Born December 25, 1821
Died April 12, 1912
Glen Echo, New York
Union nurse known as the "angel of the
battlefield" for treating wounded Union soldiers
Founded the American Red Cross
Clara Barton is one of the most remarkable women in American history. A former schoolteacher, she never received any formal training in nursing. But she became a famous figure on Civil War battlefields, where she tended to thousands of sick and wounded soldiers and delivered huge quantities of medicine, food, and other provisions to Union troops. She also remained in the public spotlight after the war concluded. In 1881 she founded the American Red Cross, and in her later years she emerged as a leader in the fight to gain women's suffrage (right to vote).
An early taste of nursing
Clarissa Harlowe Barton was...
(The entire section is 3173 words.)
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Beauregard, Pierre G. T.
Born May 28, 1818
St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana
Died February 20, 1893
New Orleans, Louisiana
Southern hero of Fort Sumter and First Bull Run
Pierre G. T. Beauregard was a key figure in many of the South's early Civil War victories. He led the conquest of Fort Sumter that actually started the war, and he helped guide the Confederacy to victory in the first major battle of the conflict in July 1861, the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as the First Battle of Manassas). But his war record ended up being a controversial one. For example, some critics believe that his decisions at the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862) prevented the South from gaining a major victory. In addition, Beauregard's arrogance and political scheming made him very unpopular with Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808–1889; see entry) and some other Southern military and political leaders.
Raised in a Creole household
(The entire section is 2831 words.)
Born June 24, 1842
Meigs City, Ohio
Died 1913 or 1914
Place of death unknown
Civil War veteran who authored
several short stories about the Civil War
Ambrose Bierce was one of America's best-known writers of the nineteenth century. As a Union soldier during the Civil War, Bierce witnessed the violence and horror of war firsthand. After the war ended, he drew upon those wartime experiences to write a number of popular short stories and essays. In addition, he ranked as one of the country's most famous newspaper columnists during the 1880s and 1890s.
Growing up in poverty
Ambrose Bierce was born in southeastern Ohio in 1842, but he spent most of his childhood in Indiana. He was the tenth of thirteen children born to Marcus Aurelius and Laura Bierce, poor farmers who struggled to provide food and clothing for their children. Ambrose spent a good deal of his childhood...
(The entire section is 1791 words.)
Booth, John Wilkes
Born May 10, 1838
Bel Air, Maryland
Died April 26, 1865
Port Royal, Virginia
Stage actor and Southern sympathizer who
assassinated President Abraham Lincoln
John Wilkes Booth was a fanatical supporter of the Confederate cause during the Civil War. On April 14, 1865—as people throughout the North celebrated the end of the conflict—Booth made a deranged (insane) attempt to strike one final blow for the South. He shot Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry) as the president sat watching a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died the following day. Although Booth and his accomplices (partners in crime) were soon captured, the assassination sent shock waves through the country. Lincoln's violent death made it much more difficult for the North and South to resolve their differences after the war.
Supports the South in the Civil War
John Wilkes Booth was born in Maryland...
(The entire section is 1879 words.)
Born 1843 or 1844
Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia)
Confederate spy known as
"Cleopatra of the Secession"
Belle Boyd was one of the most famous Confederate spies of the Civil War, but not necessarily one of the most successful. She carried information to Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (1824–1863; see entry) that helped him win battles in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley in 1862. But Boyd loved the thrills of spying and basked in the attention she received as a spy. As a result, she became less effective over time and eventually lost much of her value to the Confederate cause.
Home state changes loyalties
Belle Boyd was born in Martinsburg, Virginia, in 1843. This was a time of great political tension in the United States. For years, the North and the South had been arguing over several issues, including slavery. By...
(The entire section is 1306 words.)
Born 1822 or 1823
Warren County, New York
Died January 15, 1896
New York City, New York
Civil War photographer
His studio produced many of the war's
most famous photographs
Mathew Brady is the most famous of the many American photographers who documented the Civil War in pictures. He did not personally take many of the photographs that made him famous. Instead, failing eyesight forced him to hire teams of photographers to take care of the actual camera work. But it was Brady who led the effort to use photography as a way of recording the events of the Civil War for future generations. "[Mathew Brady] would serve history and country," wrote Carl Sandburg in The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln. "He would prove what photography could do by telling what neither the tongues nor the letters of soldiers could tell of troops in camp, on the...
(The entire section is 2145 words.)
Born March 22, 1817
Warrenton, North Carolina
Died September 27, 1876
Was victorious at Battle of Chickamauga but
failed in two other campaigns in 1862 and 1863
General Braxton Bragg was one of the most controversial generals in the Confederate Army. In September 1863, Bragg guided the South's Army of Tennessee to victory in the Battle of Chickamauga. This was the Confederacy's only major triumph in the western theater (the region of the country between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains) during the entire Civil War. Despite this victory, however, the general is better known for his failures as commander of the Army of Tennessee. During the eighteen months that he led that army, Bragg's stormy relationship with subordinate (lower-ranking) officers greatly reduced its effectiveness. In...
(The entire section is 1911 words.)
Died December 2, 1859
Led an unsuccessful attempt to ignite
a slave uprising in the South in 1859
John Brown was a highly controversial member of the movement to abolish (put an end to) slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War. He believed that slavery was morally wrong and committed himself to doing anything in his power to destroy it. "Slavery throughout its entire existence in the United States is none other than a mad, barbarous [cruel], unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion, in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence," he stated.
As Brown grew more and more furious about slavery, he came to believe that violence was both necessary and justified in the fight to abolish...
(The entire section is 2519 words.)
