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La Guerre de Sécession

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Suite à l'élection d'Abraham Lincoln comme président des États-Unis en 1860, sur la base d'un programme opposé à l'extension de l'esclavage, le 4 février 1861 sept États esclavagistes du Sud (Caroline du Sud, Mississippi, Floride, Alabama , Géorgie, Louisiane, Texas) choisirent de faire sécession des États-Unis pour former les États confédérés d'Amérique  sous la guide du president Jefferson Davis. Le jour suivant ces sept États prirent alors le contrôle des installations militaires et navales sur leurs territoires, déclenchant ainsi la guerre de Sécession: les combats commencent le 12 avril 1861 lorsque les forces confédérées attaquent une installation militaire de l'Union à Fort Sumter, dans la baie de Charleston en Caroline du Sud, parce que les soldats nordistes ont refusé de l'évacuer.
Dans les premieres temps, le chef militaire de la Confédération, Robert E. Lee, remporte une série de victoires sur les armées de l'Union (Bull Run, Manassas) mais il perd la bataille de Gettysburg au début de juillet 1863, ce qui est un tournant de la guerre. La prise de Vicksburg et celle de Port Hudson par Ulysses Grant achèvent la prise de contrôle du fleuve Mississippi par les troupes de l'Union. Grant mène de sanglantes batailles d'usure contre Lee en 1864, l'obligeant à défendre Richmond en Virginie, la capitale des Confédérés. Le général de l'Union William Sherman prend Atlanta en Géorgie, et commence sa marche vers la mer, dévastant une large bande de la Géorgie. La résistance des Confédérés s'effondre après la reddition du général Lee au général Grant à Appomattox le 9 avril 1865.
Après la défaite des États confédérés, Lincoln se veut conciliant avec le Sud lors de son discours d’investiture de second mandat, et appelle à l’apaisement. Mais son programme de reconstruction ne vit pas le jour en raison de son assassinat le 14 avril 1865 par John Wilkes Booth, partisan sudiste. 
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