Civil War Documents

Letters, Legislation,
Congress & Documentations

Republican Platform, 1860

Date:1860 Annotation: During the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party promised to prohibit slavery. They also proposed free-homestead legislation, the establishment of a daily mail service, a transcontinental railroad, and support of the protective tariff. Three candidates opposed Lincoln: Stephen Douglas representing the Northern faction of the Democratic Party; John C. Breckenridge representing the…

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Democratic Platform, 1860 (Breckinridge faction)

Date:1860 Annotation: John C. Breckinridge served as President Buchanan’s vice president. Later, he became the presidential candidate in the 1860 election, after the Democratic Party split into three factions. He represented the Southern faction in support of slavery. According to Breckinridge, the federal or local governments lacked the power to restrict slavery in any of…

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Democratic Platform, 1860 (Douglas faction)

Date:1860 Annotation: The slavery dispute dominated the election of 1860. The emphasis placed on the Dred Scott decision (that Scott remain a slave) splintered the Democratic Party into three factions: Most Northern Democrats supported Stephen A. Douglas; Southern delegates adopted a pro-slavery stance and nominated John C. Breckinridge; more moderate Southerners nominated John Bell, who…

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Crittenden Compromise

Author:   John Crittenden Date:1860 Annotation: The Crittenden Compromise, written by Kentucky Senator John Crittenden, was seen as a desperate attempt to resolve the secession crisis of 1860-61 by political negotiation. The Compromise addressed the concerns that led the states of the Lower South to contemplate secession. The Compromise contained a preamble, six (proposed) constitutional…

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Declaration of Causes of Seceding States – South Carolina

Date:1860 Document: South Carolina Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the…

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Secession Ordinances of 13 Confederate States

Date:1861 Annotation: The seceded states drafted the following ordinances of secession that severed their connection with the Federal Union in an attempt to preserve state rights and their different cultures. Document: The Secession Acts of the 13 Confederate States. South Carolina An Ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other…

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Declaration of Causes of the Seceding States – Mississippi

Date:1861 Document: Mississippi A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union. In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should…

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Declaration of Causes of the Seceding States – Georgia

Date:1861 Document: Georgia The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States…

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Battle Hymn of the Republic

Author:   Julia Ward Howe Date:1861 Annotation: This is the text of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Julia Ward Howe wrote this original version of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861. This well-known Civil War song has become an American patriotic anthem. Some of the words in later versions were rewritten: The…

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Declaration of Causes of Seceding States – Texas

Date:1861 Annotation: The Secession Convention spelled out the reasons why Texas should leave the Union. Beginning with South Carolina in December 1860, a month after Abraham Lincoln’s election, six states in the deep South seceded from the Union. Even before South Carolina left the Union, prominent Texans called for a convention to consider secession. But…

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The Civil War Begins

Date:1861 Annotation: Upon learning of Lincoln’s plan, Jefferson Davis ordered General Pierre G.T. Beauregard (1818-1893) to force Fort Sumter’s surrender before the supply mission could arrive. At 4:30 a.m. April 12, Confederate guns began firing on Fort Sumter. Thirty-three hours later, the installation surrendered. Incredibly, there were no fatalities on their side. Ironically, the only…

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Letter from General Robert E. Lee to General Philip St. George Cocke

Author:   Robert E. Lee Date:1861 Annotation: Lincoln was convinced that the Confederate states had seceded from the Union for the sole purpose of maintaining slavery. Like President Jackson before him, he considered the Union to be permanent, an agreement by the people and not just of the states. Further, he strongly agreed with the…

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The Mood in Marietta, Ohio, at the Beginning of the Civil War

Author:   Frederic Pearce Date:1861 Annotation: Many Northerners felt confident of a quick victory. In 1861, the Union states had 22.5 million people, compared to just 9 million in the Confederate states (including 3.7 million slaves). Not only did the Union have more manpower, it also had a larger navy, a more developed railroad system,…

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Life in Camp After the First Battle of Bull Run

Author:   James R. Kelly Date:1861 Annotation: The Civil War was the deadliest war in American history. Altogether, over 600,000 died in the conflict, more than World War I and World War II combined. A soldier was 13 times more likely to die in the Civil War than in the Vietnam war. One reason why…

