What Do You Know About the Major Turning Points of the American Civil War?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: Henry Alexander Ogden

About This Quiz

When a handful of southern states seceded from the Union in 1861, the drums of war sounded across the land. President Abraham Lincoln knew his country would never survive such a split, so he sent his troops to bring the Confederacy back into the fold. Most Americans figured the war would be over in a matter of months. Instead, a series of costly setbacks spiraled into a full-blown apocalypse. In this crimson-soaked quiz, you will demonstrate how well you know the major turning points of the American Civil War.

It was never supposed to be a real war. After the silliness at Fort Sumter, in which the Confederacy captured a Union fort without a single casualty, the North got serious. Lincoln’s troops gathered at the First Battle of Bull Run, but their inexperience immediately became apparent. Do you know how this first major confrontation affected the war’s outlook?

In 1862, a number of turning points altered the destinies of both the North and the South. There were the fights at Forts Henry and Donelson, and then came the horrors of Shiloh. Jackson launched his Valley Campaign that spring, and the Seven Days’ Battles raged later that summer. But it was a place called Antietam where the fountains of blood gushed in a true frenzy. What was special about this battle?

From Gettysburg to Atlanta, leaders like Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee did their best to win the terrible fight. Take this Civil War turning points quiz now! We’ll see if you’re a war hero or just a nameless rebel private.

In 1861, at the First Battle of Bull Run, which side emerged victorious?

On July 21, 1861, Northern spectators gathered on the hills as you would for a sporting event, in anticipation of watching the Union wipe out the Confederate Army. Instead, the Confederates won and people suddenly realized it was going to be a real war.


What did President Lincoln immediately do following the First Battle of Bull Run?

Bull Run's outcome left Lincoln very worried and he immediately pressed to raise the number of Union troops by 500,000. In the end, he needed them.


In 1861, how did the Confederates anger the citizens of Kentucky?

In the fall of 1861, the Confederate Army invaded Kentucky. The move was a political disaster in a state that was trying to remain neutral. It threw Kentucky into the Union's corner, a fact that changed the balance of the war.


The Battle of Fort Henry took place in which area?

The February 1862 Battle of Fort Henry was a critical fight of the Western Theater in Kentucky. Union General Ulysses Grant was at the helm of Union forces there and they had a serious objective in mind.


What weapons did the Union Army use to great effect at the Battle of Fort Henry?

Fort Henry was right on the Tennessee River and in a poor defensive position. Union gunboats plastered the fort and captured it even before the main army arrived. Suddenly, the Union was in control of a large swath of the river basin.


What happened at the Battle of Fort Donelson?

In the second week of February 1862, the Confederate army surrendered, at a cost of more than 13,000 troops. It was one of the first real victories of the war for the Union, and people celebrated all over the North.


How did the Union's win at Fort Donelson change the war?

Donelson was a major strategic win for the Union. It seized control of the Cumberland River, an avenue straight to the heart of Southern strongholds.


In April 1862, which city fell to the Union?

From the war's outset, both sides knew that New Orleans was a critical set piece. But the Confederacy failed to protect this jewel of the Mississippi River, and the Union captured the city in the spring of 1862.


Why was the Confederacy lacking in troops to defend New Orleans in 1862?

The South figured it needed to shore up defenses farther up the Mississippi River, but in doing so, it weakened troop levels in the city. When Union troops came up from the river's mouth (instead of the north), they bypassed much of the opposition meant to stop them.


Albert Johnston's death greatly impacted the Confederacy. Who was he?

Albert Sidney Johnston was a Confederate general known for his strategic smarts, He was particularly well-versed in defensive measures. His combat death was a major blow.


In 1862, how was General Albert Johnston killed?

Johnston was accidently shot by his own men, depriving the South of one of its best commanders. A bullet to the leg caused him to bleed to death.


Which Southern city fell following the Confederacy's defeat at Fort Donelson?

After the Union nabbed Fort Donelson, it also gained control of the Cumberland River, which it used to push its forces into Confederate territory. It wasn't long before Nashville fell.


