US Civil War

over 43 million records

US Civil War

The Civil War broke out in April 1861, when a group of Southern secessionists attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Two months prior to the attack, seven states announced their secession from the United States and created the Confederate States of America. The CSA was never politically recognized by the US or foreign governments and was the primary combatant against the United States, commonly referred to as the Union. The Civil War lasted four years, ending with Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse. In that time, 620,000 soldiers died from combat, accident, starvation, and disease.

Following the capture of Fort Sumter by Confederate forces, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation calling for the enlistment of soldiers in the US Military. Many answered the call, joining the Army or Navy. Much of the information regarding casualties, officers, and other military concerns for Civil War soldiers can be found in our Soldier Service Records.

The first major conflict of the Civil War occurred at Bull Run where the Union Army, under General Irvin McDowell, was forced to retreat when Confederate troops, under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, resisted their attacks. This defeat led President Lincoln to replace McDowell with George B. McClellan, who later became general-in-chief of all Union forces.

As the bloodiest conflict in American history, the Civil War was witness to many military and civilian casualties at Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and more. The development of more advanced artillery and ironside ships were significant contributors to the increased number of casualties for both the Confederacy and the Union.

With the war raging on both land and sea, President Lincoln also brought the conflict to the political sphere. Though many factors led to the outbreak of the Civil War, a primary issue centered on the South’s desire for greater states’ rights. This would allow states to ignore or overrule federal legislation relating to slavery. The South was the agricultural hub of the United States with much of the land dedicated to the production of crops, such as cotton and tobacco, and slaves were the primary source of labor. The emancipation of slaves would threaten owner’s livelihood, so on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation. This freed slaves in all territories and states held by the Confederacy and urged black soldiers to enlist in the Union Army. Emancipation information on slaves and owners can be found in the Court Slave Records for DC

The tide of war began to change with the Battle of Gettysburg, which Lincoln used as a rallying cry for the Union with his famous Gettysburg Address. Decisive victories at Chattanooga and Atlanta followed, and General William T. Sherman led his army from Atlanta to Savannah in the destructive and demoralizing March to the Sea. In a little over a month, he ravaged a path through Georgia and destroyed warehouses and railroad facilities to weaken the South. Several months later, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, marking the end of the Civil War.

See our entire collection of Civil War records including photographs, maps, letters, Pensions Index records, and more in our Civil War Collection.