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Reflections on the War’s Causes

Author:   David Hopkins Date:1861 Annotation: In its analysis of the Civil War’s causes, the London Times rejected the notion that this was a war about slavery. It argued that the conflict had the same roots as most wars: territorial aggrandizement, political power, and economic supremacy. But few Northerners or Southerners saw the war in…

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Lincoln’s Role in the Formulation of Military Strategy

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1861 Annotation: The initial Union strategy involved blockading Confederate ports to cut off cotton exports and prevent the import of manufactured goods; and using ground and naval forces to divide the Confederacy into three distinct theaters. These were the far western theater, west of the Mississippi River; the western theater, between…

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Constitution of the Confederate States

Preamble We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity — invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God — do ordain and establish…

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A Supporter of the Confederacy Reflects on the Emancipation Proclamation

Author:   Mansfield Lovell Date:1862 Annotation: In a letter to his son, Confederate Major General Mansfield Lovell (1822-1884) predicts that Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation “will produce dissensions and troubles at the North and…thus indirectly benefit our Cause.” Lovell, a West Point graduate who had served in the Mexican War, had unsuccessfully defended New Orleans against a…

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Racism and the Law

Date:1862 Annotation: The California Supreme Court rules that a Chinese witness could not testify against a white man accused of murder. After George Hall was convicted of the murder of Ling Sing, based on the testimony of three Chinese witnesses, Hall’s lawyer argued that a California statute barring testimony by African Americans, mulattoes, and Indians…

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President Lincoln Approves the Execution of a Slave Trader

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1862 Annotation: Early in the war, Lincoln handled the slavery issue cautiously to avoid losing the support of the border states. He did, however, take a major symbolic step when he became the first President to approve of the execution of an illegal slave trader. Document: Whereas, it appears that at…

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Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1862 Annotation: In August 1862, Lincoln stated: “If I could save the union without freeing any slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would…

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California Imposes a Tax on Chinese Laborers

Author:   Ellen Greene Date:1862 Annotation: In 1862, the California legislature approved an act to discourage Chinese immigration and protect white workers against competition with Chinese laborers. Document: April 26, 1862 The People of the State of California, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows: SECTION 1. There is hereby levied on each…

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Confederate Reaction to “Beast” Butler

Author:   General Pierre G.T. Beauregard Date:1862 Annotation: The Civil War witnessed a will to destroy and a spirit of intolerance that conflicted with Americans’ self-image as a tolerant people committed to compromise. Not only did the conflict see the use of shrapnel and booby traps, it reportedly saw a few southern women wear necklasses…

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Native Americans and the Civil War

Author:   John Ross Date:1862 Annotation: In 1861, many Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles decided to join the Confederacy, in part because some of the tribes’ members owned slaves. In return, the Confederate states agreed to pay all annuities that the U.S. government had provided and let the tribes send delegates to the Confederate…

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The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1862 Annotation: On September 22, 1862, less than a week after the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln met with his cabinet. As one cabinet member, Samuel P. Chase, recorded in his diary, the President told them that he had “thought a great deal about the relation of this war to Slavery”:…

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Abraham Lincoln Dismisses a Union Officer for Disloyalty

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1862 Annotation: The United States achieved independence in part because foreign countries such as France and Spain, entered the war against Britain on the American side. The Confederacy, too, hoped for foreign aid. In a bold bid to win European support, the Confederacy sought to win a major victory on northern…

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Wartime Separation of Spouses

Author:   David V.M. Smith Date:1862 Annotation: The Civil War separated families in unprecedented numbers and freed women to assume many new roles. With the departure of many men into the military, women entered many occupations previously reserved for men only: in factories, shops, and especially, the expanding civil service, where women took jobs as…

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The Civil War’s Human Cost

Author:   George C. Burling Date:1862 Annotation: Almost as many soldiers died during the Civil War as in all other American wars combined. Union combat deaths totalled 111,904; another 197,388 died of disease, 30,192 in prison, and 24,881 as a result of accidents. Another 277,401 Union solders were wounded. Confederate casualties were nearly as high,…

