The American Civil War is without a doubt, one of the most popular historical events, having been the focus of many writings and Hollywood movies over the years. To better understand the nature of the Civil War, we would do well do get an insight on what caused it, as well as to understand the reasons behind this bloody conflict. Some would say that the Civil War started way before the shelling of Fort Sumter, given how tense the relations between Northern and Southern states were. We, however, will do our best to focus on the official version of the events, which goes something like this:
How it started
Historians agree that the Civil War started on April 12, 1861, a day in which Confederate batteries commanded by General Pierre G.T. Beauregard fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay, a fort held by the Union at that point. What’s interesting about the shelling of Fort Sumter is the fact that there wasn’t really any big build-up before the conflict, it just sort of happened.
During the more than 34 hours of constant bombardment, General Beauregard’s men fired more than 4,000 rounds of heavy guns and mortars at the fort, forcing the fort’s commander, Major Robert Anderson, to finally surrender on April 13.
Just two days after this transgression, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation, calling 75,000 volunteers to join arms against the so called Southern Insurrection. Some say that despite the Confederate shelling of fort Sumter, it was on April 15, the day that Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation, that the Civil War actually started.
Over the next four years, the war that caused the death of more than 620,000 people was fought in literally thousands of different places, from Texas to southern Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and even on the coast of Florida. Still, it has to be said that most of the fighting took place in Virginia and Tennessee, the states in which most of the soldiers engaged in the Civil War lost their lives.
Out of all the battles that were fought throughout the Civil War, the battle of Gettysburg was by far the bloodiest, with more than 51,000 casualties. As for the total number of casualties, we say that 620,000 soldiers lost their lives, because this is the accepted figure. A recent study, however, puts the number of dead soldiers at more than 850,000 overall.
What caused it
In the wise words of Pulitzer Award-winning author James McPherson: “The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states.” To some extent, this is pretty much the official standpoint of most historical documents, something that most historians agree upon.
It started however, when seven slave states from the deep South seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. Needless to say, the Lincoln administration and the Northern people refused to recognize the newly formed Confederate States as legitimate, thus triggering the events that led to the Civil War.
Army and organization
At the time, the army was sub-divided into smaller commands. The largest sub-section was the corps, composed by either one or two divisions, each composed of two or more brigades, made up of two or three regiments, each containing about ten companies of one hundred men. These companies were also subdivided into platoons and squads which were sometimes grouped together in so called ‘departments’, each with its own particularities.
As far as payment went, each white Union soldier was paid thirteen dollars a month, while a black Union soldier was paid around seven dollars for the most part of the war. By comparison, a Confederate soldier made around eleven dollars a month, but by the end of the war, they would get no salary whatsoever.
The end of the Civil War
Officially, the American Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, with the surrendering of Confederate General Robert E Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia in the village of Appomattox Court House. Although this is widely considered to be the official end of the Civil War, some smaller battles and skirmishes are known to have happened long after this date.
It wasn’t until June 2, 1865, however, that the commander of the Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, General Edmund Kirby Smith signed the surrender terms offered by the Union’s negotiators. It was on that particular day that the last Confederate army ceased to exist, ending the bloodiest four years in the history of the United States.
Interesting facts about the Civil War
- The Northern States had an army almost twice bigger than the Confederate States, more resources, and a larger economy
- More American soldiers died in the Civil War than during any war America has fought throughout its history
- During the first few battles, neither side used a regular uniform, making it quite difficult to distinguish friend from foe
- About 66% of the deaths recorded during the Civil War have been a result of disease or poorly treated injuries
- More than 30% of all white Confederate males between the ages of 18 and 40 died during the Civil War