The American Revolutionary War, sometimes known as the American War for Independence, was a war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 colonies, from 1775 to 1783. Caused by colonial resentment of British taxes and strict, impractical rules and regulations, it eventually led to the development of the United States as an independent nation. Fought from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War was a war between the Union (almost all northern and western states) and the Confederate States of America (almost all southern states), primarily over the practice of slavery. To date, the Civil War remains the deadliest conflict in U.S. history.

Comparison chart

American Civil War versus Revolutionary War comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartAmerican Civil WarRevolutionary War
Causes Slave states rejected the abolitionist movement under the notion that slavery was a "state right." Shortly after they seceded, the war to preserve the Union began. The colonies rejected British taxes and other limitations on trade, while also rejecting the need to house British soldiers and other duties considered unfair.
Location Southern United States, Northeastern United States, Western United States, Atlantic Ocean 13 colonies
Dates 1861-1865 1775-1783
Where All told, 23 states saw battles within the Civil War, with most of the action occurring in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and the Mississippi River, along with naval action along the Atlantic Coast. Most battles occurred in the colonial areas of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, but also extended to the other colonies and modern-day Canada, as well as overseas.
Who Fought Northern (and some western) states, calling themselves the Union, against the seceding states from the south, calling themselves the Confederacy. Colonial troops, some called minutemen, against the British Army and Navy, under King George III.
Result Union victory, Territorial integrity preserved, Reconstruction, Slavery abolished, Union President Abraham Lincoln assassinated 13 colonies gained independence from British Empire, United States of America formed, indirectly caused the French Revolution, George Washington appointed first president of the United States of America
Major Battles Antietam, First and Second Bull Run (also known as First and Second Manassas), Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, Corinth, Fort Sumter, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Wilson's Creek and the Battle of Appomattox Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Yorktown.
Aftermath Abolition of (most) slavery, assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws. Declaration of Independence, founding of the United States, U.S. Constitution, election of Gen. George Washington as first President.
Casualties Union forces: 110,000-145,000 killed, 275,000-290,000 wounded; Confederate forces: 70,000-95,000 killed, 215,000-235,00 wounded. About 18,000-27,000 colonial troops killed, about 20,000-35,000 wounded.
Belligerents United States (Northern states) vs. Confederate States 13 Colonies vs. Great Britain
Goals USA: Outlaw slavery; CSA: Keep slavery legal Gain independence from the British Empire
Reasons Unagreement over states' rights and African-Americans' place in society. Unfair taxes and subjects had no representation in the British Parliament.
Participants Confederate States of America, Union Patriots, Loyalists, Kingdom of Great Britain, Iroquois, Holy Roman Empire, Cherokee, Oneida people, Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel, Dutch Republic, Hanau, Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Bourbon Spain, French Kingdom
Introduction (from Wikipedia) The American Civil War was a civil war in the United States fought from 1861 to 1865. The Union faced secessionists in eleven Southern states known as the Confederate States of America. The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence and the Revolutionary War in the United States, was the armed conflict between Great Britain and thirteen of its North American colonies.
Status Has ended Has ended
Territorial changes Confederacy dissolved; USA regains the Confederate states, uniting the country. Britain loses area east of Mississippi River and south of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River to independent United States and to Spain;, Spain gains East Florida, West Florida and Minorca;, Britain cedes Tobago and Senegal to France., Dutch Republic
Predecessor War of 1812 French and Indian War (Seven Years' War)
Successor World War I War of 1812

Causes of Revolutionary War and Civil War

In the wake of the Seven Years' War, Britain had accumulated a considerable amount of war debt. Seeking revenue, the country increased taxes on the colonies and cracked down on smuggling and tax evasion. Colonists, who were often struggling with their own economic depressions, chafed at these harsh tax acts (e.g., the Sugar Act and Stamp Act). Other laws, such as the Currency Act, which impractically regulated paper money, and the Quartering Acts, which forced colonists to house and feed British troops, caused additional discord between the 13 colonies and the crown abroad.

