Civil War (1861–65)

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Civil War (1861–65) CausesMilitary and Diplomatic CourseDomestic CoursePostwar ImpactChanging Interpretations
Civil War (1861–65): Causes The election of the Republican Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in November 1860 triggered a chain of events that within six months shattered the Union and culminated in the outbreak of the Civil War. The coming to power of a Republican and Northern administration committed to prohibiting the expansion of slavery struck at the vital interests of the slave South; it was the signal eagerly awaited by the proponents of Southern independence to launch a secession movement. Tensions over slavery and the struggles to perpetuate or end the institution that dated back to the incomplete American Revolution of 1776 had now become so polarized along sectional lines that the North and South lacked common ground on which to compromise the issue.

The Roots of Sectional Conflict.

The democratic revolution in which the United States gained its independence from Britain rested on a profound paradox. The Revolution produced both the world's leading model of political democracy and one of its greatest slaveholding powers. Freedom for whites coexisted uneasily with bondage for African Americans, some 20 percent of the population. The federal Union crafted at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 also embodied this contradiction when the U.S. Constitution recognized the right of a state to regulate slavery within its jurisdiction. Indeed, without this express acknowledgment of their sovereign power over slavery, the slave states would never have joined the proposed Union. Thus, white liberty and black slavery were constitutionally joined in the very creation of the federal Union.

Within a generation of the Revolution, all the states north of Maryland embarked on programs of gradual emancipation. By the early nineteenth century, slavery was almost exclusively a sectional institution confined to the South, home to over 90 percent of American blacks. At the same time as the North was moving away from slavery, the invention of the cotton gin and rising demand in English textile factories for raw cotton were stimulating the westward expansion of slavery throughout the southeastern United States.

As social and economic patterns of development diverged sharply along sectional lines, the South's national share of political power began to slip. From a rough balance of power with the North in 1790, the South held only 42 percent of the votes in the House of Representatives by 1820. Worried over their growing minority status, and enraged over the attempt of the North to force emancipation upon Missouri when it applied for admission as a slave state in 1819, white southerners for the first time threatened secession during the debates that resulted in the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The heart of the compromise was the drawing of a line through the Louisiana Purchase territory that prohibited slavery north of the latitude 36°30′ and allowed it to the south.

In addition to proclaiming their right to an equal share of the expanding West, southern proponents of slavery protested protective tariffs that they insisted sacrificed the agricultural export economy of the South on behalf of northern manufacturers. This issue precipitated the sectional crisis of 1832–33 in which South Carolina planters, led by John C. Calhoun, held that a state could constitutionally nullify federal legislation that it determined violated its interests.

President Andrew Jackson forced the Nullifiers to back down, but of greater concern in the 1830s to southerners anxious over the future of slavery was the sudden emergence of an abolitionist movement in the North. Inspired by northern evangelical Protestantism and a belief in the right of African Americans to freedom and self‐betterment, the abolitionists denounced slavery as the nation's greatest moral abomination and urged all Americans to begin immediately the work of emancipation. Skillful at spreading their message, the abolitionists launched a major propaganda campaign in the mid‐1830s and deluged Congress with antislavery petitions.

The agitation of the slavery issue by the abolitionists predisposed many northerners to see in the admission of the slave republic of Texas in 1845 and the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846 the fearful designs of a conspiracy of slaveholders—the “slave power”—to expand slavery throughout new regions in the West and thereby deprive northern farmers and workers of the opportunity to settle the West for their social and economic advancement. When northern congressmen rallied behind the Wilmot Proviso in 1846 in an effort to bar slavery from any territories gained in the Mexican War, southerners formed their own sectional bloc and forced the ultimate defeat of the proviso. The divisive issue of the expansion of slavery had moved to center stage in American politics and would continue to dominate it through the 1850s.

Rising Sectional Tensions in the 1850s.

Whether measured by rates of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, or the cultural willingness to embrace reforms such as public education aimed at promoting social improvement, the free and slave states were set apart far more significantly by the mid‐nineteenth century than at the birth of the Union. The North was growing and evolving at a more rapid pace than the predominantly agrarian South. Most ominously for slaveholders, a northern majority was forming that viewed slavery as a moral wrong that should be set on the road to extinction. Northerners also now saw slavery as a barbaric relic from the past, a barrier to secular and Christian progress that contradicted the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and degraded the free labor aspirations of northern society.

Since slavery within the states was protected by the Constitution, antislavery sentiment focused on keeping it out of the territories. Southerners, arguing that the territories were the common property of all the states, insisted on what they deemed their constitutional right to carry slaves into the territories. Furthermore, slaves and land were the major sources of wealth in the South, particularly with the cotton boom. The result was a decade of sectional strife.

A complex sectional agreement, the congressional Compromise of 1850, permitted California to enter the Union as a free state. The remaining land won in the Mexican War was divided into the territories of Utah and New Mexico with no conditions placed on the status of slavery. In 1854, the Kansas‐Nebraska Act reopened the entire controversy. In order to gain essential southern support for his bill organizing the remaining Louisiana Purchase territory north of 36°30′, Democratic senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois had to revoke the Missouri Compromise restriction on slavery. Northerners reacted by charging that the Slave Power was moving to monopolize the territories for slavery at the expense of free labor.

The Whig Party split and collapsed in the storm of northern protest over the Kansas‐Nebraska Act, and a sectionalized Republican Party quickly formed around the core principle of blocking the expansion of slavery. The major Protestant denominations had already split into sectional wings over the slavery issue, and only the Democratic Party now remained as an important national institution that represented northern and southern interests. Democratic unity, however, shattered during the administration of James Buchanan (1857–61). The ruling of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that Congress had no constitutional authority to prohibit slavery in the territory further polarized sectional attitudes, and northern Democrats led by Douglas lost the trust of the southern wing of the party when they joined Republicans in blocking the admission of Kansas as a slave state.

The decade came to a close with abolitionist John Brown's raid against the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859. Brown's unsuccessful attempt to incite a slave rebellion sent paroxysms of fear and anger through the South and touched off rumors of conspiracies and slave uprisings. Brown was hanged, and although the Republicans denounced him as a wild‐eyed fanatic, many white southerners were convinced that the Republican Party was dominated by abolitionists and plotting with them to unleash a bloodbath in the slave states.

Lincoln's Election and the Secession Crisis.

Vowing to use federal power both to keep slavery in check and to promote the free labor economy of the North through protective tariffs, subsidies for railroads, and free homesteads in the West, the Republicans ran Abraham Lincoln of Illinois for the presidency in 1860. His victory over three rivals—Stephen Douglas for the Northern Democrats, John C. Breckinridge for the Southern Democrats, and John Bell, the candidate of former Whigs in the Upper South—was achieved with no basis of support in the South. Rather than accept Republican rule, Southern radicals immediately provoked a crisis by organizing a campaign for secession.

Pushing the constitutional doctrine of states' rights to its logical extreme, the secessionists held that individual states retained ultimate sovereignty within the Union and could peacefully leave the Union the same way they had entered it through special state conventions. Rejecting any plan of prior cooperation among the slave states, they pursued a strategy of separate state action, accurately predicting that the momentum of secession would force wavering states to join those that had already gone out.

South Carolina took the lead on 20 December 1860, and within six weeks seven states from the Lower South left the Union. Delegates from these states set up the provisional government of the Confederate States of America at Montgomery, Alabama, in February 1861. This original Confederacy represented those states with the heaviest concentration of slaves and the highest percentage of white families owning slaves. Planters were in the forefront of secession. What opposition they encountered from the majority of nonslaveholding farmers took the form of cooperationism, the argument that secession should be delayed until a united bloc of Southern states agreed to go out together. The cooperationists polled about 40 percent of the vote in the secession elections, but in the end they followed the leadership of the secessionist planters.

Fort Sumter and the Outbreak of War.

Northerners rejected the doctrine of secession. Believing that the Union was sovereign and perpetual, they viewed secession as illegal, indeed, revolutionary. They equated secession with anarchy and feared that it would lead quickly to a fragmentation of the United States and an end to America's mission of serving as a beacon of free government to the rest of the world. Still, no consensus existed on using coercion to force the seceded states back into the Union. In particular, Democrats were against coercion and favored negotiations to heal the sectional rift, even with the continuation of slavery. At the same time, the Unionists in the Upper South who had turned back secession in their slave states had hedged their Unionism by proclaiming that they would resist any Republican use of military force against a seceded state.

When inaugurated on 4 March 1861, Lincoln thus faced a dilemma. If he took no action against the Confederacy, he risked demoralizing his party and subjecting his administration to the same derision that had pilloried the outgoing Buchanan Democrats for standing by while the secessionists broke up the Union. On the other hand, any forceful step against the seceded states threatened to divide the North and drive the Upper South into the Confederacy.

Realizing that he could not afford to be locked into an endless policy of drift and delay, Lincoln decided to take a stand for the Union over Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the most visible installation in the Confederacy that was still under federal control. Aware that the garrison at Fort Sumter would be forced to surrender for lack of supplies sometime in early April, he ordered a relief expedition to the fort on 6 April. He stressed that the fort would be supplied “with provisions only; and that, if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition, will be made, without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the Fort.”

Lincoln in effect placed the decision for war in the hands of Confederate authorities. The government of Confederate President Jefferson Davis accepted that burden as the price it had to pay to establish the Confederacy as a sovereign power. On 9 April, Davis ordered Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard to demand the immediate surrender of Fort Sumter. Fearful of Union duplicity and anxious to avoid any possibility of having to fight two Union forces at the same time, Davis wanted Sumter in Confederate hands before the relief expedition arrived.

In the predawn hours of 12 April 1861, Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter. The capture of Fort Sumter occurred on April 13 and Maj. Robert Anderson surrendered the fort on 14 April. The next day, Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 state militia to put down what he defined as an insurrection. Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina scornfully rejected Lincoln's call for troops and joined the Confederacy in the next five weeks. Still, Lincoln now had a Northern majority behind the goal of preserving the Union with force. The Confederacy was cast as the aggressor that had fired the first shot of the Civil War, and the Northern crusade to save the Union persisted through four agonizing years of war.
[See also War: Causes of War.]


Roy F. Nichols , The Disruption of American Democracy, 1948.
Kenneth M. Stampp , And War Came, 1950.
Eric Foner , Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 1970.
William L. Barney , The Road to Secession, 1972.
Michael F. Holt , The Political Crisis of the 1850s, 1973.
David M. Potter , The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861, 1976.
J. Mills Thornton III , Politics and Power in a Slave Society, 1978.
Daniel W. Crofts , Reluctant Confederates, 1989.
Bruce Levine , Half Slave and Half Free, 1992.

William L. Barney

Civil War (1861–65): Military and Diplomatic Course The war between the North and South that followed Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency in 1860 claimed over 600,000 American lives and seriously threatened the balance of power in the Western Hemisphere. When Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to suppress the southern rebellion after the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, the federal government possessed overwhelming superiority in manpower and the material resources needed to conduct war in an industrial age. The Confederacy had a number of factors in its favor, however. To win, the North had to conquer vast territories and break the will of the Southern people. Furthermore, the railroads that made it possible to supply the large military forces it would take to occupy and conquer the South restricted the strategic flexibility of Union commanders. Finally, Southern armies enjoyed the advantage of operating in sympathetic and supportive territory.

The South also benefitted, although not to a crucial extent, from a generally superior level of military leadership. The traditional notion that a Southern dominance prevailed at West Point and the antebellum army has an element of truth to it, but should not be exaggerated. On the whole, Northern students tended to perform better at the technically oriented Military Academy. Consequently, after graduation they were assigned to the more prestigious artillery and engineering units, rather than the cavalry and infantry branches. There lesser‐performing Southern graduates tended to dominate, and the Civil War would be an infantryman's war.

The status of the West Point–trained military officer would be a source of friction for both sides throughout the war. The Union and the Confederacy benefitted immeasurably from the professional knowledge and expertise of the West Pointers. Yet neither society completely appreciated nor understood the specialized skills and standards the professionals deemed essential for conducting a modern war. In the North, suspicion of professional officers was further inflamed by the number of Southern officers who joined the Confederate army; in the South, by the clear preference President Jefferson Davis accorded West Pointers. For their part, professional officers often let their contempt for politics and civilians manifest itself in a haughty cliquishness and were at times unduly harsh in their efforts to impose military discipline.

Even the professionals were inadequately prepared for the revolution in warfare brought about by innovations in military technology. They did not appreciate how the dramatic enhancement of firepower provided by the widespread use of rifled muskets gave an overwhelming advantage to forces operating on the tactical defensive and rendered traditional assault tactics obsolete. And although West Pointers recognized the importance of field fortifications, none really anticipated the extent to which Civil War armies would employ them.

Both sides also encountered significant strategic problems. In the western theater (primarily the area between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains), three major rivers, the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi, provided Northern armies with excellent invasion routes. However, they would be vulnerable to raids and turning movements any time they operated away from river supply lines. In the east, Union and Confederate armies, for the most part, focused on the direct overland route between the two capitals, Washington and Richmond, through Fredericksburg Virginia. Yet both sides were capable of conducting strategic turning movements. The North, with its overwhelming naval superiority, could operate from the lower Chesapeake Bay along the rivers that reached into the Virginia heartland, which it did with some success in 1862 and 1864. The Shenandoah Valley could be used for the same purpose by the Confederate armies, and was in 1862, 1863, and 1864.

Although the war was ultimately decided on the battlefield, the diplomatic contest was no less important. By 1860 a state of detente prevailed between the United States and the European powers. The most important of these, Great Britain and France, valued the United States as a check against the ambitions of other European powers in the Western Hemisphere. Both countries also had strong ties of economic interdependence with North and South. Not only did both Britain and France need southern cotton to feed their textile industries, they also had heavy investments in northern land, railroads, and public securities.

Southerners nonetheless went to war confident of success in the diplomatic arena. The European powers, they surmised, would find it difficult to resist the opportunity presented by the rebellion to diminish U.S. power in the hemisphere. To assuage European fears of an overweening Confederacy, southern diplomats and statesmen continually emphasized their limited war aims, and portrayed themselves as a people merely seeking freedom from Yankee tyranny. British freetraders were also expected to resent protectionist trade policies a Republican administration was certain to implement.

However, the Confederate cause overseas was compromised during the early months of the war, when the European powers were establishing their initial policies, by overconfidence in their ability to achieve military success and a lack of a seasoned diplomatic corps. The South also underestimated Europe's determination to avoid involvement. Although sympathetic to the Southern struggle for self‐determination, and confident that the Union cause would ultimately fail, Europe was unwilling to recognize the Confederacy without some demonstration of its via bility as a nation. Yet if the South could meet this test, why, European statesmen could fairly ask, antagonize the North by getting involved if the Confederacy was going to win anyway?

The North had the advantage of merely advocating preservation of the status quo, which the European powers, especially Great Britain, had a powerful interest in maintaining. If sufficiently aroused, British statesmen feared the North might attempt to seize Canada. There was also the danger that diminution of American power might promote instability in the Americas, and compel a diversion of energy, resources, and attention away from affairs on the European Continent. Finally, British statesmen had to take into account the fact that their constituents were highly dubious of foreign adventures in the wake of the Crimean War.

This did not mean the North would have an easy time diplomatically. The British prime minister, Lord Viscount Palmerston, held a deep antipathy toward republican government in general, and Americans in particular. Furthermore, Palmerston viewed the war as a pointless one. Secession was in his mind an irrevocable fait accompli, and he doubted the Lincoln administration had either the means or the will necessary to restore the Union. To Palmerston, the question was not whether the South would win her independence, but whether the North would give up the fight before too much death and destruction had occurred. Britain's role, as he saw it, was to keep a pointless war from threatening the peace and stability upon which British imperial interests depended.

Responsibility for the North's diplomatic efforts rested with Secretary of State William H. Seward, a crafty and pragmatic politician who recognized the value of bluster in diplomacy. His sincere advocacy of a war against European intrusions in the Caribbean during the Fort Sumter crisis to revitalize southern Unionism shocked the diplomatic corps in Washington. Although Lincoln rejected the idea of a foreign war, Seward's actions during this critical period successfully fostered an image of American bellicosity that reinforced British and French caution in their dealings with the South.

The Union also benefitted immensely from the skill of the American Minister in Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams. His handling of affairs played a major role in settling a number of crises that threatened the Union war effort. The issue of slavery helped the North. Although European statesmen consistently approached the “American question” from a purely pragmatic standpoint, they and their constituents were unenthusiastic about supporting a nation founded in part to protect the institution of slavery.

In April 1861, however, Lincoln committed a grave blunder by declaring a blockade, which, according to international law, implied the existence of a conflict between two independent states. Britain responded with a proclamation of neutrality—in effect implying belligerent status on the Confederacy. Seward responded with a harsh warning that further steps in favor of the South would lead to a serious breach in U.S.–British relations. In London, Adams toned down Seward's message without losing its essence, and obtained assurances from Palmerston that he had no present intention of recognizing the Confederacy. Although both the proclamations of neutrality and the blockade would remain sources of friction, the North, by fixing the British and French into noninterventionist positions at the outset, had won a major diplomatic victory.

When Lincoln issued his call for volunteers after Fort Sumter, he made it clear that the North was fighting solely for the Union. No effort would be made to molest Southern civilians, their property or institutions, nor would any attempt be made to abolish slavery where it then existed. The president adopted this position for two reasons. First, he realized he needed a broad coalition of support in the North for the war. Adopting radical war aims might alienate more conservative elements of public opinion, particularly in those slave states that remained loyal. Lincoln also believed that the vast majority of Southerners were lukewarm about independence and had been forced to accept secession by irresponsible political leaders. To declare war on Southern institutions would, Lincoln and most northerners feared in 1861, unite the white South behind secession.

The task of developing a military strategy to achieve these political goals feel upon Gen. Winfield Scott, commander of all the Union armies. Scott put forth a two‐part plan, dubbed the “Anaconda” by the press, after the strangling snake, that represented both his and Lincoln's desire for an easy reconciliation between the sections. First, the Union navy would establish a complete blockade of the Southern states. Second, a combined army‐navy force of 80,000 men would capture the Mississippi Valley. Cut off from the outside world, Scott believed economic pressure would lead Southerners to reassert their natural loyalty to the Union with a minimum of bloodshed. Lincoln, however, felt Scott's plan would take too much time to implement and perhaps years to produce desirable results. Despite vigorous protests from many of his professional military advisers, Lincoln ordered an advance on the Confederate position near Manassas Junction, Virginia.

