The American Civil War

War is an extremely serious event that occurs when an issue cannot be resolved in peace or compromise. Slavery was the issue of the mid-nineteenth century in America. The agrarian South wanted slavery maintained, and even expanded. The industrious North did not, promoting personal liberties and opportunity. Tension grew over the issue of slavery as America spread throughout the west. Ironically, the nation began breaking apart as one-by-one, southern states decided to secede into their own confederation, all united in slavery.

The newly elected President Abraham Lincoln worked diligently with Congress on possible scenarios to intervene or allow the institution of slavery to continue. Slavery had fulfilled a unique way of life to the Cotton States. It brought prosperity to its citizens. Many believed in their right to uphold slavery under the Constitution. Unfortunately, Lincoln understood the Constitution all too well. The carefully written manuscript did not address slavery. As any spreading disease, Abraham Lincoln believed it should not be encouraged for a young nation based upon freedom. As a competent leader, President Lincoln recognized diverse interpretations of the Constitution. However, in light of ongoing rebellion and secession, and for the sake of a nation’s integrity, he felt it necessary to resolve.

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States

Winning a war takes strength, strategy, a suitable battleground, and a firm conviction for success. Neither side was expecting war, nor were they wanting to do so. But the majority of Southerners thought it would be a quick victory as they easily captured the ill-equipped, federally occupied Ford Sumter off the South Carolina coast on April 12, 1861. With these first shots of the American Civil War, Lincoln concluded it would take more time, more resources, and more manpower to secure victory and unite the nation once again.

Our nation may not have been prepared to go to war although to some, it seemed a foregone conclusion. Yet the North was already in position to win the war. Essentially, the federal government had the money and resources to outfit and supply a successful war campaign. The Northern states were an industrialized culture with various types of mills and factories. The government maintained arsenals such as Liberty, Kansas, and they were also equipped to mass produce more guns and ammunition. In contrast, the Confederate South was primarily a society of farmers whose available tools and machinery supported an agrarian economy. There was but one manufacturer capable of producing heavy arsenal, located in the state of Virginia. The South could import weaponry from overseas unless they were blocked by the Union navy. Lack of munitions prompted desperation and creativity. Many volunteers supplied their own guns while others converted weapons from farm implements. Moreover, countless weapons were salvaged through Union capture or conquer.

The Civil War was fought in Southern terrain and along the extensive Atlantic coastline. The North already had access to over 300 vessels of various sizes and capabilities, naval shipyards, and the means to build more and repair as needed. The coastal region was difficult for the Confederates to defend as they scarcely owned or had limited access to warships. While they did import large ships from Britain, they again resorted to converting and outfitting available vessels, including tugboats and cutters for immediate battle. In fact, the Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory is credited for construction of torpedo boats and a submarine, the C.S.S. Hunley, which took down many vessels belonging to the North. In addition, Jefferson Davis solicited privateers to help capture additional ships for their cause.

American Civil War
American Civil War

The Union easily accessed the battleground via rivers such as the Tennessee and the Cumberland. Rivers and bridges were heavily patrolled with armed steamboats developed out of the Transportation Revolution. The steamboats supplied food and equipment to Northern soldiers. The modern railroad and telegraph were also used by the North. The Alleghenies of West Virginia provided railroad access, a great barrier, and gave the Union a strategic advantage over the Confederates. In addition, macadamized roads were much easier for Union soldiers to travel upon foot, as opposed to muddy gravel over difficult terrain that often wore Southern soldiers down. Without food and provisions, many Confederate soldiers became weak with hunger.

The availability of manpower was one of the most significant resources that brought the North to victory. In total population, the North outnumbered the South by 2 to 1, which was reflected in armed strength. There were career soldiers and volunteers. The North organized recruitment camps. The very first Union regiment came out of the state of Massachusetts. Northern soldiers organized for battle, security, and protection, especially at the rivers, railroads, and the area surrounding Washington D.C. When the South sabotaged telegraph lines, destroyed railroad bridges, or damaged ships, the North could send workers for repair and reconstruction. When Lincoln needed more men, he was able to order a new supply.

