In April of 1861, the South Carolina State Militia opened fire on Fort Sumter at the entrance to the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Thus began the bloodiest war in U.S. history, the American Civil War. Over 620,000 soldiers would be killed in this conflict, as well as an uncountable number of civilians.
Since the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1785, the issue of slavery had driven an inexorable wedge between the Northern and Southern regions of the United States. The agrarian Southern states claimed that they needed slaves to profitably work the large cotton, rice, and sugar plantations that dominated the southern economy. The more industrialized, more populated, and more economically powerful Northern states, on the other hand, felt that slavery was an evil that should be eradicated. However, though slavery was a major issue leading up to the conflict, the Southern states were also concerned about their rights in an increasingly northern-dominated Federal Government.
The election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the U.S., in 1860, ultimately tipped the scales toward a Civil War. Led by South Carolina, seven Southern states, fearful that Lincoln would act on his vow to eliminate slavery during his tenure as President, thus trampling their States' Rights, summarily seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. By the time hostilities began, in 1861, four more Southern states had seceded, for a total of 11.
Known in the U.S. today as simply “The Civil War,” the American Civil War, during the four years of conflict, was called “The War Between the States” in the North, and “The War of Secession” in the South. Most of the major battles of the American Civil War were fought in the southern states. Indeed, many battles took place in the state of Virginia, where the Confederate capitol, Richmond, Virginia became a prime objective of northern forces.
After almost exactly four years of horrific conflict, in April of 1865, the Southern General Robert E. Lee surrendered his pitifully depleted Army of Northern Virginia, virtually the last viable Confederate force, to General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Northern armies, at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Though small skirmishes would go on for several weeks, Lee’s surrender effectively brought the American Civil War to a conclusion.
During the course of the American Civil War, slavery, a primary cause of the war, was finally eradicated from the United States by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Interestingly, slavery was not officially banned in the U.S. until December of 1865, some eight months after the end of the war, when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the re-United States of America. The 13th Constitutional Amendment makes the ownership of slaves a Federal offense.