On 26 July 1861, the South won a close, but decisive, victory at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). A chastened Lincoln called Gen. George B. McClellan to Washington and appointed him commander of Union forces around the capital. McClellan's magnetic personality, success building the Army of the Potomac, and record of military victories in western Virginia impressed the president. On 1 November 1861, McClellan replaced Scott as general‐in‐chief of the Union army.

Rejecting the idea that large‐scale fighting could be avoided, McClellan advocated taking the time to assemble, organize, and train an overwhelming military force to render Southern resistance futile. At the same time, he championed a lenient policy toward the South and slavery to make returning to the Union as attractive as possible. McClellan's operational strategy called for the main land offensive to be made in Virginia against Richmond, the Southern capital and industrial center. Supporting op erations would be undertaken into East Tennessee to liberate the loyal population there and break the railroad that connected the eastern Confederacy with the west, and along the Mississippi River. Finally, McClellan wanted the navy to establish enclaves along the Southern coastline to support the blockade and pin down Confederate troops that might otherwise be sent to resist Union operations in Virginia.

In November 1861, however, only McClellan's Army was anywhere near ready to commence operations. To give Gen. Henry W. Halleck in Missouri and Gen. Don Carlos Buell in Kentucky time to organize their forces, McClellan decided to postpone offensive operations until the spring of 1862. By the time spring came, however, dissatisfaction with military delay had dramatically eroded McClellan's personal prestige with the Northern public and his relations with the President.

Among the sources of discontent with military inactivity in the winter of 1861–62 was a crisis in U.S.–British relations. In November 1861, a British mail steamer, the Trent, was stopped by a Union warship that took into custody two Confederate emissaries, James Mason and John Slidell. The Palmerston government was enraged, and quickly made it clear that if the Lincoln administration did not apologize and release Mason and Slidell, there would be serious consequences. To bolster the threat, the British began active military preparations in Canada. After several tense weeks the Lincoln administration backed down and surrendered the two emissaries in late December.

Responsibility for the formation of Southern military strategy fell upon President Davis, a West Pointer, Mexican War hero, and former secretary of war. On the surface, the Confederacy's strategic problem appeared much simpler: Southerners merely had to offer sufficient resistance to convince the North it could not be conquered. However, geography and political factors imposed serious limitations on strategic planning. The location of the Confederacy's small industrial base and vital agricultural areas in the upper South ruled out the adoption of a Fabian strategy. Such a strategy would also have placed the institution of slavery at risk, as the sight of Union armies marching through the South would have undermined the moral authority of the master class and served as a haven for runaway slaves. Perhaps even more important than these material considerations in shaping Southern strategy was a too widely espoused belief that as a point of honor the Confederacy should defend every inch of its soil.

Also widely espoused was a belief that Europe's voracious appetite for cotton would compel intervention. Although not officially sanctioned by the Confederate government, Southerners imposed an effective embargo on cotton exports to increase demand for the crop overseas. “King Cotton diplomacy” proved a disastrous failure, however. Bumper crops in 1857–60 had left British mills with more than enough cotton to process for an already satiated market. By the time the lack of cotton might have seriously affected the British economy, alternative sources in Egypt and India had been developed, and they more than made up the difference. Furthermore, poor harvests during the first two years of the war increased European demand for Northern food crops, making King Corn as important to European statesmen as King Cotton.

In January 1862, Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, under the command of Gen. Albert S. Johnston, held a badly overextended line that stretched from Columbus, Kentucky, on the Mississippi River to Mill Springs in eastern Kentucky. At the center of the line stood Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. In February, both fell to a joint army‐navy force commanded by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. This opened the Confederate heartland to invasion. With his flanks exposed by the penetration of his center, Johnston abandoned Kentucky and most of Tennessee. The industrial center of Nashville fell, and Union forces moved quickly up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

Political pressure and a belief that the burden of simultaneously serving as field commander and general in chief was too much led Lincoln to remove McClellan from the latter post in March 1862. Lincoln named no replacement, and instead intended to perform the functions of general in chief himself. He did, however, combine the western departments and appoint Henry Halleck as their overall commander. Upon assuming this position, Halleck decided to concentrate his forces for an operation against the strategic rail point at Corinth, Mississippi. Before Halleck could complete his concentration, Johnston, on 6 April 1862, attacked unprepared Union forces under Grant near Shiloh Church by the Tennessee River. Grant's army managed to hold on despite extremely heavy losses, and, reinforced by forces under Buell, launched a successful counterattack the next day. The Confederates retreated to Corinth, having lost the Battle of Shiloh; Johnston, who had been mortally wounded; and their bid to reverse Southern fortunes in western Tennessee.

In March, McClellan launched a combined navy‐army campaign from the lower Chesapeake Bay. After a month‐long siege before Yorktown, McClellan commenced a steady advance toward Richmond in the Peninsular Campaign. By early June, the Army of the Potomac was within ten miles of the Confederate capital, and the end of the rebellion appeared at hand.

But then two men emerged who would transform the war in Virginia, Gen. Robert E. Lee and his lieutenant, “Stonewall” Jackson. They recognized that if the Confederacy remained wholly on the defensive and continued to concede the strategic initiative, it would inevitably be crushed by superior numbers. To prevent this, they decided to seize the initiative by assuming the strategic and tactical offensive while attempting to defend the South.

It has been argued that Lee's aggressive strategy led him into tactical blunders and high casualties that bled the Confederacy white. Clearly, in retrospect, the ultimate objective of an offensive strategy, the destruction of the opposing army in battle, was a practical impossibility given the size and firepower of Civil War armies. Yet Lee recognized that if the South could only frustrate Northern military operations until the 1864 elections, the Northern public might replace the Lincoln administration with one more amenable to Southern independence. In May and June 1862, Jackson, with Lee's active support and encouragement, conducted a brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley that induced the Lincoln administration to hold back reinforcements from McClellan's army. Lee then called Jackson's force to Richmond, and took the offensive. In the Seven Days' Battle of 25 June–1 July 1862, McClellan responded to Lee's and Jackson's attack by conducting a successful fighting retreat to a new position on the James River.

The setback on the Peninsula and the tremendous casualties suffered by McClellan and by Grant at Shiloh had a profound effect on Northern opinion. Until the Seven Days' Battle, Lincoln had resisted calls for a more radical approach out of fear that it would stimulate Southern resistance. In July 1862, however, Lincoln saw little evidence that the conservative policy was convincing many southerners to lay down their arms. Lincoln also perceived a hardening of Northern public opinion, and began moving toward a more radical position on the war. In July, he read to his cabinet a draft of a proclamation emancipating the slaves in the Confederacy, but was persuaded to await a military victory before issuing it.

To achieve that victory, Lincoln organized a new army in Virginia and placed it under the command of John Pope, who issued a series of orders promulgating a tougher policy toward Southern property and civilians. Next, Lincoln restored the position of general in chief and appointed Halleck to the post. Finally, Lincoln then, through Halleck, ordered McClellan's army back to Washington to unite with Pope's forces. But Pope proved no match for Lee. In a brilliant campaign, Lee forced Pope back to the old battlefield of Bull Run before all of McClellan's army could join him, and, on 29–30 August 1862, won a crushing victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Lee then decided to cross the Potomac River into Maryland. Lee did this hoping to feed his army in Maryland rather than Virginia, recruit Marylanders into his army, and win a decisive victory on Union soil that would bring the North to the peace table. Lincoln reluctantly restored McClellan to command. The speed with which McClellan got his army reorganized and on the march surprised Lee, who had divided his army, and allowed the Federal commander to seize the strategic initiative. Compelled to abandon his plan of pushing into Pennsylvania, Lee reconcentrated his army near Sharpsburg, Maryland. There, on 17 September 1862, the two armies fought the battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day of combat in American military history. Although McClellan and his subordinates mismanaged the battle and failed fully to commit their superior forces, Lee was forced to return to Virginia.

While Lee was in Maryland, Confederates under Gen. Braxton Bragg were on the offensive in the West. After the capture of Corinth, a force under Buell was pushed east toward Chattanooga and East Tennessee. To counter this, Bragg decided to seize the strategic initiative by invading Kentucky. The invasion began well, but a drought that had plagued Buell's advance on Chattanooga also took a severe toll on Bragg's army and slowed its advance, giving Buell time to return to Kentucky. The two armies met in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, on 8 October 1862. Neither side gained a decisive victory, but Bragg, with his supply line overextended, was compelled to retreat to Tennessee.

Confederate victories in the summer of 1862 reinforced the Palmerston government's conviction that the Union could not be restored. Furthermore, suffering among British textile workers was increasing as the lack of cotton started to pinch. Consequently, after Second Bull Run, Palmerston began to seriously ponder an effort to bring the North and South to the negotiating table. It was hoped that an offer of mediation that did not explicitly recognize Confederate independence, would be amenable to the North now that the impossibility of the task of conquering the South had been proven. To facilitate the process of bringing the combatants to the table, the British sought partners in the venture abroad. France, although facing a crisis in Italy, had long been sympathetic to the Southern cause. But Russia, a staunch supporter of the north, was much cooler to the proposal for mediation.

On 22 September 1862, Lincoln finally issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation expecting that it, in combination with the victory at Antietam, would demonstrate both the Union's ability to achieve success on the battlefield and, by making the war one between slavery and freedom, destroy British interest in intervention. He was wrong on both counts, at least in the short term. The stalemated condition of the war after Antietam seemed only to demonstrate that even if the North could win battles, it could never do so in so overwhelming a fashion as to conquer the South, and that some form of outside intervention was necessary to stop the war. More importantly, the Palmerston government feared the Emancipation Proclamation would incite slave insurrections in the South and make restoration of a stable political, social, and economic environment in North America impossible. Consequently, Palmerston allowed members of his government to seriously discuss an armistice plan put forward by France.

Republican defeats in the 1862 congressional elections, however, were not significant enough to suggest the North's commitment to military victory had eroded to the point where an offer of mediation would be accepted. If Britain was to bring the North to the negotiating table, clearly there would have to be some coercion involved. At this point Secretary for War George Lewis brought a memorandum before the cabinet. Lewis shared Palmerston's view that the Union could not be restored by force of arms, and that the purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was to foment servile insurrection in the South. Yet in his memorandum, Lewis concluded that the South had yet to earn recognition. More importantly, Lewis gave a pessimistic assessment of Britain's ability to compel the North to accept an armistice or develop a workable solution that both sides would accept. Lewis's arguments carried the day. The British pulled back, and the crisis ended.

After Antietam and Perryville the Union high command attempted to impose an element of coordination among its main armies. In December, major operations were undertaken by Union armies at Fredericksburg in Virginia, Chickasaw Bayou in Mississippi, and Murfreesboro in Tennessee. Neither side achieved a decisive success, however, and as 1862 ended, the war settled into a stalemate.

The armies went into winter quarters and the Union high command adjusted its overall strategy. In Halleck, Lincoln had a man who would carry out his wishes without the acrimony and conflict that had characterized his relationship with McClellan. Halleck helped shape Lincoln's strategic thought and translated the president's wishes into military strategy. Both agreed that in making the Confederate capital the main target of strategic planning, McClellan had given insufficient priority to the security of Washington. They decided the Army of the Potomac would operate along the overland route with its focus more on defending Washington and neutralizing Lee's army than capturing Richmond. As long as it did not uncover Washington, the Army of the Potomac was to keep Lee's army busy to prevent it from detaching forces to reinforce Confederate armies in the west, and, if possible, catch Lee in a tactical or strategical mistake. Although willing to accept the prospect of stalemate in Virginia, Lincoln understood that Lee's aggressive generalship had offered an opportunity in Maryland to achieve a decisive victory. Such an opportunity might come again.

With the shift to a defensive strategy in the east and the change in Northern war aims, operations in the west took on greater importance and received greater priority. Halleck and Lincoln recognized that the adoption of emancipation as a war aim raised the stakes for the Confederacy, and dramatically reduced the chances for a quick end to the war. Despite its political, psychological, and material importance to the Confederacy, simply capturing Richmond would not end the rebellion. The entire South would have to be conquered. Halleck and Lincoln gambled that the Union armies could either win the war by 1864, or at least gain enough victories in the west to sustain popular support for the Lincoln administration and ensure its reelection that year.

By 1863, the Union had established control of the entire Mississippi Valley except for a stretch between Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana. A Union army‐navy expedition in 1862 had reached Vicksburg, but had been unable to take the town. In the summer of 1863, Grant, in a brilliant campaign, captured that fortified city commanding the Mississippi. Marching overland on the Louisiana side, and crossing the Mississippi below town, Grant moved quickly inland, drove off a force sent to assist the army defending Vicksburg, then turned back toward the town. After victories at Champion's Hill on 16 May and the Big Black River on 17 May, Grant drove the Confederate army back into the defenses of Vicksburg. On 4 July 1863, after a month‐long siege, Vicksburg surrendered, followed by Port Hudson less than a week later; thus allowing the Mississippi, in Lincoln's words, to flow “unvexed to the sea.” The Confederacy was divided in two.

After the Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Lincoln appointed Gen. Joseph Hooker commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker did a magnificent job reinvigorating the army, but in the field he proved no match for Lee and Jackson. In his tactical masterpiece, although outnumbered two‐to‐one, Lee won a brilliant victory at the Chancellorsville, Virginia in May 1863. The victory came at a tremendous cost, however. Jackson died after being accidentally shot by his own men.

Lee then embarked on another invasion of the North, this time into Pennsylvania. Lincoln recognized that Lee's action provided a second opportunity to catch the rebel army far from its base and administer the crippling blow McClellan had failed to deliver at Antietam. Having lost faith in Hooker, Lincoln replaced him with Gen. George Gordon Meade on 30 June 1863. Two days later the armies came into contact near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. For three days—1–3 July 1863 —Lee attacked the Union army in quest of decisive victory. Meade held his ground and the rebel army was compelled to return to Virginia. It had suffered such severe losses at the Battle of Gettysburg that it would never be the same again. The war in the east returned to a state of stalemate, with the two armies engaging in a war of maneuver that produced no major results.

Gettysburg and Vicksburg greatly diminished Southern prospects overseas. Beginning in 1863, the North's campaign to prevent intervention also benefitted from Great Britain and France's preoccupation with events in Europe, including the Polish insurrection of 1863 and the controversy over Schleswig‐Holstein in 1864. Yet in violation of the Monroe Doctrine, the French government of Napoleon III, in 1863, took advantage of the U.S. Civil War to install a puppet regime in Mexico under Emperor Ferdinand Maximilian. Confederate agents offered to recognize the new Mexican government in exchange for French recognition of Southern independence. Napoleon, however, remained unwilling to do this without Britain.

The French enterprise in Mexico did not go unnoticed by the Lincoln administration. After the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Nathaniel Banks was directed to conduct operations in the Trans‐Mississippi West, in part to capture cotton in that region, but also to show the flag. Although a campaign along the Red River in Louisiana failed, Banks was able to occupy Brownsville, Texas. After Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, the federal government sent 50,000 soldiers to the Mexican border. But by then Napoleon had already begun scaling back his enterprise. In 1867, the French misadventure collapsed, and Maximilian was executed by the Mexicans.

The most serious controversy on the diplomatic front during the last two years of the war was prompted by the efforts of Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory to obtain ironclad ships in Europe to break the Union blockade. The British government facilitated this enterprise by applying a narrow interpretation of a law that prohibited the construction and arming of warships in British territory. The Southern agent, James D. Bulloch, exploited this loophole by arranging for ships to be built unarmed in Britain, whence they would be sent to the Bahamas to complete construction. In 1862, Bulloch was able to acquire the steam and sail cruisers Florida and Alabama; both would enjoy productive careers as commerce raiders.

Bulloch then contracted with the Laird firm in Britain for two new vessels with rams to break the blockade. As they neared completion in the summer of 1863, Union minister Adams issued a series of hotly worded protests to the British Foreign Office warning of the consequences of allowing the ships to be released. Palmerston resented the tone of Adams's protests, but, with the Polish insurrection threatening the peace of Europe, could not afford a conflict with the United States. In September, his government ordered the detention of the ships.

In addition to its diplomatic triumphs, the Union achieved a second major military objective in 1863, the occupation of East Tennessee. That summer Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans conducted a brilliant campaign of maneuver and seized East Tennessee without a fight. After pausing briefly at Chattanooga, Rosecrans pushed on into Georgia. In September Bragg brought the Confederate retreat to a halt, and, his force augmented by reinforcements from Virginia, prepared a counterstroke to crush one of Rosecrans's three widely separated wings. Rosecrans awakened to the danger in the nick of time and quickly reconcentrated his army near Chickamauga Creek. However, a blunder by one of Rosencrans's subordinates allowed the Confederate army to win a smashing victory on 20 September 1863. Instead of following up his victory at the Battle of Chickamauga with a vigorous attack, Bragg decided to lay siege to the Union army in Chattanooga. Washington reacted to the crisis by placing Grant in command of all Union forces west of the Appalachian Mountains, and sent him two corps from the Army of the Potomac. After reestablishing a secure line of supplies, Grant smashed the Confederate line at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga on 24–25 November 1863.

In early 1864, Grant was called to Washington and promoted to general‐in‐chief. Grant appointed Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to replace him as overall commander in the western theater, and assigned him the task of bringing Bragg's army, now under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, to battle by campaigning against Atlanta. Grant would accompany Meade's army as it campaigned against Lee. Supporting movements would be made in the Shenandoah Valley and along the James River. To prevent the Confederacy, as it had at Chickamauga, from exploiting its interior lines, the Union armies would all begin their campaigns at the same time.

