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The Causes of the American Civil War

Taking a historiographical angle, Marcus Cunliffe describes how, in 1861, the American federal experiment broke down, and there ensued the greatest and most hard-fought of modern wars before that of 1914.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter by Currier & Ives (1837–1885).The facts – or some of them – are plain enough. In the small hours of April 12th, 1861, Confederate guns opened fire on Fort Sumter, at the mouth of Charleston harbour, in South Carolina. The Federal garrison of the fort surrendered late the next day; and the Civil War began its bitter, four-year course: North against South, blue uniforms versus grey. When the Southern batteries began the bombardment, the sectional pattern was already fairly clear. Seven Southern states – South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia – had seceded from the Union. After the seizure of Fort Sumter, they were joined in the same month by four more states – Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. This block of eleven states formed the Southern Confederacy. In all eleven, slavery was a recognized institution. Another four slave states – Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware – hung in the balance; as it happened, they did not secede.

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