History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

The Americas

North American Colonial Settlements


Confederate States of America
AD 1861 - 1865

The Confederate States of America (CSA, otherwise known as the confederacy or simply as 'the South') were formed as an attempt to separate the southern states from the relatively new United States of America into a distinct independent entity of their own.

The importation of slaves had been banned in the USA in 1808 by the 'Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807'. As a result, American slaveholders started breeding their own slaves on the plantations in the south. The election of President Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 persuaded many slave-owning states that their way of life was now under imminent threat of extinction, so moves were immediately made to secede from the union. The first departures took place in December 1860, with more following in early 1861.

Five states officially sided with the CSA in February and March 1861 when they agreed to the 'Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States'. Each joined the permanent confederation of states between 12-29 March 1861, with two more joining in April. Six more states were admitted between May and December, while two others which did not join - Delaware and Maryland - were still recognised as being pro-CSA. The newly-created state of West Virginia in 1863 detached itself from confederate Virginia.

The hurried assembly of constituent states, though, was met by firm opposition from the USA ('the North'). The north's re-supply of Fort Sumpter on the coast and a refusal to meet with CSA representatives forced the CSA's hand when it had no choice but to besiege the fort. The American Civil War began on 12 April 1861.

Trying to form a cohesive nation was already an uphill task for the CSA, even without an instantaneous war to fight. Its white population was only a quarter of that of the north, while its manufacturing capability was even smaller. Its railroads were inferior, and it had no navy, no powder mills, no shipyard, and an appalling lack of arms and equipment.

The one element it did have was conviction, perhaps mixed with an early degree of inadequate preparation on behalf of the north when it came to handling its own fight with such conviction. In the end the lack of infrastructure and manpower doomed the south to eventual defeat in 1865.

The 'Lost Cause' mythology is an alternative explanation for the civil war which was developed by white southerners following the war's end. It seeks to rationalise the confederacy, claiming that slavery was not the central cause of the war. Instead, it claims that the primary motivations for secession were threats to the US constitution and the principle of the rights of individual states. It deliberately leaves millions of people out of the story, ignoring the agency of enslaved blacks in their liberation and denying the diversity of political sentiment among white southerners.

Fortunately, despite attempts to muddy the water, it is widely accepted that slavery was indeed the central cause of the war. The emancipation of four million enslaved people and the reunification of the United States were its most important outcomes.

The Confederate flag of 1861

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Laurie Stevens and Mick Baker, from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), and from External Links: Atlanta History Center, and This Day in History (History), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Timeline of the American Civil War (British Library), and Abraham Lincoln (Politico), and American Battlefield Trust.)


The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 as president of the USA convinces many southern states that their way of life, based on slavery, is under threat. The seven states of the 'Deep South' (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) begin to organise. The first secessions from the union take place in December.

US President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, who held the northern union together through the American Civil War as the nation's sixteenth president, was born on 12 February 1809


Those of the seven 'Deep South' states which have not already seceded from the union now do so. Together they form their own Confederate States of America (CSA). A provisional government is created in February 1861 at Montgomery, Alabama (the permanent government at Richmond, Virginia is established a year later). Jefferson Davis, a former army officer, Mexican-American War volunteer, plantation owner, and senator for Mississippi is created president.

1861 - 1865

Jefferson Finis Davis

Dem senator for Mississippi. Elected president.


In March 1861 five states officially join the CSA and are listed in order of being ratified into the permanent constitution, thereby joining the permanent government. These states are Alabama (13 Mar), Georgia (16 Mar), Louisiana (21 Mar), Texas (23 Mar), and Mississippi (29 Mar). Two more states join the CSA in April: South Carolina is ratified on 3 April. With the first fighting of the American Civil War being triggered on 12 April at Fort Sumpter, Florida also joins, on 22 April.

The dates of admission (but not ratification) for the last six states to join are set by an act of the provisional congress: Virginia (7 May), Arkansas (18 May), North Carolina (30 May), Tennessee (2 Jul), Missouri (11 Nov), and Kentucky (10 Dec). Kentucky and Missouri are classed as 'border states'. Slave states which do not secede from the union but which the CSA recognises as being pro-CSA are Delaware and Maryland. After 1863, the new state of West Virginia is formed out of Virginia, but this sides with the union.

Confederate States of America President Jefferson Finis Davis
Jefferson Finis Davis was born on 3 June 1808 in Christian County, Kentucky, and led the Confederate States of America throughout its existence during the American Civil War

On 12 July 1861 Special Commissioner Albert Pike, who has already penned the lyrics to 'Dixie to Arms!', completes treaties with members of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. This gives the new Confederate States of America several allies in the 'Indian Territory' (bordering Arkansas to the west - later to become Oklahoma).

Ironically, many of the CSA's Native American allies are tribes which had been expelled from the southern states during the 1830s and 1840s. 'Fortunately', their animosity towards the federal government is greater than it is towards the CSA. The Catawba, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes are the only ones to fight on the confederate side.