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Morrill Land Grant Act

Annotation: Congressional act to establish land grant colleges. The Morrill Act was introduced by Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont. Under the act, each state that had remained in the Union received 30,000 acres of federal land for each member of its congressional delegation. The states sold the land and used the money to establish “land-grant”…

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A First-Hand Description of the Battle of Gettysburg

Author:   Josiah C. Fuller Date:1863 Annotation: When his forces drove northward into Pennsylvania, Lee assumed, mistakenly, that Union forces were still in Virgina. When he suddenly realized that Union forces were in close pursuit, he ordered his forces, which were strung out from Maryland to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to converge at Gettysburg, Pennsyvania, a central…

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The Emancipation Proclamation

Author:   Rufus Blanchard Date:1863 Annotation: In recent years, it has sometimes been charged that Lincoln’s proclamation did not free any slaves, since it applied only to areas that were in a state of rebellion and explicitly exempted the border states, Tennessee, and portions of Louisiana and Virginia. This view is incorrect. The proclamation did…

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A Union Soldier Objects to the Emancipation Proclamation

Author:   A soldier in the 12th Vermont Militia Date:1863 Annotation: There can be no doubt that some northern soldiers who were willing to fight to preserve the Union were unwilling to fight to abolish slavery. An unidentified soldier in the 12th Vermont militia expresses his opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation. Document: We are going…

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Samuel P. Chase Proposes a National Banking System Digital History ID 421

Author:   Samuel P. Chase Date:1863 Annotation: During the war, the Republican-controlled Congress enacted a series of measures which carried long-term consequences for the future. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided public land free to pioneers who agreed to farm the land for five years. The Morrill Act of 1862 helped states establish agricultural and…

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Hardships on the Southern Home Front

Author:   Daniel H. Hill Date:1863 Annotation: By early 1863, the Civil War had begun to cause severe hardship on the southern homefront. Not only was most of the fighting taking place in the South, but as the Union blockade grew more effective and the South’s railroad system deteriorated, shortages grew increasingly common. In Richmond,…

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The Flight of Slaveholders to Texas

Author:   William Tecumseh Sherman Date:1863 Annotation: As the war dragged on, enthusiasm faded and class tensions flared. In the North, the worst mob violence in American history took place in New York City in July 1863, two weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg. About 120 people were killed, mainly by police and soldiers. Irish…

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Resistance to Enlisting African Americans in the Union Army

Author:   Joseph M. Maitland Date:1863 Annotation: By early 1863, voluntary enlistments in the Union army had fallen so sharply that the federal government instituted an unpopular military draft and decided to enroll black, as well as white, troops. Indeed, it seems likely that it was the availability of large numbers of African American soldiers…

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A Union Soldier Describes His Attitudes Toward Race

Author:   Samuel Shenk Date:1863 Annotation: After the Battle of Antietam, Lee’s forces retreated into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with almost no interference. Frustrated by McClellan’s lack of aggressiveness, Lincoln replaced him with General Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881). In December 1862, Burnside attacked 73,000 Confederate troops at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Six times Burnside launched frontal assaults on…

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Flagging Confederate Morale

Author:   Christian M. Epperly Date:1863 Annotation: The four days between July 1 and July 4, 1863 marked a major turning point of the Civil War. Beginning in mid-May, Ulysses S. Grant’s troops had begun a siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, Vicksburg allowed the Confederacy to control river traffic…

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A Union Soldier Describes the Attempt to Conquer Charleston, South Carolina

Author:   Abram Bogart Date:1863 Annotation: Black soldiers participated in the war at great threat to their lives. The Confederate government threatened to summarily execute or sell into slavery any captured black Union soldiers–and did sometimes carry out those threats. Lincoln responded by threatening to retaliate against Confederate prisoners whenever black soldiers were killed or…

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Emancipation Proclamation

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1863 Annotation: President Abraham Lincoln frees slaves in areas in rebellion against the United States. The nation was embroiled in the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. While the Proclamation did not instantly liberate a single slave, it did allow black men to…

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Conflict with Native Americans During the Civil War