Each side could boast skillful leadership including commanding leaders Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, highly trained at West Point but chose which side to fight, based upon loyalty. Training of soldiers, on the other hand, varied greatly. Conviction was noteworthy but sometimes questionable due to drunkenness and inappropriate behavior. Regardless, thousands of soldiers went into battle inadequately outfitted and ill-prepared. While attempting to reclaim western Virginia in 1862 against the North’s General George McClellan, Confederate soldiers were observed to be exposed and vulnerable. Furthermore, many were weak and sickened from disease.

Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

Directing them all was President Abraham Lincoln who exercised his authority and knowledge of the Constitution, helping to facilitate a Northern victory. At the onset, he arrested underground secessionists and other defiant activity, holding them under Article I, Section 9. He imprisoned Southern privateers as well, deeming them rebels and pirates. After the Battle of Antietam, September 1862, Abraham Lincoln delivered the infamous Emancipation Proclamation. As of January 1, 1863, all slaves became free from any slave or rebellious state. The Proclamation not only released indentured laborers in the South, it allowed 186,000 newly freed males to enlist in the Civil War, providing additional military strength to the Union army.

The issue of slavery was at the core of the American Civil War. The South felt so strongly in their belief that they were willing to rebel, to secede in order to continue the traditional aristocratic life they had enjoyed. There was much at stake and they were confident they could win. Yet the South had no means of winning. The best they could hope for was to avoid great loss.

For Lincoln and much of the North, allowing slavery to continue was a violation of the Constitution. Their convictions lie not, as much, in taking slavery away, but upholding the Constitution, reinforcing the integrity of our forefathers’ vision, and securing a united nation. They had to go to war. It was not an easy victory. Hundreds upon thousands of lives were lost. In the Spring of 1865, the American Civil War ended as General Lee and the Confederate army surrendered. Abraham Lincoln did not live to see the end of the war, but history would still remember him as one of our nation’s greatest heroes.

Confiscation Act of 1862

Confiscation Act of 1862 was an updated version of the 1861 Act that gave the federal government the right to take away all property, which included slaves. This law was directed toward anyone who was considered a threat to Lincoln’s government or war effort. There was concern about federal government’s power in taking away personal freedoms or right to property. But it was an important step toward releasing the slaves from bondage and it added to the number of solders who could help fight in Lincoln’s army.

The Crittenden Proposal

With 7 southern states already attempting to secede and form a new nation, Congress debated how to keep the Union together by law, coercion, or compromise.

Jordan CrittendenKentucky Senator John J. Crittenden, a member of the “Committee of Thirteen,” devised a compromise, a series of amendments to the Constitution in hopes of avoiding further secession threats. Essentially, it would guarantee slavery would remain in established states without government interference. It was later modified to the 36° 30’ parallel. Believing there is no compromise when it involves slavery, the proposal was denied by Lincoln stating it would set back all he had worked to achieve. As a result, the southern states proceeded to form an independent Confederate government.

One Nation, United yet Divided

With an election on the horizon, the United States is about to undertake yet another exercise rooted in American ideology. Nevertheless, recent events have exasperated a seemingly divided nation, leaving many to wonder if there is hope in restoring unity. In hindsight, American history is laced with many a fracture upon political, social, and economic lines. None as profound as those witnessed in the 19th century with sentiments so strong, they would lead to civil war.

A nation at its youth, colonial Americans lived a simple life during the Second Great Awakening. The nearly ten million were predominately English and Protestant. Rural communities dotted the eastern third of a country expanding as the Louisiana Purchase (1803) created an additional 828,000 sq. mi. of land. They were farmers, merchants, and artisans. Horses powered machinery. Women remained in the home, raising the children. Pre-industrial man was a self-sufficient man, upholding his freedom and sobriety, guided by a strong moral center with spiritual ties to salvation. What he could not produce, he imported.

Second Great Awakening
1839 Methodist camp meeting Stephen Hofer

The rivers were far-reaching but by no means efficient. Navigation was slow and the ability to deliver goods was untimely. American imports were costly but that changed around 1820. New advancements for railroads and steamboats facilitated travel and gained momentum as the democratic republic sought new ways to deliver a more progressive nation to the people.


