Activity 1~Whey are they fighting?

There were many reasons for a Civil War to happen in America, and political
issues and disagreements began soon after the American Revolution ended in 1782.
Between the years 1800 and 1860, arguments between the North and South grew more

One of the main quarrels was about taxes paid on goods brought into
this country from foreign countries. This tax was called a tariff. Southerners
felt these tariffs were unfair and aimed specifically at them because they
imported a wider variety of goods than most Northern people. Southern exporters
sometimes had to pay higher amounts for shipping their goods overseas because of
the distance from southern ports and sometimes pay unequal tariffs imposed by a
foreign country on some of their goods. An awkward economic structure allowed
states and private transportation companies to do this, which also affected
Southern banks that found themselves paying higher interest rates on loans made
with banks in the North. The situation grew worse after several “panics”,
including one in 1857 that affected more Northern banks than Southern. Southern
financiers found themselves burdened with high payments just to save Northern
banks that had suffered financial losses through poor investment.

States Rights
In the years before the Civil War the political power in the Federal government,
centered in Washington, D.C., was changing. Northern and mid-western states were
becoming more and more powerful as the populations increased. Southern states
lost political power because the population did not increase as rapidly. As one
portion of the nation grew larger than another, people began to talk of the
nation as sections. This was called sectionalism. Just as the original thirteen
colonies fought for their independence almost 100 years earlier, the Southern
states felt a growing need for freedom from the central Federal authority in
Washington. Southerners believed that state laws carried more weight than
Federal laws, and they should abide by the state regulations first. This issue
was called State’s Rights and became a very warm topic in congress.


Another quarrel between the North and South and perhaps the most emotional one,
was over the issue of slavery. America was an agricultural nation and crops such
as cotton were in demand around the world. Cotton was a plant that grew well in
the southern climate, but it was a difficult plant to gather and process. Labor
in the form of slaves were used on large plantations to plant and harvest cotton
as well as sugar, rice, and other cash crops. The invention of the Cotton Gin by
Eli Whitney made cotton more profitable for southern growers. Before this
invention, it took one person all day to process two pounds of cotton by hand, a
slow and inefficient method. Whitney’s Cotton Gin machine could process that
much within a half hour. Whitney’s invention revolutionized the cotton industry
and Southern planters saw their profits soar as more and more of them relied on
cotton as their main cash crop. Slaves were a central part of that industry.

Slavery had been a part of life in America since the early colonial period and
became more acceptable in the South than the North. Southern planters relied on
slaves to run larger farms or plantations and make them profitable. Many slaves
were also used to provide labor for the various household chores that needed to
be done. This did not sit well with many northerners who felt that slavery was
uncivilized and should be abolished. They were called abolitionists and thought
that owning slaves was wrong for any reason. They loudly disagreed with the
South’s laws and beliefs concerning slavery. Yet slavery had been a part of the
Southern way of life for well over 200 years and was protected not only by state
laws, but Federal law as well. The Constitution of the United States guaranteed
the right to own property and protected everyone against the seizure of
property. A slave was viewed as property in the South and was important to the
economics of the Southern cotton industry. The people of the Southern states did
not appreciate Northern people, especially the abolitionists, telling them that
slave ownership was a great wrong. This created a great amount of debate,
mistrust, and misunderstanding.

John Brown
As the nation grew in size, so did the opportunities for expansion westward.
Many felt that slavery should be allowed in the new territories such as Kansas
and Missouri, while others were set against it. This led to “bleeding Kansas”, a
bitter war that pitted neighbor against neighbor. In 1859, a radical
abolitionist from Kansas named John Brown raided the Federal armory at Harpers
Ferry, Virginia, in the hopes of supplying weapons to an army of slaves that
would revolt against their southern masters. A number of people were taken
hostage and several killed, among them the mayor of Harpers Ferry. Brown was
cornered with several of his followers in a fire engine house, first by Virginia
militia and then by Federal troops sent to arrest him and his raiders. These
troops, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee, stormed the building and captured
Brown and several of his men. Brown was tried for his crimes, found guilty, and
hung in Charlestown. Though John Brown’s raid had failed, it fueled the passions
of northern abolitionists who made him a martyr. It was reported that bells
tolled in sympathy to John Brown in northern cities on the day he was executed.
This inflamed passions in the South where southern leaders used the incident as
another reminder how little the South’s interests were represented in Federal
law, labeled as sympathetic to runaways and anti-slavery organizations.