The first major engagement of the war is the First Battle of Bull Run on 21 July. Public and political demands push an unprepared union army into battle in Virginia. The arrival of confederate reinforcements ensures a confederate victory and a rapid retreat to Washington DC for the union army.


President Davis makes the inspired choice in June 1862 of selecting Robert E Lee as commander of the Army of North Virginia. Together with General Thomas J 'Stonewall' Jackson he inflicts a second defeat on union troops, this time at the Second Battle of Bull Run between 28-30 August. Once more the union troops are sent packing back to Washington DC.

General Robert E Lee of the CSA
General Robert Edward Lee was born on 19 January 1807 at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia, and died on 12 October 1870

The Battle of Antietam on 17 September is the bloodiest day of the civil war. Militarily it is inconclusive, but it proves pivotal for the union cause as an offer by Britain and France to mediate a peace agreement on the basis of confederate independence is dropped. Having waited for a union advantage, Lincoln issues a 'Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation' on 22 September. He warns the confederacy that he will order slave emancipation unless the rebelling states return to the union by the new year.


Lincoln issues his 'Emancipation Proclamation' on 1 January, stating that slaves inside the rebelling confederacy are 'thenceforward, and forever free', something which applies to over three million of the approximately four million slaves in the whole of the United States. The proclamation only applies to the confederacy, not those slave states which are still in the union or those areas which are Union Army authority (universal emancipation is not granted until 1865).

On 20 June 1863, West Virginia is admitted into the union as the thirty-fifth state (contested territory between Pennsylvania, Virginia, and various land companies, it had remained a strongly secessionist western part of Virginia until that succession had been formalised in 1863, followed swiftly by incorporation).

Lincoln's emancipation proclamation
The 'Emancipation Proclamation' was a wartime order which was designed and worded by a commander-in-chief to achieve a limited military aim - weaken the Confederacy - and not to end slavery in America

The Battle of Gettysburg takes place between 1-3 July. General Robert E Lee invades Pennsylvania in an attempt to bring the southern cause to the north, but is routed by the union army. His tactics fail to build on earlier successes, although both sides are exhausted enough by the action that there is no organised pursuit of confederate troops as they withdraw. This is the last confederate foray into union territory.

The Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, begins on 4 July. General Ulysses S Grant reverses his ailing fortunes by exploiting a confederate vulnerability. The siege is successful, with Grant splitting the confederate army the day after Lee's defeat at Gettysburg.

New York City experiences draft riots between 13-16 July, while other tensions also surface regarding the war's goals and outcomes. Working-class and mostly Irish men in New York, already frustrated with a severe fall in wages, refuse to be drafted into the army. Troops from Gettysburg are sent to the city to restore order.

Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg was a significant union victory which was considered by many to be the turning point of the American Civil War

The 'Gettysburg Address' on 19 November sees Lincoln speaking at the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg war dead. The speech is only two minutes long, makes strong reference to the language of the 'Declaration of Independence', and emphasises the unity of the nation.


FeatureThe Battle of Atlanta takes place on 22 July, just south-east of the city of Atlanta, Georgia. It sees the union forces under General William Sherman's command defeat the confederate army which is defending this important rail hub (see feature link for more).

Sherman is able to capture the confederate stronghold of Atlanta itself on 2 September, after which the union embarks on a campaign of destruction which is aimed at breaking the will of the confederate army (the burning of Atlanta is featured heavily in the 1939 classic film, Gone with the Wind).

Battle of Atlanta, at Atlanta History Centre
Atlanta History Center's 'Cyclorama' (Atlanta, Georgia) depicts the Battle of Atlanta in superb detail, with Clark Gable, star of the film Gone with the Wind, making a special appearance... somewhere out of shot (click or tap on image to view full sized)


Union forces capture Fort Fisher in North Carolina in January, strengthening a union blockade which has caused devastating food and clothing shortages in the south. Confederate President Jefferson Davis makes a desperate bid to arm the slaves, but this is rejected by his congress.

Union reinforcements arrive at the Appomattox courthouse, Virginia, on 9 April. They secure General Lee's surrender, marking the effective end of the civil war, with the exhausted south unable to fight on. On 14 April President Lincoln is assassinated in his box at the Ford Theatre in Washington DC by John Wilkes Booth. The president dies early the next morning.

On 10 May President Davis is captured by the north near Irwinville, Georgia. The 'Thirteenth Amendment' to the constitution of the United States, which abolishes slavery, is ratified on 18 December after a great deal of political wrangling.

Battle of Atlanta, at Atlanta History Centre
Once Sherman had captured the confederate stronghold of Atlanta on 2 September 1864, the union embarked on a campaign of destruction which was aimed at breaking the will of the confederate army

1867 - 1889

Jefferson Davis is release from prison on bail. He travels to Canada in a bid to regain something of his shattered health. He receives several offers by lawyers to defend him against accusations of treason.

However the USA's government never brings the issue to trial, perhaps concerned about the potential constitutional consequences if state secession is upheld as a right. The case is finally dropped on 25 December 1868. Davis dies in 1889 in New Orleans, never having regained his citizenship of the USA during his lifetime.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.