Author's note – This was written as a history project for school. The assignment was to write an autobiography of a person (real or fictional) who lived during the civil war. I'm pretty happy with the way this turned out (and I got full credit on it for school) so I figured I would post it. It hope you like reading it.
Autobiography of a (fictional) northern child
My name is Lilly Johnsen. I turned eight earlier this year. I live in the year 1861. I live on a farm with my parents and my older brother, Jim. He's 13 years old now, and he helps my father run the farm. I often help my mother cook in the kitchen and clean.
My mother told me about the war yesterday. She said it was between the north and the south and that it was about slavery. I told her I knew that slaves were unpaid workers from Africa and that we didn't have any on our farm. She said that I was right and that there aren't slaves in the north, only in the south.
That night, after chores were done, I thought about this war. I knew that my father didn't approve of slavery. He had said that people were not property. I thought that was strange how people could ever be considered property. Property is things like houses and food. They weren't live things. I didn't think you could own live things. I guess people in the south think you can.
The next morning I asked my mother about property. I told her that I agreed with my father, and that people weren't property. She husked a few more ears of corn before answering. She said, "Lilly, some people know that. But the southerners do not." She said that in the south they grow cotton. "Like we grow corn and other vegetables?", I asked. She said yes, but the farmers there don't do the work. They make the slaves grow and gather the cotton. I said that the southern farmers sounded lazy and my mother smiled.
After dinner that night I sat with my brother, Jim, on the porch. I questioned why the southern farmers didn't grow their own cotton. He said, "Lilly, they're called plantation owners, not farmers. Because they don't farm anything." I thought that made perfect sense.
It's February 1862 now. The war has continued. President Lincoln, who is against slavery, has such an important job. He has to run a divided nation. I felt so sad for him this month when his son died. It must be difficult to lose a family member. I couldn't imagine either of my parents or my brother dying.
My father and brother have been talking about joining the war. My mother gets upset when they talk about it. She's worried about them. People die in wars.
My mother got into an argument with Jim today. He said that he wanted to help fight to free the slaves. She said that it was too dangerous and that she needed him here, on the farm. My father says that my brother is old enough to make his own decisions, which earns him a scolding from my mother. My father says that he will be fighting, which makes her cry. "Let them free the slaves without you. Don't get yourself killed," she pleads.
My father leaves the next morning. He puts the saddle on the horse and carries a gun. He tells my brother that he is responsible to watch me and mother. He says that Jim is the man of the house now, which I take to mean that he's in charge now. Father waves and rides away on his horse.
Mother distracts herself with cleaning that day. I'm excused from my chores, so I sit and talk to Jim. He's upset that he got left behind, he's capable of fighting for what he believes in. I agree that he's old enough to fight, he is 14, but mother and I would miss him. He insists that he has to fight.
I wake up early the next morning, and try to figure out what woke me. I hear a neigh from our remaining horse and look out my window. It's saddled and tied outside the barn. Then I see Jim walking towards the horse carrying a gun. I jump up and run down the stairs. When I get outside he has mounted the horse and untied it's reigns from the barn. He hears me and looks up. "I'm sorry Lilly," he says, and makes the horse run. I'm too stunned to move. I realize that I'm crying. I stand there for a long time, until my mother comes outside.
The President issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves. The war is still not over because some people want to get rid of slavery completely. Mother used the term 'abolish'.
Father and brother have not returned. For several weeks after Jim left to fight I could tell that mother was very upset. The house was very quiet. We don't have as many crops now, with only two people home. Mother and I grow enough food to feed ourselves, but not excess to sell.
We got a letter from father last month, a great relief. Jim is with him. My mother cried and I told her not to be sad. She shook her head and told me she was crying because she was happy. They were both alive.
There's a shortage of cotton now, so there won't be any new clothes for awhile. The slaves used to make the cotton, but now there's hardly any cotton being made. I don't mind not having new clothes because it's a sign that the slaves are free.
There was a draft a few days ago. If my father wasn't already fighting, he would have to now. My brother wouldn't because he is fifteen and the draft is for men ages 20 to 45. I hope the war will be over soon, but because of the draft I don't think it will. They still need soldiers.
It feels like so much time since the war started. I'm ten years old now. I wonder what things would be like if there wasn't a war. I don't want people to be slaves, so the war was necessary, but what if there were never any slaves. Then there could be peace and things could be normal. I told mother I wished there had never been any slaves, and she said that she did too.