On 4 May 1864, the Army of the Potomac began its sixth campaign against Richmond. Over the next few weeks the Virginia theater endured the bloodiest month of the war, as the two armies fought the Battle of the Wilderness and the battles at Spotsylvania, the North Anna River, and Cold Harbor. Grant continually maneuvered in an effort to force Lee out of his entrenchments. Lee successfully countered all of Grant's moves, leading the Union commander to adopt a strategy of attrition. Willing to accept tremendous casualties, Grant, by pinning Lee in his entrenchments, made it impossible for the rebel commander to attempt another of the brilliant counteroffensives that had disrupted earlier Union campaigns.

After a futile attempt to break Lee's lines at Cold Harbor, Grant crossed the James River in June 1864, bypassing Richmond in hopes of seizing Petersburg and the railroads supplying Lee's army. When commanders on the scene failed vigorously to attack the lightly guarded town, Lee was able to bring his army down to defend Petersburg. The armies then settled into the Siege of Petersburg, a campaign of siegecraft that presaged the trench warfare of World War I. Throughout the fall and winter of 1864–65, Grant continually extended his left flank to the west, one by one seizing the railroads leading into Petersburg and inexorably forcing Lee to stretch his lines ever more thin.

Meanwhile, after a several‐weeks campaign of maneuver, Sherman's army reached the outskirts of Atlanta in July 1864. However, he had not “bagged” Johnston's army, nor did the town's capitulation appear in any way certain. Northern morale plummeted as Grant and Sherman's grand offensive, which had began with such promise, bogged down in frustrating and bloody stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta.

But Confederate leaders were not encouraged by the situation. Uncomfortable with the idea of allowing Grant and Sherman to maintain their grip on Petersburg and Atlanta, they decided to take the offensive. Realizing Grant's army was too strong for them to attack directly, Confederate leaders sent a force under Gen. Jubal Early on a raid in the Shenandoah Valley. In the west, the cautious and defensive‐minded Johnston was replaced on President Davis's orders by Gen. John Bell Hood, an aggressive young corps commander. Early reached the outskirts of Washington, but, after Grant sent back a full army corps to defend the capital, Early was forced to return to the valley. The Union forces around the capital and in the valley were then organized into a single force under the command of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. Sheridan then pursued Early into the Shenandoah Valley, winning battles at Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek in September and October 1864. Sheridan then undertook a campaign to destroy the valley, burning crops and any other resources that could be of use to the Confederate war effort.

In Georgia, Hood launched a series of costly and unsuccessful attacks on the Union army during the last week of July 1864. Afterwards, the Confederate army retreated to the defenses of Atlanta, but was forced to abandon the town in September 1864. The fall of Atlanta, combined with Sheridan's victories in the Shenandoah Valley, and a victory by naval forces under David Farragut at Mobile Bay in August, reinvigorated Northern morale and set the stage for Lincoln's reelection that November.

Sherman then obtained Grant's approval for a type of operation the two had been experimenting with for some time—large‐scale raids using army‐size forces. Recognizing that Southern civilians and their resources were as important as Southern armies in sustaining the rebellion, Sherman made them the objective of his campaign. The famous (or infamous, depending on one's viewpoint) Sherman's March to the Sea cut a sixty‐mile wide trail of destruction through Georgia. Not only was severe damage inflicted on Southern resources, but the fact that the North could morally and materially undertake such an operation had a severe impact on Confederate morale.

After reaching the coast at Savannah, Georgia, in December 1864, Sherman turned northward to join Grant for the final battle of the war. That same month, a desperate attempt by Hood to invade Tennessee ended with the destruction of his army at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. Johnston was restored to command to resist Sherman's movement through the Carolinas, but lacked the resources or manpower to be effective. Before Sherman could reach Virginia, Grant captured the last Confederate supply line at the Battle of Five Forks on 1 April 1865. Lee evacuated Richmond and Petersburg and made a bold attempt to link up with Johnston. Grant cut off Lee's retreat near a small crossroads town called Appomattox, Virginia. There Lee surrendered on 9 April. A few days later, Johnston surrendered to Sherman at Raleigh, North Carolina. With the surrender of the two major field armies resistance throughout the South ended despite the pleas of President Davis. The war was over, and with the sectional conflict finally settled, the United States was free to complete the task of conquering the continent and move toward realizing its destiny as one of the great nations of the world.
[See also Army Combat Branches; Army, U.S.: 1783–1865; Commander in Chief, President as; Confederacy, the Military in the; Marine Corps, U.S.: 1775–1865; Navy, U.S.: 1783–1865.]


David P. Crook , The North, the South, and the Powers 1861–1865, 1974.
Grady McWhiney and and Perry D. Jamieson , Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage, 1982.
Herman Hattaway and and Archer Jones , How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War, 1983.
Edward Hagerman , The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command, 1988.
Richard M. McMurray , Two Great Rebel Armies: An Essay in Confederate Military History, 1989.
Steven E. Woodworth , Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West, 1990.
Howard E. Jones , Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War, 1992.
Mark Grimsley , The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861–1865, 1995.
Robert May, ed., The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim, 1995.
Herman Hattaway , Shades of Blue and Gray: An Introductory Military History of the Civil War, 1997.
Charles Hubbard , The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy, 1997.
Joseph L. Harsh , Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Confederate Strategy, 1861–1862, 1998.
Steven E. Woodworth, ed., Civil War Generals in Defeat, 1999.

Herman Hattaway and and Ethan Rafuse

Civil War (1861–65): Domestic Course In the days following the capture of Fort Sumter, few Americans anticipated a lengthy conflict. President Abraham Lincoln responded to the crisis by calling for 75,000 90‐day volunteers, reflecting his confidence that the war would not last the summer. But, of course, such optimism proved ill‐founded. By any measure, the next four years would be the bloodiest in American history. How did the men and women on the home front respond to the war's enormous challenges?

In some fundamental ways, the North and the South faced very similar situations in April 1861. The outbreak of open hostilities, after months of uncertainty and division, prompted most citizens above and below the border states to “rally ‘round” their flag. Town dignitaries delivered bellicose speeches with puffed chests; editorials urged readers to new patriotic heights; bands blared. Military recruiters had no trouble obtaining volunteers in such an atmosphere; those who persisted in dissent generally maintained a judicious silence.

The Union and the Confederacy also faced comparable obstacles. Neither side was remotely prepared to fight a major war. The federal army only numbered about 16,000 men. The Confederacy had to start with nothing, although it did have the advantage of a more military‐oriented population, including compulsory military service and a disproportionate share of the nation's Mexican War veterans. And despite all the excitement, mid‐nineteenth‐century Americans had little familiarity with—and less enthusiasm for—the sort of activist central government a long war might require. These similarities notwithstanding, both sides went to war with dissimilar material and human resources. Moreover, the Confederate government was constructed in a society committed to states' rights and lacking a functioning two‐party system. Such differences helped mold distinctive patterns of wartime mobilization, and as the war dragged on, they created quite different home front experiences.


At the outset, mobilization in both North and South took on an almost carnival air. Young men rushed to volunteer for hastily organized companies, anxious to get in on the glory while there was still time. Before long, both sides discovered that they could no longer rely on such unfettered passion, and thus they turned—in stages—to various strategies initially to coax young men into uniform in the Union army or the Confederate army. The North enjoyed a huge numerical advantage. The free Union states had a total population of 19 million; the slaves states that stayed with the Union—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri—added another 3.2 million, although that number included many Southern sympathizers. The eleven Confederate states totaled just over 9 million people. These numbers understate the Union's numerical superiority by including the Confederacy's 3.5 million black slaves, who were central to the Southern economy and war effort but not deemed fit for military service. Furthermore, roughly 800,000 foreign immigrants arrived in the North during the war.

Both central governments initially relied on the states and localities to orchestrate recruiting. When Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis called for volunteers, each state received a quota to fill. By the time the three‐month recruits were returning home in late summer 1861, the North had issued calls for three‐year volunteers that yielded more than 700,000 men. The infant Confederacy had already requested 100,000 men before the capture of Fort Sumter in April and added another 400,000 the following month.

With winter approaching and the most willing recruits already in uniform, the Confederate Congress offered bounties and furloughs to convince volunteers to reenlist. In April 1862, the Confederacy passed the first national draft legislation, making white men between ages eighteen and thirty‐five eligible for conscription. The North was not too far behind. In June 1862, Lincoln called for 300,000 more three‐year volunteers. When the citizenry responded slowly, Congress passed the Militia Act giving state governors the power to draft men. That August, the Union implemented this new legislation by requisitioning 300,000 nine‐month militiamen, with the provision that states failing to meet their quota would be subject to a draft. In March 1863, the North replaced the controversial state militia drafts with federal conscription measures that were more on a par with the Confederacy's system.

The initial conscription legislation in both the Union and the Confederacy provided military‐aged men with ample opportunities for avoiding service. In addition to excluding men with certain disabilities, the Confederate legislation exempted a long list of professions, ranging from political and judicial officers to teachers and clergymen to workers in war‐related occupations. A later act exempted one white man from every plantation with twenty or more slaves. Each of these provisions could be defended in the name of military necessity or domestic stability, but together they triggered angry complaints of class legislation from nonslave owning Southern whites. The North's federal draft act had no occupational exemptions, but it did exclude men with numerous medical ailments or certain family obligations, as well as unnaturalized aliens. Most controversial were the provisions enabling wealthier conscripts simply to buy their way out of service. Following long‐standing European tradition, both sides allowed draft ees to send substitutes in their place, the North permitting conscripts to pay a commutation fee of $300 (an amount equal to a worker's annual wages) rather than serving.

As the war dragged on, the Confederacy was forced to widen its conscription net. The list of exemptions gradually shrank; the Southern Congress repealed the substitute clause and made all those who had furnished substitutes eligible for the draft; and the age parameters expanded to include white males between seventeen and fifty. The more populous North tinkered with its rules but made fewer substantial revisions other than restricting the controversial commutation clause to members of certain religious groups. (As many had feared, this resulted in a steady increase in the market price for substitutes.)

Despite the superficially similar rules, conscription played different roles in the two nations. Only about eight percent of Union soldiers were conscripts or substitutes. The four federal drafts were really designed to encourage enthusiastic local recruiting rather than to put conscripts into uniform. The Union army's provost marshal general announced draft days long in advance, giving communities every opportunity to fill their quotas and avoid a draft. Cities and towns responded by raising large bounty funds—which supplemented existing federal and state bounties—to encourage enlistment. The poorer South soon exhausted funds available for enlistment bounties, limiting the effectiveness of pre‐draft recruiting. Roughly one in five Confederate soldiers was either a draftee or a substitute.

In 1863, the North tapped a further manpower ad vantage when it decided to accept African Americans in the military. Blacks had served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, but black enlistment was prohibited in 1820. Many Northern blacks offered their services to the Union, but for long months racist assumptions about the ability of African American troops and political qualms about the costs of arming black volunteers conspired to keep black men out of uniform (although thousands did serve in the navy). The 1862 Militia Act allowed Lincoln to accept black volunteers, but it was not until after the 1 January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that the North aggressively recruited black volunteers. By the end of the Civil War, 179,000 African American men had served in 166 black regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops. The North commissioned few black officers and persisted in giving black regiments inferior wages, equipment, and assignments. In the war's waning months the Confederate Congress voted to accept black soldiers, but this legislation was passed too late to be tested in practice.

By the end of the war, roughly half of the North's military‐aged white men had served in uniform, as compared with nearly four‐fifths of Southern white males of military age. Some critics at the time and some later historians charged that the war became “A Rich Man's War But a Poor Man's Fight,” yet comparisons of the occupational distribution of sampled soldiers with data from the 1860 census indicate that both armies were surprisingly representative of the white male populations. The Northern army was also not, as sometimes suggested, dominated by foreign mercenaries; immigrants were actually underrepresented in the Union ranks.

Economic Mobilization and Its Effects.

The North enjoyed enormous economic advantages over its weaker adversary. In 1860, roughly 90 percent of the nation's manufacturing output was from the Northern states. The Union's economic superiority was particularly pronounced in key war‐related sectors, such as textiles, boots and shoes, iron, and firearms. Moreover, the North had a near monopoly in railroads and shipping. The agrarian South was even behind its Northern neighbor in some critical foodstuffs. In 1860, Northern agriculture was producing half the nation's corn and four‐fifths of its wheat.

With a few key exceptions, the Union was able to outfit its armies through private contracting rather than establishing federally owned factories. Unlike modern conflicts, this war did not call for the vast production of uniquely military goods. Most of the items needed to feed, outfit, and arm a soldier could be provided by existing farms and factories; a few government arsenals produced the rest. Lacking an established industrial base, the Confederacy found itself in far more challenging circumstances.

Here was one of the war's many ironies. Whereas the Union could rely on private enterprise, the states' rights–oriented Confederacy was forced to build nationally owned factories, subsidize private enterprises, regulate prices, and impress goods and services (including slave labor) to meet the war's economic needs. With the passage of time, the South's economic deficiencies became more glaring. The Union blockade limited Confederate access to foreign ports, and the North's military successes destabilized portions of the Southern economy. Above all, Southerners learned to reuse materials where they could and to manage with less wherever possible.

The Northern war effort cost an estimated $2.3 billion; the smaller Confederacy spent roughly $1 billion. As he developed strategies to fund the war, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase had a host of advantages over his Confederate counterpart, Christopher G. Memminger. In many senses, the fiscal history of the war runs parallel to the mobilization of the armies, with both sides employing similar strategies tailored in distinctive ways to meet their individual needs. The wealthier North funded most of its costs through the sale of interest‐bearing bonds. These bonds, sold largely under the enthusiastic direction of Philadelphia banker Jay Cooke, enabled the Union, effectively, to “borrow” roughly two‐thirds of its military expenses from its own citizens or from foreign investors. The North covered an additional 20 percent of its expenses through a assortment of import duties and taxes, including a modest federal income tax. It paid for the war's remaining costs by issuing “greenbacks,” printed notes not backed by specie or any precious metal.

This new currency, which was authorized by the Legal Tender Act of 1862, proved crucial to the smooth functioning of the wartime economy while passing on part of the war's costs to consumers in the form of relatively high inflation. The South, with less disposable wealth and a poorly developed financial structure, could fund only about 40 percent of its costs through taxation and the sale of bonds. Instead, the Confederacy had to rely on massive issues of paper money, triggering a disastrously high inflation.

The war's economic strains fell unevenly on different groups across the home front. The booming Northern economy assured low unemployment, but soon wage earners chafed at the burden of rising prices. The more skilled urban artisans managed to organize and negotiate comfortable raises; the less skilled, including scores of women who worked for unscrupulous military subcontractors, for example, in the manufacture of uniforms, suffered through declining real wages. Federal forces only intervened in a handful of labor conflicts, and then only under the guise of claimed military necessity. Heavy wartime demands for food, poor European harvests, and disproportionately high enlistment rates among agricultural workers combined to produce a variety of results: unusually high profits for farm owners; increased wages for the agricultural workers who remained at home; and unprecedented investment in agricultural machinery. Women and men on the Confederate home front felt the war's economic pains even more acutely. By mid‐1863, the combination of high prices and food shortages had driven many Southerners into open dissent. In April, an angry mob composed largely of women destroyed much of Richmond's shopping district after their appeals for relief from inflated food prices had gone unanswered.

Richmond's “bread riots” underscored the war's effect on women and children on the home front. In the prosperous North, some benevolent institutions reported proportionally greater demands from women, perhaps reflecting the combined weight of more economic opportunities for male workers and soldiers and the loss of family income when men fell on the battlefield. Cities and towns across the North collected special funds for the “families of volunteers,” providing much needed relief while adding further incentives to reluctant enlistees. Southern women bore the brunt of the Confederacy's economic ills without much opportunity for relief. When private charities ran dry, Southerners turned to unprecedented public welfare measures, at the local, state, and national levels. But inflation, inefficiency, and overwhelming numbers conspired to limit the effectiveness of these initiatives.

For some women, the Civil War's economic challenges brought new opportunities. Although the Union's military demands did not produce an army of nineteenth‐century factory women, the war did accelerate the movement of Northern women into positions as clerks, teachers, and nurses. In both the North and the South, white women took on expanded agricultural roles when white men left for the front. This was particularly true in the Confederacy, where women often acted independently of any male influence. Wartime necessity also forced Southern women into new positions, but they continued to run up against cultural barriers. The North, for instance, proved more receptive to the use of female nurses.

For Southern blacks, there was no such ambiguity. Long before the war ended, hundreds of thousands of slaves had won their freedom. The story of wartime emancipation reflects the complexity of national, local, and individual forces. As official Northern policy slowly inched its way toward Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect 1 January 1863, individual slaves responded to their own circumstances, pursuing freedom when absent masters or approaching Union troops provided the best opportunities. Many of these freed slaves remained in the South, finding refuge behind Union lines, while others fled to the North. The process of piecemeal emancipation left much of the Southern agricultural economy in disarray while laying the groundwork for various wartime experiments with the ramifications of free labor.

Politics and Dissent.

Four years of war produced serious strains on domestic politics in both the Union and the Confederacy. In most fundamental ways the Confederate leaders modeled their new constitution and government after the nation that they had abandoned. After all, the seceding states had insisted that they were the true heirs to the founders of the republic. Beneath the structural similarities, however, lay important political differences. Whereas Lincoln entered a political arena with a strong two‐party system, Davis presided over a nation that would be torn by factionalism but without any party mechanisms to register (and control) dissent. Moreover, many of the Confederacy's leaders had worked during the antebellum decades as political dissenters, resisting perceived challenges to states' rights.

From his first days in office, Lincoln had to navigate between the radical Republicans in his own party, such as Thaddeus Stevens, and an increasingly vocal array of dissenting Peace Democrats. The relative unanimity that followed the outbreak of hostilities quickly dissolved as Northerners debated a series of controversial war measures including the Habeas Corpus Act, conscription, greenbacks, and, above all, emancipation. Even Unionist War Democrats in Washington and across the North criticized policies that they claimed enacted an unconstitutional Republican agenda.

