The American Civil War was (as the name suggests) a civil war in the United States fought between northern states ("the Union" or "the North") and southern states that voted to secede and form the Confederate States of America ("the Confederacy" or "the South"). The central cause of the war was the status of slavery. After Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election on an anti-slavery platform, South Carolina seceded from the United States in response a month later in December. Texas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana followed in early 1861, with these seven states forming the Confederate States of America. When President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops after the attack on Fort Sumter, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina left the Union in response and joined the Confederacy. From there, events took on a life of their own and the situation devolved into a full-blown war which lasted a little shy of four years.note The governments attempts to crush what Abraham Lincoln termed a rebellionnote eventually resulted in the defeat of the confederation, the abolition of chattel slavery, and the eventual reintegration of the seceded states into the Union.
Much like the contemporary 185064 War of the Heavenly Kingdom or Taiping Rebellion along the mid-lower Yangtze, the Bakumatsu period of Japan that led to the Meiji Restoration, and the later civil wars suffered by 20th-century China, Mexico, and Russia,note the Civil War was the result of a grand failure of normal politics. Modern historiography the history of history tells us that the great failure was over the future of slavery of ethnic Africans in the United States. The Southern "slave states," whose economies were based around the use of slave labor to harvest cottonnote for export to Western Europe, feared that the federal government in Washington, D.C. would attempt to outlaw slavery.
Media depictions of the Southern part of the United States at this time usually show a world filled with romantic, tall-columned plantation houses where delicate Southern Belles sashay in large skirts and Corset Faint at every available opportunity. Chivalrous, cigar-chomping, white-tuxedo-wearing Southern Gentlemen pistol-duel at dawn and the word "Damyankees!"note is used with a fair degree of regularity. Slaves work the fields down here, although whether a production chooses to show the more realistic aspects of slave life depends a lot on the era in which its made. Dont expect to see many whitewashed "happy" portrayals of slaves in any modern series. People despise historical inaccuracy these days, given that theres really no excuse for it. You dont see much of pro-slavery Confederate President Jefferson Davis in most Civil War movies.
In the North, there is industry and patriotism, and abolitionists decry the evils of slavery from every pulpit. Abraham Lincoln is a pretty popular guy in these parts he spends most of his time in the Oval Office, brooding over battle maps and writing deep historical speeches on stovepipe hats. Ask him why hes fighting the war and hell tell you its to free the slaves. Never mind that this runs contrary what he actually said when asked during the warnote ; this is Hollywood History, where heroes are pure and their motives always perfectly clear.note Youre lucky if you see portrayals of black persons at all in the North, especially in older media, even though they comprised a disproportionate 10% of the Union army by war's end (Glory being a notable depiction thereof).
Meanwhile, on the battlefield itself, the Age of Dakka has dawned, which means that everything anybody knew about warfare is wrong again. There is smoke and blood everywhere, with doctors severing gangrened legs left and right, bugles blowing, drummer boys drumming, and cavalry charging every which way (often resulting in casualty figures upwards of 30% per battle). Expect to see at least one man from either side bravely carrying a tattered unit flag until he gets shot with a Minié ball and crumples artfully in a heap. One aspect that tends to get lost in nearly all depictions of the war is that as in previous wars, but unlike the ones that came after, the majority of deaths were still due to non-combat-related causes such as various diseases contracted in the field (such as "camp fever") and the still-primitive state of battlefield medicine that meant almost any infected wound could kill if it wasn't on an easily-amputated limb. The cumulative effect was enough, especially near the end of the war when the campaigns were relentless, to churn out men suffering from "soldier's heart"— what we would today recognize as PTSD. Americans like to believe that they learned this well and kept it in mind, while the European powers didn't notice until after World War I presented it to them on a massively greater scale.note On a strategic level, the war is one of the first, and certainly the largest, to have mechanized supply lines via railroad.
Almost every student of American history considers this to be the seminal event in the history of the United States: while The American Revolution was the war that founded the country, this one was what tested whether or not the initial experiment of its existence had succeeded. It was predicted as far back as the Declaration of Independence and has influenced the country's domestic politics well into the 21st century. As a result of all this, the American Civil War is one of the most thoroughly studied and documented periods in US history: studying the full extent of the causes, events, and effects of the war has kept scholars busy filling bookshelves, creating documentaries, and consulting on films for well over a century and a half. Below is our best attempt at an abridged summation.
However, at the founding of the nation, abolition was not a serious concern. Many of the nation's founders were slaveholders themselves, and even those who disapproved of the institution knew that challenging it would cause disunity among the states. Those at the Constitutional Convention were well aware of how contentious the issue was, especially among the Southern states, whose economies were largely dependent on slave-based agriculture. The main issue facing the convention at the time was how slaves should be counted in national population censuses, which decided how seats would be allocated in the House of Representatives: Delegates from states with large slave populations wanted slaves to count in full—since any additional representatives would represent the interests of the owners rather than the disenfranchised slaves—while those who wanted to restrict the political power of slavery wanted only free persons to be counted. This resulted in the infamous three-fifths compromise, where only three-fifths of the slave population were counted when it came time to allocate seats. Many of the northern states already lacked large slave populations, and as a result all states north of the Mason-Dixon line (that separates Maryland from Pennsylvania) eventually banned slavery—albeit in wildly differing ways.note
Another compromise from the early days of the United States was on the importation of slaves. There was a 20-year grace period that allowed new slaves to be imported from Africa. After this, it was illegal to import new slaves. Later, the US affirmed this decision with international treaties between them and other states, the most notable being Great Britain. This ban was later upheld when a group of slaves rebelled and captured the schooner Amistad. The courts found them innocent, declaring that they were free individuals who had the right to take any measures to free themselves from bondage, including the violent overthrow of the schooner's crew. The slaves were arranged safe passage back home to Africa through the help of sympathetic New Englanders.
Both of these compromises seemed to quell things, but only temporarily. As the United States grew and more states were accepted into the Union, tensions flared up again. With the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, the United States nearly doubled in size. These new lands were gradually settled and admitted statehood. With the northern states having already outlawed slavery, many of the new states admitted to the Union in the Midwestern Territory would also become "free states" upon admittance to the Union. Not all new states went this route, however, and by 1819 the United States was divided straight down the middle, with 11 free states and 11 slave states.Significance It was a delicate balance, as the southerners feared that a majority of free states would hand the senate over to abolitionists, who would abolish slavery wholesale. Northerners feared the opposite, that slavery would be expanded even further. The fears of both sides were not especially warranted, as abolition still wasn't a serious movement as of yet, and the slave states had no pretensions of extending slavery back into the North. However, the admittance of the new state of Missouri worried both sides. In the end, another compromise was worked out where Maine (part of Massachusetts at the time) was admitted as a free state, Missouri as a slave state, and all territory south of Missouri, state or not, would allow slavery while all territory north of Missouri's southern border would be free soil, barring Missouri itself, of course. The compromise kept the Union from imploding for a few more decades, but it couldn't last.
Abolition only grew stronger as time went on. The decades following the Missouri Compromise saw a massive religious revival, known as the Second Great Awakening. Many preachers took this opportunity to cast fiery and condemning attacks on the immoral institution of slavery. Slavery supporters used religion in their defense, arguing that slavery was a moral institution that benefited slaves, as a precursor to the later "civilizing mission" argument of many colonial powers. They also decried Africans as being less than human, citing a Late Medieval belief that blacks were the "Sons of Ham" and were cursed with dark skin by Godnote along with citing Biblical verses allowing slavery. Supposed "scientific" racist theories advanced since the slave trade began defending were also cited, as was philosophy (including pro-slavery arguments Aristotle had advanced), tradition, and economic necessity. The abolitionists adamantly pushed back against all these arguments, launching a long war of words that eventually led to whole churches splitting over the issue of slavery years before the rest of the country followed suit.
Numerous abolitionist groups saw an increase in members, with the American Anti-Slavery Society being the most famous. However, abolition was still not the majority sentiment in the North, with most northerners being more concerned with the spread of slavery to the Western Territories and total abolition still a far-off dream. Numerous proposals for how to deal with expansion floated back and forth. Some parties, such as the Free Soil Party, sought total federal control over the issue, with only Congress able to decide if a state was free or slave. The pro-slavery movement argued for "States Rights," in this case the right of states themselves to choose whether they were free or slave at their own discretion. This is where the revisionist "states rights" argument falls apart: Yes, the South was fighting for "states rights," but the rights they were fighting for were the rights to own slaves.
Things really shit the bed after the Mexican-American War. The vast new territories acquired from Mexico, most of them south of the Missouri Compromise line, would upset the balance, so that compromise had to be updated. The Compromise of 1850 had a few results. On the free soil side, California was admitted as a free state and slave trading was banned in the District of Columbia. However, the Compromise seemed to favor the slave soil side, with states north of the previously established Missouri Compromise line being granted the right to choose whether they were free or slave by popular sovereignty. It also led to the passing of the infamous "Fugitive Slave Act," which was a revision of a much older law. Before, state authorities in free states were not required to aid in the capture and return of fugitive slaves fleeing the South (with some going so far as to legally declare them free once stepping into territory where slavery was outlawed). This act of defiance had long angered many slave states, who pressured the government into passing a much harsher law that forced all law enforcement officers to aid in capturing fugitive slaves or face heavy fines. The Fugitive Slave Act saw heavy condemnation from northerners, who saw it as a major southern overreach that showed how little the South actually cared about "states' rights" and feared that slavery would soon be permitted in the North. This also resulted in the growth of the Underground Railroad, an organization that helped slaves escape further north to Canada, then still a British colony that had outlawed slavery outright.
