This book would not have been possible without the help, wisdom, and experience of many people. I would like to thank Duncan Trussell from the National Civil War Museum for his comments and ideas, especially for the battlefield sections; Dr. James McPherson of Princeton University for his precise review of the manuscript and corrections and suggestions for improvement in several areas; Dr. James Weeks at Civil War Times for his kind words of encouragement; Don Wickman of the Woodstock, Vermont Historical Society for his comments and review; Michael K. Sorenson for his generosity in allowing Nomad Press to use images from his private collection of Civil War memorabilia; and Corin Hirsch, who designed a terrific cover. Special thanks to everyone at Nomad Press for their hard work and commitment to making Great Civil War Projects You Can Build Yourself the best book it could be: Sarah, Jeff, Susan, David, Rachel, Alex, Mark, Eric, and Lauri. And finally, to Byron Phillip Anderson—thanks for everything, as always.
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you had lived during the Civil War? A lot would depend on who you were and where you lived: if you were white or black, a farmer or a city dweller, or if you were rich or poor before the Civil War started. But whether you lived in the Deep South or Far North, whether your hometown was the site of a battle or far removed from any fighting at all, there is no question you would have been greatly affected by the conflict between the Union and Confederate armies.
This book will help you discover a bit about what life was like during the Civil War for families, soldiers, and children. You'll learn a little history of why the Civil War began, some interesting facts about the people, places, and battles during the war, and create projects that will give you an idea of what people during the Civil War did to communicate, have fun, and live their day-to-day lives. The book is divided into three general sections: On The Battlefield covers projects that deal with a soldier's life in camp and during battle. On The Homefront features projects that give you an idea of what life was like for everyday people during the Civil War.
Most of the projects in this book can be made by kids with minimal adult supervision, and the supplies needed are either common household items or easily available at craft stores. So, take a step back into the 1860s and get ready to Build It Yourself.
how it all began
The Civil War, or the War Between the States, as it is sometimes called, officially began on April 12, 1861, at a place called Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The Confederate army attacked the fort, which belonged to the Union, for two solid days, until finally the Union soldiers surrendered the fort to the Confederacy. This was the first battle of a war that would last for four years and cost more than a half million lives, but the reason for the war started much earlier— some would say as far back as the founding of the United States almost 100 years before those first shots were fired.
So what was the cause of the war? In a word, slavery. When the founders of the United States got together back in 1787 to write the U.S. Constitution, the document that sets up the rules for how our country is governed, they decided that in order to get everyone to agree on a basic set of laws to rule the country they would need to include confederate: The government established by the southern states of the United States, called the Confederate States of America, after they seceded from the Union in 1860 and 1861. union: The United States, especially the northern states during the American Civil War.
federal: Having to do with the northern United States and those loyal to the Union during the Civil War; also a member of the Union army.
some rules about slavery. Since slavery was already an important part of the South's way of life and vital to its economy, the founders of the country realized they would need to allow slavery in certain parts of the country so that the leaders of the South would agree to the Constitution as the law of the land.
So in the end, the Constitution declared that in states where slavery was legal when the Constitution was written, slavery would remain legal. They also agreed that the slave trade could continue until 1808, and that a slave could not become free by escaping to another state. But the Constitution also stated that each time a new state wanted to join the Union, the people voting to become a state would have to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery in that new state.
Over the next eighty or so years, every time a new state entered the Union, the debate about slavery came up again and again. Existing states worried that the balance of power between free states and slave states would become uneven—if too many free states joined the Union, the slave states thought, then they would have enough power to make slavery illegal everywhere. If too many slave states joined the Union, thought the free states, the slave states would have enough power to make slavery legal everywhere.
Over the years some unfortunate compromises were made so that the balance of free states and slave states stayed equal: the Missouri Compromise in 1820 brought Missouri into the Union as a slave state, and Maine into the Union as a free state. The Missouri Compromise also made it illegal to have slaves in all federal territories that were part of the Louisiana Purchase north of the latitude that formed Missouri's southern border. The Compromise of 1850 brought California into the Union as a free state, but also passed a new and stronger Fugitive Slave Act—which meant that by law, any runaway slaves found in any part of the country, whether they were free states or slave states, had to be returned to their owners. The situation was balanced, but tense.