The administration countered with aggressive measures to silence the most dangerous dissent, the Peace Democrats. Soon after the capture of Fort Sumter, Lincoln ordered the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the border states. This set in motion a critical series of events in Maryland: military authorities threw several prominent local figures, including wealthy secessionist John Merryman, in jail; in Ex Parte Merryman (1861), U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney of Maryland responded by ordering Merryman's release; and Lincoln refused to yield, leaving it to history to judge his actions. The following year, with the state militia drafts underway, federal officials arrested several hundred vocal draft resisters and five dissenting newspaper editors while suspending publication of several opposition newspapers. By 1863, the Northern “Copperheads”—the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party—had won important strongholds across the Midwest and in some areas of the East. In May, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside ordered the arrest of dissenting Ohio congressman Clement L. Vallandigham, triggering another round of angry outbursts.

As the election of 1864 approached, Lincoln had every reason to fear that he would lose to the Democratic challenger, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. McClellan, long a thorn in the president's side, had repeatedly criticized emancipation, the loss of civil liberties, and Lincoln's overall handling of the war. When the votes were counted, Lincoln had managed to garner 55 percent, aided by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's recent successes in the South and the overwhelming support of absentee ballots from the Union Army.

Historians have often compared Lincoln with Jefferson Davis, generally finding the Confederate president lacking. The South's material disadvantages forced Davis into a series of measures that dramatically expanded the central government while placing him in the center of controversy. This process of central government growth, which Emory Thomas (1979) has termed a “political revolution,” included the continent's first draft legislation, impressment of goods and labor, the suspension of civil liberties, and a wide range of ventures into economic control. Davis faced heated opposition from strong‐minded state governors as well as attacks from much closer to home, often led by his vice president, the surly Georgian Alexander Stephens. Davis, like Lincoln, used his authority to declare martial law in sensitive areas, but civil liberties for whites may have in fact fared better in the Confederacy (for instance, freedom of the press survived unscathed in the South).

Much of the most rigorous wartime dissent was voiced beyond the boundaries of normal political discourse. Northerners fretted over secret societies, such as the notorious Knights of the Golden Circle, which reputedly conspired against the Union. Portions of the nonslave hill country and mountain region in the South remained bastions of pro‐Union sympathy throughout the conflict. The North's worst internal violence followed tension‐filled conscription days, but often reflected broader tensions. In July 1863, disgruntled conscripts attacked a draft office, triggering four days of New York City antidraft riots, which led to much carnage. Many of the rioters were Irish immigrants who took out their hostilities on African Americans.

In addition to periodic food riots, portions of the Confederacy experienced violence at the hands of roving companies of guerrillas. Some of these groups had at least passing connections to formal military bodies, but others were little more than desperate bands of hungry deserters. Even where the South did not divide into open warfare, declining troop morale eventually took a tremendous toll, inciting soldiers to flee the army and accelerating the demise of the Confederacy.

Supporting the War Effort.

For most people on the home front, the “citizens' war” provided a wealth of opportunities to assist the war effort. In the North, women and men labored in a wide variety of voluntary societies designed to fill the gaps in the official governmental machinery. Local women's groups sewed clothing, rolled bandages, visited hospitals, fed traveling soldiers, and provided refuge for escaped slaves. Fund‐raising concerts and fairs, modeled on antebellum practices, enabled the volunteers to mail packages off to distant soldiers. Two national bodies—the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the U.S. Christian Commission—emerged to organize and direct some of these benevolent efforts. Confederate women threw themselves into war work with equal vigor. White women of all classes gathered at sewing circles to produce all manner of goods for the men in gray. As the Confederacy faced financial ruin, Southern women demonstrated their patriotism by staging fund‐raisers or sacrificing heirlooms. Even in its heyday, Southern voluntarism did not spawn bodies comparable to the North's national commissions, and long before the war had ended the South had exhausted whatever funds the volunteers could raise.

Civil War voluntarism raises important questions of gender for historians. Women in both the North and South earned widespread notice and praise for their “noble” wartime sacrifices. Sacrifice for larger benevolent causes was nothing new for American women, but the scale of wartime activities and the paucity of civilian men (at least white men in the South) enabled some women to go beyond established practices. Southern historians—weighing the economic, political, and voluntaristic experiences of Confederate women—remain divided over how much, and for how long, the war opened the door to changing gender roles.

A few Northern women such as Clara Barton rose to positions of national prominence, but the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission remained largely under male direction. Nevertheless, women in some communities (Chicago, for instance) took on unfamiliar authority, and the organizational skills and theories that scores of volunteers developed at the grassroots level proved crucial in molding the postwar activities of a key cohort of female activists. Overall, the conflict helped expand the range of experiences for many women while probably doing little to alter commonly held assumptions about gender and war.

In addition to providing material and emotional assistance to the soldiers, home front volunteers sought to affect public opinion and otherwise contribute to wartime discourse. Most of the organized Civil War “propaganda” emerged from a handful of Northern publication societies. The first few years of the war saw the occasional printing of partisan pamphlets by interested individuals, a practice that had a long American tradition. In 1863, the Democrats raised the stakes with the establishment of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Political Knowledge. Soon Philadelphia's Union League had countered with its own Board of Publications while the equally partisan Loyal Publication Society began operations in New York City. These, and a few other smaller bodies, flooded the North with millions of copies of several hundred political publications, many of which aimed to sway the electorate in 1864. Some authors wrote extremely sophisticated pamphlets, examining esoteric constitutional issues; others aimed their rhetoric at a broader, less educated, audience. Taken together, these Northern pamphlets provided members of the Union League and their antagonists with a crucial vehicle for reaching a broad audience outside formal party politics. So did patriotic songs such as “Dixie” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”


The Civil War home front offers a host of perspectives. The military historian can find seeds of success and failure in the goings‐on behind the lines. For instance, although the South was outmanned and outgunned, a strong case can be made that the Confederacy's fall owed much to the loss of civilian morale. Scholars of race, gender, and class have mined the war years for evidence of both changing relationships and stubborn continuities. Emancipation forever reshaped American race relations, but racial inequalities persisted in both the North and South. Although wartime women earned approval for their highly public patriotic efforts, suffragists had to wait three more generations for the vote. Economic historians have dismissed the notion that the war launched a “takeoff” into postwar industrial growth, while stressing the importance of emancipation in reducing Southern agriculture.

The political and institutional history of the home front is full of interesting ironies. Focusing on the North, it is tempting to tell a tale of Lincoln and the Republican Party using the pressures of war to promote sweeping national reform. After all, the legislative litany includes taxation, greenbacks, banking reform, conscription, and emancipation. But if we widen our lens to include the Confederacy—the bastion of militant individualism and states' rights—we find far more evidence of an expanded national state, including more aggressive conscription and a much greater federal role in economic affairs. In truth, both regions remained devoted to tradition and localism throughout the war. Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy went further than the Union in using the machinery of a central government to support the war effort, but only because conditions required it.
[See also Agriculture and War; Civil Liberties and War; Congress, War, and the Military; Economy and War; Industry and War; Labor and War; Race Relations and War; Society and War.]


Emory Thomas , The Confederate Nation: 1861–1865, 1979.
Phillip Shaw Paludan , “A People's Contest”: The Union and the Civil War, 1861–1865, 1988.
George C. Rable , Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism, 1989.
Roger Ransom , Conflict and Compromise: The Political Economy of Slavery, Emancipation and the American Civil War, 1989.
Richard F. Bensel , Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859–1877, 1990.
Maris A. Vinovskis, ed., Toward a Social History of the American Civil War: Exploratory Essays, 1990.
James W. Geary , We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War, 1991.
Mark E. Neely , The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, 1991.
Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber, eds., Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, 1992.
James M. McPherson , Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1982; 2nd ed. 1992.
J. Matthew Gallman , The North Fights the Civil War: The Home Front, 1994.
Drew Faust , Mothers of Invention, 1996.

J. Matthew Gallman

Civil War (1861–65): Postwar Impact By their very nature, civil wars leave open wounds and unsettled scores behind. Despite the recently rejuvenated notion that the Civil War of 1861–65 created modern America, the legacy is far more ambiguous and complex. The war stifled the Confederacy's bid for national independence and destroyed the institution of slavery upon which it rested. The ensuing peace—specifically, the Radical Reconstruction crafted by the Republican Party—reunited the nation economically and politically, yet did so on terms that not just the defeated Confederates came to resent. Small wonder that each generation has assessed the war through the prism of its own central political concerns.

The veterans from both sides were the first and probably the most partisan revisionists. On some points they found near unanimity: Northern veterans believed they had saved the Union and given a new birth to freedom; Confederate veterans believed they had fought nobly for independence and might well have prevailed had their resources not given out. But both argued endlessly over the specifics.

The legions of popular and academic authors who have studied the war have discerned no clearer pattern of grand truths from the clutter of documented facts. Moreover, today, thousands of ordinary citizens not only retrace the soldiers' steps literally across preserved battlefields but claim expertise about the war as they do for no other event in U.S. history. Partly because of and partly in spite of such interest, attempting to understand the long‐term impact of the Civil War has produced as much conflict as consensus.

From a strictly military standpoint, the war appears to many historians as the first modern war. A technological explosion around midcentury accounted for such innovations as rifled small arms and ordnance, armor‐plated steam vessels, and primitive machine guns and submarines. Corresponding changes in transportation and communications helped make the Civil War more like World War I than Napoleonic warfare. Yet old‐fashioned tactics retained grisly currency, and both armies depended upon animal power—mules for supply and horses for tactical mobility—to the very end. Clearly, this was a transitional time wherein elements of the old and the new were mixed.

In its unprecedented requirements for men and goods, the Civil War called forth novel administrative skills and structures. The Confederate central government took a commanding role in these affairs, largely due to the comparatively underdeveloped industrial and transportation infrastructure in the plantation states before the war. Although the U.S. government in Washington increased dramatically in size, and expenditures during Abraham Lincoln's presidency surpassed those of all his predecessors combined, Northern officials relied upon conventional market mechanisms and the lure of profits rather than coercion to meet their need for supplies. Whereas early in the war, bureaucrats with extensive administrative experience—such as Edwin M. Stanton, whom Lincoln appointed secretary of war—were in short supply, the crucible of war quickly changed that.

From the standpoint of manpower, both sides departed sharply from precedent in resorting to conscription to replenish their ranks. Precisely because conscription was so European a practice, Americans had abhorred it from the time of the Revolutionary War. Citizens of the Confederate states, who endured the draft a year before their Yankee counterparts did, also suffered levies upon food, wagons, work animals, and other militarily useful supplies. Although Northerners escaped such material tolls and their demoralizing consequences, they found much to criticize in the draft of men. The New York City anti‐draft riots of July 1863 epitomized the opposition. Even apart from the disturbances that it produced, the Union's draft worked poorly. As a result, the military‐run, undemocratic conscription served largely as a negative example for the future.

The North's other major overture toward filling the ranks, the recruitment of African Americans in the military, left a much more significant legacy. This policy reflected the North's commitment to destroying slavery, as best expressed in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1 January 1863. Besides its grant of freedom to slaves in the Confederate states, the proclamation also provided for the wholesale incorporation of black men into the Union army.

Like most other innovations of the Civil War years, the legacy of this mobilization was mixed. On the negative side of the ledger, African American soldiers endured separate and unequal treatment to the end. When the demographics of demobilization dictated that they would play a major role in occupying the defeated South, Washington forestalled that opportunity by assigning black regulars to positions along the Atlantic coast and the border with Mexico, far removed from possible contact with former slaves. And for their part, black sailors soon found themselves again subjected to the prewar quota system (5% of total enlistments) and consigned systematically to the ratings of cook and steward.

On the positive side of the ledger, African Americans won a permanent—though neither undisputed nor uncheckered—place in the armed forces of the reunited nation. The all‐black 24th and 25th Infantry and 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments (the fabled “Buffalo” Soldiers) created a legacy of loyalty and sacrifice that persisted well into the twentieth century. Even more important, the service of nearly 200,000 black soldiers and sailors—the overwhelming majority of whom were former slaves—established a claim for citizenship rights that the nation attempted to satisfy in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Participation by former slaves in the political life of the ex‐Confederate states followed. Affiliation with the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, persisted among black voters until the 1930s. Union army veterans played an important part in this allegiance.

The war conferred a similarly mixed legacy upon the officer corps of the army and the navy. Although most volunteer officers returned to civilian life after the war, men who opted for continued service encountered considerable frustration. Reduced from their inflated if temporary (brevet) rank to the more prosaic regular rank in the shrunken regular army, officers faced an abundance of boredom and danger but little glory on the western frontier. Naval officers likewise languished in the smaller postwar navy, often spending years at the same grade with little hope of promotion in a fleet a mere shadow of its wartime counterpart. In part because of their isolation from civilian life, officers in both branches cultivated a strong sense of professionalism. Postwar military school systems helped the officer corps regain the collective confidence it had enjoyed at the end of the Civil War.

Scholars have assessed the impact of the war on the national government variously over the years. Early studies stressed the transformation of the prewar state of limited constitutional authority into a powerful centralized government, which the metamorphosis of “the United States” from a plural to a singular construction neatly captures. During the past generation, social scientists from various disciplines have examined the Civil War from the standpoint of state formation. Often they employ a comparative method that likens the process of national consolidation in the United States with that in late nineteenth‐century Germany, Italy, Japan, and Brazil. Whereas some scholars take the approach that centralized bureaucratic states are the functional byproducts of industrial society, most insist that historically specific considerations determine the evolution of the state in relation to society. From the latter perspective, the Civil War presents a treasure trove of insights.

With nearly monopolistic control over the wartime government in Washington, the Republican Party enacted pivotal measures regarding homesteads, banking and the currency, education, railroads, and the freed slaves. But even in such circumstances, policymakers found it easier to prosecute military victory than to secure the peace. Amid increasingly rancorous debate, congressional Republicans seized the Reconstruction process from President Andrew Johnson, guaranteed the freedom and citizenship of the former slaves, and imposed temporary military rule on the South. Obstinate opposition from white southerners coupled with growing disenchantment among white northerners soon fragmented the Republican coalition. Party moderates backed away from guaranteeing citizenship rights, from supporting the elected Republican governments in the former Confederate states, and from radically transforming the southern economy. Content in the knowledge that the South (like the West) was subject to the economic dominion of the Northeast, Washington acquiesced in southern “home rule.” Former Confederate soldiers led the way in forcibly removing freedmen from public life.

If students of the late nineteenth‐century South tend to view the consequences of the war as devastating to the regional economy, students of the national economy show far less unanimity over the effects of the Civil War. Some seventy years ago, historians Charles R. and Mary A. Beard (1927) declared that the war constituted “The Second American Revolution,” which removed southern agrarians from national power and thereby made possible the industrial transformation of the nation after 1865. Historians who have examined this thesis using assorted interpretive frameworks and techniques have reached no firm consensus. Whereas some would confirm the Beards' assertion that the war ushered in the industrial transformation, others perceive it as a retardant force. Given the accelerating pace of industrialization before the war, the critics argue, the war in fact slowed development, largely due to the diversion of human and material resources. Yet statistics of economic performance do not tell the whole tale.

The true measure of the war's economic impact lies in its consolidation of federal dominion over the North Amer ican landmass the United States had accumulated during the first half of the nineteenth century. Just as reconstructing the South was key to this objective—even if remaking the southern economy along demonstrably northern lines was of secondary importance—controlling the Indians of the Great Plains figured prominently in the larger scheme. Although the wartime and postwar conflicts between Anglo‐Americans and Native Americans grew out of grievances present in such encounters from the seventeenth century onward, there were many new factors in the equation.

Aside from the growing desire of white homesteaders and prospectors for access to Indian lands, railroad interests laden with federal land grants increased the demand. Missionaries and officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs made strong overtures on behalf of “civilizing the savages,” all of which strengthened the federal commitment to confining each tribe to a specific reservation (and by 1887 produced the Dawes Severalty Act and the fixation with individual land allotments). Civil War politics further complicated the mix, the most famous instances being the “disloyalty” of the Five Civilized Tribes in the Indian Territory and the violent rebellions undertaken by the Sioux on the northern plains and the Comanches in the southwest desert. When in the late 1860s, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and Gen. Philip H. Sheridan set out to subdue the Indians' resistance to federal authority, they took full advantage of the new weaponry and means of transportation that the Civil War had proven. Their use of the new tactics of unconditional surrender—winter campaigns, making war on women and children, and destroying villages and crops in the Plains Indians Wars forced the Native Americans to succumb.

In sum, the Civil War has left a mixed, even contentious, legacy in the different sections of the nation and among the different sectors of the population. Moreover, as each generation born since the war has found—alternately to its delight and its dismay—that legacy is not fixed and immutable. Instead, it is subject to reinterpretation. Perhaps the recurrent controversy that surrounds the public display of the Confederate battle flag best illustrates a key interpretive insight: though struggles over the legacy of the war may degenerate into mere skirmishes or escalate into full‐scale wars, their guns, unlike those of 1861–65, will never fall completely silent.
[See also Economy and War; Industry and War; Society and War; State, The.]


Charles A. and and Mary R. Beard , The Rise of American Civilization, 2 vols., 1927.
Jay Luvaas , The Military Legacy of the Civil War, 1959.
Emory M. Thomas , The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience, 1971.
Robert M. Utley , Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866–1890, 1973.
Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds., The Black Military Experience, 1982.
Edward Hagerman , The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare, 1988.
Philip Shaw Paludan , “A People's Contest”: The Union and Civil War, 1861–1865, 1988.
Richard Franklin Bensel , Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in American, 1859–1877, 1990.
Theda Skocpol , Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States, 1992.

Joseph P. Reidy

Civil War (1861–65): Changing Interpretations The Civil War had not even ended before it was being interpreted, although in many cases, the earliest interpretations of the war sprang directly out of the justifications Northerners and Southerners had offered for beginning and sustaining it. Resentful Southerners like Edward Pollard in The Lost Cause (1867) announced that the South had waged the war in defense of a genteel, noncompetitive agrarian society, and only the brute force of Northern numbers and weapons had defeated it. Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stephens defined the “Lost Cause” as a political one, in which the Confederacy stood for a strict reading of the federal Constitution and resistance to the centralization of power in the national government. The place of slavery in these Southern interpretations was reduced to a pretext Northerners had seized upon for provoking the war.

By contrast, Northerners in the first two decades after the war interpreted it primarily as a moral crusade against slavery. Isaac N. Arnold in his History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery (1866), John W. Draper in his History of the American Civil War (1868–70), and former Senator Henry Wilson in his History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power (1872–77) all insisted that the war had been caused by the wicked ambitions of a “slave power” conspiracy to subvert American republican virtue.

