10 Most Significant Battles of the Civil War


The Battle of Fort Sumter

April 12, 1861

Located in Charleston, South Carolina, the Battle of Fort Sumter captured the first disputes between the Union and the Confederates. South Carolina’s militia surrounded Fort Sumter, hoping to strengthen their batteries or units of weaponry. This placed President Abraham Lincoln in a very crucial dilemma, for if he abandoned the fort, he would be further chastised by Southern and already seceded states and be symbolized as weak and fragile President. However, if he fires at South Carolina’s forces, he would inevitably be declaring and instigating the war, making Virginia more in favor to secede, which is a valuable industrial, manufacturing Southern state. As a solution, Lincoln sends unarmed supply ships to the fort, angering the Confederates. They fire at Lincoln’s supply ship and take Fort Sumter by force, making war officially be declared by the Confederates against the Union.

The Battle of Bull Run/The Battle of First Manassas

July 21, 1861

The Battle of Bull Run took place in Fairfax County and Prince William County, Virginia. This battle contributed a victory for the Confederate Army. This shocked numerous Northern states, for they did not fully comprehend the Confederacy’s determination to resist Northern ideology. This was the first and last battle which was spectated by the Confederate populous, for they were unaware-until witnessing the graphic outcome of war-of the horrors imposed by the war. The Union gathered near Washington D.C. in hopes of claiming Manassas, Virginia, consisting of vital railroads. The Union’s leader, General Irvin McDowell planned to flank the Confederates, for he was ambitious to surprise them. However, the plan was poorly executed, allowing Confederate Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston arrive with reinforcements by railroad. The Union was left disorganized by the Confederacy’s surprising counter-attack, forcing the North to panic and frantically run back into route.

The Battle of Shiloh/The Battle of Pittsburg Landing

April 6, 1862 - April 7, 1862

The Battle of Shiloh/Battle of Pittsburg Landing was located in Hardin County, Tennessee. This war occurred after the Union spread their troops throughout the East and West, consisting of six divisions throughout Ohio and Tennessee. 40,000 Confederate Soldiers under General Albert Sidney Johnston struck the Union near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, approaching them from wooded area. Ulysses S. Grant’s entire command was overpowered, driving them to a sunken road, known as the “Hornet’s Nest”. The Union soldiers were captured, killed, and wounded by Confederate soldiers. However, the next day Grant’s army outnumbered P.G.T. Beauregard’s, who replaced General Johnston after being mortally injured, army by 10,000 (30,000 to 40,000). The Union’s counteroffensive attacks easily took control of the Confederate forces, allowing the Union to claim its victory, even though they had more casualties than the Confederates. This two day battle was the bloodiest battle in American history at its time, producing more than 23,000 casualties.

The Peninsular Campaign/The Seven Days’ Battles

June 25, 1862 - July 1, 1862

The Peninsular Campaign/Seven Days’ Battles was located in the Virginia Peninsula, between the York and James Rivers and Richmond, Virginia through Hanover County and Henrico County, Virginia. General McClellan was in command of Union Army. He decided to approach Richmond from the Atlantic coast. McClellan landed troops in Yorktown, Virginia, which is a peninsula between the York and James River, east of Richmond. McClellan was eager to seize control of the Confederacy’s capital, for it was the seat of the Confederacy’s political power, munitions, armament, weapons, supplies, and manpower. Ultimately, the Confederates would be collapsed and be easily succumbed by the Union if Richmond fell as McClellan intended. There were battles fought there throughout July of 1862. The Confederates defeated the Union in the battles, and the first stage of the Peninsula Campaign ended in the inconclusive Battle of Seven Pines, during which Confederate General Joseph Johnston was injured and command passed to Robert E. Lee. General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry and General Stonewall Jackson’s famous “foot cavalry” overwhelmed McClellan’s forces, compelling the Union to cease the campaign. Beginning on June 25, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia held off the Army of the Potomac in a series of engagements known as the “Seven Days’ Battles”, effectively ending McClellan’s campaign toward Richmond.

