State and territory boundaries, 1864–5.
Kansas, entered Union as a free state
Union border states that permitted slavery
Union territories that permitted slavery
The Union states
Twenty-three states remained loyal to the Union: California, Connecticut,
Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New
York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. During
the war, Nevada and West Virginia joined as new states of the Union. Tennessee
and Louisiana were returned to Union control early in the war.
The territories of Colorado, Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and
Washington fought on the Union side. Several slave-holding Native American
tribes supported the Confederacy, giving the Indian territory (now Oklahoma) a
small bloody civil war.
Main article: Border states (Civil War)
The Border states in the Union were West Virginia (which was separated from
Virginia and became a new state), and four of the five northernmost slave states
(Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky).
Maryland had numerous pro-Confederate officials who tolerated anti-Union rioting
in Baltimore and the burning of bridges. Lincoln responded with martial law and
called for troops. Militia units that had been drilling in the North rushed
toward Washington and Baltimore. Before the Confederate government realized what
was happening, Lincoln had seized firm control of Maryland (and the separate
District of Columbia), by arresting all the Maryland government members and
holding them without trial.
In Missouri, an elected convention on secession voted decisively to remain
within the Union. When pro-Confederate Governor Claiborne F. Jackson called out
the state militia, it was attacked by federal forces under General Nathaniel
Lyon, who chased the governor and the rest of the State Guard to the
southwestern corner of the state. (See also: Missouri secession). In the
resulting vacuum, the convention on secession reconvened and took power as the
Unionist provisional government of Missouri.
Kentucky did not secede; for a time, it declared itself neutral. However, the
Confederates broke the neutrality by seizing Columbus, Kentucky in September
1861. That turned opinion against the Confederacy, and the state reaffirmed its
loyal status, while trying to maintain slavery. During a brief invasion by
Confederate forces, Confederate sympathizers organized a secession convention,
inaugurated a governor, and gained recognition from the Confederacy. The rebel
government soon went into exile and never controlled the state.
After Virginia's 1861 declaration of secession from the U.S., Union supporters
in fifty counties of northwestern Virginia voted on October 24, 1861 to approve
the creation of the new state of West Virginia. The majority of the voters in
what was to become West Virginia had voted against Virginia’s secession,
although twenty six of the fifty counties had pro-secession majorities. About
half of West Virginia's soldiers were Confederate. This new state was admitted
to the Union on June 20, 1863.
Similar Unionist secessions attempts appeared in East Tennessee, but were
suppressed by the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis arrested over 3000 men suspected
of being loyal to the Union and held them without trial.
A Roman Catholic Union army chaplain celebrating a MassOver 10,000 military
engagements took place during the war, 40% of them in Virginia and Tennessee.
Since separate articles deal with every major battle and many minor ones, this
article only gives the broadest outline. For more information see List of
American Civil War battles and Military leadership in the American Civil War.
The war begins
For more details on this topic, see Battle of Fort Sumter
Lincoln's victory in the presidential election of 1860 triggered South
Carolina's declaration of secession from the Union. By February 1861, six more
Southern states made similar declarations. On February 7, the seven states
adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America and
established their temporary capital at Montgomery, Alabama. A pre-war February
Peace Conference of 1861 met in Washington in a failed attempt at resolving the
crisis. The remaining eight slave states rejected pleas to join the Confederacy.
Confederate forces seized most of the Federal forts within their boundaries
(they did not take Fort Sumter); President Buchanan protested but made no
military response aside from a failed attempt to resupply Fort Sumter via the
ship Star of the West (the ship was fired upon by Citadel cadets), and no
serious military preparations. However, governors in Massachusetts, New York,
and Pennsylvania quietly began buying weapons and training militia units.
On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as President. In his inaugural
address, he argued that the Constitution was a more perfect union than the
earlier Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, that it was a binding
contract, and called any secession "legally void". He stated he had no intent to
invade Southern states, nor did he intend to end slavery where it existed, but
that he would use force to maintain possession of federal property. His speech
closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union.
The South sent delegations to Washington and offered to pay for the federal
properties and enter into a peace treaty with the United States. Lincoln
rejected any negotiations with Confederate agents on the grounds that the
Confederacy was not a legitimate government, and that making any treaty with it
would be tantamount to recognition of it as a sovereign government. However,
Secretary of State William Seward engaged in unauthorized and indirect
negotiations that failed.
Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, Fort Monroe, Fort Pickens and Fort
Taylor were the remaining Union-held forts in the Confederacy, and Lincoln was
determined to hold Fort Sumter. Under orders from Confederate President
Jefferson Davis, troops controlled by the Confederate government under P. G. T.
Beauregard bombarded the fort with artillery on April 12, forcing the fort's
capitulation. Northerners rallied behind Lincoln's call for all of the states to
send troops to recapture the forts and to preserve the Union. With the scale of
the rebellion apparently small so far, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for
90 days. For months before that, several Northern governors had discreetly
readied their state militias; they began to move forces the next day.
Four states in the upper South (Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, and
Virginia), which had repeatedly rejected Confederate overtures, now refused to
send forces against their neighbors, declared their secession, and joined the
Confederacy. To reward Virginia, the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond.
The city was the symbol of the Confederacy; if it fell, the new nation would
lose legitimacy. Richmond was in a highly vulnerable location at the end of a
tortuous Confederate supply line. Although Richmond was heavily fortified,
supplies for the city would be reduced by Sherman's capture of Atlanta and cut
off almost entirely when Grant besieged Petersburg and its railroads that
supplied the Southern capital.
Anaconda Plan and blockade, 1861
1861 cartoon of Scott's "Anaconda Plan"Winfield Scott, the commanding general of
the U.S. Army, devised the Anaconda Plan to win the war with as little bloodshed
as possible. His idea was that a Union blockade of the main ports would weaken
the Confederate economy; then the capture of the Mississippi River would split
the South. Lincoln adopted the plan, but overruled Scott's warnings against an
immediate attack on Richmond.
In May 1861, Lincoln enacted the Union blockade of all Southern ports, ending
most international shipments to the Confederacy. Violators' ships and cargos
could be seized and were often not covered by insurance. By late 1861, the
blockade stopped most local port-to-port traffic. The blockade shut down King
Cotton, ruining the Southern economy. British investors built small, fast
"blockade runners" that traded arms and luxuries from Bermuda, Cuba and the
Bahamas in return for high-priced cotton and tobacco. When captured, the
blockade runners and cargo were sold and the proceeds given to the Union
sailors, but the British crews were released. Shortages of food and other goods
triggered by the blockade, foraging by Northern armies, and the impressment of
crops by Confederate armies combined to cause hyperinflation and bread riots in
On March 8, 1862, the Confederate Navy waged a fight against the Union Navy when
the ironclad CSS Virginia attacked the blockade; it seemed unstoppable but the
next day it had to fight the new Union warship USS Monitor in the Battle of the
Ironclads. The battle ended in a draw, which was a strategic victory for the
Union in that the blockade was sustained. The Confederacy lost the CSS Virginia
when the ship was scuttled to prevent capture, and the Union built many copies
of the USS Monitor. Lacking the technology to build effective warships, the
Confederacy attempted to obtain warships from Britain. The Union victory at the
Second Battle of Fort Fisher in January 1865 closed the last useful Southern
port and virtually ended blockade running.
Eastern Theater 1861–1863
For more details on this topic, see Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.
A Union Regimental Fife and Drum CorpsBecause of the fierce resistance of a few
initial Confederate forces at Manassas, Virginia, in July 1861, a march by Union
troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell on the Confederate forces
there was halted in the First Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas, whereupon
they were forced back to Washington, D.C., by Confederate troops under the
command of Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard. It was in this
battle that Confederate General Thomas Jackson received the nickname of
"Stonewall" because he stood like a stone wall against Union troops. Alarmed at
the loss, and in an attempt to prevent more slave states from leaving the Union,
the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution on July 25 of that
year, which stated that the war was being fought to preserve the Union and not
to end slavery.
