In the spring of 1861, decades of simmering tensions between the northern and southern United States over issues including states' rights versus federal authority, westward expansion and slavery exploded into the American Civil War (1861-65). The election of the anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860 caused seven southern states to secede from the Union to form the Confederate States of America; four more joined them after the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
The name Civil War is misleading because the war was not a class struggle, but a sectional combat having its roots in political, economic, social, and psychological elements so complex that historians still do not agree on its basic causes. It has been characterized, in the words of William H. Seward, as the “irrepressible conflict.” In another judgment the Civil War was viewed as criminally stupid, an unnecessary bloodletting brought on by arrogant extremists and blundering politicians. Both views accept the fact that in 1861 there existed a situation that, rightly or wrongly, had come to be regarded as insoluble by peaceful means.
In the days of the American Revolution and of the adoption of the Constitution, differences between North and South were dwarfed by their common interest in establishing a new nation. But sectionalism steadily grew stronger. During the 19th cent. the South remained almost completely agricultural, with an economy and a social order largely founded on slavery and the plantation system. These mutually dependent institutions produced the staples, especially cotton, from which the South derived its wealth. The North had its own great agricultural resources, was always more advanced commercially, and was also expanding industrially.
The top men on either side of the Fort Sumter standoff that set off the Civil War were old friends and colleagues: the attack was led by Confederate General P. T. Beauregard, who was firing on General Robert Anderson, his old West Point instructor, for whom he had served for a time as teaching assistant.
General Stonewall Jackson walked around with his right hand in the air to balance the blood flow in his body. He thought that because he was right-handed his left hand didn’t get as much blood as his right. So, by raising his right hand, it would allow the excess blood to run into his left.
Armies were the largest of the "operational organizations." In the case of the Federal forces, these generally took their name from their department. "The Federals followed a general policy of naming their armies for the rivers near which they operated; the Confederates named theirs from the states or regions in which they were active. Thus, the Federals had an Army of the Tennessee -not to be confused with the Confederate Army of Tennessee."
The chance of surviving a wound in the Civil War was 7 to 1. In comparison, the chance of surviving a wound in the Korean war was 50 to 1.
America’s largest maritime disaster took place during the Civil War; more were killed than on the Titanic. All were recently freed prisoners of war (POWs) coming home onboard the S.S. Sultana steamship that exploded on the flooded Mississippi River in April, 1865.
For Americans broadly, the Civil War has been a defining event upon which we have often imposed unity and continuity; as a culture, we have often preferred its music and pathos to its enduring challenges, the theme of reconciled conflict to resurgent, unresolved legacies. The greatest enthusiasts for Civil War history and memory often displace complicated consequences by endlessly focusing on the contest itself.
In the half century after the war, as the sections reconciled, by and large, the races divided. The intersectional wedding that became such a staple of mainstream popular culture, especially in the plantation school of literature, had no interracial counterpart in the popular imagination.