The extremely popular novel Uncle Tom's Cabin by Northern author Harriet Beecher Stowe helped to expose the conditions of slavery to a wider audience and brought more sympathy to the cause of abolition in the North than ever before. Shortly following this, however, the Supreme Court effectively ruled in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case that slaves were not citizens and had no right to sue their owners. This invalidated one method for slaves to free themselves, as they often ventured north to free states and sued their masters in that state's courts. This further stoked fears of the idea that slave states would try to expand slavery to the North.
By now, conditions had reached a fever pitch, and the Civil War was all but imminent. The government's failure to take decisive action on the issue of slavery for over half a century had led to escalating tensions on both sides, and the first waves of violence broke out in the Kansas Territory. Kansas was about to be admitted statehood in 1854, and the federal government decided to give them the right of "popular sovereignty," which would allow them to vote on whether they'd be a free or slave state. From all around the country, settlers, rabble-rousers, and ideologues gathered in Kansas to decide the fate of the Union, as the admission of this state could tip the balance in favor of either side. The end result was "Bleeding Kansas" as the territory was torn apart in a miniature war. On the side of the free soil, there were the Jayhawkers, mostly led by the fierce abolitionist John Brown. On the other side were "Border Ruffians" from the neighboring slave state of Missouri. Brown later attempted to start a slave-abolitionist uprising with a failed raid on the armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. He was soon executed but was widely viewed in the North as a martyr for the cause of freedom.note
The Bleeding Kansas issue saw the end of the Whig Party, which became bitterly divided over the issue of slavery. From that division rose the Republican Party, which was staunchly anti-slavery and placed opposition to the expansion of slavery on the top of its policy platform. The Republicans rapidly gained support throughout the North, and it soon became feasible that the party could soon win the presidency and majorities in Congress; down the road, this could lead to anti-slavery Supreme Court justices as well. This outcome was abated for 4 more years when Democrat James Buchanan won the 1856 election. Buchanan had what most historians consider to be one of the worst Presidential administrations ever, largely sitting on his hands while the country tore itself apart. His administration saw some infamous events foreshadowing the war to come, such as Representative Preston Brooks (D-SC) brutally beating Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA) in the Senate chamber after Sumner had delivered a speech vilifying slaveholders, including a relative of Brooks.
In this chaos, an obscure former Whig Congressman named Abraham Lincoln rose to prominence, advocating for the Republican Party in his home state of Illinois. He attempted to run for the senate in the 1858 midterms but was defeated by his opponent, Stephen Douglas, as at the time senators were still chosen by the state legislature, which was controlled by the Democrats. However, his clear-eyed rhetoric opposing the institution of slavery resonated with many, and Southern Democrats subsequently viewed him as a major threat. Two years later, Lincoln threw his (stovepipe) hat into the ring as the Republican nominee, inciting a major backlash throughout the south as pro-slavery crowds vowed to secede if the Republicans won. Due to a schism within the Democratic Party and divisions among the pro-slavery side, Lincoln won the 1860 election. The response from the southern states was immediate: the South Carolina legislature proclaimed its secession from the Union. While the (official) opening volleys of the War had yet to be fired, South Carolina's secession had changed the matter of if there would be a War to a matter of when.
Less than a month after South Carolina declared secession, multiple other slave states joined them, with the states of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas all coming together in February of 1861 to declare a new nation, the Confederate States of America. Keep in mind that Abraham Lincoln had not yet been inaugurated and held no actual power, but the outgoing President Buchanan still had a limp and unwilling response to the rebellion, mostly due to his pro-slavery views.
The first shots of the war proper were fired on Fort Sumter, near Charleston, the capital of South Carolina. Confederate forces (most of whom were, by this point, turncoat soldiers and officers) shelled the fort and forced it to surrender. In response, Lincoln called for volunteers to help put down the rebellion, prompting the states of Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina to secede as well, as they refused to send any forces to aid the federal cause.
Again, as is typical of civil wars, the initial phase of the war was something of a mess. The 1861 secession of the slave states didnt see all the slave states secede, though all those states that did secede were slave states. The slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri remained loyalnote through the initial secession crisis and the war that followed once the U.S. Army had suppressed their more rebellious districts. A rebel state (Virginia) even suffered its own secession crisis when the half of the state (the future state of West Virginia) on the Appalachian Mountain range defected back to the government as a new slave state (albeit one with hardly any slaves and a constitutional commitment to abolish slavery by 1865).
The loyal states of the North were also not nearly as unified in their opposition to either slavery or secession as they came to be seen in retrospect. For one thing, while it is certainly true that all of the Northeastern states had abolished slavery well before the War, it is equally true that the wealth of the coastal states (particularly Massachusetts and Rhode Island) was founded on the Atlantic "triangle trade" — or, less politely, slave ships — and had continued to rely on Southern cotton for their burgeoning industrial economies. There was also a notable split between the industrialized Northeast and the mostly agricultural Northwest (the name then used for what is now called the Midwest). Many Northwesterners opposed slavery simply because more plantations meant less space for small farms (owned by "homesteaders"), which they believed as per liberal (i.e. "free-market") ideology were more economically efficient (as it used free, rather than coerced, labor)note and more desirable as the social-moral bedrock of a new/developing society. Additionally, many Northerners who were against secession or who would never own slaves themselves did not have strong feelings about ending the institution completely, and even most of the most ardent white abolitionists did not believe that African Americans should be granted equal citizenship.note There were therefore sympathizers on both sides, with the mostly Northwestern "Copperheads" supporting the Confederate cause and the "Red Strings" in the South favoring reunification, and keeping them in line without upsetting the constituents they represented was a major challenge for political leaders on both sides.
The pitiful US Army only numbered about 16,000 men at the time, so calls for volunteers came from both Abraham Lincoln in the North and Jefferson Davis in the South. The first calls for volunteers attracted many thousands of men. Although most Americans still remained largely divided on the issue of slavery (especially in the more western states), they generally could find agreement on the issue of secession, with the Union sympathizers saying that it was illegal, and the Confederate sympathizers saying it was the right of a state to secede.note Many southern officers, such as Robert E. Lee, chose loyalty to their home states over loyalty to the federal government.
The most decisive action of the war happened early on, when the Union navy blockaded the major ports of the South in 1861. This effectively cut off most of their imports, and seeing as the economy of the South was largely agricultural, they did not have the means to manufacture enough new weapons, ammunition, uniforms, and supplies for the troops. To make matters worse, the economy of the South was mostly dedicated to prioritizing cash crops, like cotton, and thus there was not enough food production to satisfy the nutritional needs of Southerners. Ambitious blockade runners, mostly from Britain, helped to keep the Confederacy supplied in exchange for cotton, and winning international recognition and investment was the principal plan for the Confederacy's survival. The Confederates knew that they wouldn't stand a chance in a protracted war with the North, due to their inherent economic disadvantages, so they looked across the Atlantic, hoping to gain support from Britain and France. Their hope was that those nations would intervene to protect their valuable supply of cotton.note
This blockade plan proved central to the war effort and likely did more to end the war than any land campaign. It was supported by Ulysses S. Grant's maneuvers in the West, as he attempted to wrestle control of the Mississippi River. However, there was widespread derision of the plan, as many of the ignorant press and population did not see its strategic value or favored decisive, quick action rather than a lengthy campaign. Thus, while the blockade was implemented, the Union moved to secure the capital of Richmond, Virginia. The Union force was rebuffed at the Battle of Bull Run note due to the poor coordination and morale of the Union troops. The battle is also famous for being the place where Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson got his nickname.
Other major Confederate victories followed throughout 1861, with the Union barely managing to scrape up a few marginal victoriesnote . Their advances into Virginia and Missouri were effectively halted, and it became clear that this would be a protracted war. Further out west, many of the Native American tribes of the Great Plains had chosen to side with the Union, but by the end of 1861, Confederate forces had defeated them. A major diplomatic incident threatened to bring Britain into the war against the United States. A British ship was seized by the US Navy and two Confederate diplomats, bound for Britain, were detained. Under threat of war, the US released the diplomats.
In early 1862, the Union scored a few victories on the Western Front, gaining control of Missouri. Meanwhile, out east, the Confederates had overhauled a wooden-hull ship into an ironclad, named the CSS Virginia, which attempted to break the Union blockade at Norfolk, Virginia. After sinking two wooden-hull Union frigates, the Virginia was intercepted by the Union's own ironclad, the USS Monitor, which was novel for its rotating gun turret. The two engaged for several hours, but neither could pierce the thick armor plating and deliver a decisive blow. In the end, the Virginia retreated back to port and the blockade held, but the engagement proved the strength of ironclads to the world, being the first direct battle between such ships in history. The Monitor design was copied, but it proved to be unseaworthy, as rough waters could cause its low-profile hull to flood. Near the end of 1862, that exact occurrence sank the original USS Monitor. Meanwhile, the Virginia was left in port at Norfolk, and the Confederate Army abandoned the ship (and its crew). Advancing Union forces took the town, and the captain decided to light the ship aflame and abandon it.
