The American Civil War Facts for Kids

  • The American Civil War was a major conflict in the history of the United States. It lasted four years (1861- 1865) and resulted in 620,000 deaths.
  • Southern states felt threatened by Republican Abraham Lincoln’s election as President as they believed he would abolish slavery with his anti-slavery agenda so eleven seceded from the Union forming their own country called the Confederate States led by Jefferson Davis. 
  • This war ended when General Robert E Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9th and then on May 10th, General Joseph Johnston also surrendered.

American Civil War background

17th and 18th centuries 

There was a lot of slavery in America. In the mid-19th century, the continuous westward expansion plus the rise of abolitionism triggered a debate about slavery. Keep reading to learn more American Civil War facts.

August 1831

Nat Turner led around 75 black people in a slave rebellion. More rebellions occurred, so southern states implemented strict slave codes. 

October 16th, 1859 

John Brown took over a weapons store at Harpers Ferry and started a slave rebellion. He was caught and hanged for treason but many northerners came to his defense because he had done something they thought was good.

The abolitionist movement also began as an effort to end slavery. It started as a religious movement, but then it became a controversial political issue that divided people. The movement created heated debates and violent confrontations.

Abraham Lincoln as President

President Lincoln on The American Civil War.

Lincoln was the first U.S. president who was not born in the 13 original colonies that were here at the start of the United States. He spent most of his childhood in Kentucky.

Lincoln debated with Senator Stephen Douglas about a law that would let people in Kansas and Nebraska decide whether or not they wanted to be part of our country. 

December 20, 1860

After Lincoln won, some southern states seceded from our country. By February 1861, more states had left too – Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana

April 1861 

Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas had also left because they did not want to be part of this Confederation. Jefferson Davis became its President then.

The conflict of slavery

Slavery was the main issue of contention between the North and South. The Union sought an end to slave labor, while the Confederacy wanted it protected for their economy to thrive. 

In 1861, eleven states seceded from America and formed their own country called “The Confederate States.” Led by Jefferson Davis, they fought against Lincoln’s Republican party who won with a promise to abolish slavery. 

Nevertheless, the South depended on slaves for cotton. The North had different jobs because it had more bays and harbors, which are good for the fishing and shipbuilding industries.

Events in the American Civil War

The start of the American nation was complicated by slavery. The US began as a group of colonies. Slavery was never solved and there was growing unrest.

Following the secession of some states, the Confederate government demanded that Union troops abandon southern forts. Lincoln refused and instead ordered them to resupply these forts with food and other basic necessities. 

April 12, 1861

Union and Confederate troops had a first encounter at Fort Sumter. The Confederate forces bombarded the sea fort. Major Robert Anderson surrendered on April 14th when he evacuated Charleston Harbour.

July 21, 1861. The Battle of Bull Run

This was the first big fight for the country. Union and Confederate armies fought on. The Union troops started from Washington, D.C to hit the Confederates at Manassas Junction in Virginia. 

After a while, they were having trouble fighting so they had to retreat back to Washington. Then it was getting dark so they stopped and went home.

The Confederate victory gave the South a lot of confidence. The North realized that they would not win the war as easily as they thought.

July 1 to 3, 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg

This battle meant a turning point in the American Civil War. The Northern and Southern armies fought for three days. The most important battle was Gettysburg. 

The Confederates were fighting for their freedom from the Union Army. They were both very strong and had lots of weapons to use on each other, so they fought with guns, cannons, horses, bayonets, and anything else they could find. 

The clash at Gettysburg was a big fight. Union troops had about 95,000 soldiers. The Confederate troops were about 75,000. There were about 25,000 Union soldiers and 28,00 Confederate troops who died in the three days of fighting. 

Gettysburg was the biggest battle in North America of all time. Some people say it is like an American Waterloo because so many people died there too.

November 19, 1863. The Gettysburg Address

President Abraham Lincoln gave a famous speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. He said his now-famous speech in 272 words. The speech was about how the Union had grown to be a struggle for liberty and equality.

From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Civil War happened in many places. The two most common places were the states of Virginia and Tennessee, which were mostly where fighting occurred. It also happened at sea, on the brown water of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, on the Atlantic Ocean near France.

Some of the major battles during the Civil War were the First and Second Battle of Bull Run, Battle of Antietam, Battle of Fredericksburg, Battle of Ironclads, Gettysburg (Battle), Chancellorsville (Battle), Vicksburg (Battle), and Shiloh.

Photography was new when the Civil War happened. Cameras and all of the materials used were too heavy and unstable to take pictures during a battle. But some pictures exist, including images of artillery bombardments, gunboat broadsides, and battle smoke at Nashville or Fredericksburg. 

December 1863

Abraham Lincoln said the Civil War was happening to help keep a government that is “of the people, by the people and for the people.” As an attempt to reunite America, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction to offer pardons to Confederates who would support America and its Constitution.

The American Constitution and slavery

During the Revolutionary War, there was a document called the Constitution of the US. It said that slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person to tax and have representation. 

Those who did not want slaves thought slavery should not be counted at all, but those that wanted slaves knew that if it was counted as one whole person, then they would have less representation because they could no longer count slaves among their population totals, and slaves were not allowed to vote.

From the start of the Civil War, slaves acted to get their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation helped them, by agreeing with them that the war for preserving the Union should become a war for freedom. It made it easier to fight and also helped us politically.

With the Emancipation Proclamation, African-Americans volunteered to fight for the Union. They used weapons to fight off the Confederacy. In October 1,000 African-Americans were in the Army and 18 were in the Navy. 

As one moment in history when slavery was finally destroyed, The Emancipation Proclamation is now seen as part of our great documents of freedom.

Read about The Emancipation Proclamation

The end of the American Civil War

April 9, 1865

The Union won the war. General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. The war ended when the Union took the last Confederate troops on the western side of America away from Galveston, Texas.

There were 1,522 Medals of Honor given to Northern troops during and after the Civil War. The Confederate Army did not have combat medals. 

The war was hard on the country, and many people died. Soldiers were typically buried where they died. But some soldiers died in hospitals. They were buried near the hospital. Many other soldiers died and were not found or never buried in a cemetery.

Today the Confederate Battle Flag is controversial because it remains a symbol of racism, slavery, and white supremacy. 


The American Civil War ended in 1865 after a four-year-long war. 620,000 soldiers were killed, and the country was divided into two parts – North and South. Ultimately President Lincoln succeeded in abolishing slavery but at what cost? 

The Civil War was one of the most important events in America’s history. It made us who we are today. The Civil War decided whether the United States would be a nation or a group of separate states that could break apart. It also helped decide if slaves could be free.


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