Church History
American Civil War
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“American Civil War,” Church History Topics

“American Civil War”

American Civil War

On Christmas Day 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation about a coming conflict between the Northern and Southern United States over the question of slavery. The war would begin, the Lord declared, in South Carolina, and it would eventually lead to warfare among “all nations.” 1 At that time, a crisis had arisen over South Carolina’s refusal to honor recent federal tariffs, and many Americans worried that the situation could intensify into a civil war. The government averted civil war at that time, but contention over slavery persisted, deepening the social, political, and economic divide between the Northern and Southern United States.

During the 1860 presidential election, many politicians and voters in the Southern states viewed Abraham Lincoln’s candidacy as a threat to the institution of slavery. When Lincoln won the election, some Southern states, beginning with South Carolina, declared their independence from the Union and formed a separate government called the Confederacy. After Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861, a standoff at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, erupted into armed conflict when a Confederate brigade fired on the fort. Lincoln called for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, and the remaining Southern states began to side with either the Confederacy or the United States. European nations observed the onset of this war with interest, and some opened diplomatic channels with the Confederacy, hoping to intervene in the war on the South’s behalf. Battles between the United States and the Confederacy multiplied while the conflict dragged on for years. 2 The United States eventually looked for additional recruits that included 179,000 African American men, many of them former slaves, to fight against the Confederacy.

Fort Sumter.

Latter-day Saints were continuing to heed the prophetic call to gather to Zion in the American West and thereby largely avoided the conflict. Some branches remained in areas caught in the war, bringing a few Saints into both sides of the conflict. In 1861, Brigham Young sent some Church members on a mission to raise a cotton supply near St. George, Utah. The mission became a modest producer of cotton after the Confederacy embargoed the commodity. 3 As the war progressed, Lincoln’s War Department called upon Young to muster a volunteer army unit to protect postal deliveries, telegraph systems, and travelers on the overland trail. In response, Young’s counselor Daniel H. Wells, who also served as the commanding general of Utah’s militia, assigned Lot Smith to command a cavalry company that totaled just over 100 soldiers. Smith’s cavalry company served for four months in 1862.

The surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Virginia in April 1865 effectively ended the Civil War. The war ultimately cost the United States over 700,000 lives, the most in any conflict in American history. 4 The major outcome of the war was the end of legalized slavery and the emancipation of African American slaves. 5

Notes

  1. Revelation, 25 December 1832 [D&C 87],” in Revelation Book 2, 32–33, josephsmithpapers.org.

  2. For a good one-volume history of the conflict and its context, see James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

  3. S. George Ellsworth, “Heeding the Prophet’s Call,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 40–41.

  4. J. David Hacker, “A Census-Based Account of the Civil War Dead,” Civil War History, vol. 57, no. 4 (Dec. 2011), 307–48.

  5. See Topic: Indian Slavery and Indentured Servitude.