The American Civil War (1861–1865) was a civil war in the United States of America. It is sometimes called "The War Between the States". Eleven Southern states in which slavery was legal wanted to leave the United States of America. They formed the Confederate States of America, also called "the Confederacy". They wanted the Confederate States of America to be its own country, separate and independent from the United States. Jefferson Davis was chosen as president of the Confederacy. The U.S government and the states that remained loyal to it were called the Union. The Union is sometimes called "the North". Every state where slavery was illegal supported the Union. Most of these states were in the North. Five states where slavery was legal also supported the Union. These were called the "border states".
The Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, won the 1860 presidential election. The Republican Party was against spreading slavery to places where it was not already legal. After the election seven Southern states declared their independence from the Union. They formed the Confederate States of America, even before Lincoln became president on March 4, 1861. The outgoing U.S. president, James Buchanan, said this was against the law, but did nothing to stop them. Lincoln and his Republican party treated this secession as a rebellion. No country ever recognized the Confederacy as its own, separate nation. This was because of diplomacy on the part of the Union, anti-slavery feelings in Europe, and the northern blockade of southern ports.
Fighting started when the Confederates bombarded Fort Sumter, a Union Army fort. Lincoln then asked the Union states to raise soldiers to fight the Confederates. The war was fought mostly in the Southern states. After four years of fighting, the Union won the war. After the Union won, slavery was made illegal everywhere in the United States.
The Confederate States claimed that they owned all forts and other federal buildings in the South. Fort Sumter was in South Carolina - one of the Confederate States. However, the fort was controlled by the Union. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces attacked the fort. They forced the Union soldiers inside the fort to surrender. After this, President Lincoln asked every Union state for volunteers to join the Union Army. Quickly, four more southern slave states joined with the Confederates instead of supplying forces to fight them.
The American Civil War was fought in three important land areas, or "theaters". The Eastern theater included all land east of the Appalachian Mountains. The Western theater included everything between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River and along the river. The Trans-Mississippi theater included territory west of the Mississippi river.
Both the United States and the Confederacy had their capital cities in the Eastern theater. Washington D.C. had been the capital of the U.S. since 1800. When the South seceded, it first named Montgomery, Alabama but soon changed to Richmond, Virginia as the capital of the Confederate States. Richmond and Washington are only about 90 miles (145 km) apart. One of the first battles of the war was fought in Virginia. This First Battle of Bull Run happened on July 21st, 1861. The Confederates won the battle. The Union Army of the Potomac then tried to capture Richmond in the Peninsula Campaign during the spring of 1862. At this time, Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia and defeated the Union army. He then won the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862. Lee tried to win the war by invading Maryland. When he lost the Battle of Antietam, he retreated back to Virginia.
There was much naval warfare in the American Civil War but the Union navy was much stronger. Lincoln put the Confederates under a blockade, which meant the Union navy would not let any ships into or out of southern ports. The Confederates used ships called blockade runners to bring things from Europe. The things the Confederates brought included weapons. The navies of each side also fought on the rivers. The ships included ironclads, which were protected by iron on their sides, and cottonclads, which used cotton along its sides. During the Battle of Hampton Roads, the Confederate ironclad Virginia fought against the Union ironclad Monitor. This was the first time in world history that two ironclads fought each other.
In the Western theater, much of the fighting happened along the Mississippi River. Ulysses S. Grant was an important Union general in the west. The Confederates tried to send their soldiers into the state of Kentucky during the summer of 1861. During the early months of 1862, the Union army made the Confederates retreat from Kentucky and from western Tennessee. The Confederates tried to recapture western Tennessee by attacking Grant's army at the Battle of Shiloh. Grant won the battle. The Confederates then tried to send their soldiers into eastern Kentucky during the fall of 1862. They left Kentucky after losing the Battle of Perryville.
The North won control of almost all of the Mississippi River. This was by capturing the cities along the river during the fall of 1862 and spring of 1863. However, the Confederacy still held Vicksburg, an important city and fort. If they held the city, the Confederates could move soldiers and supplies from one side of the river to the other. Grant started the Siege of Vicksburg during the month of May 1863. The siege continued for a long time. On the 4th of July, 1863, the Confederates in Vicksburg surrendered to Grant. This was one of the turning points in the war, because it divided the Confederacy into two parts.