Born May 23, 1824
Died September 13, 1881
Bristol, Rhode Island
Best known for his decisive defeat at the Battle of
Fredericksburg and his unsuccessful "Crater"
attack during the siege of Petersburg
Ambrose Burnside is best known for his disastrous command of the Union's Army of the Potomac from November 1862 to January 1863. During the course of this three-month period, Burnside's army suffered a major defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia, at the hands of Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807–1870; see entry). Burnside then tried to rally his army by launching an offensive across Virginia's Rappahannock River, but the Union march fell apart when bad weather reduced the army's route to a muddy quagmire. After his removal from command of the Army of the Potomac, Burnside served the North well by helping to hold Knoxville,...
(The entire section is 2454 words.)
Chamberlain, Joshua L.
Born September 8, 1828
Died February 24, 1914
Hero at the Battle of Gettysburg
Joshua L. Chamberlain was one of the Union Army's great heroes at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July 1863. His brave defense of the Union's vulnerable left flank saved the North from certain defeat in the clash. Chamberlain received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor at Gettysburg, and he went on to serve the Union with distinction for the remainder of the war.
Attends Bowdoin College
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born in 1828 in Brewer, Maine. He was the oldest of three boys. His...
(The entire section is 3237 words.)
Chesnut, Mary Boykin
Born March 31, 1823
Statesburg, South Carolina
Died November 22, 1886
Camden, South Carolina
Civil War diarist
Thousands of Americans recorded their thoughts and experiences during the Civil War period in diaries and journals. Since that time, many of these diaries have been studied by historians, and some of them have been published in book form. The most famous diary of the Civil War was written by Mary Boykin Chesnut. Chesnut was a well-educated woman from a wealthy and influential Southern family. She married James Chesnut Jr., who became a U.S. senator from South Carolina shortly before the start of the Civil War. Thanks to her political connections and her skills as an observer and writer, Chesnut was able to provide an inside view of the Confederacy for future generations to read and study.
Raised in a prominent Southern family
Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut was born on March 31, 1823,...
(The entire section is 2179 words.)
Born June 10, 1833
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died December 2, 1893
San Francisco, California
Stage actress who served as a Union spy
Pauline Cushman used her skills as an actress to pretend that she supported the Confederate cause during the Civil War. In reality, she collected information about Confederate spies and strategies and passed it along to Union authorities. In 1863, Cushman was captured and sentenced to death by Confederate general Braxton Bragg (1817–1876; see entry). If the sentence had been carried out, she would have been the only female spy executed by either side during the war. But Union troops arrived in Shelbyville, Tennessee, in time to save her.
Decides to serve her country
Pauline Cushman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1833. Her name was originally Harriet Wood, but...
(The entire section is 1233 words.)
Born June 3, 1808
Died December 6, 1889
New Orleans, Louisiana
President of the Confederate States of America
Jefferson Davis served as the president of the Confederate States of America during its four years of existence. He was the South's political leader during the Civil War and the counterpart of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry). "On each side there was one man who stood at storm center, trying to lead a people who would follow no leader for long unless they felt in him some final embodiment [expression] of the deep passions and misty insights that moved them," Bruce Catton wrote in The Civil War. "This man was the President, given power and responsibility beyond all other men . . . Abraham Lincoln, in Washington, and Jefferson Davis, in Richmond."
Davis faced an extremely difficult job as president of the Confederacy, but he was well...
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Delany, Martin R.
Born May 6, 1812
Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia)
Died January 24, 1885
Black abolitionist and political activist
First black field officer in the Union Army
"[Black] elevation must be the result of self-efforts, and the work of [their] own hands. No other human power can accomplish it."
Martin R. Delany was one of America's leading black political activists of the nineteenth century. In the 1840s, he became a leading abolitionist (person who works to end slavery). From the 1850s through the 1870s, his political beliefs changed, and he became one of the country's best-known supporters of black emigration (leaving one country to settle in another country) to Africa and pan-Africanism (a belief that all black peoples should unite to improve their lives). Delany is also well known for his Civil War activities. He was a leading recruiter of black soldiers for the Union Army, and in 1865 he became the first black soldier ever to be named a field officer in the U.S. military.
Exposed to prejudice at early age
Martin Robinson Delany was born in 1812 in Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia). His father was a slave. But since his mother was free, Martin and his four...
(The entire section is 2354 words.)
Born February 1818?
Tolbert County, Maryland
Died February 20, 1895
Abolitionist, writer, and speaker
Escaped from slavery to become one of the most
prominent activists in the antislavery movement
Frederick Douglass began his life as a slave. After escaping to the North in 1838, Douglass became a leading figure in the fight to abolish (put an end to) slavery in the United States and gain equal rights for black Americans. He was an accomplished writer and speaker who used the power of words to convince people that slavery was wrong. He was one of the country's first great black leaders.
Born a slave
Frederick Douglass was born in Tolbert County, in eastern Maryland, around 1818. He never knew the exact date of his birth because he was born a slave. Black people were taken...
(The entire section is 2389 words.)
Born December 1841
New Brunswick, Canada
Died September 5, 1889
La Porte, Texas
Union soldier, nurse, and spy
Disguised herself as a man to
serve in the Union Army
Historians estimate that more than four hundred women disguised themselves as men in order to serve as either Union or Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Of all these women, Emma Edmonds was the most remarkable. Adopting the name "Franklin Thompson," she joined the Union Army early in the war and served for two years without revealing her true identity. She started out as a battlefield nurse, then made eleven successful missions behind Confederate lines as a spy. Edmonds used a variety of disguises during her spy missions. For example, she posed as a black man, a middle-aged Irish woman, a black woman, and a white Southern businessman. Many years after the war ended, the U.S. government recognized her contributions and awarded her a veteran's pension....
(The entire section is 1792 words.)
Farragut, David G.
