American Civil War: 1861–1865



In the early months of 1861, the Union and the Confederacy set about crafting their strategies for victory. The North favored a long-term strategy known as the Anaconda Plan, and the South prepared to win by attrition. Following the First Battle of Bull Run, both sides awakened to the reality that the war would not be easily or quickly won. The Union and Confederacy fought a number of key battles between 1861 and 1862, including the Battle of Hampton Roads, the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the Battle of Antietam. The Emancipation Proclamation followed the Battle of Antietam, and the Gettysburg Address followed the Battle of Gettysburg. Both helped to sharpen the North's focus on its purpose in fighting the war. The tide of the war gradually shifted with the capture of Vicksburg, Sherman's March to the Sea, and the ultimate surrender of the South at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

At A Glance

  • The Anaconda Plan was the Union's plan to "strangle" the South by enacting a naval blockade, gaining control of the Mississippi River, and gradually increasing pressure on the South by land and sea.
  • The Confederates' plan was to avoid full-scale battles with the Union army and participate only in small, limited engagements, with the goal of prolonging the war and wearing down the enemy.
  • The First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861), fought outside of Washington, D.C., was an early victory for the Confederacy and a wake-up call to the Union that the war would not end quickly or easily.
  • The Battle of Hampton Roads (March 8–9, 1862) was the most significant naval battle of the Civil War and was fought between two ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimack.
  • Though the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30, 1862) cost the Confederacy thousands of soldiers, it was still a clear victory for the rebel army and ultimately led to the reorganization of the Union forces.
  • The Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862) marked the end of Lee's Northern Virginia campaign.
  • The Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day of battle in American history and influenced the progress of the war.
  • Issued on January 1, 1863, by President Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation declared all enslaved people living in rebel states not yet under Union control were free.
  • The Union victory at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, cut off Confederate access to the Mississippi River and cut the Confederacy in half.
  • The Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 marked the last foray of Confederate troops into Union territory.
  • After the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, which recommitted the purpose of the North to giving the United States "a new birth of freedom."
  • Sherman's late-1864 March to the Sea was the Union Army's march through Georgia that entailed waging total war to break the spirit of Southern civilians and force surrender of the Confederacy.
  • On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the troops under his command to General Ulysses S. Grant, signaling the end of the Civil War.