The American Civil War has been known by a number of different names since it ended in 1865. These names reflect the historical, political, and cultural sensitivities of different groups and regions.
The most common name, particularly in modern usage, is simply "the Civil War". Although not used during the war, the term "War Between the States" became widespread in the Southern United States as historians searched for an ideologically acceptable name. During and immediately after the war, Northern forces often used the term "War of the Rebellion", while the Southern equivalent was "War for Southern Independence". The latter regained some currency in the late 20th century, but has again fallen out of use. Other terms often reflect a more explicitly partisan view of events, such as "War of Northern Aggression", used by some white Southerners, or the "Freedom War", used by their black counterparts to reflect the celebratory nature of Juneteenth celebrations.
A variety of names also exist for the forces on each side, and differences have even arisen with respect to the names given to individual battles. The Union forces frequently named battles for bodies of water that were prominent on or near the battlefield; Confederates most often used the name of the nearest town. As a result, many battles have two or more names that have seen varying use, although with some notable exceptions one tends to take precedence over time.
In the United States, Civil War is the most common term for the conflict; it has been used by the overwhelming majority of reference books, scholarly journals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, popular histories, and mass media in the United States since the early 20th century. The National Park Service, the government organization entrusted by the United States Congress to preserve the battlefields of the war, uses this term. It is also the oldest term for the war. Writings of prominent men such as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, P.G.T. Beauregard, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Judah P. Benjamin used the term "Civil War" both before and during the conflict. Abraham Lincoln used it on multiple occasions. In 1862, the United States Supreme Court used the terms "the present civil war between the United States and the so called Confederate States," as well as the "civil war such as that now waged between the Northern and Southern States."
English-speaking historians outside the United States usually refer to the conflict as the "American Civil War," or less often, "U.S. Civil War." These variations are also used in the United States in cases in which the war might otherwise be confused with another historical event (such as the English Civil War or the Spanish Civil War).
The term War Between the States was rarely used during the war but became prevalent afterwards in the South.
The Confederate government avoided the term "civil war" and referred in official documents to the "War between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America." There are a handful of known references during the war to "the war between the states." European diplomacy produced a similar formula for avoiding the phrase "civil war." Queen Victoria's proclamation of British neutrality referred to "hostilities ... between the Government of the United States of America and certain States styling themselves the Confederate States of America".
After the war, the memoirs of former Confederate officials and veterans (Joseph E. Johnston, Raphael Semmes, and especially Alexander Stephens) commonly used the term "War Between the States". In 1898, the United Confederate Veterans formally endorsed the name. In the early twentieth century, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) led a campaign to promote the term "War Between the States" in the media and in public schools. UDC efforts to convince the United States Congress to adopt the term, beginning in 1913, were unsuccessful. Congress has never adopted an official name for the war. The name "War Between the States" is inscribed on the USMC War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. This name was personally ordered by Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., the 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to the Civil War as "the four-year War Between the States." References to the "War Between the States" appear occasionally in federal and state court documents.
The names "Civil War" and "War Between the States" have been used jointly in some formal contexts. For example, to mark the war's centenary in the 1960s, the state of Georgia created the "Georgia Civil War Centennial Commission Commemorating the War Between the States". In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service issued a series of commemorative stamps entitled "The Civil War / The War Between the States".
During and immediately after the war, U.S. officials and pro-Union writers often referred to Confederates as "Rebels" and to the war itself as "the Great Rebellion." The earliest histories published in the northern states commonly refer to the Civil War as "the Great Rebellion" or "the War of the Rebellion," as do many war monuments.
The official war records of the United States refer to this war as "The War of the Rebellion", and are a chief source of historical documentation for those interested in Civil War research. They are compiled as a 70-volume collection published by the U.S. War Department as The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901. Present-day historians usually refer to this collection as the Official Records.
The "War for Southern Independence" is a name used by many Southerners in reference to the war. While popular on the Confederate side during the war, the term's popularity fell in the immediate aftermath of the South's failure to gain independence. The term resurfaced in the late 20th century. To Southerners, the terminology parallels usage of the term "American War for Independence." A popular poem published in the early stages of hostilities was "South Carolina". Its prologue referred to the war as the "Third War for Independence" (it named the War of 1812 as the second such war.) C.f. "The tea has been thrown overboard. The Revolution of 1860 has been initiated." -- 8th Nov. 1860, Charleston Mercury (regarding post-election 'fall-out').
In the 1920s, historian Charles Beard used the term the Second American Revolution to emphasize the completeness of the northern victory. This is still used by the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, though with the intent to demonstrate the depth of the South's cause.
The War of Northern Aggression is a name which suggests that the North was the belligerent party in the war.
Other terms for the war have seen even less frequent usage, particularly in modern times.
In the South: War in Defense of Virginia, Mr. Lincoln's War, and War of Secession. (War of Secession is the common way of referring to the war in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Polish and Portuguese.)
In the North: War of the Insurrection, Slaveholders War, Great Rebellion, War to Save the Union.
Later writers invented terms such as War for Abolition, War of Southern Reaction, War to Prevent Southern Independence, Second American Revolution, and Second War of Independence which were rarely used in print.
Immediately after the war, the following expressions were common in the South: The War, The Late Unpleasantness, and The Lost Cause.
Thomas DiLorenzo has called it the "War to Prevent Southern Independence", citing a "Civil War" would be two belligerents fighting over control of the federal government. But in this case, the south was fighting to leave the federal government, and the north was fighting to keep them in the federal government.