Born July 5, 1801
Campbell's Station, Tennessee
Died August 14, 1870
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Navy admiral who commanded successful Union
offensives at New Orleans and Mobile Bay
David G. Farragut is the most famous figure to emerge from the fierce Civil War struggle for control of the seas. A life-long sailor, he was nearing his sixtieth birthday when the war began. But despite his age and his Southern background, Farragut became the best commander in the Union Navy. In fact, his successful naval assaults on the Southern ports of New Orleans and Mobile Bay are recognized as major Civil War victories for the North.
A childhood at sea
Born in Tennessee, David Glasgow Farragut was introduced to sailing at an early age by his father, George Farragut. Young Farragut learned the basics of sailing in all kinds of weather, for his father took him out on the sea in both peaceful and stormy conditions. When Farragut was eight years old, his father...
(The entire section is 2511 words.)
Forrest, Nathan Bedford
Born July 13, 1821
Chapel Hill, Tennessee
Died October 29, 1877
Highly feared Confederate cavalry commander
"Forrest simply used his horsemen as a modern general would use motorized infantry. He liked horses because he liked fast movement, and his mounted men could get from here to there much faster than any infantry could. . . ."
Historian Bruce Catton
Confederate cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest ranks as one of the most controversial figures in Civil War history. Forrest was a ferocious fighter who proved time and again that he was one of the war's most brilliant combat strategists. Mixing an aggressive style with superb battlefield instincts, his attacks on Northern military positions and supply centers became so disruptive that Union general William T. Sherman (1820–1891; see entry) warned that "there will never be peace in Tennessee till Forrest is dead."
Forrest's tough reputation and military exploits made him a hero in the South. In the North, however, he emerged as one of the most hated men of the Civil War era. Northerners feared and hated Forrest partly because of his success as a raider and his fearsome reputation. But they also despised him because of his prewar career as a slave trader, his...
(The entire section is 2554 words.)
Frémont, John Charles
Born January 21, 1813
Died July 13, 1890
New York, New York
American West explorer
known as the "Pathfinder"
Removed from his command as a Union general
for issuing his own "emancipation proclamation"
Writer Edward D. Harris
John C. Frémont was one of the best-known explorers of the American West in the first half of the nineteenth century. "His scientific and surveying work was crucial in opening America beyond the Mississippi, and his heroic image and legend helped imbue [fill] the West with the romance with which it is still colored," according to Edward D. Harris in John Charles Frémont and the Great Western Reconnaissance. "He remains a symbol of a younger, untamed, and adventurous America."
In 1856, Frémont became the antislavery Republican political party's first presidential candidate. When the Civil War began a few years later, he took...
(The entire section is 2649 words.)
Born July 1, 1818
Daupin County, Pennsylvania
Died May 18, 1883
Chief of Confederate Ordnance Bureau
Supervised production of weapons and
ammunition for the Confederate Army
Historian James M. McPherson
General Josiah Gorgas was one of the Confederacy's most valuable officers during the American Civil War. Born in the North, he sided with the South at the war's outset. For the next four years, he supervised the Southern effort to provide its soldiers with the weapons and ammunition that they needed in the conflict. He faced many obstacles during this period, from shortages of raw materials to the huge Union naval blockade of Confederate ports. Despite these difficulties, however, Gorgas did a remarkable job of producing and delivering weaponry to rebel (Confederate) troops during the Civil War. In numerous cases, rebel armies continued to receive needed rifles and ammunition long...
(The entire section is 1941 words.)
Grant, Ulysses S.
Born April 27, 1822
Point Pleasant, Ohio
Died July 23, 1885
Mount McGregor, New York
Union general who captured Vicksburg and defeated Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, ending the Civil War
Eighteenth president of the United States
Ulysses S. Grant was one of the greatest—and most unlikely—military commanders in American history. Prior to the Civil War, he struggled to provide for his family, first as a soldier and then as a businessman. But when the war began, he quickly showed that he was one of the North's top military leaders. During the first two years of the conflict, his victories at Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga helped the Union seize control of the Confederacy's western states.
Grant then moved to the war's eastern theater (a large geographic area in which military operations take place), where he was given command of all the Union armies. Beginning in the spring...
(The entire section is 3721 words.)
Born February 3, 1811
Amherst, New Hampshire
Died November 29, 1872
New York City, New York
Newspaper publisher and abolitionist
Author Lewis Leary
Horace Greeley was America's leading journalist of the Civil War era. He was the founder and editor of the New York Tribune, America's most popular newspaper of the mid-nineteenth century. Using his newspaper editorials as a tool to comment on American society and politics, Greeley became known as a crusader for a wide range of social causes, including women's rights and land reform. He became most famous, however, for his fierce opposition to slavery and his strong support of the Union war effort.
Independent at an early age
Horace Greeley was born on February 3, 1811, to a poor farming family in Amherst, New Hampshire. His father,...
(The entire section is 2926 words.)
Greenhow, Rose O'Neal
Born 1815 or 1817
Port Tobacco, Maryland
Died October 1, 1864
Wilmington, North Carolina
Washington socialite and Confederate spy
Provided information that allowed Confederate forces to win the First Battle of Bull Run
Spying "was far more successful than my hopes could have flattered me to expect."
Rose O'Neal Greenhow was one of the most successful female Confederate spies of the Civil War. A prominent hostess in Washington society, she learned about Union military plans from her wide circle of important friends and passed that information along to Confederate leaders. In July 1861, she provided key information that helped Confederate forces win the First Battle of Bull Run in Virginia. "I employed every capacity with which God has endowed [provided] me," she once said, "and the result was far more successful than my hopes could have flattered me to expect."
