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Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:12:17
AP.USH:
KC‑5.3.I.D (KC)
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Unit 5: Learning Objective I
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WOR (Theme)

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So we've been talking about the progress of the American Civil War which started in early 1861 after the 11 states of the South, which were slave states, seceded from the Union and tried to establish an independent nation known as the Confederate States of America. And in the first years of the Civil War things went relatively well for the South. They defeated the North at the Battle of Bull Run which was a great surprise to many people because they thought that this was going to be a pretty short war, that the South would be quickly defeated and scared away into returning to the Union. But the South had many advantages including very good leadership in the person of Robert E. Lee and also kind of a home court advantage at large since the vast majority of the war was fought in the South. So in this early stage the Confederacy does quite well until we get to Antietam. And Antietam was this first foray by Robert E. Lee in trying to attack the states of the North in Maryland. And after the Battle of Antietam which was the bloodiest day in U.S. history, more than 4,000 Americans died on that day, the South was defeated. And that was a major turning point in the war as we've talked about in previous videos in that it led to the Emancipation Proclamation and was kind of the moment at which the nations of Europe cease to consider intervening on the side of the South. So in the next few videos I want to talk about the later stages of the Civil War. So we get into 1863 and the South is doing relatively well here in Virginia, wins the Battle of Chancellorsville and now, nearly a year after Antietam in June and July of 1863, Robert E. Lee decides that he is going to try again to invade the North. Now he's several reasons for doing this. One, is that the war has been taking place largely in the South so it's summer, people are trying to harvest their crops and Lee wants to give the South a break so he wants to take the attention away from this area in Virginia where lots of fighting has happened and he wants to take the war up into the North. And if the North is distracted by having to defend its own territory then it can't go on the offensive elsewhere as easily. So Lee's plan is to take the war to the North and Lee has another reason in his sleeve which is that he is really hoping that in the Election of 1864 which is coming up not too long after this period in mid-1863, many people believe that Lincoln is going to be kicked out of office. Now remember, that not a single American President has been elected to a second term or reelected since Andrew Jackson in 1832. So there's been a 30 year drought of two term presidents. So Robert E. Lee has good reason to expect why Lincoln might not be reelected in 1864 and he thinks that maybe one of Lincoln's competitors in the Democratic Party, which will turn out to be one of his own former generals, George B. McClellan will actually want to end the war and make peace with the South. So there's kind of a morale aspect to this. You can see that many of the things done in the Civil War and especially as we get into the later stages are designed at making one side or the other tired of being at war. Now you may wonder why I'm spending so much time talking about battles because most American History courses do not emphasize military history whatsoever. But I think it's important to keep in mind in this war and in some earlier wars like the American Revolution the battles really determine the policy, right, because you can't make a decree like the way that Abraham Lincoln decreed the Emancipation Proclamation if you don't have the force of military power behind you. So winning battles, winning the war, those kind of victories give politicians the popular mandate they need to get things done. So that's why I think that it's important to talk, at least a little bit, about the battles of the Civil War. Now obviously, Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Appomattox were not the only battles of the Civil War, there were hundreds of battles of the Civil War but I've chosen these as particular turning points just to kind of give you a very brief overview of the way that military victories and defeats were trending. Because along with those military victories and defeats went the policy of the United States and the policy of the South. And if you're interested in the Civil War it's one of the most written about topics in American history and there are many wonderful books that will go into great detail about the politics, society, and military history of the Civil War, and lots of great television shows, and miniseries that I definitely suggest that you check out. All right, well, with that said let's talk about Gettysburg. So Lee has brought his forces into the North and, again, he's interested in kind of distracting the North from attacking in the South by bringing the war to them. He's hoping to prolong the war so that perhaps another administration that's more favorable to allowing the South to go peacefully might be in office in the North. And the other thing that he's looking for is supplies so once again the vast majority of the Civil War has been fought in the South and it's been fought here in