The Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities

The Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities

by Janis Herbert


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History explodes in this activity guide spanning the turmoil preceding secession, the first shots fired at Fort Sumter, the fierce battles on land and sea, and finally the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. Making butternut dye for a Rebel uniform, learning drills and signals with flags, decoding wigwag, baking hardtack, reenacting battles, and making a medicine kit bring this pivotal period in our nation’s history to life. Fascinating sidebars tell of slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad, the adventures of nine-year-old drummer boy Johnny Clem, animal mascots who traveled with the troops, and friendships between enemies. The resource section includes short biographies of important figures from both sides of the war, listings of Civil War sites across the country, pertinent websites, glossary, and an index.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556523557
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/28/1999
Series: Chicago Review Press For Kids Series
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 449,639
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Janis Herbert is the author of The American Revolution for Kids, Leonardo da Vinci for Kids, Lewis and Clark for Kids, and Marco Polo for Kids.

Read an Excerpt

The Civil War for Kids

A History with 21 Activities

By Janis Herbert

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 1999 Janis Herbert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-153-5


To War!

The Union Is Dissolved

In 1861, citizens gathered in town squares all across the country to hear speeches about freedom, states' rights, and glorious death on the battlefield. In the North, bands played rousing versions of "Rally 'Round the .Slag," and young men jumped at the chance to fight for union. In the South, "The Bonny Blue Flag" inspired men to defend their rights and their land. The country was divided in two.

The split had been a long time in coming. Many events led to the great Civil War of the United States, but the main reason so many fought and died was the practice of slavery. Slavery — the South's answer to its need for a large, cheap labor force to raise its main crop, cotton — was a source of terrible friction between North and South. Many slaves led lives of backbreaking labor, poor rations, and beatings. Their lives were not their own. They were property, like a horse or a wagon. They could be sold at any time and separated from their spouses and children.

The North and South were like two separate countries. The growing North attracted immigrants to its bustling cities and manufacturing jobs. The South was an agricultural land, and its proud and aristocratic people wanted nothing more than for it to remain that way. Not all Southerners were slave owners, but the South's economy depended on the large cotton plantations worked by slaves. Without slavery, Southerners feared their whole way of life would be destroyed. The friction between the regions grew.

A group of people began calling for the abolishment of slavery. They became known as "abolitionists." As this abolitionist anti-slavery movement grew, the federal government outlawed importation of slaves and tried to limit slavery to the South. Southerners felt their country was turning against them and threatened to "secede" (withdraw) from the United States and form their own country. To calm them, Congress passed a Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. Under this law, escaped slaves who were captured in the North could be claimed as property and taken back to captivity. People could be jailed for helping slaves escape. Abolitionists were outraged. Harriet Beecher Stowe was so upset that she wrote a novel about the plight of slaves. Her story became the most popular book of its time. Uncle Tom's Cabin was such a powerful book that Abraham Lincoln would call Stowe "the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war."

In the new western territories, the debate about slavery turned violent when a new law allowed the settlers to decide whether to become a slave state or a free state. More than 200 people were killed as slavery and anti-slavery forces battled over the fate of the territory soon to be known as "Bleeding Kansas." Blows even fell in the Senate, where a Southern congressman beat an abolitionist senator with his cane! The issue of slavery was in newspapers, in public debates, and on everyone's mind. Then, in 1857, a case argued before the Supreme Court divided the country even more.

Missouri slave Dred Scott often traveled with his master, and for a time they lived in the North. Scott sued for his freedom on the basis of having lived in free territory. His case reached the Supreme Court, which decided that blacks were not citizens and therefore had no right to sue. It ruled that Scott and other slaves were private property, and that their owners could take them anywhere. Scott was freed by his owner two months later, but slaves throughout the South would have to wait another eight years for their freedom.

