Season 3: U.S. History

US History Ep. 6 The Civil War or, “Sorry I’m not Ken Burns!”

Welcome back to Anti-Social Studies! Last time we talked about sectionalism. The federal government kept putting off talking about the horrific question of slavery but, ultimately, it was an issue that had to be resolved one way or another. The growing tension and disagreements amongst various sections of the U.S. was only exacerbated by American expansion. As Jay-Z said, “More land, more problems.” And in the end, despite Congress’s best efforts to completely ignore the plight of millions of enslaved Americans, we couldn’t avoid dealing with the “original sin” of the United States. 241 years later than we should have dealt with it, but we’ll take it. And it all came to a head when another unlikely president – a rough-and-tumble, poverty-stricken, semi-educated lawyer from the west – stopped arguing about “spots” and turned his attention to slaves. 

That’s right! Today’s episode is all about the Civil War or, “Sorry I’m Not Ken Burns!” This is Anti-Social Studies; I’m Emily Glankler; settle in and let’s go back in time.

Act 1: Daniel Day-Lewis

Abraham Lincoln has an amazing story, comparable with Andrew Jackson’s rise. Abe was born in a cabin on the frontier in Kentucky to a weaver’s apprentice. His mother, Nancy Hanks, is an ancestor to similarly-impressive-American Tom Hanks. Seriously, that guy has to insert himself Forrest-Gump style into every American history project he can find. Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine and it was his new stepmother who encouraged Lincoln’s love of reading. This was amazing considering both of his parents were illiterate and he never attended more than one year of school in his entire life. Neighbors remembered him walking miles to borrow a book to bring back to the squatters’ cabin his family built in Indiana. 

At 21, he drove a team of oxen on the move to Illinois. At six feet four inches tall, he was an impressive man who spent the next few years working in almost every job imaginable: rail-splitter, flatboatman traveling down the Missisippi, storekeeper, postmaster, and surveyor. He volunteered to fight in an Indian War where he joked that he fought no Native Ameircans but had “a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes.”

After considering a career as a blacksmith, he decided to pursue the law. By the way, that should tell us a lot about 19th century U.S. attitudes toward lawyers – blacksmith or lawyer… hmm… He studied law books on his own and, again, with no formal education, he passed the bar exam in 1836. Within a few years he was one of the most sought-after lawyers in Springfield, earning a salary equivalent to the governor of the state. He entered politics after 20 years practicing the law and earning a reputation for shrewdness, common sense, fairness, and honesty. 

Within that time he married Mary Todd, the quick-witted daughter of a distinguished Kentucky family. They had four sons, but three died before adulthood (Edward died at 4, “Willie” at 11, and “Tad” at 18.) Only the oldest, Robert Todd, survived to adulthood. Side note: he also became the only known person in history associated with THREE presidential assassinations! He rushed to his father’s bedside and was present when he died. He went on to serve as the Secretary of War under President Garfield and was at the train station when he was shot by a man who was angry the president hadn’t given him a job in his new administration. Thanks Jacksonian “spoils system…” Then, he was invited to the Pan-American Exposition in New York and was nearby when President McKinley was shot by an anarchist. Lesson: presidents should really stop inviting Robert Todd Lincoln to events.

Lincoln entered politics during the Jacksonian era and he agreed with the Jacksonian Democrats in a lot of ways. He was concerned about the plight of the “common man” but he disagreed about Jackson’s belief that the government should stay out of the economy. Lincoln believed that it was the job of the federal government to encourage economic development and provide for those who can’t provide for themselves. He ended up being part of the Republican faction of the Whigs, but remember that the names of the political parties make no real sense from our modern views. So Lincoln’s Republican Party was one that advocated a larger federal government and an increased role in the state, while 19th century Democrats mostly believed that issues should be left up to the states to decide. And neither party got especially involved in social issues, until forced to legislate slavery. 

Lincoln’s Stance on Slavery

On that note, we should be clear that Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He personally believed that slavery was wrong but he also acknowledged that it had been sanctioned by the Founding Fathers. At a debate in the 1850s, Lincoln railed against slavery and then ended his rant by acknowledging he had no idea how to solve the problem. Abolitionists were like, “Um… we have an idea? Just end it?” Lincoln saw abolitionists as extremists who made the problem worse. During his one term as a Congressman, he proposed a bill that would emancipate the slaves of D.C., but only with the approval of “free white citizens.” Amazingly, abolitionists and slaveholders all agreed on something: they hated Lincoln’s plan. 

