In 1860 and 1861, a group of southern states, known as the Confederacy, withdrew from the United States. A civil war began when the Confederates attacked a federal fort in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1865, the Union defeated the Confederacy in this fierce conflict.
The northern states were building an industrial economy. The agricultural southern states still relied on slave labor. They resented the increasing power of the north and feared that the federal government in Washington would impose reforms and end slavery.
The US was reunited at a terrible cost. The northern troops lost 359,000 soldiers, while the southerners lost 258,000. Civilians suffered from looting and from the devastation of railroads, towns, and cotton plantations.
This was a secret network of escape routes and hideouts for African American slaves. Between 1786 and 1861, activists such as Harriet Tubman (c. 1820–1913) helped about 50,000 slaves escape to freedom in the northern states and Canada.
Abraham Lincoln proclaimed an end to slavery in 1863, and it was finally abolished in the southern states after the war. African Americans remained poor, and the southern states passed laws that prevented them from voting or gaining equal status despite constitutional amendments guaranteeing these rights.
Lincoln was elected President in 1860 and again in 1864. He supported strong federal government and opposed slavery. Having led the Union to victory in the Civil War, he was assassinated at a theater in Washington, D.C., in 1865.