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IAS Mains General Studies 1 Notes:The American Civil War (1861-1865)

Last Updated - December 29, 2016

This article is all about the causes, course, and significance of the American Civil War (1861-1865). It will also show how Abraham Lincoln made a difference in history, in-spite of the great opposition that he faced at that time of war.


The American Civil War: The Background

The American Civil War is also known as the War Between the States. It was one of the worst wars in American history and was fought between the northern and southern states of the US. The Civil War started in 1861 when the group of slaves of the south founded the Confederate States of America whose president was Jefferson Davis. The northern states, under, President Abraham Lincoln, were totally against slavery. Although the Confederates won some early battles but later the Union became stronger and defeated the southern states in 1865.

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Causes of the American Civil War

In early times there was a difference in the attitude towards slaves which was the root cause of American Civil War. This had its effects in the economic and political sphere too. The factors which led to the outbreak of the Civil War in America are mentioned as below.

1. Disparity between Northern and Southern States on Economy

The states in the north were industrialized while southern states where primarily agricultural. Northern states wanted tax on imports from Britain while southern states wanted tax-free trade with Britain.

2. Attitude towards slaves

The northern states which were industrialized preferred paid laborers while as agricultural southern states which had large plantations were dependent on slave labor.

Slavery was abolished in northern states in 1804 and then they became ‘free states’.

3. Abolition of slavery

A strong movement for the abolition of slavery began in the northern states. It called for the correction of the controversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. 

4. The fear of reforms by Abraham Lincoln and Republican Party

 An immediate cause of the civil war was the American Presidential election in which the Republican Party candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won.

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Course of the American Civil War

  • After the elections that were organized at that time Abraham Lincoln became president. In his rule people saw a strong opponent of slavery. The Confederate State of America was formed in 1861. War broke out when Lincoln ordered soldiers to conquer one of the North’s forts in South Carolina.
  • The Confederacy was fought by 11 states among them some states were considered as Border States. Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee believed in slavery and fought for the south while Delaware, Maryland and Kentucky took sides for the north.
  • Most of the war was commanded by two great generals one was Ulysses Grant who was the commander of the Unionist army while the other was Robert Lee: the military head of the Confederates.
  • 2 million men fought for the Union while the Confederate Army had about 800,000 soldiers.  Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in 1863and they were allowed to fight side by side with white soldiers.
  • The war was fought on two battlefronts: In the eastern states, mostly Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania while the other front was along the Mississippi River in the west. The Union won some battles at the beginning of the Civil war in the west and captured the New Orleans. On the other side, Confederate forces got important victories on the eastern front.
  • In the war many soldiers died, mostly because they were inexperienced young men, who had not fought before. More than a quarter of the forces were killed in a single battle. Many soldiers died because they lacked the proper medical care. Many wounded soldiers were helped by the private organizations.

Significance of the American Civil War

The civil war was one of the most important and historic wars in the history. It brought about a revolution in entire world. Some of the points are worth remembering and they are:

  • The war put an end to the so called institution of slavery.
  • Because of the war there was the use of more machines – which enhanced production.
  • National Banking Act was introduced and use of paper currency which contributed to the growth of nations wide business.
  • After the war, new and advanced weapons were used.
  •  The war led to the growth of large scale manufacturing industries and small scale industries as well.
  •  Abolishment of the secession of states was done for all times to come.
  • More area was brought under cultivation – particularly in the west regions on North America.
  • Transport and communication was improved to a very large extent.
  • The war was an inspiration to other countries – to abolish slavery.
  • The Civil War of 1861-1865 determined what kind of nation is about to begin.

How Abraham Lincoln made a difference in history

The following points are worth remembering about Abraham Lincoln and they are as follows:

  • Abraham Lincoln was born in a very humble family in 1809, in the state of Kentucky
  • His mother died had when he was nine years old.
  • He was a distinguished lawyer and great orator.
  • In 1847 he was elected by the Congress.
  • After the civil war, citizens of all states of USA were granted citizenship and equal rights because of him.
  • In 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the USA as a Republican Candidate.
  • He played a great role in keeping USA united and in peace.
  • His greatest contribution to humanity was the abolition of slavery
  • It was Abraham Lincoln who gave the famous principle of democracy

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