Civil War Topics
Americans in the Civil War - Near the end of the war, African-Americans entered
the Union Army to fight against the South. Students could investigate the
prejudice they encountered. A notable topic would be the 54th
Massachusetts regiment of “Glory” fame.
Andersonville Prison – Officially named Camp Sumter, the most notorious Civil War stockade was hastily constructed in early 1864 near the town of Andersonville in southwest Georgia. The number of Union soldiers held near Richmond had swelled with the breakdown of prisoner exchange agreements, posing a threat to the Confederate capital’s security and taxing Virginia’s already limited resources.
Battle of Antietam-The Union stalled a Confederate invasion aimed at capturing Washington, DC., which gave Lincoln an excuse to issue his Gettysburg Address
of Fort Pillow – “The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for
200 yards,” Nathan Bedford Forrest reported after the battle of Fort Pillow.
“It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that
Negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” One of the largest engagements
between black soldiers and Confederate troops during the Civil War continues to
engender controversy today.
of Gettysburg – This three-day victory for the North remains the epitome of
the bloody tragedy that was the Civil War. The battle of Gettysburg,
Pennsylvania, effectively ended the second, and final, Confederate invasion of
of New Orleans – David Farragut’s impressive April 1862 Naval victory placed
the Confederacy’s largest city and most vital port in the hands of the Union.
A hundred miles above the mouth of the Mississippi, New Orleans was the gateway
to the great river into the entire Deep South, and its capture could almost
divide in two. Military actions elsewhere left the city itself lightly defended,
dependent on the protection of Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, which guarded the
river approach 75 miles downstream. But the garrisons were heavily fortified and
a barricade of hulks in the water stalled vessels right in front of their heavy
of Shiloh – Essentially a tactical draw, this bloodiest engagement of the war
to date came to be recognized as an important Union victory, although commanding
general Ulysses S. Grant received much criticism for his efforts. IN the North,
it was initially referred to as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, after the
Tennessee River embankment the Union forces were defending, but both sides came
to call the battle by the name of a small Methodist log meetinghouse near where
some of the fiercest fighting occurred–a church known as Shiloh, from the
Hebrew word for “Place of Peace.”
Campaign and Battle of Antietam – Determined to build upon the Confederate
victory at Second Bull Run, General Robert E. Lee invaded the North through
western Maryland, only to lose a decisive battle during the single bloodiest day
of the Civil War. Combined Confederate and Union losses totaled more than 27,000
in just 12 hours of battle.
John – John Clem ran away from home in early 1861 at the age of 9. He
attempted to join up with an army regiment that rode through his Ohio town.
Turned away, he tagged along after another unit and became its self-appointed
drummer boy. Captured once and wounded twice, Clem continued to serve in the
army for the remainder of the war, rising to the rank of lance sergeant though
he was not 14 by the war’s end. He tried to get into West Point, but was
rejected for lacking a formal primary education. After a direct appeal to
President Grant, he was given a commission as second lieutenant of a unit of
black soldiers. Clem made the military his career, retiring as a major general
shortly before World War I.
and the Draft in the Civil War - The Civil War brought about the Conscription
Act and the national draft of men into the military. Students could
investigate the various encounters and exchanges between soldiers and their
draft experience as well as draft resistance in Wisconsin and infamously in New
– The antiwar Peace Democrats, also known as Copperheads, posed a nagging
political challenge to Abraham Lincoln throughout the war. Although they
received the nickname from their opponents, who likened them to venomous snakes,
the Copperheads apparently enjoyed the sobriquet and took to wearing copper
Indian Head pennies on their lapels. They emerged after the secession crisis of
1860 when the Democratic part split into two factions: the War Democrats– who
backed the war effort if not Lincoln’s politics– and the Peace Democrats who
would accept an independent Confederacy and were fiercely anti-Republican.
Jefferson Finis – Jefferson Finis Davis– cantankerous, in frail health and
reluctant to take on the job- became the provisional president of the
Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861. Davis faced challenges so
great that most likely even a brilliant military strategist and master
politician could not have met them – and Davis was neither. His wide
experience in public affairs and the military, as well ass his deep, sincere
devotion to the southern cause, made him the most eligible presidential
candidate in a field populated by either radical firebrands or inexperienced
politicians when the new nation was born. But he was ill suited to the position.
Varina Howell – The confederacy’s only first lady was a woman of wit and
intelligence. Like her Union counterpart, Mary Lincoln, she was frequently the
object of public criticism.
– Although totals are difficult to calculate, both the Union and Confederate
armies were plagued by desertions during the Civil War. Neither side needed
precise statistics to recognize that military strength was sapped and morale
damaged by troops abandoning their posts.
Stephen Arnold – In his desire to expand the size and power of the United
States, this Illinois senator instead divided the country down the middle. Of
the legislation passed in the decade preceding the Civil War, none so completely
undermined the chances of compromise between the North and South as the
Kansas-Nebraska Act introduced by Douglas in 1854. A democrat, friendly to the
South but hardly an avid proslavery advocate, Douglas’ interest lay in putting
an end to the long argument by pleasing both sides of the slavery issue, an
apparently impossible task.
