Excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin
First published in 1852
A novel about the evils of slavery
"'Lucy,' said the trader, 'your child's gone; you may as well know it first as last. You see, I know'd you couldn't take him down south; and I got a chance to sell him to a first-rate family, that'll raise him better than you can.'"
From Uncle Tom's Cabin
In the years leading up to the Civil War, growing numbers of people wanted to abolish (put an end to) slavery in the United States. People who actively fought to end slavery were known as abolitionists. During the 1830s and 1840s, abolitionists distributed millions of antislavery newsletters and pamphlets in Northern cities. The abolitionist movement gradually gained strength and became more vocal during this time. But slavery remained important to the cotton-growing economy of the South. In addition, many people continued to believe that black people were inferior to white people and did not deserve the same rights. As a result, most Southerners were determined to resist the abolitionists' efforts to interfere with their way of life.
In 1850, Southerners in the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. This measure granted slaveowners sweeping new powers to capture and reclaim escaped slaves. It...
(The entire section is 4499 words.)
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Excerpt from Journal of Theodore Upson
Written in April 1861; originally published in 1943
A family's reaction to the start of the Civil War
"'Oh to think that I should have lived to see the day when Brother should rise against Brother.'"
From Journal of Theodore Upson
The Confederate attack on the Federal stronghold of Fort Sumter in April 1861 marked the beginning of the Civil War. The Confederate capture of Sumter made it clear that, after years of dark threats and bitter debate, the differences between the North and South would be settled on the battlefield.
At first, many people in both regions expressed great enthusiasm for the coming war. Big rallies and celebrations erupted in many major cities, as community leaders and ordinary citizens alike showed their patriotic spirit. This high level of support for the war was due in part to the long years of angry disagreement between America's Northern and Southern states. Their clashes over such issues as slavery and states' rights (the belief that each state has the right to decide how to handle various issues for itself without interference from the national government) had caused many Southerners and Northerners to dislike one another.
As James Stokesbury wrote in...
(The entire section is 4468 words.)
Excerpt from "The American Apocalypse"
Speech delivered in Rochester, New York, on June 16, 1861
An abolitionist argues that a Union
with slavery is not worth saving
"For the statesman of this hour to permit any settlement of the present war between slavery and freedom, which will leave untouched and undestroyed the relation of master and slave, would not only be a great crime, but a great mistake, the bitter fruit of which would poison the life blood of unborn generations."
When the Civil War began in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) and many other people in the North claimed that the conflict was not about slavery. Instead, they said that the North was fighting in order to preserve the United States as one nation. "My paramount [primary] aim in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery," Lincoln stated. "If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."
Lincoln chose preserving the Union as his primary war aim partly for political reasons. He did not want to risk losing the support of the four "border" states—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and...
(The entire section is 2802 words.)
Excerpt from "How Does One Feel Under Fire?"
Covering events from 1862; first published in 1898
A soldier writes about his fears on the battlefield
"The worst condition to endure is when you fall wounded upon the field. Now you are helpless. No longer are you filled with the enthusiasm of battle. You are helpless—the bullets still fly over and about you—you no longer are able to shift your position or seek shelter. Every bullet as it strikes near you is a new terror."
During the course of the American Civil War, approximately 620,000 soldiers (360,000 Union and 260,000 Confederate) lost their lives. As these troops died, surviving soldiers struggled to conquer their fears and conduct themselves with honor. Most soldiers believed in the cause for which they were fighting, and many entered the war in order to prove their manhood. But even the bravest of men sometimes found it difficult to continue fighting when friends and comrades were falling all around them.
Many factors influenced a soldier's performance in battle. Certainly, individual beliefs and motives could have a big impact on a soldier's behavior while under fire. For example, Union soldiers who were fiercely devoted to the cause of abolitionism (putting an end to slavery) or restoration (a return to a former...
(The entire section is 3676 words.)
William Willis Blackford
Excerpt from War Years with Jeb Stuart
Written in 1862; first published in 1945
A Confederate officer describes a daring cavalry raid
"We were not half across when the bank we had left was swarming with the enemy who opened a galling fire upon us, the bullets splashing the water around us like a shower of rain."
Both the Union and the Confederate militaries organized their armies into three major combat units. The largest and most important of these units was the infantry. The infantry consisted of soldiers who were trained to fight on foot. Most men who fought in the Civil War fit under this category. The Union's larger population and its superior ability to produce rifles, boots, and other gear used by infantry soldiers gave it a big advantage over the Confederate infantry during the war.
