The Civil War, Part I: Crash Course US History #20

The Civil War, Part I: Crash Course US History #20

Hi I’m John Green this is Crash Course US
History and today we come at last to the Civil War, the conflict that in many ways created
a nation. So here’s what you won’t be getting today.
We will not be describing battles and tactics. If that’s your bag, might I suggest Ken
Burns or if you prefer books, like 1000 authors, my favorites being James McPherson and Shelby
Foote. And 2. We won’t be bashing and/or praising
Abraham Lincoln very much, although we do have multiple Lincolns here because we’ve
heard that’s good for ratings. I mean, to watch or read certain accounts,
you would think that the Civil War was a lengthy chess game played by Abraham Lincoln against
his cunning opponent Abraham Lincoln, but of course there were other people involved.
We are going to quote a fair bit of Lincoln, though, because, you know, that won Tony Kushner
an Academy Award nomination. 3. We won’t be claiming that the Civil War
was somehow secretly about something other than slavery, because that is just so early
20th century. And 4. There will not be a lot of jokes today
because hahaha 700,000 people died. Mr. Green, actually only 680,000 people died.
Yeah, it depends on how you count, you snivelling little ghoul. But recent estimates are between
680,000 and 800,000 total casualties. Deadlier for Americans than the American Revolution,
World War I, World War II, and Vietnam combined. intro
So let’s start with some basic facts about the American Civil War. 1861 to 1865, which
corresponded with the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. The Union, or more colloquially the
North, fought against the forces of the Confederate States of America, or the South.
Sometimes people call the Union ‘the blue” and the confederates “the gray,” but in
fact the uniforms weren’t very uniform, they were all different kinds of color. And
also, with all that dirt and blood, they were all just brown. Alright, let’s go to the
Thought Bubble. You’ll notice from this map that not all
the states that held slaves were part of the Confederacy. The border states of Kentucky,
Missouri, Delaware and Maryland allowed slavery and never left the United States. All of these
border states were critical to the Union–Maryland was north of the nation’s capitol in Washington
D.C.; Kentucky controlled the Ohio River; Missouri was the gateway to the West; Delaware
actually wasn’t that important. So none of that should be particularly controversial,
unless you’re from Delaware, but the causes of the war, that’s another story. The Civil
War was about slavery–actual historians will back me up on this, like David Goldfield,
who wrote, “Both Northerners and Southerners recognized slavery as the immediate cause
of the Civil War.” Also, Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, “One eighth
of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union,
but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful
interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war.”
That said, in comments lots of people will be like, the war was about agriculture versus
industry, or the states’ rights to protect themselves from the tyranny of a big federal
government, but if it were REALLY about that, the Civil War would’ve started during the
Nullification crisis in the 1830s, when–as I’m sure you’ll remember–Andrew Jackson
said that South Carolina couldn’t declare a federal tariff null in their state. Why
didn’t that cause a Civil War? The Confederate government passed the first
conscription act in American history, implemented national taxes, created a national currency,
and had a government bureaucracy of about 70,000 people, more than the federal bureaucracy
in Washington D.C. Thanks, Thought Bubble. That said, in the
beginning of the war, Lincoln deliberately tried to downplay the slavery angle, arguing
that the war was only about preserving “the Union.”
But the war was also about religion, for both sides. As David Goldfield put it, “In protecting
the Revolutionary ideals, northerners would preserve God’s plan to extend democracy
and Christianity across an unbroken continent and around the world. Southerners welcomed
a war to create a nation more perfect in its fealty to God than the one they had left.”
But it’s also important to remember that regular soldiers often had more prosaic reasons
for going off to fight, as you will eventually learn when you are forced to read The Red
Badge of Courage, Goldfield tells the story of one Alabamian
who enlisted only after his girlfriend mailed him a dress and told him he should start wearing
if he wasn’t willing to go fight. And for Northerners, Union, religion and an
end to slavery mixed together to form a potent rationale for war. It’s summed up nicely
by Julia Ward Howe’s words to the song that would become famous as the Battle Hymn of
the Republic: “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” You thought
I was going to sing, but you were wrong. So spoiler alert the Union won the war, which
in a sense was unsurprising, because they had massive advantages:
For starters, they had many more people, approximately 22 million as compared to 9 million in the
South, of whom 3.5 million were slaves and therefore unlikely to be sympathetic to the
Southern cause. Also, the north manufactured more than 90%
of all goods in America; its factories turned out 17 times more textiles than the South,
30 times more shoes and boots, 13 times more iron, and 32 times more firearms.
Plus, at the outbreak of the war the North had twenty thousand miles of railroad compared
with the South’s ten thousand. This made it easier for the Union to move
its army, which over the course of the war enlisted more than 2 million men, compared
with 900,000 for the Confederacy. Even northern agriculture was also more productive,
taking greater advantage of mechanization than southern farmers did.
Really the only advantage the south had was better leaders, like most of the tactically
famous generals of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stewart,
etc., were Southerners. And also, by the way, they all had great last words.
Lee said “Strike the tent,” Stonewall Jackson said “Let us cross over the river
and rest under the shade of those trees,” and JEB Stuart after being mortally wounded
in battle said to his close friend and lieutenant, “Honey-bun, how do I look in the face?”
Famous Union general Ulysses Grant’s last word was “Water,” which isn’t near so
good, but he said that last word after having survived the war and getting to be, like,
President of the United States and stuff. Right but anyway, this all raises an interesting
question: Was the result of the war a foregone conclusion?
The Confederacy had to create a nation from scratch and build national unity among people
who were committed to the autonomy of their individual home states. So that’s a problem.
And, then there was the issue of overcoming class conflicts, especially when the ruling
