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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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,…

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…

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,…

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…

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….

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…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

The Lawrence Massacre

Between 160 and 190 men and teenage boys, all civilians and many unarmed, were murdered by Confederate guerillas in a day-long raid that also witnessed the destruction and looting of the town. The man who…

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…

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…

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”…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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 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…

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….

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…

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…

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….

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

The Christian Character Of Robert E. Lee

The following is taken from General Robert E. Lee After Appomattox, edited by Franklin L. Riley (New York, 1922), pp. 182–95. Following, this contribution appeared in the “Lee Memorial Number” of the Wake Forest Student,…