Surviving a Civil War in America – A Complete Guide

As preppers, we have taken it upon ourselves to be ready both personally and materially for the emergencies, disasters, and mishaps that will inevitably come our way in life.

Some of us have decided to go the extra mile, and get prepared for earth-shaking and potentially nationwide crises, be it a mega-disaster, another world war or, most worryingly, even a domestic civil war.

civil war

Compared to just a few short years ago, the latter example, a civil war, is no longer a pipe dream, and with the increasing chasm that widens every day between various political and cultural factions in our country, we must swallow our fear and disbelief, and confront this scenario as plausible, if not likely.

We know that the first American Civil War was one of the bloodiest and most destructive conflicts that our young nation has ever engaged in, and it resulted in a total restructuring of society with nearly half the country left in ruins.

Farther away but also more recently in our shared history are civil conflicts taking place all over the world, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia counted among them.

We Americans like to think we are exceptional (and maybe we are) but we are certainly not exempt from the conflicts that have plagued mankind’s soul since time immemorial.

Any civil conflict of any scale is going to be one of the most dangerous possible events to be involved in or near.

Shortage, sickness, and loss of life-sustaining services and utilities will be a constant, and this is not even counting yet the direct threats to life and limb posed by military conflict, a conflict that will be perpetrated along ideological and political lines on both sides.

It is said that a smart man will learn from his experience, but a truly wise man will learn from the experiences of others. You would be wise to learn from the experience of civilians elsewhere who have lived through the unthinkable event of a civil war in their country.

They have much to teach us, and in this article, we will be sharing with you the accumulated lessons learned from civil conflicts around the world. Use these lessons to bolster your own preparation and plans for such an eventuality.

Is a Second American Civil War Really Possible?

To some citizens, it seems that a Second American Civil War (2ACW) is inevitable. Others think it is a long, long way off, or even impossible. Perhaps it is the figment of a bad dream, or perhaps it is a harrowingly real possibility.

I don’t think we are on the verge necessarily, but it is far from the stuff of fiction at this point. Let’s look at some evidence, the precursors that show where lines are being drawn throughout the nation.

The first and most obvious is the ascension of President Trump to the highest office in the land in 2016. It was perhaps the most contentious, frustrating, and angering election in our lifetimes.

No matter who you voted for or why, it seemed that the other side was not only wrong but illegitimate in every way that mattered. True, the sentiment was simmering for some years before, but it came to a boil in 2016.

This is a far cry from the days when we could all joke about Reagan and Carter, or when Republicans and liberals family factions would scuffle mildly over civic issues around a shared table on holidays.

No, this time around bonds of fellowship and kin were sundered. People were unpersoned, excommunicated, fired, and even physically attacked. Politics became Tribe in a way not seen in many decades.

For many on the left, Trump’s election was a sign that the system was rigged against them, and that their voices would never be heard fairly again.

They felt that all of their progress under President Obama was about to be undone, and they were terrified for the future of the country.

For many on the right, Trump’s election was a sign that their voices had finally been heard after years of being shouted down and delegitimized. They felt that they had taken their country back from an elite class that cared nothing for them or their concerns.

Both sides thought they were utterly, and completely right. Neither side was prepared to back down, settle down and go back to “the way things were.” A Civil Cold War had officially begun in earnest.

This was evinced on every social media platform.

Opinions that would have once been quietly held as an individual’s personal beliefs and, in eras past, respected were now blazoned forth for all the world to see (and savage) at the cyclical rate, with little regard for tact or sensitivity.

People didn’t even want to pretend to get along; this was about sticking it to or “dunking” on the other side- On them.

Twitter and Facebook, among other sites and services, were not just cyber battlegrounds for the brewing Civil Cold War, but participants; information and news sources were now being cultivated, fact-checked, promoted, demoted, banned and more. The Information War was underway.

These social media giants, long thought to be the public forum made anew, were now the most insidious purveyors and shapers of propaganda, all in line with government intentions and directives.

This 24/7/365 flow of the most radical and incendiary rhetoric, from civilian and official alike, had real-world consequences, and arguably ushered in the too real shadow of actual war.