A second major arm of the Union and Confederate militaries was artillery. Artillery units consisted of soldiers who were trained to use cannons and other big guns. Since Northern cities had a far greater capacity to manufacture and transport cannons and ammunition than did cities in the South, the Union held a considerable edge in this important area of the war as well.
The third major combat unit of the two armies was cavalry. Cavalry units consisted of soldiers...
(The entire section is 5137 words.)
Abraham Lincoln: The Emancipation Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation
Issued January 1, 1863
The president frees the slaves
"I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free. . . ."
By the time President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) issued his final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he had been considering the idea of freeing the slaves for some time. Lincoln had believed that slavery was wrong when he was elected president in 1860. He felt that black people were entitled to the same legal rights as white people. When the Civil War began in 1861, he knew that freeing the slaves would hurt the Confederate war effort and aid the Union. But he still wanted to proceed carefully, because he knew that emancipation (the act of freeing people from slavery or oppression) had many opponents, even in the North. The president was particularly concerned about the reaction of the four slave-holding "border" states that had remained loyal to the Union—Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky. He worried that if he suddenly outlawed slavery, these states would leave the Union and join the Confederacy.
The U.S. Congress took the first step toward freeing the slaves in August 1861. At that time, it passed a law that allowed the...
(The entire section is 2344 words.)
Account of William C. Quantrill's 1863 Raid on Lawrence, Kansas
First published separately in 1863, 1895, and 1903
A survivor details a bloody massacre of civilians
"[The guerrillas'] horses scarcely seemed to touch the ground, and the riders sat upon them with bodies erect and arms perfectly free with revolvers on full cock, shooting at every house and man they passed, and yelling like demons at every bound."
During the American Civil War, organized bands of Confederate fighters known as guerrillas were an important factor in the struggle for control of Missouri, Kansas, western Virginia, and other regions in question. These guerrillas—also known in the North as bushwhackers and in the South as rangers—launched repeated raids against Union supply lines, outposts, and patrols on behalf of the Confederacy. Bands of pro-Union guerrillas known as "jayhawkers" also formed in some of these areas, but they were smaller in number and size, and they did not have nearly the same impact as their Confederate counterparts.
Bands of Confederate guerrillas formed almost as soon as the war began. These early units consisted primarily of farmers and other local men who joined together in order to fight or harass Union forces operating in the region where they lived. The guerrilla companies...
(The entire section is 4195 words.)
James Henry Gooding
A Black Soldier's Letter to President Abraham Lincoln
Written September 28, 1863
An appeal for equal pay for black soldiers
"We appeal to you, Sir, as the Executive of the Nation, to have us justly Dealt with. The Regt. do pray that they be assured their service will be fairly appreciated by paying them as American Soldiers, not as menial hirelings."
From the earliest days of the Civil War, free black men from the North tried to join the Union Army as soldiers. They cited two main reasons for wanting to fight. First, they wanted to help put an end to slavery. Second, they believed that proving their patriotism and courage on the field of battle would help improve their position in American society.
But Federal law prohibited black men from joining the Union Army, and many Northern whites wanted to keep it that way. Some whites claimed that the purpose of the Civil War was to restore the Union rather than to settle the issue of slavery. And since the war was not about slavery, they felt that there was no need to change the law so that black people could join the fight. Another reason that many Northern whites did not want black men to join the army was deepseated racial prejudice. Some whites believed that they were superior to blacks and did not want to fight alongside them....
(The entire section is 3236 words.)
Abraham Lincoln: The Gettysburg Address
The Gettysburg Address
Delivered November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
The president mourns fallen soldiers
"In a larger sense we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."
The Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War. It took place during the first few days of July 1863 on the outskirts of a small town in Pennsylvania. In the hills and fields surrounding Gettysburg, seventy-five thousand Confederate soldiers under General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) faced off against ninety thousand Union troops under Major General George Meade (1815–1872). Both sides had a great deal at stake.
Lee had won a decisive battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May, defeating a Union force twice the size of his own army. This victory increased the confidence of Lee and of the entire Confederacy. They believed that one more major win on the battlefield would turn Northerners against the war and force President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) to negotiate peace. Lee decided to invade the North in order to claim the...
(The entire section is 1906 words.)