Becomes a popular hostess in Washington social circles
Rose O'Neal Greenhow was born to a wealthy slave-holding family in southern Maryland in 1817. When she was a young girl, one of the family's slaves murdered her father. From that point on, Greenhow strongly opposed the movement to abolish (put an end to) slavery...
(The entire section is 1580 words.)
Hancock, Winfield Scott
Born February 4, 1824
Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania
Died February 9, 1886
Governors Island, New York
Union general known as "the Superb"
Became a hero during the Battle of Gettysburg
Winfield Scott Hancock was one of the most efficient and successful corps commanders in the Union Army. His bravery, intelligence, quick decision-making, and professional attitude earned the respect of his troops and helped make him a war hero. Although he fought in many of the most important battles of the Civil War, Hancock is best known for his performance at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July 1863. He selected the site of this historic battle, set up the Union defenses, and helped turn back the full-scale Confederate attack on the final day of fighting. A career military man, Hancock served as a military district commander during Reconstruction. He ran for president in 1880 and lost by one of the closest margins in history.
(The entire section is 1924 words.)
Born February 24, 1836
Died September 29, 1910
Prout's Neck, Maine
American painter who received critical acclaim for
his portrayals of Civil War scenes
Winslow Homer was one of the most famous and respected American artists of the nineteenth century. He is best known for the dramatic paintings that he created from the 1880s until his death in 1910. These works emphasized mankind's relationship with a natural world that could be both beautiful and violent. But the first works composed by Homer to receive critical acclaim were actually created many years earlier, during the American Civil War. His drawings and paintings of that period showed the harsh life of Civil War soldiers in an honest and sympathetic way. Today, Homer's wartime paintings and drawings continue to provide a powerful representation of the Civil War experience.
A Massachusetts childhood...
(The entire section is 1714 words.)
Hood, John Bell
Born June 1, 1831
Died August 30, 1879
New Orleans, Louisiana
Led failed Southern effort to keep Union forces
from capturing Atlanta in 1864
John Bell Hood was a Confederate general of unquestioned bravery and dedication. As a division commander he displayed great courage at many of the Civil War's most violent battles. These skirmishes included Second Bull Run (August 1862) and Fredericksburg (December 1862) in Virginia; Antietam (September 1862) in Maryland; Gettysburg (July 1863) in Pennsylvania; and Chickamauga (September 1863) in Georgia. Hood's devotion to the Southern cause was so great that he remained on active military duty even after suffering wounds that crippled one arm and required the amputation of one of his legs. But Hood's performance as commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee from July 1864 to January 1865 has tarnished his...
(The entire section is 2818 words.)
Howe, Julia Ward
Born May 27, 1819
New York, New York
Died October 1910
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Author and social reformer
Wrote the words to "Battle Hymn of the
Republic," which became the Union anthem
during the Civil War
Julia Ward Howe accomplished many things as a writer, lecturer, abolitionist, and promoter of women's rights. But she is best remembered as the author of the words to "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the stirring song that became the Union anthem during the Civil War. The song's popularity, combined with her active support of various social causes, made her one of the most famous and respected women of her time.
Sheltered girlhood in New York City
Julia Ward Howe was born on May 27, 1819, in New York City. She was the third of six children born to Samuel Ward, a wealthy banker, and his wife Julia Cutler Ward. Howe was a bright and strong-willed child with a lively...
(The entire section is 2246 words.)
Jackson, Thomas "Stonewall"
Born January 21, 1824
Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia)
Died May 10, 1863
Guiney Station, Virginia
Confederate general whose successful 1862
Shenandoah campaign and other military exploits
made him beloved throughout the South
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson is one of the legendary military heroes of the American Civil War. The Virginia native first attracted national attention in 1862, when his brilliant Shenandoah Valley campaign demoralized much larger Union forces. As the most trusted lieutenant of General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870; see entry), Jackson then helped guide the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to its greatest battlefield victories. In May 1863, however, Stonewall Jackson's spectacular military career was cut short when he was accidentally shot and fatally wounded by his own troops. His death was a serious blow to the Confederacy. In fact, many Southerners insisted after the war that the conflict might have ended differently if Jackson had not been killed.
(The entire section is 3050 words.)
Born December 29, 1808
Raleigh, North Carolina
Died July 31, 1875
Seventeenth president of the United States
Became the first president to face
impeachment when Congress disagreed with his
Andrew Johnson became president of the United States in April 1865, when Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry) was assassinated. He took charge of the country just as the Civil War ended and presided over the difficult period in American history known as Reconstruction (1865–1877). A Southerner by birth, Johnson soon pardoned (officially forgave) Confederate officials and established lenient (easy) conditions for the Southern states to return to the Union. Many Northerners, and especially Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress, worried that Johnson's Reconstruction policies would allow Confederate leaders to return to power and continue to...
(The entire section is 3630 words.)
Johnston, Joseph E.
Born February 3, 1807
Cherry Grove, Virginia
Died March 21, 1891
District of Columbia
Led Army of Tennessee against Union
general William T. Sherman's forces during
Joseph Johnston's reputation as a Civil War general is a mixed one. On the one hand, he became known as one of the Confederacy's most sensible and intelligent military leaders. Careful and crafty, he never sent his troops into battle rashly. This reluctance to commit troops to battle without good cause understandably made Johnston very popular with many of the soldiers under his command. But critics of Johnston argued that he avoided conflict on too many occasions, such as during the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign and the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. This criticism, coupled with his bitter feud with Confederate president...
(The entire section is 3061 words.)
Lee, Robert E.