Author:   George Bonga Date:1863 Annotation: In the midst of the Civil War, a thirty-year conflict began as the federal government sought to concentrate the Plains Indians on reservations. Violence erupted first in Minnesota, where, by 1862, the Santee Sioux were confined to a territory 150 miles long and just 10 miles wide. Denied a…

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Plight of Wartime Refugees

Author:   James E. Yeatman Date:1863 Annotation: In a letter to President Lincoln, aid workers offer a graphic portrait of the plight of wartime refugees. Document: The undersigned, members of the Western Sanitary Commission, most respectfully represent, that the condition of the Freed Negroes in the Mississippi Valley is daily becoming worse, and [that there…

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Gettysburg Address

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1863 Annotation: The Gettysburg Address was delivered on November 19, 1863, several months after the Union defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg. Lincoln described the Civil War as a struggle for “a new birth of freedom”–his vision for a nation that provides equality for all of its citizens, creates…

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The Lawrence Massacre

The Civil War was filled with horrors inflicted on both sides that have not been matched before or since in the American story. Perhaps none reach the level of bloodshed, violence, and sheer depravity, however, that took place on Aug. 21, 1863 in Lawrence, Kansas. Between 160 and 190 men and teenage boys, all civilians…

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The Sand Creek Massacre

Author:   Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War Date:1864 Annotation: A joint congressional committee conducted an investigation of the Sand Creek massacre and issued its report in 1864. This extract describes the events that occurred at Sand Creek. Document: In the summer of 1864 Governor Evans of Colorado Territory…sent notice to the various…

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Four Documents on the Sand Creek Massacre

Date:1864 Annotation: Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, the lone American Indian in Congress, called it “one of the most disgraceful moments in American history.” About 700 U.S. army volunteers stormed through an Indian encampment near Big Sandy Creek in Colorado, slaughtering scores of women and children. This episode became known as the Sand Creek…

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Lincoln Experiments with Colonization

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1864 Annotation: For much of his political career, Lincoln, like his political idol Henry Clay, was an advocate of colonization, based on his belief that “the great mass of white people” would refuse to extend equal rights to African Americans. This assumption and prediction, Lincoln believed, “whether well or ill-founded, cannot…

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Thirteenth Amendment Resolution

Author:   Congress of the United States Date:1864 Annotation: The Emancipation Proclamation freed only those slaves in states still at war. As a wartime order, it could subsequently be reversed by presidential degree or congressional legislation. The permanent emancipation of all slaves therefore required a constitutional amendment. In April 1864, the Senate passed the Thirteenth…

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The Confederacy Begins to Collapse from Within

Author:   John McKinley Gibson Date:1864 Annotation: Initially, Lincoln and his generals anticipated a conventional war in which Union soldiers would respect civilians’ property. Convinced that there was residual unionist support in the South, they expected to preserve the South’s economic base, including its factories and rail lines. But as the war dragged on, the…

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A Confederate Criticizes the Union Army of Occupation

Author:   Tobias Gibson Date:1864 Annotation: A supporter of the Confederacy criticizes the Union army of occupation. Document: I know you have reason to conclude that I have almost forgotten you, to judge by the infrequency of my letters to you, but nothing could be more erroneous than such an idea. When you knew how…

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The Fate of Deserters

Author:   Christian M. Epperly Date:1864 Annotation: Military desertions were treated harshly. A Confederate soldier describes the fate of men who tried to leave their companies and were recaptured. Document: I haven’t any news to write to you at this time, only the sad and awful Execution which taken place in our Brigade yesterday which…

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The Breakdown of the Plantation System

Author:   Tobias Gibson Date:1864 Annotation: Slaves played a critical role in their own liberation. Southern slaves deserted plantations and fled to Union lines. Slaves also staged a few small insurrections during the war as the slave system itself began to unravel. Planters were stunned to see trusted house slaves and field drivers lead field…

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The Two Roads to Peace

Author:   National Union Free Convention Date:1864 Annotation: As their presidential nominee, the Democrats chose General George B. McClellan, who opposed the Emancipation Proclamation and who ran on a platform which condemned Lincoln for “four years of failure” and called for a negotiated end to the war. Some Radical Republicans also opposed Lincoln’s reelection. Lincoln…