Scott Decision – By declaring the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and
denying slaves the right to U.S. citizenship, this Supreme Court decision
solidified antislavery sentiment in the North and deepened the rift between
North and South.
Jubal Anderson – Hunched with arthritis, unkempt, feisty, abrasive, and
sacrilegious, with a stinging wit and a taste for liquor, “Old Jube,” as he
was affectionately called by his troops, was an unforgettable character and one
of the South’s favorite and ablest generals.
of 1860 – Pre-war tension between North and South–mounting for decades–
reached its peak in the spring of 1860. A bitter presidential nomination
process, a hard-fought campaign, and a decisive Republican and Northern victory
ultimately pushed the nation into civil war.
of 1864 – The first time any nation held a free election in the middle of a
civil war, this presidential campaign, almost a referendum on continuing the
armed struggle, would determine the conflict’s outcome.
Proclamation – Considered by Abraham Lincoln “the central act of my
administration,” the Emancipation Proclamation may not have actually freed any
slaves, but it changed the entire character of the Civil War.
Life in the Civil War – The first and perhaps most obvious impact of the Civil
War on family life in America was felt when beloved fathers, sons and brothers
enlisted in the army of their choice, be it South or North. The loss of a
principle breadwinner was a difficult burden to bear, especially for the middle
class, where the women of the household might not have had the experience of
having to provide for the family as their working-class sisters had been doing
for many a year. In what could arguably be seen as the beginning of feminist
consciousness in America, women started to see just what they were capable of
when everyday life was turned upside-down by the onset of war. In this era
before widespread industrialization and expansion of metropolitan centers,
having the men folk off in the army meant increased difficulties at planting and
harvest time. In families where the women were extremely sheltered, the
adjustment to doing nearly everything for themselves was a sincere trauma, in
addition to the emotional burden of worrying over the absent loved one.
Henry Stuart – A small man with a loud voice and abrasive personality, Foote
was a persistent thorn in Jefferson Davis’ side for many years. Foote was
elected to serve in the Confederate Congress from 1861 to 1865, where he opposed
nearly every move Davis made during the war.
Nathan Bedford – Rising from private to lieutenant general, Forrest became the
Confederacy’s most feared cavalry commander, and in the estimation of his foe
William T. Sherman, “the most remarkable man our Civil War produced on either
Donelson – In order to take control of Kentucky and western Tennessee, Union
commander Ulysses S. Grant devised a plan to capture Fort Donelson, a
Confederate garrison located 12 miles east of Fort Henry, which had fallen into
Union hands a few days before. Grant knew For Donelson would not be easy to
take; it was manned by a force equal to his own, about 17,000 men. It was,
however, commanded by two men for whom the general had little respect: Brigadier
General John B. Floyd and Major General Gideon J. Pillow.
John Charles – As a Union general, Fremont’s major Civil War contribution
was more political than military when he focused Union attention on the role
emancipation should play in the North’s war policy.
Garrison, William Lloyd – Regarded as the conscience of the American abolition movement, Garrison started a moral crusade against the “peculiar institution of slavery” as early as 1831 and continued it throughout the war. Although personally mild in temperament, he took strident, often radical tone in the hundreds of speeches he made with his New England Anti-Slavery Society and in the pages of his abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator.
Gettysburg Address-This speech gave the Union a "moral and just" cause. While the war was started to preserve the Union, this reason kept France and England out of the Civil War. Futhermore, the Gettysburg Address did not free any slaves immediately; it would free slaves in "those States in Rebellion" and the states which the Union Army had conquered.
Josiah – Overcoming woefully limited resources, the Confederacy’s chief of
ordinance did a masterful job of arming the South during the war.
Horace – Despite his often eccentric and inconsistent views, the editor of the
New York Tribune was an influential opinion-maker throughout the Civil War era.
Greeley was born in poverty in New England and moved to New York after learning
the printing trade. IN 1841, he founded the Tribune, which after its Whig
origins became an early Republican standard bearer. Thanks to its expert staff
and Greeley’s provocative editorials, in less than a decade, the Tribune
became the nation’s most powerful and widely read newspaper.
Thomas Jonathon “Stonewall” – Remarkable bravery, precise attention to
military detail, and the ability to engender loyalty and inspired devoted
service from his men combined to make Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson an
irreplaceable member of the Confederate army. Known for his deep religious
convictions, his exemplary personal habits (he never smoked or drank), and his
unrelenting insistence on strict discipline within his ranks, Jackson
nevertheless was one of the army’s most popular leaders. He also appeared to
possess a kind of second sight during battle. Able to disappear from enemy
view–sometimes accompanied by more than 15,000 men–he would then turn up
just in time to attack his enemy’s weakest point.