this sort of Shenandoah Valley, Tidewater region of Virginia which is really the breadbasket of the South. So when men are out fighting battles and when battles are being fought on fields instead of crops being grown on them, there's going to be a serious dearth of food in the South. You know I once heard it said that the most salient political fact of the 20th century was that the Americans speak English which means that the United States repeatedly allied with Britain in 20th century wars. But if I had to choose the most salient fact of the American Civil War it might be that you can't eat cotton. You know the South went to war to protect its system of labor so that it could continue to produce these cash crops like cotton or tobacco. And cash crops they may be which means that you can sell them for money but you can't eat cotton or tobacco. And when it comes down to it being able to feed your troops and feed your populace is something that's going to really help you when it comes to winning a war. So Lee is taking his troops up into the North and he takes them into Southern Pennsylvania which is very lovely farmland. It's a very beautiful place if you've never been there, I absolutely recommend you take a look, go to Gettysburg it's a very well preserved battlefield. And as Lee goes through Southern Pennsylvania his troops are taking horses, and grain supplies, and all sorts of things that the army needs to survive which are in short supply in Virginia. So this is like a run to the store for Lee going through Southern Pennsylvania. On the Northern side, General George Meade has been trying to catch up with Lee and cut him off from his invasion of the North. President Abraham Lincoln asks for many volunteers to try to stave off the invasion of the North by Lee and they end up meeting at Gettysburg. And Gettysburg is just a small farm town in Southern Pennsylvania, it's just where these two troops happen to meet as Lee was on his way to the capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg and Lee's forces and Meade's forces meet on July 1st, 1863. Now the Battle of Gettysburg goes on for three days so there's July 1st, July 2nd, and July 3rd. And the first day goes relatively well for the Confederates, they break some of the Union lines around the edges. The second day is kind of a stalemate where Northern forces and Southern forces, they sustain a lot of losses but don't make any real headway toward victory. And then the third day, Lee decides that he is going to try to break the center of the Union forces which means that he is going to try to hit the Union line, and remember this is in the era of military history where people are still kind of fighting in lines, right through the center, and win the day. Unfortunately for him that is not what happens so he tries all day to break the Union lines. There's a very famous sort of last hurrah for the Southern forces in this called Pickett's Charge when General George Pickett's units charge up this hill at Cemetery Ridge trying to break the line and they sustain over 50% casualties so it's kind of a bloodbath for Pickett's unit. And after Pickett's Charge does not succeed the Union forces have officially won the Battle of Gettysburg and Lee realizes that there's no way that he's going to be able to make anything out of his invasion of the North and so he turns around and starts heading back to the South. Now what's important about Gettysburg is that this was what many have called the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. And by that they mean this is as far as the Confederacy ever managed to get into the Northern part of the United States. This is a second attempt at an invasion by Lee and it failed and many people see this as a really important turning point in the Civil War on July 4th. And imagine the good news of receiving word that your troops had triumphed on July 4th, Independence Day. President Lincoln and the United States get another really good piece of news which is that Ulysses S. Grant who will be the future commander of U.S. forces has succeeded in his siege of Vicksburg which is a town on the Mississippi River. And when he takes the town on the Mississippi River Grant has complete control of the Mississippi which is sort of the major highway in the West. So July 3rd and July 4th are really good days for the United States and this is kind of the moment when it becomes clear that victory is going to be outside the reach of the Confederacy. And with an unsuccessful invasion of the North and the loss of the control of the Mississippi, the South's time is kind of coming to an end. The other important thing about the Battle of Gettysburg is that it is a tremendously destructive battle, about 50,000 casualties took place at Gettysburg which makes it the single bloodiest battle in American history which is different from the single bloodiest day which was at Antietam because it took place over three days. And this is not 50,000 people dying, just 50,000 casualties which means either deaths or injuries, those are men who can no longer fight on both sides. So the tremendous loss of life at Gettysburg is going to lead to the foundation of a cemetery at Gettysburg to bury these military dead. And it's going to be in November of 1863, just a couple of months after the Battle of Gettysburg, that Abraham Lincoln will visit the cemetery at Gettysburg and deliver the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous orations in all of American history and we'll get to that in the next video.