How Long Did the Civil War Last?

Soldiers of the Union army. Editorial credit: Everett Historical /
Soldiers of the Union army. Editorial credit: Everett Historical /

The Civil War remains the bloodiest war in American history with over 620,000 deaths. The war began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate soldiers attacked Union bases at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. It was fought for four years, three weeks and six days until Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. General Joseph E. Johnston subsequently surrendered on April 26, 1865, while Kirby Smith surrendered on June 2, 1865. Cherokee General Stand Watie was the last Confederate general to surrender on June 23, 1865.

What Caused The Civil War?

There are still ongoing debates on the ultimate cause of the war, but it is generally believed that it was triggered by the disagreement on the treatment of slaves. The southern states differed with the rest of the country over the powers of the federal government on the abolition of slavery. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election and vowed to free all slaves and prohibit slavery in the United States. After the declaration, states of the Deep South: Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina declared secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. The economy of the southern states was heavily dependent on agriculture especially cotton and plantation systems that relied on slave laborers.

The Confederates quickly formed a government and an army from militia units to protect against possible invasion from the Union. Soon after the war began, the states of the Upper South: North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Virginia declared secession from and joined the Confederacy. Kentucky and Missouri were accepted as states of the Confederacy although neither declared official cessation or was in control of Confederate forces. The cessation was not illegal since no clause in the constitution barred states from seceding, but the Union feared that allowing states to secede would break up the United States into smaller countries and lead to constant wars. Three years after the secession attempt, the Supreme Court of the United States declared the secession illegal in the Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1868) case.

Where Was The War Fought?

The war was largely fought in the territories claimed by the secessionists especially in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, and the Coast of Florida. It was also fought on the ocean as far as the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of France, and in the Mississippi River. Prior to the war, the Union states had a population of about 22 million while the secession states had a population of nine million. The disparity in population meant that the Union Army was significantly larger than the Confederate Army. It is believed that about 620,000 soldiers died in the civil war, but recent studies show that the figure may be as high as 850,000.


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