class was often exempted from actually fighting in the war.
But when you put aside all that nation-building stuff and just focus on the actual fighting
of the war, the question of the union’s inevitable win becomes much trickier.
Some have argued that all the Confederacy really to do was outlast the Northern efforts
to bring them back into the Union, like Washington had to do against the British.
And the idea was that the war of attrition would eventually wear down northern resolve.
But, there were two problems with this theory. First, the North had such superiority in its
resources that it would take a long time to wear down.
Secondly, fighting a war of attrition would be costly to the South, as well and their
resources would be depleted long before the North’s.
Oh it’s time for the Mystery Document? The rules here are simple. Woah! That was intense.
I try to identify the author of the Mystery Document. If I am right, I do not get shocked,
but I’m never right because Stan makes it too hard. Alright, let’s see what we’ve
got today. “I therefore determined, first, to use the
greatest number of troops practicable against the armed force of the enemy, preventing him
from using the same force at different seasons [and] second, to hammer continuously against
the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition … there should be
nothing left to him but submission.” [1] Okay so the strategy of attrition was a Confederate
strategy. But, Stan is a jerk. But it talks about the enemy AND HIS RESOURCES,
which was kind of a Union focus. And more importantly, it talks about preventing him
from using the same force at different seasons. That makes me think it is a Union general.
Final answer Ulysses S. Grant. OH HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES.
Grant was different from previous Union generals in that he was willing to sustain enormous
casualties in pursuit of his goal to wear down the South.
Because of this, Grant was branded a butcher, like he was willing to weather incredible
losses including the 52,000 men — 41% of his army — who were injured or killed at
the battles of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor. But his grim determination not just to defeat
but to destroy his opponent is what made Grant one of the first truly modern generals and
also the most successful leader the Union found.
So, Grant’s brutal strategy coupled with the vast superiority in Northern resources
suggests that the outcome of the Civil war really was inevitable, but it also points
to some of the reasons to be cautious about that conclusion.
First off, it took three years before the Union actually fully adopted Grant’s strategy,
and between 1861 and 1864 it was possible that Southern victories would eventually force
the Union to give in. I mean, the Union lost a lot of battles in
the first two years, largely due to ineffective General-ing and nothing saps a nation’s
motivation for war like losing. Now, some argue that the North had superior
motivation to prosecute the war because they had God on their side and they were against
slavery, but that’s also pretty problematic. I mean, for many men who joined the federal
army, a war to end slavery had very little appeal, especially poor enlistees who might
be afraid that newly-freed slaves would compete with them for jobs.
Also, while we are correct in considering slavery unjust, southerners who took up arms
for the Confederacy saw themselves as engaged in a fight for their own freedom, rather than
a fight to protect slavery. The truth is, when it comes to fighting, motivation
is a very tricky business, and I’m most comfortable agreeing with James McPherson
who argued that motivation waxes and wanes with victory, and that the outcome of the
war was contingent on a number of turning points.
And we’re just gonna discuss two of the most important: July 1863 and August 1864.
July 1863 saw two of the most important Union victories in the whole war. In the western
theater, General Grant laid siege to and captured Vicksburg Mississippi, thus giving the federals
control of the lower Mississippi river. I mean, by then, the North already had New
Orleans, which made it pretty much impossible for the Confederates to ship cotton or anything
else along the Mississippi River. After that, Grant was able to turn his attention
to the east with the aforementioned hammering of the enemy and their resources.
More famously, especially in the eastern part of the United States, the first three days
of July 1863 saw the battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.
This was General Lee’s furthest major offensive in the north and had he won the battle it
is likely that panic would have set in in places like Philadelphia and maybe even New
York. Actually panic did overcome New York in draft
riots that killed more than 100 people and only ended after troops from Gettysburg were
called in. I’m not going to go into detail about either
of these battles, but they shifted the tide of the war in favor of the North, although
not enough to bring the war to a quick end. Confederate forces would never again threaten
a northern city. August 1864 saw another turning point that really spelled the doom of the
Confederacy, and that was when Union general Sherman took Atlanta. Atlanta was a railroad
hub and manufacturing center but its capture was more significant politically than militarily
because it happened close to the election of 1864.
And that American election was really the last time that the Confederate states of America
could have won the Civil War. It’s easy to forget this, but Lincoln actually
had to run for reelection during the Civil War, and by the summer of 1864 the war was
pretty unpopular and it looked like Lincoln might lose.
The capture of Atlanta changed public opinion about Lincoln and meant it that his Democratic
opponent and former top general George McClellan didn’t stand a chance of winning, which
was really significant for the war because Lincoln was committed to ending it with a
Union victory and McClellan, meh. I think it says a lot about American history
that in the end the war’s outcome was insured not just by military victories but by a political
one. Next week, we’ll examine the effects of
the Civil War and the enduring questions that have arisen out of it, such as who, exactly,
freed the slaves? But, until then, thanks for watching.
Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller. The script supervisor is Meredith
Danko. Our show is written by my high school history teacher, Raoul Meyer, and myself.
Our graphics team is Thought Café. And our associate producer is Danica Johnson, also
responsible for felt Abraham Lincoln. If you want to suggest captions for the libertage,
you can do so in comments where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will
be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course and as we
say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.