The Union scored more victories, advancing into Confederate territory. In the West, they had successfully captured the city of New Orleans, which controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Union launched an assault on Richmond, landing the Army of the Potomac southeast of the capital. "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee managed to halt the advance of the Army of the Potomac in a series of battles,note thus saving the capital. Afterwards, Lee maneuvered north to push the Union out of Northern Virginia. This resulted in the Second Battle of Bull Run, which had again proved to be a decisive victory for the Confederacy. As a result, the Confederates regained control of Northern Virginia and pushed into Maryland.
The invasion of Maryland had several goals. One was to take the supply burden off the badly ravaged Virginia, which had seen the bulk of the land campaigns of the war thus far. The Confederates also sought much needed foreign recognition and hoped that a decisive victory on Union soil would demonstrate to the rest of the world that they could win the war and thus gain foreign support. They were also in a greater position to threaten Washington DC itself. McClellan, leader of the Union forces, pursued Lee into Marylandnote and engaged him at the Battle of Antietam, which proved to be the bloodiest single day of the war with a combined tally of 7,650 casualties. Lee, badly outnumbered due to his forces being scattered about Virginia, opted to retreat, making it a significant strategic victory for the Union. However, McClellan, as per usual, was too cautious and indecisive with follow-up actions, allowing Lee's forces to escape without issue. This contributed to his sacking and replacement by Abraham Lincoln later in the year.
Lincoln used the Battle of Antietam to announce the Emancipation Proclamation on the first of January 1863, declaring that all slaves within the Confederate territories were now free men. The proclamation only pertained to the "states in rebellion," however, so the slave states that had sided with the Union were still allowed to own slaves. While the proclamation was still limited and at the time had little practical value, it was a major moral victory and it made the end of slavery a war goal of the Union. This was a great political maneuver on the part of Lincoln, as it effectively crushed any international sympathy for the Confederate cause, as now foreign states would be explicitly helping to preserve slaverynote . This was crucial, as cotton shortages in Britain forced many in its government to entertain the idea of intervention. It also emboldened many slaves and resulted in some slaves in occupied territory being freed. Many of these slaves went on to join the Union army.
McClellan's replacement, General Ambrose Burnsidenote went on the offensive, attempting to seize a major railroad stop at Fredericksburg, across the Rappahannock River, and use it to make a mad dash to Richmond before Lee could retaliate. Lee got to Fredericksburg first and fortified the city. Due to a tactical misjudgment, Burnside chose to assault the fortified city directly, thinking that Lee had weakened his center to draw troops to the flanks. This error proved devastating, as the Union suffered horrendous losses and received a disastrous defeat. Burnside was sacked and replaced with Joseph Hooker. The rapidity and number of replacements throughout the year really made the Union leadership look incompetent, lending it a sort of "revolving door" appearance.
The new Major General, Joseph Hooker, sought to envelop Lee's army and launched an offensive near Chancellorsville. Lee split his forces and stopped the advanced, causing Hooker to dig in around the town. Confederate forces surrounded Hooker, while at the same time fighting his flanking force at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg. While the Second Battle of Federicksburg was a Union victory, Hooker withdrew from Chancellorsville. Lee won a strategic victory by halting Hooker's advance, despite having about half the manpower available, but his losses were proving unsustainable for the underequipped and outmanned Confederacy. To make matters worse, "Stonewall" Jackson was shot in a friendly fire incident, while scouting after dark. He died of illness just a week later. Hooker's defeat resulting in him being replaced yet again, this time by Major General George Meade.
Lee formulated another invasion plan of the North. Emboldened by his successive victories, he decided that an ambitious push all the way into Pennsylvania might be enough to force the North to terms. He was also driven by an increasingly dire supply situation, as the Union blockade put a stranglehold on the South's economy and left his forces thin on supplies. This was effectively going to be the last hurrah of the Confederacy, as they were losing badly in the West and at sea. Lee had to score a victory here or lose the war.
In July of 1863, Lee began to move his forces through war-ravaged Northern Virginia once more, evading Union lines and marching all the way to Pennsylvania. The Union forces caught up to them around the town of Gettysburg, where they fortified the hills and ridges surrounding the town, giving them a major tactical advantage. Confederate attacks dislodged the Union forces, and they retreated to Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill south of the town. From there, they held out against repeated Confederate assaults. In a last-ditch assault known as "Pickett's Charge," Lee sent 12,000 men against the Union forces arrayed at Cemetery Ridge. After suffering bombardment and fierce close-quarters-combat, the Confederate attack was repulsed with heavy losses on both sides. The Confederate forces withdrew back into Virginia, and the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be both the most decisive (and bloodiest) battle of the war. Lincoln commemorated Gettysburg as a national cemetery, a distinction it retains to this day as one of the nation's historic battlefields. His famous Gettysburg Address is one of the most recognizable texts in American history.
The very next day following the battle, the Confederacy was handed another and arguably even more decisive defeat at the Siege of Vicksburg. Vicksburg was the last major Confederate holdout on the Mississippi River, and had been besieged for almost two months. The man leading the campaign on the Union side, Ulysses S. Grant, successfully forced the surrender of the town. The Confederates, who by that point were severely malnourished and suffering from starvation, agreed to Grant's terms. Grant offered them parole, being unable to accommodate the 30,000 starving Confederate soldiers. They returned to the South and went on to oppose Grant during his invasion of Tennessee. Despite this, Vicksburg proved to be a massive strategic victory for the Union, cleaving the Confederacy in two and ultimately dooming it once and for all.
Later in July, however, riots broke out in the North over the draft. Both the Confederacy and the Union had resorted to drafting to make up for their manpower losses, and this resulted in severe anger among immigrant communities, particularly the Irish. In New York City, many immigrants had been coerced into voting in local politics, ignorant of the fact that this made them eligible for the draft. Furthermore, immigrants were resentful of freed blacks, who they saw as competition for unskilled labor jobs. This resentment boiled over and turned into a massive riot. Stores were looted, buildings were burned, police stations were ransacked, and many black freedmen were murdered. The riots were put down only with the intervention of the US Army.
In 1864, Grant was made the commander of all US armiesnote . He formulated a strategy of total war, seeking to destroy the will to fight of the South by completely annihilating its economic base. To this end, he sent William Tecumseh Sherman on a "march to the sea," with his forces ravaging Georgia by burning plantations, freeing slaves, taking food, and looting houses. Meanwhile, Union forces advanced from the west through Alabama, and another force moved in from the north to occupy Virginia. The most significant Confederate resistance was in Virginia, where Robert E. Lee still commanded a large force.
Lee fought a dogged resistance against the advancing Union army, inflicting massive casualties on the Union forces. Despite this, his men were running out of food, supplies, and manpower, and were constantly forced back. They continued to win battles, but they were losing the war. The final months of 1864 saw successive Confederate defeats at the Battle of Cedar Creek and the Battle of Nashville, the latter of which effectively ending any hope of stopping Sherman's march. Union forces pushed closer to Richmond, and Sherman turned northward, marching from Savannah through the Carolinas in an effort to tighten the noose around Lee's army.
Lee, seeing his position around the capital was indefensible, abandoned Richmond and marched to Appomattox, where his tired, hungry, and undersupplied men would be able to reequip and prepare for another campaign. Grant maneuvered ahead of Lee, however, and totally surrounded his forces. With nowhere left to run and very nearly the entire South open for Union occupation, Lee opted to give up the ghost and surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House. Just a few days later, President Lincoln was shot at the Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. Lincoln never got to see the end of the war, which came by the end of April with the last few Confederate holdouts surrendering. He did, however, live to see the end of slavery, with Congress passing the Thirteenth Amendment that officially made involuntary servitude illegal note . The final Confederate holdouts surrendered in Texas on June 17th, 1865, a date celebrated in the Black Community as Juneteenth. In 2021 it was finally made a Federal holiday.
This was the second civil war in just a century to tear North Americas families, towns, and governments apart. Nationalism had truly developed since then and where before people had largely been torn between ideals, people were now divided just as much if not more by state and local loyalties, for National nationalism (i.e. a federal-government-level "American" national identity) had yet to supersede these. It was for their States and for Freedom that, as in the English Civil War, about 25% of the total population of the United States died and far more were left impoverished, displaced, maimed, and traumatized. Again as in the Revolution, the victory of the government was almost guaranteed; however, this time no world powers aided the unsympathetic cause of these rebels, who were left to face the far superior manpower, finance, and industry of the central government on their own. The result was almost inevitable. While the whole affair appeared a very close-run thing, especially given the rebels early successes, the U.S. Army learned (however slowly) from its mistakes and made good on its material advantage, grinding the rebels down and eventually crushing them after four years of the bloodiest fighting North America has ever seen.