Edmund DeWitt Patterson
Excerpt from Journal of Edmund DeWitt Patterson
Written in 1863; first published in 1966 in Yankee Rebel:
The Civil War Journal of Edmund DeWitt Patterson
A captured Confederate soldier records his thoughts
"Now, I am a prisoner of war on the little island of Lake Erie and with a prospect before me anything but cheering; entirely separated and cut off from the outside world, unable to take any active part in the struggle which is still going on between justice and injustice, right and wrong, freedom and oppression, unable to strike a blow in the glorious cause of Southern independence."
During the course of 1863, the fortunes of the two sides fighting in the American Civil War changed dramatically. As the year began, many Southerners expressed confidence that their struggle to gain independence from the United States would end in success. After all, the Confederate Army had won many of the major battles of the previous year, and Federal forces seemed unable to make any progress in their efforts to destroy the Confederacy and restore the Union.
In May 1863, the defiant South received another boost to its confidence when General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) and his Army of Northern Virginia smashed a much larger Union Army led by General Joseph...
(The entire section is 4283 words.)
William T. Sherman
Correspondence with the City Leaders of Atlanta, Georgia
September 11–12, 1864
A Union general responds to pleas to spare a city
"We must have peace, not only at Atlanta, but in all America. To secure this, we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored country. To stop war, we must defeat the rebel armies which are arrayed against the laws and Constitution that all must respect and obey."
Late in the summer of 1864, the leaders of the Union Army made a change in their military plans. Before this time, they had concentrated on finding enemy troops and beating them on the field of battle. But they gradually concluded that this approach did not go far enough to bring a timely end to the war. Instead, they decided to adopt a strategy of "total war." This strategy involved confiscating (seizing) or destroying private property belonging to Southern civilians (people who are not part of the army, including women and children), in addition to targeting the Confederate Army and its military supplies. The Union leaders hoped that total warfare would break the spirit of the Southern people and make them lose their desire to continue the war.
Union general William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891) led an army of over one hundred thousand men in the western theater (the...
(The entire section is 4624 words.)
General Horace Porter
"The Surrender at Appomattox Court House";
excerpt from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War
Covering events from April 1865; published in 1887
An eyewitness account of Lee's surrender to Grant
"The terms I propose are those stated substantially in my letter of yesterday—that is, the officers and men surrendered to be paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, and all arms, ammunition, and supplies to be delivered up as captured property."
General Ulysses S. Grant
During the first weeks of 1865, it appeared that the long and bitter Civil War between the North and the South was finally drawing to a close. The Confederate armies had fought valiantly (bravely) during the previous four years, but even the most optimistic Southerner had to admit that the war had swung in favor of the Union armies. In late 1864, Northern military forces won crushing victories in Mobile Bay, Alabama; the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia; and Atlanta, Georgia. After capturing Atlanta, Union general William T. Sherman (1820–1891) launched his devastating "March to the Sea." During this march through the heart of the Confederacy, Sherman's army wrecked tens of thousands of Southern homes and farm fields, shattering the morale of...
(The entire section is 4762 words.)
Excerpt from Diary of Gideon Welles
Covering events from April 1865; first published in 1911
A Cabinet member recalls the day President Lincoln died
"The giant [Lincoln] sufferer lay extended diagonally across the bed, which was not long enough for him. He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms, which were occasionally exposed, were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance. His slow, full respiration lifted the clothes with each breath that he took. His features were calm and striking."
(The entire section is 4388 words.)
Henry McNeal Turner
Excerpt from "I Claim the Rights of a Man"
Speech before the Georgia State Legislature, September 3, 1868
An expelled black senator defends his right to hold office
"God saw fit to vary everything in nature. There are no two men alike—no two voices alike—no two trees alike. God has weaved and tissued variety and versatility throughout the boundless space of His creation. Because God saw fit to make some red, and some white, and some black, and some brown, are we to sit here in judgment upon what God has seen fit to do?"
The North's victory in the Civil War in 1865 settled two important issues. First, it established that states were not allowed to leave, or secede from, the United States. Second, it put an end to slavery throughout the country. But the end of the war also raised a whole new set of issues. For example, federal lawmakers had to decide whether to punish the Confederate leaders for their rebellion. They also had to decide what process to use to readmit the Southern states to the Union, and how much assistance to provide in securing equal rights for the freed slaves. The period in American history immediately after the Civil War—when the country struggled to deal with these important and complicated issues—was called Reconstruction.
Reconstruction was a time of...
(The entire section is 5592 words.)