  1. Post
    Hayley Andrews

    Uhh so I watched all of the CrashCourse US History videos and not only passed my class but raised my grade from a low C to a high B?!! College is a scam, YouTube can teach you anything you ever need to know?! Thank you for coming to my TedTalk.

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    Bunny Feet

    I'm playing this in the backround hoping my subconscious will absorb this and spit it out by the exam

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    Timothy Burton

    Didn't really expect it, but this is quite well done for a 12-minute synopsis. Covered a lot of ground and raised many key highlights and influences. Damn good explanation of how the Confederacy could have possibly won the war, I've always agreed with this concept. So many (even some prominent historians) spout the opinion that the South had no path to victory, which if you have spent much time studying the Civil War, you should know that the political climate combined with the public's weariness of war made conditions ripe for a conclusion and negotiated settlement, which Lincoln truly could have become powerless to affect. Never heard the McPherson quote before. Dead on.

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    R Dudley

    Here's another question what's the difference between a Yankee and a damn Yankee Damn Yankee won't leave

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    Amy Gough

    I hardly understood what he said probably because I'm not American (not British either but you can guess where) and he talks really fast but I needed to learn this for slave trading… I always wondered what the turning point was to become more civilised like we are now, I heard of the war between the Americas but didn't know why… at the beging if the video I put 2 and 2 together and had my "AH HA!" moment. Dang why didn't they teach us this earlier! I've been wondering this for 3 years and I'm in grade 7.