Finally, an 1857 decision by the United States Supreme Court called the Dred Scott decision brought a whole new level of conflict to the slavery issue. The Dred Scott decision ruled that no one, not Congress or any territorial government, could outlaw or prohibit slavery in any federal territory. That meant that anyone who was a slave owner could bring his slaves with him to any of the land in the United States that wasn't already officially a state (which is why they were called territories) and still legally own them, even if the territory was considered a "free territory."
This is when things got violent: the Southern states wanted to expand slavery into the new territories that were opening up in the West, and the Northern states wanted to prohibit slavery to keep the balance equal between slave and free states. Now remember that in 1857 the United States was the same physical size as it is today, but had only 31 states: most of the land in the middle and western half of the country was divided into territories, rather than official states, so there was a lot of open space to work with. The territories out west were very appealing to big Southern planters: their own soil had been over-planted and was no longer productive, and they wanted new territories to remain open to slavery so they could move the cotton industry to new, fertile soil.
The slave vs. free state issue came to a violent head when the Kansas territory had the opportunity to vote itself into the Union as either a free state or a slave state. People from outside the state on both sides of the issue raced to Kansas to try to influence the vote, and people on both sides ended up in violent clashes. Kansas territory became known as "Bleeding Kansas" because of so many bloody battles between people who supported Kansas as a slave state, and people who supported Kansas as a free state. The Kansas issue took so long to resolve, in fact, that it didn't become a
state until 1861, when the rest of the country was splitting apart at the seams over slavery. Kansas eventually voted to become a free state, but by then the entire country was at the brink of war with itself.
By the time the presidential election of 1860 came around, the Southern states were ready to split from the Union. They said that they didn't want to be part of a Union where one central government made all the rules for the entire country; rather, each state in the South wanted to be able to make their own laws and enforce them as they saw fit, which meant that if that state wanted to make slavery legal, it could. Southern states were sure that the Federal candidate, Abraham Lincoln, was anti-slavery and would restrict the future expansion of slavery as the first stop toward its "ultimate extinction," as Lincoln once put it, if he was elected.
When Lincoln won the election in November 1860, the Southern states decided that they had had enough of being part of the Union. A month after Lincoln's election, South Carolina seceded from the United States, followed shortly after by Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas. These states formed their own country, the Confederate States of America. They were eventually joined by Virginia (the eastern half), Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky. The Confederate states elected Jefferson Davis as its president on February 4, 1861, and two months later, the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
civil war timeline
November 1860 Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States. Lincoln is against the spread of slavery to new territories in America, and many Southern states think he is a threat to their way of life.
December 1860 South Carolina secedes from the Union.
Early 1861 Six more Southern states—Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana—secede from the United States of America and form a new country with its own government and constitution called the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis is named its president.
April 1861 Confederate forces capture Fort Sumter in South Carolina from the Union, which starts the Civil War and leads Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy. Richmond, Virginia is named the new capitol.
July 1861 In the first major conflict in the Civil War, called the First Battle of Bull Run or the First Battle of Manassas, the Union army is forced to retreat northward toward Washington.
Fall 1861 The Union navy blockades the coastline of the Confederate states to limit their supplies.
May 1862 Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and his troops battle Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, forcing the Union soldiers to retreat across the Potomac to Washington, D.C.
August 1862 The Second Battle of Bull Run or the Second Battle of Manassas is a victory for the Confederacy.
September 1862 Harper's Ferry falls to Confederate troops under the command of General Jackson, leading to the Battle of Antietam, known as the bloodiest day of the war. The battle is not decisive.
January 1863 President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the Confederacy.
May 1863 Confederate General Robert E. Lee hands the Union a major loss at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, but the victory is marred when Stonewall Jackson dies from his wounds a few days later.
July 1863 The Gettysburg Campaign is the turning point of the war, with huge Confederate losses. At the same time Confederates surrender Vicksburg, Mississippi, to General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union army, placing much of the Mississippi River under the control of the Union army and splitting the Confederacy in half.
September 1863 Confederates win the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia.
November 1863 In the three-day Battle of Chattanooga, Union soldiers take control of the city and ultimately almost all of Tennessee. Lincoln delivers his famous Gettysburg Address at a ceremony dedicating a soldiers' cemetery at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. It began with the lines, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
May-June 1864 General Grant leads the Wilderness Campaign, a long and bloody battle. He pursues General Lee's soldiers relentlessly toward Richmond, despite enormous casualties. Grant withdraws toward Petersburg.
