The Battles of the U.S. Civil War

The Battles of the U.S. Civil War

Learn about the strategic, though often unpredictable, locations of battles during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.


5 - 12+


Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History

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Beginning with the first shots fired at Fort Sumter, outside of Charleston, South Carolina, all the way to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, in Virginia, the United States Civil War lasted four tense and violent years. Throughout those four years battles raged all over the southern United States, occuring as far west as Missouri, Arkansas, and even present-day Arizona and as far north as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Fighting was concentrated in two main areas. Removed from the coast, much of the fighting took place in Tennessee, a slave state that seceded after the battle at Fort Sumter in 1861. In the east, Northern Virginia (part of a confederate slave state) and southern Maryland (part of a Union slave state) were the site of a great deal of fighting throughout the war.

Both the Union and Confederate armies planned their courses of action strategically. The Confederacy tried, unsuccessfully, to weaken the North’s southern border, waging fierce battles in Northern Virginia, while the Union staged intense marches in the South. These fierce Union tours in the South were typified by General William Tecumseh Sherman’s “scorched earth” campaigns through Georgia and up into North Carolina. This stoppage of Confederate forces from entering Northern territory and the subsequent razing of the South (in conjunction with a Union blockade of Confederate seaports) weakened the South and forced an end to what was called—at the time—a “war of attrition."

Generals and strategists from both sides of the war used maps to plan effective courses for taking troops into enemy territory. The geography of an area is often used in decision-making during wartime. The placement of Union blockades at Confederate ports is a perfect example of how Northern military strategists were able to use their knowledge of the South’s geography to their advantage.

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Benjamin Kessler
Jessica Shea, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Benjamin Kessler
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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