The Battle of Antietam

September 17, 1862

The Battle of Antietam was located in Washington County near Sharpsburg, Maryland. General Lee, commander of Northern Virginia Army, moved to strike the Union territory in Maryland. A Confederate messenger dropped a copy of the battle plans, which was found by a Union soldier. The Union learned that Lee's forces were divided, so General Grant attacked. The morning assault and vicious Confederate counterattacks swept back and forth through Miller’s Cornfield and the West Woods. Later the Union assaulted against the Sunken Road shortly overpowering the Confederates. The third and final major assault by the Union army took place at Antietam Creek. Just as the Federal forces began to collapse the Confederate right, the timely arrival of A.P. Hill’s division from Harpers Ferry helped to drive the Army of the Potomac back once more. The bloodiest single day in American military history ended in a draw, but the Confederate retreat gave Abraham Lincoln the “victory” he desired before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Battle of Chancellorsville

April 30, 1863 - May 6, 1863

The Battle of Chancellorsville was located in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Confederate generals, General Lee and General Jackson, devised one of the boldest plans of the war against the Union’s Major General Joseph Hooker. Jackson planned to attack the Union from the right, hoping to expose the Union’s flank. On May 2, 1863, the Confederates were able to defeat the Union’s forces and Hooker’s position in battle. However, the victorious Confederate attack ended with the death of General Stonewall Jackson, who was killed by one of his own Confederate soldiers who misidentified him as a Yankee soldier. Lee pushed further, driving Hooker’s larger army back to a new defensive line on May 3, 1863. General Lee then defeated separated Union soldiers near Salem Church. Ultimately, this sparked newfound morale for the Confederate Army, and Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville is considered to be his greatest victory of the entire war.

The Battle of Gettysburg

July 1, 1863 - July 3, 1863

The Battle of Gettysburg was located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Adams County, Pennsylvania. Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched his second invasion of the Northern territory, hoping to score politically meaning victories, take the war out of Virginia, and gather supplies for his army. Lee pushed against Union General Joseph Hooker, and then General George Meade, who replaced Hooker in late June. After colliding in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1, the Confederates were able to gain the advantage on the Union, sweeping the west and north of the vicinity, but were unable to secure the south. The next day, Lee failed once again to secure the heights of the south. On July 3, Lee attacked the Union on Cemetery Ridge, known as Pickett’s Charge. Lee’s second invasion of the Union failed, resulting in 51,000 killed, wounded, captured, or missing soldiers after Gettysburg. The Union claimed the decisive victory against the Confederates.

The Fall of Atlanta/The Battle of Atlanta

July 22, 1864

The Battle of Atlanta, known as the “Fall of Atlanta”, was located southeast of Atlanta Georgia and in Fulton County, Georgia. Confederate General John Bell Hood desired to drive Major General William T. Sherman’s troops, who were marching to Atlanta, Georgia. On the night of Jul 21, 1864, General Hood ordered Lieutenant General William J. Hardee’s men to assault the Union left flank, which was commanded by Major General James B. McPherson. However, Hood’s attack failed to defeat the Union members, allowing them to strengthen their pursuit to Atlanta, Georgia. Union General Sherman was able to lead his troops into Georgia, seizing and burning Atlanta, which was an essential city and railroad junction for the Confederates.

Sherman’s March to the Sea

November 15, 1864 - December 21, 1864

“Sherman’s March to the Sea” was located in Atlanta through Savannah, Georgia. After losing Atlanta, Georgia, the Confederate Army headed west into Tennessee and Alabama, attacking Union supply lines as they went. Union Major General William Sherman split his troops into two separate groups, chasing the Confederates across the South. Union Major General George Thomas took 60,000 men to meet the Confederates in Nashville, Tennessee, while Major General Sherman took 62,000 men through Georgia to Savannah, scorching towns as he marched up to Virginia. In the process of the “scorched earth policy”, Major General Sherman and his men would burn and tear up railroad tracks, raided and burned homes, and captured livestock. The Union was able to force the Confederates out of the Atlantic port of Savannah, Georgia on December 22, 1864.

The Surrender at Appomattox/The Battle of Appomattox Court House

April 9, 1865

The Battle of Appomattox Court House, known as the “Surrender at Appomattox”, was located in Appomattox County, Virginia. The Union seized Petersburg, Virginia and Richmond, Virginia, pressing onward to North Carolina. Battered and cut-off from supplies from the Union’s endless victories and undying determination, General Lee and the Confederates headed west, arriving in Appomattox County, Virginia on April 8, 1865. The Confederates headed for the South Side Railroad at Appomattox Station, where food supplies awaited their arrival. However, the Union was able to surround the Confederates near the Appomattox Court House, trapping Lee and his army. General Lee surrendered his remaining troops to General Grant on April 9, 1865 at the McLean House in Virginia.