Also, earlier in his career he opposed racial equality. While he believed black people should be free, he did not believe they should be given the same social and political rights as whites – like the right to vote. He even advocated sending freed blacks to Liberia or into Central America to colonize other lands, rather than coexisting with white Americans. By the end of the Civil War he would change his stance, but it’s another important piece of evidence for the complexity of American views on slavery – pardon the pun, but it was not black and white. If anything, Lincoln believed that the end of slavery would have to happen gradually over generations to prevent a rebellion from the South, making his presidency during the Civil War and emancipation especially ironic. It’s like later when Woodrow Wilson runs for president. He’s like, “I’m really good at domestic stuff but I’m pretty weak on foreign policy, especially warfare.” Cut to: World War I starting like 2 second after he’s elected. Aw, man.

So how did this one-term Congressman from Illinois become one of the greatest presidents in history? Well, in 1854 his political rival Stephen Douglas passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which basically reopened the entire Louisiana Purchase to the possibility of slavery, if the inhabitants voted for it. Lincoln was a “free soiler,” meaning didn’t believe slavery should be extended to any new territories, so he challenged Douglas forr his Senate seat in 1858. Their series of debates were so legendary that there’s an entire debate style today dedicated to it. High school students are forced to talk super fast and pick apart the moral and logical arguments of their opponents in Lincoln-Douglas debate tournamnets all around the country.

Lincoln later published his debates as part of his presidential campaign, including his most famous speech in which he argued that the government needed to take a stronger stance against slavery in the territories. “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe the government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. [Eventually the country will become] all one thing, or all the other.” Slaveowners everywhere took a big sigh of relief when Lincoln lost the Senate race to Douglas. But then Lincoln pulled a Beto and was like, “You know what? Even though I just very publicly lost a Senate race, I think I’m gonna run for president.”

His presidential platform was the first ever that pledged to keep slavery out of the territories. Remember that for the last few decades, most politicians – especially presidents – tried to stay as far away frorm the slavery issue as possible, especially during an election. But Lincoln gauged, correctly, that his opposition was split so he didn’t need to win all the votes, but he did need to keep his Republican base united. In the end, the Democrats were divided over the issue of slavery and many of the votes were split across three other candidates. Lincoln won in 1860 after receiving just 40% of the votes – he didn’t even need to win a majority. He received no votes in the Deep South and the only future Confederate state that registered any votes for him was the part of Virginia that was soon to break away and become West Virginia. But still, his support in the North and parts of the West was enough to be a decisive majority in the electoral college

You know the rest. Just four weeks later, South Carolina was like… “Yeah, we’re out.”

Act 2: The Confederate States of America

So from December to June of the following year, 11 states seceded from the United States. South Carolina kicked it off, and were soon followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. To be clear, the Civil War hadn’t begun… but it was about to. So, as part of their declaration of secession, the southern states demanded that the US government give up federal property, including military bases, to the states. Lincoln didn’t want to provoke a military conflict but he refused to give up federal land. In April, he decided to resupply the US forces stationed at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina with food and basic supplies (no weapons or soldiers). Confederate forces fired on the federal garrison and forced it to lower the American flag in surrender. As US troops evacuated the base, President Lincoln called on the militia to put down the “insurrection” while four more states seceded (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.) Now, the Civil War had begun. 

Before we get into the war itself, I want to spend some time diving into a few questions relating to secession because it’s one of those events that everyone just breezes past without really stopping to think about what that means. 11 states broke away from the U.S. which begs the first question… can they do that?

The Legality of Secession

Well, just like Andrew Jackson, “I guess they can because they did.” Since the U.S. was created around 70 years earlier, people had disagreed on whether a state was allowed to leave the union. Remember the debate from the beginning was between a powerful federal government and a permanently united country – the Federalists and those who supported the Constitution. And on the other side were those who saw the U.S. as a loose collection of states, whose governments had the final say in most issues relating to peoples’ lives. They were the ones who were happier under the Articles of Confederation and it’s no coincidence that the Southern states decided to name their new nation the Confederate States of America. 

