The Civil War

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The Civil War


Before 1860, a reference to the nation generally began “these United States are.” After 1865, it more frequently became “the United States is.” In that simple change one might see perhaps the most important outcome of the American Civil War. The permanence of the Union had been debated—and sometimes challenged—since its inception. Now it was settled. The United States had passed the supreme test as a union. In both human and financial terms, the costs were staggering. Technological developments since 1820 had helped create the first “modern war” involving the rapid deployment of huge armies equipped with devastatingly effective weaponry. The war did more than defeat a secessionist rebellion. It had set the country on a new course. States’ rights had been dealt a severe blow. The nation was in the process of being knitted together by Republican Party initiatives, including a national bank and a transcontinental railroad. But these internal improvements were far from the only, or even the most important, examples of strengthened unity.

The other major accomplishment of the Civil War was the abolition of slavery. Free labor was now to be triumphant everywhere in America. And industrial growth and material progress assumed to lie ahead for black and white alike. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made it clear that slavery anywhere in the United States would not survive a Union victory. That victory, when it finally came, was more than a victory for the armies of the Union. It was a victory for the ideals set forth during the American Revolution. The outcome of the War proved, as Lincoln stated at Gettysburg, that a government of the people could and would survive. Never again would the supremacy of national laws be seriously questioned. Never again would any American law, federal or state, uphold the institution of slavery. The Civil War truly did end one era and begin another. As the new era began, 1865 would be a year of enormous opportunities and challenges.

A thorough study of Chapter 14 should enable the student to understand:

1. The reasons why all attempts to reach a compromise yet again failed in 1860–1861

2. The unique problems faced by President Lincoln and his use of executive power to solve them

3. The many interpretations of the Civil War advanced by historians

4. How the Confederacy and the Union compared in manpower, natural resources, finances, industrial potential, public support, and military leadership

5. The development of new technologies and their effect on the conduct of the war

6. The significant legislation passed by Congress once the South was out of the Union

7. The background to the Emancipation Proclamation, its terms, and its reception in the North, the South, and Europe

8. The basic structure of the Confederate government, how it differed from that of the United States, and the ways it did and did not meet the expectations of its constituents

9. The comparative efforts of Presidents Lincoln and Davis to act as commanders-in-chief under their respective constitutions

10. The ways in which both the Union and the Confederacy turned out to be revolutionary experiments

11. How other nations, particularly England and France, viewed the American Civil War, and how their course of action—or inaction—affected its outcome

1. How the South went about seceding and how the North responded to that action

2. How both sides mobilized for war, and what that mobilization revealed about the nature and character of each

3. How and why the North won the Civil War


1. Why did the South secede? Examine the events of late 1859 and 1860 in the light of Southern social, economic, and political concerns. From this information, determine why the South resorted to secession.

2. Explain the series of events that led up to the firing on Fort Sumter and the onset of the Civil War. Why were both the North and the South so reluctant to fire the first shot?

3. Why was President-elect Lincoln so unwilling to compromise with the secessionists? Why were most Northerners so willing to fight to hold the Union together?

4. Why did the North win the Civil War? Cite and weigh as many factors as you think are relevant to answer this question. Trace the Confederate military fortunes during the war. Could the South have won? What were the points at which the war turned against the South? Could these outcomes have been changed to favor the South?

5. Compare and contrast the methods used and the results obtained by the North and the South as they worked to finance the war, raise the troops, furnish supplies, care for the wounded, and influence domestic and world opinion.

6. What technological advantages did the North have over the South? How were both sides forced to alter their patterns of warfare because of new technology? What single technology do you feel made the most significant difference in the outcome of the war?

7. Abraham Lincoln is generally considered to be one of the best, if not the best, American presidents. Explain why you agree or disagree with that assessment.

8. Examine President Lincoln’s indecision about the content, issuance, and timing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In what way is the document an example of his political skill? Analyze the impact of this document on the war.

9. What roles did African Americans play in the Civil War in both the North and the South? How significant were they in the outcome of the conflict?

10. Compare and contrast the social and economic impact of the Civil War on the North and the South. Who suffered more and why?

11. Did Southerners have good reason for complaining that this was a “rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight”? Might soldiers in the Union army have voiced a similar objection?

12. Despite its extensive, even gruesome, costs, the Civil War has been greatly romanticized. Offer several explanations for why this has been the case.

1. Identify the military theaters, the major battles in each (with dates), and indicate the victor.

2. Trace the territory the Union gained in each year of the war.

3. Note the location of Vicksburg, Richmond, and Atlanta.

4. Note the major transportation routes in the South.

5. Trace the route of Sherman’s March to the Sea.


1. Why did the western counties of Virginia remain in the Union? What does this refusal to join the Confederacy indicate about how geography can shape sociopolitical attitudes?

2. What effect did the secession of Virginia have on Union war strategy? Why was it necessary for the Union to focus so much of its attention on the Virginia theater?

3. Why did Lee invade the North in September of 1862 and in the summer of 1863? What engagements made this possible? What did he hope to accomplish? What was the outcome in each case?

4. Why did the Union put such emphasis on capturing the Mississippi River valley?

5. What was the strategic significance of Vicksburg—for the Union and for the Confederacy?

6. How was Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863 part of a plan to relieve Vicksburg? What did Lee hope to accomplish?

7. How did Lee propose to stop Grant from taking Richmond? What happened to make him decide to evacuate the city?

8. Why was Atlanta so important to the Union strategy and to Confederate hopes for winning (or at least continuing) the war?

9. What was the significance of Sherman’s March to the Sea?

10. What was Lee trying to accomplish when he was cut off and forced to surrender at Appomattox? How realistic was that goal?

These questions are based on the preceding map exercises. They are designed to test students’ knowledge of the geography of the area discussed in this chapter and of its historical development. Careful reading of the text will help students answer these questions.

1. How did the South’s river system work to the Confederacy’s disadvantage in the war? How did this dependence on water transportation hinder the South and help the Union?

2. What geographic features divided the war into its various theaters? What advantages and disadvantages for both sides resulted from this division?

3. What factors dictated the Union strategy in the Virginia theater? In the West? Along the Mississippi River?

4. What factors dictated the Confederacy’s strategy in the theaters mentioned in Question 3?

5. What impact did the nation’s transportation network have on the conduct of the war?

6. In which battles were topographical features most important in determining the final outcome?

7. How did the socioeconomic development of the North in the decades before 1860 better prepare it for waging war?

Jeannie Attie, Patriotic Toil: Northern Women and the American Civil War (1998)

Richard E. Beringer et al., Why the South Lost the Civil War (1986)

Ira Berlin et al., Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War (1992)

William Davis, “A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy (1994)

David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (1995)

Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (1996)

Eric Foner, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War (1980)

Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (1990)

Kent Gramm, Gettysburg (1994)

Ervin Jordan, Jr., Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia (1995)

Alvin M. Josephy, The Civil War in the West (1992)

Elizabeth D. Leonard, Yankee Women: Gender Battles in the Civil War (1994)

Gerald F. Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (1987)

James M. McPherson, What They Fought For, 1861-1865 (1994)

David A. Mindell, Technology and Experience Aboard the USS Monitor (2000)

Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865 (2000)

Emory Thomas, The Confederate Nation (1979)

The Civil War, PBS documentary (1989)
For Internet resources, practice questions, references to additional books and films, and more, see this book’s Online Learning Center at

Brinkley 5e, IM, Ch 14 | of

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