Some of the former slaves are now fighting in the war. I think they're glad that they can finally do something about their rights. They're able to fight for their freedom. I don't think the southerners are happy about this. People on both sides are dying.
Mother says that the southerners are very angry. They're killing the former slaves. There was an anti draft riot in New York City. Fires were set and people were murdered in their rage. Even kids were killed.
If I was dark-skinned I could have been killed. I don't see how skin color matters so much. We're all human, no matter what color. When I mentioned this to mother, she told me that I was very smart. She said that I knew what a lot of adults didn't. I've never thought of myself as being that smart, so I was surprised when she said this. I asked her why she thought I was smart. She said that I understood that skin color doesn't matter, and that if everyone understood that, there would be no slaves and no war.
Not much has changed since last year. The fighting is still going on. Father and Jim have not returned home yet. Mother and I received a letter from Father recently. He couldn't tell us where they were in case the letter was found by the other side.
Mother and I are still taking care of the farm, but not planting as much as before the war. We have enough to eat from the food that we grow. There is still a shortage of cotton, but most of our clothes are still alright to wear. A few things have small holes in them, around the hems of sleeve cuffs. I haven't gotten much taller recently, so everything is still long enough.
We've at least been lucky that there hasn't been any fighting very close to our home. I couldn't imagine looking outside my window to see people shooting at one another.
President Lincoln was re-elected, defeating the opponent McClellan. Neither mother nor I could vote, but we were both glad that Lincoln would continue to be our President. I hope that he will be able to win the war and free the slaves.
I miss father and Jim. I hope the war will be over soon so they can come home. I know that will make mother very happy as well.
The Congress has approved the thirteenth amendment that will free the slaves. Now it has to be sent to the states to be ratified.
The President had a peace conference in Virginia, but it wasn't successful. The month after, Lincoln went to Washington for the inauguration.
We received a letter from father. Mother read it and started crying. I hoped that they were happy tears, like when we received the first letter from father. I watched her face, but couldn't find any happiness. "Mother, what happened?", I asked. She sobbed and shakily handed me the letter. My brother, Jim, had been killed.
We shed many tears that day for Jim and couldn't bring ourselves to do any work around the house. I couldn't believe that my brother was dead. I hadn't even seen him in three years, since the morning he ran away with his horse and gun. He was seventeen years old when he was killed.
Because of this war, my family would never be whole again.
The war is over. Father is coming home. We won, slavery is abolished and all the slaves are free. I am so glad that the fighting is over and I will get to see father soon. I am also very sad that Jim died, especially so close to the end of the war. I am happy and excited, but also sad and angry.
President Lincoln has been shot and killed. He was seeing a play with his wife when a person in the audience shot him in the head. He died the next day. I thought that the killing would be over because the war was over. There are too many horrible people in the world. I hate the man who killed our President Lincoln. The murderer was John Wilkes Booth.
Our vice-president, Andrew Johnson becomes out new president.
John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed. Killing only leads to more killing. Although killing is wrong, I can't help but be relieved that the murderer of Lincoln is dead.
Father is finally home. Mother and I heard a horse approaching the house as we were preparing lunch. We looked out the window and then both ran outside. Father got off the horse and tied it's reins to the barn. He hugged mother, and then me. We all cried. He looked so much old than how I remembered him.
He told us that he didn't want to talk about the war, at least not yet. Father only told us that Jim had been buried with the other soldiers who had died in the battle.
Even though I was very happy to see father again, it was such a sad reunion.
The thirteenth amendment has been ratified. It is now officially part of the constitution. Slavery is abolished.
I am so happy for the slaves. They are finally free. Many of them also died in the war, but now they have what they were fighting for.
I can't believe that four years have passed during this war. I'm twelve now. I wish that Jim had survived, but I have to accept that my older brother is dead. Now that father is home, we're growing more crops on our farm again. My family and my life have been changed permanently. Sometimes I cry when I think about this war.
This war had such a big effect on everyone. Many families, like ours, lost people. These families will be forever changed by the war. The southerners with have to change their lifestyle because they no longer have slaves on their plantations. The way of life for former slaves will be different, as they are now free. The north celebrates it's victory. Each side had casualties and this has torn the nation apart. It must now be reunited.