American Civil War (World History Notes)

American Civil War (World History Notes)

This article deals with ‘American Civil War (World History Notes)’ . This is part of our series on ‘World History’ which is an important pillar of GS-1 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


American Civil War is the most important movement in American History for freedom and equality, which was fought between 1861-65 between Northern States (known as the Union) and Southern States (known as Confederacy).

Northern States

  • The Northern States were capitalist economies.
  • They held anti-slavery sentiments. 
  • They wanted to protect their nascent industries and markets in the Southern states.

Southern States

  • The mainstay of the economy of Southern States was Plantation crops, especially cotton and tobacco.
  • Southern states depended heavily on the institution of slavery for their economic prosperity. 
  • Additionally, they demanded free trade with Europe, allowing them to export their products without interference from Northern tariffs.
  • They wanted to preserve their agrarian way of life.

The Northern States or the Union emerged as the winner of the American Civil War. The outcome of the American Civil War fundamentally reshaped the United States, solidifying the power of the federal government and bringing an end to the institution of slavery.

Reasons: Anti-Slavery Movement of Northern States

  • Political Division: The Northern states were influenced by Enlightenment ideals and the principles of republicanism, which emphasized the importance of individual liberty and equality before the law. At the same time, the South relied heavily on the institution for its agrarian economy. 
  • Religious and Moral Convictions: Many Northern states had strong religious and moral convictions that condemned slavery. Groups like the Quakers and various Protestants actively campaigned against slavery, promoting the idea that it was morally wrong and a violation of basic human rights.
  • Economic Differences: The Northern states were rapidly industrializing and shifting towards a wage-based economy, while the Southern states relied on plantation agriculture and slave labour. The economic interests and priorities of the North and South clashed, leading to tensions.
  • States’ Rights vs Federal Authority: The Southern states argued for the rights of individual states to govern themselves, including the right to maintain slavery. The Northern states, on the other hand, emphasized the federal government’s authority. 
  • Moral and Ethical Concerns: Many abolitionists and reformers in the North viewed slavery as a moral evil and a violation of basic human rights. 
  • Sectionalism: Over time, a sense of sectionalism, or loyalty to one’s region over the nation as a whole, grew stronger in both the North and the South.
  • InspirationFrance abolished Slavery in Haiti in 1789, and Britain abolished it in 1833. It was shameful that it existed in America. 

Important Events leading to American Civil War

Purchase of Louisiana

The United States of America purchased Louisiana from Napoleonic France in 1803, negotiated by President Thomas Jefferson. The acquisition of the vast territory doubled the size of the country and extended its borders from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rockies. This created a question of whether new states will have slavery or not 

The Missouri Compromise of 1820

America was not in a position to fight the Civil War, so Missouri Compromise was reached under which Missouri was admitted as a slave state while simultaneously admitting Maine as a free state, thus preserving the delicate balance of power between the North and the South. Additionally, it established a line known as the Mason-Dixon Line, which settled the question of slavery in future territories into  

  • Above 36 N Parallel: Independent States
  • Below 36 N Parallel: Slave States 

Back Door Policy of Capitalists

Capitalists lobby adopted a backdoor policy for anti-slave movements and began to employ various tactics behind the scenes to support the abolitionist cause. 

  • Anti-Slavery Society, 1833: This society aimed to promote the abolition of slavery and to advocate for the rights and freedom of enslaved individuals.  
  • Garrison’s The Liberator‘: In 1831, Garrison founded the newspaper “The Liberator.” This publication became one of the most influential abolitionist newspapers of its time, and Garrison used it as a platform to expose the inhumane nature of slavery, advocate for immediate emancipation, and challenge the legal and moral foundations of slavery in America.
  • ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ by Mrs Stowe: Published in 1852, the book depicted the harsh realities and suffering endured by enslaved individuals in the Southern states. Through its emotional portrayal of the lives of slaves and the cruelty they faced, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” touched the hearts and minds of many readers, both within the United States and abroad.

South Retaliated

The Southern States started increasing the slave trade by unfair and foul means. 