President John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) initiated a federally funded project known as the Transportation Revolution. It transformed America’s infrastructure through improved roads, railways, and man-made canals. The Erie Canal (1825) created an artificial waterway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. In addition, the evolution of communication and the telegraph interconnected the population within seconds, as opposed to weeks. Mostly confined to New England, commerce expanded westward alongside these sprawling transportation hubs, building factories with modern, steam powered machinery along the way. Rural Americans relocated to the city as the demand for labor precipitated a full-scale American Industrial Revolution.

Into the 1830s, the notion of standardized precision of products through mass production was uniquely American. Most anything could be mass produced cheaper and better. Profit-driven industrialists used the factory system to build larger corporations that prospered as they capitalized upon productive employees possessing Protestant-Christian virtues in punctuality, reliability, and discipline. The once artisan became obsolete, now selling his craft as a mere laborer. Women entered the workforce. Factories demanded labor of all skill levels, moreover, created new and highly skilled occupations in its path such as machinists, millwrights, and engineers. A drive toward literacy and a new system of public education would also supply sorely needed skilled workers.

The flourishing economy attracted an influx of immigrants from Europe seeking opportunity. About 750,000 Germans, Irish, and Catholics arrived in the 1820s-1830s and another 4 million through the 1850s. The new capitalist society was a quick and difficult transition for many. Specialization of labor generated a system of class relations: master, journeyman, employer, and employee, often causing tension. Immigration and extreme demographic changes caused cultural friction. Nativism grew among Protestant-Christians. Yet pluralism abounded, creating the new face of a growing, consuming American industrial middle-class.


In contrast, the South thrived as state law protected a unique way of life based upon its agrarian tradition. There were no factories nor rapidly expanding cities. Southern culture consisted of a patriarchal society. Chivalry was embraced as a distinct hierarchy thrived, based upon race, gender, and the institution of slavery at its core.

Slavery was legal throughout colonial America but later abolished north of the Mason-Dixon Line with state or federal legislation such as the Northwest Ordinance (1787.) Looking westward, any boundary issues were solved when Congress set a dividing line in the Missouri Territory at 36° 30’, a resolution called the Missouri Compromise (1820.) Slavery remained in the south due to the lucrative nature of the business. Fertile land, ideal climate, and the availability of slaves from the African slave trade allowed southern farmers to fully equip their plantations for mass production of cotton and other crops. By law, this ruling class could continue to purchase humans to retain as property, affording them all rights of custody and servitude.

The institution of slavery was extremely vital to southern prosperity. A slave owner purchased males and females until the federal Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807. To increase the workforce, he encouraged procreation. While slave marriages were outlawed, they still created familial relationships and produced offspring. Unfortunately, due to the harsh nature of the institution, family structure was often broken through resale and trade within the South. Breakdown of the family was just one issue that angered Abolitionists, a group that arose from the Second Great Awakening movement.

The South demonstrated a superiority in agriculture, contributing greatly to the flourishing American economy. Despite its “shortcomings,” Southerners were able to justify a superior culture and their reciprocal relationship to the Negro, who made this all possible. Yet they found no shame in human bondage. When slaves resisted or escaped, the South used the power of federally mandated fugitive slave laws. The Great Awakening prompted great criticism and opposition on both sides of the Mason-Dixon. Lack of “Yankee ingenuity” in the South was considered “dead weight” to the growing North and while they acknowledged state law, they answered to the call of a “higher law.” They established the Underground Railroad, resisted federal agents seeking runaways, and advocated for Personal Liberty Laws (1840s.)

To date, the democratic republic generally agreed upon American industry over foreign competition, centralized banking, modern infrastructure, economic growth, and mobility. By this time, Americans had already started moving west. The government assisted in clearing the way by purchase, compromise, war, and annexation. In addition, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 greatly reduced America’s true natives, confined to the government’s “less desirable” land. But onto the Great Plains and Pacific Coast they left in droves, leaving behind overcrowded cities, violence, poverty, and strained class relations.