By the end of the century, as Americans were faced with the problems of industrialization, immigration, and labor unrest, it became easier to downplay the divisiveness of the war and recast it as the painful but necessary forge in which a single, unshakable American national identity was created. Academic historians, from James Ford Rhodes —History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 (1893–1919
) to Arthur C. Cole —The Irrepressible Conflict, 1850–1865 (1934)
, urged that slavery be seen as an institutional problem which the war removed in the interest of achieving national unification, rather than as the basis for a conspiratorial “slave power.” However, professional historians who were shaped by the economic Progressive tradition and the horrors of World War I took this as evidence that the moral rhetoric of the war, whether for abolitionism or the “Lost Cause,” had been hollow from the start. In Avery Craven 's The Repressible Conflict, 1830–1861 (1939)
and James G. Randall 's multivolume history of the Lincoln administration and his long‐lived textbook, The Civil War and Reconstruction (1937
), the war became a needless conflict, triggered by a generation of blundering politicians, since slavery would have eventually proven economically unprofitable, they argued. Or worse than that, Charles and and Mary Beard , in The Rise of American Civilization (1927
), declared that the real agenda of the war had been the dominance of the national economy by Northern industry and finance. Southern historians like Charles Ramsdell and Frank L. Owsley, who were inspired by the unrepentant anticapitalism of the Southern agrarian movement of the 1930s, converted the Beards's thesis into an unintended echo of the “Lost Cause” myth, in which the South appeared as a helpless victim of Northern cultural and economic aggression.

The economic emphasis of the Progressive historians was itself challenged by the moral commitments of World War II. The defeat of totalitarian ideologies abroad, and later the power of the civil rights movement to shake the conscience of the nation, once again made it possible to see the Civil War as a moral moment. Kenneth Stampp 's And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860–1861 (1950
) defiantly insisted that the moral argument over slavery was, after all, the vital element in the making of the war. Allan Nevius , over the course of his multivolume Ordeal of the Union (1947–50) and The War for the Union (1959–60
), also gradually moved slavery back to the center of the war's meaning. James M. McPherson 's two single‐volume histories, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (1982) and Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988
), similarly shifted from treating the war as a Beardian conflict between a “modernizing” North and an underdeveloped South to describing it as the solution to the ideological contradiction of slavery in a liberal republic.

The tremendous upsurge in Civil War literature which began shortly before the centennial of the war in 1961, and which was renewed in the late 1970s and 1980s, encouraged the exploration of a number of new interpretations of specific aspects of the war. Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson resurrected the older arguments about the South's cultural uniqueness and applied them controversially to Southern military tactics, arguing that the South's “Celtic” culture explained the Confederacy's propensity for costly head‐on offensives. By contrast, political and intellectual historians argued that the Confederacy had not been unique enough: David Donald, Drew Faust, Paul Escott, Emory Thomas, and the authors of Why the South Lost the Civil War ( Richard Beringer, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still) inverted the old nationalist argument and claimed that the Confederacy was as much an example as the North of an experiment in nation‐building. George Rable, in The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics (1994), argued that the Confederacy actually saw its political experiment in the war as a struggle to resist ideological uniqueness and reassert the pristine virtues of eighteenth‐century republicanism.

The question of the Civil War's significance in military terms has taken on particularly new force in recent studies. The impact of British military social historians like John Keegan in the 1970s set off calls for the application of a “face of battle” interpretation to Civil War combat studies, and helped produce innovative studies of Civil War soldier behavior from Reid Mitchell and Gerald Linderman. Much more subject to debate were challenges to two cherished notions about the overall strategic significance of the war. One of these, beginning with David Donald and T. Harry Williams, claimed that Civil War field strategy had been dominated by the ideological lessons of Antoine Henr Jomini and Dennis Hart Mahan, both of which fostered a passion for Napoleonic‐style headlong offensive that had been rendered out‐of‐date by the rifled musket. Both Williams and Donald believed that a handful of federal generals, headed by Ulysses S. Grant, learned to ignore Jomini and Mahan, and to master the new lessons of industrial technology and communications sufficiently to lead the North to victory.

A second and related interpretation of Civil War strategy located the center of the Civil War's “modernity” in its development into a “total” war. From T. Harry Williams in Lincoln and His Generals (1952)
up through McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom and Philip S. Paludan's “A People's Contest”: The Union and the Civil War (1988), the Civil War was repeatedly portrayed as the first example of warfare consciously directed at civilian as well as military targets.

Both of these views, however, came under strenuous criticism during the late 1980s: Edward Hagerman 's The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare (1988)
and the authors of the massive 1983 study How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War ( Herman Hattaway and and Archer Jones )
downplayed the extent of Jomini's influence on Civil War strategy. Paddy Griffith, a British military historian, argued that technology, whether in the form of the rifled musket or the railroads, could have made little difference on the small‐scale battlefields of North America, where, he said, the decisive factor was the sheer amateurism of Union and Confederate officers and volunteers. Above all, Mark Neely sharply criticized the notion that the Civil War had involved “total” warfare by questioning whether the Civil War had ever involved in any significant way the targeted destruction of enemy civilian lives and property or the curtailment of domestic civilian civil rights by the military.

One last major debate has concerned the quality and substance of Civil War military leadership. Robert E. Lee and Grant had been held up in many popular histories as antitheses in Civil War leadership, with Lee cast in Douglas S. Freeman's four‐volume R. E. Lee (1934–35) as a de fensive patrician who carefully hoarded the Confederacy's limited human resources, and Grant portrayed in biographies like William S. McFeely's Grant: A Biography (1981) as an unimaginative “butcher,” willing to achieve victory by using the North's numerical superiority to grind down the Confederate armies through attrition. Lee's image, however, began to crumble in 1977 with Thomas Connelly's The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society, which portrayed Lee as a fatalist always willing to yield to aggressive and costly impulses for the offensive. Grant, by comparison, was defended by biographers as diverse as Bruce Catton and Brooks Simpson as a swift‐moving strategic thinker, whose triumph over Lee in 1865 was a demonstration of superior management and operational skill.

Similarly, comparative evaluations of Presidents Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln as commanders in chief have usually favored Lincoln as the better overall strategist, with David Potter and T. Harry Williams holding up Lincoln as a model of strategic wisdom and even the head of the first “modern” staff system. But throughout the 1980s, Jefferson Davis's star rose considerably, with Ludwell Johnson, Hattaway and Jones, and Steven E. Woodworth all underscoring that Davis was an intelligent risk taker who ably managed and cooperated with his generals.

The controlling factor in these interpretations, apart from the debates over the merits of certain commanders or the details of specific battles, has been the place and understanding accorded slavery. The weight given to the motives of leaders, the role of economic conflict, and even the significance of civilian and troop morale, have all in the end contained judgments about the role of slavery. In the interpretation of a war so charged with political meaning, and which so clearly involved political direction‐giving, this not likely to change.
[See also Commander in Chief, President as; Disciplinary Views of War: Military History.]


Thomas J. Pressly , Americans Interpret Their Civil War, 1954.
David Donald, ed., Why The North Won the Civil War, 1960.
Marvin R. Cain , A ‘Face of Battle’ Needed: An Assessment of Motives and Men in Civil War Historiography, Civil War History, 28 (March 1982), pp. 5–27.
Joseph T. Glatthaar , The ‘New’ Civil War History: An Overview, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 115 (July 1991), pp. 339–69.
Gabor Boritt , Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992.
Gabor Boritt, ed., Lincoln the War President: The Gettysburg Lectures, 1992.
Gary W. Gallagher , The Confederate War, 1997.
Allen C. Guelzo , The Crisis of the American Republic: A History of the Civil War and Reconstruction, 1994.

Allen C. Guelzo

Civil War Diplomacy

views updated Jun 27 2018

Civil War Diplomacy

Kinley Brauer

The importance of diplomacy during the American Civil War has long been underestimated. Both Northerners, who were committed to the preservation of the Union, and Southerners, determined to create a new nation, understood that without support from Europe, the secession movement in the United States was doomed. Thus, the foreign policy of the Union, in the able hands of Secretary of State William Henry Seward, was directed toward preventing the Confederacy from securing diplomatic recognition, military supplies, and any kind of encouragement from abroad. Toward that end, Seward conducted a vigorous foreign policy composed of bluff, bluster, and ultimately cautious moderation. The Confederates, on the other hand, were confident that the reliance of Britain and other industrialized nations of Europe on Southern cotton for their economic health and well-being and their desire for free trade guaranteed full support. Confederate foreign policy, therefore, was largely passive and dependent on King Cotton. Britain and France were indeed dependent on Southern cotton, and their leaders were convinced that the United States was irrevocably divided. All that was needed, they thought, was for the Union to recognize that fact. That conviction, a broad hostility toward slavery, an ample supply of cotton already in British warehouses, and a highly profitable wartime trade with the Union led to a uniform European policy of neutrality. That policy, however, which helped the North but hurt the South, was never carved in stone. Union blunders, British impatience, the actual and feared depletion of cotton stocks, and European horror at the bloodshed and destruction in America all threatened to move Europe from neutrality to intervention and Confederate success. Diplomacy, as much as military leadership, strategy and tactics, and Northern economic dominance, provided an essential key to the ultimate triumph of the Union and preservation of the United States as a single nation.

Because of the phenomenal development of the American economy and the expansion of the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century, Europe and Latin America closely watched the American crisis unfold. The health of the economies of Britain and France depended greatly upon the import of American raw materials, primarily cotton, and access to the prosperous American market. Early on it was recognized that peace in North America best served European interests and therefore European leaders hoped that Americans would not engage in hostilities. They were convinced that restoration of the Union was impossible. When hostilities began, they decided that neutrality best served their interests.

The Confederate States of America also hoped for a peaceful separation. Shortly after his appointment as provisional president, Jefferson Davis and his secretary of state, Robert Toombs of Georgia, dispatched a mission to Washington to secure recognition and the transfer of all federal property to Confederate authorities. Davis and Toombs also dispatched three commissioners to Europe to explain the reasons for the creation of the Confederacy and to secure recognition and treaties of amity and commerce. Support from Europe, Southerners understood, was critical, for without a navy or industry of its own, the Confederacy had to have foreign backing. They placed primary reliance on European, and particularly British, dependence on their cotton, believing this ensured a favorable response.

Northern leaders, particularly Abraham Lincoln and Seward, were absolutely committed to the preservation of the Union and also understood that the European reaction to the American crisis was critical. Seward, especially, believed that secession lacked majority support in the South and that Southern Unionists would rise and end the secession movement by the spring of 1861. It was essential that the Southern extremists receive no encouragement from abroad, without which expectation, Seward believed, the Confederacy would be short-lived.


Seward was the driving force behind American Civil War diplomacy, and much of his diplomacy was shaped by his imperial vision. For more than thirty-five years, Seward had extolled the promise, potential, and perpetuity of the American empire, and much of his Civil War diplomacy aimed at preserving, expanding, and ensuring the successful completion of that empire. Well before "manifest destiny" became the slogan of expansionists, Seward envisioned the expansion of the United States to include all of North America and quite likely South America and the islands of the Caribbean as well. He also spoke eloquently about the certain growth of the American economy and American overseas commerce and predicted that U.S. merchants, commercial agents, and diplomats would spread the principles and ideology of the American System around the world.

Seward's program required the centralization of American political power and the containment and eventual abolition of slavery in the United States. He promoted legislation to attract, Americanize, and assimilate immigrants, liberalize land policies, centralize banking and monetary programs, and fund internal improvements and federal money. He also believed that the gradual end of slavery and its replacement by free labor were essential for peaceful American expansion and the full growth of the American economy. Without the stain of slavery, he thought, Canada and Mexico would eagerly seek admission to the American commonwealth.

Slavery also gave excessive power to reactionary agrarian interests in the South. Containment of slavery to the states where it presently existed, gradual emancipation, and the reduction of Southern power in Congress, Seward believed, were made possible by the Republican victory of 1860, as was the restructuring of the American political economy and the expansion of the American territorial, commercial, and ideological empire. During the war years these programs were subordinated to the preservation of the Union, an end that Seward never questioned and a goal from which he never wavered.

Throughout the secession winter of 18601861 that followed Lincoln's election, Seward worked tirelessly to find a compromise or modus vivendi with those Southern leaders whose states had not left the Union. While Lincoln remained in Springfield, Illinois, preparing for his inauguration, Seward made a number of public speeches emphasizing the dangers, impracticality, and fruitlessness of secession. He opposed all actions that would close the door to the return of the disaffected states and tried to ensure that the Confederates received no encouragement, prospect of support, or tangible aid from overseas.

Although Seward did not assume office until Lincoln's inauguration on 4 March, he engaged European diplomats in Washington in private conversations that aimed, first, at assuring them that the secession effort would shortly collapse, and, second, warning Europe that the United States would not tolerate any foreign intervention in American or hemispheric affairs. Seward had predicted that if the United States became divided, European nations would sweep down upon the Americas to reestablish or expand their authority and influence. During the last weeks of March, these concerns appeared justified. Rumors were rife that Britain, France, and Spain were planning to intervene in Mexico, that Spain was about to recolonize the Dominican Republic, and that France was about to move back into Haiti. The first two had a basis in fact. The three European powers were discussing an intervention limited to collecting debts for their nationals who had invested in Mexican bonds, and the Dominican Republic, engaged in civil war, had asked Spain to return. Spain had agreed and dispatched a force from Cuba to reestablish a colonial government in Santo Domingo. The information that France was contemplating recolonizing Haiti was groundless. Seward chose to use this information both to reassert his waning authority in the cabinet and perhaps to take effective control of the Lincoln administration and generate an issue calculated to reunite the fractured nation.

On 1 April 1861, Seward sent Lincoln an extraordinary memo entitled "Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration." In the memo, Seward complained that the government lacked both a domestic and a foreign policy and was adrift. He recommended that Lincoln change the thrust of the American dispute from the question of slavery to that of union, and proposed that the United States seek "explanations" from France, Spain, Britain, and Russia for their plans and actions. (The Russian minister, Edouard de Stoeckl, had met with one of Davis's Confederate commissioners, and Northern newspapers reported that Russia was about to recognize the Confederacy.) If, Seward continued, France and Spain could not satisfactorily explain their intentions and their recent actions, Lincoln should convene Congress and ask for a declaration of war. In addition, Seward recommended sending agents to Canada and Latin America to promote independence and opposition to European interference in the New World. Finally, he suggested that this policy required energetic and constant attention and implied that if Lincoln was unwilling to provide leadership, Seward was willing to assume it himself.

Lincoln responded to Seward immediately, pointing out that he had already made it clear that his administration would not interfere with slavery in the states where it already existed and that the fundamental issue in the crisis was indeed the question of union. He also noted that recent dispatches which Seward had sent to American agents abroad clearly stated his administration's foreign policy. Finally, Lincoln said that he would continue to determine policy with the help of his entire cabinet.

Seward's chief purpose, aside from taking control of the administration, had been to create a crisis that was calculated to restore unity. It is most unlikely that he either expected or wanted war with Europea foreign crisis only, not war, would have served his purpose. It was a dangerous strategy, however, and it is just as well that Lincoln rejected it. Although the memo remained confidential, Seward's foreign war panacea was well known among diplomats and merely confirmed their view that Seward would be a difficult person with whom to deal.

Seward's memo stemmed partly from his disagreement with his fellow cabinet members over the question of maintaining federal control of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. The fort, well within the range of shore batteries, could not be defended, and when President James Buchanan had attempted to send provisions to the fort early in January, Confederate gunners opened fire on the supply ship Star of the West, forcing it to retreat. Buchanan left the question of reprovisioning the fort or evacuating it to his successor, and shortly after Seward took office, he recommended the evacuation of Fort Sumter. Initially, Seward had majority support in the cabinet. He argued that attempting to resupply the fort would be regarded as a hostile act against the Confederate States of America and would not only strengthen the separatists' hands but also cause critical border states, such as Virginia, to secede from the Union. Lincoln, however, did not agree. He had pledged that he would yield no federal property to the Confederate government and decided to let events help him decide on a course of action. Over the following few weeks, public sentiment for holding the fort strengthened, and by the end of March, a majority of the cabinet came to the same position. This isolated Seward, who still counseled delaying any confrontation and who now feared that attempting to reprovision the fort would lead to war. His memo was his last effort to dissuade Lincoln from sending fresh supplies to the fort.

On 6 April, Lincoln notified South Carolina authorities that he had dispatched a supply force to Fort Sumter. Four days later, South Carolina demanded that the commandant of the fort, Major Robert J. Anderson, immediately surrender. When Anderson offered to surrender only after a few days when his supplies ran out, the Confederates, aware that fresh supplies were in transit, rejected Anderson's offer. On 12 April, Confederate General Pierre G. T. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter. As Seward had feared, the decision to hold on to the fort had provoked the Confederates. The Civil War had begun.

Following the outbreak of hostilities and Jefferson Davis's announcement on 17 April that the Confederacy would issue letters of marque and reprisal, creating privateers for action against Union shipping, Union policy changed. Lincoln responded to Davis on 19 April by announcing that the Union would treat privateers as pirates and proclaiming a blockade of Southern ports. Seward attempted to open negotiations with the British foreign minister, Lord John Russell, for American adherence to the Declaration of Paris of 1856, an international agreement that, among other things, outlawed privateering. The United States had declined to participate earlier because, as a small-navy nation, it wanted to hold on to the privateering option. Seward hoped that the negotiation would cause Britain to postpone recognition of the Confederate belligerency and that an Anglo-American convention committing the United States to the Declaration of Paris would require Britain and other nations to treat Confederate privateers as pirates. Negotiations, however, began on 18 May, four days after Britain had recognized Confederate belligerency and collapsed in July, when Russell announced that if negotiations with the Union were successful, Britain would neither hold the Confederacy to the agreement nor treat Confederate privateers as pirates.