Abraham Lincoln
The debate became very bitter. Southern politicians outwardly charged that their
voices were not being heard in congress. Some Southern states wanted to secede,
or break away from the United States of America and govern themselves. Emotions
reached a fever pitch when Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United
States in 1860. He was a member of the Republican Party and vowed to keep the
country united and the new western territories free from slavery. Many
Southerners, who were Democrats, were afraid that Lincoln was not sympathetic to
their way of life and would not treat them fairly. The growing strength of the
Republican Party, viewed by many as the party friendly to abolitionists and
northern businessmen, and the election of the party’s candidate was the last
straw. Southern governors and political leaders called for state referendums to
consider articles of secession. South Carolina was the first state to officially
secede from the United States soon after the election and they were followed by
six other Southern states. These states joined together and formed a new nation
which they named the Confederate States of America. They elected Jefferson
Davis, a Democratic senator and champion of states rights from Mississippi, as
the first president.

Federal Military Forts in Southern states
The United States Government insisted on keeping its military outpost in Southern States and tried to resupply Fort Sumter in South Carolina. On April 12, 1861 the Confederate States of America attacked Fort Sumter, SouthCarolina.
The fort sits at the entrance to Charleston Harbor and was manned by
Union troops who flew the United States flag. The bombardment lasted many hours
and the fort was heavily damaged, though no one was killed or injured. Major
Robert Anderson surrendered the fort and its garrison to the Confederate
commanders. Now that open conflict had started, President Lincoln responded with
a call for volunteers from states still loyal to the Union, to enlist and put
down this treacherous act of rebellion. Alarmed that Lincoln would do this, four
more Southern states seceded and joined the Confederacy. The war that President
Lincoln had tried to avoid began anyway. War talk was on everyone’s lips and
sharp divisions took place, even among families and neighbors.
At first, no one believed the war would last very long. Some people said it
would take only a few months and the fellows who volunteered to fight would come
home heroes within a few weeks. No one realized how determined the South was to
be independent, nor did the South realize how determined the North was to end
the rebellion. Armies had to be raised in the North and the South, and every
state was asked to raise regiments of volunteers to be sent for service in the
field. Many young men chose to enlist and volunteered for military service. In
the South, men readily went to war to protect their homes and save the Southern
way of life. Most did not believe that the government in Washington was looking
out for the South’s interests and they were better off as a new nation where the
states would make up their own laws. Many were happy to be called rebels because
they thought they were fighting against a tyrant like their forefathers did
against the British during the American Revolution. Northern men volunteered to
put down the rebellion of southern states and bind the nation back together.
Most felt that the Southerners had rebelled without good cause and had to be
taught a lesson. Some also felt that slavery was an evil and the war was a way
abolish it. No one knew how terrible war really was and how hard life as a
soldier could be. They did not have television or radio to communicate the
terrible things that could happen. Politicians did not communicate either, which
was one of the main reasons for the war and misunderstandings between North and
South. The armies were raised and marched off to war. It was only after many
battles and many lives were lost that the American people realized how horrible
war really was. The soldiers communicated with their families and loved ones and
told them of the hardships they endured and terrible scenes they had witnessed.
The fighting of the American Civil War would last four long years at a cost of
620,000 lives. In the end the Northern states prevailed- our country remained
united, the Federal government was changed forever, and slavery came to an end.

Key Words
Fort Sumter
state’s rights
John Brown’s raid

Activity 2~Soldiers Talk

The military of today has a distinctive and sometimes confusing catalog of terms, unique and all its own. Many of the terms used by modern soldiers are based on the first letters of a military label and often they use informal terms for pieces of equipment, fellow soldiers, or the places where they are based. It was no different during the Civil War. The Civil War soldier had a wide variety of names for the things they used in their daily routines and also invented many slang terms or nicknames for their equipment, experiences, and other soldiers. Many of these expressions were based on military terms, lighthearted humor, or biblical references and can still be found in our everyday language.

Here are some examples of Civil War expressions and nicknames:

accoutrements- A soldier’s fighting equipments, made of leather.
a beat- A lazy soldier who dodges work.
bombproof- An underground shelter, used also to describe officers who
never went to the front.
bones- Dice.
buck and gag- A form of punishment.
carriage- The wooden mount for artillery, also used to describe a lady’s
dogrobber- The soldier of a group who cooks for everyone else.
dog tent- A small, two-man tent.
first rate- Feeling well and very happy.
forage- To search for food from nearby farms.
Fresh Fish- New recruits.
greenbacks- Money or script.
gum blanket- Rubber-coated cloth sheet used as a rain cover.
haversack- Cloth bag for carrying the rations & utensils.
homespun- A clothing item made of homemade or home spun cloth.
housewife- A sewing kit.
horse sense- Smart or to use good sense.
Johnny- Union soldier’s term for a Confederate soldier.
Jonah- A soldier who always brought misfortune and bad luck with him.
“The luck of Cain”- one who has bad luck or is prone to illness.
paper collar man- Someone who has money or is financially well off.
picket- A guard or guard duty.
sacred soil- Virginia mud.
sawbones- The surgeon of the regiment.
seeing the elephant- A man’s first experience in combat.
shebang- A temporary shelter of poles & branches.
shirker- A soldier who would not do his duty on the battlefield.
smart like a fox- Slick and cunning.
tough as a knot- In good health.
top rail- The best place to be. Number One!
traps- Accoutrements
vittles- food or rations.
Yank- Confederate soldier’s term for a Union soldier.