America forged on with expansion. If more land was good, then “from sea to shining sea” must be better. Some suggested modeling American ideology. Then conformity would spread over time. Others felt it necessary to conquer. Fearing industrialist expansion was an effort to exert the power of the federal government, President Andrew Jackson vetoed the re-charter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1832. The backlash led to the creation of a two-party political structure, the Democratic Party and the Whig Party.

Andrew Jackson

Democratic President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) and his followers believed in the voice of the common man and mobility of the culturally diverse, even though Jackson was responsible for the removal of native Americans via the Trail of Tears. They supported small, rural, un-intrusive state government, the same government that perpetuated slavery in the South. The Democrats upheld slavery and wanted it expanded with the acquisition of new territory.

The Whigs (or Patriots) upheld the values of native-born Protestants. They were the voice of education, social reform, temperance, and abolition. Whigs believed in the power of Congress and a strong federal government, federal bank, and protective tariff. They were the industrialists that perpetuated modernized infrastructure. They believed slavery was morally wrong and a (socially and economically) backwards institution. Whig member Abraham Lincoln compared slavery to a cancer that needed to be purged.

220px-James_Polk_restoredFulfilling his Manifest Destiny of 1845, President James K. Polk (1845-1849) garnered more land than any other American president. Starting with Texas, whom entered the U.S. as a slave state, the Jacksonian Polk waged Mexican war to supplement more land, which the Whigs opposed. As a result, a southern border was established and 500,000 sq. mi. of land annexed, including California. The British agreed to Polk’s acquisition of Oregon Territory which also expanded the U.S. east to the Rockies. Abolitionists viewed the expansion nothing more than a Democrats’ conspiracy to extend slavery. In 1846, Pennsylvania Congressman Wilmot Proviso attempted unsuccessfully to propose a ban to slavery expansion. Neutrality laws were greatly debated. Some southern states threatened to secede until the establishment of the Compromise of 1850, another congressional “solution” allowing states upon admission to choose by popular vote.

The Compromise upheld until the discovery of gold in the state of California hastened westward travel through midland America, specifically Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory to the north. These territories began to populate as the nation proposed expansion of the railroad, connecting east to the west. To find favor with Southern legislature, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois proposed dividing these territories, essentially overturning the 36° 30’ resolution. When it passed on May 20, 1854, the backlash shattered the Whig Party. As a result, the yet-to-organize Kansas formed two territorial governments and became the battleground for pro-slavery and free-soil sentiment. Once a platform for debate, the murder of a free-soil Kansas settler by a slavery supporter sparked a chain of violent events. In 1856, a pro-slavery mob invaded the town of Lawrence, Kansas, destroying businesses and burning the home of the free-soil governor. Two days later, Abolitionist John Brown led four of his sons to a pro-slavery settlement at Pottawatomie, Kansas. The men brutally dragged and beat 5 men to their death. The violence continued until its eventual “free” statehood admittance in 1861, thus coined the name “Bleeding Kansas.”

“Bleeding Kansas” instigated more violence that erupted the next few years in the name of slavery. In 1856, Massachusetts Senator was brutally beaten with a cane in the Senate Chamber after delivering his “Crime Against Kansas” speech. John Brown’s violence against slavery continued in 1856 at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. A 36-hour standoff led to his capture and subsequent hanging, sending fear and outrage throughout the South. Southern Democrats, now weakened, looked to the government for protection from other violence. Without strength, they cannot protect slavery. Some feared the institution of slavery may be nearing its end.

Bleeding Kansas

With an impending election in 1860, several smaller parties such as the Free-Soil Party, the Know-Nothings, Nativists, and the American Party, united to form a strong Republican Party endorsing anti-slavery campaigns. A young Whig-turned Republican Abraham Lincoln surfaced as a viable candidate. Lincoln felt if the Constitution made no reference to slave ownership and the Constitution applied to every state, then America cannot continue to be ½ slave and ½ free. If a white person is allowed the opportunity to better himself, so should the black man. His rhetoric would continue through the 1858 debates. His integrity, moderation, and commitment to Republican ideology would win him the nomination and subsequent presidential victory.