Although not all of the 13 colonies were fully willing to declare independence from England, the general reaction to having to pay more taxes, especially for once duty-free goods, and the requirement to house British soldiers, galvanized rebellion. Protests and boycotts eventually led to outbreaks of physical violence and Britain's punitive Townshend Acts. These events, coupled with a rising wave of anti-English publications and the geographical distance between England and the colonies, carved a path to war.

There is significant overlap between the American Revolutionary War and the events that led up to the Civil War. For example, African American slaves often fought on one side or another in the Revolution in hopes of gaining freedom and took up arms again during the Civil War for the same reason. And following the development of state constitutions which promised equality for all, some slaves sought freedom via the legal system in as early as 1773, prior even to the battles of the Revolutionary War; these same constitutions would occasionally and increasingly make northerners question the morality of slavery in the years to come. In other words, the idea of whether freedom in the colonies applied only to some or to all — the key sticking point of the Civil War — was intricately entwined with the identity colonists created for themselves during their separation from Britain.

Prior to 1784, when some northern states began passing "gradual emancipation" laws, slavery was relatively common in all of the states. Lawyers, doctors, and ministers of the North used slaves, even as slaves were forced to work fields in the South. The main difference between the two regions came down to how their climates affected their economies, which in turn affected whether some felt they "needed" slavery to maintain their power and success. The South, which had long growing seasons and relied on farming crops like tobacco and cotton, had large slave populations, while the North, which had widely diversified economies that included industry, had small (and decreasing) free black and black slave populations by comparison.

The estimated percentage of black people in several northern states before and after abolitionism. Table from SlaveNorth.com.
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The estimated percentage of black people in several northern states before and after abolitionism. Table from SlaveNorth.com.

The North changed its stance on slavery likely for two main reasons: First, precisely because the African slave population was relatively small, emancipation did not greatly affect "business as usual," which was much less agrarian than in the South; this made abolition palatable to the region. Second, many northerners were afraid the African slaves who were around them would violently rebel if freedom was not granted to them soon. Northern religious groups, such as the Quakers, who were strongly opposed to slavery, also played important roles in furthering the cause of abolition in the region.

Tensions grew between the North and South as the North became increasingly bold in its anti-slavery movements (e.g., the Northwest Ordinance of 1789). This tension came to a head in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president with only 40% of the vote. Lincoln, who was outspoken against slavery, was deeply unpopular in the South.

In the months following Lincoln's election, southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America, where the practice of slavery would be upheld. Fewer than six months later, Confederate soldiers opened fire on Fort Sumter, thus beginning the Civil War.

The playlist below includes videos about the lead-up to the Civil War, the major political events of the Civil War, and the aftermath of the war.

Who Fought

The Revolutionary War pitted the strongest army in the world (at the time) against fledgling colonial armies that often lacked equipment and military training. The differences between the North and South armies in the Civil War were less striking, but the North had major advantages in terms of its industry, large Navy, and comparatively large government and population.[1]

During the American Revolution, the largest British military advantages of manpower and experience were never fully deployed. For one, it was very expensive and difficult to convey troops from England to the colonies. A second reason is that neither King George III nor Parliament thought that the "ragged colonials" could last long against their military might. Colonial military leaders, such as General George Washington, made excellent use of allied French troops to bolster limited manpower and had the advantage of fighting on their own territory.

In the Civil War, many of the army leaders were West Point classmates, and like their solders, ended up fighting friend against friend, even brother against brother. The Confederate Army of the South was acknowledged to have better officers, including generals, but the North had the advantage of a larger population to draw soldiers from and an industrial base for cannons, rifles, and bullets. Despite some European support, the Confederacy was unable to sustain a prolonged war and eventually succumbed to the Union Army of the North.

