Civil War

The following notes will help you prepare for questions about the Civil War on the AP U.S. History Exam.

  • The Civil War officially began when the Confederate States of America fired on the Fort Sumter, South Carolina in April 1861. The Confederacy was formed from slaveholding states that had seceded from the United States following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Secession documents filed by the seceding states indicated that their legal right to own slaves and the failure of the United States government to protect that right was a primary reason for secession.

  • When the war began, the Confederacy held a distinct advantage in military leadership, an issue that plagued the Union and Abraham Lincoln throughout the war. However, the Confederacy did not have an established army or navy at the outset of the war and consistently had difficultly with resources, including providing its armies with enough food and ammunition. The supply chain of the Union and the fact that it had a more developed railroad system proved to be a significant advantage for the United States.

  • Within days of the surrender of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865, Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln. This left the task of seeing the nation through Reconstruction in the hands of Vice-President Andrew Johnson.

Anaconda Plan : General Winfield Scott's plan to defeat the Confederates; blockading the southern seaports and using the Mississippi River to divide the Confederacy in two

Appomattox Court House : site of the Confederate surrender

Battle of Antietam : The bloodiest battle of the war, in Maryland; narrow Union victory allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation

Battle of Gettysburg : fought July 1 - 3, 1863; Union victory that ended Lee's attempts to invade the North

border states : slave states that did not secede; Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri

Emancipation Proclamation : executive order by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, freeing slaves in the rebellious states only; did not free slaves in the Union; allowed African Americans to enlist in the Union Army

Gettysburg Address : Lincoln's speech at the dedication of a new national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in November 1863; reframed the purpose of the war and stated that the nation would have a "new birth of freedom"

ironclad : steam-operated warship

total war : strategy of defeating opponent by breaking their will with complete destruction, including towns, villages, transportation, and crops; used by the Union


Clara Barton : organized the America Red Cross; Civil War nurse and instrumental in helping identify deceased soldiers for proper burial

Mathew Brady : photographer; he and photographers who worked for him brought the war home to Americans in photos

Jefferson Davis : president of the Confederate States of America

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson : Confederate general known for being a fierce battlefield opponent; died when shot by friendly fire at Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863

Robert E. Lee : Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia

George McClellan : Union general relieved of his command for not acting quickly enough

Ulysses S. Grant : Commanding general at the end of the Civil War; 18th president

William T. Sherman : Union general whose famous "March to the Sea" hastened the Confederate defeat

Edwin Stanton : Secretary of War during Lincoln administration; grew to be a supporter of Lincoln's and famously said "Now he belongs to the ages" after Lincoln's death

Walt Whitman : poet who wrote about the war; Civil War nurse

Related Links:
Civil War Quiz
AP US History Quizzes
AP US History Notes
Civil War Quiz
Civil War Timeline
Civil War Facts
Civil War Battles Timeline
Expansion and Manifest Destiny
Exploration and Colonization