Born January 19, 1807
Westmoreland County, Virginia
Died October 13, 1870
As commander of the Army of Northern Virginia,
became the Confederacy's most famous military
leader of the Civil War
General Robert E. Lee ranks as the most famous and beloved Confederate soldier to fight in the American Civil War. As commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, he masterminded many of the South's greatest military victories. Combining clever battlefield strategy with inspiring leadership, he nearly engineered an ultimate Confederate victory. As the conflict progressed, however, improved performance by the larger Union Army proved too much for Lee to overcome. Lee's decision to surrender in the spring of 1865 did not hurt his reputation among his fellow Southerners, though. In fact, the postwar South embraced Lee as...
(The entire section is 3843 words.)
Born February 12, 1809
Died April 15, 1865
Sixteenth president of the United States
Abraham Lincoln is widely viewed as the greatest president in American history. He presided over the nation during one of its most difficult trials—the Civil War. Lincoln rose from humble beginnings in Kentucky to become a successful lawyer and state legislator in Illinois. In 1858, his growing concern over the expansion of slavery convinced him to join the antislavery Republican political party and oppose Democrat Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) for the U.S. Senate. Lincoln lost the election, but the spirited debates between the two candidates propelled him to national attention. In 1860, he became the sixteenth president of the United States.
But Lincoln's election convinced the slaveholding states of the Southern United States to secede (withdraw) from the Union...
(The entire section is 4485 words.)
Lincoln, Mary Todd
Born December 13, 1818
Died July 16, 1882
Wife of President Abraham Lincoln
Faced criticism and endured tragedy as first lady
of the Union during the Civil War
Mary Todd Lincoln had a difficult job as first lady during the Civil War. She had to support her husband through stressful times and defend him against his opponents. She also faced a great deal of criticism herself for her expensive tastes and quick temper. Outwardly, she was well-equipped to deal with the job of first lady. After all, she came from a prominent family and had been a popular hostess in Lincoln's home state of Illinois. Inwardly, however, she struggled with fears and depression that only grew worse with the untimely death of her husband in 1865. Her battle with mental illness after the war made her a tragic figure.
(The entire section is 1761 words.)
Born January 8, 1821
Edgefield District, South Carolina
Died January 2, 1904
Controversial military leader whose reputation as
General Robert E. Lee's "old war horse" was
shaken at Gettysburg
James Longstreet is perhaps the most controversial of the generals who served the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Longstreet's supporters point out that he fought courageously at many of the war's biggest battles, and that General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870; see entry) had such high regard for Longstreet that he affectionately referred to him as the Confederacy's "Old War Horse." But Longstreet's critics argue that he devoted too much time and energy to trivial political quarrels, and that he did not always do a good job of supporting...
(The entire section is 2732 words.)
Born August 20, 1832
Jefferson Mills, New Hampshire
Died January 16, 1913
Balloonist for Union Army
Conducted military reconnaissance for
Union forces during Civil War
Thaddeus Lowe developed and supervised a fleet of manned balloons that provided valuable information to Union forces on enemy troop positions and movements. Lowe's balloons thus became the first aviation aircraft used in American military history. The U.S. government never really appreciated the value of Lowe's Balloon Corps, however. By mid-1863, administrative errors and general lack of support brought Lowe's balloon operations to an end.
Difficult childhood fosters independent spirit
Thaddeus Soieski Constantine Lowe was born in Coos County, New Hampshire, on August 20, 1832, to a...
(The entire section is 2675 words.)
McClellan, George B.
Born December 3, 1826
Died October 29, 1885
Orange, New Jersey
Union general known as "the young Napoleon"
Commander of the Army of the
Potomac in 1861–62
Democratic nominee for the presidency in 1864
George B. McClellan was one of the top Union military leaders during the early years of the Civil War. He took command of the Army of the Potomac in July 1861—following the Union's humiliating defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run—and soon proved to be a great organizer and motivator of troops. When it came time to lead his forces into battle, however, McClellan became slow and indecisive. His shortcomings as a battlefield leader may have prevented the Union from capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, during the Peninsula Campaign of spring 1862. In September of that...
(The entire section is 3639 words.)
Meade, George G.
Born December 31, 1815
Died November 6, 1872
Led Northern forces to victory
at the Battle of Gettysburg
General George G. Meade will always be best remembered for his involvement in the famous Battle of Gettysburg. During this mid-1863 battle in the Pennsylvania countryside, Meade guided the Union's Army of the Potomac to a smashing victory over the South's Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870; see entry). This Union victory is often cited as a major reason why the North eventually was able to win the war.
But despite his role in this important Northern triumph, Meade has received less praise for his performance than a number of other Civil War generals. His cautious pursuit of Lee's battered army after Gettysburg has been criticized by many historians. In addition, the decision of General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885; see entry) to take...
(The entire section is 1958 words.)
Mosby, John Singleton
Born December 6, 1833
Powhatan County, Virginia
Died May 30, 1916
Confederate guerrilla leader
Tormented Union forces in northern Virginia from
1863 to 1865 as commander of "Mosby's Rangers"
During the course of the Civil War, groups of armed raiders known as "guerrillas" or "rangers" sprouted up all across the Confederacy to fight against invading Union armies. A number of these groups amounted to little more than semiorganized bands of outlaws who became best known for episodes of drunkenness and mindless violence. But other Southern guerrilla units operated with great effectiveness against important Union patrols and supply lines. The best of these guerrilla companies was commanded by John Singleton Mosby, a native Virginian whose bravery and dedication made him one of the most feared and respected of Confederate military leaders.
Born and raised in...
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Born September 27, 1840
Died December 7, 1902
Northern newspaper artist
Drew sentimental pictures and harsh editorial
cartoons that increased public support for the
Union cause during the Civil War
Thomas Nast. (Reproduced by permission of Archive Photos, Inc.)
"Thomas Nast has been our best recruiting sergeant. His emblematic cartoons have never failed to arouse enthusiasm and patriotism. . . .
