US Civil War Lesson Plans

The Civil War is considered to be one of the most devastating events in American history. The war not only tore the nation in two, but divided families. Brothers, sons, fathers, and uncles fought against each other during Civil War battles in the bloodiest four years in America’s history.

Student Activities for History of the Civil War

US Civil War Background

The United States of America was still very young when it began to fall apart in the mid-1800s. Regions of America had different economies and priorities that caused friction in the federal government. Many people from southern states wanted to maintain states' rights to choose what is best for their states, while others pushed for a stronger and united federal government. The expansion of the institution of slavery into new territory was a huge topic of debate, and was one of the major causes of tensions between the North and the South.

Several southern states felt so strongly about slavery and states' rights, that some of them formed the Confederate States of America, or the Confederacy. From 1861-1865, war raged between the Confederacy and the Union. After the election of Lincoln in 1860 and eventual secession of southern states, the Confederacy planned to fight a defensive war against the North. Southerners were willing to fight long and hard to maintain the institution of slavery and their newly discovered independence as the Confederate States of America.

After numerous failed compromises over slavery, it took four bloody years to reunite the Union. The defeat of the South proved that federalism worked, and finally resolved the dispute over slavery. The Civil War became the single greatest test of democracy. Lincoln, and others in the North, believed that maintaining the Union was of utmost importance. World leaders watched carefully to discover whether democracy could withstand the pressure. The historical significance of winning the war was critical for the success of democracy in the United States as well as in the rest of the world.

Discussion Questions

  • Was the Civil War unavoidable?
  • To what extent was slavery the cause of the Civil War?
  • Is war worth the social, political, and economic costs?

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