Civil War: Causes, Consequences And Characters

The Civil War or American Civil War was a long and bloody armed conflict in the United States that lasted four years. Eleven southern states, which made up the Confederate States of America, clashed with the federal government and the rest of the Union states between 1861 and 1865.

It is estimated that this war, recently also called the War between the States, caused the deaths of more than a million people. In addition to the heavy losses of human life among soldiers and civilians, there was a great loss of property and millionaire economic damage to the nation.

The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861 and ended on April 9, 1865. Its causes are often attributed only to differences between states that supported or were against slavery.

However, while this was one of the primary reasons, there were other political, social and cultural reasons that led to it. The American Civil War meant a bloody confrontation between two types of society with opposing economic and political interests.

The South American way of life, based on racial segregation and slave production relations, was diametrically different from that of the North. The northern states did not depend on slavery or the agricultural economy based on slave labor because they relied on immigrant labor.


The American Civil War originated from various causes. The tensions and disagreements between the northern and southern states went back a long time.

Diverse economic and political interests, together with conflicting and accumulated cultural values for more than a century, led to the armed conflict. The following are the most important causes of war:


After the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and its ratification in 1789, slavery continued to be legal in the thirteen English colonies of America. Production relations based on slave labor continued to play a dominant role in the economies and societies of the southern states.

The establishment of slavery and its consolidation as an institution nurtured feelings of white supremacy among the colonists and their descendants. African blacks were deprived of rights. Even after the Constitution was passed, very few blacks were allowed to vote or own property.

However, in the northern states the abolitionist movement grew, leading to abandonment of slavery. Unlike the southern states, the Northerners received cheap labor from European immigrants, making slavery unnecessary. In contrast, for the south, slave labor on the plantations was essential.

The wealthy southern ranchers were unwilling to give up the wealth generated by profitable cotton plantations. After the cotton gin was invented in the late 18th century, demand for the product grew in America and Europe.

Consequently, the demand for slave labor from the south also grew. At the beginning of the civil war some 4 million slaves worked on plantation estates in the South.

Differences between north and south

The south depended exclusively on agriculture while the north had a more diversified economy, combining agriculture and industry. In fact, the northern states bought cotton from the southern states to make textiles and other products.

For this reason, the North did not have the constraints of slave labor because it preferred European immigrants. These stark economic differences also led to the creation of irreconcilable social and political views.

Immigrants from the north came from countries where slavery had been abolished and espoused egalitarian and liberal ideas. Additionally, immigrant families lived and worked together.

The southern social order was based entirely on the segregation of blacks, who were considered an inferior race. White supremacy encompassed all aspects of everyday life and politics. The slave owners behaved like true kings within their respective estates.

The social and cultural differences between the North and the South around the issue of slavery also had a significant influence on political thought. The federal powers that were based in the north were influenced by the abolitionist movement. Such influence created the need to control the culture and economy of the southern states.

States against federal rights

This was another point of contention between the north and the south. Since the so-called American Revolution there have been two points of view regarding the role of government.

There were the defenders of a federal government with greater powers and control over the states, as well as those who demanded that the states have more rights.

The organization of the first American government was governed by the Articles of Confederation . The United States was made up of thirteen states run by a weak federal government. Such weaknesses of the federal state were later amended by the Philadelphia Constituent Convention, in 1787.

Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were not present at the Constitutional Convention that wrote the Constitution of the United States. Both were strong defenders of the right of states to decide whether or not to accept certain federal acts.

The disagreements that arose with the constitutional text led to serious discrepancies and the idea of ​​annulling the acts gained ground.

However, the federal government opposed and denied this right; thus the secessionist sentiment was harbored in the states that felt that their rights were not respected.

Slave and non-slave states

With the Louisiana Purchase and later, as a result of the Mexican War, new states were incorporated into the United States.

The dilemma then arose as to whether to declare them states with slavery or not. First the free states were proposed and that the slaves admitted by the Union had equal numbers, but this did not work.

Later, in the Compromise of Missouri (1820), slavery was prohibited in the western territories located north of parallel 36º 30 ′. The agreement excluded the state of Missouri and allowed slavery to the south in the territory of Arkansas.

This solution, which attempted to strike a balance, did not resolve the differences on this point. Clashes between abolitionists and slaveholders continued in the states and in heated debates in the Senate.

