Skip to main content

The Civil War and Reconstruction: Major Battles and Campaigns of the Civil War

First Battle of Bull Run

First Battle of Bull Run by Kurz & Allison

Known in the north as the Battle of Bull Run and in the South as the Battle of Manassas, this battle, fought on July 21 1861 in Virginia was the first major battle of the Civil War. It was a Confederate victory. (A year later there was a second battle fought in the area known as the Second Battle of Bull Run or Second Manassas depending of the side describing it. The second Battle of Bull Run was fought in August 28-30 1862 and was also a defeat for Union forces though it was not as total as the first one.)


Battle of Shiloh by Thure de Thulstrup

Fought on April 6-7 1862, the Battle of Shiloh was a defeat for Confederate forces in southwestern Tennessee. The results of the battle was the failure of Confederate forces to prevent Union forces from advancing into Mississippi River Valley.


The Battle of Antietam by Kurz & Allison

Known in the north as the Battle of Antietam and in the south as the Battle of Sharpsburg, this battle fought on September 17 1862 in Maryland was the bloodiest battle ever fought in the history of the United States with a loss of 22,717. The battle, fought between the forces of Confederate Robert E. Lee and Union General George McClellan ended in the widthdrawal of Lee's forces from the field so it is counted as a Union victory but the refusal of McClellan to pursue and destroy Lee's army when he had the chance to do so are seen as a massive failure that allowed the war to continue. The immediate aftermath of the battle was enough of a victory to give President Lincoln the confidence to release the Emancipation Proclamation which declared an end to slavery in Confederate territory.

Emancipation Proclamation

Made possible by the Union victory at Antietam and issued on January 1 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order of President Lincoln that emancipated (e.g. freed) all slaves in the states still in rebellion against the Federal government. It did not apply to slaves in border states that had remained loyal to the Union including Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. Though the proclamation was not applicable until Confederate territory was retaken by Union forces, the order shifted the goal of war from simply reunifying the Union to eliminating slavery.


Siege of Vicksburg by Kurz and Allison

The Battleof Vicksburg, fought from May 18-July 4th 1863 was a major siege in the western theatre of operations that together with the Battle of Gettysburg (which was fought at the same time in the East) was considered a major turning point in the Civil War. The capture of Vicksburg ultimately led to the Confederacy being split into two, cutting off the western Confederate states of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas from the rest of the Confederacy.


Battle of Chancellorsville by Kurz and Allison

Fought from April 20 - May 6 1863 the Battle of Chancellorsville was one of the major battle of the Civil War and was considered to be Robert E. Lee's "perfect battle" because his decisions ultimately led to a Confederate victory. The aftermath of the battle was mixed however for the Confederates as southern General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was accidentally killed by friendly fire.


The Battle of Gettysburg by Thure de Thulstrup

Fought from July 1-3 1863, The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most famous battles of the Civil War and together with the Battle of Vicksburg (which was fought at the same time in the west) considered a turning point in the war itself. It marks the last attempt of the Confederates under General Robert E. Lee to invade the north and move the conflict out from the area of Virginia.

The Gettysburg Address

The Gettysburg Address, a speech given by President Lincoln on November 19 1863 when visiting the dedication of a Cemetery in Pennsylvania in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. It is considered to be one of the most famous and important speeches ever given in American history.

(Note: The opening of the speech starts with, "Four score and seven years ago"; a score is 20 years so the amount of time Lincoln is refering to is 87 years from when he is speaking which would be the year 1776.)

Battle Of The Wilderness

Battle of the Wilderness by Kurz and Allison

Fought from May 5-7th 1864, the Battle of the Wilderness was the first time that the armies of Union General Ulysses Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee met in battle with both of them in charge at the same time. The battle was ultimately inconclusive and was only the beginning of a long series of bloody battles that would be fought between the two Generals.

Battle of Cold Harbor

Battle of Cold Harbor by Kurz and Allison

Fought from May 31 to June 12 1864, the Battle of Cold Harbor was the last major victory by Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The battle was bloody and ended with massive Union casualties.

Battle of Atlanta

Ruins of Atlanta Union Depot after burning by Sherman's troops in 1864

The Battle of Atlanta was fought on July 22 1864 though the city of Atlanta did not fall to Union forces until September 2nd. The fall of Atlanta marked the beginning of General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea. It also had a major political effect in the Union election of 1864. In that campaign, Democrat George McClellan ran against Republican President Lincoln on a the platform of negotiating peace with the Confederacy. The capture of Atlanta gave Lincoln enough of a boost in the polls that he was able to be reelected, something that was in doubt before the fall of the city.

March to the Sea

Destruction of Charleston 1864

The March to the Sea was the campaign of total war waged by General WIlliam Tecumseh Sherman following the capture and burning of Atlanta. From November 15 to December 21st 1864 Sherman and his forces marched through Georgia, destroying everything in their path to disrupt the southern economy and transportation networks. After the capture of Savannah, Sherman and his forces rested and then continued their march up the coast through the Carolina's. His march in the Carolina's ended when Sherman accepted the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston on April 26 1865.

Appomattox Courthouse

Robert E Lee Surrendering to US Grant at Appomattox 1865

Fought on April 9 1865, the final battle between the forces of General Ulysses Grant and General Robert E Lee was the Battle of Appomattox Court House. Lee had spent the previous year defending Richmond but decided at this point to try and move south to link up with other Confederate forces. He was forced to retreat to Appomattox Court House by Union forces and in the end had no choice but to surrender. The documents signalling surrender were signed on April 9 and an official ceremony was held on April 12th disbanding the Army of Nothern Virginia that Lee had commanded. The effect of this was to end the war in Virginia and to trigger a wave of surrenders across remaining Confederate territory. The surrender at Appomattox Court House marked the end of the Civil War.

Grant was generous in his terms; he allowed for the surrendering Confederates to keep their sidearms and horses, imprisioned no one, and supplied Lee's army with food rations. Furthermore Grant forbade his own forces from celebrating their victory over the Confederates.