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Civil War Encyclopedia >> Major Event
April 12, 1861
May 10, 1865
The American Civil War
May 10, 1865 President Johnson declares armed resistance at an end
  Andrew Johnson

In general, April 12, 1861, the date that Confederate forces under General P. G. T. Beauregard fired on Fort Sumter, is the accepted start of the Civil War. Prior to that time, politicians were hoping for a political settlement. Three days later U. S. President Abraham Lincoln issued his first call for troops. He needed them since there were less than 1,000 men in uniform in the Union east of the Mississippi.

Determining the end of the Civil War is significantly harder. Since the rise of the "Virginia School" in the 1940's, the end of the Civil War has generally been given as the date of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. This, according to proponents, marks the end of any possibility of a "win" on the Southern side. Using this logic, the date November 25, 1863 should be the end of the war. That was the day Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Joseph Hooker and George Thomas broke out of Chattanooga, which is probably the last chance the South had for a peaceful settlement to the war.

After careful research we settled on May 10, 1865 for a number of reasons. Jefferson Davis had been captured, the surrender of all effective fighting forces east of the Mississippi was complete, and President Andrew Johnson declared an end to the armed resistance. The last significant action took place two days later, but this is expected in any war.

Early action featured small armies along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in northwest Virginia, present-day West Virginia. The North chose Irvin McDowell to head the Army of the Potomac while the South looked to P. G. T. Beauregard, the "Hero of Ft. Sumter" to direct the main Confederate Army. Once the Union lost the first major battle at Bull Run they realized preparation was needed as a three-month war was turning into an estimated three-year war.

Ulysses S. Grant [US], in response to Gideon Pillow seizing Columbus, Kentucky, seized Paducah and began a march to Washington D. C. that would see him elected President in 1868. He continued south in February, 1862, capturing Fort Donelson from Albert Sidney Johnston, but his men were unprepared for a surprise Confederate attack at Shiloh Church in April, 1862. Although Grant won the Battle of Shiloh, in two days America lost more sons than had died in the Mexican American War and the War of 1812. At the time Shiloh was the bloodiest two days in American history.

George McClellan was tapped to replace Irvin McDowell as U. S. commander in the east after the loss at Bull Run while Joseph Johnston assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the disaster at Ball's Bluff, McClellan decided that an attack on Richmond, Virginia would be the quickest way to end the war, so he transported his army to Fort Monroe and initiated the Peninsula Campaign. Johnston typically would assume a strong defensive position and await an offensive move by McClellan. Wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks (Seven Pines) Johnston was quickly replaced by Robert E. Lee and the Peninsula Campaign turned into the Seven Day Retreat. Once again the Army of Northern Virginia moved north, to a position near Manassas.

In the West, Braxton Bragg boldly relocated his army from the western end of Tennessee to the eastern end of the state and from there, along with Kirby Smith's Army of Kentucky advanced deep into enemy territory in the Confederate Invasion of Kentucky. After what many people consider to be a tie at Perryville, Lincoln replaced ineffective Army of the Cumberland head Don Carlos Buell with equally ineffective William S. Rosecrans and Bragg began a retreat first to Stones River then to Chattanooga.

As summer ended in 1862, Lee advanced into Maryland after dealing the federal army a serious blow at Second Manassas, only to be overpowered at Antietam. Lincoln relieved McClellan of command for his failure to pursue Lee following this battle and replaced him with Ambrose Burnside.

Following the federal loss at Fredericksburg in December, Lincoln replaced Burnside with "Fighting Joe" Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker made an aggressive move to Lee's left and Lee attacked, defeating Hooker at Chancellorsville. Following the battle, Lee crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and took the offensive by moving into Pennsylvania.

1863 also saw Grant moving towards Vicksburg in an attempt to open the Mississippi River. The major military effect would be to give Grant a line of supply to support forts along the Mississippi and to open the port of New Orleans to Western shipping interests. It also cut Arkansas, Missouri and Texas off from the rest of the Confederacy.

