Was it a "war for Southern independence" or a rebellion against
legitimate authority? Could a political solution yet be found? Would
foreign countries recognize the Confederate States of America as a
separate nation? Would the status of slaves change? These questions
were on the minds of all Americans in 1861.
the summer of 1861, the two sides tested their strength in the first
large-scale battle near Manassas Junction (Bull Run), Virginia.
Early Confederate successes in the East were countered by Union
victories in the west. In the spring of 1862, the Union seemed on the
verge of victory in both theaters. In July 1862, Lee and the
Confederate army repulsed the Unionists from the gates of Richmond and
strung together a series of successes in the east.
That string was broken when Lee and his army withdrew from Maryland
after the bloody battle of Antietam in September. Lincoln chose that
moment to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, transforming what in his
view had been a war to preserve the Union into a war to end slavery as
well. Thus, he placed freedom for the slaves squarely on the nation's
agenda and implied commitments for the future with which the nation is
still coming to terms.
This political transformation of the war by no means translated into
immediate Union victory on the battlefield. After Antietam the
Confederates resumed their mastery in the east. However, two stunning
Union victories in July—at Vicksburg in the west and at Gettysburg in
the east—reversed Confederate fortunes again.
That summer, too, black troops began to appear in Union ranks in
significant numbers. More than 180,000 would eventually serve in the
army and more than 20,000 in the navy. Up to 150,000 of these fighting
men were former slaves. Tens of thousands of African Americans served
as laborers and support personnel on both sides. On the Confederate
side these were impressed slaves. Some blacks fought with the
Confederates for various reasons.
In 1864, enlarged and improved Union forces with superior supply and
transportation over matched dwindling Southern manpower and resources to
victories in a relentless war of attrition on land and at sea. Grant
bottled up Lee in the east; Sherman captured Atlanta and marched to the
sea; and the Union navy tightened its blockade of the Southern coast.
Still, a Confederate force was able to attack the outer defenses of
Washington, D. C. The war ended in the spring of 1865 after the fall of
Richmond and the surrender of the two main Confederate armies.
Paralleling battlefield developments, the United States Congress
approved the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which would
prohibit slavery everywhere in the United States. The cost of
preserving the Union and ending slavery was approximately 620,000
American dead, making the Civil War by far the bloodiest in the entire
history of the United States.