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The American Civil War

This guide contains links to resources about the Civil War.

Timeline

In this guide, you can view a timeline of the American Civil War from the Library of Congress and find book recommendations, documentaries, and other sources of information about the American Civil War.

Click through these tabs to see general information about important dates and people in the build-up to the American Civil War.

 

The "Indian Wars" - Wars of Westward Expansion in Illinois, Missouri, and the American Frontier

  • The War of 1812
  • The Seminole Wars (1816-1818)
  • The Indian Removal Act (1830)
  • The Black Hawk War (1832)

The Missouri Compromise (1820)

  • A major factor in the build up to the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War, the Missouri Compromise allowed for a balance of power between free and slave states.

American Slavery

  • Debated in the U.S. Congress and in state capitals across the U.S., slavery was a major political and social concern in the U.S.

Anti-Slavery and Abolitionist Groups

  • The Underground Railroad (1830s)
  • The Nat Turner Rebellion, also called the Nat Turner Revolt (1831)
  • Black Abolitionists
  • Elijah Lovejoy and Freedom of the Press (1837)
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • William Lloyd Garrison and the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator

European Immigration and Anti-Immigrant Tension in the U.S.

  • Irish immigration and the Great Famine (1845-1852)
  • German, also called Prussian, immigration
  • African-American immigration to the American frontier

The Mexican-American War as the Result of U.S. Western Expansion

  • The American idea of westward expansion as a right was a factor in the Mexican-American War.
  • Colonization and tensions between Native Americans and the U.S. federal government also contributed to the Mexican-American War.

The Mexican-American War as the Result of Slavery

  • With the Missouri Compromise of 1820, slave states wanted to expand west, expanding the territory of Texas and bringing it into the U.S. as a state, in order to regain the majority in Congress. 

The Alamo

  • The most well-remembered battle of the Mexican-American War.

The Mexican-American War as Training for the American Civil War

  • Many of the officers who came out of the Mexican-American War later fought in the American Civil War, leading to the Mexican-American War being referred to as the "training ground" for the American Civil War.
  • Some of the famous officers who fought in both conflicts include Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, George Meade, George McClellan, George Pickett, Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, Henry Heth, Winfield Scott Hancock, and Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

Slave State Majority in Congress

  • With Texas incorporated as a state in December of 1845, slave states suddenly regained the majority in Congress, leading abolitionists to redouble the efforts as Congress passed laws that made gave more power to slave states.

Anti-Slavery and Abolitionist Groups

  • As slavery expanded into Texas and other western territories, abolitionists became even more adamant that slavery needed to be abolished.
  • Abolitionist groups worked to become a major social movement and influence U.S. politics.

The Fugitive Slave Law (1850)

  • The purpose and application of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was to make every state in the U.S., regardless of free or slave state distinctions, responsible for limiting the freedoms of both free and enslaved Black people.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)

  • Repealing the earlier Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the catalyst for violence in western territories.

American Revivalism (1855-1860)

  • As American society moved feverishly towards the Civil War, American religion and faith took on new forms.

Bleeding Kansas (1854-1859)

  • The Kansas debate over slavery began and ended with violence. Outbreaks of violence between anti-slavery and pro-slavery groups expanded across the territory. 
  • John Brown, along with five of his sons and many of his friends and neighbors, began his work as a freedom fighter in Bleeding Kansas, in 1856.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (August to October 1858)

  • In the lead-up to the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas engaged in debates across the state of Illinois, focused on the primary issue facing the nation: slavery.

John Brown and Harper's Ferry (1859)

  • Following the events of Bleeding Kansas, John Brown and three of his sons moved to Maryland to continue the fight against slavery. The band eventually grew to 22 men, including five free Black men. On October 16, 1859, John Brown's band overran an military arsenal. 10 of the men were killed in the raid, the rest were tried and hung for treason and murder.
  • John Brown's last words, slipped to a guard on a slip of paper were prophetic: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." (John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry).

The Election of 1860

  • The election showed the country how clear the dividing lines between free and slave states were. Lincoln won the presidential election without winning a single slave state.

The Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863)

  • While the 13th Amendment declared all formerly enslaved people free, true freedom would not come for many until the end of the Civil War.

