As polarizing as recent presidential elections have been, none was more divisive than Abraham Lincoln’s in 1860. Knowing that Lincoln was against extending the “peculiar institution” of slavery, the Southern states led by South Carolina felt that they had no recourse but to secede from the Union of States formed in 1789 by the U.S. Constitution. The ensuing U.S. Civil War was really not as much about slavery as it was about Constitutional principle, sectional differences, moral righteousness, economic self-interest, and state rights. For four long and bloody years, brother fought brother, father fought son, and neighbor fought neighbor. Over 600,000 Americans died in the war.
- The Civil War officially began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate troops lead by Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Like many leaders on opposing sides during this war, Beauregard had known Union Major Robert Anderson, the commanding officer of Fort Sumter since the 1830s when Beauregard was a cadet at West Point and Anderson was his artillery instructor.
- The bloodiest battle of the Civil War was the Battle of Antietam in Maryland on September 17, 1862. The death toll was 23,000 men (to put the number in perspective, that is four times as many Americans who died on D-Day in 1944). The battle was a turning point that halted Lee’s northward drive, and the victory—however bloody—allowed Lincoln to announce the abolition of slavery in the South, which was to become official in 1863.
- Most of the generals on both sides of the Civil War had been graduates of West Point in the preceding years. However, early in the war it seemed as if the south had gotten all of the key military talent. Next to Robert E. Lee, the most famous Confederate general was the bold Stonewall Jackson. It was a key moment in the war when Jackson was shot by friendly fire during the Battle of Chancellorsville in the spring of 1863. His arm amputated, he contracted pneumonia and died several days later, depriving the South of one of its greatest generals.
- The practice of medicine had barely left the Middle Ages by the time of the U.S. Civil War. One in four men would die during the course of the conflict, more dying of disease and malnutrition than of gunfire. At the beginning of the war, the Union army had just 98 doctors and the Confederate army had only 24. Four years later, some 13,000 doctors had served the Union army and about 4,000 had served the Southern soldiers.
- On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. It was common knowledge that Lincoln had premonitions of his own untimely death in visions and dreams. Some say that his ghost even haunts the White House.
All Resources by Category
- Abraham Lincoln: The Gettysburg Address
- Ambrose Burnside Biography
- American Civil War Almanac
- American Civil War Biographies
- American Civil War Timeline
- Blacks in the Civil War
- Frederick Douglass - American Civil War Primary Sources
- How Did The American Civil War Begin And How Did It End?
- Robert E. Lee
- Was the Civil War fought to abolish slavery?
- Women in the Civil War
Did this raise a question for you?