Antietam National Cemetery
About the Civil War, Causes of the War

Long-Term Cause

United States in 1860 : Free States, Slave States, and Territories

United States in 1860 : Free States,
                            Slave States, and Territories

While there were several causes, the 80 year debate over slavery between Northern and Southern states became the most important, especially as the country expanded westward. A growing abolitionist movement, the rise of free labor advocates,  and the increasing prosperity of the slave economy deepened the divide as the nation grew.

Southern Chivalry -- Argument versus
                      Club's. New York Public Library.

Near-Term Causes

On October 16, 1859, John Brown led abolitionists on a raid of the Harpers Ferry, VA arsenal, in the hopes of arming a slave rebellion.  This event set off a major national debate and gave slave states grave concern about the future of slavery as an institution.  The 1860 presidential  election only increased the growing divisions, as the parties took positions on slavery's future.

Within six months of the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln, viewed as an abolitionist despite his expressed positions, a total of eleven states had seceded from the Union."

The first flag of independence raised in
                        the South, by the citizens of Savannah, Ga.
                        November 8th, 1860. Library of Congress.

Immediate Cause

An engraving of the
                      bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861.
                      (Engraving by unknown artist). NPS.

In the early dawn of April 12, 1861, a mortar shell fired from Fort Johnson in Charleston Harbor burst over Fort Sumter. Thirty-four hours later, the Federal garrison was forced to surrender to their Confederate attackers. 


"...that shot was a sound of alarm that brought every soldier in the harbor to his feet."

Stephen D. Lee, Captain, C. S. A.

Learn more about the bombardment at the Fort Sumter National Monument

Related Resources

Causes of the Civil War - Introduction (YouTube)

Causes of the Civil War - Epilogue (YouTube)

Confronting Slavery and Revealing the "Lost Cause"

Road to Disunion:  Selected Bibliography on Causes of the American Civil War

Slavery: Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War

The Causes of the Civil War – A Struggle for Freedom

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