Why did the War Began

The American Civil War of 1861-1865 was a conflict between the Northern and Southern citizens brought about by sharp differences on political and economic issues between the two sections. In the North it was known to the generation that fought it as the War of the Rebellion, this indicating the official view that it was a revolt against the government of the United States. This term has been falling into disuse as the study of Southern grievances and Northern inflexibility has made the southern position better understood. Southern historians began calling it the War Between the States, thus emphasizing the Southern contention that the Constitution of the United States was a contract between the states, from which a sovereign state could withdraw. But although regiments were recruited by states and carried state insignia, the war was conducted by two federal regimes- the United States of America and the Confederate States of America, the latter dominating the military and economic life of the South, despite the protest of such states as Georgia and South Carolina.

Main causes of the War

The actual causes of the war extended far back in the history of the Republic and resulted from an accentuation of the sectional grievances not resolved in nearly half a century of negotiation. The two major issues that brought on the war were the fight over state rights (or states’ rights), which involved the the right of secession from the Union of the states under the Constitution, and the extension of slavery to new states and territories.

The election of Abraham Lincoln

The immediate provocation for secession of the states, which led to the war, was the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States in the fall of 1860, on a platform which denied the extension of slavery to new states and territories. By this time the controversy over slavery had become so intense, tempers were so inflamed, and extremists were so uncompromising that the basis for peaceful adjustment of differences was lost. South Carolina precipitated a break when, in a conversation at Charleston, December 20, 1860, it adopted an ordinance secession, repealing its 1788 ratification of the Constitution of the United States, and its governor proclaimed the act in effect on December 24, 1860.

Opening of hostilities

April 12, 1861, is the date designated as the opening of hostilities, because the first gun was fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor on that day, and April 26, 1865, is called the end of the war, because the last major opposition, that of Lieutenant General Joseph E. Johnson, ended on that day. There were, however, numerous overt acts before the attack on Fort Sumpter, and there were capitulations by minor organizations and commanders after April 26, 1865.

Participants in the Civil War

The Civil War was fought by civilians hastily recruited in large numbers and commanded by officers who had been trained in both the regular army and the state militia. Many of the high-ranking commanders on both sides were graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point and as young men had served in the Mexican War. The number of men that who served in the Federal armies was reported by the Commissioner of Pensions in 1903 as 2,213,363. The number of enlistments, based on the reports of the Provost Marshal General, was 2,898,304; this was believed to include  militia and short-term men, not all of whom were mustered into the United States Army, as well as re-enlistments. Of the first figure, 84,415 served in the Navy. The number in the ranks of the Confederate armies cannot be stated exactly because of lack of detailed records; informal estimates run from 600,000 to 900,000, where as the exhaustive study of all sources by Thomas L. Livermore in Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America (1900;reissue 1957) placed the total well over 1,000,000. The total number of deaths on the Union side is given officially as 364,501; on the Confederate side the estimate, in the absence of complete reports, is 133,821. These numbers  represent soldiers killed in battle or dying from wounds received in battle, but they do not take into account the many premature deaths, in the decades after the war, that were legacies of exposure and disease suffered while the men were under arms.