Why Did the American Civil War Start?
The American Civil War (1861-65) arose chiefly over the question of Negro slavery. In the 15th Century the Portuguese found a ready market for Negro slaves, which they captured during their expeditions along with the African coasts.
As the American continent developed, these slaves were eagerly sought to labour on the cotton and tobacco plantations, in mines, or in general farm work. Between 1680 and 1786 more than 2,000,000 slaves were transported and it was not until 1833 that the United Kingdom Parliament passed an Act that set free all slaves in its territories.
In the United States the struggle between the slave-owning southern states and those of the North, where there was no slavery, was long and bitter. As the frontier moved westward, new states were seeking admission to the Union. Some had slaves and some did not.
In the north a growing party demanded immediate abolition of slavery, while in the south were some who threatened to leave the Union rather than give up their slaves. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), who favored the gradual abolition of slavery, was elected President of the United States.
Next year seven southern states left the Union and formed the Confederate States, with Jefferson Davis as president. On April, 12, the officer in charge of Port Sumter, at Charleston, West Virginia, refused to surrender it to Confederate soldiers, who opened fire and thus began the Civil War.
Although the North had greater numbers, the South had better generals and the war dragged on four years, with no fewer than 2,260 battles and skirmishes. In 1863, there were great victories for the North at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
It was at Gettysburg that Lincoln delivered his famous address promising freedom for all. General Lee, commander of the Confederate armies, surrendered on April 9, 1865 at Appomatox Court House, Virginia. While the military war was coming to an end, the political reintegration of the nation was to take another 12 years of the Reconstruction Era.
The American Civil War was one of the earliest true industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. The mobilization of civilian factories, mines, shipyards, banks, transportation and food supplies all foreshadowed the impact of industrialization in World War I.
It remains the deadliest war in American history. From 1861 to 1865, it has been traditionally estimated that about 620,000 died but recent scholarship argues that 750,000 soldiers died, along with an undetermined number of civilians. By one estimate, the war claimed the lives of 10 percent of all Northern males 20–45 years old, and 30 percent of all Southern white males aged 18–40.