About the time Grant was closing the Mississippi to the Confederacy, Lee was fighting the Army of the Potomac, now under George Meade, at Gettysburg. Without his "eyes" (Cavalry General JEB Stuart), Lee was fighting the Union Army without important information regarding positions and troop strength. It was Lee's greatest loss.

Following Gettysburg, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia took a defensive position. In the west, Bragg's Army of Tennessee looked as if it was the South's last hope. After defeating Bragg at Stones River at the start of 1863, Rosecrans decided to rebuild his army. Although major Union offenses occurred in the East and along the Mississippi River, Rosecrans waited until the middle of June to begin an easy two-week advance to the outskirts of Chattanooga, where he again rested until from July until September, 1863.

Rosecrans then advanced into Georgia, where the Army of the Cumberland suffered the worst defeat in the history of the U. S. Army at Chickamauga. Bragg surrounded what remained of Rosecrans' army in Chattanooga. Lincoln ordered Grant to assume command of the situation, adding Hooker and William Tecumseh Sherman for good measure. In the battle that sealed the fate of the Confederacy, Grant, Sherman, Hooker and George Thomas, now in command of the Army of the Cumberland, defeated Bragg, driving him back into Georgia.

Finally, Lincoln had found a man who could win the war. With Grant in the East and Sherman in the West (Georgia was considered the West), the war would be won within a year. Grant wore down the Army of Northern Virginia in a series of bloody battles including The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna River, and Cold Harbor before laying siege to the army in Petersburg, Virginia. Meanwhile Sherman advanced on Joe Johnston and John Bell Hood in the Atlanta Campaign, then started a "March to the Sea," ending south of Savannah. He would capture the coastal Georgia city a week after reaching "salt water."

Once Georgia's war machine had been rendered useless, Sherman headed north to join his army with Grant's Army of the Potomac. With the Army of Northern Virginia decimated by Grant's siege, reports to Lee showed Sherman approaching from the south. Evacuating Richmond and withdrawing from Petersburg, Lee lost 8,000 men at the battle of Sayler's Creek (most of them are captured). He realized that he no longer commanded an effective fighting force and after a brief battle at Appomattox he asked Grant for terms of surrender. Less than a week later John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

For another two weeks Sherman faced Joe Johnston, but in the end Johnston surrendered under the same terms as Lee. Smaller Confederate armies quickly followed and on May 10, 1865, President Andrew Johnson declared armed resistance at an end, a month after the assassination of President Lincoln. Confederate President Jeff Davis had been captured earlier in the day.

Links appearing on this page:

"Fighting Joe" Hooker
Abraham Lincoln
Albert Sidney Johnston
Ambrose Burnside
Andrew Johnson
April 12
April 9
April, 1861
April, 1862
April, 1865
Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Tennessee
Army of the Cumberland
Army of the Potomac
Atlanta Campaign
Ball's Bluff
Battle of Fair Oaks
Battle of Shiloh
Braxton Bragg
Bull Run
Confederate Invasion of Kentucky
Don Carlos Buell
February, 1862
Fort Donelson
Fort Sumter
George McClellan
George Meade
George Thomas
Gideon Pillow
Irvin McDowell
JEB Stuart
Jeff Davis
Jefferson Davis
John Bell Hood
Joseph Hooker
Joseph Johnston
Kirby Smith
March to the Sea
May 10
May, 1865
Mexican American War
November 25
November, 1863
P. G. T. Beauregard
Peninsula Campaign
Robert E. Lee
Second Manassas
Seven Day Retreat
Stones River
Ulysses S. Grant
War of 1812
West Virginia
William S. Rosecrans
William Tecumseh Sherman

Civil War Encyclopedia >> Major Event

The Civil War was last changed on - October 16, 2007
The Civil War was added in 2005

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