  • Fugitive Slave Act of 1850: The law required that escaped slaves must be returned to the owner, even if they had reached free states. Additionally, those who aided escaped slaves could be arrested and face severe penalties. It outraged abolitionists in the North.  
  • Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854: The act allowed for popular sovereignty, meaning that the residents of these territories could decide whether to allow slavery within their borders. As a result, both Kansas and Nebraska, which were geographically located above the 36th parallel, became potential slave states. This move strained the already fragile relationship between the North and the South.
  • Dred Scot Case of 1857: The US Supreme Court declared enslaved individuals were property and had no citizenship rights. Furthermore, it stated that Congress had no authority to restrict slavery in the territories.  

Formation of the Republican Party and election of Abraham Lincoln as the President

  • The party was established in March 1854 as a response to the mounting tensions surrounding the issue of slavery in America.
  • At its core, the Republican Party’s main objective was the abolition of slavery. The party attracted a diverse coalition of individuals, including former Whigs, Free Soilers, and anti-slavery Democrats who opposed slavery.
  • The Republican Party gained national prominence with the election of its famous member, Abraham Lincoln, as the 16th President of the United States in 1860. Southern states, particularly those heavily reliant on slave labour, interpreted Lincoln’s victory as a clear indication that their economic and social system was under threat. Additionally, concerns over states’ rights and the preservation of Southern culture led to the secession of several slave states from the Union.
  • In response to the secession crisis, the Republican Party remained steadfast in its commitment to preserving the Union. The conflict, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, pitted the Union, led by the Republicans, against the seceded Confederate states in a struggle to determine the future of slavery and the unity of the United States.

Events of American Civil War (1861-65)

Secession from the Union

  • At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, the United States comprised 34 states. However, the Southern states, motivated by various factors, including the preservation of the institution of slavery and concerns over states’ rights, decided to secede from the Union. 7 Southern slave states declared their secession individually (these included) South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. 

Formation of Confederacy

  • These states formed the Confederacy and adopted their constitution, with Jefferson Davis serving as the President.
  • Over time, four more states joined the Confederacy: Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, bringing the total number of Confederate states to eleven. 
  • However, it is important to note that any foreign country did not officially recognize the Confederacy as a legitimate nation, despite attempts to gain recognition.

Important Battles

  • The Civil War witnessed major military engagements such as the First Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Sherman’s March to the Sea
  • It involved significant strategic and tactical manoeuvres, including using new technologies like ironclad warships and introducing trench warfare.
  • The Battle of Gettysburg fought in 1863, is considered a turning point in the war as it marked a significant setback for the Confederacy and boosted Union morale.

Union emerged Victorious

  • The Union forces emerged victorious in 1865, with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. 
  • The Civil War’s aftermath witnessed the abolition of slavery.  

Role of Abraham Lincoln

American Civil War (World History Notes)
  1. Leadership and guidance: As President, Lincoln provided strong leadership during the war. Lincoln assumed the role of Commander-in-Chief during the war and actively participated in military strategy and decision-making.
  2. Emancipation Proclamation: One of Lincoln’s most significant contributions to the war was the Emancipation Proclamation. Issued on 1st January, 1863, it declared that all slaves in Confederate territory were to be set free. The proclamation shifted the focus of the war to include the abolition of slavery as a central objective.
  3. Preservation of the Union: Lincoln firmly believed in preserving the Union and consistently made it the primary goal of the war. His commitment to the Union provided a unifying force for the Northern states.
  4. Afterwar Efforts: After the war, Lincoln called for reconciliation and healing. He expressed a compassionate and forgiving approach towards the South.

The Reconstruction Era (1865 to 1877)

The Reconstruction Era is the period immediately following the American Civil War, from 1865 to 1877. It was a critical phase in American history as the nation sought to rebuild and reunify after the devastating conflict.  

Amendments to the United States Constitution 

  • The 13th Amendment (1865) abolished slavery except as a punishment for a crime.
  • The 14th Amendment (1868) granted citizenship to every individual born or naturalized in the USA, including former slaves.
  • The 15th Amendment (1870) granted African American men the right to vote.

Reunifying the Country

  • Amnesty was offered to Confederate states that pledged loyalty to the United States.
  • Efforts were made to rebuild the Southern region’s devastated infrastructure and promote economic development.  

Improving the Lives of African Americans

  • Reconstruction witnessed the establishment of institutions and organizations to improve the lives of newly freed African Americans.
  • African Americans gained political representation at the state and federal levels for the first time.  

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