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DSST The Civil War and Reconstruction Study Guide

Updated: Feb 14

DSST The Civil War and Reconstruction Exam Outline

You want to get a passing score (above 400) on the DSST The Civil War and Reconstruction exam, but you must know where to start.

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Table of Contents


1. Causes of the War

Confederate dollar.
Causes of the War (15% - 17%)

United States Society in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

During this period, the majority of the U.S. population resided in rural areas, including farms and small towns.

Industrialization was underway, particularly in the North, where most industrial manufacturing occurred.


Industrialization, Religiosity, Standards of Living, Demographics

The mid-nineteenth century saw a rise in industrialization, impacting living standards and demographics.



The demand for cotton led to an increase in slavery, with the price of enslaved individuals rising significantly.


Anti-Slavery and Abolition Movement

The American Anti-Slavery Society, comprising religious groups, philanthropic organizations, and free black community members, advocated for abolition using various resources.


Westward Expansion of Free and Slave Territory

The nation experienced westward expansion, leading to conflicts over the expansion of slavery into new territories.


Missouri Compromise

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a crucial agreement in U.S. history. It aimed to address the issue of slavery in new territories admitted to the Union.

The compromise allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state, preserving the balance of free and slave states.

It also established a line across the Louisiana Territory, with slavery prohibited north of the 36°30′ parallel.


Mexican War

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was a conflict between the United States and Mexico over territory in the southwest, including present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ceded a vast amount of territory to the United States in exchange for $15 million.


Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was a series of laws passed by the U.S. Congress to address the issue of slavery and territorial expansion.

It included provisions such as the admission of California as a free state, the creation of the territories of New Mexico and Utah with the question of slavery to be determined by popular sovereignty, the abolition of the slave trade in Washington D.C., and the enactment of a stricter Fugitive Slave Law.


Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was an act of Congress that created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and repealed the Missouri Compromise's restriction on slavery in those territories.

It allowed the settlers in these territories to determine whether they would allow slavery, leading to violent conflicts between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers in Kansas, known as "Bleeding Kansas."


Birth of the Republican Party

The Republican Party was founded in the 1850s as an anti-slavery party.

It emerged in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the growing tensions over the expansion of slavery into the territories.

The party's platform opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories and advocated for the preservation of the Union.

The election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1860 was a significant factor leading to the outbreak of the Civil War.


Dred Scott Decision

In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that enslaved individuals were not U.S. citizens and could not sue in federal court.


John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raid on a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, aiming to start an armed slave revolt.


Political Situation in 1860

The Democratic Party split and the Republican Party emerged, running on a platform that opposed the expansion of slavery.


DSST The Civil War and Reconstruction Trivia Question # 149


2. 1861

The Civil War and Reconstruction war in 1861.
1861 (10% - 12%)


The idea of secession was brewing even before Lincoln's inauguration, and the Civil War began shortly after he took office.


Formation of the Confederacy

Upon his inauguration, Jefferson Davis aimed to protect states' rights and not interfere with slavery.


Fort Sumter

The conflict began with the attack on Fort Sumter, marking the start of the Civil War.


Lincoln's Call for Volunteers

Lincoln's call for volunteers led to the enlistment of merchant marines and the activation of Naval Academy upperclassmen.


First Manassas (Bull Run)

The Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, 1861, in Manassas, Virginia, was a significant early battle of the Civil War.


Union Army vs. Confederate Army

Both sides faced challenges in appointing leaders and maintaining unity among their ranks.


Lincoln vs. Davis leadership

Lincoln and Davis differed in their strategies and resources, which influenced the course of the war.


3. 1862

The Civil War and Reconstruction war in 1862.
1862 (16% - 18%)

Southern Strategy

The Conscription Act of April 1862, implemented by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, mandated enlisting white men aged 18-35 for three years.


War in the East

The Peninsula Campaign of 1862 was a Northern attempt to advance troops into the Peninsula between the James and York Rivers, east of the Confederate capital of Richmond.


War in the West

Control of the Mississippi River was crucial for both sides' war efforts in the West.


Significant Battles

Battles such as Antietam, Second Manassas, Shiloh, and Fredericksburg were pivotal moments in the Civil War.


Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation declared that all enslaved persons within the rebellious states "are and henceforward shall be free."


4. 1863

Black Civil War and Reconstruction solders.
1863 (18% - 20%)


The Civil War's death toll is commonly estimated at around 620,000 individuals.


Role of Women

Women played pivotal roles in the war effort, manufacturing ammunition, arms, and uniforms and providing nursing care.

They also served as vivandieres, offering support to soldiers.


Black Americans and the War

The Second Confiscation and Militia Act of July 17, 1862, freed enslaved individuals whose masters were in the Confederate army, marking a significant step toward emancipation.


Significant Battles

Battles like Gettysburg, Stones River, Chattanooga, and Chickamauga were crucial engagements that influenced the war's outcome.


