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Webisode 6: A War to End Slavery
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Webisode 6
A War to End Slavery
Lincoln and his Generals
In this photographic montage, President Abraham Lincoln sits surrounded by his top commanders. From left to right they are: David Farragut, William T. Sherman, George Henry Thomas, Abraham Lincoln, George Gordon Meade, Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph Hooker, Philip Henry Sheridan, and Winfield Scott Hancock. The portrait on the wall is of Lt. General Winfield Scott.


A war to end slavery, a war to defend states' rights, or a war to preserve the Union: for what purpose did Americans fight and over six hundred thousand die between 1861 and 1865? After decades of sectional strife over the extension of the South's peculiar institution into new territory, the nation exploded into civil war. In April 1861, South Carolina troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and Lincoln called for volunteers for the Union army. Eleven Southern states seceded from the Union.

The Union debacle at the battle of Bull Run (Manassas) awakened Americans to the ugly realization that the war would be neither short nor bloodless. The Confederacy boasted excellent generals, such as Lee and Jackson, but it lacked the industrial resources and men to sustain a prolonged struggle. Lincoln could not find generals of equal caliber until Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan rose to high command. The Union, however, had the resources and population to endure and ultimately prevail.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863 after the costly Union victory at Antietam, freed all enslaved persons within the Confederacy. More significantly, it changed the goal of war to one not only to preserve the Union but also to end slavery.

Bloody Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg sounded the death knell of the Confederacy. General Ulysses S. Grant's successful siege of Vicksburg gave the Union control of the Mississippi. General George Meade stopped Lee's invasion of the North at the small college town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A badly crippled Lee lost 28,000 men-more than a third of his army-and retreated to Virginia. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered at a ceremony opening a national cemetery, redefined the struggle for the war not only as a struggle for the Union but also one to establish freedom and equality for all.

General Grant's capture of Petersburg and Richmond, and General William Tecumseh Sherman's capture of Atlanta and his March to the Sea shredded any remaining Confederate hopes for victory. Lee and his army withdrew to Appomattox County, where the general surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865. The generous surrender terms did not pacify all Southern sympathizers, however, and on Friday, April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. Lincoln's death shocked and grieved both North and South and thwarted plans for an orderly, charitable Reconstruction. The Civil War ended slavery and preserved the Union, but failed to end the sectional bitterness and racial strife that would continue for generations.

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