politicians, soldiers tended to follow their inclinations and their local commanders. Many of the units that had been most vigorous in the war against the British were now determined to carry on the fight for a republic—even against an Irish government consisting of their former colleagues. In some areas, however, radical zeal was a compensation for earlier torpor.

In the course of the next six months the country slid slowly toward civil war. Rival military groups tried to seize evacuated British barracks, and conflicts broke out between them. In March an army convention met in Dublin, withdrew its allegiance from the Dáil, and established its own executive. In the following month a group of republican extremists seized the Four Courts and other buildings in Dublin and barricaded them against a counterattack. Collins played for time, and IRA representatives from both sides tried to negotiate a truce.

Elections in June revealed massive public support for the treaty; Collins now had a mandate from the people, and he no longer felt obliged to temporize. The republican IRA was unimpressed—but it had never placed much faith in public opinion. The Four Courts garrison increased its provocations, and the British cabinet pressured Collins to assert his authority. On 28 June government forces attacked republican positions in Dublin, and within days the capital was under their control. This was the decisive phase of the war, and henceforth Collins held the initiative. He displayed his usual energy as he took command of the protreaty campaign, and soon his army controlled most of the country north of a line running from Limerick to Waterford. This "Munster Republic" was attacked by land and by sea, and republican positions fell one by one. By early August every town in Ireland was under government control, although some were recaptured briefly by antitreaty forces. Most of the population in republican-controlled areas welcomed the arrival of government troops.

Guerrilla Warfare

This "conventional" war was followed by a long-drawn-out guerrilla campaign in which the republicans modeled themselves on the IRA's recent fight against the British. The principal victim was Collins himself, who was killed in an ambush on 22 August. The republicans tried to sap the government's will and undermine its support through violence and destruction. Their actions also served to lure the government into repressive measures, and here too the pattern of 1919 to 1921 was followed. The principal differences between the two conflicts were that the rebels lacked the popular support that the IRA had earlier enjoyed, and they faced more determined opponents.

Collins's successors showed themselves even more ruthless than their enemies, and from November 1922 onward seventy-seven republicans were executed. The most notorious case followed the murder of a protreaty Dáil deputy, when four prominent republican prisoners were shot in retaliation. The government was goaded into brutality, and in several parts of the country—particularly in Kerry—its troops carried out atrocities. But the pattern of 1916 and 1919 to 1921 was not followed during the Civil War, and Irish public opinion did not swing in favor of the republicans. Most people appear to have realized that only one side could win the war, the protreaty army, and they were prepared to turn a blind eye to harsh measures that might hasten the return of peace.

Gradually the republicans' position weakened, but Liam Lynch, their chief of staff, refused to tolerate the idea of compromise. So too did the Free State government, which was determined that the war was "not going to be a draw, with a replay in the autumn." Only with Lynch's death in April 1923 did more realistic voices predominate within the antitreaty leadership, and a month later republicans were instructed to stop fighting. Ireland slowly began to become a normal society. De Valera had been marginalized by the military commanders, but now he reemerged as the leading figure among the opponents of the treaty.


The Civil War crippled the Irish economy, and although there is still disagreement concerning the death toll, it probably cost about 1,500 lives. It polarized the new Irish Free State and ensured that Irish public life would be dominated for decades by two rival parties whose disagreements centered on the events of 1921 to 1922. But it also confirmed—in a bloody manner—that the governments of independent Ireland would be responsible to the people rather than to the army.

SEE ALSO Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921; Boundary Commission; Collins, Michael; Cosgrave, W. T.; de Valera, Eamon; Irish Republican Army (IRA); Political Parties in Independent Ireland; Politics: Independent Ireland since 1922; Sinn Féin Movement and Party to 1922; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921; Primary Documents: "Time Will Tell" (19 December 1921); Provisional Government Proclamation at the Beginning of the Civil War (29 June 1922); Constitution of the Irish Free State (5 December 1922); Republican Cease-Fire Order (28 April 1923)


Curran, Joseph M. The Birth of the Irish Free State, 1921–1923. 1980.

Garvin, Tom. 1922: The Birth of Irish Democracy. 1996.

Hopkinson, Michael. Green against Green: The Irish Civil War. 1988.

Litton, Helen. The Irish Civil War: An Illustrated History. 1995.

Prager, Jeffrey. Building Democracy in Ireland: Political Order and Cultural Integration in a Newly Independent Nation. 1986.

Regan, John M. The Irish Counter-Revolution, 1921–1936. 1999.

Michael Laffan

Civil War of 1425–1450

views updated Jun 08 2018

CIVIL WAR OF 14251450

The Civil War of 14251450 was a major formative event in Russian history, the impact of which was evident well into the Soviet period. It began as a dynastic controversy, the sole major civil war in the Moscow princely line (the Danilovichi) until that time. This was only one of the ninety major civil wars in Russia between 1228 and 1462. Moscow's other major rivals for hegemony over the East European plain (especially Tver) were constantly destroying themselves in civil wars, whereas Moscow had a single line of unchallenged rulers between 1300 and 1425. If it would be fair to say that Moscow's ultimate triumph as East Slavic hegemon was determined already in the 1390s, then in the political sphere the civil war of 14251450 was almost irrelevant in the long run. In the social sphere, however, the civil war set the ball rolling toward serfdom and, by 1649, to a legally stratified, near-caste society that essentially lasted until the 1950s, when the Soviets finally issued peasants internal passports, putting an end to the serf element of collectivized agriculture. For this reason an understanding of the civil war is both interesting and important.