The election of 1860 is considered a milestone in American politics. There was much fascination and excitement. The media uncovered a smear campaign full of character assassination, scandal,and, abuse of power. Yet the overwhelming issue led to a serious struggle and all-out war between two bi-partisan groups. Exactly 150 years later and another election on the horizon, character assassinations, scandal, and abuse of power still ring throughout bi-partisan groups as they work to deliver a better America. The struggle remains as the forum has changed in what some have called the new “Age of Impeachment,” leaving many to wonder if there ever will be unity. Maybe it is the struggle that keeps us in-check and makes our America so great.

1860 United States presidential election
1860 United States presidential election

John Brown, Abolitionist

Deeply rooted in Christianity, Abolitionists generally promoted nonviolence in their pursuit to end slavery. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, some turned to civil disobedience to invoke awareness and social change.

A middle-aged Abolitionist named John Brown was quite certain slavery would never end without bloodshed that it prompted him to stage two infamous antislavery crusades, the Pottawatomie Massacre and the standoff at Harper’s Ferry.

John Brown’s actions caused great panic and fear throughout the South, it elevated him to martyrdom via antislavery sympathizers as Brown gave the ultimate sacrifice, and intolerance to our leaders. Whether a terrorist on a suicidal mission or a religious fanatic on a mission from God, John Brown was captured and found guilty of treason. Whatever slavery may be to our Republic, it did not excuse anyone to commit violence, murder, and most importantly, treason. John Brown’s actions further intensified tensions between the North and the South.

American Civil War: Fugitive Slave Law

I am currently taking a history course, HIST 335-50 Rebirth of Freedom: The Civil War and Reconstruction, at Metropolitan State University. We are learning more of the political, social, and cultural conflicts over the institution of slavery and how it assisted in the outbreak of Civil War. I find the study of American history fascinating, especially when I see how far we’ve progressed in human rights in regards to race, gender, and religion. Yet, there still is much more work to be done. This first post is about Fugitive Slave Law, I hope you enjoy it!

Southern farmers of the nineteenth century achieved agricultural superiority in fertile land, ideal climate, and the purchase of slave labor imported from Africa. They grew and harvested a variety of crops, mainly cotton, that resulted in a unique culture with enormous wealth and prosperity. This unique culture was so dependent upon agriculture for its survival that it sought ways to protect its interest, from advancements in machinery to the management of its slave labor force.

The life and treatment of slaves varied greatly throughout the South, forcing many slaves to run away from their homes. Owners utilized a variety of means to recuperate their “escaped” property, including cash rewards and the Congressional passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850.

The American Constitution bestowed upon its citizens the right to own property, but to own a human being was controversial and viewed by many Northerners and Abolitionists as an extreme violation of basic human rights, furthering ideological disparity between America’s North and South.

Exploring a few differences between Northern and Southern during the Civil War

Throughout the middle of the 19th century the United States was experiencing an era of great growth while a fundamental difference existed between Northern and Southern states. In the Spring of 1861, as tensions between the northern and southern states reached a breaking point with the election of anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln as President which cause the first states to secede from the Union, forming “The Confederate States of America”.

The Confederate attack on fall of Fort Sumter triggered the war of the Union and a wave of patriotic bluster on both sides, yet neither side was ready to wage war. Newspaper editors and politicians on both sides pressured the general to strike quickly, many southerners argued that the civil was not about slavery but the south’s effort to defend state’s rights and those who had elected President Lincoln who stressed repeatedly, if the southern states return to the union, they could retain their slaves. Yet, none of the Confederate states accepted Lincoln’s offer, in larger part because most were convinced that he was lying.

Early in the War, the South was successful because of their confidence, organization, leadership, and a more militarist way of life. Many prestigious military academies at the time were situated in the South, where more people from the South went to these academies. They also had a major geographic and emotional advantage over the north fighting a war on their own territory in defense of their homeland.