Riots broke out, cities were burned, entire demographics of people were demonized or lionized at turns, police forces were defunded or outright disbanded, and people died.

The whole time bystanders and observers of these events simmered and wondered why their government seemed to be treating them as the enemy.

And speaking of government, huge swathes of people from every political spectrum would admit to having lost faith in the efficacy and integrity of their government institutions, writ large: From elected officials on Capitol Hill to such massive and powerful law enforcement agencies as the FBI.

Even the Supreme Court, long compromised from its original intent, became a new prize of partisan political warfare.

In short, the traditional safeguards against tyranny were being dismantled, ignored, or outright corrupted and subjugated, turned against “we the people” by the people sworn to uphold their oaths of service and office.

Even by the standards of the government, there was an “Us” and “Them.” Big People, the government and power brokers pulling the strings, and the Little People, everyone else.

Government invasiveness in the lives of citizens seemed to reach an unprecedented new pitch for Americans. From laughably subversive and deviant mandated subjects in schools to malicious taxation of political opponents, nothing was off the table.

Uncle Sam seemed drunk and daring people to stand up to him. Those that did were labeled as radicals, domestic terrorists, or worse by media and government mouthpieces alike.

And, the whole time, the “other side” would cheer the wounds being inflicted on their foes, and curse any good fortune they enjoyed.

There is much more besides, many more contributing factors that are charging the air with a static hum of impending violence on a massive scale.

Today, now, there are people on opposite sides of the political spectrum who just a few short years ago would have lived peaceably alongside each other. Today, neither would spit on the other if they were on fire.

They are enemies in all but overt hostility, for now. How much longer will the face-off last before the first blow is struck, and then another in return?

Perhaps not too much longer now. We must all be ready.

Brother against Brother, Neighbor against Neighbor

War is always destructive, but a civil war is arguably more so. A civil war tears apart a country in the most literal way, setting the participants against each other along cultural, geographic, religious or political lines.

Brothers have and will again fight each other… Neighbor can be turned against neighbor…

Sadly, even parent may be turned against child. Civil wars oftentimes result in the births of entirely new nations or even several new nations and are always conflicts of unparalleled chaos and uncertainty.

The toll exacted in lives and material by civil wars is often nothing less than cataclysmic. In a nation as big as the United States you might think it will be possible to just get out of the way, and wait for the whole thing to blow over.

That might, if you are fortunate, be possible, but it is far more likely that you will never be able to let your guard down until the true and final end of the hostilities. There are a million ways to die in any conflict zone, and perhaps none so varied and so terrifying as one brought on by civil war.

First your imagination might turn to a painful and grisly death in or around a battlefield, one brought on by bullets or detonations.

There is no reason to expect that any official or unofficial government forces will sit out the conflict, and that means you can expect all the accouterment and panoply of war in the form of tanks, airplanes, and helicopters along with professional soldiers doing what they do best.

Do not breathe a sigh of relief just because you have no intention of signing up to fight on one side or the other, or would not allow yourself to be conscripted.

It is a certainty that decidedly unofficial fighters (call them guerrillas, partisans, or what have you) will be moving around in and near the fighting and even well behind the battle lines, carrying out punitive strikes and terrorist actions against those who they have deemed “the other side”, the ones they see as responsible for this mess that has broken the back of the country.

Your neighbor that always put out the yard sign of the opposition party in kinder times might well try to kill you, or sic someone on you who will.

The cousin or sibling who is always railing on and on about one political cause or another at the holiday dinner table, might well vent their anger and frustration with a gun or knife.

People will be kidnapped, tortured, and made to disappear. For all the humans moving around, there will be little humanity to spare. Many more genuine and historical examples besides abound, but I think you can take my point.

Beyond death at the hands of your fellow man and far from the bullets, explosions, and other battlefield mayhem you will still find death waiting in abundance. Civilians have always suffered terribly during wartime, and perhaps even worse during times of civil war.

Countless deaths will result due to a lack of food, clean water, and medical care, all of them hoovered up by uniformed forces prosecuting the conflict or simply from scarcity resulting in a total or near total collapse of commerce.

