PROBLEMS WITH THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR: 1861–1862
After Union troops at Fort Sumter were fired upon and forced to surrender in April 1861, Lincoln called on governors of every state to send detachments totaling 75,000 troops to recapture forts, protect the capital, and "preserve the Union", which in his view still existed intact despite the actions of the seceding states. Virginia, which had repeatedly warned Lincoln it would not allow an invasion of its territory or join an attack on another state, then seceded, along with North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Nevins argues that Lincoln made Four Serious Mistakes at this point.
The slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware did not secede, and Lincoln urgently negotiated with state leaders there, promising not to interfere with slavery in loyal states. After the fighting started, he had rebel leaders arrested in all the border areas and held in military prisons without trial; over 18,000 were arrested. None was executed; one — Clement Vallandigham — was exiled; all were released, usually after two or three months
Long-building tensions between the Northern and Southern States over slavery suddenly reached a climax after the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln of the new anti-slavery Republican Party as U.S. President. Southern states seceded from the U.S. and formed a separate Confederacy. Within the Confederate states, many U.S. forts with garrisons still loyal to the Union were cut off. Fighting started in 1861 when Fort Sumter was fired upon.
The American Civil War caught both sides unprepared. Neither the North's small standing army nor the South's scattered state militias were capable of winning a civil war. Both sides raced to raise armies—larger than any U.S. forces before—first with repeated calls for volunteers, but eventually resorting to unpopular large-scale conscription for the first time in U.S. history.
The North initially sought a quick victory by trying to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia, not far from the U.S. capital at Washington, D.C. The South hoped to win by getting Britain and France to intervene, or else by exhausting the North's willingness to fight. The Confederates under General Robert E. Lee skillfully and tenaciously defended their capital until the very end, while the North struggled to find any general to match.
As the fighting between the two capitals stalled, the North found more success in campaigns elsewhere, using rivers, railroads, and the seas to help move and supply their larger forces, putting a stranglehold on the South—the Anaconda Plan. The war spilled across the continent, and even to the high seas. After four years of appallingly bloody conflict, with more casualties than all other U.S. wars combined, the North's larger population and industrial might slowly ground the South down. The resources and economy of the South were ruined, while the North's factories and economy prospered filling government wartime contracts.
National Geographic Historical Poster
THE FIRST MODERN WAR
The American Civil War is sometimes called the "first modern war" due to the mobilization and destruction of the civilian base—total war—and due to by many technical military innovations involving railroads, telegraphs, rifles, trench warfare, and ironclad warships with turret guns.
As the first seven states began organizing a Confederacy in Montgomery, the entire U.S. army numbered 16,000. However, Northern governors had begun to mobilize their militias. The Confederate Congress authorized the new nation up to 100,000 troops sent by governors as early as February. By May, Jefferson Davis was pushing for 100,000 men under arms for one year or the duration, and that was answered in kind by the U.S. Congress.
In the first year of the war, both sides had far more volunteers than they could effectively train and equip. After the initial enthusiasm faded, reliance on the cohort of young men who came of age every year and wanted to join was not enough. Both sides used a draft law—conscription—as a device to encourage or force volunteering; relatively few were drafted and served. The Confederacy passed a draft law in April 1862 for young men aged 18 to 35; overseers of slaves, government officials, and clergymen were exempt. The U.S. Congress followed in July, authorizing a militia draft within a state when it could not meet its quota with volunteers. European immigrants joined the Union Army in large numbers, including 177,000
born in Germany and 144,000 born in Ireland. In the Union army, over 179,000 African American men served in over 160 units, as well as more serving in the Navy and in support positions.
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