Once the battle lines were drawn the Union held twenty-three states, including four states along the northern and southern border, verse the Confederacy’s eleven states. The North had more resources available than the South and already established government with a population of 22 million people against the 9 million of the South. Initially both sides had quite different goals. The Confederacy sought to convince the Union and the world to recognize its independence, whereas the Union was fighting to restore the Union; the issue of slavery was not yet a front issue.

Confederate Strategy

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was better prepared than Lincoln at the start of the war to guide military strategy. If the war could be prolonged, as Davis and other hoped, influence in the public sentiment in the North might force Lincoln to seek a negotiated settlement. Also, the British or French, desperate for southern cotton, might be persuaded to join their cause. Confederate diplomats were seeking military and financial assistance in London and Paris, while Confederate sympathizers in the North and congress were urging an end to the Union’s war effort.


General Lee’s campaign into the North in 1862 [Antietam] which lead to Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation.

In the summer of 1862 General Robert E. Lee decided to invade Maryland and force the Army of the Potomac and then commander McClellan to leave northern Virginia, thus relieving the pressure off the Confederate’s capital of Richmond. Jefferson Davis and General Lee planned to capture Maryland and separate it from the Union. If successful, this invasion would influence not only the upcoming election in the North but gain recognition of the Confederacy from the British and French to bring in desperately needed military supplies to his troops. If Union soldiers did not discover Lee’s battle plans, the Confederates might have won the battle.

On the first day of battle, the poorly coordinated Union army launched repeated attacks as hundreds of dead soldiers lying in piles. The next day, the Confederate army prepared for another Union army which never came. Under the cover of darkness, the battered Confederates slipped south and back to Virginia. Although the battle was a draw, Lee’s northern invasion had failed. Both sides displayed courage and bravery in what was said to be the “hardest fought battle of the war” by a Confederate general. President Lincoln was pleased that General Lee’s army was forced to retreat, but disgusted by McClellan’s failure to attack the retreating Confederates and possibly bring an end to the war. The Battle of Antietam had several important results which shaped the future of the war. Firstly, it had revived northern morale, dashed the Confederacy’s hopes of making alliances with the British and French, and convinced Lincoln to transform the war from restoring the Union to a crusade to end slavery by issuing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.


England or France seen as key for a Southern victory

Early on the Union’s navy blockade of the major southern parts sharply reduced the amount of cotton that could be exported to Britain & France, as well as the flow of goods imported from Europe. The British Empire remained officially neutral throughout the American Civil War. It recognized the status of Confederate States of America but never recognized it as a nation. The Confederate strategy for securing independence was based largely upon the hope of military intervention by Britain and France, which never happened, as it probably would have caused war with the US.  The French Empire remained officially neutral throughout the American Civil War and never recognized the Confederate States of America. The United States of America warned that recognition would mean war. France was reluctant to act without British collaboration, and the British rejected intervention.


The role slaves and former slaves play on both sides of the conflict

African-Americans served in the Civil War on both the Union and Confederate side. At the onset of the Civil War, free black men rushed to volunteer for service with the Union forces. However, Northern officers refused to believe black troops should fight, and so they were often assigned to non-combat duties or placed in the rear guarding railroads and bridges. President Lincoln feared that accepting black men into the military would cause border states like Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri to secede. The South refused to arm blacks but used them to build fortifications and perform camp duties.

The type of peace foreseen by Lincoln between North and South, yet shattered upon his assassination

Lincoln’s delivered his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, during the final days of the Civil War. While it was apparent that the North was winning, Lincoln’s Second Address did not pass judgement. Rather, Lincoln asked that the war end and the North and South reconcile, reconstruction take place by healing the wounds caused by the war and reuniting as one nation. Unfortunately, Lincoln was killed on April 14th,1865. His death left Andrew Jackson, a former slave owner, president who lacked the rapport and strong leadership of Lincoln. At that time, Congress was controlled by “Radical Republicans” who used reconstruction against the South to “teach them a lesson” and passed numerous laws to restrict the rights of black citizens, the notorious “Black Codes” of the South, laws that would continue another century until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.