Chapter 15 Transforming Fire: The Civil War, 1861–1865

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Transforming Fire: The Civil War, 1861–1865

Chapter Summary

The title of Chapter 15 appropriately calls the Civil War a “transforming fire” and, in so doing, establishes the transformation of northern and southern societies as the chapter’s theme. Ironically, the South, which fought to prevent change, was changed the most.

Both North and South expected the Civil War to end quickly; but, as the discussion of the military engagements of the first two years illustrates, both were mistaken. In 1862, in an attempt to adjust to the likelihood of a prolonged conflict, the Confederacy adopted the first conscription law in the history of the United States. This is the first mention of the changes brought to the South by the war. These changes also included:
1. centralization of political and economic power;

2. increased urban growth;

3. increased industrialization;

4. changed roles for women;

5. mass poverty, labor shortages, food shortages, and runaway inflation; and

6. class conflict.

The theme of change is also apparent in the discussions of the war in the American West and in the discussion of the war’s economic, political, and social impact on northern society.

In the midst of this change, slavery, the institution that was the underlying cause of the war, was seldom mentioned by either Jefferson Davis or Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s silence on the issue during the first year of the war reflected both his hope that a compromise could be reached with the South and his attempt to keep intact the coalitions that constituted the Republican Party. In dealing with the subject in 1862, he took a conservative and racist approach. When Congress attempted to lead on the slavery question, Lincoln at first refused to follow; and when abolitionists prodded him on the question, he distinguished between official duty and personal wishes. When the President did act, it was to offer the Emancipation Proclamation—a document that was legally wanting but politically and morally of great meaning. Then, in 1864, he supported a constitutional ban on slavery by supporting the Thirteenth Amendment.

Ultimately, Jefferson Davis also addressed the slavery issue. Dedicated to independence for the Confederacy, Davis became convinced that emancipation was a partial means to that end. Although he faced serious opposition on the issue, Davis pushed and prodded the Confederacy toward emancipation, but his actions came too late to aid the Confederate cause.

The experience of war also changed the individual soldiers who served in the Confederate and Union armies. Accustomed to living largely unrestricted lives in rural areas, many had difficulty adjusting to the military discipline that robbed them of their individuality. Subjected to deprivation and disease and surrounded by dead, dying, and wounded colleagues, the reality of war had a profound emotional impact on those who experienced it. However, the commonality of these experiences and the sense of dedication to a common task forged bonds among soldiers that they cherished for years.

The last two years of the war brought increasing antigovernment sentiment in both South and North. More widespread in the South, such sentiment involved the planters—who seemed committed only to their own selfish interests—the urban poor and the rural masses. The deep-rooted nature of southern war resistance affected the war effort, and the internal disintegration of the Confederacy was furthered by disastrous defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. It was in this atmosphere that southern peace movements emerged, more anti-Davis representatives were elected to the Confederate Congress, and secret antiwar societies began to form. Antiwar sentiment also emerged in the North; but, in large part because of Lincoln’s ability to communicate with the common people, it never reached the proportions of southern opposition to the war effort. Opposition in the North was either political in nature (the Peace Democrats) or was undertaken by ordinary citizens subject to the draft (the New York draft riot).

In light of the political nature of the antiwar movement in the North, Lincoln feared for his re-election prospects in 1864. However, owing to the success of northern efforts to prevent diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy by Great Britain and France and to Sherman’s successful march on Atlanta and his subsequent march to the sea, Lincoln’s re-election was assured. The “transforming fire” proceeded to its conclusion with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, followed by Lincoln’s assassination five days later. The era of the Civil War had ended; the era of Reconstruction began.

Essential questions

Directions: Cite relevant historical evidence in support of your generalizations and present your arguments clearly and logically. Each response should be 6-8 sentences and address the entire question (15 points).
1. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the North and the South, and explain the factors that led to northern victory

and southern defeat. (p.398-400; 403-405)

2. Discuss Abraham Lincoln’s and Congress’s approach to the slavery question during the course of the Civil War;

examine their decisions on this issue; and explain the impact of those decisions on the Union and its war effort.


3. Explain Grant’s strategy in the final years of the Civil War, and describe the battles that enabled him to achieve

northern victory. (p.417-420; 424-430)

4. Examine the emergence of dissent and disorder in the Confederacy and the Union in the final two years of the Civil

War, and explain the impact of these forces on the two combatants. (p.424-430)

5. Discuss the financial and human costs of the Civil War, and indicate what issues were resolved and what issues were

left unresolved at war’s end. (p.429-430)

Secession Confederate States of America Crittenden Compromise

Fort Sumter 1861 Homestead Act 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act

National Bank Acts Union Pacific/Central Pacific Railroads Greenbacks

National Draft Law New York City Draft Riots Writ of Habeas Corpus

Ex parte Milligan Copperhead Democrats Election of 1860

Confiscation Acts Emancipation Proclamation 1863 U.S. Sanitary Commission

Conscription Act General George McClellan General Ulysses S. Grant

General Robert E. Lee Ironclads King Cotton diplomacy

Repeating weapons Antietam 1862 Gettysburg

William T. Sherman March to the Sea Appomattox Courthouse 1865

Gettysburg 1863 Vicksburg 1863 Battle for Atlanta 1864

Abraham Lincoln John Wilkes Booth Jefferson Davis

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