Muscovite grand prince Basil I died in 1425. Surviving him were his ten-year-old son, who became Basil II, and three brothers, Pyotr (d. 1428), Andrei (d. 1432), and Yuri (d. 1434). The general (but not universal) Muscovite practice had been for succession to be vertical, from father to sona system of limited primogeniture, one of the strengths of the Danilovichi. The issue was complicated by contradictory wills. Dmitry Donskoy had willed the realm to Basil I, then to his next son Yuriall before Basil II was born. Later, Basil I's will of 1423 passed power to his son.

In 1425 Basil II was only a nominal ruler. Real power was in the hands of the boyars, head of the church Metropolitan Foty, and Basil's mother, Sofia Vitovtovna (daughter of the ruler of Lithuania). This group was opposed by Basil's uncle, Yuri Dmitrievich, appanage prince of Zvenigorod and Galich, who would have been the legitimate heir under the archaic system of lateral succession. While he lived, he was regularly raising armies in Galich in an attempt to seize the throne in Moscow. His brother Andrei, prince of Beloozero, conspired with Yuri to keep their nephew off the throne. Three years of war and plundering ended in 1428, when Yuri gave up his pretensions to the throne. Warfare continued, however, as Basil II and Yuri continued to fight over the escheated Dmitrov appanage of Peter, who died in 1428 without heirs. In 1432 the Mongol Khan gave the patent (yarlyk ) to Basil, who was installed as ruler of All Rus in Moscow, which henceforth became the capital of Russia. The khan awarded Dmitrov to Yuri; Dmitrov was then seized by Basil's troops. A temporary calm ensued.

In 1433 Basil II married Maria Yaroslavna, sister of the prince of Serpukhov-Brovsk. In an apparent gesture of clan harmony, Basil's cousins, the sons of Yuri of Galich, Basil Yurievich (Kosoi, d.1448) and Dmitry Yurievich Shemyaka (poisoned in 1453) attended the wedding. A third son, Dmitry Krasny (d. 1441) was absent. Basil Yurievich wore a gem-studded golden belt, which was alleged to be part of the grand princely regalia that had been stolen from Dmitry Donskoy. Sofia Vitovtovna took the belt, the keystone of subsequent Russian history, from Basil Yurievich, who then with his brother fled to their father Yuri's estate in Galich. Yuri rounded up his army, defeated Basil II, took Moscow, and proclaimed himself grand prince. Basil rounded up an army, and Yuri surrendered Moscow without a fight. Then Yuri rounded up his forces and those of his three sons and defeated Basil II at Rostov, and Basil fled to Novgorod. Yuri took Moscow, but died. This should have ended the civil war, but it was continued by his sons, who had no "legitimate" claims to the throne whatsoever. Basil Yurievich seized the throne and was crowned. His two brothers, Dmitry Krasny and Dmitry Shemyaka, opposed him and joined Basil II, and Basil Yurievich fled. He and his army looted everything along the way, as was the practice throughout the civil war. Then civil war spread throughout nearly all of northeastern Rus. In 1436 Basil Yurievich was captured and blinded, hence his nickname "Kosoi" ("squint"). Dmitry Shemyaka took over leadership of the rebels. The Mongol-Tatars joined the fray, plundering and burning everything in their wake. On July 7, 1445, they captured Basil II, and a week later they burned the Kremlin. Shemyaka wanted Basil II turned over to him, but the Tatars freed him for an enormous ransom, 200,000 silver rubles, in October. The taxes raised to pay the ransom caused further chaos and population dislocation.

This led to the third and worst period of the civil war. Shemiaka and his allies continuously fought Basil II and sacked every place they visited. Basil II was seized by his enemies at the Trinity Sergiev monastery and blinded (henceforth called temny "the dark"). While this was going on, Shemyaka seized Moscow and became grand prince in 1446. The treasury was looted, and the peasants, even more oppressed than they had been, fled further. Crops were destroyed by the marauding armies, and starvation ensued. Grain was scarce in Novgorod for a decade. Shemyaka, condemned as an oathbreaker by the church, was soon driven out of Moscow. He continued the war for several years in the North (Ustiug, Vologda), then fled to Novgorod, where he was poisoned by his cook, an agent of Basil II.

The Venetian diplomat, merchant, and traveler Josaphat Barbaro observed that Russia was a desert. In an attempt to assure repayment of peasant debts, a few monasteries persuaded rulers to issue laws prohibiting peasant debtors from moving at any time other than around St. George's Day (November 26)after the harvest, the best time to collect debts. This initiated the enserfment of the Russian peasantry.

See also: basil i; basil ii; boyars; donskoy, dmitry ivanovich; kremlin


Alef, Gustave. (1956). "A History of the Muscovite Civil War: The Reign of Vasilii II (142562)." Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

Hellie, Richard. (1971). The Enserfment of the Russian Peasantry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hellie, Richard. (1971). Muscovite Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Syllabus Division, 1967, 1970.

Richard Hellie

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Civil War