Lincoln's blockade proclamation had an important effect on British policy. A blockade was universally regarded as an act of war and therefore an implicit recognition that a state of belligerency existed. Therefore, Lincoln's proclamation opened the door to a British proclamation of neutrality and recognition of Confederate belligerency, which (except when in violation of neutrality laws) gave the Confederate States the right to, among other things, solicit loans, buy arms, engage in recruiting, and put cruisers on the high seas with the rights of search and seizure. Because British commerce with the United States and reliance on Southern cotton was so heavy, Russell had to respond to Lincoln's proclamation. The British proclamation became public on 14 May 1861, and as Seward had feared, the other nations of Europe immediately followed with their own proclamations of neutrality. The way was now clear for Confederate agents to scour Europe for money and material to conduct their war.

The Union blockade was a double-edged sword. If effective, or even moderately effective, it would reduce the ability of the Confederates to import war material. But it would also interfere with foreign commerce and deprive Britain, France, and other industrialized nations of vital supplies of cotton. Reducing the export of cotton to Europe could increase pressure in Europe for involvement in American affairs in support of the Confederacy, which the Confederates hoped and expected would be the case.


While Seward was meeting regularly with diplomats in Washington and, after Lincoln's inauguration on 4 March 1861, sending elaborate instructions to American ministers abroad, Confederate leadersconfident that foreign support would be forthcoming with little or no effort on their parthad a casual attitude toward foreign affairs. Thus, Jefferson Davis chose Robert Toombs of Georgia as his first secretary of state, despite the fact that Toombs had no experience and little interest in foreign affairs. After six months Toombs resigned to become a general in the Confederate army. Davis then replaced Toombs with Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, who also lacked experience and had previously declined appointment as secretary of state when it was offered by Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. Hunter remained in office only seven months. Finally, on 17 March 1862, Davis appointed his close personal friend, former attorney general, and current secretary of war Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana to the post. Benjamin, who had had limited experience dealing with international legal disputes regarding slavery, served ably until the end of the Confederacy. Neither Davis nor any of these secretaries of state, however, ever attempted to develop a cohesive or imaginative foreign policy program.

Confederate officials did not develop a foreign policy program chiefly because they were confident they did not need one. Committed to the notion that "cotton is king," they were certain that Britain, France, and the other industrial nations of Europe could not tolerate a destructive civil war in the United States that would weaken or destroy the cotton culture. Neither, Confederates believed, would Europeans tolerate interference in their North American commerce. Furthermore, for decades Southerners had demanded free trade and had resisted the high, protective tariffs favored by Northern manufacturing interests. Confederates reasoned that the prospect of free trade with the Confederacy would also win British approval and ensure support. And surrounding these economic considerations, Confederate leaders were certain that the European elite felt a special affinity to the planter class. All that was needed, therefore, was to explain why the Southern states had seceded, to convince European governments that the Confederacy had an effective government, and to assure European governments that the Confederates were determined to preserve their independence.

On 25 February 1861, Davis and Toombs dispatched A.B. Roman, Martin J. Crawford, and John Forsyth to Washington to negotiate a peaceful separation and the evacuation of all federal property in the Confederacy. Two days later, Toombs sent William Lowndes Yancey, Pierre A. Rost, and Ambrose Dudley Mann to Europe to secure de jure recognition of the Confederate States of America and treaties of amity and commerce. No thought was given to establishing permanent missions in Washington or any European capital.

Not surprisingly, Roman, Forsyth, and Crawfordwho arrived in Washington in early Marchhad no success there. Seward refused to meet with the commissioners or to arrange a meeting with Lincoln, which they had requested. Unwilling, however, to antagonize the agents, Seward maintained contact through a third party. He assured the Confederates that the Union would not attempt to coerce the seceded states into returning to the Union and still hoped that a peaceful reunion was possible. On 8 April, after a month of waiting impatiently and distrusting Seward's assurance of Lincoln's commitment to the maintenance of peace, Crawford informed Davis of rumors that Lincoln was committed to war. A few days later the three Confederates returned home.

The Confederate mission to Europe began with considerably more promise than the mission to Washington. Russell and French foreign minister Edouard Thouvenel both received Yancey, Rost, and Mann unofficially, as was common practice in dealing with nonaccredited agents. Toombs had instructed the Confederate agents to visit Britain first, and then continue on to France, Russia, and Belgium. They were to explain that the secession of Southern states was provided for by the U.S. Constitution, and was necessary to prevent Northern social, political, and economic domination of the Southern states. Toombs had instructed the commissioners to avoid mention of slavery and emphasize the economic benefits to Europe of an independent Confederacy.

Meeting with the British and French foreign ministers was all that the commissioners accomplished. Russell expressed sympathy for the Confederacy but refused either to discuss treaty negotiations or to grant de jure recognition without a treaty. The British neutrality proclamation was already forthcoming when he spoke with the Confederate commissioners on May 3 and May 9. Russell had also reached an agreement with France that the two nations would act jointly on American affairs and instructed his minister in Washington, Lord Lyons, to coordinate policy and work closely with his French counterpart, Henri Mercier. In France, Thouvenel also expressed sympathy for the Confederacy but would go no further than Britain.

Britain's proclamation of neutrality did not address the question of whether the Union blockade was effective and therefore legal. Confederate agents understood that access to Southern ports was essential for the import of war material legitimized by belligerent status, and that the ability of the small Union navy to blockade all Southern ports and the extensive Southern coast was implausible at the least. Britain was divided on the issue. Commercial interests, legal purists, Southern sympathizers, and Confederate propagandists insisted the blockade was ineffective and demanded that Britain, with its powerful navy, confront the United States; the Admiralty and several in the government, however, understood that a loose interpretation of effectiveness could be most useful to the British navy sometime in the future.

The consequence of this division was that Russell never challenged the legality of the Union blockade, which became more effective as the war continued. Initially, the appearance of effectiveness was inadvertently enhanced by the decision of Southerners to impose a voluntary cotton embargo of their own. The Confederates reasoned that the sooner Britain and France felt the effects of the loss of fresh supplies of cotton, the more rapidly the former would demand the end of the Union blockade and come to the aid of the South. Southerners stated that no cotton would leave the Confederacy until the Northern blockade ended and Europe provided recognition and support. Their policy created the illusion that the blockade was more effective than it was, which Union agents and propagandists abroad used to their advantage; it also opened the Confederacy to charges of blackmail and hypocrisy.

Yancey, Rost, and Mann, having failed to secure de jure recognition from either Britain or France, saw no reason to continue their mission on to Russia and Belgium. They returned to Britain and began an intensive propaganda campaign in association with a number of other Southerners whose goal was to strengthen and expand support for the Confederacy among sympathetic members of Parliament and the upper classes, journalists, and conservatives generally. Yancey was confident that the upper classes and those in power in both Britain and France supported the Confederacy, but he understood that positive sentiment was not enough. Only a decisive Confederate military victory and a deprivation of fresh cotton would move both nations to act.


After Lincoln squelched Seward's call for an aggressive program to meet European interference on 1 April, the secretary's policy changed. The secretary of state followed a surprisingly mild policy toward Spain, toward British, French, and Spanish intervention in Mexico, and toward the subsequent French occupation of Mexico City and establishment of Archduke Maximilian of Austria as emperor of Mexico. For example, he officially protested the Spanish occupation of Santo Domingo to the Spanish minister to the United States, Gabriel García y Tassara, and to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid through the American chargé in Madrid. Tassara dismissed Seward's note as being meant primarily for the American public and not to be taken seriously. When Spanish officials explained that Spain had returned to Santo Domingo by invitation and asked Seward to explain his note further, Seward retreated, noting to Tassara that Congress would consider sometime later on whether war was justified.

With regard to the impending tripartite intervention in Mexico, Britain had been firm in insisting that the three powers invite the United States to participate. Seward declined the offer, and since foreign intervention for the purpose of collecting debts was allowed under international law, he had no justification to oppose the three nations. Seward did propose lending Mexico funds to pay off its creditors with Baja California and other Mexican territory as collateral if the European nations would agree not to intervene. The plan failed when Britain, France, and Spain responded unenthusiastically and the U.S. Senate rejected the proposal. In October 1861 the three European nations signed the Tripartite Treaty of London and in December they jointly landed troops in Vera Cruz.

It soon became apparent that the French emperor, Louis Napoléon, had more ambitious schemes in mind, and Britain and Spain withdrew their forces. Seward warned France that the United States would not "view with indifference" the establishment of a European monarchy in the New World, especially so close to the United States, but Napoléon was undeterred. In June 1863, French troops seized Mexico City. Napoléon, with the support of Mexican conservatives in the capital, offered Maximilian an imperial throne. Maximilian accepted and set up his government in the following year. Benito Juárez fled to the countryside and initiated a guerrilla war against Maximilian and the French army that protected him. Seward was unhappy with this turn of events, but did nothing to oppose either Napoléon or Maximilian. War with France or even a threat of war, he decided, would not serve Union interests. Mexican affairs, like Caribbean matters, could wait until after peace had returned to the United States.

Confederate involvement in Mexico began in May 1861, when Toombs sent John T. Pickett to Mexico City to open a permanent embassy, secure recognition, and negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce. Astonishingly, Toombs also instructed Pickett to point out to the reformist Juárez the similarity of the Confederate and Mexican economies and the resemblance between slavery and peonage. Pickett's career as a filibusterer in Cuba and his record as consul in Vera Cruz did not inspire confidence among Mexicans, and Juárez was not impressed.

Pickett's mission was a disaster. He was unable to overcome Mexican fears of Southern expansionism or hostility toward slavery, both emphasized by the Union minister, Thomas Corwin. When Pickett suggested that the Confederacy might return some of the territory taken in the Mexican War in exchange for recognition, Mexican officials were skeptical. By the fall of 1861 Pickett had alienated all of those with whom he had dealt, chiefly by exposing his contempt for Mexico and his racism. When he became involved in a public brawl with a Union sympathizer in November, the Mexican authorities arrested him as a common criminal. When Davis and his cabinet learned of Pickett's behavior and arrest, they did not defend him but, rather, recalled their diplomat in disgrace and repudiated his actions. The damage, however, had been done. Juárez had no interest in supporting the Confederacy and maintained a strict neutrality throughout the Civil War.

In Mexico, the Confederates had greater success in negotiations with Santiago Vidaurri, the governor of Nuevo León and Coahuilla, who had long had separatist inclinations and conducted his affairs autonomously. The Confederate agent, Juan A. Quintero, had solid relations with Vidaurri. Quintero secured an important commercial agreement and a promise from Vidaurri that he would block any requests for the transit of Union troops across territory under his authority. The Confederate government instructed Quintero to discourage Vidaurri from separating from Mexico and asking for annexation to the Confederacy. President Davis doubted the Confederate Congress would welcome the addition of a Mexican province to their nation and he wished to avoid the embarrassment of a rejection. For all their efforts, Mexico was a low priority for the Confederates. They understood that the key to a successful foreign policy remained in Europe.


Seward understood that British policy would be decisive in Europe, and he was pleased that in the patronage battles, he had succeeded in having Charles Francis Adams, the son and grandson of former American ministers to the Court of St. James, appointed to Britain. Lincoln's choice, William Dayton of New JerseyJohn C. Frémont's running mate on the Republican ticket in 1856went to France instead. Adams had his first interview with Russell on 18 May. Seward had been outraged by the British neutrality proclamation and the granting of belligerent rights to the Confederacy, and Adams complained to Russell. Russell only assured Adams that Britain had no intention at that time to move to the next step of recognizing Confederate independence.

Seward also reacted harshly to the willingness of Russell to meet, even informally, with the Confederate agents. He sent Adams his notorious Dispatch No. 10, dated 21 May 1861, instructing Adams to break off all relations with the British government if Russell continued to meet with the Confederate commissioners. Seward had wanted Adams to read the message to Russell, but Lincoln wisely insisted that Seward change the instructions so that Adams had discretion in his discussion with Russell and was to use the document only for his own guidance. Adams had the good sense to soften the dispatch by presenting only noninflammatory parts to Russell. Russell, as it happened, had already decided to have no further discussions with the Confederate commissioners.

By late summer Yancey, Rost, Mann, and their colleagues had had enough success in arousing British and French support to alarm both Adams and Dayton. Hunter, who had replaced Toombs as Confederate secretary of state, saw great potential in the use of propaganda and decided to formalize the propaganda effort by appointing journalists Henry Hotze and Edwin De Leon to promote the Confederate cause in London and Paris, respectively. Hotze established a weekly journal, the Index, that was highly successful. After De Leon ran into difficulties, Hotze took over the French propaganda operation as well.

Whatever success these agents had in shaping opinion, however, Britain and France refused to move from their neutral policies. Yancey remained confident that a military victory and lack of cotton would bring about British support, and he was relieved when Lincoln emphasized that the Union had no intention to abolish slavery. All of the elements he believed necessary for tangible British support were in place by midsummer 1861. The Confederates scored a stunning military success on 21 July at Bull Run, Virginia, and distress was already apparent in the cotton manufacturing areas. When, however, the Confederate agents requested an unofficial meeting with Russell, he put them off and informed them that Britain would remain neutral. Both British public opinion and the cabinet remained divided, and whatever Lincoln's position on slavery, British abolitionists and Union sympathizers emphasized that the Confederacy was based on slavery and its expansion. Neither Prime Minister Lord Palmerston nor Foreign Minister Russell were willing to appear as champions of a slave nation or to contribute to its perpetuation and expansion.

Shortly after Russell's response, Davis and Hunter decided to take a more aggressive approach and establish formal diplomatic missions in Britain, France, Spain, and Belgium. The previous passive policy was clearly not working; Yancey submitted his resignation to Davis and prepared to return to Alabama. Davis ordered Mann to open a diplomatic mission in Belgium, and he sent Rost to Spain. More significantly, Davis selected James Murray Mason of Virginia to establish a mission in London and John Slidell of Louisiana, a highly experienced and able diplomat, to go to Paris.

Following Adams's assumption of his duties in London, Anglo-American relations proceeded smoothly until the end of the year. Adams deftly handled Seward's Dispatch No. 10, and Russell's decision to have no further meetings with the Confederates resolved the matter raised by the dispatch. For the most part, Adams attempted to counter the increasingly effective Confederate propaganda campaign and to gather information on the activities of Confederate agents. The only major diplomatic issue was the unsuccessful negotiation on the Declaration of Paris.


A much more serious dispute in Anglo-American relations arose over the Union capture of Mason and Slidell in November. The two Confederate diplomats ran the blockade on 12 October 1861, sailing from Charleston to Nassau and thence to Cuba. On 7 November they boarded the Trent, a British mail packet, for the remaining leg of their voyage to England. On the next day the USS San Jacinto, under the command of Captain Charles Wilkes, stopped the Trent on the high seas, boarded the vessel, and after a minor skirmish removed Mason and Slidell and their secretaries. Wilkes carried his prisoners to Boston where they were imprisoned in Fort Warren in Boston harbor. Wilkes had acted without instructions and the seizure raised a number of questions of international law that resembled the issue of impressment that had so aroused Americans before 1812. While feigning outrage, the Confederates were delighted with Wilkes's action. They were certain that the Union would never give up the prisoners and that the resulting Anglo-American hostility could only help the Confederate cause overseas. Wilkes was widely applauded in the North, and the seizure of Confederate "traitors" from a British ship struck many as just and a proper response to Britain's assumed partiality toward the Confederacy. The crisis intensified during November and December as Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, the House of Representatives, and the Northern press extolled Wilkes's heroism. Meanwhile, the British developed an extensive case for the illegality of his action and made it clear that they regarded the seizure as an affront to Britain's national honor. Prime Minister Palmerston was furious. Britain prepared for war, and sent more than eleven thousand troops to Canada. Russell charged that Wilkes had violated international law and instructed Lyons to demand the immediate release of Mason and Slidell and an apology. At Queen Victoria's request, Prince Albert, although mortally ill, softened Russell's dispatch and provided an out for the Americans by allowing Seward to deny that Wilkes had acted under instruction.

Seward may have initially been pleased by Wilkes's action, but he very quickly adopted a moderate tone in a dispatch to Adams that the latter presented to Russell. Seward's note did much to defuse the crisis at the highest level. Lyons also presented Russell's demands in such a way to make a favorable American response more likely. Finally, on 25 December Seward responded by informing the British that Wilkes had indeed acted on his own and, while not violating international law, had made certain technical errors. The two diplomats would be "cheerfully liberated" and turned over to Lord Lyons. Seward had convinced Lincoln, others in the cabinet, and a number of prominent senators that retaining the Confederates was decidedly not in the Union's interest.

The furor generated by the Trent affair dissipated quickly. Support for Wilkes disappeared as American attention turned to the war at home and journals published calculations of the costs of a war with Britain. Seward had demonstrated genuine statesmanship that Russell and others recognized. For the first time, British officials began to reconsider their early estimation of the secretary of state. Seward perhaps understood better than before that threatening war was, indeed, a dangerous policy. Seward's reputation among influential associates, however, did not improve. A number of prominent Radical Republicans, never supportive, renewed efforts to remove him from office. By this time Lincoln had come to regard Seward as an effective secretary and as a valuable ally in his opposition to the Radical Republicans and was determined to keep him in the cabinet.

Seward meanwhile sought to capitalize on the relief felt in Britain and the Union over the peaceful resolution of the issue. Although the details remain vague, there is evidence that he facilitated the deployment of British troops in Canadathey had arrived after the St. Lawrence River froze over. Whatever the case, Seward skillfully used the story that he had granted permission to Her Majesty's troops to cross American territory to emphasize that he held no animosity nor aggressive intent toward Britain. Seward also resisted suggestions that the United States abrogate or let expire the Marcy-Elgin Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. The treaty, set to expire in 1864, eliminated duties in trade between the United States and Canada, opened the St. Lawrence to the United States, and regulated fishing off the Canadian coast. Seward saw Canadian-American free trade as a means of integrating the Canadian economy into America's as a prelude to annexation.