The abolitionist movement

This movement won much sympathy in the northern states, where opinion against slavery and slaveholders grew dragging politics. In the north, slavery came to be considered socially unjust and morally wrong.

Some influential abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, demanded the immediate freedom of all slaves. Others like Theodore Weld and Arthur Tappan were of the opinion that the emancipation of the slaves should be progressive.

Many others, like Abraham Lincoln himself, hoped that at least slavery would not spread further.

The abolitionist movement had the support of the literature and the intelligentsia of the time, but in some states like Kansas and Virginia the anti-slavers came to use violence in favor of the abolition of slavery. Two cases were emblematic in this regard: the Pottawatomie Massacre in 1856 and the attack on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

Political division of the country

Slavery became the main theme of American politics. Within the Democratic Party there were factions that supported one or the other side. Within the Whigs (which became the Republican Party), support for the anti-slavery movement gained much traction.

Republicans were seen not only as abolitionists, but as modernizers of the American economy; they were the faithful supporters of industrialization and the educational advancement of the country. In the South the Republicans did not have the same sympathy between the ruling class and the white population.

In the midst of this political turbulence, in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States on behalf of the Republican Party.

These elections were decisive regarding the Secession. Northern Democrats were represented by Stephen Douglas and Southern Democrats by John C. Breckenridge.

John C. Bell appeared for the Constitutional Union Party. This last party was in favor of maintaining the Union and avoiding secession at all costs. The division of the country became clear with the result of the elections of 1860.

Election of Abraham Lincoln

As expected, Lincoln won in the northern states, John C. Breckenridge won in the south, and Bell was favored in the border states. Stephen Douglas could only win Missouri and a part of New Jersey. However, Lincoln won the popular vote and 180 electoral votes.

South Carolina opposed the election of Lincoln, as they considered him to be anti-slavery and only defending the interests of the North. This state issued the Declaration of the Causes of Secession  on December 24, 1860, and tensions were mounting.

President Buchanan made little effort to avoid the climate of tension and avoid the so-called “Winter Secession.” After the elections and Lincoln’s inauguration in March, seven states decided to secede from the Union. These states were: South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama.

Immediately the south seized federal property, between these forts and weapons, preparing for the inevitable war. Even a quarter of the federal army, under the command of General David E. Twigg, surrendered in Texas without firing a single shot.


The Civil War broke out in the early morning of April 12, 1861, when the southern rebel army opened fire on Fort Sumter, located at the entrance to the port of Charleston in South Carolina. However, in this first confrontation there were no casualties.

After a 34-hour bombardment of the fort, the Unionist battalion – made up of 85 soldiers under the command of Army Major Robert Anderson – surrendered.

Anderson had been specifically instructed not to attack or provoke war, but on the other hand, he was outnumbered by the 5,500 Confederate troops besieging him.

Within weeks of hostilities, four other southern states (Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina) left the Union and joined the Confederacy.

Faced with the imminence of a protracted war, President Abraham Lincoln enlisted 75,000 civilian militiamen to serve for three months.

Blockade of the Confederates

Lincoln led a naval blockade to the Confederate states, but clarified that these states were not legally recognized as a sovereign country, but were considered states in rebellion.

Likewise, it ordered the Treasury to have 2 million dollars to finance the incorporation of troops and suspended the appeal for military habeas corpus throughout the country.

From 100,000 soldiers the Confederate government had initially called up to serve for at least six months, the number rose to 400,000.

During the first two years of the Civil War the victories of the Confederate Army, led by General Robert E. Lee, were notable. They won the battles of Antietam and Bull Run (second battle), and later it was victorious also in Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

In these battles, the southern army humiliated the north by defeating it militarily and invading several of its states, but in 1863 the situation changed thanks to the military strategy drawn up at the beginning of the war by the Union government.

Anaconda Plan

This plan consisted of blocking the ports of the southern states to asphyxiate their economy and prevent the financing of the war. The south was unable to trade cotton with international markets, which was its main export product.

Cotton was grown on plantation estates where wealthy ranchers did not have to pay for labor because they used only slaves. The costs were minimal and the benefits were total.