But there had been times in American history when states confronted the federal government over laws they saw as unjust. Early on, many were appalled by John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it harder for immigrants to become citizens and gave the president enormous power to deport “dangerous” immigrants and to restrict the speech of those critical of the federal government. In response, Kentucky and Virginia passed resolutions. They called them the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and they argued that states could declare federal laws unconstitutional if they did not follow a strict interpretation of the Constitution. While they didn’t actually change anything fundamental about the Constitution, they laid the foundation for the idea of states’ rights.

This idea came up again in the Nullification Crisis, mentioned a few episodes ago. And, ironically, the states’ rights argument was also used by northern states who opposed the harsh Fugitive Slave Law. They cited the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions to argue that they didn’t have to follow an unjust or unconstitutional law. Meanwhile, Kentucky and Virginia are like… “Wait. Y’all can’t use our resolutions to oppose slavery… that’s not how it works.”

But, in fact, that is exactly how it works. You see, the first serious mention of secession in the 19th century was by abolitionists. William Lloyd Garrison – the guy from last episode that was everywhere – called for secession in his newspaper The Liberator in 1844, 15 years before South Carolina seceded. He argued that the Constitution was created “at the expense of the colored population” and that it was unfair that Southerners were able to dominate politics through the ⅗ Compromise. The New England Anti-Slavery Convention actually voted to endorse the “principles of disunion” 250-24. That’s how bad things were. After public debate around slavery rose up again during and after the Mexican-American War, support for secession shifted to the Southern states.  Both sides were like, “You’re not dumping me! I’m dumping you!”

Why did the South secede?

OK. The bigger question is “Why did the southern states secede?” and here’s where I’m going to get myself into trouble. Because there’s a lot of debate and discussion out there about the reasons for the Civil War and there are a lot of people out there who like to point out that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery it was about “states rights.” And to them, I say, “You’re right.”

Didn’t expect that one did you? Yeah I like to keep you on your toes. They’re right that the Civil War was about states’ rights. They just haven’t finished the sentence yet. Because Southern states, definitively, seceded over the issues of states’ rights… to own slaves. 

And if anyone out there wants to fight me on this, please don’t. But also, please do your research first. Because if you read the secession documents – in which the states clearly lay out their reasons for seceding – there is no debate. It was about slavery. So, every state in the Confederacy issued an “Article of Secession” declaring their break from the Union. Four states went further. Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina all issued additional documents, usually referred to as the “Declarations of Causes,” which explain their decision to leave the Union. Let me just lay out the main points for you, but I’ve linked to these documents on my website for anyone out there who wants to fact check me:

There are mentions of states’ rights in the documents. They argue that the Union was a compact, but one that can be annulled if states are not satisfied with actions by other states in the union or the federal government. And they argue that the Northern states reluctance to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 means that the union is no longer “satisfactory.” So, from the get go, the entire justification for southern states asserting their right to secede is based on their frustration with the lack of compliance with the Fugitive Slave Act. Keyword: “slave.”

Now, let me just read to you direct quotes from the four “Declarations of Causes” documents that detail why each state decided to leave the U.S.

From Georgia, ““The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state.”

So Georgia is making it clear that the election of Lincoln, as a candidate from an anti-slavery party, was the inciting event that made them secede.

South Carolina says something similar, ““A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”

From my home state of Texas: ““In all the non-slave-holding States…the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party… based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”

And, most plainly, from Mississippi, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

Furthermore, when the Confederate States of America drafted its Constitution, it mostly copied and pasted from the U.S. document, except to make a few noteworthy changes:

  • For one, the Confederate Constitution actually mentioned “slaves,” unlike the US Constitution.
  • One article banned any Confederate state from making slavery illegal.
  • Another article ensured that slave owners could travel across state lines with their slaves.
  • And it required that any new territory acquired by the Confederacy had to allow slavery. 

So, were there other reasons states wanted to leave the U.S.? Sure. Georgia took a shot at Northern manufacturing interests that they felt were exploiting the South. And Texas mentioned its dissatisfaction with federal military protection in the state. But anyone who reads these documents and studies history can see pretty quickly that the primary cause of secession was the issue of slavery. They were very clear and upfront about it at the time. 