Seward also concluded negotiations with Lyons in April 1862 for the suppression of the African slave trade. The agreement extended the reciprocal right to search and detain merchant ships off the coasts of Africa and Cuba and established prize courts in Sierra Leone, the Cape of Good Hope, and New York. In February 1863, Seward and Lyons expanded the agreement to include the coasts of Madagascar, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingo. These treaties completed efforts to end the Atlantic slave trade that had begun a half century earlier. (In the absence of Southern senators, Seward also recognized Liberia and Haiti in 1862 and treaties of amity and commerce with Liberia on 21 October 1862 and Haiti on 3 November 1864.) These agreements with Britain after the Trent crisis contributed to the restoration of friend-lier relations. This was especially important at a time when pressure for mediation was increasing in Britain and France because of a developing crisis in cotton textile manufacturing centers.


Confederates were disheartened by the peaceful settlement of the Trent affair, and by 1862 had realized that their best hope for British and European support would come from a cotton famine in England. Distress in the cotton manufacturing districts increased greatly during the spring and summer of 1862. The jobs of an estimated 900,000 workers in the textile industry, centered in Lancashire, were in jeopardy. The British welfare system was severely strained, and Southern sympathizers increased their demands for intervention to relieve the cotton shortage. Although Seward made available cotton that came into Union hands, and imports of non-American cotton increased, the distress in Lancashire did not diminish, and Confederate reliance on cotton diplomacy seemed to be working.

In fact, although less American cotton was reaching Britain, British manufacturers, unlike their workers, were not in dire straits. In 1859 and 1860 the South had produced bumper crops that had glutted the market and driven down world prices. British warehouses were thus filled with huge stocks of cheap cotton fiber, and manufacturers were producing cloth at unprecedented levels, which also depressed textile prices. The Union blockade and Southern embargo were a blessing for these manufacturers as well as financiers dealing in cotton securities and futures. The prospect of a shortage of fiber and cloth immediately caused the value of both raw and finished cotton to rise dramatically. Merchants and manufacturers hoarded their goods, reduced their output, and made fortunes in the process. Those who had been promoting the development of alternate sources in Egypt and India appeared vindicated as planters in those regions also reaped huge profits. Only the workers suffered.

Outside of the cotton districts, other British industries prospered from the war. Both the Union and the Confederacy purchased war materials in increasing quantities, and producers of woolen cloth benefited from the reduced production of cotton cloth and inflated textile prices. Finally, Confederate raiders had enormous success in attacking Northern commercial vessels. American merchantmen were driven from the seas or forced to pay enormous premiums for maritime insurance. British merchants replaced American merchants in direct trade and strengthened their domination of other markets.

Despite the new wealth generated by the American war and continued national prosperity, by the fall of 1862 the distress in Lancashire was real and the news of bloodshed and destruction from America was shocking. It also seemed that the Union would never be able to subdue the South and that continuing the war was pointless. With the approval of Palmerston and Chancellor of the Exchequer William E. Gladstone and the prior agreement of Napoléon, Russell therefore brought the question of mediation to the cabinet. The discussion was extensive, and the cabinet was divided. Russell and Gladstone urged their colleagues to support an offer of mediation to both sides. However, after an impassioned argument against offering mediation by Minister of War George Cornewall Lewiswho pointed out that neither Lincoln nor Seward would accept the offer and that Britain could be forced into supporting the slaveholding Confederacynews arrived that the Battle of Antietam had ended without a clear victory by either side. Palmerston decided to continue waiting until the war took "a more decided turn." Napoléon then proposed offering the Americans a six-month armistice if both Britain and Russia agreed to act jointly with him. Russia declined first, and on 13 November the British also declined. Confederate confidence in King Cotton was shaken, and the Confederate government sought support from Europe along other avenues.


In May 1861 Confederate secretary of the navy Stephen Mallory sent James Dunwoody Bulloch, a retired naval officer, to Britain to build or purchase six steamships to serve as commerce raiders and James H. North to purchase two ironclads for use against the Union blockade. By August, Bulloch had begun the construction of two ships, later christened the Florida and the Alabama, and in 1862 the North contracted for the construction of an ironclad ram.

Union agents learned of Bulloch's plans and Adams attempted to prevent the sailing of the Alabama. Russell refused to seize the ship for lack of evidence that its construction violated British neutrality laws. When Adams amassed evidence and a legal opinion to the contrary, Russell sought legal opinion himself and ultimately became convinced that the ship should be detained, but his order to that effect arrived too late to prevent the launching of the Alabama in early August 1862. Captained by Raphael Semmes, the ship wreaked havoc on Union shipping, which after the war became the basis of demands by the United States for massive compensation. After the departure of the Alabama from Britain, Adams and Russell engaged in a rancorous exchange of notes. Adams was determined to prevent future Confederate cruisers from leaving British ports.

Russell ultimately decided that it would better serve British interests if other ships being constructed for the Confederacy did not put to sea. In April 1863 he ordered seizure of the Alexandria, then under construction. Later in the year, following strong protests from Adams and the threat of privateering by the Union, Russell decided to detain rams that Bulloch was having constructed. By 1863 the Confederates had given up hope for recognition and substantial support from Britain. British consuls, whom the Confederate government had allowed to remain at their posts and who initially had written home about Confederate invincibility, had antagonized Confederate officials by their protests on behalf of British subjects being conscripted into the Confederate army. (Seward had gone out of his way to appease British consuls in the North over the same problem.) In October 1863, President Davis expelled all British consuls still at their posts. Two months earlier, on 4 August 1863, Judah Benjamin ordered Mason to close his London mission and to join Slidell in Paris.

Confederate officials had come to the conclusion that their best hope for support lay in Napoléon and France rather than in Palmerston and Britain. Napoléon had taken the initiative, following the failure of the Anglo-French mediation discussions in 1862, in proposing an armistice. In January 1863 he unilaterally proposed mediation, which Seward summarily rejected. During the previous September and October, Slidell successfully concluded a loan of $14.5 million with the French firm Emile Erlanger and Company that allowed Confederate agents used to purchase war materials.

Also, Mallory honored Bulloch's request that he shift operations to Paris, and in April and June 1863 the latter contracted for four commerce raiders and two ironclad rams. Unfortunately for the Confederates, France proved little more hospitable than Britain. Napoléon clearly sympathized with the Confederates, but pressure from Seward and Dayton forced him to prevent the ships from sailing. Napoléon, about to embark on his imperial program in Mexico, had no wish to become embroiled with the Union.

The construction of Confederate naval vessels in Britain and France was not the only issue that created difficulties on the high seas. As the demand for goods rose in both Britain and the Confederacy, success in running the Union blockade became ever more profitable. Similarly, the owners of Union vessels that captured blockade runners could take the ships to prize courts and receive a substantial proportion of the value of condemned prizes. The system led to a number of questionable seizures of not only British ships but also of vessels flying French and Spanish colors. Charles Wilkes continued to create problems after the Trent affair by using neutral ports as bases of operation against ships suspected of intentions to run the blockade. These possibly illegal seizures and violations of international law led to continual protests, legal battles, and ill will. Palmerston, however, saw value in the continual stretching of international law by Americans. They were setting precedents that could be useful to Britain in subsequent conflicts. None of these issues rose above the level of annoyances.


Until 1863 the slavery issue lingered in the background of the American crisis. For domestic reasons, Lincoln and Seward had attempted to make it clear that the conflict in the United States had little to do with slavery and everything to do with preserving the Union. The North, they argued, had no intention of interfering with slavery in the states, and even after hostilities began they suggested that no assault would be made on the institution. Confederate agents abroad did their best to avoid discussion of slavery altogether, and when pressed argued that the war was not about slavery but rather over the right of states to preserve their social and economic institutions. British supporters of the Confederacy took Lincoln at his word, and Palmerston, firmly hostile to slavery, was relieved that it was not an issue, since otherwise Britain would have had less flexibility in developing policies toward the American war. Nevertheless, the Confederates could not disguise the fact that their nation was committed to the preservation of the slave system, and the British could never forget that to aid the Confederacy was to aid a slave nation. Furthermore, whatever the wishes of Lincoln and Seward, Radical Republicans at home and abroad, abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic, and Union propagandists called for a change in Union policy toward slavery and kept the issue alive in public discourse. The question of the future of American slavery never disappeared from view.

Following the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln decided to confront slavery directly. On 22 September he issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in areas that were still in rebellion in January 1863. Lincoln had presented the plan to his cabinet on 22 July, but Seward and others persuaded him to wait until the Union had a military success lest the policy be regarded as an act of desperation. Seward strenuously objected to the proclamation because he feared it would antagonize slaveholders who had remained loyal; strengthen Confederate morale and determination; and, worst of all, encourage blacks in the South to rise in "servile insurrection." He also doubted that emancipation was constitutional and feared that the sudden end of slavery would permanently weaken the American economy and either delay or destroy altogether the rise and completion of the American empire. Seward remained committed to the containment of slavery and its gradual abolition and replacement by free labor.

European diplomats in Washington were uniformly critical of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. They regarded it, indeed, as an act of desperation following the Union failure to score a major victory at Antietam; some saw it as signifying the triumph of the Radical Republicans and abolitionists in the North. All worried that its enunciation would trigger a slave insurrection, extend race war, and then lead to the thorough destruction of the cotton culture in the United States. The European home offices were also critical of this turn in Union policy, especially since Seward had continually warned Britain and France that it was their policies of neutrality and support for the Confederacy that had extended the war and increased the danger of a slave uprising.

Nevertheless, by 1 January 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Europeans had reconciled themselves to the impending end of slavery in the United States should the Union win the war. (It was expected that slavery could not long survive in areas not in rebellion.) This understanding made it appear that the outcome of the war would determine the future of slavery, which changed the character of European-American relations for the remainder of the conflict by making it even more difficult for Europe to adopt policies in support of the Confederacy. When the Union armies scored major victories in July at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, European ministries began to regard a full Union military victory as more likely, and the continued successes of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Sherman convinced them that victory was certain. As the British and French discarded their working assumption that the division of the United States was irreversible, their foreign policies changed accordingly. Confederate appeals for support were now largely ignored.

Jefferson Davis and Judah Benjamin understood that survival depended on European support and that this support would not be forthcoming without altering the Confederate position on slavery. In November 1864, Davis presented to the Confederate Congress a plan to employ forty thousand slaves in noncombatant military service to be followed by their emancipation. While this proposal was being considered, he dispatched Duncan F. Kenner of Louisiana to Europe on a secret mission with instructions to offer European governments a promise of emancipation of the slaves in exchange for recognition. Napoléon, then deeply involved in his Mexican policy, declined the offer and replied that France could not act without British concurrence. When Kenner made the same proposal to the British government, Palmerston rejected it out of hand, informing Kenner that Britain would never recognize the Confederate States of America. Confederate diplomacy in Europe had come to a dead end.

The final episode in the diplomacy of the American Civil War occurred in February 1865, when Lincoln and Seward agreed to meet with a delegation of Confederate leaders at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Francis P. Blair, Sr., had arranged the meeting at Davis's request, and Davis had selected Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, former Confederate secretary of state Robert M. T. Hunter, and former U.S. Supreme Court justice and Confederate assistant secretary of war John A. Campbell to conduct the negotiations. Both Lincoln and Davis hoped to arrange a return of peace, but their terms were incompatible. Lincoln demanded reunion, acceptance of emancipation, and the disbanding of all Confederate military forces. He was prepared to offer the South generous terms on a number of issues, including compensation to slaveholders. Davis had wanted an armistice, to be followed by discussion of all these and other issues. When Lincoln would not yield in his demands for reunion and the breakup of Confederate military force first, the meeting collapsed.

Military action resumed fully after the Hampton Roads conference, and within four months the last of the Confederate armies had surrendered to Union forces. Jefferson Davis, who refused to admit defeat and promoted guerrilla war to the end, was captured by Union troops in Irwinsville, Georgia, on 10 May. He was imprisoned and indicted for treason, but was paroled two years later.


It is doubtful that the Confederacy could ever have achieved the support that it expected during the Civil War. It never was in the interest of the nations of Europe to become entangled in the American conflict. Rather, they profited by a neutral policy. Confederates relied on sympathy and the pressure from cotton textile manufacturers to force Britain, and then other nations in Europe, to their support and defense. They believed that time was on their side. As a consequence, the Confederate government delayed in adopting a bold diplomatic strategy until it was far too late. At the same time, William Henry Seward, with the significant aid of Charles Francis Adams in London and a number of other superb diplomats, developed an aggressive and consistent program that did not always win friends but was effective. Seward began his term of office with a reputation for recklessness and hostility toward the British, and his initial maneuvers seemed to confirm, as Lyons wrote home, that he would be a "dangerous foreign minister." Seward's erratic behavior had the positive effect of making European foreign ministers more cautious. During the critical first year of the war, Palmerston and Russell worried that Seward had little understanding of the limits to which he could go in his threats and bluster against British policy, and so as not to arouse him and precipitate a crisis, the British leaders adopted a largely passive policy, ended official contacts with Confederate officials, and resisted attempts by pro-Confederate members of Parliament to support the Southern cause. After Seward's first year in office, his reputation improved, and by the end of the war, he and Adams were highly regarded overseas.

It is clear that international relations during the war years were largely determined by the interests of all the nations involved directly and indirectly in the struggle. It is difficult to see how the Confederacy could have acquired the support it needed or how the Union could have done better. It is also clear that the Confederacy's weak policy did not help its cause and that the strong and clearsighted Union policy, conducted by able hands, made a profound difference and was essential to a Union victory in 1865.


Adams, Ephraim D. Great Britain and the American Civil War. 2 vols. New York, 1925. The classic study.

Bernath, Stuart L. Squall Across the Atlantic: American Civil War Prize Cases and Diplomacy. Berkeley, Calif., 1970. A superb analysis.

Blackburn, George M. French Newspaper Opinion on the American Civil War. Westport, Conn., 1997.

Blackett, R. J. M. Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War. Baton Rouge, La., 2001. A thorough and sophisticated analysis.

Blumenthal, Henry. "Confederate Diplomacy: Popular Notions and International Realities." Journal of Southern History 32 (1966): 151171. An important essay.

Brauer, Kinley. "Gabriel Garcia y Tassara and the American Civil War: A Spanish Perspective." Civil War History 21 (1975): 527.

. "The Slavery Problem in the Diplomacy of the American Civil War." Pacific Historical Review 46 (1977): 439469.

Carroll, Daniel B. Henry Mercier and the American Civil War. Princeton, N.J., 1971. An excellent examination of the diplomacy of the French minister to the United States.

Case, Lynn Marshall, and Warren F. Spencer. The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy. Philadelphia, 1970. A thorough and judicious examination.

Clapp, Margaret. Forgotten First Citizen: John Bigelow. Boston, 1947. A biography of the American consul in Paris.

Cortada, James W. "Spain and the American Civil War Relations at Mid-Century, 18551868." Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 70, no. 4 (1980).

Crook, D. P. The North, The South, and the Powers, 18611865. New York, 1974. An able synthesis that emphasizes British and Canadian relations with the Union and Confederacy.

Cullop, Charles P. Confederate Propaganda in Europe, 18611865. Coral Gables, Fla., 1969.

Duberman, Martin B. Charles Francis Adams, 18071866. New York, 1961. Excellent biography of the U.S. Minister to Great Britain.

Ellison, Mary. Support for Secession: Lancashire and the American Civil War. Chicago, 1972. Excellent study of the effects of the cotton famine on British opinion in the Lancashire cotton district.

Evans, Eli N. Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate. New York, 1988. Especially strong on Benjamin's relations with Jefferson Davis.

Ferris, Norman B. "Diplomacy." In Allan Nevins et al., eds. Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography. Vol. 1. Baton Rouge, La., 1967. An excellent starting point for books published before 1967.

. Desperate Diplomacy: William H. Seward's Foreign Policy, 1861. Knoxville, Tenn., 1976. A study of the difficult first year of the war.

. The Trent Affair: A Diplomatic Crisis. Knoxville, Tenn., 1977. Best detailed study of the crisis.

Hanna, Alfred J., and Kathryn Abbey Hanna. Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1971.

Hyman, Harold, ed. Heard Round the World: The Impact Abroad of the Civil War. New York, 1968. Looks at the influence of the Civil War primarily on Europe.

Jenkins, Brian A. Britain and the War for the Union. 2 vols. Montreal, 1974, 1980. More recent and useful treatment than the Adams work.

Jones, Howard. Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1992. Excellent study of the mediation crisis of 1862.

. Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War. Lincoln, Nebr., 1999.

Mahoney, Harry T., and Marjorie Locke Mahoney. Mexico and the Confederacy, 18601867. San Francisco, 1998. Good narrative survey.

May, Robert E., ed. The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim. West Lafayette, Ind., 1995. Information on the impact of the Civil War on Europe, European colonies, and Latin America and examines the role of African Americans in influencing British opinion.

Meade, Robert D. Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Statesman. New York, 1943. A good treatment of Benjamin's diplomacy.

Merli, Frank. Great Britain and the Confederate Navy, 18611965. Bloomington, Ind., 1970. Best study of the subject.

Monaghan, Jay. Diplomat in Carpet Slippers: Abraham Lincoln Deals with Foreign Affairs. New York, 1945. A popular study that overemphasizes Lincoln's role and is oversimplified.

Owsley, Frank L. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. 2d ed. Chicago, 1959. A full examination of Confederate diplomacy but somewhat dated.

Richardson, H. Edward. Cassius Marcellus Clay: Firebrand of Freedom. Lexington, Ky., 1976. Covers Union diplomacy with Russia.

Saul, Norman E. Distant Friends: The United States and Russia, 17631867. Lawrence, Kans., 1991. Based on research in both Russian and American materials.

Schoonover, Thomas D. Dollars over Dominion: The Triumph of Liberalism in MexicanUnited States Relations, 18611867. Baton Rouge, 1978.

Smiley, David L. Lion of Whitehall: The Life of Cassius M. Clay. Madison, Wis., 1962. On Union diplomacy with Russia.

Spencer, Warren F. The Confederate Navy in Europe. University, Ala., 1983. Deals with Bulloch and Confederate naval warfare.

Stern, Philip Van Doren. When the Guns Roared: World Aspects of the American Civil War. Garden City, N.Y., 1965. A popular study.

Taylor, John M. William Henry Seward: Lincoln's Right Hand. New York, 1991. A readable popular account.

Tyler, Ronnie C. Santiago Vidaurri and the Southern Confederacy. Austin, Tex., 1973. On Mexican-American relations.