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An Ardent Republican Expresses Her View of Vice President Andrew Johnson

Author:   Mary Y. Prentiss Date:1865 Annotation: The 1864 presidential election was one of the most critical in American history. At stake was whether the war would end in unconditional surrender or a negotiated settlement, which might result in the preservation of slavery as a legal institution. Even though hundreds of thousands of slaves deserted…

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On to Richmond

Author:   A.R. Lord Date:1865 Annotation: In March 1864, Lincoln gave Ulysses S. Grant command of all Union armies. Vowing to end the war within a year, Grant launched three major offenses. General Philip E. Sheridan’s task was to lay waste to farm land in Virginia’s Shenandoah valley, a mission he completed by October. Meanwhile,…

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General Robert E. Lee Surrenders

Author:   Robert E. Lee Date:1865 Annotation: By April 1865, Grant’s army had cut off Lee’s supply lines, forcing Confederate forces to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond. Lee and his men retreated westward, but Grant’s troops overtook him about a hundred miles west of Richmond. Recognizing that further resistance would be futile, Lee surrendered at Appomattox…

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The Assassination of President Lincoln

Author:   J.B. Stonehouse Date:1865 Annotation: At noon on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Major General Robert Anderson raised the U.S. flag over Fort Sumter. It was the same flag that he had surrendered four years before. That evening, a few minutes after 10 o’clock, John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865), a young actor and Confederate sympathizer…

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A Northerner Responds to the Assassination of President Lincoln

Author:   W. Henry Pearce Date:1865 Annotation: Following the shooting, Booth fled to Maryland on horseback. A friend then helped him escape to Virginia. On April 26, two weeks after he had shot Lincoln, the army and Secret Service tracked Booth down and trapped him in a barn near Port Royal, Virginia. When Booth refused…

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A Union Soldier Reacts to President Lincoln’s Assassination

Date:1865 Annotation: Lincoln’s assassination was part of a larger plot to murder other government officials, including Vice President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William H. Seward, and General Ulysses S. Grant. Only Lincoln was killed. Following the assassination, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered War Department agents to apprehend the conspirators. Despite wild rumors…

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Conditions in the Postwar South

Author:   Edwin H. McCaleb Date:1865 Annotation: As a result of the Civil War, the South lost a fourth of its white male population of military age, a third of its livestock, half of its farm machinery, and $2.5 billion worth of human property. Factories and railroads had been destroyed, and such cities as Atlanta,…

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Juneteenth

Date:1865 Annotation: Many slaves in Texas did not formally hear about freedom until June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger and 1800 Union troops arrived in Galveston and issued a proclamation declaring all slaves in Texas to be free. This is why “Juneteenth” continues to be celebrated as emancipation day throughout the Southwest. Document: The…

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Second Inaugural Address

Author:   Abraham Lincoln Date:1865 Annotation: Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address. On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address. Eerily, John Wilkes Booth and other conspirators involved in his assassination attended the inauguration. In a little more than a month after Lincoln gave this speech, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth….

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Ex parte Milligan

Date:1866 Annotation: Supreme Court ruling on the power of the federal government to institute martial law. During the Civil War, President Lincoln, concerned that Southern sympathizers might weaken the war effort in the North, instituted commands that placed civilian areas under military control and imposed martial law. These orders allowed the military to arrest and…

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Testimony Before Congress’s Joint Committee on Reconstruction

Author:   Rufus Saxon Date:1866 Annotation: Major General Rufus Saxton commanded the area that included Georgia’s Sea Islands and later became the Freedmen’s Bureau’s assistant commissioner for Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This selection, from his testimony before Congress’s Joint Committee on Reconstruction in 1866, offers his assessment of the freedmen’s aspirations and the former…

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Great Sioux Uprising Of 1862

Author:   Big Eagle Date:1894 Annotation: During the summer of 1862, Indian warfare broke out in southern Minnesota that left between 400 and 800 settlers and soldiers dead, and provoked military action against the Sioux in the Dakota Territory. In this extract, Big Eagle describes the uprising’s causes, including hunger, official corruption, and delayed annuity…

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