U.S. map showing which states belonged to the Union (dark blue), which belonged to the Union but permitted slavery (light blue), and which belonged to the Confederacy (red).
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U.S. map showing which states belonged to the Union (dark blue), which belonged to the Union but permitted slavery (light blue), and which belonged to the Confederacy (red).
An animated map of the U.S. showing which states were free states (blue), free territories (light blue), slave states (red), and slave territories (light red) prior to and during the Civil War.
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An animated map of the U.S. showing which states were free states (blue), free territories (light blue), slave states (red), and slave territories (light red) prior to and during the Civil War.

Where the Revolutionary War and Civil War Were Fought

The Revolutionary War was fought mainly in the colonies of New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Rhode Island, though some battles were fought in other colonial territories. In naval action, British and colonial ships fought in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, off the coast of Spain, and in several other sea skirmishes, largely the result of British attempts to blockade or impede trade to and from the colonies.

The U.S. Civil War was fought mainly along a wide swath of territory ranging from Virginia-Maryland to territories west of the Mississippi River, but ultimately saw bloodshed in 23 states. Naval battles occurred along the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Mississippi River. Many of the battle sites are now national parks.

U.S. map showing the counties where Civil War battles took place.
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U.S. map showing the counties where Civil War battles took place.

Major Battles and Casualties

The Revolutionary War was not fought using traditional lines of battle, for the colonial armies fought differently. The first battle, at Lexington, saw the British Army allow the 77 minutemen to leave quietly, only to have the colonials double back and attack. The second battle, at Concord, was another "running gunfight" with the British soldiers holding the field. In fact, most battles in this war were won by British forces, with the tide of the war only turning after a colonial alliance with France and a de facto alliance with Spain. Major set battles were those of Bunker Hill, Trenton, Fort Cumberland, Boonesborough, and the Battle of Yorktown, where the British ultimately lost and surrendered.

The list of major battles of the Civil War is extensive, with at least 55-65 of them resulting in major casualties or strategic changes for one or both sides. The most famous battles include Antietam, First and Second Bull Run (also known as First and Second Manassas), Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, Corinth, Fort Sumter (launching the Civil War), Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Wilson's Creek and the Battle of Appomattox, ending the Civil War.

During the Revolutionary War, estimates of colonial dead range between 18,000 and 27,000, many through illness and exposure, while the wounded were estimated to be between 20,000 and 35,000 men. For the Civil War, the Union Army (North) was estimated to have suffered about 110,000-145,000 soldiers killed, while Confederate deaths numbered about 74,000-95,000. Of wounded soldiers, the Union suffered around 275,000-290,000 wounded, while the Confederacy had about 215,000- 235,000. Per capita, far more were killed and wounded in the South.

Aftermath of Revolutionary War and Civil War

Though the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 gave the colonies a sense of separation from the British Empire, it took until 1781 for the Revolutionary War to end in favor of the former colonials. The Continental Congress went on to form a Constitutional Convention and issue the United States Constitution, followed by the Bill of Rights, establishing a new form of democratic government. The first elected president was the former General of the Army, George Washington.

The end of the Civil War reunited the seceding states with the rest of the Union. However, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by Confederate supporter John Wilkes Booth made the reunification an even more strained effort. The Southern states suffered under Reconstruction, preyed upon by Northern speculators and conmen. Though slavery was abolished, the states retained the right to impose segregationist laws and the southern states did so, severely curtailing the rights of former slaves to own property, work, vote or even leave their home states.

Timelines

Lead-Up to Revolutionary War

1763

1764

1765

1767

1770

1773

1774

The American Revolutionary War

Major political events are listed below. For a list of Revolutionary War battles, see here.

1775

1776

1777

1778

1779

End of Revolutionary War, Lead-Up to Civil War

1781

1783

1784

1787 to 1788

1789

1808

1850

1852

1854

1856

1857

1859

1860

The American Civil War

Major political events are listed. For a list of battles from the Civil War, see here.

1861

1862

1863

1864

1865

Post-Civil War

1868

1870

References

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