The Confederacy still engenders sympathy in certain states, generally those that rebelled and in some (but not all) border states (Delaware and most of Maryland, for instance, would prefer that you even forget that they were ever seen as Southern,note while Kentuckians are perfectly comfortable as firm Southerners; Missouri is more mixed, in keeping with its reputation as a nether-here-nor-there Southern-Midwestern hodgepodge). The American Civil War carries many names partially as a result of this mixed memory: it is "The War of the Rebellion", the "War Between the States", the "War of Southern Treason", the "War of Northern Aggression",note "Lincoln's War", the "Slaveholders Revolt", "The War for Southern Independence", and the "Late Unpleasantness"— though rarely, if ever, referred to by any of those names while the war itself was being fought.note For much of the 20th century the most popular narrative (especially in the South) was that the war was a misguided but in some ways noble fight for a "Lost Cause" for "Freedom from the Tyranny of Central Government". That narrative was politically useful for purposes of reconciling the two sides and for maintaining white supremacy, but it has increasingly been criticized by scholars, activists, and storytellers who point out that the "freedom" the Confederacy fought and killed for was the "Freedom to Own, Use, and Abuse People as They Saw Fit".
One reason the "Lost Cause" narrative persisted was because the Union downplayed its opposition to slavery in its own rhetoric, again for pragmatic and political reasons. Even though the CSA seceded due to Lincoln's opposition to slavery, Lincoln at first refused to make freeing the slaves a Union war aim. Doing so would have made the border slave states that stayed with the Union leave, which he had to avoid for propaganda reasons, military strategy (Kentucky and Missouri were very useful) and the very pragmatic reason that Washington, D.C. was surrounded by Virginia (a Confederate state) and Maryland (a border slave state). When the mood was right, he presented the abolition of slavery (but only in those states which were in rebellion) as a means of critically undermining the rebel war effort. Two years before the Emancipation Proclamation, Benjamin Butler, an Abolitionist Rules Lawyer-turned-general, had made his major contribution to the war effort by declaring he claimed three slaves who had been used to dig trenches on the grounds they were "contraband of war", expanded that legal concept to encompass any Southern slave, then emancipated them; since even the most diehard racist and pro-slavery Union supporter could see the logic of seizing rebel slaves, the strategy was so widespread that escaped slaves were (and still are) habitually referred to as contraband. The Emancipation Proclamation merely declared it a universal matter; it was ostensibly written as a war measure that only freed slaves in rebel-held areas, where public opinion didnt matter much.note By the end of the war, in part due to the military service of thousands of African Americans in the Union Army, the mood in the North on slavery had shifted enough that Republicans could pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which completely ended the institution.
At four years long, the Civil War was by far the most protracted of the early industrial wars;note none of the other industrial wars of this period, save the Crimean and Boer Wars, lasted more than three years. Though several of those conflicts were more expensive in absolute terms, none was "relatively" more expensive or illustrated quite so well the crippling effect of protracted industrial warfare upon an economy and society.note The Austro-French War in Piedmont-Sardinia/Northern Italy, the Russo-Turkish War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Second Boer War, and the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 all give certain (and better) insights into "modern" warfare at the time, however, as they involved The Great (and second-rate) Powers of the age. The Crimean War (185356) is often contrasted with and seen as a smaller-scale precursor to the American Civil War— Russia was about as under-industrialized relative to the Franco-British (and Piedmont-Sardinian) alliance as were the USA's rebel states to its loyal ones. Of course, at the time it was no easier than usual to tell which lessons could/should be learned from the war. It was very hard to draw conclusions from the limited reports of the time, as it has taken generations to compile a thorough account of the war in all its details. Thats not even mentioning the "benefit" of hindsight or the fact that the horrible casualty records of almost all of the US Civil War battles, on both sides (a lot of which had the defending side digging trenches), still exist and can be found.
Like World War II, this war was waged on battlefields but won in factories; the highly industrialized North could mass-produce muskets, cannon, and ships that the agrarian South could only import (and largely couldnt in large numbers with the Union Naval Blockade in place). Also, this war had the first recorded successful sinking of an enemy ship by a submarine (they did it completely blind) and, as mentioned above, the first battle between two fully-armored ships. Naval forces of the world took note: From now on, their ships needed to be Made of Iron and they needed some bigger guns.note Surprisingly to many, the American Civil War was the first-ever American conflict war in which aircraft played a role, as Union forces pioneered the use of balloons as reconnaissance and observation platforms during the Siege of Richmond and other battles.note
Current estimates are that about 2% of the countrys population was killed, a scale of suffering unknown to the Anglosphere since the English Civil War (which killed 7%) but which put the relative and absolute suffering quite comfortably below that of the Qing Empire's Taiping Rebellion (which killed 5%). At least 655,000 soldiers died in the American Civil Warnote — more armed forces dead than in every other war the U.S. has fought put together and does not include civilian deaths, which came out to another 130,000, for a total of over 785,000 dead of a combined population around 34 million.note More U.S. citizens died in 1864 than during The Hundred Days' Offensive, "Operation Overlord", or any of the anti-partisan operations of "The War on Terror." The destruction and loss of life were immense; it was like something out of Homer, the Thirty Years' War, or contemporary China.
The costs of the war not just the immediately obvious ones like having to pay for raising and maintaining massive standing armiesnote and but also vast swaths across entire states laid waste, cities burned and farms looted, interruptions in trade, factories idled and mines closed for lack of labor, two-and-a-half million maimed and crippled veterans who could not support themselves and required pensions— caused an economic depression that lasted for a generation after the war. Some regions took generations to recover; some maintain that part or even all of the South still hasn't recovered from the War (specifically Shermans March to the Sea). Some of the more dramatic statements about postwar former rebel states suffering at the hands of the central governmentnote basically ignore subsequent economic development over the next century and a half to the order of a several-hundred-percent increase in GDP, not to mention the huge advances in general quality of life.
The Civil War did take a larger toll upon the Southern states of the American Union, where most of the war was fought. Much of the South's "wealth" — namely Confederate government bonds and currency, which became worthless when the Confederacy was dissolved — disappeared virtually overnight, but the abolition of slavery had an even more disruptive effect. Slavery had shaped the southern economy for decades, as the profitable and dependable returns from investing in slave-picked cotton discouraged investment in other forms of agriculture, raw-resource gathering, and industry. As the Industrial Revolution picked up speed, the economic "sideshows" of industry and commerce turned out to be far more profitable than agriculture ever could or would be. The South had been prosperous, but by the 1850s the central-northern United States had become more prosperous and were growing at a dramatically faster rate. The war widened that gap even further and forced a fundamental restructuring of the South's economy, which largely lagged behind the rest of the United States until the New Deal and the advent of the more balanced economy of the New South in the mid-twentieth century. The southern states were neither impoverished nor left backward by the war (at least relative to most of the rest of the world at that time), but it did leave them struggling to adapt to a new state of economic affairs, which would have been difficult even had there been a more gradual end to slavery (a virtual impossibility in any case).
Additionally, for all the suffering white Southerners experienced, newly emancipated black Southerners had it far, far worse; despite some early promises from Union generals and Republican politicians that they would receive reparations for the generations of unpaid labor and suffering they had experienced, almost all federal compensation actually went to the slaveowners. Most freedpeople were left just as penniless as they were before the war, and many became trapped in cycles of debt to former slaveowners that persisted for generations.
The era following the war is known as "Reconstruction". Nobody in the North or South quite agreed on how they wanted to rebuild. Radical Republicans argued for harsh punishments to be levied against the South, including removing the right to vote from former Confederates, but Lincoln's assassination and his replacement by Southern Democrat Andrew Johnson forced them to compromise on this and many other policies. In the end, very few Southerners lost the right to vote or hold office. About four million black Americans were freed as a result of the war and did saw certain rights and liberties extended to them. After many years of debate, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave citizenship and the right to vote to all black males above the age of 21. Thousands of freedmen held elected office in the South immediately after the war, some even heading to Congress, largely due to the new black vote eclipsing that of bitter white Southerners who refused to participate in the political system. This was a radical turnaround from the conditions of slavery and gave black Southerners hope that they might actually live to see racial equality should that momentum keep building.
Gradually, however, the pendulum swung back the other direction, with fewer and fewer blacks holding office in the South as whites not only resumed participation in elections but imposed numerous legal restrictions on black people's lives. These included the infamous Jim Crow Laws, which were meant to keep black Americans socially and economically separate from whites, and poll taxes and literacy tests, which could be used to prevent poor and uneducated freedmen from voting. Resistance to Reconstruction also took on violent forms, with infamous White Supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan lynching blacks throughout the South to keep them from voting, holding office, or accruing wealth or status. Some areas where black Americans were either prospering in or even thriving in at the time, such as Wilmington, North Carolina and the Greenwood District in Tulsa, were even greatly decimated by serious threats and/or killings around the time lynch mobs were rising up in these hate groups. The Klan was eventually put down through military force after General Grant won the presidency, but it sprang up again in the 1920s and persists in some form to this day.
