The American Civil War


The American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, was one of the bloodiest wars in American history. It was fought between the northern and southern states of the US. The Civil War started in 1861 when the slave states of the south founded the Confederate States of America under President Jefferson Davis. The northern states, under, President Abraham Lincoln, were against slavery. Although the Confederates won some early battles the Union became stronger and defeated the southern states in 1865.


Causes of the war

The Civil War was fought mainly because the two sides had different opinions about slavery. The southern states depended on farming as a source of income. They grew tobacco and cotton on plantations. Between the 17th and 19th centuries millions of slaves were brought from Africa to America, where they worked on white farms. The southern states wanted to keep their slaves because they thought that without free workers they could not sell their products at a competitive price.

The North, on the other hand, was an industrial region, where slavery lost its importance during the 19th century. Farmers in the northern states had small farms that used paid workers

Although slavery was the main issue that led to the outbreak of the American Civil War there were other causes for the conflict. People in the north lived in big cities while southerners lived isolated on farms. European immigrants chose to live in the northern states where they could get better jobs and where the economy developed more quickly.

The southern states also demanded more rights from the federal government. There were also differing opinions on whether new states that joined the Union should allow slavery or not.

Map of the Union and Slave States

The United States in 1861 - Dark blue = northern states without slavery, light blue = northern states that allowed slavery, red = Confederate (Slaves) States of the South


The course of the Civil War

After the Republican Abraham Lincoln became president the first states started to secede from the Union. In Lincoln they saw a fierce opponent who was against slavery.  In February 1861 representatives of six southern states met and founded the Confederate States of America. War broke out when Lincoln ordered soldiers to reconquer one of the North’s forts in South Carolina.

11 states fought for the Confederacy. Some states were considered as border states. Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee believed in slavery and fought for the south while Delaware, Maryland and Kentucky took sides for the north.

About 2 million men fought for the Union while the Confederate Army had about 800,000 soldiers. When Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in 1863 they were allowed to fight side by side with white soldiers. In the South, however, slaves were not allowed in the army.

Most of the war was commanded by two great generals: Ulysses Grant was the commander of the Unionist army while Robert Lee was the military head of the Confederates.

The war was fought on two battlefronts.  One was in the eastern states, mostly Virginia, Maryland  and Pennsylvania while the other front was along the Mississippi River in the west. At the beginning of the Civil War the Union won some battles in the west and captured New Orleans. On the other side, Confederate forces scored important victories on the eastern front.

The war took a high toll among soldiers, mostly because they were inexperienced young men, who had not fought before. Often, more than a quarter of the forces were killed in a single battle. Many soldiers died because they lacked the proper medical care and food. Private organizations helped care for ill or wounded soldiers.


Soldiers of the Union guarding the Potomac River in Washington

Soldiers of the Union guarding the Potomac River in Washington


The battle of Gettysburg and the end of the war

As the war went on, the Union enforced a naval blockade of the south, so that Confederates had problems getting supplies from other countries. Cotton exports to England and other countries came to a halt .

The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the major battles in the war, as well as its turning point. Robert Lee’s Confederate army suffered its worst defeat. During the course of 1863 the Union took control of the whole Mississippi valley.

In 1864 it became clear that the Union would win the war. The Southerners suffered many losses and northern soldiers occupied large areas of the Confederate States. The south did not get the supplies they needed because transportation came to a halt.

Finally Ulysses Grant, who commanded the northern armies, forced Lee’s Confederate army to surrender in April 1965.  Five days later, Lincoln was killed by a southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.


Emancipation Proclamation

In the middle of the civil war, on January 1st 1863, Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves in an order called the Emancipation Proclamation. Even though northerners were against slavery, many still thought that Blacks were second class citizens and should not be given the same rights.


Economy during the war

The economy of the north boomed during the war.  Farmers produced more food, textile factories made clothes for soldiers and the iron and steel industry manufactured weapons for soldiers. Many factories started producing goods only for the army.

The Confederate economy suffered during the war. Because its farmers produced mainly tobacco and cotton it did not have enough food for its population. It also lacked roads and railway lines to move men and supplies quickly.

On both sides more and more money was printed and inflation grew.


Results of the War

About 600,000 soldiers died during the war on both sides. The Union and the Confederacy paid enormously for the damage done.  Many towns and farms, especially in the south, were completely destroyed. For the next generations hate and skepticism dominated the relationship between the northern and southern states. In the end the victory of the north kept the United States of America together


Warship on the Mississippi River

Warship on the Mississippi River



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Related Topics



  • although = while
  • battle = a single fight in a war
  • battlefront = the area where most of the fighting happens
  • boom = grow; to be very good
  • border = where two areas meet
  • capture = to get control of a place with an army
  • cause = reason
  • century = a period of a hundred years
  • command = lead
  • competitive = to try to be cheaper than others but still have products of good quality
  • Confederate States of America, Confederacy =  the southern states of the USA which fought against the northern states in the American Civil War
  • cotton  = plant with white hairs  on its seeds that are used for making cloth
  • defeat = win against
  • demand = want
  • depend = need
  • develop = grow
  • differing =  being different
  • economy = the system a country has of buying and selling goods
  • enforce =  put into effect
  • even though =while
  • federal government = here: the American government in Washington
  • fierce = strong, angry
  • finally = in the end
  • force = to make someone do something
  • forces = army, soldiers
  • fort = a group of buildings or a strong building that soldiers protect during a war
  • found – founded = start something new, create
  • free = here: to allow someone to be free and not be owned by someone else
  • goods = products
  • halt = stop
  • head = leader
  • high toll = here: very many people were killed
  • however = but
  • immigrant = a person who travels to another country to live and work there
  • importance = meaning, value
  • inexperienced = here: they did not fight in a war before
  • inflation = when prices go up and governments start printing money
  • isolated =  alone, cut off
  • join = to become a part of
  • lack = not have enough of
  • loss = defeat
  • main issue = most important topic
  • mainly = mostly
  • major =important
  • manufacture = produce
  • medical care = doctors, hospitals to treat hurt soldiers
  • naval blockade = to put ships around an area that stops other ships from coming into a harbor
  • occupy = to control a place with an army
  • order = document
  • outbreak = start
  • paid worker = a person who works for money
  • plantation = large farm in a hot area where crops like cotton, sugar , tobacco etc are grown
  • proper = right
  • quarter = 25 % of something
  • reconquer = get back again
  • representative = spokesman; person who speaks for someone else
  • right =  something that you are allowed to do by law
  • score = make, do
  • secede = break away from, leave
  • second-class citizen = a person of a country who is not treated in the same way as others
  • side by side = together
  • single = only  one
  • slave = someone who is owned by another person and works for them for little or no money
  • slavery = the system of having slaves
  • source of income = from where you get money to live
  • steel = strong metal that you can shape easily and make machines out of
  • suffer = undergo
  • supplies = the necessary things you need to survive
  • surrender = give up
  • sympathize = to feel for someone’s ideas or beliefs
  • take sides = here: to fight for
  • transportation = system of bringing products and people from one place to another
  • turning point = time when something changes
  • Union = the northern states under President Abraham Lincoln
  • victory = win
  • weapon =  object that you use to fight or attack someone with
  • wound= injure, hurt