xxxxxStrife between the northern and southern states of the United States had been a long time in the coming. The north, much more advanced industrially, was opposed to slavery, whilst the South depended upon it. And trade tariffs set by the North to protect its fledgling industries meant higher priced goods for the southern states, already concerned at the growing influence of the northern states in the governing of the Union. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1861, promising that slavery would not be allowed in the new states emerging in the West, the break came. South Carolina left the Union in December 1860, and together with six other states - Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas - formed a Confederation. Then In April 1861 this break-away union seized Fort Sumter at Charleston and sparked off the war. Lincoln began raising an army and, in response, four other southern states - Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina joined the Confederation. On paper, the industrial North was by far the most powerful side, and with 19 states as opposed to 15, but the opening battles went in favour of the South. When Union forces invaded Virginia in July 1861 they were roundly defeated at the First Battle of Bull Run. And, as we shall see, the Confederates were to win a second battle at this site in August 1862 (Vb) - but it was to be a very different story in the West.

THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR  1861 - 1865   (Va)


Map (United States): licensed under Creative Commons. Author: United States_1861-01-1862—04.png – commons, Sumter: hand-coloured lithograph, c1861, artist unknown, produced by the printmaking fIrm of Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) and James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) of New York – Library of Congress, Washington. Cartoon: from Punch Magazine (London), December 1861, artist unknown, prepared by John Osborne, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA, 2012. Brown: detail of daguerreotype, c1856, artist unknown. Stowe: by the English engraver Francis Holl (1815-1884), c1855, after portrait by the English painter George Richmond (1809-1896) – National Portrait Gallery, London. Foster: photograph, c1860, artist unknown – Library of Congress, Washington.

xxxxxFor many years there had been growing antagonism between the southern and northern states in the United States. The large cotton plantations in the south were dependent upon black slaves from Africa, whilst in the northern states - opposed in general to slavery - the farms were on a smaller scale and based on paid labour. As early as the 1840s a large number of Northern states had opposed any extension of slavery into the western territories, and by the 1850s some were even demanding the complete abolition of this “peculiar institution”. In response several southern states threatened to secede from the Union, being deeply concerned as to the effect such a measure would have upon the livelihood of their white landowners and the economy of the state itself.

xxxxxBut the cause of the division was not confined to the issue of slavery. The economies of the two regions were fundamentally different. The South was almost exclusively agricultural, whereas the North was industrialised and becoming more so with every year that passed. And to protect this growing number of fledgling industries, trade tariffs were introduced, thereby preventing the import of cheaper manufactured goods into the poorer southern states. And in addition, friction was growing over the increasing interference of the federal government in the affairs of individual states, a bone of contention which had not gone away since the birth of the Union. Furthermore, it was felt in the south that central government was being slowly but surely manipulated by the northern industrialists and business entrepreneurs, becoming increasingly more powerful and influential by their growing wealth.

xxxxxThe almost inevitable conflict between these two very different ways of life was sparked off in 1860 with the election of president Abraham Lincoln. Known as a “black Republican”, he was openly opposed to slavery and made it clear that whilst he would not abolish slavery in states where it already existed, he would certainly ban the practice in the new states emerging in the west. The first state that refused to accept such a proposition was South Carolina. In December 1860 it gave notice that it had left the Union, and by March the following year, when Lincoln was officially made president, six other slave states - Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas - had joined up with South Carolina. Theyxsent representatives to Montgomery, Alabama, formed a Confederation, and elected Jefferson Davis (1808-1889), a distinguished soldier and politician, as their president. Under his guidance, a new currency was issued, taxes were raised, and even a flag was designed.



The Trent Affair, Harriet

Elizabeth Beecher Stowe,

and Stephen Foster.

xxxxxLincoln was truly alarmed at this development. He had appealed for harmony in his inaugural speech, and had made it clear that he was for conciliation on all matters save one, his determination to preserve the Union. He would defend the integrity of the nation, but he would not be the first to use force. Thus his message to the seven southern states was very plain: “You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors”. In the meantime, frantic efforts were made to find a solution, but it was clear that neither side was prepared to compromise. Indeed, by early 1861 the Confederacy had seized all but two of the U.S forts within their territory. Only Fort Pickens and Fort Sumter remained in the hands of U.S. troops.

xxxxxThen on the 12th April 1861 the Confederacy chose to become the aggressors and set the conflict in motion. Claiming that it was a threat to its security, it ordered the evacuation of Fort Sumter, a fortress in the throes of being built at the entrance to Charleston harbour. When the Federal garrison refused, Confederate artillery bombarded the fort (illustrated) and it was taken two days later. In fact, the fort, built for coastal defence, was of little immediate value to either side, but for the North it was an act of war and a call to arms. Lincoln raised an army of 75,000 volunteers to restore the Union by force and, in response, four other southern states - Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina - joined the Confederacy. The civil war had begun. During its course the dispute over slavery was to play a major part, but, at this stage, the primary aim of the North was to maintain the Union.

xxxxxOn paper, the South was very much the weaker side. It was made up of fifteen states, as opposed to nineteen, and its population was less than half that of the North. Furthermore, in some southern states, such as Georgia and Mississippi, a large number of people supported the Union. And in the matter of industrial power the South was very much at a disadvantage, having to import most of its war material from overseas. This in itself was difficult, because the American navy was able to blockade southern ports, preventing the import of equipment and the export of the South’s staple crops, cotton, sugar and tobacco. Nonetheless, due in large part to the superiority of the Confederate generals, the war was to be a bloody, bitter conflict which, in the course of four years, was to tear the country apart, produce 900,000 casualties, and leave a long-lasting legacy of suffering and bitterness.