Now, it’s true that not every single southerner who enlisted in the Confederate army was doing it to preserve slavery. Some of them wanted to defend their land or prove to their girlfriend that they were brave. Seriously. There’s a letter from a woman telling her boyfriend that if he doesn’t enlist, she’ll send him a dress to wear. Problematic gender stereotypes aside, that’s a pretty compelling reason for a man to go to war. And, on the flip side, not all northerners went to war to fight against slavery, especially considering many of them were poor whites who could lose jobs and status to newly freed African Americans. So each individual soldier’s motivations are his own, but at the state and federal level, the reason for going to war was clear: it was about slavery.

The Border States

OK, one more secession-related question: did all of the slave states secede? No. This is another argument some people make to prove that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery – “If it was, wouldn’t all of the slave states seceded?” No. Because, again, Lincoln didn’t campaign on the promise to end slavery. He actually very clearly said that he didn’t want to take away states slaves. He just didn’t want slavery to extend into new territory. So there were some states, those in the “Middle,” who took him at his word and stayed. These states were often more economically tied to northern interests, mostly thanks to geography. The two slave states that never declared secession were Maryland and Delaware. Two others, Kentucky and Missouri, had pro-Confederate governments that ordered secession but they were never really in control of the states. And West Virginia made up the fifth “Border State” after it split from Virginia over secession. 

These “Border States” epitomize the “Brother versus Brother” nature of the Civil War. About 170,000 border state men (including African Americans) fought in the Union Army and 86,000 in the Confederate Army. Sometimes, this meant that families had sons fighting on both sides of the war. Interestingly, every single slave state sent battalions of troops to fight on both sides of the war – except South Carolina. Man, don’t mess with South Carolina. They mean business. But even though in every other Confederate state there were units of men who fought for the North, the divide was the most dramatic in the Border States. 

OK. So 11 states seceded and formed the Confederacy. Within its new borders, there were 9 million people – and ⅓ of those were enslaved. After a brief stint in Montgomery, the capital was set in Richmond, Virginia and Jefferson Davis was chosen as the first (and only) president. Born in 1808, he was the son of a Revolutionary War veteran – think about that. The Revolutionary Era and the Civil War seem so far apart to me but Jefferson Davis was born in 1808 and Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809. They were alive during the War of 1812. They were born during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency! I don’t know why that blows my mind but it does. Wait… that’s probably why his parents named him Jefferson. Whoa. 

A graduate of West Point, Davis’s career path bounced between Congress and the military, whenever a war was on. He led troops in the Mexican-American War, served as President Pierce’s Secretary of War, and was a US Senator from Mississippi when the state seceded. Davis summed up his views on slavery: “We recognize the negro as God and God’s Book and God’s Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him: Our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude.” Great, you’re going to love the Confederacy for, like, 2 years. 

OK. So ever since Fort Sumter, the two sides are at war. Who’s going to win? 

The Union vs. The Confederacy: Who has the advantage?

I know that we’re from the future and so we know who wins, but that question wasn’t as easy to answer in 1860. The Confederacy could sustain itself thanks to its agricultural base, it was fighting mostly on a home field advantage and the majority of the best trained military officers seceded along with their states. Seven of the eight military colleges in the U.S. were in the South and so their leadership and strategy was far and away better than the North for most of the war. Robert E. Lee will quickly distinguish himself as one of the greatest military minds in history with the way he used his troops so effectively against a much larger enemy. For example, at Chancellorsville, he faced a Union army twice his size. Despite that fact, he divided his army not once, but twice, to sneak around the Union forces and attack them from all sides. With only 60,000 troops he won the battle against an army of 132,000. And sure, he lost his “right hand” man General Stonewall Jackson but even he was shot by Confederate friendly fire. The North couldn’t even kill Jackson themselves, they had to rely on Confederate soldiers to do it for them…

In comparison, the U.S. cycled through generals like they were swiping through Bumble dates. Eventually they landed on Ulysses S. Grant whose battle strategy was less about tactics and more about throwing thousands of men across the battlefield and hoping some of them made it through. Grant fought the war to destroy the South, not just defeat them and, in this way, he foreshadowed the insane numbers and destruction of 20th century warfare. But it’s still clear that the South had the advantage when it came to strategy.

