From 1861 to 1865, the United States waged war upon itself, dividing the fledgling country in half. During that time, nearly one million Americans died. Confederate General Robert E. Lee fought and lost his last battle at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, and he surrendered there to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

A battle for freedom

The American Civil War holds the record for most American casualties sustained in any war. However, what often isn’t stressed is the fact that many of those lives lost belonged to people who held no rights and were viewed as property rather than people. While many actions and interactions have been cited as the cause of the American Civil War, they all boil down to slavery.

At its core, the divide between north and south arose from a series of differing views on the ownership of other human beings as tradeable goods. The South believed that state governments should have the ability to regulate slavery rather than the federal government. Northern states pushed for the abolition of slavery on a national level. Following a series of raids, blockades, and uprisings, the South seceded from the North and formed the Confederate States of America.

Surrender at Appomattox

By April of 1865, the country had been at war for four long years. The Union had beaten back the Confederacy to very near the breaking point. The fateful battle at Appomattox Court House between Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was the final straw. Union defeat of the largest Confederate army and their subsequent surrender turned the war past the point of no return. One month later, the war ended, and the country entered a period of reconstruction. The South, once wealthy beyond compare, was left destitute for over a century. The North had suffered losses but ultimately gained much from the war, and the western expansions continued to prosper.