The Civil War (1861–1865) was much lengthier and bloodier than most people had expected. Both the North and the South expected a quick victory. The first big battles—at Bull Run (1861) and Shiloh (1862)—were shocking for their carnage and ferocity. At Bull Run, spectators from Washington, DC, actually went to watch the battle. They were surprised by the South's victory, and many of them had to scurry back to Washington, DC, quickly.
As the war entered its third year, 1863, neither side had achieved victory. In the West, Union troops under Ulysses Grant were making some progress, but it was slow and difficult. In the East, Confederate troops under Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson proved to be practically unbeatable. By the end of 1863, the stalemate was over, and the North was clearly winning.
In the East, Lee's victory at Chancellorsville was his most impressive and his costliest. Lee thoroughly defeated another Union general, Joseph Hooker. But Jackson, Lee's finest general, was accidentally shot by his own men. Lee knew that he could not remain on the defensive: a victory on Northern soil was needed. Lee then fought and lost the decisive Battle of Gettysburg in July.
In the West, Grant finally forced Vicksburg to surrender on July 4, one day after Gettysburg. This gave the North control of the Mississippi River. It was—like Gettysburg—a major defeat for the South.
The twin victories in July 1863 gave the North a clear advantage. Grant transferred East to personally direct the campaign against Lee in 1864–65. The South fought on until final defeat in April 1865.