And, most importantly, the Confederates were fighting on the defensive. Remember back to the American Revolution when the Patriots didn’t win, they just kept not losing until the British decided to go home? That’s the position the South was in now. They didn’t have to defeat the United States, they just had to defend themselves for long enough that the North decided that it wasn’t worth it to try to force them to come back to the country. And, they knew that European powers would take notice pretty quickly as global cotton supplies took a hit thanks to the North’s embargo of Southern trade. All they had to do was wait it out.

The U.S., on the other hand, had to force the South to surrender – a difficult task consider that for most the war the South had way more morale and personal motivation. They were fighting to preserve the “Southern way of life” (including slavery) and they were often fighting to defend their home land. This is partly evidenced by the fact that the South had an army almost equal in size to the North, even though the Southern population was 9 million compared with the North’s 21 million. Southern men joined in droves. It wouldn’t be until the Emancipation Proclamation three years in that the North feels a similar drive based on more than just winning a war. By the end of the war, though, over 2 million people fought for the North compared with just 900,000 for the South. 

Technologically, the North was lightyears ahead of the South. The Confederacy started the war with 1/9 the industrial capacity as the U.S. In 1860, the North manufactured 97% of the country’s firearms; 96% of its trains; 94% of its cloth; 93% of its iron; and over 90% of its boots and shoes. So the Confederate army was well-trained and determined, but it very well might be naked and unarmed.

Northerners felt confident that they would subdue the South quickly. Fair warning: any time in history you learn that one side thinks the war will be super quick, that automatically means the war will not – in fact – be super quick. (Wait your turn, World War I.)

The Battle of First Bull Run

In fact, at one of the first major battles – called First Bull Run by the North and First Manassas by the South. Ugh, they can’t even agree on what to name their battles. Anyway, in D.C., citizens and congressmen followed the troops the 26 miles to the battle field. Spectators packed picnic baskets and wine as if this were a music festival and they cheered as the 90-day volunteer soldiers march onto the field. They met 22,000 Southern troops commanded by the most Southern name of all time – General P.G.T. Beauregard – and it didn’t go well for the North. Union troops began to withdraw, but they were blocked as half-drunk spectators and carriages clogged up the road back to D.C. Luckily, Southern troops didn’t follow – they were too distracted by the arrival of President Jefferson Davis on the battlefield – but, needless to say it was super embarrassing for the North.

For the rest of 1861, troops clashed along a line 1200 miles long from Virginia to Missouri. Southerners dug in while Northerners slowly realized that this would be harder than they thought. 

Act 3: Battles!

Antietam, Md. Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand; another view].
Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer.

OK. So we’re not going to go through every single battle of the Civil War because I’m not Ken Burns. But I will tell you the general narrative of the war: the South was doing really well in the first few years of the war, then 1863 happened, and then the North was doing really well. Got it? If you want more detail go ask your uncle, because it’s required by law that every American uncle must be well-versed in Civil War history. Look it up.

I’m just kidding we’ll go into a little bit more detail, but not much. So in the early years of the war, Confederates were winning major battles. And even when the Union won, they walked away with staggering casualty numbers. At Shiloh, for example, the North held the line in a sunken road known as the “Hornet’s Nest” but the two day battle eventually produced more than 23,000 casualties, making it the bloodiest battle in American history up until that point.

But for the most part, the Confederate troops were advancing. At the Battle of Second Bull Run/Second Manassas, they defeated the North – again – at literally the exact same spot. That’s embarrassing. Fool me once, am I right? This victory allowed General Lee to make his first invasion of the North, bringing his troops into U.S. territory. This invasion had a few purposes: for one, he wanted to make the northerners defend their land for a change. He also thought it would be pretty cool to capture D.C. But he also had distinctly political objectives. A Congressional election was coming up in the U.S. and Lee hoped that if he was fighting at their doorstep, voters might elect leaders who wanted to negotiate an end to the war with the South. And across the Atlantic, Lee hoped to prove to Europe that the Confederacy was a military power, possibly enticing those desperate for Southern cotton to step in on their behalf.

