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Civil War Documents | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Civil War Documents

Historical Note:

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was fought between the United States of America  and the Southern slave states of the newly formed Confederate States of America under Jefferson Davis. The Union included all of the free states and the five slaveholding border states who opposed the expansion of slavery into territories owned by the United States. The Republican victory in the 1860 election resulted in seven Southern states declaring their secession from the Union even before Lincoln took office. The Union rejected secession, regarding it as rebellion. 

In 1862, battles such as Shiloh and Antietam caused massive casualties unprecedented in U.S. military history. In September 1862, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation  made ending slavery in the South a war goal, which complicated the Confederacy's manpower shortages.

General Robert E. Lee's loss at Gettysburg in early July, 1863 proved the turning point of the war. The capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson by Ulysses S. Grant completed Union control of the Mississippi River. Grant fought bloody battles of attrition with Lee in 1864, forcing Lee to defend the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. Union general William Sherman captured Atlanta, Georgia, and began his famous March to the Sea.  Confederate resistance collapsed after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

The war, the deadliest in American history, caused 620,000 soldier deaths and an undetermined number of civilian casualties, ended slavery in the United States, restored the Union by settling the issues of nullification and secession  and strengthened the role of the federal government.  The social, political, economic and racial issues of the war continue to shape contemporary American thought.

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