Battle of Gettysburg

In early July 1863, while the southern army was invading some states of the Union, the battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) took place. There the Confederates were defeated during this bloody battle, in which the highest number of casualties of the entire war occurred.

Gettysburg marked a turning point in the Civil War. From that moment the unionists began their vast offensive until victory.

That same year other battles were fought between the states in dispute in this war that served to encourage the American war industry and modernize military strategies. Furthermore, it was the first war to receive press coverage, and it was one of the first conflicts in which trenches were used.

In 1864, the Union troops, commanded by General Grant, began their advance towards the Confederate states. Confederate territory was divided into three and their forces were attacked simultaneously. The south began to feel harassed by the Unionist army, which met little resistance during its advance.

The financial limitations derived from the naval blockade carried out by the federal government began to be felt in the shortages of arms and supplies. Although the southern army achieved some isolated victories as well as capturing soldiers and weapons, the war was lost.

Battle of Appomattox Court House

Finally, on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee, supreme commander of the southern troops, surrendered his arms after losing the battle of Appomattox (Virginia).

Lee had just lost the Battle of Five Forks a few days earlier and was forced to leave the city of Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond.

General Lee marched west to join the remaining Confederate troops in North Carolina, but Grant’s forces pursued the weary army and captured 7,700 Confederate troops on April 6 at Sailor’s Creek. The remaining soldiers continued their march toward Lynchburg.

Union General Philip H. Sheridan intercepted Lee’s army at Appomattox Court House, which is located about 25 miles east of Lynchburg. That April 8, 1865 he managed to capture the army supplies and block the route to the west.

However, the next day the Confederate II Corps broke through the siege laid by Sheridan’s cavalry and broke through, but were counterattacked by the Union infantry of James’s Army (alluding to the river of the same name in Virginia).

Surrender of the Confederate Army

The Union army, which was superior in numbers and arms, had him surrounded; for this reason General Lee asked General Grant to agree to a ceasefire. Grant agreed to meet Lee wherever he wanted.

Following his surrender at Appomattox Court House, General Lee was able to keep his saber and horse, while ordering the troops following him to take whatever path they wanted.

End of the war

A week after this event, on April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Washington by a gunshot in the head. He was succeeded in the United States presidency by Andrew Johnson.

Then on April 26 the last general of the Confederate Army surrendered to General Sherman of the Federal Army. Two months later, on June 23, 1865, the definitive ceasefire was signed that sealed the end of the war and brought peace to the United States.

Consequences of the American Civil War

– The high number of victims left by the American Civil War was one of its most fateful consequences. It is estimated that there were 470,000 dead and some 275,000 wounded belonging to the army of the states of the Union. As for the Confederate States of America, the death toll was 355,000 and 138,000 wounded.

– However, according to some historians, the number of deaths among civilians and the military exceeds one million people.

– After the war, several amendments to the Constitution were approved, specifically Amendments 13, 14 and 15.

– Slavery was abolished. It is estimated that between 3.5 and 4 million slaves and freedmen were released.

– The power and prestige of the federal government, and particularly the president, spread throughout the country. This is where Lincoln’s famous phrase about “war powers” came from.

– The economic effects of the war left the economies of the southern states in ruins. The northern states were also affected, but to a lesser extent.

– However, during the war Congress gave a strong boost to the industrialization plans of the United States. Before the war, southern legislators had opposed these plans. By resigning their positions during the Secession, the northern legislators took the opportunity to approve all the economic matters that were pending.

Main characters

Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865)

Kentucky-born politician and lawyer, he became the 16th President of the United States of America. He served as president from March 1861 to April 1865, when he was assassinated.

Its main achievements include the preservation of the Union, the abolition of slavery, the strengthening of the federal state and the modernization of the economy.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822 – 1885)

This general was the commanding general of the United States Union Army during the latter part of the Civil War, between 1864 and 1865. He then became the 18th President of the United States, and ruled from 1869 to 1877.

He led the Union army to victory during the war and was the main executor of plans for national reconstruction after the war ended.

Jefferson Finis Davis (1808 – 1889)

Military and American statesman, he served as president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, from 1861 to 1865. He was the organizer of the Confederate army.

Robert Edward Lee (1807 – 1870)

General Lee was the commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War between 1862 and 1865. He fought during the US-Mexican War and was superintendent at West Point.


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