August-November 1864 Union General William T. Sherman marches from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia, taking the city and continuing on to the sea. Abraham Lincoln is re-elected to another term.
January 1865 The United States Congress approves the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, abolishing slavery.
April 1865 The Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia, falls to Union forces. General Lee surrenders. Less than one week later President Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth.
May 1865 All remaining Confederate troops surrender and Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America is captured in Georgia.
Abraham Lincoln: President of the United States from 1861 to 1865. Lincoln won the election of 1860 with fewer than 40 percent of the popular vote, and his election spurred the secession of the Southern states. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed slaves in territories held by the Confederacy, and he is famous today as the president who ended slavery in the United States. He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865.
Ulysses S. Grant: Commander of the Union forces in 1864. Grant was an army officer who left the service in 1854, then rejoined at the start of the Civil War. No one expected very much of him, but he led his troops to several stunning victories on the western front. After taking command of the Union forces Grant was able to defeat the Confederates in less than a year.
Jefferson Davis: President of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865. Davis had been a U.S. Senator for many years, and was President Franklin Pierce's Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857. He joined the Confederacy hoping for a military command, and was instead elected president by the Confederate Congress. After the Confederacy lost the war Davis spent two years in prison, after which the charges of treason against him were dropped. He died in 1899.
Robert E. Lee: Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, the pre-eminent Confederate Army. Lee was asked by President Lincoln in 1861 to command the Union Army. He declined, and instead took command of the Confederate forces. Robert E. Lee was universally liked and respected by both Confederate and Union leaders.
abolitionist: someone who believed that slavery should be abolished ost soldiers who joined up to fight for either the Union or Confederacy had no idea what they were getting themselves into. No one realized that the seI cession of the Southern states and the first cannon fired at Fort Sumter was heralding the start of a war that would last for four long years, cost more than half a million lives, and ravage much of the southern half of the country.
Neither side was prepared to fight a war: the Union had a small standing army that was immediately cut by large numbers of high-ranking officers who left to join the Confederate army, and while the Union had more weapons than the Confederacy, many of them dated back to the Revolutionary War.
Why did soldiers join either army? In the case of the Confederacy, most wanted to defend their state, their home, and their families. It was clear from the beginning that most of the fighting would take place in the southern half of the country, where the states that had seceded were located. Union soldiers joined up for a variety of reasons: some because they believed in the idea of a single country and national government, some because they believed in the abolitionist cause, and others because they wanted some adventure.
"Clear the Track—Union For Ever," pictorial envelope.
"Clear the Track—Union For Ever," pictorial envelope.
What soldiers on both sides found was nothing that they had experienced before. Most soldiers spent far more time waiting around camp or marching long distances than they did fighting on the battlefield, but when they did fight it was slaughter on a massive scale. In one infamous battle, the Battle of Gettysburg, more than 51,000 men were killed or wounded in the span of only three days. One in four soldiers died during the war, but surprisingly, disease was a far bigger killer than bullet wounds. For every soldier killed in battle, two died of diseases such as dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, and malaria, mostly due to the crowded and unsanitary living conditions. Soldiers who came from small, rural areas contracted childhood diseases such as measles and chickenpox because they'd never had them before and didn't have immunities to them; more than 5,000 Union soldiers died of measles during the war.
Battlefield medicine was pretty grim: Surgeon General William Hammond called medicine during the 1860s "the end of the Middle Ages." No one had any knowledge about sterilizing instruments or operating areas. In addition, the type of ammunition most commonly used by both armies, called the "minie" ball, was large and made of soft lead, so it distorted on impact, shattering any bones it came in contact with and infecting the wound with clothing, dirt, and debris. The most common method of treating leg or arm wounds was to amputate as soon as possible. It was no wonder that more than 200,000 men died of their battle wounds, usually from shock and infection.
All these injuries led both the Union and Confederate armies to completely change the way they waged war. Old methods of fighting were made obsolete by new kinds of weapons that shot much farther and more accurately than ever before. By the end of the war, four years after it began, siege fighting had taken the place of the old methods that had been in use since the Revolutionary War.
Zouave ambulance crew demonstrating removal of wounded soldiers from the field.
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