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, stretching as far west as the Mississippi River 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 (a confederate slave state) and Southern Maryland (a Union slave state) saw 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), crippled 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.

  1. On the first map, look at where the Union blockades are located. Why do you think the majority of them were placed where they were?


    • Answer

      The majority of Union blockades were placed around port cities in the South, which stopped goods from being imported. It was difficult for the South to get manufactured goods, like ammunition and blankets. This hurt the Confederate war effort, furthering the idea that the U.S. Civil War was a war of attrition.

  2. Why do you think so many battles were concentrated in Northern Virginia?

    • Answer

      The Confederate forces, when not defending their own territory, were constantly trying to move the fighting out of the South. Virginia provided a permeable border into Maryland (which was a Union state, but also a slave state), which the South thought it could gain influence in. They believed that this would move the war into Northern territory and end the war.

  3. General Sherman's scorched earth policy proved instrumental in the downfall of the Confederacy. Why was scorched earth so effective? Think about attrition...

    • Answer

      The South was already reeling from its loss of resources due to the Union blockade, so the razing of Southern towns and manufacturing centers by Sherman left the South with no available means with which to fight the war. This lack of capital was one of the factors that led to the Southern surrender and loss of the Civil War’s “war of attrition.”


reduction or decrease in numbers, size, or strength.

Battle of Chancellorsville

(1863, Chancellorsville, Virginia) Confederate victory during the Civil War.

Battle of Cold Harbor

(1864, Hanover County, Virginia) Confederate victory during the Civil War.

Battle of Gettysburg

(1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Union victory during the Civil War.

Battle of Kelly's Ford

(1863, Kelly's Ford, Virginia) Confederate victory during the Civil War.

Civil War

(1860-1865) American conflict between the Union (north) and Confederacy (south).


Confederate States of America, states which broke from the United States to form a new government during the Civil War.

First Battle of Bull Run

(1861, Manassas, Virginia) major Confederate victory in the U.S. Civil War. Also called First Manassas.


states that supported the United States (Union) during the Civil War.

scorched earth policy

a military strategy which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area.


loosely defined geographic region largely composed of states that supported or were sympathetic to the Confederate States of America (Confederacy) during the U.S. Civil War.

the South

geographic and political region in the southeast and south-central parts of the United States, including all the states that supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.


having to do with states supporting the United States (north) during the U.S. Civil War.

William Tecumseh Sherman

(1820-1891) Union general in the U.S. Civil War.