What Military Action Started the American Civil War?

Written by

John Cotton


Logan Miller

what military action started the american civil war

What military action started the American civil war?

The Confederate forces fired Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. After 34 hours of artillery fire exchange, Union forces surrendered without casualties.

This event was called the Battle of Fort Sumter and has been recognized as the major action that sparked the American Civil War.

Continue reading to learn more about the US civil war…

American Civil War Summary

The civil war in the United States was a dark four-year history that led to Americans fighting and killing thousands of their own countrymen.

1. Duration and Significance of the Civil War


The Civil War was a fight for power between the North and South. It lasted 4 years and ended by readmitting the states that rebelled and paved the way for a single United States nation.

For almost 50 years before the leaders took their differences to the battlefield, many Presidents of the United States who took office from 1789 to 1861 were slaveholders themselves.

When wartime Confederate armies surrendered in 1865, it left destruction and bankruptcy throughout most of the South. However, it abolished the institution of slavery in the end and shifted political control from the South to the North.

2. Main causes and tensions that led to the conflict


History books pinpoint the battle of Fort Sumter as the start of the United States civil war, but there actually had been numerous tensions between the United States of America and 11 southern states that formed the Confederate States of America.

Although multiple reasons are written in history books that reportedly caused the civil war besides slavery, these reasons all have a connection to slavery.

For example:

  • Pro and anti-slavery states were divided after the American Revolution.

Northern states were facing a boom in industrialization and passed laws freeing the enslaved. Southern states, however, believed slavery was an integral part of their agriculture-based economy.

  • Publishing of Harriet Stowe’s series and Uncle Tom’s Cabin book.

In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a fictional series based on real-life slavery stories. The stories, which were published in 41 installments in the abolitionist newspaper “National Era.’

It then was republished into a two-volume book entitled “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or Life Among the Lowly.” The novel brought the morality of slavery into the spotlight and made people debate it.

  • Failed compromises (Missouri Compromise, Compromise of 1850 & Crittenden Compromise)

These compromises tried to define the permission of slavery. They clarified each state’s rights, but these temporary fixes failed to appease the tensions between the South and the North.

Some Southerners didn’t agree with how much the federal government interfered with their state policies, from imposing more taxes to improving agricultural infrastructure and even changing slavery laws.

  • The Pottawatomie Massacre ignited hatred from the other side.

Even abolitionists added to the tension. An American abolitionist named John Brown used to help enslaved people escape to Canada but went to the extreme when Brown and his four sons lured five proslavery men and killed them at a spot near Pottawatomie Creek.

  • Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860.

He was a threat to the Southern state leaders since Lincoln always proclaimed his anti-slavery stance. While it was Abraham Lincoln who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the move was politically challenging at the time.

  • Formation of the Confederacy.

When Lincoln won the presidency, Southerners didn’t trust that he would protect their rights and decided to leave the Union. They also elected their own leader, Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederate States of America.

Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis weren’t the ones who started Civil War, but as leaders of the opposing sides, their names will be forever etched in the Civil War and Battle of Fort Sumter history books.

Battle of Fort Sumter: the Event That Marked the Beginning of the Civil War

1. April 12, 1861


The first shots of the civil war occurred on April 12, 1861, at 4:30 am on Fort Sumter, a man-made island situated at Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

Confederates General Pierre Beauregard led the attack.

At the time, Major Robert Anderson commanded the fort along with 100 troops who fought alongside him. They were forced to surrender on April 13, 1861, at 2:30 pm.

Amazingly, despite being the first military action or event that led to the civil war, no soldiers died during the Battle of Fort Sumter.

2. April 15, 1861


By April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared the American Civil War and called 75,000 volunteers for 90 days. What Lincoln didn’t know then was that the American civil war timeline would last up to 4 years.

This origin of the civil war at Fort Sumter was just the beginning of 10,500 military engagements, which included 50 major battles and 100 smaller battles.

Aftermath, Consequences and Impact in History


Although what started the civil war had zero casualties, the American Civil War itself remains the bloodiest battle for the country. From the start of the Civil War to the end, over 1,030,000 people died, which included 620,000 soldiers.

President Lincoln insisted the Civil War wasn’t about slavery or black rights – it was about preserving the Union. He made multiple declarations about keeping the country as one.

Still, since the seceded states didn’t return to the Union, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and declared all enslaved people free.

In the end, Lincoln succeeded in preserving the Union. He offered an amnesty program for Southern states so they could be readmitted to the Union and be included in the Reconstruction of their devastated lands.

Major constitutional changes were made to define American Citizenship, specifically the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional amendments that focused on African Americans, slavery, and their basic human rights.

Modern America attribute to the Civil War for several innovations such as:

  • The invention of the ambulance – it was the first war to have an army ambulance corps that transported wounded soldiers.
  • The construction of Iron-clad warships – history was made on March 9, 1862, when the first pair of iron-clas ships fought and led to the Confederacy’s defeat.
  • The telegraph as military communications and media source – Lincoln used the telegraph to receive news from Union leaders all over the country. It also gave newspapers a quicker way to receive information and print news immediately after the event.
  • Advancement of guns and bullets – The Civil War saw the invention of the rifling, Minie bullet, and Gatling gun (a rapid-fire or old-timey version of a machine gun).

Frequently Asked Questions


Who were the major military leaders during the Civil War?

Abraham Lincoln was the President of the Cfivil War Union. The Union included Maine, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Nevada, Iowa, and California.

Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy. He led the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia.

What were the key turning points in the war?

The US military considers the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and the Fall of Vicksburg in Mississippi as two significant turning points of the Civil War. Both battles ended on July 4, 1863, with the defeat of Confederate forces.

When did the Civil War start and end?

How long did the civil war last? The Civil War in the United States lasted four years.

The begin date of the Civil War was on April 12, 1861, at 4:30 am.

It ended on April 9, 1865.


Now that you know what military action started the American civil war, it’s interesting to dig deeper and discover the war’s impact on today’s America. It is indeed a critical period that gave rise to many innovations and marked the changes in the course of America’s history.

5/5 - (2 votes)