Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Civil War

If you are a member of the Dickinson County Historical Society, you may have read this writeup in the quarterly newsletter.  This week marks the 150 anniversary of the firing of the first guns of the American Civil War, so posting this writeup seemed like a timely thing to do.

As you probably know, January 29 marked the 150 anniversary of Kansas statehood; but Kansas is not the only 150 anniversary this year.  2011 also marks the 150 anniversary of the American Civil War.  Problems between the North and South had been brewing for a number of years, and things came to a head with violence occurring in Kansas and Missouri.  After much talk and deliberation, six southern states seceded from the Union in January 1861.  Five other states would follow throughout the spring.  On February 8, delegates from these six states met and formed a constitution.  The next day, they selected a President, Jefferson Davis.  Davis was a former soldier, senator, and Secretary of War.  In March 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States.  Both sides had their leaders.

This secession occurred for a myriad of reasons.  Many southerners were frustrated by their northern brethren.  The North had shown a large amount of industrial and economic advancement in recent times.  It was also feared that northern representatives would try to force federal laws, thereby limiting the south.  The economy was still strong in the South, but greatly depended on slave labor.  While the North had been moving into the factory system and away from dependence on slavery, the South remained agriculturally based and needed slavery to keep its economy afloat.  While slavery was a big issue, it was not important to everyone.  Many soldiers and elected officials on both sides had little concern about the morals of slavery.  The aims at the beginning of the war were that the North would fight for unity between the states, while the South would fight for independence.  Of course, later in the war, the North would adopt the aim for emancipation.

On April 14, 1861, the first guns of the Civil War were fired.  After the South’s secession, President Lincoln had stated that federal property that lay in Confederate territory would be held by the Union.  Fort Sumter, located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, was one of those places the President was speaking of.  Confederate soldiers were posted outside the fort in April.  When it was heard that President Lincoln planned to send provisions to the Union soldiers inside, the Confederates made their attack.  After thirty four hours of attack, the Union surrendered the fort to the Confederacy.  No one died on either side during the attack; however two deaths occurred after the surrender.

Throughout a large portion of 1861, skirmishes between Union and Confederate soldiers happened sporadically.  Later in the year, battles began to happen with more frequency and would continue in that way for the next four years.

Several technological advancements and innovations occurred throughout the war.  Notably, the Gatling gun and Spencer Repeating Rifle came into use.  The Civil War was the first American war to use air warfare, in which hot air balloons were used for this task.  Another remarkable occurrence was the first submarine to sink a target.  While most of the war was fought directly on the battlefield, these instances marked a gradual change in the way wars were fought.

Most of the violence found in Kansas during the war was outside of the war effort.  Raids performed by guerrilla bands, such as Quantrill and his men, were more common than actual battles.  The largest battle fought in Kansas was the Battle of Mine Creek, in Linn County in 1864.  Close to 10,000 people were involved in this battle, and with a Union victory, the battle ended the chance for a Southern invasion of the state.  Elsewhere, many soldiers from Kansas fought throughout the Civil War, resulting in nearly 8,500 casualties.

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to General Ulysses S. Grant.  The war was over roughly four years after it had begun.  The Civil War is still known as the deadliest war for the American military.  An estimate of 620,000 Americans died from 1861 to 1865 due to the war (the exact amount of casualties is unknown, but some historians believe that it could exceed 700,000).

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