October 26, 1861: The Pony Express ceases operations.
This short-lived mail service was once the fastest and most direct form of communication between the eastern and western portions of the United States. Founded in 1860, it tied the more organized Midwest to California, with its burgeoning population, on the eve of Civil War. The Pony Express was the pinnacle of practicality and speed in communication at the time; riders of the Pony Express travelled from Missouri to California by crossing the Great Plains, the Rockies, and the Sierra Nevada (a distance of nearly 2,000 miles) in just ten days. Some messages were relayed even faster - for example, in November 1860, news of Abraham Lincoln’s election reached California from Nebraska in five days.
Such a feat was said to be impossible. It wasn’t, of course, but still, riders had to be skilled to carry out this incredibly strenuous, demanding work (“Buffalo Bill” Cody was one such rider). One famous ad seeking prospective riders reportedly read: “Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” Because of the risks and high demand involved in the employment, riders were payed the generous sum of a hundred dollars a month. Those who found themselves in the employment of the Pony Express soon found themselves out of work, however; on October 24, 1861, the east and west coasts of the United States were finally linked by telegraph, almost immediately rendering horseback mail service obsolete. Although the Pony Express closed after a little over a year of service, it and the men who rode for it were heavily romanticized as some of the many iconic pieces of the mythic Old West.
May 4, 1863: The Battle of Chancellorsville ends.
When Union Major General “Fighting” Joe Hooker’s 130,000-strong forces clashed with Robert E. Lee’s significantly smaller army in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, the hero of the Confederacy emerged victorious - to the shock of the North. Joseph Hooker, once considered a top-notch administrator, motivator of troops, and overall a vast improvement over some of his predecessors, had apparently “lost his nerve” a day into the battle on May 1; despite his enormous numerical advantage, he failed to take the offensive against Lee’s forces, which subsequently divided and flanked the Union army. Fighting on May 3, divided between Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Salem Church, resulted in the bloodiest day of fighting of the Civil War, after Antietam.
When Abraham Lincoln learned of the defeat, he reportedly exclaimed “My God! My God! What will the country say?” Lincoln’s only consolation was that General “Stonewall” Jackson, one of the Confederacy’s most beloved commanders, had been wounded by his own men near the end of the battle. Jackson died a week later, a disastrous blow to the Confederacy’s war effort and morale, to which General Lee responded: “I have lost my right arm”.
April 14, 1865: Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.
Only one week before his assassination, Abraham Lincoln completed his tour of the Confederate capital at Richmond, following its fall to Union forces earlier that month. The Confederacy was on its way out, and the Confederates knew it… and Confederate sympathizers like John Wilkes Booth knew it, as well. Prior to Appomattox House, Booth had plotted to kidnap Lincoln, whose “appearance, his pedigree, his coarse low jokes and anecdotes, his vulgar similes, and his policy” he viewed with disgust. Once General Lee surrendered, however, Booth realized that kidnapping would be futile; only assassination would suffice (to accomplish what, exactly, is unclear), and so he set out to murder the man he accused of trying “to crush out or try to crush out, slavery by robbery, rape, slaughter, and bought armies”.
On April 13, Booth watched Lincoln give a speech in which he declared his support of suffrage for former slaves, which only enraged Booth further. The next day, after shooting Lincoln in Ford’s Theater, he jumped out of the president’s box and shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!“ or “Thus always to tyrants”. He undoubtedly saw himself as the Brutus to Lincoln’s Julius Caesar, and his actions as nothing less than heroic (and some agreed with him, both in the North and South).
The president died the next morning, Booth fled south, and Americans, whether anti- or pro-Lincoln, were left in a stupor. Abraham Lincoln, having already proved himself a strange and unique specimen of a man and leader, now held the added distinction of being America’s first president to die at the hands of an assassin.
The American Civil War in Numbers
Number of soldiers who fought on the Union side: 2,130,000
Number of soldiers who fought on the Confederate side: 1,100,000
Number of soldiers who died on the Union side: 360,000
Number of soldiers who died on the Confederate side: 260,000 (these numbers include deaths from disease).
Most casualties in one battle: The Battle of Gettysburg, with 51,000 casualties and 7,000 dead (x)
Most casualties in a one-day battle: The Battle of Antietam, with 22,700 casualties and 3,600 dead.
Number of enlisted African-Americans in the Union Army: 180,000 (and 20,000 in the Navy) (x)
Number of enlisted African-Americans in the Confederate Army: (disputed) although thousands served as laborers and servants.
Official salary (per month) of a Union private: $13 (x)
Official salary (per month) of a Confederate private: $11
Official salary (per month) of a black Union private: $10, later $7.
Number of POWs captured: 400,000
Number of Union soldiers who died in Andersonville Prison: 13,000 (x)
Total number of soldiers who died in prison camps: 56,000 (x)
Direct cost (in terms of government expenditures): $3.3 billion (x)
Indirect cost: $3.7 billion
Beginning date: April 12, 1861
End date: April 9, 1865
Total time: 1459 days
April 12, 1861: The American Civil War begins.
Only two months after the Confederate States of America was formed, the inevitable battle over the legitimacy of secession began when Confederate forces under P.G.T. Beauregard began to bombard Union-held Fort Sumter. Although bombardment by the Confederates lasted for hours, not one man on either side was killed. However, two men - Privates Daniel Hough and Edward Gallway - became the first casualties of the American Civil War when they were killed as the surrendering Union forces performed a 100-gun salute to their flag.
Although relatively bloodless and peaceably resolved, the Battle of Fort Sumter and the subsequent Union surrender riled up Northerners, who offered themselves up by the thousands to Lincoln’s call for volunteer troops. Southern states that had up until now remained in the Union responded with outrage as well - at Lincoln, that is. They denounced his recruitment of troops as preparation for an “unholy crusade” for the United States to “[subdue] her sister Southern states”. The vital state of Virginia seceded from the Union only a few days after Fort Sumter, taking with it Colonel Robert E. Lee,who ensured that this would-be small rebellion dragged on for four long years.
April 9, 1865: The Battle of Appomattox Court House is fought.
This one-day skirmish was the last stand for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederacy’s main military force. After several hours of fighting, General Lee proposed in a letter to Ulysses Grant that they meet at the McLean House, an estate within the small village of Appomattox Court House, so that he could surrender his force of nearly 30,000 men.
And so they met - face-to-face, for the first time in several years - and Grant offered these terms of surrender to Lee:
“… The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”
These were generous terms; Grant also provided food for the Confederate army and allowed the men to keep their horses and mules. One of Lee’s officers, shortly before the surrender at Appomattox Court House, predicted that if he were to surrender, “every other [Confederate] army will follow suit.“ Sure enough, when General Lee issued a farewell address to his army on April 10, the American Civil War had more or less come to an end.