Two years later John Brown pushed the country closer to war. This abolitionist tried to begin a slave uprising in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. With a small group of men, including his sons, he took over the federal arsenal and captured a large store of weapons. During the struggle several men were killed, including Brown's sons. A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. army named Robert E. Lee arrested Brown, who was found guilty of treason by the state of Virginia and hanged. Brown's actions were illegal but his motives were noble, and they inspired admiration among many Northerners. Though he was found guilty, Southerners were mortally offended by the North's praise for his actions.

As the election of 1860 came near, it was clear that the issue that would decide the outcome was slavery. Four candidates ran for the presidency in that year. A remarkable man from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, won the election.

Lincoln was born in a Kentucky log cabin. His mother died when he was a child, and his family barely scraped a living together. He attended school for only one year but, between chores, he read every book he could find. As a young man, he tried many trades — flatboat man, clerk, postmaster, soldier, surveyor — before becoming a lawyer. Many people in the country were surprised when this country lawyer won the presidency. Some thought he was too rough and undignified (Lincoln loved to tell jokes and funny stories), but he was a man of great intelligence and wisdom. With his wife, Mary Todd, and their three boys, Lincoln left Illinois on a train bound for Washington. He was about to lead the United States through its most difficult time.

Lincoln's train trip to Washington was eventful. His son Robert happily rode with the engineers. They stopped in towns across the country and crowds gathered to see the man who would lead the nation. He visited Grace Bedell in New York and gave a stirring speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Someone saw him playing an undignified game of leapfrog with his sons Willie and Tad at a Buffalo hotel. Everywhere, there were parades in his honor. In one town, a cannon salute shattered the windows of Mary Lincoln's train car.

Death threats haunted them on the journey. Lincoln was warned to stay away from Baltimore, Maryland, a city with sympathies for the Southern cause. The presidential train was sent through the city without Lincoln aboard. Dressed in a large overcoat and a soft hat, Lincoln slipped into a carriage, then entered Washington on another train.

The 33 states that were in the Union in 1860 had dwindled to 26 by Lincoln's inauguration in March 1861. The Southerners wanted no part of a Union that would elect an anti-slavery president, and they felt they had the right to break away from the United States. Not so long before, Americans had written a Declaration of Independence, claiming their freedom from British rule and the right to choose their own government. In the Constitution, they outlined the principles of the new government, including protecting its citizens' right to life, liberty, and the ownership of property. Southerners felt that attempts to free the slaves were unconstitutional and that the government was taking away their rights. Since people should be free to choose their own government, Southerners felt that secession was within their rights. They said it was no different from the actions of George Washington and the Founding Fathers.

Northerners didn't agree. The states had joined together in union and agreed to abide by majority rule. Now the Southerners were leaving because they didn't get their way. Northerners wanted to be sure that this government by the people and for the people continued to exist. If the South was allowed to secede, the United States would be a failure.

The month before Lincoln's inauguration, the Southern states formed their own government, the "Confederate States of America," and inaugurated a president, Jefferson Davis. At the time Mississippi seceded, Davis was its senator. Like Lincoln, he had been born in a Kentucky log cabin. His family later moved to a plantation in Mississippi. Jefferson Finis Davis was the last child in a family of 10 and his parents gave him a middle name announcing the fact (finis means "the end" in Latin)! He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, served in the Mexican War, was a congressman, a senator, and secretary of war for the United States. The tall, thin Davis predicted at his inauguration that the Confederacy and the United States it had just parted from would go to war, a "war long and bloody." Southerners felt that Davis, with his iron will and fierce loyalty to the Southern cause, was the perfect man to lead their new nation.

Lincoln hoped to avoid war but knew that preserving the Union might require it. Northerners were confident that if it came to war, their victory was certain. In 1860, 30 million people lived in the United States. Twenty-one million were Northerners. The Confederacy held only nine million and, of those, four million were slaves. The South was rural, "the land of cotton," and had little industry. The more industrial North could manufacture the supplies it needed for war. It had more railroads, and was in control of the seas. The South had advantages, too. To conquer the South, Northern armies would have to invade a large land with long coastlines. Many Southerners were from farms and knew how to handle guns and horses, unlike urban Northerners. More had been in the military and military schools. Most important, the Southerners would be fighting to protect their homes, making them the fiercer opponents. Southerners felt they could whip the Yankees and be back home in no time.

