A First Book in American History  by Edward Eggleston

Something about the Great Civil War

Soon after Abraham Lincoln became President there broke out the civil war, which caused the death of many hundreds of thousands of brave men, and brought sorrow to nearly every home in the United States. Perhaps none of those who study this book will ever see so sad a time. But it was also a brave time, when men gave their lives for the cause they believed to be right. Women, in those days, suffered in patience the loss of their husbands and sons, and very many of them went to nurse the wounded, or toiled at home to gather supplies of nourishing food for sick solders in hospitals.

The war came about in this way: There had been almost from the foundation of the Government a rivalry between the Northern and Southern States. Long and angry debates took place about slavery, about the rights of the States and the government of the Territories. These had produced much bitter feeling. When a President opposed to slavery was elected, some of the Southern States asserted that they had a right to withdraw from the Union. This the Northern states denied, declaring that the Union could not be divided; but before Lincoln was inaugurated, seven States had declared themselves out of the Union. They formed a new government, which they called "the Confederate States of America," and elected Jefferson Davis President.

President Lincoln refused to acknowledge that the Confederate States were a government. He refused to allow that United States fort in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, to be surrendered to the Confederates, and he sent ships with provisions for the small garrison of this fort. The Southern troops about Charleston refused to let these provisions be landed, and at length opened fire on the fort. This began the war. Four other States now joined the Confederacy, making eleven in all.

It was a time of awful excitement in every part of the country. All winter long angry passions had been rising both in the North and in the South. When the first gun was fired at Sumter, in April, 1861, there was such a storm for fierce excitement as may never be seen again in America. In the North, a hundred thousand men were enlisted in three days. The excitement in the South was just as great, and a large portion of the Southern people rushed to arms. In those stormy times the drums were beating all day long in the streets; flags waved in every direction, and trains were thronged with armed men bidding farewell to friends and hastening forward to barrel and death. Men and women wept in the streets as they cheered "the boys" who were hurrying away to the war. For a while people hardly took time to sleep.

We can not tell the story of the war in this book; you will study it in larger histories. The armies on both sides became very large, and during the war there were some of the greatest conflicts ever seen in the world. The first great battle was fought at Shiloh, in Tennessee. Others took place at Murfreesboro [mur´-freze-bur´-ro], Chickamauga [chick-a-maw´-gah], and Nashville, in Tennessee; at Antietam [an-tee´-tam], in Maryland; and at Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania. Very many battles, great and small, were fought in Virginia, between Washington and Richmond.

On the side of the Union the three most famous generals were U. S. Grant, W. T. Sherman, and Philip H. Sheridan. The three greatest generals on the Confederate side were Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and Thomas J. Jackson, commonly called "Stonewall Jackson."


Ulysses S. Grant


Robert E. Lee

Both sides showed the greatest courage. The generals on both sides were very skillful. Victory was now with one party and now with the other; but, as the years passed on, the Union armies, being the stronger, gradually gained one advantage after another. By means of troops and gunboats sent down from the North under Grant, and a fleet under Admiral Farragut, which was sent around by sea to capture New Orleans, the whole of the Mississippi River was secured. Between Washington and Richmond the Confederates won many victories, but they were at length compelled to fall back behind the fortifications of Richmond and Petersburg, where they were besieged by General Grant.


Confederate Soldier


Union Soldier

During the time of this siege General Sherman marched directly into the heart of the Confederacy, where he was for weeks without any communication with the North. He marched across the great and fertile State of Georgia, from Atlanta to Savannah, on the seacoast, and then from Savannah northward toward Richmond. By destroying the railroads and the food by which General Lee's army in Richmond was supplied, this march of Sherman's made it impossible for the Confederates to continue the war.

Lee was forced to retreat from Richmond, and he surrendered his army on the 9th of April, 1865. All the other Confederate forces soon after laid down their arms. The war had lasted four years. As a result of the long struggle, slavery was abolished in all the territory of the United States.