In May 1863, which major figure was killed?

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, General Stonewall Jackson was shot and doctors amputated his arm. A week later, he died, partly due to pneumonia and the stress of his wounds.


How was Stonewall Jackson wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville?

Jackson, beloved by his troops, was shot by his own men. Scouts at the edges of the lines mistook their general for an enemy intruder.


Why was Stonewall Jackson's death so devastating for the South?

Jackson was an incredible tactician, eking out wins in battles that most other leaders would have lost. His death cheated the South of one of the few men who might have been able to turn the war's tide.


What weapon gave the Union a major advantage during the 1863 Tullahoma Campaign?

Armed with new Spencer repeating rifles, mounted Union troops suddenly had a vital edge in firepower. The rifles helped them capture parts of central Tennessee in the Tullahoma Campaign.


Repeating rifles offered a big advantage to the Union troops in the Tullahoma​ Campaign. How fast did these rifles fire?

Spencer repeating rifles were a godsend for war-weary troops, offering a firing rate of about 14 rounds per minute -- much faster than the three rounds per minute of the muzzleloaders that most troops were using.


How did the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam affect the war?

The Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day of war in American history. It also stopped General Lee in his tracks, derailing his attempt to conquer the North.


In the wake of the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam, what did President Lincoln announce?

With a momentous military win at Antietam, Lincoln struck with a political blow, too. He announced the Emancipation Proclamation, technically freeing all slaves. But many suffered under bondage until the end of the war.


How did the Emancipation Proclamation affect the South's potential alliances abroad?

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation made the North an anti-slavery stronghold. Britain was very much against human bondage, so the legislation isolated the South and made it impossible for Britain to ever recognize the Confederacy's legitimacy.


Why did the South really need Britain's assistance in order to win the war?

A Union naval blockade strangled much of the South during the war. Had the Confederacy gained Britain's favor, the mighty English navy could have been a factor in terms of supplies, and perhaps more.


Why was the Confederate fort at Vicksburg, Mississippi, so vital?

The Confederacy used Vickburg as a stronghold to control the huge Mississippi River. The South needed Vicksburg, and the North knew it.


How long did the Siege of Vicksburg last?

Union troops laid siege to Vicksburg for 40 days and inside the city, food grew so scarce that people were starving, eating rats and shoe leather. Finally, the South had to surrender, and it cost them the vital Mississippi River.


The Battle of Helena essentially ended Confederation missions in what area?

The South lost the Battle of Helena, which began in part because Confederate troops were racing to support their besieged comrades at Vicksburg. Their defeat here rolled back Confederate missions in Arkansas.


In September of 1864, Union General Tecumseh Sherman set siege to which Southern city?

Sherman's vicious rampage through the South began with a siege of Atlanta. If he could conquer this major city, the South would crumble.


Which Union leader gained tremendous fame at the Battle of Fort Donelson?

The Union victory at the Battle of Fort Donelson didn't just give the North a win. It gave rise to the legend of Ulysses S. Grant, who got his famous "Unconditional Surrender" nickname at this fight.


Who became both renowned -- and reviled -- for a March to the Sea?

Union General Sherman took his men east from Atlanta in a "March to the Sea," using a scorched-earth policy to destroy anything of use to the rebels. His mercililess acts were effective, but brutal to civilians.


Where did General Robert E. Lee suffer his first major defeat?

In July 1863, the Union triumphed at the Battle of Gettysburg, vanquishing one of their primary foes in Robert E. Lee. But Lee was far from giving up, and the war went on for two more years.


Who became the top general of all Union armies in 1864?

In 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was promoted, becoming the general of Union forces. The future president created a war strategy that pressed the Confederacy from multiple directions … and it worked.


In 1865, an assassin killed President Lincoln. How did his ​murder affect the war?

Lincoln's 1865 murder came as the Confederacy was in a death spiral. The was was essentially already over, making the assassination rather pointless, except as an act of revenge.


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