As sectional tension increased, the nation found itself at a crossroads with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Lincoln’s beliefs about slavery made his election intolerable to several southern states, resulting in seven of them seceding from the union to form the Confederate States of America. When shots were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, April 1861, four more states seceded, and the Civil War began. For four years the nation was divided as the North fought the South. The war finally ended in April of 1865 with the South’s defeat and surrender. The challenge now was how to rebuild the nation.

As it became more and more obvious that the North was going to be victorious over the South, President Lincoln began plans that focused on rebuilding the South and healing the nation. With the conclusion of the war, the nation had to address the economic, political, and social changes that would come with the end of slavery. With Lincoln’s assassination, plans for a more radical and punitive approach to the Southern states emerged. Southern states were occupied by the U.S. military and steps were taken to assist and protect former slaves during this rebuilding phase. The controversy over who would win the presidential election of 1876 brought the Reconstruction Era to an end. Congress awarded Republican Rutherford B. Hayes the White House on the condition federal troops be withdrawn from the South. With the removal of the federal troops, many of the protections for former slaves disappeared.


Philip Bazaar was a Chilean immigrant and a resident of Massachusetts. He was a member of the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. As a seaman on the USS Santiago de Cuba, he participated in the assault on Fort Fisher, a Confederate fort. He and five other seamen, carried dispatches during the battle. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865 for his bravery.
William Carney was born a slave in Virginia. His father escaped from slavery with the help of the Underground Railroad and earned enough money to buy his family’s freedom. William Carney enlisted in the all African American 54th Massachusetts regiment during the Civil War, which was led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. William Carney was quoted in The Liberator as saying “Previous to the formation of colored troops, I had a strong inclination to prepare myself for the ministry; but when the country called for all persons, I could best serve my God by serving my country and my oppressed brothers.” He fought bravely at the Battle of Fort Wagner outside Charleston, South Carolina and earned a promotion to sergeant. He was shot four times and survived. He is the first African American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky, and his family soon moved to Mississippi. His father had been an officer in the Revolutionary War. Davis attended the Military Academy at West Point, served in the Black Hawk War, and later returned to Mississippi to become a cotton planter. He allowed his slaves to grow and sell their own food, and is considered to have treated them well compared to other slave owners. A supporter of slavery and a strong advocate of the rights of states against federal interference, he represented Mississippi in the US Senate and House of Representatives. He supported the Fugitive Slave Act and proposed extending the line set by the Missouri Compromise to the Pacific Ocean. He also called for a reinstitution of the slave trade. As tensions grew and talk of southern secession grew, Davis gave speeches arguing against secession and appeared to oppose the idea. However, upon President Abraham Lincoln’s election, he yielded to the wishes of the citizens of Mississippi and announced the state’s secession in 1861. He described leaving the Union as “necessary.” Davis was soon after elected president of what was called the Confederate States of America. Davis assigned Robert E. Lee to command the Army of Northern Virginia, and later appointed Lee Commanding General. After the Civil War, Davis was indicted for treason. While imprisoned, he sold his estate to one of his former slaves. The treason case against him was dropped after several years. He was later re-elected to the US Senate, but was unable to take office under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Ulysses S. Grant was born in 1822. Grant was educated at West Point Academy where he graduated in the middle of his class. He fought in the U.S.-Mexican War where he served under General Zachary Taylor. President Lincoln appointed him General of the Union Army during the Civil War, and he won the first major Union victories of the war. On April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant. Grant wrote out the terms of surrender in such a way as to prevent treason trials. He became the 18th President of the United States in 1868. As President, he presided over the government similar to the way he ran the Army. He brought part of his Army staff to the White House, and his presidency was plagued by corruption.
Stonewall Jackson was one of the most famous figures in American Civil War history. He was a strong-willed, naturally gifted military leader. He graduated from West Point, served in the U.S. Army, fought in the U.S.-Mexican War, and was a Confederate general in the Civil War. Perhaps best known for his courageous ability to face an opposing army like a “stone wall” without backing down, Jackson was a veteran of many Civil War battles and skirmishes. He was revered by the Confederate armies of the South, not only for his years of dedicated military service but also for his repeated displays of bravery and valor. Jackson died in May, 1863 as a result of complications from wounds received at Chancellorsville and pneumonia. When Stonewall died, Robert E. Lee said, “I have lost my right arm.” Stonewall Jackson was buried at Lexington, Virginia.
Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia and attended the Military Academy at West Point, later becoming the institution’s Superintendent. He spent his life serving in the military. He served in the U.S.-Mexican War and on the Texas frontier. He was called back to Virginia in 1859 where he remained until the Civil War. Lee was personally devoted to the Constitution and privately denounced secession. However, when Virginia seceded, he turned down an offer to command the Union Army and instead took command of Virginia’s forces on behalf of the Confederacy. He was later made a General and then General-In-Chief by Jefferson Davis in January 1865. By that April, however, it was clear the South would be defeated. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865 rather than lose the lives of any more soldiers. After the war, Lee supported President Andrew Johnson’s plans for a speedy rebuilding of the Southern states. He spoke out against equal rights for former slaves, saying it would “excite unfriendly feelings between the two races.” He supported the Anti-Reconstruction candidate against Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election of 1868.
Abraham Lincoln taught himself the law by reading Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. He served in the Illinois House of Representatives and in 1846 was elected to US Congress. He served one term in the US House of Representatives before returning to his law practice. Lincoln’s concerns about the Kansas-Nebraska Act lured him back into politics. Lincoln challenged its sponsor, Stephen Douglas, in the 1858 race for the Senate. Lincoln lost the election but his performance in debates with Douglas gained him national attention. In 1860 he was elected President of the United States. Upon his election, seven southern states seceded from the Union, and others followed suit. In his First Inaugural Address, he argued that secession was not proper under the Constitution. He cited the Articles of Confederation as creating a “perpetual Union,” furthered by the Preamble’s goal of a “more perfect Union.” After the fighting began, Lincoln called for the suspension of writs of habeas corpus. This meant rebel fighters could be arrested and held without trial. The case of ex parte Milligan addressed the constitutionality of the suspension of habeas corpus. As the war continued, Lincoln consulted with Frederick Douglass about conditions faced by Army soldiers. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 announcing that slaves in rebelling states were free and that the Union Army would enforce their freedom. Later that year Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, invoking the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and its promise of equality. At his Second Inaugural Address in March of 1865, the war was coming to an end. Lincoln urged his countrymen to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and called the war God’s punishment to a country that tolerated the evil of slavery. When the Confederate capital of Richmond was captured, Lincoln made the symbolic gesture of sitting at Jefferson Davis‘ desk. Five days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April of 1865, Lincoln was assassinated. His Vice President Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency. Later that year, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery throughout the nation.
Hiram Rhodes Revels was born a free man in 1827. An ordained minister for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, he spent the years of the Civil War recruiting African Americans to fight as well as serving as a chaplain to their regiments. After the war, he moved to Mississippi where he continued to serve as a minister as well as establishing schools for the freed slaves. In 1868 he became involved in politics and served in the Mississippi State Senate where he made a name for himself. At that time the state legislatures selected the U.S. Senators, so in 1870, he was selected as the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress as a Senator. While in the Senate he actively supported amnesty for former Confederates.
Harriet Tubman, an enslaved field hand who could not read, escaped to freedom in 1849. Thirty years of poverty and abuse had left her small body battered and scarred, but her spirit was unstoppable. “There was one of two things I had a right to—liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other,” she later said. Not content with securing her own freedom, Tubman then turned to helping others escape. Although she faced death or re-enslavement if caught, Tubman became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s. At first, she returned south to rescue her family. Over time, she saved hundreds of slaves. She was clever and gifted at avoiding capture, so successful that she was nicknamed “Moses.” Nineteen times, she made the dangerous 650-mile journey from Maryland to Canada. She was never caught, and “never lost a passenger.” During the Civil War, she became a scout, spy, nurse, and cook. She recruited freedmen to the Union cause, and helped lead raids that freed hundreds more slaves. With unequaled courage, Tubman pursued liberty for every American, and in doing so became a legend. The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865, ended slavery forever in the United States.
After the Southern states seceded from the Union, they formed the Confederate States of America and elected Jefferson Davis as President. In his Inaugural Address (statement to the country) in 1861, Davis argued that separation from the Union was a “necessity, not a choice.” He also referred to the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the South’s belief that the states should reclaim their sovereignty.
After Abraham Lincoln was elected President, in 1861, he delivered his First Inaugural Address (statement to the country). In this speech Lincoln addressed the looming Civil War and the secession of some Southern states. He called for preservation of the Union and emphasized his commitment to that goal. In an attempt to avoid war, he also stated, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.”