DSST The Civil War and Reconstruction Trivia Question # 214


5. 1864

The Civil War and Reconstruction soliders.
1864 (14% - 16%)

Political Situations

During the Civil War, the political landscape in the United States was deeply divided.

In the North, the Republican Party, led by President Abraham Lincoln, advocated for the abolition of slavery and preserving the Union.

The Southern states, feeling threatened by the North's progress and initiative to end slavery, seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.

The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 further exacerbated tensions between the North and the South, as his victory signaled the North's commitment to the abolitionist cause and the nation of free labor.


War in the West

The Western theater of the Civil War was characterized by a series of strategic battles and campaigns that ultimately contributed to the Union's victory.

One of the most significant events in the West was the capture of Atlanta by Union forces in September 1864.

The Battle of Atlanta, though difficult, favored the Union and dealt a significant blow to the Confederacy's war efforts.

Following the capture of Atlanta, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led his troops on a destructive campaign known as "Sherman's March to the Sea."

This campaign aimed to cripple the South's infrastructure and morale, further weakening the Confederacy's ability to continue fighting.


War in the East

In the Eastern theater of the Civil War, the Union Army, led by General Ulysses S. Grant, faced off against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee.

One of the most notable campaigns in the East was the Wilderness campaign, fought in Virginia in May 1864.

This campaign and subsequent battles at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor showcased the brutal and costly nature of the war in the Eastern theater.

Despite these challenges, Grant's relentless pressure eventually forced Lee to abandon his defensive positions and retreat to the city of Petersburg, marking a turning point in the war in the East.


Significant Battles During the Rise of Modern Warfare

Several major battles and campaigns throughout the Civil War highlighted the rise of modern warfare tactics and strategies.

The Battle of Gettysburg fought in July 1863, was one of the war's bloodiest battles and resulted in a decisive victory for the Union.

Other significant battles, such as the Battle of Stones River, the Battle of Chattanooga, and the Battle of Chickamauga, also played crucial roles in shaping the course of the war.

These battles showcased the increasing use of technology and tactics that would define modern warfare in the years to come.


6. 1865

Portrait of President Abraham Lincoln
1865 (6% - 8%)

Sherman's Carolina Campaign

Sherman's Carolina Campaign was the final campaign in the Western theater of the Civil War, culminating in the defeat of the last major Confederate army.

The campaign began in January 1865 and saw Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's forces march through the Carolinas, inflicting significant damage on Confederate resources and infrastructure.


Fall of Richmond

The fall of Richmond, Virginia, was a significant turning point in the Civil War. On April 2, 1865,

Confederate forces evacuated the city, leading to its capture by Union troops.

The fall of Richmond marked the symbolic end of the Confederacy's capital and dealt a severe blow to the Confederate war effort.


Lee's Surrender

On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

The surrender effectively ended the Civil War, as Lee's army was one of the remaining Confederate forces in the field.


Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln's assassination shocked the nation and had a profound impact on the post-war period.


End of the Confederacy

Following Lee's surrender, other Confederate forces gradually surrendered or disbanded.

The surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston's army on April 26, 1865, and the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis marked the effective end of the Confederacy.


Cost of the War

The Civil War was one of the deadliest conflicts in American history, claiming over 620,000 lives.

Of these, approximately 360,000 were Union soldiers, and the remaining casualties were from the Confederate States.

The war's human cost was staggering, with countless families and communities devastated by loss.


7. Reconstruction

Abraham Lincoln statue.
Reconstruction (14% - 16%)

Presidential Reconstruction Plans

After Lincoln's assassination, Andrew Johnson was selected as Vice President to appeal to Southerners and implement a lenient approach to Reconstruction.

His plan aimed to quickly restore the Southern states to the Union with few conditions.


Southern Response

The period of Presidential Reconstruction saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups in the South.

These organizations used violence and intimidation to enforce racial segregation and suppress African American civil rights.


Congressional Reconstruction Plans

The Radical Republicans in Congress opposed Johnson's lenient approach and pushed for more stringent measures to ensure the rights of freed slaves.

They passed the Reconstruction Acts, which divided the South into military districts and required Southern states to ratify the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to rejoin the Union.

The Freedmen's Bureau and the Civil Rights Act were established during this period.


Military Reconstruction

Under the Reconstruction Acts, the military oversaw the registration of voters and the election of new state governments in the South.

This period marked a significant expansion of federal authority over the Southern states.


End of Reconstruction

The Compromise of 1877, following the contested election of 1876, effectively ended Reconstruction.

In exchange for Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes being awarded the presidency, Democrats regained control of the South, leading to the restoration of white-dominated governments and the rollback of many Reconstruction-era reforms.


8. Conclusion

Civil War soilders on horses.

DSST The Civil War and Reconstruction

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9. Student Resources

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