In the days before photography enjoyed wide use, American newspapers hired artists to draw pictures to accompany news stories. Thomas Nast was one of the best-known and most influential newspaper artists of this period. He produced over three thousand pictures during his career, ranging from sentimental paintings to harsh editorial cartoons. His work inspired public support for the Union cause during the Civil War, and helped end government corruption in New York City in the years afterward. "For nearly a quarter of a century, through the pages of Harper's Weekly, Nast gave his strength to the American people," Albert Bigelow Paine wrote in Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures. "He was profoundly moved by every public question, and...
(The entire section is 1597 words.)
Pollard, Edward A.
Born February 27, 1831
Albemarle County, Virginia
Died December 12, 1872
Editor of the Richmond Examiner
Early historian of the Confederacy
"Morning broke on a scene never to be forgotten. . . . The smoke and glare of fire mingled with the golden beams of the rising sun. . . ."
Edward A. Pollard emerged as one of the South's best known commentators on Confederate leadership and military strategy during the Civil War. As the editorial page editor of the Richmond Examiner, Pollard's harsh criticism of Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808–1889; see entry) and other political leaders turned him into one of the South's most controversial writers. In addition, he published an annual series of books during the Civil War in which he provided his own interpretations of the war's progress. These volumes, which also attracted a lot of attention, made Pollard one of the first historians of the Confederacy.
Born into Virginia aristocracy
Edward Alfred Pollard was born in February 1831 in Albemarle County, Virginia. His parents were members of the state's planter (plantation owner) aristocracy (a privileged and influential class...
(The entire section is 2091 words.)
Southampton County, Virginia
Died September 17, 1858
St. Louis, Missouri
Slave who sued unsuccessfully
to obtain his freedom
The U.S. Supreme Court's controversial
ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford increased
the hostility between North and South that led
to the Civil War
Dred Scott was a slave who challenged the institution of slavery in court. He filed a lawsuit arguing that he should be free since his master had taken him to live in free territory for several years. The historic case, known as Dred Scott v. Sandford, made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857. At this time, the Northern and Southern halves of the country were involved in a fierce debate about slavery and the extent to which the government should be allowed to control it.
The Supreme Court ruled that black Americans did not have the rights of citizens, so Scott was not entitled to file his lawsuit. The...
(The entire section is 2007 words.)
Born June 13, 1786
Died May 27, 1866
West Point, New York
Union general in chief at the
beginning of the Civil War
Developed the "Anaconda Plan," which eventually
helped the Union win the war
Aveteran of the War of 1812 (1812–15), the Seminole Wars (1835–42), and the Mexican War (1846–48), General Winfield Scott had achieved the position of commander over all Federal forces when the Civil War began in 1861. His advanced age and poor health made it impossible for him to lead troops into combat personally, and he was forced to resign his position a few months after the war started. Before resigning, though, he developed a war strategy for the Union that helped it gain victory in the conflict. Scott's strategy helped cement his reputation as one of America's most successful military figures of the nineteenth century.
A famous American soldier...
(The entire section is 2152 words.)
Seward, William Henry
Born May 16, 1801
Florida, New York
Died October 10, 1872
Auburn, New York
Secretary of state in the
Lincoln and Johnson administrations
William Henry Seward was an important political figure throughout the Civil War era. In the 1840s and 1850s, he became known as one of America's leading advocates of abolitionism (the movement to end slavery). During the war, he joined the administration of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry) as secretary of state and became one of the president's most trusted advisors. Seward remained in his position as secretary of state through the first years of Reconstruction (the period from 1865 to 1877 during which the Southern states were rebuilt and rejoined the United States) as well. During this period, Seward supported President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; see entry) and his generous policies toward the South and...
(The entire section is 2099 words.)
Shaw, Robert Gould
Born October 10, 1837
Died July 18, 1863
Morris Island, South Carolina
Union colonel of the all-black Fifty-Fourth
Led the assault on Fort Wagner in
South Carolina that proved the courage
of black soldiers in combat
Robert Gould Shaw became a hero as commanding officer of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment—the first all-black regiment to be organized in the North. Black men were not allowed to join the Union Army in the early days of the Civil War. Even when the law was changed in mid-1862, many people still doubted whether black men could be good soldiers. Prominent black leaders and abolitionists (people who wanted to eliminate slavery) organized the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts and selected Shaw as its leader in the hope of changing people's views. In July 1863, the regiment led an assault on Fort Wagner, a Confederate...
(The entire section is 3550 words.)
Sheridan, Philip H.
Born March 6, 1831
Albany, New York
Died August 5, 1888
Union cavalry general
Led successful Shenandoah Campaign in
1864 and won Battle of Five Forks in April 1865,
which ultimately resulted in General Lee's
surrender at Appomattox
Philip Sheridan was one of the Union Army's finest military leaders during the second half of the Civil War. His steady direction was vital in improving the performance of the Army of the Potomac's cavalry corps in 1863. A year later, his successful invasion of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley pushed the Confederacy one step closer to surrender. Finally, his victory at Five Forks in April 1865 forced General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870; see entry) to abandon his defense of Richmond (the capital city of the Confederacy) and helped bring the war to a close. In recognition of these accomplishments, Union commander Ulysses S....
(The entire section is 2819 words.)
Sherman, William T.
Born February 8, 1820
Died February 14, 1891
New York, New York
Led the capture of Atlanta, Georgia, then took his
forces on the destructive "March to the Sea"
William T. Sherman was one of the most controversial generals of the Civil War. He rose through the military ranks to become commander of the Union forces in the West (the area west of the Appalachian Mountains). In September 1864, his troops captured the important Southern industrial city of Atlanta, Georgia. Sherman ordered all civilians (people who are not part of the army, including women and children) to leave the city and then burned it down. Afterward, the general marched his Union troops across Georgia to the city of Savannah on the Atlantic coast. During this famous "March to the Sea," Sherman's army lived off the countryside, taking whatever food and supplies they could use and destroying everything else.