Attack on Fort Sumter — April 12, 1861

When Confederate forces fired on the federal post of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, war became a reality. The Confederate government wanted the federal troops to abandon the fort, which was in what they considered to be their country. After 34 hours of relentless shelling, Major Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter surrendered to Southern General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard — one of his former students at West Point.

The surrender of Fort Sumter electrified the people of the North and the South. Lincoln called for 75,000 men to serve for 90 days. Men volunteered in droves. War! They wouldn't have missed it for the world. War fever swept the nation. How dare the Southerners secede! Why, it was no less than anarchy! When Lincoln called for volunteers, more Southern states left the Union. Virginia seceded and Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis moved his children and his wife, Varina, to the new Confederate capital. So many men volunteered to join the Southern army that some were turned away. States' rights and liberty were at stake! The sacred right to self-government was what this country was founded on. They'd fight and die for that right. To war!

Union and Confederate troops clashed in various places over the next few months. In Missouri, Confederate sympathizers fought furiously against Union troops. Skirmishes in towns across Virginia quickly brought the reality of war home to the citizens there. The first major battle of the Civil War, however, was Manassas, or Bull Run.

There were so many volunteer soldiers in Washington that there was nowhere to put them. Some even set up camp in the chambers of the House of Representatives! They arrived just in time, for the Confederate camps of the Southern soldiers were just across the Potomac River. The capitals of the two nations were uncomfortably close, less than 100 miles apart.

The Union troops were untrained and would need time before they could be ready to fight. The Northern people, though, were ready for Battle. Newspapers and politicians urged the army to move on the South. "Forward to Richmond!" they cried. Brigadier General Irvin McDowell was given command of the Northern troops camped in Washington. Lincoln encouraged him to strike, telling him, "You are green; the Rebels are green. You are all green alike." Green or not, the armies soon faced each other across a battlefield on a hot July day.

Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) — July 21, 1861

General Irvin McDowell marched 35,000 Northern troops from Washington toward opponent General Pierre Beauregard's 23,000 men. McDowell's Union army looked magnificent. Silk regimental flags waved in the breeze, and the new uniforms were bright and colorful. The soldiers, however, weren't very disciplined. Many broke from the ranks to pick blackberries or to get a drink of water from a stream. Beauregard knew the Northern army was coming. Confederate spy Rose Greenhow sent word to him of the Union plans. The Confederates had just enough time to send for reinforcements for the battle.

Beauregard's troops lined up along winding Bull Run Creek. McDowell ordered his men to cross the creek upstream from the Rebel army and come down hard on their left side, or "flank." The two armies clashed and fought furiously, untrained and frightened though they were. It looked as if the Union troops would break through the Confederate line

Just as that line began to weaken, a Southern commander spotted General Thomas J. Jackson holding his Virginian troops against the Union forces. "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall!" he cried, hoping to inspire his men to do the same, "Rally behind the Virginians!" The Confederates rallied, attacking the Northerners savagely while howling their "Rebel yell." They yelped and yipped at the top of their lungs. The howl terrified their opponents! Soon the Confederates were joined by reinforcements. To make matters even worse for the Union soldiers, some of the Rebels were dressed in blue. As the Northerners held their fire for troops they thought were their own, the Rebels attacked. The Union troops collapsed.

The inexperienced Union soldiers rushed back toward Washington. In their retreat, they ran into hundreds of civilians who had come out in carriages to witness the battle. Many had even brought picnic lunches! The panicking citizens raced back to the city. The road became a tangle of troops, horses, and civilians in carriages.