There were also battles west of the Mississippi river valley, in the Trans-Mississippi theatre. For example, two important battles were the Battle of Wilson's Creek and the Battle of Pea Ridge. The Confederates tried to invade New Mexico during February and March 1862 but they were defeated at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. After the Union captured Vicksburg, this area became separated from the rest of the Confederate states. Other battles happened in this area after the capture of Vicksburg.
During the siege of Vicksburg in the west, another turning point came in the east. After winning some battles, Lee decided to invade the North again. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia went into Pennsylvania. The Confederate Army met the Union Army near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The two armies fought the Battle of Gettysburg. This battle lasted for three days: July 1 to 3, 1863. More soldiers died at Gettysburg than in any other Civil War battle. The Union won the battle. This stopped the Confederate Army's invasion into the North. Lee and his troops were pushed back into the South.
After this, President Lincoln decided that Grant was his best general. He put Grant in control of all the Union armies. Lincoln also made William T. Sherman the general in charge of the Union troops in Georgia. Grant led many attacks on Lee's army. These battles were made up the Overland Campaign. Meanwhile, Sherman burned Atlanta and Savannah. He did this to try to make the South weaker and to make it harder for Southern people to supply the Confederate Army with food and other necessities. Sherman then marched north through South Carolina and North Carolina. Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston attacked Sherman at the Battle of Bentonville. Sherman won the battle.
Lee held out as long as he could in Virginia. Eventually he decided that he had too few soldiers to keep on fighting the Union, which had more soldiers and supplies. Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865, near Appomattox Court House. After Lee surrendered, many other Confederate armies surrendered also. The last Confederate general to surrender was Brigadier General Stand Watie. He surrendered on June 23, 1865, in Oklahoma.
After the war ended, President Lincoln pardoned all of the Confederate soldiers. This meant the Confederate soldiers would not be arrested or punished for fighting against the Union. The southern states would be allowed to rejoin the United States again. However, some Confederates did not want to return to the United States. Some of these people moved to México or Brazil.
During the war, inflation was a problem in both the Union and the Confederacy. This meant that prices went up, and everything became more expensive. Many people in the North and the South could not afford the higher prices. Many went hungry because of this. This was one thing that helped lead to the Confederacy's surrender.
After the war
The period after the war, called Reconstruction, lasted from the end of the war until 1877. The Union Army stayed in some Southern states, making them occupied territory. Three important amendments were added on to the United States Constitution. The amendments were proposed (or suggested) by the U.S. government. Although not every American supported them, the amendments got enough support to pass.
The 13th Amendment says that slavery is not allowed anywhere in the United States. This officially ended legal slavery everywhere in the country. During the war, President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This said that all of the slaves in the Southern states were free. However, some slaves were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and many Southerners did not obey the Emancipation Proclamation. So, until the 13th Amendment was passed, slavery was still practiced in many parts of the United States.
The 14th Amendment makes it clear that all people born in the United States are citizens with equal rights. It also says that these rights cannot be taken away unless a person breaks the law. Before this, African-American people were not seen as citizens. They did not have the same rights as white people. The 14th Amendment gave every American equal rights under the law.
The 15th Amendment says that people in the United States cannot be kept from voting because of their race. Citizens could be stopped from voting because of their gender, however. Women could not vote until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920.
The Amnesty Act of 1872 restored the rights to vote and to hold political office for most of the former members of the Confederacy. Some of them also became politicians.
- First Battle of Bull Run
- Second Battle of Bull Run
- Battle of Gettysburg
- Siege of Petersburg
- Battle of Atlanta
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Fort Henry
- Battle of Fort Hindman
- Battle of Fort Sumter
- Battle of Fredericksburg
- Battle of Nashville
- Battle of Pea Ridge
- Battle of Perryville
- Battle of Seven Pines
- Battle of Shiloh
- Battle of Vicksburg
- Causes of the American Civil War
- Confederate States of America
- Abraham Lincoln
- Jefferson Davis
- Robert E. Lee
- United States Constitution
- 13th Amendment
- 14th Amendment
Images for kids
Abraham Lincoln16th U.S. President (1861–1865).
County map of Civil War battles by theater and year.
General Scott's "Anaconda Plan" 1861. Tightening naval blockade, forcing rebels out of Missouri along the Mississippi River, Kentucky Unionists sit on the fence, idled cotton industry illustrated in Georgia.
Gunline of nine Union ironclads. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Charleston. Continuous blockade of all major ports was sustained by North's overwhelming war production.
American Civil War Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.