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac on
July 26 (he was briefly general-in-chief of all the Union armies, but was
subsequently relieved of that post in favor of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck), and
the war began in earnest in 1862. Upon the strong urging of President Lincoln to
begin offensive operations, McClellan attacked Virginia in the spring of 1862 by
way of the peninsula between the York River and James River, southeast of
Richmond. Although McClellan's army reached the gates of Richmond in the
Peninsula Campaign, Johnston halted his advance at the Battle of Seven Pines,
then General Robert E. Lee and top subordinates James Longstreet and Stonewall
Jackson defeated McClellan in the Seven Days Battles and forced his retreat. The
Northern Virginia Campaign, which included the Second Battle of Bull Run, ended
in yet another victory for the South. McClellan resisted General-in-Chief
Halleck's orders to send reinforcements to John Pope's Union Army of Virginia,
which made it easier for Lee's Confederates to defeat twice the number of
combined enemy troops.
Emboldened by Second Bull Run, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the
North, when General Lee led 45,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia across
the Potomac River into Maryland on September 5. Lincoln then restored Pope's
troops to McClellan. McClellan and Lee fought at the Battle of Antietam near
Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest single day in United
States military history. Lee's army, checked at last, returned to Virginia
before McClellan could destroy it. Antietam is considered a Union victory
because it halted Lee's invasion of the North and provided an opportunity for
Lincoln to announce his Emancipation Proclamation.
Confederate dead behind the stone wall of Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg,
Virginia, killed during the Battle of Chancellorsville, May 1863When the
cautious McClellan failed to follow up on Antietam, he was replaced by Maj. Gen.
Ambrose Burnside. Burnside was soon defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg on
December 13, 1862, when over twelve thousand Union soldiers were killed or
wounded during repeated futile frontal assaults against Marye's Heights. After
the battle, Burnside was replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker, too,
proved unable to defeat Lee's army; despite outnumbering the Confederates by
more than two to one, he was humiliated in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May
1863. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade during Lee's second invasion of
the North, in June. Meade defeated Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 to
July 3, 1863), the bloodiest battle of the war, which is sometimes considered
the war's turning point. Pickett's Charge on July 3 is often recalled as the
high-water mark of the Confederacy, not just because it signaled the end of
Lee's plan to pressure Washington from the north, but also because Vicksburg,
Mississippi, the key stronghold to control of the Mississippi, fell the
following day. Lee's army suffered 28,000 casualties (versus Meade's 23,000).
However, Lincoln was angry that Meade failed to intercept Lee's retreat, and
after Meade's inconclusive Fall campaign, Lincoln decided to turn to the Western
Theater for new leadership.
Western Theater 1861–1863
While the Confederate forces had numerous successes in the Eastern theater, they
were defeated many times in the West. They were driven from Missouri early in
the war as a result of the Battle of Pea Ridge. Leonidas Polk's invasion of
Columbus, Kentucky ended Kentucky's policy of neutrality and turned that state
against the Confederacy.
Nashville, Tennessee, fell to the Union early in 1862. Most of the Mississippi
was opened with the taking of Island No. 10 and New Madrid, Missouri, and then
Memphis, Tennessee. The Union Navy captured New Orléans without a major fight in
May 1862, allowing the Union forces to begin moving up the Mississippi as well.
Only the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, prevented unchallenged Union
control of the entire river.
General Braxton Bragg's second Confederate invasion of Kentucky ended with a
meaningless victory over Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell at the Battle of Perryville,
although Bragg was forced to end his attempt at liberating Kentucky and retreat
due to lack of support for the Confederacy in that state. Bragg was narrowly
defeated by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans at the Battle of Stones River in
The one clear Confederate victory in the West was the Battle of Chickamauga.
Bragg, reinforced by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's corps (from Lee's army in the
east), defeated Rosecrans, despite the heroic defensive stand of Maj. Gen.
George Henry Thomas. Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga, which Bragg then
The Union's key strategist and tactician in the West was Maj. Gen. Ulysses S.
Grant, who won victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, by which the Union seized
control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers; the Battle of Shiloh; the Battle
of Vicksburg, cementing Union control of the Mississippi River and considered
one of the turning points of the war. Grant marched to the relief of Rosecrans
and defeated Bragg at the Third Battle of Chattanooga, driving Confederate
forces out of Tennessee and opening a route to Atlanta and the heart of the
Trans-Mississippi Theater 1861–1865
Guerrilla activity turned much of Missouri into a battleground. Missouri had, in
total, the third most battles of any state during the war. The other states of
the west, though geographically isolated from the battles to the east, had a few
small-scale military actions take place. Confederate incursions into Arizona and
New Mexico were repulsed in 1862. Late in the war, the Union Red River Campaign
was a failure. Texas remained in Confederate hands throughout the war, but was
cut off from the rest of the Confederacy after the capture of Vicksburg in 1863
gave the Union control of the Mississippi River.
