Restoration and 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 tensions persisted, and the social, political, and economic divide deepened between the Northern and Southern United States over the question of slavery.

During the 1860 presidential election, politicians and voters in the deep Southern states viewed Abraham Lincoln’s candidacy as a threat to the institution of slavery. When Lincoln won the election, some Southern states immediately began forming the Confederacy with intentions of declaring their independence from the Union. After Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861, tensions erupted into armed conflict in a standoff at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, between a Confederate brigade and U.S. Army soldiers. Lincoln directed troops to suppress the rebellion, and the remaining states began to side with either the Confederacy or the United States. European nations observed the onset of this war with interest and opened diplomatic channels with both the North and the South. The Confederacy soon launched military offensives against the United States, and battles multiplied across a front separating the North and the South.2

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter.

Latter-day Saints were continuing to heed the prophetic call to gather to and build 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 launch a cotton industry near St. George, Utah. The mission became an important supplier of cotton to the Union after the Confederacy placed a blockade on the commodity.3 As the war progressed, Lincoln called upon Young to raise volunteer army units to protect against raids on postal deliveries and telegraph systems out west. In response, Young assigned Lot Smith to command a regiment that patrolled for the remainder of the war, earning Smith a citation of distinction for his service.

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