The Nations Comes Apart – The American Civil War Background for Teacher

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The Nations Comes Apart – The American Civil War

Background for Teacher:

The Civil War is the central event in America's historical consciousness. While the Revolution of 1776-1783 created the United States, the Civil War of 1861-1865 determined what kind of nation it would be. The war resolved two fundamental questions left unresolved by the revolution: whether the United States was to be a dissolvable confederation of sovereign states or an indivisible nation with a sovereign national government; and whether this nation, born of a declaration that all men were created with an equal right to liberty, would continue to exist as the largest slaveholding country in the world.

Northern victory in the war preserved the United States as one nation and ended the institution of slavery that had divided the country from its beginning. But these achievements came at the cost of 625,000 lives--nearly as many American soldiers as died in all the other wars in which this country has fought combined. The American Civil War was the largest and most destructive conflict in the Western world between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the onset of World War I in 1914.

The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states. When Abraham Lincoln won election in 1860 as the first Republican president on a platform pledging to keep slavery out of the territories, seven slave states in the deep South seceded and formed a new nation, the Confederate States of America. The incoming Lincoln administration and most of the Northern people refused to recognize the legitimacy of secession. They feared that it would discredit democracy and create a fatal precedent that would eventually fragment the no-longer United States into several small, squabbling countries.


Source 1: African American Slaves - Five Generations On Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina; Library of Congress, 1862

five generations on smith\'s plantation, beaufort, south carolina

Source 2: John Brown in Kansas - Painted by John Steuart Curry (American, Dunavant, Kansas 1897–1946 Madison, Wisconsin)

John Brown was a radical abolitionist (wanted the end of slavery) who believed in the violent overthrow of the slavery system.

Source 3: Image and Table of 1860 Presidential Election – Learn NC

1860 u.s. electoral map

Source 4: Political Cartoon – Punch (a magazine based in London, England) / 8 November 1856

Source 5: United States / Confederate States of American Map – 1861

Source 6: General Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan - May 1861

Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. (Digital File Number: g3701s cw0011000)

Source 7: The battlefield of Gettysburg, photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan, July 1863.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-B8184-7964-A DLC)

Source 8: The Emancipation Proclamation – January 1, 1863

The Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. In a single stroke, it changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved persons in the designated areas of the South from "slave" to "free."

image 1 of 1, proclamation of emancipation. the second declarati

Source 9: The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry (Exact month and date of image are not known, but picture was taken in 1864. Chicago Historical Society, ICHi-07784

The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry was the first Northern black volunteer regiment enlisted to fight in the Civil War.  Its accomplished combat record led to the general recruitment of African-Americans as soldiers. They ultimately comprised ten percent of Union Army and Navy.  The Fifty-fourth’s successful campaign for equal pay also signaled a move toward racial justice in the military. - See more at:

Source 10: Atlanta, Georgia – Circa 1864 / Photograph by George N. Barnard

Sherman’s army left Atlanta in ruins in November 1864 and marched to Savannah, the famous “March to the Sea.

crumbling buildings along a deserted street

Source 11: Image of Richmond, VA – Early April, 1865. Library of Congress

The Richmond and Petersburg Railroad depot near Eighth and Byrd streets after the evacuation fire of 1865.

the richmond and petersburg railroad depot near eighth and byrd streets after the evacuation fire of 1865. - the library of congress

Source 12: Painting of General Robert E. Lee’s Surrender to U.S. Grant (April 9, 1865) / Painting by Tom Lovell, April 1965

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Source 1:

Image of African American slaves in SC

Source 2:

Painting of John Brown in Kansas.

Source 3:

Image and Chart of 1860 Presidential Election

Source 4:

Political Cartoon

Source 5:

Image of Secession Map

Source 6:

Image of Anaconda Plan

Source 7:

Image of the Battle of Gettysburg

Source 8:

Image of Emancipation Proclamation

Source 9:

The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry

Source 10:

Atlanta, George Image after Sherman’s March to the Sea

Source 11:

Image of Richmond, VA early April 1865

Source 12:

Painting of Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox

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