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    cowboy nobody

    Okay the fact that you think the Civil War was founded over slavery primarily astounds me. Tell me exactly what happened during the Battle of Fort Sumter and why it happened? Then I want you to explain to me why Jefferson Davis was never convicted of any war crimes. Then you need to State the real reason why Southern Farmers didn't have the mechanical advantages, because the north would not sell them the Machinery or tools. So the South would not give them cotton or tobacco and people like clothes on their back and nicotine. There's a lot more ways we can go into this but Lincoln really did not give two turds about freeing the slaves that's why he did it in the middle of the Civil War and not the day the Civil War was declared.

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    Jonathan C

    The Northern strategy of attrition was necessary because the weapons of the time, especially rifles and long range artillery, gave the tactical advantage to the defense. It was very difficult to get a crushing Napoleonic victory in the 1860s, although both sides tried a bunch of times.

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    ian Chapman

    You are leaving out Antietam in 1862 which I argue is the true turning point of the war. Before then, it was at least feasible for the great European powers to recognize the CSA. After Antietam and the Emancipation Proclaimation, it became politically impossible for the rabidly anti-slavery English and French to take the Southern side.

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    In the USA Constitution, there are two sections which combined to give terrorists(slavers) a "welfare benefit" of excessive representation in the USA national government. This governmental "free stuff" allowed USA terrorists to dominate the USA national government until around 1850-1860.
    The abolition movement and the prohibition of slaver terrorism in the new territories severely reduced the "free stuff" to which the terrorists had become so accustomed. The slaver terrorists' "feelings" were very hurt. The "welfare queen" terrorists "felt" compelled to make a lame attempt at forming a separate country based solely on terrorism, The csa.
    The USA civil war was caused by a gang of "butthurt" terrorist slaver "welfare queens". And, those terrorists and their defenders were/are all "conservatives".

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    Kyle Casey

    Shout out to Crash Course and John Greene for doing my American History 1 professor's job for her. She has a doctorate yet makes us watch these instead of hear her lecture. And we're ok with that and so is she.

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    Jack Mara

    600k dead? Pah we in mother russia – the largest country – like things BIG! Like a civil war with 20 milion dead tovarishchi and belyye predateli.

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    Dáin Ironfoot

    Fun Fact: Lincoln was offered Elephants to fight in the war from the Kingdom of Siam but he refused them.

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    Felix Covey

    Shelby foote? Really? You're going to take history advice which is supposed to be as non biased as possible from someone who has said he would still fight in a civil war today? Epitome of a lost cause historian.

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    Anthony Delfino

    In a single episode you covered more than three years of US history courses in my jr high and high school time…. maybe it's just a western thing, but the entire study of the civil war was "it happened because the south wanted to keep its slaves. the north won" and then we move on to The New Deal.

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    Mike P

    When you have to come out and say "Let's not act like the civil war was about anything other than slavery." You are clearly saying "There's a whole bunch more to the story than just freeing slaves……." And there certainly is.

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    Lee Hunter

    At 4:26 he says the Union won the war while showing a picture with 3 inverted stars at the top of the tent. Why would satanic symbolism be displayed? For the same reason the Supreme Court in Israel has all of the illuminati architecture in it.

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    Harry Jude

    Yes, Lincoln's 'campaign for re-election' was during the Civil War; but I've heard that America's (our … but talking about us in the third-person makes us sound 'international' LOL) Presidential election-cycle wasn't the year-long circus that recent broadcasting-tech has made it into. Is that right?

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    Adam D

    Although I agree your explanation of why the north won…the war was NOT about slavery. It was about money. The south had basically paid off the cost of the revolution and were then facing higher tariffs put in place by Lincoln. That's why they hit fort sumpter first…it was a tax collection base. The civil war was also called "the war if northern aggression" for a reason. Just remember that the winner gets to write the history books!

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    George George

    Let his last words to be: "water" – wise choice ! Water it is, water it was and water it will be!!!!