The loss shocked the once optimistic Northerners. They thought that one battle would end the war, but now they realized a long struggle lay ahead. Southerners were overjoyed by the victory, but both sides mourned the losses of this first battle. Nearly 2,900 Union men and 1,900 Confederates were killed, wounded, or missing. It seemed to be so many, and yet these numbers would look small in comparison to the losses in the years ahead.

A North Star Safe Quilt

When slaves escaped on the "Underground Railroad," they traveled at night, guided by the North Star. They hid in wagons with false bottoms, while a "conductor" drove them to the next stop. Safe houses posted special signs — a lantern in an upstairs window, or a "safe" quilt hanging on a line. Slaves could hide in secret rooms in these houses until it was safe for them to move on. Levi and Catharine Coffin were Quakers whose home was known as the "Grand Central Station" of the Railroad. These two kind people helped 3,000 fugitive slaves to freedom.


What you need

8-inch square of cardboard
½ yard each of 4 medium-weight 45-inch-wide fabrics
Sewing machine
Iron and ironing board
Muslin fabric (or an old sheet), 45 by 45 inches
Polyester quilt batting, 43 by 43 inches

1. Using the cardboard as a template, cut 25 patches from the fabrics.

2. Arrange them on a flat surface, working from the center out, until you have a design that you like. Each row should have five patches.

3. Starting with the top row, place two patches together with front sides facing and pin ½-inch from the edge (see figure 1). Pin the rest of the top row in this way. Sew the patches at the ½-inch seam (see figure 2). Pin and sew the other rows. Iron the seams all to one side.

4. Pin the rows to each other in the same way, sew them together with a ½-inch seam, and press all the seams to one side (see figure 3).

5. Cut out 5 triangular pieces from the leftover fabric. Fold their edges over ½-inch and sew all around their borders. Center them on the quilt top in the shape of a star (see figure 4), then sew them in place.

6. Place the muslin fabric on a flat surface. Center the quilt batting on top. Place the quilt top over the batting, right side up. Smooth the layers out. Fold the edge of the muslin over a ½-inch, then fold it again over the quilt top (see figure 5). Pin all the layers together. Sew around the border (see figure 6).

Create a Code

Spies sent messages in code in case they were found by the enemy. Special ciphering squares, like the one to the right, helped them "encipher" (put into code) and decode messages.

Create a secret code sentence. For example, take a famous quote from the Battle of Bull Run.


Write your message below the sentence.



If the message is longer than the code sentence, repeat the code sentence.


Excerpted from The Civil War for Kids by Janis Herbert. Copyright © 1999 Janis Herbert. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Note to ReadersI,
1 To War!,
2 Drill, Drill, Drill,
3 Battles lest and East,
4 Camp Life,
5 Fight for Freedom,
6 Behind the Battle lines,
7 The Union Struggles,
8 On the March,
9 The Confederacy Falters,
10 Hardships of far,
11 A River of Blood and a Battle Abort Clouds,
12 Chronicles of the war,
13 Flanking South,
14 Taps,
Scouting for Civil War Veterans,
A Guide to Officers,

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Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A very concise but detailed book about the battles of the Civil War. It will transport you through the major battles and explain how it all happened. Although you won't get much about how the people left at home felt, it still gives an overview of the lives of many soldiers, generals, and volunteer nurses including Clara Barton. The activites are also great and will excite some students minds and the pictures are also well picked. Excellent book overall and I highly recommend it for those who are interested in the battles and getting a picture of those who were there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Civil War for Kids is a great classroom resource. Information about the Civil War is presented in concise, clear, student-friendly terms. The excerpts presented with each chapter are interesting and fun, sure to intrigue students. When writing lessons about the Civil War the activities are fun and can be tied in neatly to various subject and content areas. The pictures and illustrations support the text and activities nicely while providing students with visual representations of the war. The timeline and varying appendices are also a good quick reference tool for students and teachers. Overall, the book is useful in the classroom as a reference or a guide for planning and curriculum.
rackbar More than 1 year ago
this is a book that even adults will love to read. Kids will really want to read this book & do the activities after every chapter. A great book for all classroom teachers.