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Americans and the Civil War - History

Americans and the Civil War - History


How Did The Civil War Shaped America Today

American Civil War changed and shaped America back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but little do we know it still has a lasting effect on us today. The Civil War was so devastating back in the 1860s that it helped to develop many new technologies, ideals, and culture. Some of the effects still hang on around us today, and may even influence your everyday life without you even knowing it. On December 20, 1860 the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, United States of America, to form


African-Americans In the Union Army

At the onset of the Civil War, free black men rushed to volunteer for service with the Union forces. Although African Americans had served in the army and navy during the American Revolution and in the War of 1812 (few, if any served in the Mexican War), they were not permitted to enlist because of a 1792 law that barred them from bearing arms in the U.S. Army. President Abraham Lincoln also feared that accepting black men into the military would cause border states like Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri to secede.

Free black men were finally permitted to enlist late in 1862, following the passage of the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, which freed slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army, and Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. By May 1863, the Bureau of Colored Troops was established to manage black enlistees. Recruitment was low until active efforts were made to enlist black volunteers&mdashleaders like Frederick Douglass encouraged free black men to volunteer as a way to ensure eventual full citizenship.


First Shots: Fort Sumter & First Bull Run

Civil War Photos / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

On April 12, 1861, the war began when Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor forcing its surrender. In response to the attack, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. While Northern states responded quickly, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas refused, opting to join the Confederacy instead. In July, Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell began marching south to take the rebel capital of Richmond. On the 21st, they met a Confederate army near Manassas and were defeated.


African Americans and the Civil War

While slavery was the major issue separating the North and South, it was not slavery itself that sparked the conflict. The South wanted to secede from the Union, and the North refused. While President Abraham Lincoln personally opposed slavery, he recognized that it was legal under the U.S. Constitution at the time. He also recognized that few in the North were ready to go to war to free the slaves. For Lincoln and the northern majority, preservation of the Union was the foremost goal.

Freed Slaves during the Civil War

The "Negro question," as it was called, became an important issue early in the conflict. Most slaves were in fact "liberated" when the Union Army eliminated the local southern forces that kept them in slavery. They simply left their plantations to seek their freedom under the protection of northern military units. Union commanders had to decide how to deal with them. Early in the fighting in border states, slaves were sometimes returned to their masters in the hope of encouraging support for the Union.

However, as more and more slaves walked to freedom, the army made provisions to use them as a resource. The army hired many to work in non-military roles — cooks, wagon drivers, blacksmiths, laundresses — but until later in the conflict, racial prejudice prevented arming former slaves and allowing to fight. As the war progressed, however, African Americans could sign up for combat units. By the end of the Civil War, some 179,000 African-American men served in the Union army, equal to 10 percent of the entire force. Of these, 40,000 African-American soldiers died, including 30,000 of infection or disease.

The Confederate armies did not treat captured African-American soldiers under the normal "Prisoner of War" rules. At Fort Pillow, Tennessee, there are claims that 300 African-American Union soldiers were massacred after they surrendered when they were badly outmatched by southern forces. This led President Lincoln to warn the South that the North would not participate in prisoner exchanges that were common wartime practice unless all Union soldiers of whatever race were treated by POW rules.

Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freeing all slaves in territories controlled by Union armies. He justified the program under his wartime powers declaring that slaves contributed substantially to the support of the Confederacy. Eliminating slave labor, the Proclamation reasoned, would severely undercut the southern rebellion.

At the close of the war, it was obvious that slavery was over. Most African Americans had walked away from their bondage, and there was no sentiment in the North to reward southern slaveholders with the return of their slaves. The new debate was about status of African Americans in American society. The radical wing of the Republican Party pushed the federal government to keep troops in the South to insure African-American rights, including suffrage. Congress proposed three constitutional amendments that would promote African-American equality. The 13th Amendment forbade slavery. The 14th Amendment required all states to abide by due process for all citizens, and the 15th Amendment denied states the right to impose voting restrictions based on race or previous condition or servitude (slavery). The government and private organizations sponsored schools to teach African-American children and trade schools for adults.

However, in 1876, a stand-off in the presidential election created a constitutional crisis. As a compromise, Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican, became president but federal troops were withdrawn from Confederate states. This opened the way for white majorities in these states to reimpose laws that discriminated against African Americans. In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld a law that allowed states to create "separate but equal" schools and other institutions based on race, and segregation tightened its grip on the American South.


The US American Civil War was the greatest war in American history. 3 million fought - 600,000 paid the ultimate price for freedom. And a war for freedom it was. The desire for freedom traveled deeper than the color of skin and farther than the borders of any state.

There are hundreds of thousands of pages of information available through this site. Peruse the Official Record of the war, check out the Battle Map, or view the largest collection of Civil War photos available online.

"The troops. were chiefly volunteers, who went to the field to uphold the system of free government established by their fathers and which they mean to bequeath to their children."
--Official Record (Union Letters, Orders, Reports)

". I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation may be on the Lord's side."