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    S R

    This one kind of sucks. The typical social media video of the speaker cutting in and out from themselves because they cannot speak eloquently for more than 13 seconds at a time while trying way to hard to be witty and sarcastic and ultimately leaving you feeling less knowledgeable than you were before you started the video.

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    The Night Watcher

    Funnily enough, if Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated he likely would’ve started a program to ship all black people back to Africa.

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    DoubleEM Castillano

    I type in Crash Course Civil War and what is 4 scrolls down, this vid. Why not at the top? Do you guys have your tags set up properly?

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    Raleigh Grimsley

    Just to let you know Mr. Green, you are by far the most idiotic yankee I've ever seen. I've never heard so much rubbish come out of someone's mouth before. I'm surprised that you are not in a mental hospital for thinking that the American Civil War was about slavery. You and your yankee lies disgust me. For your information, the American Civil War was about states rights. Kentucky, the state I was born and raised in was not a border state by the way. The Confederacy accepted Kentucky as their thirteenth state on December the tenth, eighteen sixty-one. Good day to you sir.

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    Spear Breaker

    I dont disagree that slavery was a major cause but idk.. if it was the only cause.. why were Missouri, Delaware, etc allowed to keep slaves while in the union?

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    Joseph Waters

    If only the North and South didn't have a 77 cent wage gap. Oh sorry wrong video, every time I see your face I remember how you stand by that ridiculous argument. I will make sure to follow your logic by opening chip bags from the bottom and remembering to not take my pants off before I sit down and poop, it might be gross to me but it's so warm when you do it.

    ANYWAY I sincerely hope you try pooping your pants to solve the gender pay gap. My apologies for using Kanye West logic here.

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    Double A

    I believe that all the reason for the civil war are legitimate but the slavery cause was the last handful of nails in the coffin. My heritage is in the south and most people I’ve heard about fought because fighting was better then starving

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    Eric McCance

    Wow, you started the video saying the war was started because of slavery, and yet in the course of victory you quote Southerners fighting for independence from the union. Wouldn’t that quote by its own show the civil war was much more than just slavery? I’m not minimizing the fact that slavery played a role how however the narrative that it’s “because of slavery “ that sparked the civil war is far to minute and singular of a reason why a civil war that changed our history (for the better I might add) occurred

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    Heritage NOT Hate

    The American civil war wasn't fought over slavery. It was fought over state's rights. Preservation of the union was initially the goal. After Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation, freeing the negros became the higher object.

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    Sophia Schommer

    This is my opinion about how the war started, it started because the south thought the federal government was getting too much power, when the whole issue with slavery came about the south thought that the government had no right to tell them what they could own or do on their own property and private life, they wanted a country with far more freedom and the states far more independent, kind of like their own little countries, anyway they thought they had the right to leave the country but the government said they could not leave, and this obviously got the south more upset, and eventually south Carolina leaves and a bunch of other states leave then shots are fired then boom war starts, look it would obviously would be stupid to say slavery was not part of the reason the war broke out, however most people like the say it was the main reason or the only reason, but it was not there were a ton of other problems, but in my opinion the direct cause of the war was the fact that the south wanted to be governed differently

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    Boomersaurus Rex

    "The civil war was secretly about anything other than slavery."

    Slavery was on the way out thanks to technology, look at how many it took to process goods by hand vs how many it took to run a simple cottongen. It was mostly about state rights versus federal dictation. You can scream it was solely about slavery, but then I wonder if you ever cracked open a history book or economics book that was made before 1990.

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    Wats Good

    It was not fought over slavery but delegates, the south wanted to use their slave populous to secure electoral votes but the north refuse to let them so they started a war by promising to free slaves destabilizing the south and not letting them become their own nation. Neither side cared if slavery continued only about the the power they got from the number of slaves they had which increased delegates and the votes the electoral college could legally cast during elections and this is why they fight for those votes today, by making slaves human enough to count in the election process the south would have gained absolute power. Lincoln allowed Irish immigrants to become citizen to sure up his fighting force and increase delegates for the north. GO BACK TO 2:28 THIS IS WHAT LINCOLN MEANT.

