The Civil War (1861–1865) for AP US History
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Summary: The Civil War was the culmination of nearly 40 years of tensions between the North and the South. Northern abolitionists looked forward to the war with great anticipation: victory over the South would finally allow the dreaded institution of slavery to be eliminated. Northern industrialists saw the war as an opportunity, at long last, to expand their control of American industry. The majority of Southerners rejoiced at the onset of war; they perceived that victory would allow the "Southern way of life" to continue without constant criticism from the North. As in many wars, politicians and generals on both sides predicted a quick victory. Newspapers in both the North and the South declared that the war would be over by Christmas of 1861.
To state that the Civil War was just about slavery is an oversimplification. Certainly, criticism by Northern abolitionists of the "peculiar institution" of slavery, and Southern responses to that criticism, were important factors. However, other tensions between the North and the South also existed. The future of the American economy as seen by Northern industrialists differed drastically from the desires and needs of the leaders of Southern plantation society. Most importantly, the Southern view of "states' rights" differed most dramatically from the view of the Union held in the North. By 1861, many political leaders in the South fervently espoused the views that John C. Calhoun had formulated decades earlier. It was up to the individual state to decide on the validity of any federal law or federal action for that state. This position was intolerable to President Lincoln and most political leaders in the North. If anything, it was debate over the state's rights issue that made the Civil War inevitable.
Other factors increased the animosity between the North and the South. By this point, slavery was synonymous with Southern identity; in Southern eyes, any attack on slavery was an attack on the South as a whole. The fact that this struggle between the North and the South had gone on for 40 years served to harden positions on both sides. In addition, by this point the population of the North was greater than the population of the South, and the number of free states was greater than the number of slave states. As a result, Southerners knew that Northern antislave interests would control the Congress (and the ability to influence Supreme Court appointments) and the Electoral College for the foreseeable future.
First Battle of Bull Run (1861): early Civil War engagement ending in defeat for the Union army; this battle convinced many in the North that victory over the Confederacy would not be as easy as they first thought it would be.
Emancipation Proclamation: January 1, 1863, proclamation that freed slaves in Southern territories were controlled by the Union army; this executive proclamation by President Lincoln also committed the Union to the abolition of slavery.
Battle of Gettysburg (1863): the bloodiest overall battle of the Civil War; many historians claim that the Southern defeat at this battle was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.
Appomattox: Virginia courthouse where General Robert E. Lee surrendered Confederate forces on April 9, 1865.