Passed in 1862 during the Civil War, the Homestead Act allowed any person who was head of a family or was 21 years of age and a citizen of the U.S. and had not taken up arms against the U.S. to claim 160 acres of public land in the West for a small fee after residing on the land for five years. Eventually, 285 million acres of western land were claimed and settled under the Homestead Act.
Under the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, the U.S. government donated public land to the states for their use in establishing colleges to educate the nation’s farmers and workers in “agriculture and the mechanic arts.” The Morrill Act was very important for the development of public education in the U.S. It resulted in the establishment of more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities such as Texas A&M University.
President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, to dedicate a cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where many were buried after dying in the Battle of Gettysburg. In his two-minute speech, Lincoln spoke to the fact that our nation was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He suggested that the Civil War was a test of whether the nation and democracy would survive.
Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 after the victory by the Union forces at the Battle of Antietam. This executive order declared all slaves in rebelling states to be free. This event expanded the goals of the war from saving the Union to freeing the slaves. As a result of the Proclamation, many escaped slaves, former slaves, and freemen joined the Union army. It is also widely believed that this proclamation may have kept Britain, where slavery was illegal, from entering the war on the side of the Confederates.
After Abraham Lincoln’s reelection as President in 1864, he delivered his Second Inaugural Address (statement to the country) in 1865. At the time of this speech, the Civil War was nearing an end, and Lincoln addressed the future of the country. Lincoln called for healing and peace, saying, “With malice toward none; with charity for all… let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds…”
As part of the Reconstruction effort, this act established the Freedmen’s Bureau in the War Department to provide assistance to former slaves and poor whites in the South and the District of Columbia following the Civil War. The Bureau was to issue food and clothing, operate hospitals, and construct temporary camps for the newly freed slaves. They attempted to settle the slaves on abandoned or confiscated land. This part of the act had varying degrees of success depending on the state. The most successful part of the act established colleges and training schools for the newly freed slaves. The best known of these institutions is Howard University founded in Washington in 1867 and still operating today.
After the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted, some southern states passed so-called “Black Codes” which were designed to keep former slaves in a subordinate position. For example, these “codes” prohibited former slaves from pursuing certain occupations. They also defined race by blood, and that the presence of any amount of “black blood” made one black. In addition, they provided that freed slaves could not assemble without the presence of a white person or be taught to read or write. Finally, the codes established that public facilities were segregated.
In the spring of 1866 the U. S. Congress adopted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the first of a series of laws designed to assert and protect basic legal and civil rights for former slaves. Even though the Thirteenth Amendment had abolished slavery it did nothing to assure the freedom of those slaves. That would be left up to Congressional action and the result was the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The act went on to authorize federal officials to arrest and prosecute those who were violating the rights guaranteed to all citizens. It did not extend the right to vote, hold office, or sit on juries to the former slaves. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto by a two-thirds vote in both houses.
This act divided the secessionist states into five military districts. Each district was to be governed by a Union general. That general declared martial law and stationed troops in the region to keep the peace and protect the former slaves. Before any state could be readmitted to the Union, they had to redraft their Constitution to outlaw slavery, ratify the 14th Amendment, and provide suffrage (the right to vote) to former slaves that was guaranteed in the 15th Amendment.
Congress passed the Enforcement Acts of 1870-1871 also known as the Ku Klux Klan Acts to counter the violence against African Americans being carried out by the Klan. The Klan was present in nearly every southern state and was a means for resisting Reconstruction era policies designed to achieve equality for former slaves. The organization attempted through violent actions to intimidate not only former slaves but also whites who supported former slaves’ efforts to achieve their rights. Among other techniques which Klan members utilized were burning crosses, rallies, parades and marches, and, most seriously, lynching. In response to the violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, Congress intended to protect former slaves’ rights to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and be guaranteed the equal protection of the laws. If states did not act, these laws allowed the U. S. government to intervene. Using these laws, President Ulysses Grant sent U. S. troops to restore law and order where Klan related violence was most prevalent.
The Dawes (Severalty) Act of 1887 was designed to eliminate Native American tribal life and assimilate Native Americans into white society. In the law, Congress provided for the gradual elimination of most tribal ownership of the land. The tribal land was divided up, giving 160 acres to the head of a family, 80 acres to a single adult, and 40 acres to each dependent child. Adult owners were also given U.S. citizenship. However, owners could not gain full title to their property for 25 years. Native Americans who were to be given the land had to agree to live separately from the tribe.


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.