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    Shane Campbell

    The war was a culmination of multiple issues that arose, I'm no historian, I'm sure slavery was the most controversial, but civil wars and secessions don't arise from one decision interpreted as tyrannical.

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    Abraham Lincoln

    I don't remember receiving any e-mails about this video. You seriously missed out on an excellent source. Also "The fault in our stars" was decent at best.

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    Cellophanity Frog

    TRUTH: Most people in the South were NOT slave owners and fought the war because they didn't like Washington telling them what to do all the time, raising taxes, tariffs, hiking prices so they couldn't afford to buy a shirt made in the North with cotton grown in the South, all the poor of the South blamed Washington for their lot in life. The common man doesn't fight and die so some rich aristocrats can keep their slaves. The fight against federal oppression, like regulations that kept southerners from making liquor with their own crops, having a cotton gin, or manufacturing anything themselves or many other restrictive laws, was the real reason for the war.  Most Northerners were NOT abolitionists, they made up only 10% of the northern population. Northerners fought to preserve the Union because they correctly assumed the country could not survive without the huge cash crops grown in the South.  The anti-slavery propaganda began as a Northern rallying cry to help foster support for the war in the North about half-way through the war when public opinion had begun to sway against the war and more towards negotiating some kind of reconciliation with the South. That propaganda has successfully worked against future generations in convincing them that was a central issue or cause of the war when most people in the North did NOT want to end slavery in the South and would never fight a war risking their lives to end slavery of a people MOST of them still saw as less than human. In Abraham Lincolns inaugural address he stated very clearly he had no intention of ending slavery in the South. So, there was no threat of slavery being ended when the South segregated from the Union, but there was threat of the Federal government continuing to tell Southern States what they could or couldn't do in their own states in regards to many other things to the point of restrictive oppression. They told them what they had to charge for their own crops when selling them to manufacturers in the North. They told them they couldn't trade with Europe or other countries but had to sell to the Northern States. They told them they couldn't manufacture things themselves using their own raw materials. They told them what they had to pay for manufactured goods made in the North, which was more than most Southerners could afford. All of this was in direct violation of the promise of self-governance that was given to them at the formation of the country. Most of the quotes used in these videos are from rich landowners and politicians who for them personally the most important 'states right' was the right to own slaves of course, BUT what war can be fought by the top 10% of the population?  The majority of the South supported succession for other reasons that also involved violations of 'states rights' and were of much greater concern to them personally, like Federalist over regulation and restrictions that made it very difficult to provide for their families.

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    King Koi

    The civil war was not fought because of slavery, but because of taxes. Civil wars and revolutions break out when the middle class becomes to small to keep the financial ideologies in balance, so extremes happen and people get pissed off when they can't afford food.

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    xyg dipper

    ok when the schools say the confederates owned slaves i tell them both the confederate side and union side owned slaves only 6% of slaves were owned by confederates the school wont tell you that becouse now days they blame it all on the confederacy when you look at history it was both sides of america that owned slaves dont support slavery i just call people out on their ignorance the civil war wasnt all about freeing the slaves it was about taxes on the south and thats what sparked up the first shots in the civil war

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    Pranz Fegidero

    I just realized. He’s the author of The Fault In Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking For Alaska, and other notable books😲😲😲

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    Javier Charlier

    What annoys me is that I learned that slavery and the civil war are taught completely differently in some southern states than the rest of the US and world. It focuses more on the overwhelming "Northern aggression", struggle for protecting states rights, downplays the brutality of life in slavery, and often minimizes or denies outright the central role of slavery in the outbreak of the war. So there are two competing narratives of history on the civil war that are being taught in schools.

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    CoolChannel Name

    The Civil War was Civil because there was no legal basis. The North was represented by the fictional federal entity known as the federal government. The south was represented by the people. After the federal government conquered the south and installed a puppet government, peace was achieved through ratifications approved by the puppet government the federal government installed. Now everyone in the USA is a SLAVE. Have a nice day.

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    Jody Durban

    I would appreciate if you would leave the foul language out of your videos. They would be very helpful to my middle school class, but I can't show them because you use words that are inappropriate in a school setting.

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