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Analyze the roles and policies of various Civil War leaders and describe important Civil War battles and events.

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Topics on this page

A. Background and Primary Sources

B. Leaders of the Civil War

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • Robert E. Lee
  • Jefferson Davis

C. Women in the Civil War

D. African Americans in the Civil War

  • Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment
  • Native Americans in the Civil War

E. Key Battles

  • Gettysburg
  • Sherman's March to the Sea
  • Other Important Battles
  • Geography and Its Impact on the War

F. Additional Resources

  • Walt Whitman and the Civil War
  • Resources from Twitter

  • Civil War Letters

Focus Questions:

  • Who were the key Civil War leaders?

  • How did the actions of these leaders affect the course of the war?


external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngThe Civil War: 150 Years--Then and Now from the National Park Service Sesquicentennial Commemoration provides a side-by-side view of events during the Civil War and modern times.
Bayonet Charge by Winslow Homer, 1862
Bayonet Charge by Winslow Homer, 1862


primary_sources.PNGRelevant Primary Sources

  • Click here to access an archive of resources from the Association of College and Research Libraries.

  • Click here for the Confederate States of America's Constitution.

external image technology.jpgHow Technology Shaped the Civil War

Leaders of the Civil War

external image 220px-Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863.jpg
external image 200px-Quill_and_ink.svg.pngAbraham Lincoln
  • 16th President of the United States (1861-1865)
  • Responsible for Emancipation Proclamation in 1862
  • Considered by historians as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history

rotating gif.gifUnited States History I.38 for more information on Abraham Lincoln and his presidency.

Quill_and_ink.pngObjects from the Presidency: Civil War and Reconstruction from the Smithsonian gives short biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and U. S. Grant and showcases a number of everyday objects from their lives such as Lincoln's ink stand and a trowel given to President Grant in 1870 when laying the cornerstone of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

U. S. Grant
U. S. Grant

external image 200px-Quill_and_ink.svg.pngUlysses S. Grant:
  • Started out military services as a brigadier general of volunteer in Illinois
    • won battles in Tennessee at
      • 1) Fort Henry
      • 2) Fort Donelson
        • The battle at Fort Donelson was the first strategic victory for the North
    • fought at The Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles of the war; some called for him to be replaced, but President Lincoln stood behind him
      • lost over 23,000 men in the victory
  • Waged a campaign to capture Vicksburg, MI in 1863 with two assaults, May 19 and 22. The capture gave the Union control of the Mississippi River and is considered, when coupled with Lee's defeat at Gettysburg the next day, a major turning point of the war.

primary_sources.PNGClick here to read the personal memoirs of U. S. Grant.

Rotating_globe-small.gifGeneral Orders No. 11 (December 17, 1862) were an anti-Semitic set of regulations imposed against Jewish people in Union territory under the command of General U. S. Grant.
  • President Lincoln countermanded the order on January 3, 1863.
  • Later as President, Grant deeply regretted the order and opposed a movement for a constitutional amendment making the United States a Christian nation.
external image RobertELeephoto1863.jpg
external image 200px-Quill_and_ink.svg.pngRobert E. Lee
  • turned down the request of President Lincoln to command the Union forces; sided instead with the Confederate cause: headed up the Army of Northern Virginia, believing that loyalty to his homeland was more important, and later became the commanding general of the Confederate Army
  • was able to hold off numerically superior Union forces for years
  • eventually was ground down by Union forces led by General Grant and surrendered in 1865.
  • often seen as a symbol of the Southern war cause

Read: Can Someone Explain How Robert E. Lee became an American Icon?

Lee's home outside of Washington D.C. became Arlington National Ceremony. See here to read about how that came to be.

From Atlantic Magazine, Robert E. Lee's complicated views of slavery.

Multimedia.pngFrom the History Channel, a short video about Lee, and from the Smithsonian, Making Sense of Robert E. Lee.
Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis

Biography icon for wiki.pngJefferson Davis
  • President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War
  • Born in Kentucky but raised in Mississippi
  • Graduated from West Point
  • Served in the Black Hawk War under Zachary Taylor
  • Elected to the House of Representatives but resigned after one year to fight in the Mexican War
  • Offered a military general position but got elected to Senate instead
  • President Franklin Pierce appointed him Secretary of War
  • Returned to Senate after Pierce's term
  • Withdrew from Senate after Mississippi seceded from the Union
  • Popular with the Southerners because his dedication to the Confederate cause
  • Lost popularity with his impatient nature and because he was loyal to his incapable cabinet
  • Imprisoned for 2 years after the war
  • Traveled Europe before settling down in Mississippi
  • Mississippi tried to reelect him to Senate, but he was not eligible because he refused to be pardoned by the US gov
    • According to the Civil War Trust, Davis asked Mississippi to , “lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to make your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished—a reunited country.”
  • Wrote a book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government

Click here to read and watch more about Davis.