Robert Edward – “His name might be ‘Audacity,’” remarked a Southern
colleague of Robert E. Lee. “He will take more chances and take them quicker,
than any other general in this country, North or South.” Facing an army larger
and better equipped than his own, Lee was able to fashion, through sheer nerve
and finesse, as well as dogged determination, several great victories for the
Confederacy until forced to surrender at Appomattox. Indeed, his remarkable
military skills as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and as
general-in-chief of the Confederate army kept the Confederacy fighting long
after it had lost any chance to win the war.
Abraham – The mythic proportions to which the sixteenth United States
President have risen are, by and large, well deserved. Lincoln’s intelligence,
personal integrity, and moral courage saw the country through its most difficult
challenge, the Civil War. His Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, although passed
with a careful eye to its political consequences, was an act of humanity and
vision not yet experience in American History. A gentle, reflective man, but
once prone to self-doubt and depression, Lincoln nevertheless prosecuted the war
with remarkable aggressiveness and with a surprisingly tenacious will to win.
Mary Todd – Mary Lincoln, the devoted wife of the nation’s sixteenth
president, was a deeply disturbed woman throughout most of her marriage to
Abraham Lincoln. The daughter of a wealthy Lexington, Kentucky, banker, Mary
grew up to become a socially ambitious woman. In 1839, at the age of 21, she
moved to Springfield, Illinois, to live with a married sister. Mary Todd was one
of the most popular young women in the political circles, to which her
sister’s father-in-law, Governor Ninian Edwards, belonged.
James – “Old Pete” to his troops, the man Robert E. Lee called “My old
war horse” may have been ineffectual in independent command, but despite the
opinion of his detractors, he was a superb corps leader. Longstreet grew up in
the Deep South and graduated near the bottom of his class at West Point. Serving
in the Mexican War on the frontier, he became an army paymaster, and when he
resigned from the U.S. military in June 1861, he hoped for a similar
administrative post in the Confederacy. Instead, Longstreet, a master at field
fortifications, was given command of a brigade, and after a solid showing at
First Bull Run, he was promoted to Major General.
George Brinton – “Just don’t let them hurry me” may well have been the
motto of the General hailed as the “Young Napoleon” at the beginning of the
Civil War. Unwilling to take an aggressive approach and lead his men into
battle, McClellan missed several opportunities to crush the enemy in the early
stages of the war.
Prisoner Exchange - During the Civil War, both the North and
the South made exchange of prisoners of war. A formal exchange system was
not arranged at the start of the Civil War. The system was bogged down by
paperwork and each side found reason to interrupt exchanges from time to time,
and it worked reasonably well until it broke down in the summer of 1863.
Winfield – Having already served as the country’s general-in-chief for two
decades, America’s preeminent military figure – perhaps the most celebrated
since George Washington – was nearly 75 when he commanded the Union armies at
the start of the Civil War. By that time, Scott, a Virginia native who refused
to join the Confederacy, was clearing nearing the end of his brilliant career.
Days Campaign – Putting an end to the Union’s first attempt to capture the
Confederate capital of Richmond, Robert E. Lee’s campaign of deception was a
devastating defeat for the Union army. Although the Union technically won almost
all seven of the battles fought during the last week of June 1862, the army
found itself pushed back all the way to Harrison’s Landing, largely because of
Union Major General George B. McClellan’s fear and indecision.
Alexander Hamilton – “Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of
the equality of the races…” the new Confederate vice-president announced as
he took his oath of office on February 18, 1861. “Its corner stone rests upon
the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man. This…government
is the first in the history of the world, based upon this great physical and
moral truth.” A long-standing and vociferous proponent of the institution of
slavery, Alexander Stephens was equally committed to the idea of Union, thereby
making him odd choice for the Confederacy’s second highest office.
Army and Department of the Potomac – The North’s most famous army in the
Civil War lost more men, proportionately, than any army before or since.
Nevertheless, it emerged victorious after Appomattox and its service to the
United Sates reached legendary status almost immediately.
Lew, Elizabeth – The first Union flag to wave over Richmond in four years was
raised in 1865 by this famous and effective Union spy, Elizabeth Van Lew. Born
into a prominent Richmond family, Elizabeth Van Lew returned from her schooling
in Philadelphia as an adamant abolitionist determined to fight slavery in the
bastion of the South. “Slave power,” she wrote in her diary, “ is
arrogant, is jealous and intrusive, is cruel, [and] is despotic.” Outspoken
and rebellious, she appeared to her neighbors to be more than a little eccentric
and soon became known as “Crazy Bet.”
Henry – Commander of the Confederacy’s infamous Andersonville Prison, he
became the only Civil War figure executed after its conclusion for war crimes.
The Swiss-German immigrant came to the United States in 1849 and practiced
medicine in Louisiana.
in Uniform – In the last few years, historians have become more and more aware
of what was previously thought to be a limited phenomenon in the Civil War: the
incidence of women disguising themselves as men an enlisting in the army, for
any number of reasons.