Civil War

The American Civil War, widely known as simply the Civil War, was fought from 1861 to 1865 to determine the survival of the United States of America or the independence of the Confederate States of America. Among the 34 states in January 1861, seven Southern states declared their secession from the U.S. and formed the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy, or the South, grew to include eleven states.  It claimed two more border states (Kentucky and Missouri), the Indian Territory, and the southern portions of the Union’s western territories of Arizona and New Mexico, which was organized and incorporated into the Confederacy as Confederate Arizona. The Confederacy was never diplomatically recognized by the United States government, nor was it recognized by any foreign country. They produced their “Articles 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 explained their decision to leave the Union. All states strongly defended their states’ rights.  Other grievances included taxation, economic exploitation such as tariffs, the role of the military and slavery.  The states that remained loyal, including the Border States, were known as the Union or the North.

The North and South quickly raised volunteer and conscription armies that fought mostly in the South over four years. During this time, many innovations in warfare occurred, including the development, and use of iron-clad ships, ultimately changing naval strategy around the world.

Hostilities began on April 12th, 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter.  The First Battle of Bull Run also known as Battle of First Manassas was fought on July 21st, 1861 in Prince William County, Virginia, just north of the city of Manassas and about 25 miles west-southwest of Washington, D.C. It was the first major battle of the Civil War and a Confederate victory as the Union‘s forces were slow in positioning themselves which allowed Confederate reinforcements time to arrive by rail.  While in the Western Theater the Union made significant permanent gains, in the Eastern Theater, battle was inconclusive in 1861–62. The autumn 1862 Confederate campaigns into Maryland and Kentucky failed, dissuading British intervention. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan 1st, 1863, which made ending slavery a war goal.

By summer 1862 the Union destroyed the Confederate river navy, then much of their western armies and seized New Orleans. The 1863 Union siege of Vicksburg split the Confederacy in two at the Mississippi River.  In 1863, Robert E. Lee‘s Confederate incursion north ended at the Battle of Gettysburg.  Western successes led to Ulysses S. Grant‘s command of all Union armies in 1864.  Inflicting an ever-tightening naval blockade of Confederate ports, the Union marshaled the resources and manpower to attack the Confederacy from all directions, leading to the fall of Atlanta and the end of  William T. Sherman‘s march to the sea.  The last significant engagement was the Battle of Appomattox and ended with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses Grant at the McLean House, in the village of Appomattox Court House, on April 9th, 1865.

After four years of intense combat that left more than 750,000 Americans, Union and Confederate, (including civilians) dead and destroyed much of the South’s infrastructure, the Confederacy collapsed, grievances were addressed and slavery was abolished in the entire country.  Then began the Reconstruction Era (1863–1877) and the process of restoring national unity, strengthening the national government, and guaranteeing civil rights to the freed slaves.  The political reintegration of the nation during the Reconstruction Era would take another 12 years.

Spanish-American War

The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, the result of U.S. intervention in the Cuban War of Independence.

President William McKinley sent the USS Maine to Havana to ensure the safety of American citizens and interests, and to underscore the urgent need for reform. Naval forces were moved in position to attack simultaneously on several fronts if the war was not avoided. As the Maine left Florida, a large part of the North Atlantic Squadron was moved to Key West and the Gulf of Mexico. Others were also moved just off the shore of Lisbon, and still others were moved to Hong Kong.

At 9:40 on the evening of February 15th, 1898, USS Maine sank in Havana Harbor after suffering a massive explosion that caused the deaths of approximately 260 sailors. While McKinley urged patience, and did not declare that Spain had caused the explosion, the deaths of 250 out of 355 sailors on board focused American attention. was mysteriously sunk in Havana harbor; political pressures from the Democratic Party pushed the administration of Republican President William McKinley into a war that he had wished to avoid.  Spain promised time and time again that it would reform, but never delivered. The United States sent an ultimatum to Spain demanding that it surrender control of Cuba. First Madrid declared war, and Washington then followed suit. The sinking of the battleship Maine precipitated the Spanish-American War and popularized the phrase “Remember the Maine!”

Although the main issue was Cuban independence, the ten-week war was fought in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. US naval power proved decisive, allowing expeditionary forces to disembark in Cuba against a Spanish garrison already brought to its knees by nationwide Cuban insurgent attacks and yellow fever. Numerically superior Cuban, Philippine, and US forces obtained the surrender of Santiago de Cuba and Manila.

The Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1st, 1898, was a decisive battle of the Spanish–American War.  It was also the location of the greatest victory for the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, known as the “Rough Riders”, as claimed by the press and its new commander, the future vice-president and later president, Theodore Roosevelt, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Jan 16th, 2001 for his action in Cuba.

The U.S. Navy’s investigation, made public on March 28th, 1898, concluded that the ship’s powder magazines were ignited when an external explosion was set off under the ship’s hull. This report poured fuel on popular indignation in the U.S., making the war inevitable.  Spain’s investigation came to the opposite conclusion: the explosion originated within the ship. Other investigations in later years came to various contradictory conclusions, but had no bearing on the coming of the war. In 1974, Admiral Hyman George Rickover had his staff look at the documents and decided there was an internal explosion. A study commissioned by National Geographic magazine in 1999, using AME computer modelling, stated that the explosion could have been caused by a mine, but no definitive evidence was found.

War of 1812

The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought by the United States of America against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, its North American colonies, and its North American Indian allies. By the war’s end in early 1815 the key issues had been resolved and peace came with no boundary changes.

