American Civil War for Kids

The American Civil War pitted family against family in the bloodiest battles that the United States has ever had on its soil. The war was between the northern states, with over 600,000 soldiers dying and 375,000 injured.

The war lasted from 1861 to 1865 and was the most critical turning point in the U.S. in determining whether there would be on Union or the separation so that the Confederacy would be independent.

While there were many contributing factors for the war, the main reasons lay in the south’s desire to maintain slavery and their fear of losing state power as the U.S. expanded. Another name for the Civil War is the War Between the States.

The Confederacy; Southern States

The southern states had an economy based on agriculture and the use of slaves in its production. If slavery was outlawed, many of the southerners would not be able to survive. The southern states that made the decision to secede or break away from the Union called themselves the Confederacy.

They developed their own President, Jefferson Davis, and wrote their own version of the Constitution. These eleven states included; Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

The official start of the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. Confederate soldiers attacked a U.S. Union installation at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Those supporting the southern states were called “Rebels.”

The Union; Northern States

The Northern states based their economy on industries and there were 25 remaining states that wanted to ensure that all states were a single Union. The Northern states had a lot more resources, wealth, and people, and they had a distinct advantage over the southern states.

Those supporting the Northern states were called “Yankees.” There were a few other states that didn’t join either side but also didn’t officially leave the Union. Although slavery was still legal in these states, they were called “neutral states” and included: Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland and West Virginia.

American Civil War Battles

It was not uncommon for members of the same family to be fighting on either side.

Some of the biggest battles that occurred during the Civil War include:

  • The Battle of Antietam
  • The First and Second Battle of Bull Run
  • The Battle of Gettysburg
  • The Battle of Fredericksburg
  • The Battle of the Ironclads
  • The Battle of Vicksburg
  • The Battle of Chancellorsville
  • The Battle of Shiloh

Abraham Lincoln; Stopping the War

President Abraham Lincoln had been elected the President of the United States during the Civil War. He was against slavery and wanted a federal government that was stronger.

Due to his election, the southern states made the decision to leave the Union and it launched the Civil War. President Lincoln held his stand that the country should be united and he made decisions to end the war.

In 1863, President Lincoln announced the executive order of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves. The order allowed a limited number of slaves in the north while all of the southern slaves were to be freed once the Confederates were defeated.

This single action encouraged over 200,000 black soldiers to join the Union Army. The Civil War continued until April 9, 1865 when at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia, General Robert E. Lee made a surrender to Ulysses S. Grant.

Facts about the Civil War:

  • 1/3 of the soldiers in the Union Army were immigrants and nearing 1 in 10 were African American.
  • African American Union soldiers were paid lower wages than the white soldiers and for the first 18 months of their service, they refused to accept their salaries.
  • An escaped slave, Harriet Tubman led a raid to free slaves. During the Civil War, Tubman participated in the Underground Railroad, helping to move slaves to the north. She taught freed slave women the kind of skills that they needed to earn wages.
  • Abraham Lincoln had been shot at and nearly killed almost two years prior to his assassination.
  • The Union General, William Tecumseh Sherman, was previously demoted for apparent insanity.
  • People passed the word around that the bloodiest general of the war was General Ulysses S. Grant. This is untrue, as the bloodiest general was actually Robert E. Lee. Lee’s army suffered the most casualties.
  • The Virginia estate of Robert E. Lee was confiscated by the Union and turned into a cemetery during wartime. The property is now the Arlington National Cemetery.