U.S. forces were popularly referred to as "the Union", "Federals", "the North," "the National Army (Armies)," "The Old Army," "Yanks," "Yankees" or "Blue Bellies". Confederate forces were commonly referred to as "the Confederacy," "the South," "Secesses," "Grays," "Rebels," "Rebs," or "Dixie."
|Civil War Battle Names|
|Date||Southern name||Northern name|
|July 21, 1861||First Manassas||First Bull Run|
|August 10, 1861||Oak Hills||Wilson's Creek|
|October 21, 1861||Leesburg||Ball's Bluff|
|January 19, 1862||Mill Springs||Logan's Cross Roads|
|March 7 – March 8, 1862||Elkhorn Tavern||Pea Ridge|
|April 6 – April 7, 1862||Shiloh||Pittsburg Landing|
|May 31 – June 1, 1862||Seven Pines||Fair Oaks|
|June 27, 1862||Gaines's Mill||Chickahominy River|
|August 29 –
August 30, 1862
|Second Manassas||Second Bull Run|
|September 1, 1862||Ox Hill||Chantilly|
|September 14, 1862||Boonsboro||South Mountain|
|September 17, 1862||Sharpsburg||Antietam|
|October 8, 1862||Perryville||Chaplin Hills|
|December 31, 1862 –
January 2, 1863
|April 8, 1864||Mansfield||Sabine Cross Roads|
|September 19, 1864||Winchester||Opequon|
There is a disparity between the sides in naming some of the battles of the war. The Union forces frequently named battles for bodies of water that were prominent on or near the battlefield; Confederates most often used the name of the nearest town. Because of this, many battles actually have two widely used names. However, not all of the disparities are based on this land-versus-water conflict. Many modern accounts of Civil War battles use the names established by the North. However, for some battles, the Southern name has become the standard. The National Park Service occasionally uses the Southern names for their battlefield parks located in the South, such as Manassas and Shiloh. Some examples of battles with dual names are shown in the table.
Civil War armies were also named in a manner reminiscent of the battlefields: Northern armies were frequently named for major rivers (Army of the Potomac, Army of the Tennessee, Army of the Mississippi), Southern armies for states or geographic regions (Army of Northern Virginia, Army of Tennessee, Army of Mississippi).
Units smaller than armies were named differently in many cases. Corps were usually written out (First Army Corps or more simply, First Corps), although a post-war convention developed to designate Union corps using Roman numerals (XI Corps). Often, particularly with Southern armies, corps were more commonly known by the name of the leader (Hardee's Corps, Polk's Corps).
Union brigades were given numeric designations (1st, 2nd, ...), whereas Confederate brigades were frequently named after their commanding general (Hood's Brigade, Gordon's Brigade, ...). Confederate brigades so-named retained the name of the original commander even when commanded temporarily by another man; for example, at the Battle of Gettysburg, Hoke's Brigade was commanded by Isaac Avery and Nicholl's Brigade by Jesse Williams. Nicknames were common in both armies, such as the Iron Brigade and the Stonewall Brigade.
Union artillery batteries were generally named numerically;
Confederate batteries by the name of the town or county in which
they were recruited (Fluvanna Artillery). Again, they
were often simply referred to by their commander's name (Moody's
Battery, Parker's Battery).
|Name of the Civil War in other Languages|
|Albanian||Lufta civile Amerikane
Lufta e agresionit verior
Lufta e ndarjes së shteteve
|Arabic||الحرب الأهلية الأمريكية
al-Ḥarb al-'Ahlīyah al-Amrīkīyah
Translation: American Civil War
|Basque||Ameriketako Estatu Batuetako Gerra Zibilan|
|Catalan||Guerra civil dels Estats Units
Guerra civil americana
Guerra de Secessió
Pinyin: Nán Běi Zhànzhèng
Translation: South-North War
|Czech||Americká občanská válka|
|Danish||Den Amerikanske Borgerkrig|
|Esperanto||Usona Enlanda Milito|
|Estonian||Ameerika Ühendriikide kodusõda
|Persian||جنگ داخلی امریکا|
|French||Guerre de Sécession|
|Gaelic/Irish||Cogadh Cathara Ameireaganach|
|Galego||Guerra Civil Americana
Guerra de Secesión
|Hebrew||מלחמת האזרחים האמריקנית|
|Interlingua||Guerra Civil American|
|Italian||guerra di secessione americana
guerra civile americana
Lit. South-North War
|Latin||Bellum Civile Americanum|
|Latvian (Lettish)||Amerikas pilsoņu karš|
|Lithuanian||JAV pilietinis karas
(JAV is Lithuanian for "USA")
|Portuguese||Guerra Civil Americana
Guerra da Secessão
|Romanian||Războiul Civil American
Războiul de Secesiune
|Russian||Гражданская война в США|
|Slovak||Americká občianska vojna
vojna Severu proti Juhu
|Slovene||Ameriška državljanska vojna|
|Spanish||Guerra Civil Estadounidense
Guerra de Secesión
|Tagalog||Amerikanong Digmaang Sibil|
|Tamil||அமெரிக்க உள்நாட்டுப் போர்|
|Turkish||Amerikan İç Savaşı|
|Vietnamese||Nội chiến Hoa Kỳ|
|Welsh||Rhyfel Cartref America|
Redirecting to Naming the American Civil War