Reconstruction essentially ended after the extremely contentious 1876 presidential election of Rutherford B. Hayes led Republicans to make a deal with southern Democrats and withdraw troops from the South, permitting former Confederates to reimplement the old social order of white supremacy. Even before then, however, there had never been much political will to support a Reconstruction that would give freed people full equality. Many Northerners still held racist viewpoints, even many abolitionists. While some advocated for equality between blacks and whites, many more still saw blacks as inferior and thought that they "deserved"/needed the "guiding hand of [white] civilization" to help uplift them. As mentioned in the draft riots, racism was also widespread among white immigrant communities, who saw the influx of freed blacks to the North as unwanted competition. Race riots occurred from the end of the war well into the 20th century. In both the North and South, racism was not defeated by the war nor by Reconstruction, and despite the efforts of several later movements (most notably the Civil Rights Movement), it continues to be a contentious issue today. Many historians and activists alike point to the failure of Reconstruction to ensure equal treatment for black people as a root cause for the socio-economic inequality still faced by the African American community today. For this reason, some historians have described it as the South having lost the war but won the peace, as can be seen in the favorable treatment of the South in fiction for the first 100-120 years after the war.
Somewhat unusually, a large portion of Civil War battlefields are preserved in national parks, and, after a concerted effort by the U.S. National Parks Service in the 1990s, most have been almost entirely restored to their appearance in the 1860s. Unlike practically any other place (or for any other war) on Earth, it is possible to visit a very significant portion of all the war's battlefields and have a reasonable possibility of experiencing exactly what the combatants saw (well, exactly, other than the legions of enemy troops). Combined with an extensive preservation and historical research community (and a huge commitment from the U.S. government to support it), the U.S. Civil War is perhaps the best-preserved war in world history. It borders on obsessive, especially for a nation that came so close to self-immolation. Said parks have been the location setting for many (if not most) of the historical and fictional films about the period, which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase on location. Furthermore, if you wish to buy a mid-19th century musket-rifle, the two most available are the 1853 Enfield and 1861 Springfield because almost all of the Springfields and over half of the Enfields ever made were used during the American Civil War and a lot of the surviving ones are in American civilian hands.
Finally, the war spawned two of the greatest speeches ever uttered, both by the same man, Abraham Lincoln: the Gettysburg Address (pure distilled Awesome in two minutes) and his Second Inaugural Address (an eloquent Earn Your Happy Ending).
The Civil War in Fiction
Several tropes therefore became standard in older Civil War movies:
- Other than Quantrill's Raiders (Missouri guerrillas whose ranks include Jesse James, the Dalton Brothers, and other famous outlaws) rebel soldiers are almost always shown as heroic and respectable. Where individual rebels were villainous, there would be noble rebels around as contrast. Rebel officers are gentlemen, rebel enlisted men are tough, have thicker accents, but are very loyal to their officers.
- Rebel soldiers are superior to the U.S. Armys soldiers in every way. They are braver, cleverer, nobler, and just more tragic. Battles where the Union showed innovative strategy (such as Vicksburg) are forgotten or given a one-off mention in favor of showing battles that "prove" they only used We Have Reserves. This occurs even if the Army's soldiers are the heroes of the movie or episode.
- Union soldiers and politicians are thuggish and venal. If motivation is brought up, they are likely to wonder why they are in the army, and why there is even a war going on.
- "Race" theory and slavery are seldom, if ever, mentioned. If slaves are involved in the plot at all, some or all of them will be loyal to their masters, and there is often a "Loyal Slave" scene in which they protect the family home from Yankee invaders or aid their masters to outwit the Yankees or escape them. There may even be a one-off scene where Southern generals or gentlemen sit down and have a talk about how the war is definitely not about slavery.
- Quite often there might be a specific 'Slave Denial' scene. In this scene a slave or slaves is questioned about slavery, asked to turn against their masters, or offered their freedom and they turn it down, often with a simple silent denial. This scene turns up in Civil War epics made as recently as the 1980s (the TV miniseries North and South)!
- Ulysses S. Grant is often smeared with the number of victims in battles under his command as well as his drinking vastly exaggerated. Modern historians have a more positive view of him, but cultural depictions have not yet caught on. Abraham Lincoln on the other hand is almost never portrayed entirely negatively even in the most Southern apologist works.
- "Brother against brother"— two friends or even relatives fighting on opposite sides of the war, with one possibly killing the other and only realizing My God, What Have I Done? when examining the body.
- Little Women has been adapted into one anime TV special and two anime TV series, including 1987's Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari which was part of Nippon Animation's World Masterpiece Theater franchise. All three have been dubbed into English at least in part and released in the U.S.
- Batman: The Blue, the Grey, and the Bat is an Elseworlds story in which Batman is a secret agent for Abraham Lincoln.
- The spinoff prequel series to Blueberry, recounts his adventures in the Civil War.
- There's two Italian Disney Ducks Comic Universe' stories set in this period, "Donald and the Wind of the South" (an Affectionate Parody of Gone with the Wind'') and "Donald Duck, Hero of Duckburg" a Whole Episode Flashback where Donald tells his nephews of how his great-grandfather (after which he was apparently named) had a decisive role in liberating Duckburg from the Confederates (heavily damaging Fort Duckburg in the process), for which he was decorated with the Medal of Honor. Fittingly for the family issues of this war, Gilles Maurice's Duck Family Tree lists the Hero of Duckburg as a cousin of the Confederate-aligned Donald Butler from "Wind of the South", the latter's mother being the sister of the former's father.
- Several issues of Jonah Hex dealt with Jonahs service in the war. In one issue, Jonah accidentally shoots Stonewall Jackson as the General returns from a reconnaissance, inflicting the wound which cost him his arm and precipitated his death shortly after due to sepsis.
- The protagonist of the Italian comic Lilith travels through time to prevent an apocalyptic future by destroying a parasyte before the first bearer of any contagion line can infect others, killing them in the process, and one of the first hosts happened to be "Bloody Bill" Anderson, chief of a bushwhacker band allied with Quantrill's Raiders. She found him at the Lawrence massacre... And then she annihilated Quantrill's Raiders.
- Superman: A Nation Divided is an Elseworld by Roger Stern in which baby Kal-El's rocket lands in 19th Century Kansas, his adoptive parents name him Atticus, and he grows up during the "Bleeding Kansas" period, meeting a family who have escaped slavery. In the 1860s, Atticus is a Union soldier who uses his powers to end the war quickly, with drastically less loss of life than what happened in reality, meeting Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. He also prevents Lincoln's assassination.
- While the series is set many years after the war, it remains a recurring plot point in Tex Willer, as stories set in the Eastern US are sometimes linked to the consequences of the war, up to include a former Confederate general setting up a regiment in preparation to restart the war.
- During the war, Tex served in the Union armed forces, fighting in the Battle of Glorieta Pass (where he took part in the destruction of the Confederate supply train that decided that campaign) and later serving as a scout for the Army of the Potomac.
- The French-Belgian comic book series Les Tuniques Bleues follows two Union cavalrymen, one of which thinks War Is Glorious and the other War Is Hell (the series unapologetically leans towards the latter).
- Strange Times Are Upon Us has a Klingon Defense Force battlecruiser and two Breen battlecruisers Time Travel to 1859 and land in Pennsylvania (causing the Carrington Event in the process). While the coming war is not mentioned directly, the crew brushes up against the Southern slavery at the heart of it: Ba'wov and K'Gan encounter a local black man involved with the Underground Railroad (who mistakes them for escaped slaves), and Meromi Riyal kills two slave hunters tracking his escortees, much to her CO Brokosh's annoyance.
- Until Every Drop of Blood Is Paid: A pro-slavery fanatic murders Lyman Trumbull in 1854 - leading to Abraham Lincoln becoming a Senator in the outcry. This ends up causing Lincoln's views to evolve faster than they did in real life, and the American Civil War ends up becoming bloodier and more radical.
Film — Live Action
- Advance to the Rear: Follows a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits Reassigned to Antarctica.
- Andersonville: Follows the inhabitants of a confederate prison camp struggling to survive and escape.
- Perhaps the film that put Hollywood on the map: The Birth of a Nation. Brutal, massively racist, blindly revisionist and yet the most influential piece on the technical art of cinematography ever.
- Army of Frankensteins: A young man travels back in time, finding himself entrenched in the Civil War with an army of Frankensteins.
- Cold Mountain: The novel featured both white and black characters, but the film is almost entirely white.
- They did integrate the Battle of The Crater, which is historical (and pretty much happened that way, with the specially trained black troops horrified as the whites plunged to their doom into the crater instead of around it).
- The Conspirator: About the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the trial of the conspirators, chiefly Mary Surratt.
- C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America takes place in a world where the South won the Civil War (the turning point being the Battle of Gettysburg). The United States is annexed by the Confederacy; manifest destiny and both World Wars still happen, but they have no qualms about exterminating or enslaving any non-White, non-Christian peoples.
- Dances with Wolves: The protagonist is a Union Cavalry Lieutenant who voluntarily transferred to a remote post so that he could see the frontier before it was gone. He had been wounded in the leg and was about to have it amputated. Preferring death to dismemberment, he borrowed a horse and rode it back and forth in front of the Confederate line. While the Rebels were trying to shoot him (and missing at the ridiculously close range, even for a smoothbore musket), the Union soldiers charged and took the field. The General rewarded him by having his private physician save his leg and gave him whatever posting he requested.