Soldiers also used phrases such as “snug as a bug in a rug”, “chief cook
and bottle washer”, “been through the mill”, and “scarce as hen’s teeth.”
When soldiers gathered around the campfires to cook, “grab a root” was a
social term meaning to help oneself to some vegetables. A soldier often
referred to his camp as his “digs” and his fellow soldiers as “the boys”.

Do you and your friends use similar expressions when you talk about
yourself or items that you own? If you think about it, we bet you would
find a lot of slang terms used by you and your friends everyday.


horse sense
buck and gag
fresh fish

Activity 3~ Civil War Battle Fags

Battle flags was a term used for the flags carried by Civil War regiments. Both
armies used flags, which they also referred to as colors, to locate their troops
on the battlefield, in camp, and while on the march. Battle flags were used to
guide soldiers in battle. Wherever the flags went, the soldiers followed. Flags
led the charge or led the retreat. A regiment’s flag was carried by a color
sergeant who was the central man in the color guard. A color guard was composed
of six corporals whose job was to protect the color sergeants and the flags of
the regiment. The regiment’s flag was a great source of pride in each regiment
and to lose the flag in battle was a great disgrace. The capture of an
opponent’s flag was, in turn, a great honor. While infantry regiments had their
flags, there were also special flags made for headquarters, the artillery,
cavalry, and even the quartermaster and engineers- almost every unit had one!
Columns of soldiers marching toward Battle were easily identified by the
colorful flags that each unit carried, most having the name of the regiment
painted on them.
Confederate regiments usually carried one flag of a particular design depending
upon the army they served in. The Army of Northern Virginia battleflag was made
of heavy cotton or wool in the shape of a red square with a St. Andrews cross of
blue stripes and 13 white stars. The field was usually outlined in white cotton.
The flags were marked with the number and state initials of the regiment. Some
regiments even went so far as to put the names of battles in which they participated in on their flags, which they called battle honors. More battle honors on the flag meant more prestige for the regiment.
Very few of Lee’sregiments carried flags from their home state or flags of another design. This
standard flag helped identify friend from foe in the thick of battle.
Confederate armies in the west and deep south had flags with different designs.
A common Confederate battle flag seen in the western army was made of blue wool
with a white sphere in the center. Another was the Polk Corp Flag with a St. George’s Cross.

Union regiments in The Army of the Potomac were issued two flags, a national flag
and a regimental flag. The regimental flag was made of blue silk with a
painted eagle and banner on both sides that included the number and state of the regiment.
Some regiments, including those from Pennsylvania, carried specially
made flags that included the state coat of arms in the blue field and regimental
designations painted in gold on the stripes. Smaller flags or guidons were used
to designate the flanks or ends of each regiment. Because the flags were made of
silk, they wore out very easily from daily use and battle damage. The numbers
and stars were painted on the silk and often wore or faded out very rapidly.
Worn flags were sometimes replaced and the old flags retired to the states for
safe keeping. Some of these old flags, still bearing the scars of battle,
survive today in state archives and halls of history.

What design would you choose for a flag of your own?
Have you ever thought about what you would put on a flag to symbolize your
hometown or country? Think about what means the most to you- your hometown, your
pet, your family, or your philosophy. Draw a battle flag of your own!


