History of the American Civil War Part 1: Pre-War and 1861

By Zeke and Houston

Important Battles

Confederate Battle Flag.

On December 24, 1860 South Carolina Seceded From the Union. South Carolina, was followed by Mississippi, then Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Upon seceding the Confederates made treaties and alliances with the 5 civilized Indian tribes, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole.

The first battle in the Civil War was The Battle of Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Confederate Troops fired on the Union troops garrisoned at the fort when American President Abraham Lincoln ordered for more troops and supplies to be shipped to the now Confederate fort. This is the event that began the American Civil War. Earlier that year in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, and in 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America (CSA).

Political Situation

The political situation during the Civil War is a complicated and controversial topic, but I will try to explain the politics and reasons for secession in 1861 the best that I can.  

In 1861 there were 17 slave states, the 11 states that seceded, also Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware (18 if you include West Virginia). States that were slave states but didn’t secede are called border states. Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, even though they didn’t secede, didn’t raise armies to fight against their southern brethren. 

Southern states were angry because they felt like they didn’t have equal representation in the government. In 1787, there was a compromise reached for how to count slaves as part of a state’s population. Contrary to the narrative today, southerners wanted slaves to be counted as a whole person for more seats in the House of Representatives, while northerners wanted them to not be counted at all. They came to the compromise that slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a person.

Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson, who proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise.

In 1861 southern states had every right to secede and it’s even in the Constitution.

Battle of Fort Sumter

The Battle of Fort Sumter took place from April 12-13 1861. Confederate troops fired on Union stationed in the fort in Charleston Harbour, South Carolina. Union troops had already peacefully surrendered all Federal property except Fort Sumter, which refused to surrender, so they fired on the fort. They surrendered the next day on April 13, thus starting the Civil War. 

First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run)

The first Battle of Manassas took place on July 21, 1861, near the town of Manassas, Virginia, 3 months after the Fort Sumter. It was the first major battle in the Civil War. Union casualties weighed in at 2,708, while Confederates only had 1,982, an embarrassing defeat for the Union. The hero of the battle, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Got his nickname here because he rallied his troops by standing in the middle of the fighting. Another Confederate General Barnard Bee of South Carolina remarked,“There stands Jackson like a stonewall! Rally behind the Virginians!”

Fighting at Manassas.

Sadly Bee was killed later in the battle. The Confederates were able to repulse the Union invasion into Virginia during this one of the first battles of the Civil War.    

Civilians from Washington had picnicked on a hill to watch the Battle, hoping The Union would make a quick end to the battle and the war, but to their amazement, The Federals retreated, and the civilians had to run. The First Battle of Manassas showed that the Confederates were not as weak as everyone had thought.

Battle of Wilson’s Creek (Oak Hills)

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was fought on August 10, 1861 in Greene County, Missouri. It was fought between Confederate General Sterling Price and Union General Nathaniel Lyon. It was part of the Western Theater of the War. It was one of the most important battles in Missouri and it resulted in yet another Confederate Victory. It was not as bloody as Manassas, but close. In total there were 1,317 casualties for the Union, and 1,232 for the CSA.

Flag flown by Missouri Confederates.

Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general to be killed in the war, died at Wilson’s Creek. When the Union started retreating, Confederates were too disorganized to pursue them. Even though the Union controlled most of Missouri for the rest of the war, the Confederates were able to secure Southwestern Missouri due to this Victory. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was the first major battle in the Western theater of the Civil War.

Battle of Ball’s Bluff (Leesburg)

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff took place on October 21, 1861 near Leesburg, Virginia. It was one of the worst defeats for the Union in the whole war. The Confederates only had 155 casualties, while the Union had a crushing 1,002. It was also the first battle that Union General George B. McClellen served as commanding General of the Army of the Potomac. It was so bad that the Union was pushed all the way back to Washington D.C.  

Map of Northern Virginia in 1861.

Also, Union Colonel Edward D. Baker was killed at the battle, and 2nd Lieutenant John William Grout. Even though McCllean failed to be successful as commanding General, he would be in command until 1862. You can probably already see that the CSA was very successful, winning almost every important battle in 1861. 

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