Southerners were shocked and angered by Sherman's actions. Before this time, the Civil War was mostly fought between...
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Born April 5, 1839
Beaufort, South Carolina
Died February 22, 1915
Beaufort, South Carolina
Union Navy pilot and one of the
first black U.S. congressmen
Made a dramatic escape from slavery
by stealing a Confederate Navy ship
In 1862, Robert Smalls stole a Confederate supply ship and turned it over to the Union Navy. What made this feat even more remarkable was the fact that Smalls was a slave. His dramatic escape from slavery brought him wide acclaim in the North as a Civil War hero. After the war ended, Smalls became an important black leader during the difficult period of American history known as Reconstruction (1865–77). He overcame discrimination to serve five terms in the U.S. Congress as a representative from South Carolina.
Born into slavery
Robert Smalls was born a slave on April 5, 1839, in...
(The entire section is 2227 words.)
Stephens, Alexander H.
Born February 11, 1812
Died March 4, 1883
Vice president of the Confederate
States of America
Despite his office, he became
one of the most vocal critics of Confederate
president Jefferson Davis
The Confederacy's "foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.
As a prominent Georgia politician, Alexander H. Stephens opposed his state's decision to secede (withdraw) from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War. Nevertheless, he actively participated in forming the Confederate government and ended up becoming the vice president of the new Southern nation. Shortly after taking office, however, Stephens began disagreeing with Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808–1889; see entry) over the need to create a strong central government to manage the war effort effectively. Stephens believed that the right of individual states to decide issues within their borders for themselves was more important than the needs of the Confederacy. "He could not understand that if the war were to be won, great powers must be entrusted to those who had the...
(The entire section is 2798 words.)
Born April 4, 1792
Died August 11, 1868
Union political leader, head of the Radical
Republicans in the U.S. Congress
Led the fight to abolish slavery and secure equal
rights for black Americans during the Civil War
Thaddeus Stevens was a highly influential—and also controversial—politician during and immediately after the Civil War. People in the North who opposed slavery hailed him as one of the bravest leaders in American history. No one did more to promote the principles of freedom and equality laid out in the U.S. Constitution. "Every man, no matter what his race or color, has an equal right to justice, honesty, and fair play with every other man; and the law should secure him those rights," Stevens once said. "Such is the law of God and such ought to be the law of man."
(The entire section is 2995 words.)
Stowe, Harriet Beecher
Born June 14, 1811
Died July 1, 1896
Writer and abolitionist
Author of the best-selling antislavery
novel Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe brought to life the horrors of slavery for people in the Northern United States through her popular novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Her book was one of the first to portray black characters as real people with the same hopes and dreams as whites. It inspired thousands of people in the North to join the fight against slavery, and also increased the tensions between the North and South. As a result, many historians have claimed that Stowe helped cause the Civil War.
Grows up in a large family
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born on June...
(The entire section is 2244 words.)
Born February 6, 1833
Patrick County, Virginia
Died May 12, 1864
Legendary general of the cavalry corps of the
Confederate Army of Northern Virginia
Jeb Stuart ranks as one of the great military heroes of the Confederacy. He led the cavalry corps of the South's Army of Northern Virginia in many of the Civil War's greatest campaigns, including First Bull Run (July 1861), Antietam (September 1862), Chancellorsville (May 1863), Gettysburg (July 1863), and the Wilderness (May 1864). The scouting and fighting exploits of his cavalry in these campaigns account for much of Stuart's fame. But he is also well known for leading daring raids on Union positions and supply lines during the war. In fact, Southern newspaper coverage of these raids transformed Stuart into one of the Confederacy's most respected and beloved soldiers.
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Born January 6, 1811
Died March 11, 1874
Republican senator from Massachusetts
Abolitionist and leader in the impeachment trial
of President Andrew Johnson
"Whatever apologies may be offered for the toleration of slavery in the States, none can be offered for its extension into Territories where it does not exist."
Charles Sumner was one of America's most prominent political figures during the Civil War era. A dedicated abolitionist, he fought against laws that extended or protected the institution of slavery in any way. Sumner's views made him a hated man in the South, though. In 1856, this hatred became so intense that a Southern congressman viciously attacked him on the floor of the Senate. This physical assault immediately became famous throughout the North as a symbol of Southern wickedness. Sumner spent the following three years recovering from his injuries.
Sumner returned to the Senate, once again establishing himself as one of the nation's most influential politicians. He provided firm support to President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry) and his wartime policies, and later became a vocal opponent of President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; see entry) and his...
(The entire section is 2109 words.)
Thomas, George Henry
Born July 31, 1816
Southampton County, Virginia
Died March 28, 1870
San Francisco, California
Union general known as the
"Rock of Chickamauga"
Alienated his family and friends by siding with
the Union, then became one of the top leaders in
the Union Army
Although George Henry Thomas was born into a Southern slaveholding family, he sided with the Union at the start of the Civil War. He went on to become one of the most successful Northern generals. In fact, some historians have ranked him behind only Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885; see entry) and William T. Sherman (1820–1891; see entry) among the men they consider most important in securing victory for the Union. Thomas's brave stand during a Union defeat in 1863 earned him the nickname "Rock of Chickamauga." He is also remembered for leading the Army of the Cumberland to an impressive victory at Nashville in 1864. Despite Thomas's...
(The entire section is 1979 words.)
Tompkins, Sally L.