The first general order issued by the Father of his Country after the Declaration of Independence indicates the spirit in which our institutions were founded and should ever be defended: "The general hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country."

"We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for Independence, and that, or extermination"
-- Jefferson Davis

""If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms."
-- Samuel Adams

"What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?"
-- Patrick Henry


Mexican Americans Fought on Both Sides of the U.S. Civil War

Mexican-American soldiers fighting off a Union General at the Battle of Valverde in 1862.

Interim Archives/Getty Images

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, there were tens of thousands of Mexican Americans living in California, Texas and the New Mexico territory all former parts of Mexico that the U.S. had claimed in the 1840s. With the wounds of the Mexican-American War fresh, these Mexican Americans now found themselves in the middle of the United States’ war with itself.

At first tejanos, aka Mexican Americans in Texas, “tried to avoid declaring support for either side,” writes Sonia Hernandez, a professor of history and Latino/a and Mexican American studies at Texas A&M University, in an email.

“Some outright avoided joining either side because tejanos were accused of disloyalty even before the war officially broke out,” she writes. “Tejanos could avoid conscription by claiming Mexican citizenship and some were in fact Mexican citizens. Still others, overwhelmed with the growing divide, chose sides.”

A map detailing the parts of Mexico that were claimed by the United States, including present-day Texas, New Mexico, and California.

DEA/G. Dagli Orti/De Agostini/Getty Images

Jerry D. Thompson, a history professor at Texas A&M International University, estimates that a few thousand Mexican Americans joined the Confederate troops and over 10,000 joined the Union Army and Militia. Though there was some overlap, most Mexican Americans who joined the Union lived in the U.S. territory of New Mexico or the state of California, while most who joined the Confederacy lived in Texas, one of the states that seceded. At least 2,500 tejanos joined the Confederate Army.

Mexico had banned slavery in 1829, several years after it won its independence from Spain, and some Mexican-Americans may have joined the Union because they opposed U.S. slavery. “There is some evidence that there was a mini underground railroad here in south Texas that was largely fueled by tejanos, usually poor tejanos, who would help runaway slaves escape into Mexico,” says Thompson. “We know there were thousands of runaway slaves in Mexico.”

At the same time, there were wealthy Mexican Americans who owned slaves and those whose income depended on the slave trade. “You also had well-to-do individuals like Colonel Santos Benavides here in Laredo who actually became the highest ranking tejano officer in the Confederate Army,” says Thompson. “There are instances of him acting as a slave catcher, where he’s actually going into Mexico and retrieving these runaway slaves and returning them to their masters, for which he was compensated.”

The desertion rate among Mexican American Civil War soldiers was high, mostly because of the prejudice they experienced from white soldiers on both sides, according to the National Park Service. There was even one tejano captain, Adrián J. Vidal, who joined the Confederacy, deserted for the Union, then deserted again to fight against the French imperialists in Mexico who supported the Confederacy.

There were other reasons Mexican Americans may have wanted to join the Union. In the early 1840s, the white-run Republic of Texas had invaded New Mexico, then still part of Mexico, in an attempt to seize more land, so there was 𠇊 deep resentment in New Mexico of Texans,” Thompson says. The vast majority of Mexican Americans in the New Mexico territory who entered the war fought for the Union, which promised a bounty of up to $300 for soldiers.

In contrast, “the Civil War deeply divided the Mexican Americans of Texas,” Thompson writes for the Texas State Historical Association. Tejanos who joined the state’s Confederate militia units 𠇏requently did so out of a fear of being sent out of the state and away from their families. Some were able to avoid conscription by claiming to be residents of Mexico.”

In Texas, tejanos who resented white Texans for taking away their land may have joined the Union in retaliation, Hernandez suggests. “Others simply wanted to remain in the area and it was easier if they supported the Union, to stay and protect their communities as opposed to being sent to other parts of the South,” she writes.

Mexican Americans who joined the Confederacy fought as far away as Virginia and Pennsylvania. But Mexican American soldiers in the Union fought closer to home, and helped secure key victories in the southwest. 


The cost and significance of the Civil War

Above and beyond its superior naval forces, numbers, and industrial and financial resources, the triumph of the North was partly due to the statesmanship of Lincoln, who by 1864 had become a masterful political and war leader, as well as to the increasing skill of Federal officers. The victory can also be attributed in part to failures of Confederate transportation, matériel, and political leadership, despite the strategic and tactical dexterity of such generals as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Joseph E. Johnston.

While desertions plagued both sides, the personal valour and the enormous casualties—both in absolute numbers and in percentage of numbers engaged—have not yet ceased to astound scholars and military historians. On the basis of the three-year standard of enlistment, about 1,556,000 soldiers served in the Federal armies, and about 800,000 men probably served in the Confederate forces, though spotty records make it impossible to know for sure. Traditionally, historians have put war deaths at about 360,000 for the Union and 260,000 for the Confederates. In the second decade of the 21st century, however, a demographer used better data and more sophisticated tools to convincingly revise the total death toll upward to 752,000 and indicated that it could be as high as 851,000.