Sarah Edmond dressed as Franklin Thompson
Sarah Edmond dressed as Franklin Thompson

Click here to view the papers of Jefferson Davis.

primary_sources.PNGTranscript of Jefferson Davis's First Inaugural Address

Website for Civil War Biographies

Female_Rose.pngWomen and the Civil War

rotating gif.gifSee also United States History I.40

Click here to read about female soldiers in the Civil War.

Video Clip:Women spies in the Civil War

View here for a PDF that explains more about the role of women during the Civil War and provides additional resources.

A link about important women in the Civil War, and their rights and roles during this time.

Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here to read about Sarah Edmond, the woman who dressed as a male to serve in the army.
Clara Barton, 1851
Clara Barton, 1851

Clara Barton took it upon herself to help the soldiers during the Civil War.
  • She tended to the wounded and brought supplies to help injured soldiers to the front lines. After the war was over, she worked to locate missing soldiers and identify the dead.
  • She is the founder of the Red Cross.
    • Click here to learn more about her and her work.

Click here to learn more about women soldiers in the Civil War from the National Archives.

podcast icon.pngClick here to listen to a podcast from the American Social History Project on the roles and images of women during the Civil War.

lessonplan.jpgClick here to access lesson plans and teaching resources on the roles what women played in the Civil War.

Rotating_globe-small.gifAfrican American Soldiers in the Civil War

John Lawson*
John Lawson*

"Nearly 180,000 free Black men and escaped slaves volunteered for service in the Union Army during the Civil War" (Bill of Rights in Action, Winter 1996, Vol. 12, No. 1, p. 1). Another 9000 served as sailors.
  • Initially, Blacks were not allowed to join the army, and once they entered the military (following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863), they were placed in racially segregated units.
  • Black troops fought in 449 battles, one-third of all Black soldiers died, and a dozen were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor.

Image to the right is John Lawson, U.S. Navy, was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism aboard USS Hartford during the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864

primary_sources.PNGMen of Color: To Arms! To Arms!, Frederick Douglass (1863)

Click here for more information about African American soldiers in the Union Army.

Click here for a list of photographs of African American Soldiers in the Union Army.

Map of First Engagements by African American troops
Map of First Engagements by African American troops

Click here for Fire and Thunder: Massachusetts Blacks in the Civil War, an interactive exhibit from the Commonwealth Museum: Museum of Massachusetts History.

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Click here for a The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War, a lesson from the National Archives on the experiences of Black soldiers.

external image Memorial_to_Robert_Gould_Shaw_and_the_54th_Massachusetts_Volunteer_Infantry_Regiment%2C_Boston.JPG

masscities.pngMassachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment

Image to the right is a Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Boston Common, Boston Massachusetts. Sculpture created 1884-1887 by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), with memorial architecture by Stanford White.

  • Click here for background the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment. In addition to heroism in battle (the 54th Massachusetts suffered 40 percent casualties in the Battle of Fort Wagner in Charleston Harbor), this unit refused pay as a protest against federal government policies that paid White soldiers more than Black soldiers.
    • See also 54th Regiment, an overview of the first military unit consisting of Black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Clip from Glory-54th MA regiment attacking Fort Wagner

Martin R. Delaney**
Martin R. Delaney**

external image Test_hq3x.pngAfrican Americans accounted for what share of the Union Army by war's end?
  • 2 percent
  • 4 percent
  • 8 percent
  • 10 percent

ANSWER: D (10 percent)

This region did not need a draft because there were enough volunteers to fight:
  • South
  • North
  • Border
  • Neither

ANSWER: Neither (Questions from "Obama era brings new angle to teaching the American Civil War," Valerie Strauss, The Recorder, April 25, 2009).

Image to the right is Martin R. Delaney, the only black officer who received the rank of major during the Civil War (1865).

Other African American Experience During the War

Slavery During the Civil War from Encyclopedia Virginia

New York Divided: Slavery and The Civil War is an online exhibit focusing on the experiences of African Americans in New York City during the Civil War. New York City with its expanding trade in southern cotton and sugar was a center of pro-slavery sentiment and at the same time a center for anti-slavery abolitionist activity.

Native Americans in the Civil War

See this site about Native American skirmishes and life during this time Native Americans
Civil War - Dances with Wolves

Focus Question: What were the important Civil War battles and events?

Civil War Battle Summaries by State from the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System of the National Park Service.

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 1.14.11 PM.pngBull Run. Paul Fleischman
  • The first battle of the war recreated in historical fiction from the point of view of 16 participants

Battle of Atlanta
Battle of Atlanta

external image OrteliusWorldMap.jpegInteractive Map on Military Campaigns of the Civil War

Key Battles of the Civil War

Multimedia.pngCrash Course: Battles of the Civil War
apps.pngClick here to learn about the Civil War Trust's apps on the various battles in the Civil War. They include interactive maps, important moments, and videos from experts.

Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863)

American Civil War infantryman
American Civil War infantryman

22nd Regiment MA Volunteer Infantry, Battle of Gettysburg
22nd Regiment MA Volunteer Infantry, Battle of Gettysburg

Multimedia.pngClick here for a four minute recap of the battle of Gettysburg.

game_icon.svg.pngClick here to see if you could have won the battle of Gettysburg in this interactive game.

For more on the battle, go the Gettysburg page on the website from Ken Burns's film, The Civil War.

Battles of the American Civil War
Battles of the American Civil War

Maps for the Battle of Gettysburg from the Lincoln Archives.

Sherman's March to the Sea (1864-1865)

rotating gif.gifSee also United States History I.40

lessonplan.jpgLesson plan on Sherman's March

Multimedia.pngHistory Channel episode on Sherman's March

primary_sources.PNGIn Their Footsteps: Walking the Picket Line from the National Civil War Museum provides first-person accounts from soldiers' diaries.

"The Splendid Naval Triumph on the Mississippi, April 24th, 1862"
"The Splendid Naval Triumph on the Mississippi, April 24th, 1862"

Other Important Battles

Voices of Bull Run from Smithsonian's History Explorer uses the young adult novel //Bull Run// by Paul Fleischman and The Civil War Soldier's Experience from the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburg.
  • This lesson plan uses music from the composer Stephen Foster as key primary sources

Multimedia.pngAnimated Map of the Battle of Fredericksburg (1862).

Multimedia.pngA clip from the movie "Glory," which shows a realistic reenactment of the Battle of Antietam.

lessonplan.jpgClick here for The Roads to Antietam, a lesson plan from the Civil War Preservation Trust.

external image Red_apple.jpgThe Siege of Port Hudson: "Forty Days and Nights in the Wilderness of Death" offers teaching resources on this 1863 battle.

game_icon.svg.pngYou're the General: Play the role of General U.S. Grant at the Battle of Shiloh in this interactive site from PBS.

Geography and Its Impact on the Civil War

LtGen. Ulysses S. Grant, 1866
LtGen. Ulysses S. Grant, 1866

external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngJames M. McPherson wrote a review of John Keegan's book, The American Civil War: A Military History ("Brutal Terrain," The New York Times Book Review, November 1, 2009, p. 16).

He praised Keegan for his observation that geography was "the most important of all factors that impinge on war-making" in North America.

The South began the war with many strategic geographical advantages. As McPherson commented, citing Keegan, "The Confederacy comprised 800,000 square miles, an area about the size of Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Poland combined. The Southern coastline against which the Union navy mounted a blockade was 3,500 miles long. The Appalachian mountain chain constituted a military barrier to Union invasion, while many Southern rivers also provided strong defensive positions."

Yet, the North overcame these disadvantages given the technological advantages of steam power on rivers and railroads, the mobility of Union armies under Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Sherman, and the depletion of Southern armies over the long years of the war.

In his book Keegan, noted McPherson, gives appropriate credit to Abraham Lincoln's abilities as commander in chief, noting that as the war progressed Lincoln "abandoned altogether the conventional thought that the capture of the enemy's capital would bring victory. Instead he now correctly perceived that it was only the destruction of the South's main army that would defeat the Confederacy."

Additional Resources

Walt Whitman and the Civil War

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  • To learn about the Civil War experience of Walt Whitman, a celebrated poet and notable LGBTQ community member, and how it influenced his writing, click here.
    • To read one of his most notable works, Drum Taps, click here.

Quill_and_ink.pngWalt Whitman biography from LGBTQA Resource Office, University of Illinois, Springfield

Resources from Twitter

  • Click here for the Twitter feed "Post Civil War: Tweeting the Civil War, in the words of the people who lived it - from journals, letters, records and newspapers."
    • Click here for an exciting way of incorporating technology in the classroom: using Twitter to understand the Civil War. It's a fun/interactive/and student-geared way of getting students to think about history.
      • Click on Civil War Reporter to read daily tweets from a fictional newspaper journalist created by the National Park Service.

Music in the Civil War
See this site for a page on music

primary_sources.PNGCivil War Letters

  • Civil War Letters of Galutia York provides insights into how ordinary soldiers experienced the war using 48 letters written by a 19 -year-old Union soldier from upstate New York, written to family members between August 1862 and May 1863 when the young man died from disease.

  • Civil War 150 is the Smithsonian Institution's compilation of resources commemorating the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War.

  • Another good general resource is an online exhibition of civil war letters from the Gilder Lehrman Institute called "I Take Up My Pen: Letters from the Civil War" that offers a alternative to the history described in most textbooks.