- Django Unchained is set just a couple of years before the Civil War: The title character is a former slave and the villain is the owner of a huge plantation, and a Fictional Counterpart of the Ku Klux Klan.
- Free State of Jones: The film's starting point is the Battle of Corinth in 1862 and extends into the post-war Reconstruction period.
- In Friendly Persuasion, a Confederate raid into southern Indiana puts the pacifist convictions of a Quaker family to the test in a sequence that constitutes a considerable Adaptation Expansion to the way the episode was treated in Jessamyn West's original book.
- Gangs of New York takes place in New York as the Civil War is going on. Throughout the film we see examples of Union soldiers being recruited right off the ships as they immigrate to America, dislike of Lincoln from nativists, and the films climax is interrupted by the outbreak of the New York Draft Riots.
- The General: A Buster Keaton action-comedy about a southern train engineer who tries to become a soldier, and ends up defeating Yankee hijackers, Inspired by a real incident.
- The Great Locomotive Chase is a decently accurate retelling of a real incident, from the Union side, that had inspired the Buster Keaton film The General.
- Gettysburg: Four-and-a-half hour epic covering all three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, putting extra emphasis on the heroic actions on both sides. Confederate generals have a discussion around a campfire with a British lieutenant observer about how the war is not about slavery. Various Union commanders discuss whether they are out to free the slaves, or preserve the Union, or if they don't even know why they're fighting any more. An extremely faithful adaptation of the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.
- Gods and Generals, a prequel novel to The Killer Angels (by Michael Shaara's son Jeff) was adapted into a movie with the same name, and takes the audience from the beginning of the war to the battle of Chancellorsville. It wasnt as well-received, partly because of the liberties it took with history in order to present Stonewall Jackson as progressive (for a Confederate) on racial matters.note It also very much tries to gloss over the importance the slavery question had in parts of the Northnote , partly by dint of leaving out the battle of Antietam (which also avoids having to show Jackson fighting in a battle his army lost) and the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Glory showed popular culture once and for all that blacks didnt just beg for their freedom, but fought for it.
- Goodbye Uncle Tom is set just before the war.
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Features the Civil War taking place in the background of the action, with all three of the title characters using the conflict to their advantage at one point or another. Blondie survives one impromptu hanging when cannon fire from a nearby battle distracts Tuco and allows him to escape. Angel Eyes eventually sets himself up as a minor Union officer running a brutal prison camp while his maimed superior officer tries and fails to rein him in and angrily compares the place to the similar Confederate camp at Andersonville. Tuco and Blondie run into trouble when they decide to shout cheer for General Lee (they have to take a while to figure out which generals in charge of the Union army at the moment) at an approaching column of grey-clad soldiers, only to find that theyre Northerners whose blue uniforms have been caked in dust. And both Blondie and Tuco agree to help a Union commander deliberately sabotage his own attack over a strategically-useless bridge by blowing it up. The causes of the war and the motives of its participants are not really discussed, beyond the southern township preparing to hang Tuco listing consensual intercourse with a woman of the black race among his crimes, and both sides have their share of sympathetic and unsympathetic characters. What impresses and disturbs the characters most (even the Bad in a deleted scene!) is the massive loss of life on both sides.
- Hands Up! is a very silly silent comedy about a dapper Confederate spy who goes out west in hopes of wrecking a gold mine that is funding the Union war effort.
- Hangman's Knot: Set in Nevada, the film is technically takes place a few weeks after the war ends. However, the Confederate troops who are the protagonists do not know this and complete their assigned mission: killing a Union patrol and stealing the gold shipment they were escorting. Once they learn the war is over, they realize that their actions now constitute murder and banditry, and they head off attempting to find a force they can surrender to without being lynched.
- The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino is a Western set in 1870s, nearly a decade after the Civil War. Major Charles Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is an African-American Union Veteran. The movie generally mocks the "Lost Cause" nostalgia of its Southern character, and one character is a Confederate General who murdered African-American soldiers after they surrendered during the war.
- The Horse Soldiers: John Wayne is the hero as a Union cavalryman (an expy of Benjamin Grierson, an actual historical characternote ) but spends most of the movie running away from his enemies. Since Griersons mission was behind-the-lines raiding, not fighting, his actions were considered a great military achievement at the time. What is telling, of course, is that this tale of Union soldiers running away from Confederates was virtually the only Civil War battle detailed in a major Hollywood movie or television show over the first sixty years of the sound era. It features a heroic Confederate charge, complete with streaming flags, a brave Southern Belle, her loyal slave servant, and at one point Waynes entire command is routed by a battle line of boys from a Mississippi military school! The two leading characters for the Union, played by Wayne and William Holden, are both war-hating pacifists.
- The incident with the Mississippi schoolboys described above is both a heartwarming moment and an example of Worthy Opponent, since Grierson/Wayne decided to have his troops deliberately retreat rather than risk a slaughter of the children. This incident in question may not have actually happened during Griersons raid: it may owe something to the real-life Battle of New Market in 1864, when the student body of the Virginia Military Institute played a key part in the defeat of a numerically superior Union force.
- Director John Ford subverted many tropes, though. For instance, the loyal slave servant (Althea Gibsonyes. that Althea Gibson) ends up shot dead by a Confederate bushwhacker for her pains) and the Southern Belle trope turns into comedy where the ladies of Newton Station throw dirt at the Yankee cavalrymen, dirtying themselves in the process. It also turns out that one of Marlowe/Waynes men (played by Ford stalwart Hank Worden) knows the area from the time before the war when he helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad, and a couple of Confederate deserters (who by their very existence counter the trope of always honorable Southern soldiers) boast about their shooting prowess and then mention the time when one of them shot a female runaway slave right between the eyes. The schoolboys action is played not as heroic, but equal parts tragedy (theres a real Tear Jerker moment when a mother begs the commander to spare her one surviving son and not take him into battle with him) and comedy (the little drummer boy then runs away from homenote to rejoin his comrades, but is captured by the Northerners who let him go after giving him a spanking). Also, the briefing with Grant and Sherman at the beginning makes it clear that the Marlowe/Waynes raid is part of the operations that resulted in one of the great victories of the North, the taking of Vicksburg, and the brigade handsomely wins the two fights against grownup Confederates that it cannot avoid.
- In How the West Was Won the middle episode "The Civil War", directed by John Ford, depicts the battle of Shiloh, starring John Wayne as William Tecumseh Sherman and Harry Morgan as Ulysses Simpson Grant.
- Lincoln opens with a depiction of the Battle of Jenkins Ferry. Lincoln and his staff spend the first half of the movie planning the Battle of Fort Fisher; towards the end of the film, Lincoln visits the carnage of the Petersburg trenches. The balance of the film addresses Lincolns efforts to pass the 13th Amendment ending slavery.
- Little Women (see Literature) was adapted into a motion picture several times.
- Major Dundee: A Civil War Western epic by Sam Peckinpah. Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners ally to battle the Apaches. The Black soldiers are brave and noble, the Southerners more gallant and skillful than Northerners, and, of course, the Union commander, nominally the hero, is mainly motivated by cynical ambition.
- The Outlaw Josey Wales is set during the final months and immediately after the war, and follows title character Wales in his vendetta against a sadistic Union commander whose men had murdered Wales family. The author of a book it was based on was an open and self-admitted segregationist and Klansman, so you might think thats the reason for the portrayal of the Union as monstrous. Nope! In the original book, for instance, Wales compatriots surrender to the Union in exchange for amnesty without incident. In the movie, they are promised amnesty, then betrayed and massacred by the U.S. Army. And in both book and film, the man who killed Wales family was a partisan guerrilla rather than an actual Union soldier at the time of the murders.
- A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die!: Branded a coward for surrendering his New Mexico fort to the Confederates without firing a shot, a Union colonel attempts to redeem himself by leading a band of condemned prisoners on a suicide mission to recapture it.
- Ride with the Devil, an Ang Lee movie starring Tobey Maguire, about Civil War conflicts between the Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers. The protagonist is a young German immigrant who casts his lot with the Confederacy, although quickly he discovers the harsh nature of war, losing his friends one by one, then his illusions about the very meaning of his fight. A Gray-and-Grey Morality movie. Note that the end followed the usual Chinese morality: the hero survives most of the war and, seeing no real reason to continue, goes west to start a new life with his newfound family.
- Rio Lobo: Begins with a confederate train robbery of Union Gold, while also following the aftermath of the incident once the war is over.
- Shenandoah: Interestingly for a movie made in the sixties, neither side is displayed particularly flatteringly. Its about a (West) Virginian who, while personally opposed to slavery, mostly just wishes both sides would just leave him, his farm, and his family alone, which unfortunately for him is not really a tenable position for someone in that time and place. The film's main character, Charlie Anderson, is often cited as an example of a modern Libertarian, with his opposition to slavery and war in general, as well as his indifference to the government (when a Confederate officer tries to recruit his sons, telling him "Virginia needs all her sons", he famously replies "That may be, but these are my sons! They don't belong to the state!"). Interestingly enough, Anderson is played by James Stewart, an Air Force general and a veteran of both the World War 2 and Vietnam.
