Civil War Summary, Part 2: Major Battles

As our neighborhood explores our relationship with our street and community names, the Community Forward team has researched and written about topics deemed contextually relevant. This blog post is the second in a two-part series providing a very brief summary of the civil war. Read Part 1: A Fight Over Slavery and explore more context posts on the Community Forward category on our blog.

The Civil War began with the Battle of Fort Sumter. The Fort, located off the coast of South Carolina, had remained under Union control following South Carolina’s secession. When Union forces denied the Confederacy’s demands for them to leave the fort, the Confederate army began to lay siege to Fort Sumter on April 12th, 1861. The next day, Union troops surrendered and evacuated the fort. After the Battle of Fort Sumter, Virginia, which had previously voted against secession, quickly moved to secede from the Union, and was admitted to the Confederacy on May 4th.

Seeing the Union capital of Washington exposed to Virginian forces, President Lincoln sent troops across the Potomac River to defend local supply points vital to the Union army. At the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas on July 21, 1861, the Confederates won a symbolic victory and forced the Union troops to retreat. The victory gave the South a surge of confidence and shocked Northern troops. The next year in the Second Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, Confederate troops, led by Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, burned a federal supply depot and were nearly successful in flanking Union troops upon their retreat, granting the Confederates another victory and prompting Confederate troops to advance into Union-controlled Maryland.

Two weeks later at the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, 3,600 American soldiers died and another 22,000 were seriously injured. The battle stunted the Confederate advance and prompted President Lincoln to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln announced that all slaves in Confederate territories were to be freed, and that confederate states had until January 1, 1863 to return to the Union. While the proclamation was unenforceable, it officially declared that the Civil War was a fight about slavery and guaranteed that upon a Confederate surrender, slavery would be ended in the United States. Further, it dissuaded British forces, who had previously been in talks with the Confederacy, from intervening in the war.

Artillery Hell-Early morning looking north along the Hagerstown Turnpike by Captain James Hope depicts the battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg. Source: U.S. National Park Service

The next six months of the war were characterized by stalemate between Union and Confederate forces, until General Lee waged a risky and large-scale invasion into northern territory. The advance culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted from July 1-3rd, 1863. Often seen as the turning point of the war, General Lee’s invasion was halted in a Union victory that led to over 20,000 deaths on both sides. The Confederate Army was forced to retreat on July 4, draining their morale and granting the Union a symbolic, as well as military, victory. The South was unable to launch another significant offensive, and the vast majority of battles afterward resulted in a Confederate defeat. Four months later, President Lincoln gave his famous address at the location of the battle.

The last two years of the Civil War saw a slow but constant press of Union troops into Confederate territory. The most notable battle was fought in Atlanta, where Union General William Tecumseh Sherman defeated Confederate troops defending the city on July 22, 1864, and seized the city on September 9, 1864. The capture provided President Lincoln a significant electoral boost, and he was re-elected two months later.

The Civil War ended with the surrender of General Lee at the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th, 1865. Less than two weeks after Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre. Two months later, on June 19th, the last slaves were freed from Texas, ending slavery in the United States. The Civil War caused over 600,000 deaths and over a million casualties, more than any other war until WWII.

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