American History 101: When Was the Civil War?

The American Civil War spanned from April 1861 to May 1865 and was the result of a longer conflict regarding slavery in the United States.

When was the Civil War?
The Civil War was a conflict between the northern and southern parts of the U.S. regarding the larger, ongoing conflict about slavery within the nation. Although the conflict about slavery had been going on for a significant amount of time by the time the war began, the Civil War didn't actually start until April 1861, when the Southern states seceded from the overall U.S. and declared themselves the sovereign country known as the Confederacy.

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican and noted antislavery advocate, was elected president of the U.S. in 1860, which increased tensions between the North and the South. Initially, seven Southern states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America, with four more joining them after the Civil War officially began. The South wanted to escape the rule of the overall country and government, mainly in order to have the right to choose to keep slaves. Many argued that a nation that had a founding principal of "All men are created equal" should not become one of the largest slave-owning countries in the world, and many citizens were simply opposed to the idea of allowing other human beings to be purchased and sold for the purposes of hard labor.

The Beginning of the Civil War
When asked the question, "When was the Civil War?," many suggest that the war began prior to the first actual shots being fired, citing the election of Lincoln in 1860 as the real starting point of the war. He was not only the first Republican president, but was also one of the first presidents elected due to a specific platform. Lincoln was adamantly against slavery and his presidential platform centered on that and his promise to rid the U.S. of slavery. This troubled the Southern states, where the majority of slave owners resided, which is the seven Southern states — Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Alabama — left the Union on December 20, 1860. That date was six weeks after Lincoln was elected as president and approximately five months before the start of the Civil War.

The event that officially started the conflict of the Civil War happened at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Confederate Army opened fire on the Union garrison stationed at the fort, forcing them to lower the American flag and surrender to them. In response, President Lincoln dispatched militia to defend the Union and push back Confederate forces. It wasn't until after Lincoln's response that Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Arkansas joined the Confederacy, and signaling the beginning of the Civil War.

The End of the War
Although the Civil War was a long, bloody war, the North prevailed in the end. By the spring of 1865, all Confederate forces had surrendered, and when Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured by northern forces in Irwin County, Georgia, on May 10, 1865, the Confederacy was forced to formally surrender and admit defeat to the Union. It would be several years before all of the states were readmitted to the Union, with Texas being the last in March 1870.