The American Civil War: Why did the Union Win?

World History teaching resources for the high school classroom: lesson plans, worksheets, quizzes and simulation games for KS3, IGCSE, IB and A-Level teachers.

The following unit follows the unit on "What Caused the American Civil War?". It is one of the most popular parts of the history course with my students, since they learn an immense amount about an exciting period of history completely through interactive projects and a series of simulation games!

Stage 1 - Researching Key Characters

Fakebook Project - Key Figures of the American Civil War

In preparation for the roleplay strategy game that follows, each student needs to take on the role of one key politician or soldier from the Civil War and research their life and career and present their findings through a 'Fakebook' profile. In this way they will be able to act in role much more effectively during the game and maximise the chance of their side being victorious. Here are some examples by students from the International School of Toulouse.

Stage 2 - The Game Based Unit

The next part of the unit is taught purely through strategy games! Students take on the roles of different politicians and generals and through a series of 'moves' based around 'decision points' they quickly develop a deep understanding of the people, places, events, themes, campaigns and battles of the war.

Game 1 - Classroom Simulation

The following strategy game was inspired by, and is based upon, the excellent materials provided at I have developed it further with ideas of my own and a large dose of detailed historical information about events 1861-65 which means that the entire topic can now be taught through the strategy game!

Mission A: People and Places

In this first stage of the simulation, students are divided into "Union" and "Confederate" teams and learn more about the key figures involved in the war. They can then use this to formulate a strategy for winning the simulation - which consists of various armies deciding how best to increase their strength and moving around a map trying to capture their enemies' capital city. A great way to get the class aware of the people and places involved. The Teacher Notes for this first stage of the game are important to have to hand.

Mission B: Events and Themes

In the second stage of the simulation, students are presented with a series of decision points based on key events that took place during the course of the war. For each one, both teams have to decide how their president would have reacted. Correct guesses lead to an increase in their armies' strength; incorrect guesses lead to a decrease. Further movements of armies around the map are then permitted. At the end of the 9 decision points students will start to be forming a clear idea of the various reasons why the Union won and the Confederacy lost. Not only this, but they will be able to comment on whether political, economic or military factors were most important. The Teacher Slideshow Presentation, complete with the decision points, will be needed for this part of the activity.

Click here for full screen version

Game 2 - ActiveHistory Computer Simulation

Mission C: Campaigns and Battles

In this final stage of the game-based unit, students take the role of an advisor to either President Davis, or President Lincoln. They will be given a series of military, economic and political problems to deal with. Their first objective is to choose the course of action which they think their President took in real life (his 'approval rating' of you will then stay high). Their second objective is to correctly answer the factual questions they are given as the game proceeds (your 'factual knowledge' score will then stay high). As they proceed through the simulation, students complete the worksheet. At the end of the game there will be follow-up tasks. Students can play as a Confederate, a Unionist, or even against another player!

Click here for full screen version

Extension Activities

QR Code Treasure Hunt: The Events of the American Civil War

Print off these 20 QR codes and put them up around your classroom / school. Students have to answer as many questions as they can in the time available. The completed answers can be used to develop their individual research project stemming from the interactive simulation (above).

What can we learn from the songs of the Civil War?

In this activity, students analyse the lyrics (and, if possible, listen to the music) of popular Confederate and Unionist songs from the civil war. They then have to produce their own civil war song to a civil-war era tune of their choice. Their objective is to produce a song which clearly explains the causes of the war. Finally, they look at the legacy of the civil war on American popular music, using examples from The Band, Elvis Presley, Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Factual Tests

Interactive Quizzes from


© 1998-2024 Russel Tarr, Limited (Reg. 6111680)
1 Torrin Drive, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY3 6AW, England

All rights reserved | Privacy Policy | Contact

  WARNING: Your account expires in days. RENEW NOW to avoid losing access!


Buy the Books!


Latest Additions

New resources are added every single week of the year!

View more


ActiveHistory is the work of full-time history teacher Russel Tarr

Latest news from my classroom


Get full access now!

ActiveHistory provides vast amounts of worksheets, lesson plans, interactive simulations, self-marking quizzes, model essays and teacher support materials for the high school world history classroom.
Whole-school, 24-hour access for students and teachers costs less than a few textbooks!