Events: Civil War / Reconstruction
In the presidential election of 1860, there were four candidates: Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, Republican Party; Stephen Douglas of Illinois, Northern Democrats; John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, Southern Democrats; and John Bell of Tennessee, Constitutional Union Party. Lincoln won a majority of the electoral vote, and thus became President even though he won only about 40 percent of the popular vote. His election prompted South Carolina immediately to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860. By the time Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, seven states had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.
The Civil War was fought between the North (Union) and the South (Confederate States of America). The war began on April 12, 1861, with the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter. It ended on April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Historians believe there were many causes of the Civil War, including sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery.
On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired the first shots of the Civil War on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederates bombarded the fort for thirty-four hours until Union forces were forced to surrender. This marked the beginning of the Civil War.
The Battle of Antietam took place during the Civil War in Maryland in 1862. This was one of the bloodiest single day battles in American history. Nearly 23,000 men were killed or wounded. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation soon after and thus expanded the goals of the war to include the abolition of slavery, even though it only freed the slaves in the states who had seceded.
The Battle of Gettysburg took place during the Civil War in 1863. This battle lasted for three days and ended in a Union victory. Some historians estimate as many as 50,000 were killed or wounded. Its outcome was considered to have been the turning point of the Civil War eventually leading to a Union victory.
The Battle of Vicksburg took place during the Civil War in 1863. Union forces seized control of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi, thus effectively gaining control of the Mississippi River. As a result, the South was split in half, and the North could now prevent the shipment of troops and supplies along the river.
On April 9, 1865, four years after the fighting in the Civil War began, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate troops, surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union troops, at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The Civil War was over. Both President Lincoln and General Grant did not want to punish the South for the war and allowed many of the soldiers to keep their horses. Grant is known to have said, “The war is over; the rebels are our countrymen again.”
On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Southern sympathizer, shot President Lincoln in the head at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln was carried across the street to a boarding house where he died of his wounds. The country mourned greatly at the passing of President Lincoln. His death was later commemorated in Walt Whitman’s poem, O Captain, My Captain. After Lincoln’s death, control over Reconstruction of the South fell to his successor, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and the Radical Republicans in Congress.
Reconstruction refers to the period from 1865-1877 after the Civil War when the nation’s attention was focused on rebuilding the South and readmitting the southern states into the Union. Even though Presidents Lincoln and Johnson had proposed reconstruction plans, it was the Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress who took control and passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867. The law divided the South into military districts, forced the southern states to write new state constitutions, and required them to ratify the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Republicans supported the newly freedmen by creating the Freedmen’s Bureau, a government agency designed to help former slaves with jobs and education. Reconstruction ended when the last federal troops were withdrawn from the South.
During Reconstruction, President Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans in Congress differed strongly on how to treat the South. Among other things, in opposition to President Johnson, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act. This law required the President to consult with Congress before firing a cabinet member. When President Johnson fired his Secretary of War without consulting Congress, he violated the Tenure of Office Act. In 1868, the Radical Republicans in the House of Representatives impeached (voted charges against) President Johnson. Johnson was the first president to be impeached. In accordance with the Constitution, the Senate tried President Johnson on the charges voted by the House. The final vote in the Senate was one short of the two-thirds majority needed for conviction and removal from office, and thus, Johnson remained President.
In the presidential election of 1876, the Democratic candidate, Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and received 184 electoral votes. However, Tilden was one electoral vote short of what was needed to win the election at the time. In 1876, a candidate needed 185 electoral votes to be elected. The Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes received fewer popular votes and 165 electoral votes. There were twenty electoral votes unresolved. Democrats and Republican Congressional leaders met and crafted an unwritten and informal deal to resolve the issue. In the deal, which became known as the Compromise of 1877, all twenty unresolved electoral votes were given to Hayes and he became president with the necessary 185 electoral votes. It is suspected that Democrats were willing to agree to let all twenty of the votes go to Hayes in return for a promise that he would withdraw all federal troops from the South. Hayes became president and he withdrew the federal troops from the South, thus officially ending the Reconstruction period in the United States.