The USA was a divided country in the middle part of the 19th century. It was largely a north/south divide. The north controlled most of the industry, trade, railways and cities. The south was mainly a farming region, with many cotton and tobacco plantations in particular. These plantations were run with slave labor, which had been banned in the north. It was the oposing attitudes to slavery that led to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
The difference in opinion over slavery caused problems when laws were being established for new states and regions in the west. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed which allowed new states to choose for themselves.
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 65) became president of the US. Lincoln was a Republican. The party was against slavery, but Lincoln wasn't an abolitionist himself.
Lots of southern states were unhappy with the Republican government. In December 1860, under the leadership of Jefferson Davis (1808 - 89), they announced that they were leaving the Union. Instead they would form the Confederate States of America. The US government claimed they had no right to do so.
The southern states wanted to be able to make their own laws. They were convinced that the southern economy would be destroyed if the slave labor workforce was freed.
The northern side in the civil war (the Union), consisted of 23 states. It had more money, men and industry than the south. It also had control of the navy, so began a naval blockade preventing the south from gaining foreign supplies or assistance.
The southern side (the Confederacy) was made up of 11 states, so was a lot weaker. However, they had a strong fighting spirit and good generals.
During the civil war, the Confederates adopted their own flag, rejecting the Stars and Stripes flag of the Union. The Union soldiers wore blue uniforms, while the Confederates mainly wore gray.
The American Civil War began on April 12th, 1861. The southern forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Although the Confederates won some battles early on (including Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville), the turning point in the American Civil War came in July 1863.
The north defeated the south at Gettysburg (July 1 - 3, 1863), which was the biggest battle of the civil war. The Union troops were commanded by General George Meade. He prevented an invasion of the north by the Confederate army, which was commanded by General Robert E. Lee. Over 22,000 Union soldiers, and 21,000 Confederate soldiers, were killed or injured at Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest battle ever on American soil. After Gettysburg, the south's chances of victory in the war declined.
General Ulysses S. Grant, who later became the 18th president of the US (1869 - 1877), took over command of the Union forces in 1863. He confronted Lee during the 1864 Overland Campaign during a series of high casualty battles. Richmond was captured by the Union forces in April 1865 and Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.
As a result of the American Civil War and the northern victory, the Confederacy collapsed and slavery came to an end in the US. Grant's subsequent presidency saw African Americans represented in Congress for the first time in 1870.