Van Deusen, Glyndon G. William Henry Seward. New York, 1967. A scholarly biography.

Warren, Gordon H. Fountain of Discontent: The Trent Affair and Freedom of the Seas. Boston, 1981. A study of the first year of the war.

Willson, Beckles. John Slidell and the Confederates in Paris, 18621865. New York, 1932.

Winks, Robin. Canada and the United States: The Civil War Years. Baltimore, 1960. An able treatment of Canadian-American relations.

Woldman, Albert A. Lincoln and the Russians. Cleveland, Ohio, 1952. A narrative based on diplomatic correspondence from the United States.

See also Ambassadors, Executive Agents, and Special Representatives; Blockades; Embargoes and Sanctions; Realism and Idealism .


On 1 April 1861, less than two weeks before the outbreak of hostilities between the Union and the Confederacy, Secretary of State William Henry Seward sent a memo to President Abraham Lincoln criticizing the president for not developing either a domestic or foreign policy and urging him to "change the question before the Public from one upon Slavery for a question upon Union or Disunion." The most extraordinary part of the memo dealt with foreign policy. Spain was in the process of reestablishing colonial authority in the Dominican Republic at the invitation of the Dominicans, France was rumored to be considering the recolonization of Haiti, Britain had objected to the impending interference with its trade in Southern ports, and there were rumors that Russia was about to recognize the Confederacy. Seward thus wrote Lincoln:

i would demand explanations from spain and france categorically at once. i would seek explanations from great britain and russia, and send agents into canada, mexico, and central america, to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence on this continent against european intervention, and if satisfactory explanations are not received from spain and france, would convene congress, and declare war against them.

Lincoln responded to Seward privately the same day, pointing out that his domestic policy was clear and explicit. His foreign policy, he reminded Seward, had been expressed in circulars and instructions to American ministers abroad that the two of them had framed, "all in perfect harmony." Finally, referring to Seward's proposals and offer to take over its administration, Lincoln informed Seward, "If this must be done, I must do it." So ended one of the most extraordinary proposals ever submitted by a cabinet member to a president.

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 Pensions

views updated May 21 2018


Norman Stein

The idea of veteran pensions is an old one, such pensions having been paid at least as far back as ancient Rome. In the United States, the first military pensions were paid to some disabled soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. This pension program was originally paid for and administered by the states, until the creation of the new federal government in 1789 when responsibility gradually shifted to the new central government. In 1818 pensions were extended to impecunious veterans who had served at least nine months in the military during the Revolution, and in 1832 to all remaining living veterans of the War. Military pensions were also paid to disabled veterans (and the families of slain officers) of the War of 1812, the U.S. Mexican War, and the Indian wars. Ultimately, pensions based on military service alone were awarded to veterans of each of these wars.

The pension program for Union veterans of the Civil War was different, from its origins to its expansion into a massive old age support system some social scientists argue had important implications for social insurance in the twentieth century. What originally began as a limited regime of protections for soldiers, widows, and orphans, eventually morphed into a system of old age pensions for almost one third of the elderly population. The various Pension Acts for veterans of the Civil War also affected a range of social, economic, and political institutions, including the institution of marriage, the ascendancy of the Republican party as the dominant political party for half a century, the size of the peacetime federal government, and in some ways the beginnings of a modern regulatory state. The pension system also reflected national issues of race and class.

In 1861, shortly after the Civil War began, Congress, in large part to attract recruits to the military, enacted legislation providing pensions for soldiers who suffered war-related disabilities, as well as the widows and orphans of soldiers killed in action. Congress amended the law in 1862 to provide a maximum pension of $8 per month for total disability, with proportionately reduced awards for partial disability.

The same award was made for widows and orphans, although amendments to the law increased the allowance to widows by $2 per dependent child. Where a veteran left no widow or children, the law provided benefits to dependent mothers or sisters, and eventually, if there were no dependent mother or sister, dependent fathers and brothers.

The law was amended repeatedly in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. The amendments increased the generosity of the program, extended the program to veterans with disabilities that developed after the war but stemmed from wartime injuries, introduced finer distinctions between grades and specific types of disabilities, and tied the amount of the pension to the severity of the disability under this expanding matrix.

In 1890 Congress enacted a new law that paid pensions to any Union veteran of the Civil War who served for at least ninety days, was honorably discharged, and suffered from a disability, even if not war-related. In 1904 Theodore Roosevelt ruled that old age itself was a disability, basically transforming the system into a government pension system for all Civil War veterans. Three years later, in 1907, Congress legislatively endorsed this position in the Service and Age Act. Congress, in subsequent legislation during the first quarter of the twentieth century, increased pensions and tied the amount of the pension to the period of military service.

The last Civil War pensioner, Albert Woolson, who joined the Union Army as a seventeen-year-old in 1864, was collecting a monthly pension of $135.45 at the time of his death in 1956. And perhaps more remarkably, there were still nineteen dependents of Civil War veterans receiving benefits in the last years of the twentieth century. At its peak, the Civil War pension system consumed approximately 45 percent of all federal revenue and was the largest department of the federal government (other than the armed services). In addition, state pension systems were developed in the former Confederate states to provide pension and disability benefits to Confederate veterans.

For many historians and other social scientists, the Civil War pension system represents both a mirror of social and economic features of the United States between the Civil War and the turn of the century, and a bridge between an era of limited government and the regulatory state that emerged in the last seven decades of the twentieth century.

One question debated by historians is why the Civil War pension system expanded from a system of limited disability and survivor benefits into an old age entitlement program for Civil War veterans and dependent family members. Social scientists credit a number of reasons, but two seem most important: the first, was the political organizing ability of the veterans and their families, which emerged as special interest groups who engaged in lobbying and shaping public opinion. One of the groups, the Grand Army of the Republic, was national in scope and highly effective in advocating the interests of veterans and their families. The second reason was that the political parties competed for veteran votes and the Republican Party fashioned together a successful electoral coalition of Northern business interests and veterans of the Civil War.

The Civil War pension scheme attracted criticism in its time and after. The system attracted accusations of fraud and favoritism, bureaucratic incompetence, and class and racial bias. Some criticized veterans for greed and one of the enduring critiques of the program was that it transferred tax dollars to veterans regardless of need.

Theda Skocpal, a professor of sociology and political science at Harvard University, authored an important book that argued the Civil War pension system provided a structural model for a public system of old age support and also suggested that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries American citizens were willing to adopt a broad social insurance policy that veered from the liberal ideal of self-reliance and limited government. But Skocpal also argues that the Civil War pension system slowed U.S. progress toward adopting a comprehensive system of social insurance. Both public reaction to the shortcomings of the Civil War system and the cost of providing generous benefits aimed at a relatively narrow group of beneficiaries put the United States behind industrialized European nations in adopting social insurance schemes (and continues to leave Americans with a less comprehensive social insurance program).

The Civil War pension laws also created a large bureaucracy, of which doctors (who had to evaluate a veteran's disability) and lawyers (who were employed by claimants to contest denied claims) played an important part. Some scholars have suggested that this administrative system was an early harbinger of the modern regulatory state.

The Civil War pension legislation and its implementation provide insights into nineteenth century attitudes about race, class, disability, and family. Although the pension legislation was racially neutral and provided an important source of income to African American veterans and, as a result, contributed to the economic stability of some Northern African American communities, the administration of the pension laws also demonstrated racial bias, with African American veterans being denied benefits at greater rates than white veterans. Similarly, research suggests that officers and others of higher social class received preferential treatment. Interestingly, legal scholar Peter Blank has found that the pension administration favored some disabilities over others, and looked with relative disfavor at nervous disorders and infectious diseases. The pension system, by providing survivor benefits for widows and orphans, also led the government into defining what constituted acceptable families and gave government support to the idea of a nuclear family and traditional marriage.

See also: Bonus Bill; Veterans Preference Act of 1944.


Blanck, Peter David, and Michael Millender. "Before Disability Civil Rights: Civil War Pensions and the Politics of Disability in America." In Alabama Law Review 52, no. 1 (2000).

Cott, Nancy. Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation. Canbridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Frankel, Noralee. "From Slave Women to Free Women: The National Archives and Black Women's History in the Civil War Era." Government Archives (1997). <>

Glasson, William H. Federal Military Pensions in the United States, ed. David Kinley. New York: Oxford University Press.

Linares, Claudia. "The Civil War Pension Law." University of Chicago (2001). <>.

Shaffer, Donald R. "An Ambiguous Victory: Black Civil War Veterans from a National Perspective." <>.

Skocpal, Theda. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Civil War, American

views updated May 29 2018

Civil War, American (1861–65) War fought in the USA between the northern states (the Union) and the forces of the 11 southern states that seceeded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America (Confederacy). Its immediate cause was the determination of the southern states to withdraw from a Union that the northern states regarded as indivisible. The more general cause was the question of slavery, a well-established institution in the South but one which the northern abolitionists opposed. By the 1850s, slavery, abolition and states' rights had created insurmountable divisions between North and South. There was political polarization with the abolitionists forming the new Republican Party and those campaigning for the rights of southern states remaining in the Democratic Party. The 1860 election of a Republican, Abraham Lincoln, virtually assured southern withdrawal from the Union. The Unionists had superior numbers, greater economic power and command of the seas. The Confederates had passionate conviction and superior generals, such as Robert E. Lee and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. The war began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The Union's first objective was to take the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia, in the First Battle of Bull Run (July 1861). This campaign was unsuccessful, and the Confederates continued to be victorious with Lee winning the Peninsular Campaign (April–June 1862) and Jackson carrying off a brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley (March–June 1862). The Confederates were also victorious at the Seven Days' Battles (June–July 1862) and the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 1862). However, Lee's army was checked by the strengthening Union troops (led by General George McClellan), in the Battle of Antietam (September 1862). The Union was defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) under Ambrose Burnside, and at Chancellorsville (May 1863) under Joseph Hooker. The Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg (June–July 1863) was a turning point. The Union Navy had blocked southern ports, thereby denying the Confederacy essential trade with Europe. The Union strategy was to divide the South by taking control of the Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The first big Union victory was at Fort Donelson on the Tennessee River (February 1862) under the command of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant won a victory in the siege of Vicksburg (November 1862–July 1863), which, with the fall of Memphis (June 1862), gave Union troops control of the Mississippi. In 1864 Grant became supreme commander. He confronted Lee's army in the Wilderness Campaign (May–June 1864) and began the long siege of Petersburg, Virginia – the defence of which was vital to the survival of Richmond. Meanwhile, the Unionist General Sherman cut a devastating swathe across Georgia, burning Atlanta on the way. The Union victory at the battle of Five Forks blocked the retreat route for Confederate troops in Richmond. Petersburg fell two days later and Richmond was indefensible. The war ended with Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House village, Virginia in April 1865. The South was economically ruined by the war, and Reconstruction policies poisoned relations between North and South for a century.

Prisoner‐of‐War Camps, Civil War

views updated May 09 2018

Prisoner‐of‐War Camps, Civil War. Before 1861, Americans had never had to face the problem of internment of large numbers of captured enemy soldiers. British and Hessian soldiers had been exchanged or sent to farms on the frontier. The Civil War abruptly changed that situation. In four years of fighting, over 409,000 men became prisoners of war. That figure is at least four times more American soldiers captured than in all of the nation's other wars combined.

Neither side knew how to address the problem; neither made a concerted effort to do so. In place of badly needed attention and compassion were inexperience, clumsiness, and indifference. Suffering and the neglect of prisoners of war were present in both Union and Confederacy. Prison camp administrations were patchwork systems usually manned by second‐rate officials. Lack of resources was an impairment; so were inadequate facilities, overcrowded conditions, and general mismanagement. The few efforts at prisoner exchange during the war were bungled and short‐lived.

Of the 150 compounds established in the North and South, 25 could be termed major prisons or prison camps. Each had the same characteristics: poor food, lack of sanitation, often callous guards, and inadequate protection from the elements. Such ills produced epidemic outbreaks of sickness, malnutrition, mental depression, and—for thousands of helpless men—slow but certain death.

Totally divorced from the outside world, Civil War prisoners endured an unchanging routine. They arose from whatever bedding they had at dawn, answered roll call, and received something to eat. The rest of the day passed in boredom. A second meal came in late afternoon, along with another roll call. Then the men waited for some degree of sleep to blot out reality. Each succeeding day was the same.

No prison had sufficient medicines. Physicians were in short supply and not always attentive to enemy soldiers. Since many of the men had been captured because they were too wounded or sick to escape, and since prison life offered no curatives for recovery, death was a daily occurrence in every Civil War prison. In all, 56,000 cap‐tured soldiers perished in the crude compounds of the North and the South.

The two most infamous Civil War compounds went into operation in 1864, when prison authorities should have learned from mistakes and omissions earlier in the war. The South's Andersonville prison (officially known as Camp Sumter, Georgia) was the largest of all. It began receiving inmates before construction was completed. Some 52,300 Federal enlisted men were sent there; more than 13,200 perished from disease, exposure, and lack of medicines.

In the North, at a prison camp for Confederates at Elmira, New York, such scourges as diarrhea and pneumonia killed almost one‐fourth of the captured soldiers (of 12,123 inmates, 2,963 died) over the course of the prison's twelve‐month existence.

During and especially after the Civil War, each side pointed fingers of guilt at the other. Subsequently, hundreds of “memoirs of prison life” flowed from printing presses as soldiers (many seeking disability pensions) vied in converting questionable facts into dramatic fiction. As a consequence, no aspect of the bitter Civil War has triggered more accusations, more violent passions, and more unresolved controversy than the mistreatment of captured Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs.
[See also Civil War: Domestic Course.]


Clayton W. Holmes , The Elmira Prison Camp, 1912.
William B. Hesseltine , Civil War Prisons: A Study in War Psychology, 1930; rep. 1962.
James I. Robertson, Jr. , The Scourge of Elmira, Civil War History, VIII (1962), pp. 184–201.
Lonnie R. Speer , Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War, 1997.

James I. Robertson, Jr.

Substitutes, Civil War

views updated May 18 2018


SUBSTITUTES, CIVIL WAR. No conscription in the North during the Civil War was absolute. The drafted man could always hire a substitute if he could afford it. Starting in 1862, the U.S. government allowed this escape from military service on the theory that, so long as each name drawn from the wheel produced a man, it made no difference whether the drafted person or one hired to take his place appeared for muster. The Conscription Act of 3 March 1863 legalized this method of draft evasion. Until the act of 24 February 1864, the conscript could choose between hiring a substitute or paying the government $300 as commutation of service. Thereafter, the government only permitted substitution, except for conscientious objectors. Furthermore, exemption by furnishing a substitute extended only until the next succeeding draft, at which point the principal again became liable. Immediately, the prices of substitutes rose far above the $300 to which the commutation clause had held them. For this reason, legal draft evasion became the prerogative of only the unusually well-to-do.

From the early days of the war, the Confederacy also allowed a limited substitution system. The first Confederate Conscription Act permitted substitutes from men not legally liable to service to the extent of one man a month in each company. The second conscription act made men previously furnishing substitutes again liable to serve, thus causing much dissension and legal action. By the end of 1863, the Confederacy had abolished the whole system. Scholars have never accurately compiled the number of substitutes.


Geary, James W. We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1991.

Madden, David, ed. Beyond the Battlefield: The Ordinary Life and Extraordinary Times of the Civil War Soldier. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Wert, Jeffry D. A Brotherhood of Valor: The Common Soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, C.S.A., and the Iron Brigade, U.S.A. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.

Fred A.Shannon/a. e.

See alsoArmy, Confederate ; Army, Union ; Bounty Jumper ; Conscription and Recruitment .

Mortars, Civil War Naval

views updated May 14 2018


MORTARS, CIVIL WAR NAVAL. Civil War naval mortars were heavy guns designed to throw shells with a high angle of fire; they were first built in 1862 for use in the New Orleans campaign. In April 1862 twenty mortars bombarded Forts Jackson and Saint Philip, the principal defenses below New Orleans, with thirteen-inch shells, allowing Adm. David G. Farragut's Union fleet to pass them. After the surrender of New Orleans, the flotilla ascended the Mississippi and bombarded Vicksburg, Mississippi, enabling Farragut's fleet to run past the city. During the siege of Vicksburg the following year, a mortar fleet bombarded the city for forty-two days prior to its surrender.


Ryan, J. W. Guns, Mortars, and Rockets. New York: Brassey's Publishers, 1982.

Louis H.Bolander/c. w.

See alsoMississippi River ; Navy, Confederate ; Navy, United States ; New Orleans, Capture of ; Vicksburg in the Civil War .

Prize Cases, Civil War

views updated May 11 2018


PRIZE CASES, CIVIL WAR. In 1863 the Supreme Court upheld President Abraham Lincoln's exercise, at the outbreak of the Civil War, of emergency powers not previously authorized by Congress. After the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, Lincoln all but declared war, called for volunteers, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and blockaded various southern ports. Not until July did Congress retroactively legalize these executive measures. Meanwhile, under the presidential blockade certain merchant vessels were captured as prizes by the Union navy for attempting to run the blockade. The Supreme Court upheld the seizures on the grounds that a de facto state of war had existed since April.


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

Paludan, Phillip Shaw. The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1994.

Martin P.Claussen/t. g.

See alsoBlockade Runners, Confederate ; Habeas Corpus, Writ of ; Sumter, Fort .

Civil War General Order No. 100

views updated May 14 2018


CIVIL WAR GENERAL ORDER NO. 100, a code comprising 157 articles "for the government of armies in the field" according to the "laws and usages of war." By order of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, it was drawn up by Francis Lieber and a special board, and utilized by Union officers. The first code of its kind, it later formed the basis for many codes of military field law and for the conventions of the Hague conferences of 1899 and 1907. Ironically, at the same time that governments began to institute formal codes to regulate military behavior, the practice of targeting civilian populations in wartime became ever more common.


Lieber, Francis. Code for the Government of Armies in the Field as Authorized by the Laws and Usages of War on Land. New York: U.S. War Department, 1863.

FrankFreidel/a. g.

See alsoArrest, Arbitrary, during the Civil War ; Contraband of War ; Desertion ; Military Law ; Unconditional Surrender ; War Department .

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American Civil War