- Disneys Song of the South is mistakenly thought to occur during this era, but it actually takes place in the post-Civil War Reconstructionist Period. Its received a lot of flak for its idealized portrayal of smiling, happy sharecroppers.
- Uncle Remus and the white plantation owner interact with each other as if they were old friends, but their ages and histories make it all-but-certain that she (or at least her immediate family) owned him in the not-too-distant past.
- A Time Out of War: Oscar-winning short film in which three pickets on opposite sides of a river , two Union and one Confederate, declare a truce to go fishing in the river, with unexpected consequences.
- The childrens novel Across Five Aprils is a recounting of the Civil War stories told to the author by her grandfather.
- American Girls: Addy is set during and immediately after the Civil War. Addy is a nine-year-old slave who escapes to the North with her mother. She doesn't know her birthday, so she chooses the day the Civil War ends as the day she turns ten. Her brother Sam fights for the Union in the war after his own escape.
- Barbara Frietchie by John Greenleaf Whittier is an 1864 poem that somewhat embellishes an apocryphal incident involving the real Barbara Fritchie in Frederick, MD, during the 1862 Maryland campaign. It was once illustrated by James Thurber.
- Ward Moores Bring the Jubilee is set in a world where the South won the war. But then the protagonist gets involved in a time-travel experiment and inadvertently ends up changing history during the Battle of Gettysburg, creating our real-world timeline.
- J.T. Edsons Civil War series is (unsurprisingly) set during the American Civil War.
- Freedom by William Safire. A rather unwieldy novel that takes the reader from the beginning of the Civil War to the Emancipation Proclamation, mostly from the points of view of Lincoln, his secretary John Hay, his Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, publicist Anna Ella Carroll, and Kentucky politician-turned-general John C. Breckinridge in 1248 pages. With an additional 190-page "Underbook" in which Safire helpfully details where he got his information, what it historical fact, and what is pure invention in every chapter.
- Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, the first book of an Alternate History trilogy also including Grant Comes East and Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant: The Final Victory. The trilogy starts with a Confederate victory at Gettysburg but does not result in an overall Confederate victory. Basically, Lees victory causes things to be worse than they were in real life, with the butchers bill even more staggering for both sides. Theres also a memorable scene where Lees assault on Washington, D.C. is bloodily repulsed, with the black troops of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry regiment playing a decisive role.
- Crucially, Vicksburg still fell as in our timeline, so Abraham Lincoln appointed Grant to overall command and had him march east earlier, and while the Army of the Potomac is shattered at the Battle of Monocacy (Maryland), the subsequent Battle of Frederick ends the Army of Northern Virginia as an offensive force, and Grant is more successful than our timelines Meade in preventing Lees eventual escape.
- In The Giver, one of the memories Jonas receives seems is implied to be set in this period considering that soldiers are wearing grey uniforms and horses are running amok. Having grown up in the peaceful Community, he suffers a Heroic BSoD after witnessing the horrors of war.
- Gone with the Wind: Based on a book written by a Georgian, and very much in the Southern heroic mode.
- In The Heroes of Olympus, its said that the Civil War was actually a war spurred on by the Greek and Roman demigod camps, which forced them to be permanently separated and told the other doesnt exist to avoid further horrible wars between them. Its likely the Greek side (which the main protagonists are on) was the Union, as Chiron mentions having trained Chamberlain in one of the earlier Percy Jackson and the Olympians books.
- "The Very Last Civil War Historian" in Roger Spillers An Instinct for War tells the Civil War through a soldiers letters on how it is profoundly different from previous wars.
- Part of the Backstory for Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars: he had been a Confederate officer.
- Derek Robinson's novel Kentucky Blues deals with the time period 1840 - 1870, seen as the parellel tales of two feuding white families and the slaves they are forced to emancipate in 1865.
- Michael Shaaras Pulitzer Prizewinning The Killer Angels, which was the basis for the movie Gettysburg, and largely responsible for rescuing Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain from the back pages of history. Shaaras son Jeff Shaara later wrote a prequel (Gods and Generals) and a sequel (The Last Full Measure). Gods and Generals, which was also turned into a movie that wasnt as well-received as Gettysburg, depicts the beginning of the war, following Lee, Jackson, Hancock, and Chamberlain from joining their respective sides to late June 1863. The Killer Angels follows Lee, Longstreet, Buford, and Chamberlain through the battle of Gettysburg. The Last Full Measure is post-Gettysburg to Appamattox, and features Lee, Longstreet, Grant, and Chamberlain. Jeff Shaara has also written a tetralogy about other theaters of the war, A Blaze of Glory (about Shiloh), A Chain of Thunder (about Vicksburg), The Smoke at Dawn (about Chattanooga), and The Fateful Lightning (about Shermans March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign).
- Lee and Grant at Appomattox, an historical-fiction childrens novel by MacKinlay Kantor, unapologetically portrays Grant as a silent, shabby, and stubborn man who liked animals more than people as well as an unimaginative idiot who loves We Have Reserves. Naturally, Lee is almost fawningly described and compared to heroic, martial Biblical figures.
- Lincoln by Gore Vidal, a novel from his American Chronicles series. Begins with Lincoln's arrival in Washington after his election and ends with his assassination. The story of the Civil War is shown as seen from the national capital, but not just from the perspective of Lincoln and his collaborators, but also from that of Booth's co-conspirator David Herold.
- Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is a Slice of Life drama with the war as a backdrop - the March sisters' father is away fighting for the Union.
- Forstchen wrote a series of 9 books called The Lost Regiment, about a Union regiment in the Civil War that gets transported in an alternate world full of civilizations from various prior time periods throughout Earth history.
- The Mysterious Island opens in besieged Richmond towards the end of the war. The protagonists, Northerners escaping a prisoner-of-war camp, patriotically name the titular island after President Lincoln.
- Nord contre Sud (1887) by Jules Verne, a story of a personal feud in Florida in 1862 against the backdrop of the Civil War is, according to one reviewer, "a very thin streak of narrative [...] padded to almost unwieldy proportions by a quantity of remarkably inaccurate information about the rebellion". In English this little-known novel is entitled "Texar's Revenge, or, North Against South".
- Ambrose Bierce gained early fame for his Civil War stories, particularly Chickamauga and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. These were informed by his experiences in the war, having enlisted in the Union Army at 19 and fought in several battles in the Western Theater, particularly Shiloh (which absolutely terrified him), and Kennesaw Mountain (where he received a head wound).
- Pink And Say is a tragic, beautiful story about two 15 year old Union Soldiers. It is based on the story of the author's ancestor.
- A Rebel in Time by Harry Harrison is a time-travel story in which a racist colonel tries to bring Sten guns (World War 2 submachine guns of a construction simple enough to be produced with 1860s technology) to the Confederacy. He is pursued by a black time-traveller who then has to see that history stays on course despite being hampered by 1860s racial prejudices. (In case you're wondering, it was published nine years before Guns of the South).
- Harry Turtledoves Alternate History novel How Few Remain was the starting point for his Timeline-191 series, now nearly a dozen books and counting and up to only the end of World War II.
- His The Guns of the South was an entirely different Alternate History in which South African white supremacists go back in time to arm the Confederacy with modern weaponry (particularly AK-47s) and help them win the Civil War, in order to secure an ally for Apartheid South Africa. One of the novels two focus characters is Robert E. Lee (the other is a Confederate schoolteacher-turned-infantryman who gives the ground-level view of events).
- His The War between the Provinces is a fantasy retelling of the war in the Western Theater after Chickamauga, liberally laced with puns and examples of Istanbul (Not Constantinople).
- Traveller by Richard Adams tells the story of the Civil War from the point of view of Robert E. Lees horse. Traveller never quite recognizes whats going on, though, and is more concerned about other horses (such as Little Sorrel, who carried Stonewall Jackson).
- The Yankee Plague: A Non-Fiction novel following several escaped Union prisoners in the last days of the Civil War. The various groups of prisoners are all well-developed characters, but serve more as tools for author Lorien Foote to describe the eroding control of the Confederate government and the vast number of slaves and deserters willing to help the prisoners for one reason or another.
Live Action TV
- Ken Burns did one of his epic PBS Documentaries on the conflict, known simply as The Civil War. A behemoth of nine feature-length episodes (no episode under an hour, most closer to 1:10-1:15, and two over 90 minutes) originally aired in 1990, it is remembered for its detail, fairness, depth, and its music Ashokan Farewell. It features interviews with a large number of historians and others (the series owes a heavy debt to Shelby Footes The Civil War: A Narrative, and Foote is the most common interviewee) and the voices of Sam Waterston (as Lincoln), Morgan Freeman (as Frederick Douglass and other Black writers of the time), Garrison Keillor (as Walt Whitman among other Northerners), Arthur Miller (as William T. Sherman), Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Kurt Vonnegut, Laurence Fishburne, and many, many others.
- Copper is set in New York during the Civil War; Kevin Corcoran, Robert Morehouse and Matthew Freeman are all recently-returned Unionist veterans and the final episodes of season one feature a Story Arc with confederates plotting to attack Manhattan with Greek Fire. John Wilkes Booth also appears briefly in two episodes as an acquaintance of Elizabeth Haverford. Being a grim-and-gritty dark-underbelly series in general, its also one of the few to show that whites in the North were only slightly less bigoted than in the South (and by that we mean only disagreed with the South on whether or not blacks could be property.)