battle flags
battle honors
color guard
color sergeant

Activity 4 ~ Civil War Food

Feeding the troops was the responsibility of the Commissary Department, and both
the Union and Confederacy had one. The job of this organization was to purchase
food for the armies, store it until it could be used, and then supply the
soldiers. It was difficult to supply so many men in so many places and the North
had a greater advantage in their commissary system was already established at
the outbreak of the war, while the Confederacy struggled for many years to
obtain food and then get it to their armies. Choices of what to give the troops
was limited as they did not have the conveniences to preserve food like we have
today. Meats were salted or smoked while other items such as fruits and
vegetables were dried or canned. They did not understand proper nutrition so
often there was a lack of certain foods necessary for good health. Each side did
what they could to provide the basics for the soldiers to survive. Because it
was so difficult to store for any length of time, the food soldiers received
during the Civil War was not very fancy and they did not get a great variety of
The daily allowance of food issued to soldiers was called rations. Everything
was given out uncooked so the soldiers were left up to their own ingenuity to
prepare their meals. Small groups would often gather together to cook and share
their rations and they called the group a “mess”, referring to each other as
“messmates”. Others prided themselves in their individual taste and prepared
their meals alone. If a march was imminent, the men would cook everything at
once and store it in their haversack, a canvas bag made with a sling to hang
over the shoulder. Haversacks had a inner cloth bag that could be removed and
washed, though it did not prevent the bag from becoming a greasy, foul-smelling
container after several weeks of use. The soldier’s diet was very simple- meat,
coffee, sugar, and a dried biscuit called hardtack. Of all the items soldiers
received, it was this hard bread that they remembered and joked about the most.
“‘Tis the song that is uttered in camp by night and day,
‘Tis the wail that is mingled with each snore;
‘Tis the sighing of the soul for spring chickens far away,
‘Oh hard crackers, come again no more!’
‘Tis the song of the soldier, weary, hungry and faint,
Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again no more;
Many days have I chewed you and uttered no complaint,
Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again no more!”
-from a soldiers’ parable called “Hard Times”
Hardtack was a biscuit made of flour with other simple ingredients, and issued
to Union soldiers throughout the war. Hardtack crackers made up a large portion
of a soldier’s daily ration. It was square or sometimes rectangular in shape
with small holes baked into it, similar to a large soda cracker. Large factories
in the north baked hundreds of hardtack crackers every day, packed them in
wooden crates and shipped them out by wagon or rail. If the hardtack was
received soon after leaving the factory, they were quite tasty and satisfying.
Usually, the hardtack did not get to the soldiers until months after it had been
made. By that time, they were very hard, so hard that soldiers called them
“tooth dullers” and “sheet iron crackers”. Sometimes they were infested with
small bugs the soldiers called weevils, so they referred to the hardtack as
“worm castles” because of the many holes bored through the crackers by these
pests. The wooden crates were stacked outside of tents and warehouses until it
was time to issue them. Soldiers were usually allowed six to eight crackers for
a three-day ration. There were a number of ways to eat them- plain or prepared
with other ration items. Soldiers would crumble them into coffee or soften them
in water and fry the hardtack with some bacon grease. One favorite soldier dish
was salted pork fried with hardtack crumbled into the mixture. Soldiers called
this “skillygallee”, and it was a common and easily prepared meal.
Would you like to try some hardtack? It’s very easy to make and here’s the
2 cups of flour
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon of Crisco or vegetable fat
6 pinches of salt
Mix the ingredients together into a stiff batter, knead several times, and
spread the dough out flat to a thickness of 1/2 inch on a non-greased cookie
sheet. Bake for one-half an hour at 400 degrees. Remove from oven, cut dough
into 3-inch squares, and punch four rows of holes, four holes per row into the
dough. Turn dough over, return to the oven and bake another one-half hour. Turn
oven off and leave the door closed. Leave the hardtack in the oven until cool.
Remove and enjoy! (And make sure your parents try some!)
Does your taste lean more to the southern side? Then try a “johnnie cake” that
the Confederate soldiers enjoyed with their meals. The recipe is also very
two cups of cornmeal
2/3 cup of milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Mix ingredients into a stiff batter and form eight biscuit-sized “dodgers”. Bake
on a lightly greased sheet at 350 degrees for twenty to twenty five minutes or
until brown. Or spoon the batter into hot cooking oil in a frying pan over a low
flame. Remove the corn dodgers and let cool on a paper towel, spread with a
little butter or molasses, and you have a real southern treat!

Some of the other items that soldiers received were salt pork, fresh or salted
beef, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, dried fruit and dried vegetables. If the
meat was poorly preserved, the soldiers would refer to it as “salt horse”.
Sometimes they would receive fresh vegetables such as carrots, onions, turnips
and potatoes. Confederate soldiers did not have as much variety in their rations
as Union soldiers did. They usually received bacon and corn meal, tea, sugar or
molasses, and fresh vegetables when they were available. While Union soldiers
had their “skillygallee”, Confederates had their own version of a quick dish on
the march. Bacon was cooked in a frying pan with some water and corn meal added
to make a thick, brown gravy similar in consistency to oatmeal. The soldiers
called it “coosh” and though it does not sound too appetizing, it was a filling
meal and easy to fix.

(Hardtack & Coffee)Do you want to experience the same type of meal that
Civil War soldiers had? Make yourself a soldier’s lunch with some of these
hardtack or corn bread that you baked.
dried beef
salt pork or bacon (make sure it’s well cooked!)
sliced carrots
apples or peaches
dried fruit

Pack your soldier’s picnic in a haversack (a paper bag will do) and have your
feast in the backyard with friends- your messmates. Enjoy!

“Commissary Department”
“sheet iron crackers”