Born November 9, 1833
Matthews County, Virginia
Died July 25, 1916
Confederate nurse and hospital administrator
Only woman to hold a position as a commissioned officer in the
Sally Tompkins overcame traditional attitudes about women and provided much-needed care to Confederate troops.
Over three thousand American women acted as paid nurses during the Civil War, and thousands more performed nursing duties as volunteers. Sally Tompkins was one of the most successful nurses on either side of the conflict. The private hospital she established for wounded Confederate soldiers in Richmond, Virginia, had the highest survival rate of any Civil War medical facility. Between the time she opened it in July 1861 and the end of the war in 1865, she lost only 73 out of 1,333 patients.
Resident of Richmond at the beginning of the Civil War
Sally Louisa Tompkins was born into a wealthy family on November 9, 1833, at Poplar Grove in Matthews County, Virginia. Her father died when she was five years old, and then her mother moved the family to Richmond, Virginia. She lived there comfortably on her large inheritance until the beginning of the Civil War....
(The entire section is 1434 words.)
Ulster County, New York
Died November 26, 1883
Battle Creek, Michigan
Abolitionist and women's rights activist
Abolitionist Sojourner Truth is one of the most famous women in American history. Born into slavery, she became a leader in the abolitionist movement (the crusade to end slavery in America) and a pioneer in the battle for women's rights during the 1840s and 1850s. Truth also emerged as an energetic advocate (supporter) for blacks during the post–Civil War era known as Reconstruction (1865–77). Today, she is remembered as one of the leading social reformers of her time.
Born a slave
Sojourner Truth was born as Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in Ulster Country, New York. The daughter of slave parents owned by James and Elizabeth Baumfree, Truth spent her childhood as a slave. As she grew older, she witnessed many of slavery's cruelties firsthand. For example, several of her...
(The entire section is 1341 words.)
Born 1820 or 1821
Dorchester County, Maryland
Died March 10, 1913
Auburn, New York
Escaped slave who became a leader of the
Risked her life in order to guide hundreds of
slaves to freedom in the North
"There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive."
Harriet Tubman was a fugitive slave who helped other slaves gain their freedom through the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was not actually a railroad. It was a secret network of abolitionists (people who fought to end slavery) who helped slaves escape from their masters and settle in the Northern United States and Canada, where slavery was not allowed. The Underground Railroad system consisted of a chain of homes and barns known as "safe houses" or "depots." The people who guided the runaway slaves from one safe house to the next were known as "conductors." As one of the most successful conductors, Tubman made nineteen dangerous trips into slave territory and helped more than three hundred slaves gain their freedom.
Born into slavery
Harriet Tubman was born on a...
(The entire section is 2329 words.)
Vallandigham, Clement L.
Born July 29, 1820
New Lisbon, Ohio
Died June 17, 1871
Ohio congressman and candidate for governor
Leader of the antiwar "Copperhead" Democrats
As a leader of the antiwar Democrats known as "Copperheads," Clement L. Vallandigham emerged as a bitter critic of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry) and his administration during the Civil War. Vallandigham's opposition to Lincoln was based on his belief in the principle of states' rights and his certainty that the Union could never be restored through war. In 1863, however, his criticisms of the war effort became so strong that he was exiled (forced to leave) from the North.
A veteran of Ohio politics
Clement Laird Vallandigham was born in New Lisbon, Ohio, in 1820. The son of a minister, Vallandigham studied...
(The entire section is 1583 words.)
Lew, Elizabeth Van
Born October 12, 1818
Died September 25, 1900
Union spy known as "Crazy Bet"
Escaped detection by pretending
to be a harmless eccentric
Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy and refined (cultured) lady of Richmond, Virginia—the city that became the Confederate capital during the Civil War. Her neighbors called her "Crazy Bet" and laughed at her strange behavior. But she only pretended to be eccentric (odd or peculiar). In fact, she was a cunning and highly effective spy for the Union. She sent valuable information to the North through the entire course of the war, and she also helped numerous Union soldiers escape from Southern prisons.
Supports the abolition of slavery...
(The entire section is 1689 words.)
Weld, Theodore Dwight
Born November 23, 1803
Died February 3, 1895
Religious leader and abolitionist
Author of the influential book
American Slavery as It Is
Theodore Dwight Weld was a leading abolitionist (person who worked to put an end to slavery) during the years of heated debate over slavery that led to the Civil War. He was one of the most effective opponents of slavery during the 1830s, when the abolitionist movement was just beginning to gain ground in the Northern United States. He converted thousands of people to the cause with his passionate speeches and powerful books. But in the 1840s, long before the issue of slavery was resolved, Weld disappeared from view. Poor health, the loss of his voice, and a series of public defeats caused him to reevaluate his life. He lived quietly from that time on, although he occasionally emerged to comment on a particular social issue....
(The entire section is 1807 words.)
Born November 1823
Died November 10, 1865
Confederate commander of Andersonville Prison
Only Confederate official executed
for his actions during the Civil War
"Our feelings cannot be described as we gazed on these poor human beings. . . . Such squalid, filthy wretchedness, hunger, disease, nakedness and cold, I never saw before."
A Union soldier, commenting on his fellow prisoners at Andersonville.
Henry Wirz was the commander of Andersonville Prison, a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp that housed more than forty thousand Union soldiers during the Civil War. More than twelve thousand Union prisoners died of disease and hunger at Andersonville, making the prison the most notorious of the many prison camps operated by the Union and Confederate armies. In November 1865, Wirz was hanged by the Federal government for crimes committed at Andersonville. He was the only Confederate official executed for his actions during the Civil War.
Swiss native sides with Confederacy
Heinrich Hartmann Wirz was born in Switzerland in 1823. As a youth he attended schools throughout Europe, including Zurich,...
(The entire section is 2320 words.)