- In Have Gun Will Travel, Paladin served as an officer in the Union Army (apparently under that name) and frequently runs into people with whom he served.
- Mercy Street tells the story of a Union hospital in occupied Alexandria, Virginia, during the middle of the war.
- The Outer Limits episode Gettysburg is a Time Travel plot which is mostly set during the Civil War, as future time traveller Nicholas Prentice sends two Confederate buffs back in time to the Battle of Gettysburg to teach them the evils of racism.
- The Pinkertons is set just after the war, and several episodes deal with its aftermath. One example: in the pilot, the villains are ex-Confederate soldiers who want to avenge their fallen comrades by restarting the conflict.
- Roots (2016): The 4th episode spends a substantial amount of time here, detailing Chicken George's service in the Union Army.
- True Blood has Bill, a 170-year-old vampire who was once invited to speak at an event at the local church when it was found he had served during the Civil War. The townspeople try to play down the fact he fought for the Confederacy.
- The Wishbone episode "A Terrified Terrier" adapts The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, with Wishbone playing Private Henry Fleming of the Union Army. Additionally, "Hot Diggity Dawg" (about Journey to the Center of the Earth) has Joe, Sam, and David dig up a medal for valor awarded to Oakdale's first mayor for service in the war.
- Averted by Ashokan Farewell, the instrumental theme of Ken Burns documentary while quite similar in tone to Civil War-era music, it was written at Ashokan Reservoir, New York, in 1982.
- The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band, and later Joan Baez. The closing days of the Civil War as told by a fictional Confederate soldier. Written by a Canadian (Robbie Robertson)!
- The Swedish Power Metal band Civil War, a Spiritual Successor to Sabaton, takes its name from the war, commonly performs in replica Confederate and Union uniforms (former lead vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson's was based on a Union Army musician's uniform, fittingly enough), and named their first three studio albums after the Michael and Jeff Shaara novel trilogy about the war with several songs on each referencing its events.
- The Decemberists song Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) is a modern song set during the time of the Civil War, a duet between a young dead Southern soldier (killed, most likely, at one of the Battles of Manassas/Bull Run) and his pining, pregnant wife back in South Carolina. However, the lyrics seem to be inspired in part by the letter of Rhode Islander and Union officer Sullivan Ballou to his wife shortly before First Bull Run (the bit about the breath of the wind is particularly similar). The point, in other words, is that war is hard on families no matter what.
- Across the Green Mountain, by Bob Dylan, plays over the closing credits of Gods and Generals. Another first-person account of a Confederate soldier.
- Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe, is a classic and still a popular patriotic song and hymn. Others, such as The Vacant Chair, Battle Cry of Freedom, and When Johnny Comes Marching Home, were still well-known up until World War II.
- Gettysburg, 1863 by Iced Earth, a thirty-two-minute song about the titular battle.
- 1865 begins not long after Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia have surrendered. General Joseph E. Johnston continues to fight on, but the Confederate government formally surrenders midway through the series, thus ending the war for good.
- Twilight Histories:
- The episode "American Dictator" features an Alternate History in which a brewing three-way Civil War between The Army of the Potomac, The Army of the Tennessee, and the Confederacy after General George B. McClellan attempts to stage a coup against President Abraham Lincoln.
- Features into the backstory of the episode "Catos War" which is set in a world where the South won the war.
- One of the very first commercial tabletop wargames was Avalon Hill's Gettysburg. Hundreds have followed in its wake.
- Deadlands: Taking place in an Alternate History, the Civil War continues some fifteen years after the real world culmination (1879, according to Deadlands: Reloaded) due to a resurgence of supernatural activity at Gettysburg. Thanks to the developments of Mad Scientists, its also far bloodier than it ever was in real life. Chainguns, zeppelins, poison gas and thats before we get into the monsters (like undead amalgamations of corpses, zombie soldiers, corpse-eating wolf-things, and sentient clouds of poison gas) that are haunting the battlefields.
- The Andersonville Trial, a dramatization of the trial of Henry Wirz, in which the ultimate deciding factor in his guilt, moral obligation, is explored.
- The Civility Of Albert Cashier, a musical about the life of Union soldier Albert D. J. Cashier, who was assigned female at birth but lived as a man. The Young Albert sections take place when he was serving in Company G of the 95th Illinois Regiment from 1862 to 1865.
- The musical The Civil War with music by Frank Wildhorn, nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1999, portrays the Civil War through Union, Confederate, and slaves perspectives in a collection of vignettes. The musicals story is derived largely from contemporaneous letters, diaries, and firsthand accounts as well as from the words of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman.
- 1860's Old America (another Western-themed Mount & Blade mod, though this one requires the Updated Re-release Mount & Blade: Warband) is partially about the conflict (the worldmap being much larger than the mere American Civil War theater of operations, the game also includes the Franco-Mexican War, as well as the conquest of Indian lands). The player character can join and help one of the factions, or be a third power in the war while building his/her own empire in 19th century's America, or stay neutral while trading with both sides.
- 1866 (Game Mod for Mount & Blade) is a Wide-Open Sandbox Strategy RPG set one year after its end, but it still has some elements of it:
- The Multiple-Choice Past quiz of character creation includes a question asking which side the player character chose during the war of the previous years. Note that the question also allows to be a former soldier of the war in Mexico instead of the American Civil War.
- There is a minor faction of Confederate remnants in the game.
- There is a quick battle scenario about the Battle of Gettysburg, in which the player is a Union soldier.
- The Civil War Generals series is a Turn-Based Strategy game allowing the player to command either side in some of the wars most famous battles.
- Damnation is set during a Steampunk Alternate History version that drags on into the early twentieth century, and involves a Mega-Corp that sells weapons to both sides.
- Dealt in Lead: A very, very odd version of it.
- The Activision game Gun takes place after the Civil war, and features a Confederate General named after John Magruder as the villain. The game, while itself fun, however, has numerous instances of wildly inaccurate dates, such as the game taking place in 1880, but claiming that the Civil War ended ten years prior, when it actually ended fifteen years prior. Thats not even getting into the other rather stupid errors regarding date inconsistency in the game.
- Ironclad Tactics is set in an Alternate History where steam-powered giant robots were used in the war.
- The History Channel: Civil War:
- The first Civil War A Nation Divided, is an Activision first person shooter set in the Civil War, where players can choose to play on either side in many major battles. Being a first person shooter, Rare Guns had to be invoked to make the more rapid-fire guns of the era more common than they actually were in real life. Reloading sequences were also abbreviatednote to speed them up a bit. Reviews were mostly mixed.
- Civil War Secret Missions is pretty much more of the same, except with more types of guns, somewhat better graphics, and focusing on covert missions related to major battles rather than the major battles themselves.
- No Greater Glory is a Turn-Based Strategy in which you try to bring victory to either of the sides of this conflict. The key word being try.
- Sid Meiers Gettysburg! (1997) and its sequel Sid Meiers Antietam! (1999) are Real Time Tactics games allowing the player to command either army at any level in the respective battles or in the campaigns leading up to them. The games were noted for the incredible attention to historical accuracy and detail.
- Swashbucklers Blue Vs Grey is an Action-Adventure game that takes place in the Caribbean sea. The player character is a pirate taking advantage of the Union blockade of Confederate ports. He gets roped into a plot to change the course of the war.
- Ultimate General: Gettysburg is a real-time tactics game putting the player in charge of either side for the titular battle for the singleplayer campaign. The Union are Long Range Fighters with more & better cannons and faster reloading, while the Confederacy are Close Range Combatants that are better in melee with more effective leaders and experienced troops to facilitate attacks. While the units and troop counts involved are directly taken from history, how the actual battle plays out depends on the player's showings and choices throughout the conflict.
- Emperor Tigerstar has a video depicting the changing front lines of the Civil War every single day.
- Lee at the Alamo is an online Alternate History short story by Harry Turtledove with the point of divergence being in December 1860, when Gen. David E. Twiggs is unable to take command of the Department of Texas, leaving Lt.-Col. Robert E. Lee as the commander. The story takes place a few months later, just after Texas has voted to join the Confederate States. Lt.-Col. Lee concludes that it is his duty to defend U.S. munitions and property in San Antonio, Texas, including the fabled Alamo, rather than allow their surrender to the seceding Texas government, as Twiggs did do in Real Life, even if he notes that he has no love for the about-to-take-office Lincoln and his policies. This puts him in a quandary later when his home state Virginia secedes since hes now a hero in the Union. After having had men die under him fighting Confederates, he just doesnt feel right changing sides anymore, nor does he feel right just sitting out the war in safety while people are dying. He settles for a compromise and has Lincoln assign him to the western theater of the war so that he doesnt have to fight Virginia directly.
- The Simpsons episode "The Sweetest Apu" features a reenactment of the Civil War battle of Springfield (not to be confused with the actual First and Second Battle of Springfield in Southern Missouri), a three-cornered match between the forces of the North (blue), the South (gray) and the East (orange plaid).