On June 1st, 1812, President James Madison sent a message to Congress recounting American grievances against Great Britain.  After Madison’s message, the House of Representatives deliberated for four days behind closed doors before voting 79 to 49 (61%) in favor of the first declaration of war.  The Senate concurred in the declaration by a 19 to 13 (59%) vote in favor.  President James Madison’s request to Congress for the first declaration of war ever declared on another nation was granted on June 12th, 1812This Congressional vote would prove to be the closest vote to formally declare war in American history. The United States declared war on June 18th, 1812, for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by the British war with France, the impressment of as many as 10,000 American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, and British support for Native American tribes fighting American settlers on the frontier.

The war was fought in three theaters.  First; land and naval battles were fought on the U.S.–Canadian frontier, second; large-scale battles were fought in the Southern United States and Gulf Coast and third; at sea, where warships and privateers attacked the other’s merchant ships, while the British blockaded the Atlantic coast of the United States.

The U.S. was able to inflict serious defeats on Britain’s Native American allies, ending the prospect of an Indian confederacy and an independent Native American state in the Midwest under British sponsorship. U.S. forces were also able to make several gains and score victories on the Canadian frontier; taking control of Lake Erie in 1813, seizing western parts of Upper Canada.

Andrew Jackson is the only president who served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  After winning a major battle in this war, Jackson was promoted to major general in the U.S. Army with command of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

In the late summer of 1814, Major General Andrew Jackson of the U.S. Army moved his men south and attacked the British in Mobile, Alabama.  In November, he beat the British at the Spanish post of Pensacola, Florida and the British sailed on to New Orleans.  In December, Jackson followed, leading a small advance party of his troops to New Orleans.  For several days, Jackson’s men held their ground.  On January 8th, 1815, the British rushed the Americans and were cut down in great numbers by rifle and cannon fire while the Americans suffered only a handful of deaths.  Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans and transformed into a nation icon and hero, which would later help him win the presidency.

In September, 1814, the British won the Battle of Hampden, allowing them to occupy eastern Maine, and the British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August, 1814 allowed them to capture and burn Washington, D.C. They were repulsed, however, in an attempt to take Baltimore’s Fort McHenry.  On September 12th, 1814, Baltimore’s Fort McHenry withstood 25 hours of bombardment by the British Navy. The following morning, the fort’s soldiers hoisted an enormous American flag, a sight that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem he titled “The Star-Spangled Banner

The flag that ultimately inspired our National Anthem was donated to the Smithsonian in 1912 by the family of Major Armistead, the fort commander.

Revolutionary War

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence and the Revolutionary War in the United States, was the armed conflict between Great Britain and thirteen of its North American colonies, which had declared themselves the independent United States of America.  Early fighting took place primarily on the North American continent. France, eager for revenge after its defeat in the Seven Years’ War, signed an alliance with the new nation in 1778 that proved decisive in the ultimate victory.

The American Revolutionary War had its origins in the resistance of many Americans to taxes, which they claimed were unconstitutional, imposed by the British parliament. Patriot protests escalated into boycotts, and on December 16th, 1773, the destruction of a shipment of tea at the Boston Tea Party. The British government retaliated by closing the port of Boston and taking away self-government. The Patriots responded by setting up a shadow government that took control of the province outside of Boston. Twelve other colonies who supported Massachusetts, formed a Continental Congress, to coordinate their resistance, and set up committees and conventions that effectively seized power.  The Continental Congress consisted of fifty-six delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies that were to become the United States of America.  In April 1775 fighting broke out between Massachusetts militia units and British regulars.  They fought the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775, in Middlesex County, near Boston. The battles marked the outbreak of open armed conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen of its colonies on the mainland of British America. The Continental Congress appointed General George Washington to take charge of militia units besieging British forces in Boston, forcing them to evacuate the city in March 1776. Congress supervised the war, giving Washington command of the new Continental Army; he also coordinated state militia units.

On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress formally voted for independence, and issued its Declaration of Independence on July 4th, each swearing;

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor”

Of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, 24 were lawyers and judges, 11 were merchants, 9 were farmers and plantation owners and 12 were comprised of doctors, ministers and politicians.

Washington managed to drive the British out of most of New Jersey. In 1777 Sir William Howe launched a campaign against the national capital at Philadelphia, and failing to aid John Burgoyne’s invasion from Canada, Burgoyne’s army was trapped, and surrendered after the Battles of Saratoga in October 1777.

France entered the war in 1778 and during that year the British, having failed in the northern states, shifted their strategy toward the south.  They brought Georgia and South Carolina under their control in 1779 and 1780, however, the resulting surge of Loyalist support was far weaker than expected.  In 1781, British forces moved through Virginia and settled at Yorktown but their escape was blocked by a French naval victory in September. Led by Count Rochambeau and Washington a combined Franco-American army launched a siege at Yorktown and captured more than 8,000 British troops in October.

The defeat at Yorktown finally turned the British Parliament against the war, and in early 1782 they voted to end offensive operations in North America. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the war and recognized the sovereignty of the United States over the territory bordered roughly by what is now Canada to the north, Florida to the south, and the Mississippi River to the west.

The Constitution of the United States, was written Sept. 17th, 1787, and ratified on June 21st, 1788.  The “Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments of the Constitution, was written Sept. 25th, 1789 and ratified on December 15th, 1791.