Black Soldiers in the Civil War

  • Black prisoners of war faced harsher treatment by Confederate forces than white prisoners of war, which prompted Lincoln to issue General Order 233, threatening a reprisal against Confederate POW's.
  • The Battle of Fort Pillow (April 12, 1864) - Black soldiers who attempted to surrender were massacred by Confederate cavalry, led by Nathan Bedford Forrest. Confederate reports stated that the soldiers refused to surrender, but that is colored by Forrest's reputation as a violently racist slave owner and member of the Ku Klux Klan (African Americans in the Civil War).

Major Civil War Battles

  • Interactive map of major Civil War battles
  • The First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861)
  • The Battle of Shiloh (April 6 and 7 1862)
  • Antietam or the Battle of Sharpsburg (September 17, 1862)
  • The Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 to 3, 1863)
  • The Vicksburg Campaign (May 22 to July 4 1863)

Major Civil War Generals

Union Officers

  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • Benjamin F. Butler

Confederate Officers

  • Robert E. Lee
  • Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

President Abraham Lincoln

  • After winning the 1860 election, Lincoln wasn't always a popular president. If the war was going well, he was well liked. If the war was going poorly, or when he issued the draft, he was hated.
  • Lincoln won reelection in the 1864 presidential election, only losing to Democratic candidate and former General, George B. McClellan in three states: New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky.
  • On April 15, 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

Civil War Medicine

  • The Civil War changed medical history. Doctors and nurses learned quickly about how to conduct successful amputations, cleaning wounds, and caring for large groups of injured patients. Major injuries such as shrapnel wounds that were a death sentence in previous wars suddenly became survivable as medicine and science advanced.

Women in the Civil War

  • Women served in the Civil War as nurses and some women also served as combatants, disguising themselves as men in order to join the fight. One of the most famous nurses of the Civil War was Clara Barton, who later founded the American Red Cross.
  • Non-combatants faced many challenges during the war, including food shortages and rationing across the U.S. and Confederate states.

The Surrender at Appomattox (April 19, 1865)

  • It took time for news to spread that the war was over, with some Confederate units, especially in the western states and territories, continuing the fight well into 1866
  • Some units, such as the CSS Shenandoah, a Confederate war ship, didn't get word that the war had ended until months later, in August of 1865 (Why the Civil War Actually Ended 16 Months After Lee Surrendered).
  • Texas did not establish a new state government until April 1866, at which point it was re-admitted to the Union.

Juneteenth (June 19, 1865)

  • Juneteenth celebrates the date that Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War was over, General Lee had surrendered, and that all enslaved people were now free.
  • Today, Juneteenth is celebrated as federal holiday, commemorating African American freedom and emphasizing education and achievement (What Is Juneteenth?)

The Reconstruction Period

  • Lincoln's plans for Reconstruction never had the opportunity to be realized. After his assassination, Lincoln's vice president, Andrew Johnson, took office. Johnson was a staunch Democrat and he and Lincoln had very different ideas about how Reconstruction should be conducted.
  • Formerly enslaved people took control of their own destiny, quickly working to create their own Reconstruction - promoting education, democracy, communal aid, and social restructuring. Social issues weren't the only things that Black Reconstructionists were concerned with. There was also a focus in Black Reconstruction groups to promote political involvement and push for voting rights.

The 14th Amendment (1868)

  • This constitutional amendment granted the citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to all African Americans and formerly enslaved people in the U.S.

The 15th Amendment (1870)

  • This constitutional amendment guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" (15th Amendment)

Legacies of the American Civil War

  • Neoslavery - slavery continued past emancipation and the Civil War in other forms.
  • Segregation - social politics continue to be influenced by the Civil War.
  • Jim Crow and white supremacy - Jim Crow laws prevalent in the 1960s first took shape in the Reconstruction era.
  • The Daughters of the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan - white heritage and white supremacist organizations which terrorized African Americans throughout the past century began in the post-Civil War period. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry officer, was a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • The Civil War monument debate - living with the legacy of Civil War monuments, particularly to Confederate soldiers, is a current social issue. What do these monuments represent and how are they perceived?

Maps and Charts of the American Civil War