What Was the Civil War About? Why Were They Fighting?

The American Civil War ran from 1861-1865, but what was it about? What were people fighting for and why did they choose to fight? The answer can be found not in ideologies and political doggerel, but in personal choice. The answer to what made the Civil Was such a poignant piece of our history comes down to the individuals that chose to fight, and why.


  • The Civil War ran from 12 Apr 1861 until 9 Apr 1865, although other battles and Civil War events happened after this date
  • Over 3 million people fought in the Civil War, about 2 million from the Union and about 1 million from the Confederate States
  • Over 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War. Other estimates range closer to 800,000
  • Not everyone in the North supported the Union and its politics
  • Not everyone in the South supported the Confederacy and its politics
  • The Civil War saw advancements in weapons technology
  • The Civil War saw advancements in medicine
  • The Civil War was a by-product of the War of 1812 and other disputes such as the Missouri Compromise

People chose to fight in the Civil War to defend their families, future, and way of life. Our country has been built on the freedom of choice and the privilege that choice conveys; those sentiments were not lost on the solders who fought in the Civil War.

Both Union and Confederate soldiers fought to protect what they held most valuable: their families and way of life. How each person chose to define ‘family’ and ‘way of life’ was up to them, for we know that not everyone defined their choices the same. However, each man’s was his own.

What has always fascinated me were those pockets of Unionist living in the South. They are the prime example of what the Civil War was about and why people chose to fight.

Imagine living on a farm in the north of Alabama or in Middle Tennessee during the war, smack dab in Confederate country. Imagine having Union sympathies and not feeling like the Confederacy represents your views on what is happening. Winston, Alabama is one such famous place.

Most historians lump the Civil War in to 2 nice big slabs of meat, ready to be neatly carved up. But that’s not the case. Those that supported the Union but lived in the South were horribly treated by their neighbors and possibly friends. They met with enmity from social circles and might even be ridiculed when their own sons marched off to join the Confederacy.

They fought to preserve the Union of the United States. While the idea of ‘states rights’ was certainly important to them, no doubt, some believed that the benefit to the citizens of the South would be better served with the country remaining in tact. Our ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War to build a Union, to try and tear that a part only 85 years later did not make sense to everyone.

Even Jefferson Davis in his biography The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government talks about this tension. Jefferson Davis was a scholar, statesman, a very eloquent writer, his work detailing his tenure as the President of the CSA (Confederate States of America) is a must read, especially for non-Southerners.

It really was about personal choice and each person’s own belief system. The strength that those individuals showed under such duress is the key here, not about the choices they made and why they made them, but it’s about having the moral fortitude to stand up for your own piece of moral ground. MAKING NO CHOICE WAS THE WORST CHOICE!

Soldiers marched off to war not because of larger ideologies but because they wanted to come back home to the freedoms they had inherited from their ancestors. They fought so that their families could enjoy those same rights in the future.


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