End of the war 1864–1865
Jefferson Davis, first and only President of the Confederate States of AmericaAt
the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made Grant commander of all Union armies. Grant
made his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, and put Maj. Gen. William
Tecumseh Sherman in command of most of the western armies. Grant understood the
concept of total war and believed, along with Lincoln and Sherman, that only the
utter defeat of Confederate forces and their economic base would bring an end to
the war. This was total war not in terms of killing civilians but rather in
terms of destroying homes, farms and railroad tracks. Grant devised a
coordinated strategy that would strike at the entire Confederacy from multiple
directions: Generals George Meade and Benjamin Butler were ordered to move
against Lee near Richmond; General Franz Sigel (and later Philip Sheridan) were
to attack the Shenandoah Valley; General Sherman was to capture Atlanta and
march to the sea (the Atlantic Ocean); Generals George Crook and William W.
Averell were to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; and Maj.
Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks was to capture Mobile, Alabama.
Union forces in the East attempted to maneuver past Lee and fought several
battles during that phase ("Grant's Overland Campaign") of the Eastern campaign.
Grant's battles of attrition at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor
resulted in heavy Union losses, but forced Lee's Confederates to fall back again
and again. An attempt to outflank Lee from the south failed under Butler, who
was trapped inside the Bermuda Hundred river bend. Grant was tenacious and,
despite astonishing losses (over 65,000 casualties in seven weeks), kept
pressing Lee's Army of Northern Virginia back to Richmond. He pinned down the
Confederate army in the Siege of Petersburg, where the two armies engaged in
trench warfare for over nine months.
Grant finally found a commander, General Philip Sheridan, aggressive enough to
prevail in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Sheridan defeated Maj. Gen. Jubal A.
Early in a series of battles, including a final decisive defeat at the Battle of
Cedar Creek. Sheridan then proceeded to destroy the agricultural base of the
Shenandoah Valley, a strategy similar to the tactics Sherman later employed in
Meanwhile, Sherman marched from Chattanooga to Atlanta, defeating Confederate
Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood along the way. The fall of
Atlanta, on September 2, 1864, was a significant factor in the reelection of
Lincoln as president. Hood left the Atlanta area to menace Sherman's supply
lines and invade Tennessee in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Union Maj. Gen.
John M. Schofield defeated Hood at the Battle of Franklin, and George H. Thomas
dealt Hood a massive defeat at the Battle of Nashville, effectively destroying
A dead soldier in Petersburg, Virginia 1865, photographed by Thomas C.
Roche.Leaving Atlanta, and his base of supplies, Sherman's army marched with an
unknown destination, laying waste to about 20% of the farms in Georgia in his
"March to the Sea". He reached the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah, Georgia in
December 1864. Sherman's army was followed by thousands of freed slaves; there
were no major battles along the March. Sherman turned north through South
Carolina and North Carolina to approach the Confederate Virginia lines from the
south, increasing the pressure on Lee's army.
Lee's army, thinned by desertion and casualties, was now much smaller than
Grant's. Union forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Five Forks on
April 1, forcing Lee to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond. The Confederate
capital fell to the Union XXV Corps, composed of black troops. The remaining
Confederate units fled west and after a defeat at Sayler's Creek, it became
clear to Robert E. Lee that continued fighting against the United States was
both tactically and logistically impossible.
Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox
Court House. In an untraditional gesture and as a sign of Grant's respect and
anticipation of folding the Confederacy back into the Union with dignity and
peace, Lee was permitted to keep his officer's saber and his horse, Traveller.
Johnston surrendered his troops to Sherman on April 26, 1865, in Durham, North
Carolina. On June 23, 1865, at Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nations' area of the
Oklahoma Territory, Stand Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union
representatives, becoming the last Confederate general in the field to stand
down. The last Confederate naval force to surrender was the CSS Shenandoah on
November 4, 1865, in Liverpool, England.