xxxxxIn the opening phase of the war the Confederates stood on the defensive, despite an army numbering well over 250,000. They expected that France and Britain would come to their aid, but, in fact, all the European nations remained neutral. The Union or Federal forces made the first move. In July 1861 30,000 troops invaded Virginia and marched towards Richmond, the Confederate capital. Enxroute, however, they were met by a southern force under Generals Thomas Jackson and Pierre Beauregard. After a running battle, the Union force was roundly defeated near a small stream known as Bull Run and driven back towards Washington. As a result of this surprising setback, the North recruited more men and a military training programme was put into operation.

xxxxxAs we shall see, the Confederates were to win a second battle at this site in August 1862 (Vb), but by that time the Union army had close on half a million men. In the west this superiority was to prove decisive.


xxxxxReference must be made here to the “Trent Affair”, a diplomatic incident in the first year of the Civil War which almost precipitated a conflict between Britain and the United States. This occurred in the November when crew members of a Union warship named San Jacinto - captained by Charles Wilkes, the Antarctic explorer - boarded the British mail steamer Trent off the coast of Cuba, forcibly removed two passengers bound for Europe (Confederate commissioners James Mason and John Slidell), and took them to Boston. This action was seen as a triumph for the Union, but it was a clear breach of international law, and it deeply angered the British government and the British public at large. A force of some 8,000 men was sent to Canada, and an apology plus the release of the two men was demanded from the Americans, - a demand moderated somewhat in tone on the advice of Prince Albert. After some delay President Lincoln, hardly wishing to be involved in an international war at this stage, sent an apology to the British government, and the two men were released in the New Year, but it was quite a close run thing. The Punch cartoon of December 1861 has Jack Bull saying: “You do what’s right, my Son, or I’ll blow you out of the water.”

xxxxxIncidentally, it was during the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 that the Confederate general Thomas Jackson (1824-1863), by his stubborn resistance to a series of Union attacks, earned himself the title “Stonewall Jackson”. ……


xxxxx……  Inxthe 1850s the state of Kansas had provided a prelude to the American Civil War. In 1830 Kansas had been designated an Indian Territory, but in 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the state to white settlement and both the North and South attempted to flood the area with their own settlers. As one might expect, this led to what came to be known as the “War for Bleeding Kansas”, a bloody conflict between those for and those against slavery. Atrocities were committed by both sides. ……

xxxxx……  Andxit was during that “war” that a Kansas farmer, John Brown (1800-1859), took a stand against slavery. In 1859, leading a party of 18 men, he seized the government arsenal at Harper’s Ferrry in West Virginia in an attempt to set up a mountain refuge for runaway slaves. Two days later, however, he was captured by US marines, charged with murder and treason, and hanged in the December. He became a hero in the cause of freedom, and his name is remembered to this day in the popular song John Brown’s Body, with its inspiring line: “And his soul goes marching on”. When the Civil War came two years later, it was this tune that the Northern soldiers chose as their marching song.

xxxxx……  As noted earlier, the term “Dixie”, the popular name for the American South, may have come from a song composed by the American Daniel Decatur Emmett in 1859, two years before the outbreak of the civil war. It was called Dixie and proved so popular as a marching song that during the conflict it came to be regarded as the unofficial national anthem of the Confederacy. ……

xxxxxA powerful contribution to the anti-slavery movement at this time was the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (or Life Among the Lowly) in 1852, written by the American novelist and philanthropist Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe (1811-1896). A sentimental story about the life of a loyal slave, it provided a vivid portrayal of the cruelties suffered by the slaves on the Southern plantations. It was while living in Cincinnati, Ohio, that she came into contact with fugitive slaves. This and her own visits to the South gave her the material for her book.

xxxxxOutside of the South, the story proved immensely popular. It was translated into over twenty languages, adapted for the stage, and in the United States alone sold half a million copies in the first five years. Abraham Lincoln recognised the story’s importance in the struggle against slavery, and it is often included as one of the causes of the civil war. Four years later she published a further attack on slavery in her Dred: A Tale of a Great Dismal Swamp. Among her other works were some excellent descriptions of rural life in New England, and the romantic novel The Minister’s Wooing of 1859. She visited Europe in 1853 and was well received in England, but later, in 1869, she lost much favour in that country when she wrote an article roundly criticising the personal life of Lord Byron.

xxxxxVery much associated with the South during the years leading up to the civil war were the popular songs of the American composer Stephen Foster (1826-1864). He produced over 200, and is especially remembered for his minstrel songs, such as Suwannee River (or Old Folks at Home) of 1851, and Old Black Joe of 1860. Other works included The Camptown Races, My Old Kentucky Home, Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, and Beautiful Dreamer, composed a few days before his death.  

xxxxxHe made only one visit to the South, but captured the rhythmic tunes of the Deep South by attending black church meetings and listening to the singing of black labourers in the work places of Pittsburgh. His songs were popular, but he was a poor business man and made little money from them. In later life he took to drinking heavily and fell into debt. He lived alone in New York City from 1860, and it was here that he died of alcoholism in 1864. The Stephen Foster Memorial, a large park in White Springs, Florida, contains a museum about his life and work, and the Carillon Tower, an attractive building from where a set of 97 bells plays a medley of his songs each day. There is also a museum to his memory on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

xxxxxIncidentally, it is said that when he died at the Bellevue Hospital in New York he had just 38 cents in his pocket and a piece of paper on which was written “dear friends and gentle hearts”.