Whatever the reason, the first invasion of the North ended at Antietam. With over 22,000 casualties the one-day battle at Antietam made September 17, 1862 the bloodiest day in American history. Not to be insensitive, but it is an interesting question to wonder if the Southern soldiers should be counted as “American deaths,” considering they had left the U.S. and were fighting for a new government? But those are semantics. 3,600 people died at Antietam in just one day. For context, 2,500 soldiers died on D-Day and 2,977 people died on September 11. With the Union victory, the Confederates were pushed back into their own territory. Then, Lincoln decided to kick the men when they were down by instantly freeing all of their slaves.

The Emancipation Proclamation

I’m just kidding that’s not how it works. But just a few months after Antietam, and 60 days after issuing a warning to the South, on January 1, 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. Well, it theoretically went into effect. Nothing actually changed, but a lot was proclaimed. So the Emancipation Proclamation declared all slaves free. Wait, no. That’s not right. The Emancipation Proclamation declared all slaves in the Confederacy free. Wait, not even that. All slaves in the parts of the Confederacy that were still openly fighting against the U.S… they were free. But slaves in the United States? Like in the border slave states that stuck with the U.S.? Oh yeah, American slaves were all still enslaved. Lincoln needed Maryland more than enslaved people needed freedom, I guess. 

And also, obviously, the Emancipation Proclamation could only actually take effect once the North had won the war and conquered the South. But this was exactly the point. The Emancipation Proclamation should be viewed entirely through the lens of wartime politics. Lincoln worried that three years in, his constituents and soldiers were getting tired. At some point, they were going to be like, “Do we even want Mississippi? I mean really?” And he was also concerned that European powers might eventually get involved considering the blockade of the South was going well. Global cotton prices went from 10 cents a pound in 1860 to $1.89 a pound in 1864. 

Side note: if you listened to Season 1 you remember that Egypt was cashing in on those cotton prices. And they were spending more on industrializing than they were making from cotton because they were like, “Cotton prices will never go back down! We’re going to live forever!” Cut to: the end of the Civil War and southern cotton floods the market and Egypt is totally screwed. Sorry Egypt. But I’m sure England and France will take real good care of that Suez Canal for you.

And England was getting more and more involved throughout 1862. First, after two Confederate diplomats were forcefully taken off a British ship on their way to London, Queen Victoria admonished the U.S. for violating international law. Lincoln wasn’t too concerned until he noticed 11,000 British troops in Canada and then he was like, “Oh shoot. Sorry Queen Victoria.” So the Emancipation Proclamation was just as much about keeping England and France (both countries that had already abolished slavery) out of the war as much as it was about freeing the slaves. 

OK, back to domestic politics. Lincoln knew that with this document he could reinvigorate support for the war because now they weren’t just fighting to preserve the Union. They were fighting to transform the United States into a new, more socially conscious nation that finally figured out that slavery was bad. Now, soldiers weren’t just fighters, they were liberators. And every place they conquered became a recruiting opportunity for the North to gain more soldiers from emancipated black men. By the end of the war, over 200,000 black soldiers fought for the United States, including those who had been emancipated during the war.

So by 1863, the tide is turning. First, General Grant tries his hand at some military strategy at Vicksburg and, turns out, he’s pretty good. The Union army built 15 miles of trenches to enclose Confederate troops inside Vicksburg, Mississippi. Conditions deteriorated as no new supplies could enter the city. Residents lived underground in tunnels to escape bombardments and, after almost two months, the Confederate forces surrendered on July 4, 1863. Fun fact: the city of Vicksburg didn’t celebrate the Fourth of July for the next 81 years. 

And at the same moment that Vicksburg was preparing to surrender – literally, from July 1-3 – Union forces were stopping Lee’s second invasion of the North. They fought at a town called Gettysburg – ever heard of it? Even though Union troops won the battle, they missed an opportunity to possibly defeat and capture Lee’s army with a final attack that never came. But on July 4, 1863, in the South, the Confederates were surrendering Vicksbug – allowing the U.S. full control of the Mississippi River – and in the North, Lee’s troops were retreating back to Virginia, never to invade the North again.

But it’s going to be two more years before the U.S. finally defeats the Confederacy. We’ve still got to capture Scarlett O’Hara, march to the sea, and meet up in Appomattox. That’s right, listeners. It’s my first ever “Cliffhanger Episode!” But, it’s not a great cliffhanger considering you already know how it ends. Hmm… I didn’t think this through.