Abraham Lincoln During the Civil War Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

How do you lead a country that is breaking apart? This was the challenge facing Abraham Lincoln when he first became president in 1861. Find out what made him such an extraordinary leader during the Civil War, a very difficult period in American history.

Who is Abraham Lincoln?

Throughout American history, some presidents led in peace. Others are president during a war with a foreign countries. Abraham Lincoln faced one of the greatest challenges—not a war between America and another country, but a war between states in a divided country. Hundreds of thousands died during the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.

When Lincoln won the election for president in 1860, the country wasn't at war yet. But there was a lot of disagreement about whether slavery should be allowed and where. Many slaves worked on large farms in southern states.

Before Lincoln took office, several southern states seceded or left the United States to form the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy). Lincoln remained president of the Union.

The Lincoln Memorial
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Lincoln's War Strategy

When the war started, Lincoln's main goal was to keep the country together. Lincoln did two important things right away; he asked the states for soldiers and blocked ships going to the South.

Lincoln did not know much about war or armies. Now he was Commander-in-Chief and in charge of the military. He read books on military strategy and became very good at it. It took several years for Lincoln to find a general and team that worked well together to carry out his other ideas.

Lincoln with a general
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Even in the North, many had different ideas. Lincoln had the ability to get people to work together. When he put together a group of advisers, he purposely picked people with different opinions.

Lincoln believed that the president should have more powers than usual because of the war, even if it meant taking away certain freedoms. One example is the writ of habeas corpus, which says that the government must be able to show it has a reason for arresting someone. President Lincoln said the government did not have to do this anymore. This meant that the army could arrest people for speaking out against the war. Many argued that the president went too far.

For Lincoln and his family, the war was a terrible time for another reason. Sadly, Lincoln's young son got sick and died during the Civil War.

Emancipation Proclamation

As the war went on, Lincoln made freeing the slaves another goal. On January 1, 1863, he made the Emancipation Proclamation, which was intended to free slaves in lands under the Confederacy (but not in the Union). As the Union troops won in more places, they freed slaves along the way. Lincoln was called the Great Emancipator.

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