Sectional Conflict

As America conquered new lands and expanded west, early nineteenth-century politics focused on the delicate balance between free and slave states. The cotton industry was thriving, and more slave states meant more cotton. At the same time, the anti-slavery movement gained strength in the North, and the Republican Party was founded on the principles of “Free Soil, Free Labor, and Free Men.” Abraham Lincoln, a former Congressman from Illinois, became the leader of this new party. More than ever, Americans divided themselves over slavery.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States, vowing to stop the spread of slavery but not its abolition. Shortly after the election, Southern states began seceding from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. In April 1861, Confederate forces attacked the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the rebellion, and the Civil War began. Initially Lincoln insisted that restoring the Union was the war’s only purpose and made no immediate move to end slavery, since he believed that most Northerners would not support emancipation. As the war dragged on, however, Lincoln decided the time had come to initiate an emancipation policy.

Children and the Civil War

The poster, "Come and Join Us Brother" (click to view in slideshow above) illustrates the role of children during the Civil War. Many young boys traveled with black regiments and supported them as helpers. Some were drummer boys who played cadences and rhythms that motivated the soldiers to march together to the beat of the drum.