The enormous death rate—roughly 2 percent of the 1860 population of the U.S. died in the war—had an enormous impact on American society. Americans were deeply religious, and they struggled to understand how a benevolent God could allow such destruction to go on for so long. Understanding of the nature of the afterlife shifted as Americans, North and South, comforted themselves with the notion that heaven looked like their front parlors. A new mode of dealing with corpses emerged with the advent of embalming, an expensive method of preservation that helped wealthier families to bring their dead sons, brothers, or fathers home. Finally, a network of federal military cemeteries (and private Confederate cemeteries) grew out of the need to bury the men in uniform who had succumbed to wounds or disease.

Some have called the American Civil War the last of the old-fashioned wars others have termed it the first modern war. Actually, it was a transitional war, and it had a profound impact, technologically, on the development of modern weapons and techniques. There were many innovations. It was the first war in history in which ironclad warships clashed the first in which the telegraph and railroad played significant roles the first to use, extensively, rifled ordnance and shell guns and to introduce a machine gun (the Gatling gun) the first to have widespread newspaper coverage, voting by servicemen in the field in national elections, and photographic recordings the first to organize medical care of troops systematically and the first to use land and water mines and to employ a submarine that could sink a warship. It was also the first war in which armies widely employed aerial reconnaissance (by means of balloons).

The Civil War has been written about as few other wars in history have. More than 60,000 books and countless articles give eloquent testimony to the accuracy of poet Walt Whitman’s prediction that “a great literature will…arise out of the era of those four years.” The events of the war left a rich heritage for future generations, and that legacy was summed up by the martyred Lincoln as showing that the reunited sections of the United States constituted “the last best hope of earth.”


7. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman was originally demoted for insanity.

Sherman was a businessman, teacher, and author who became a decorated hero of the war despite his brutality against the Confederate Army and its civilians. He led the Union to victory at several battles, which contributed to Lincoln’s reelection.

In October 1861, however, he requested 260,000 men from US Secretary of War, Simon Cameron. Cameron deemed the request insane and ordered Sherman removed from command. In February 1862, Sherman was reassigned to serve under General Ulysses S. Grant at Paducah, Kentucky. The general recognized Sherman’s skill, and the rest is history.


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American Civil War

On Christmas Day 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation about a coming conflict between the Northern and Southern United States over the question of slavery. The war would begin, the Lord declared, in South Carolina, and it would eventually lead to warfare among “all nations.” 1 At that time, a crisis had arisen over South Carolina’s refusal to honor recent federal tariffs, and many Americans worried that the situation could intensify into a civil war. The government averted civil war at that time, but tensions persisted, and the social, political, and economic divide deepened between the Northern and Southern United States over the question of slavery.

During the 1860 presidential election, politicians and voters in the deep Southern states viewed Abraham Lincoln’s candidacy as a threat to the institution of slavery. When Lincoln won the election, some Southern states immediately began forming the Confederacy with intentions of declaring their independence from the Union. After Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861, tensions erupted into armed conflict in a standoff at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, between a Confederate brigade and U.S. Army soldiers. Lincoln directed troops to suppress the rebellion, and the remaining states began to side with either the Confederacy or the United States. European nations observed the onset of this war with interest and opened diplomatic channels with both the North and the South. The Confederacy soon launched military offensives against the United States, and battles multiplied across a front separating the North and the South. 2

Latter-day Saints were continuing to heed the prophetic call to gather to and build Zion in the American West and thereby largely avoided the conflict. Some branches remained in areas caught in the war, bringing a few Saints into both sides of the conflict. In 1861 Brigham Young sent some Church members on a mission to launch a cotton industry near St. George, Utah. The mission became an important supplier of cotton to the Union after the Confederacy placed a blockade on the commodity. 3 As the war progressed, Lincoln called upon Young to raise volunteer army units to protect against raids on postal deliveries and telegraph systems out west. In response, Young assigned Lot Smith to command a regiment that patrolled for the remainder of the war, earning Smith a citation of distinction for his service.

The surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Virginia in April 1865 effectively ended the Civil War. The war ultimately cost the United States over 700,000 lives, the most in any conflict in American history. 4 The major outcome of the war was the end of legalized slavery and the emancipation of African American slaves. 5

Jed Woodworth, “Peace and War: D&C 87,” in Matthew McBride and James Goldberg, eds., Revelations in Context: The Stories behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016), 158–64.

The following publications provide further information about this topic. By referring or linking you to these resources, we do not endorse or guarantee the content or the views of the authors.

Kenneth L. Alford, ed., Civil War Saints (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 2012).

David F. Boone, “The Church and the Civil War,” in Robert C. Freeman, ed., Nineteenth-Century Saints at War (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 2006), 113–39.


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