Injuries and sicknesses that were once hardly worth a trip to the doctor will now result in fatal consequences. There will be little genuine concern for the plight of the common man and woman. Civilian casualties, now as then, will just be acceptable collateral damage or even the point of particular military actions.

The scenario I have described is not the stuff of fiction. It is not a zombie plague, an alien invasion, a machine uprising, or any such tripe. It is entirely real, and has happened around the world for millennia.

Surviving any conflict to say nothing of a civil war can never be guaranteed, but with the correct preparations, a good plan and a little bit of luck it is, nonetheless, possible.

I will spend the remainder of this article giving you the information you need to formulate a response that will help you and yours do exactly that.

How Can a Civilian Prepare for Civil War?

It might sound counter-intuitive to the uninitiated, what wars are oftentimes more deadly to civilian populations than the people actually doing the fighting, whoever they might be and of whatever faction.

The reason for this is that fighters typically enjoy better protection, better training, and logistical support that can help them survive the perils of a war zone.

Additionally, governments and nations have a vested interest in keeping these soldiers alive in order to keep the nation whole and operational. This means food, water, and a nominal amount of medical care, especially should they become injured.

On the other hand, the plight of the civilian living in or fleeing from an active battle or conflict zone is usually one of total indifference.

They get caught in the crossfire, shelled by accident, or blasted by detonations, and it is just part of doing business. Understanding this terrible truth is the first step to getting prepared for a civil war.

As always, you will be on your own. Or rather on your own within the confines of whatever group you have assembled for common interest. It will be up to you to deal with many threats, both direct and existential.

Based on my studies and analysis, I have prepared a list of various factors you should account for when creating any civil war response plan, both long- and short-term.

NOTE: I am providing this information in the context of surviving a civil war in a civilian capacity, not as a fighter either uniformed or unofficial. This is not a “How to civil war good” guide. This is also not a guide on how to avoid conscription, or being drafted to fight in said conflict.

All the information and advice I will provide for you assume you are able to continue your life in the capacity of a civilian being left to their own devices, more or less.

Key Points

With that out of the way, let’s look at the things we need to know:

  1. Know The Participants – The people who are doing the fighting and the people who are around the fighting, be they professional soldiers, guerrilla bands, rogues, criminals or refugees. Any of them could wind up killing you or taking your possessions from you. How you deal with and interact with these various groups in various circumstances is vital.
  2. Don’t Go It Alone – You are not a one-man army, nor the ultimate survivor. People who attempt to survive alone in war zones usually die terribly. While a single individual does have quantifiable advantages, they pale next to numerous disadvantages. A mutually supportive group will bolster your chances of survival to a much higher degree.
  3. Getting Around a Warzone – Running out for groceries is about to get a lot more interesting. War zones are extremely dangerous places to move around, and everyone in them will be watching everyone else closely and making the wrong move or doing it at the wrong time could see you killed out of hand or mistaken for someone who needs killing. Learning how to get to your destination and back again safely is paramount.
  4. Bug In or Bug Out? – Maybe you should run for the hills and safer pastures when battle draws near, but then again maybe you shouldn’t. Both approaches can help you or hurt you, it all depends. Knowing when you should stay put and under what conditions, and when you should flee is often knowledge that will separate the survivors from the dead.
  5. Coping with Curfews, Orders and Restrictions – If there is one thing you can say for sure about any civil war it is that people will have markedly different interests and intentions, and they will be willing to enforce them at gunpoint. Government or factional orders that are counter to your own self-interests will mean you face severe consequences for ignoring them. It is best if you learn how to thread the needle now.
  6. Discretion is Paramount – No matter who you are, what you are doing, and where you are staying, it is imperative that you maintain a low profile during a civil conflict. Attention is always to be avoided, as drawing the wrong kind of attention from the wrong people can get you killed, or left even more destitute than you already are. Now is the time to blend into the background, just another face among many.
  7. Stack Supplies Deep – Every vital commodity will suddenly find itself in very short supply indeed around a conflict zone and more generally within the borders of a country experiencing a civil war. Things like food, water, medicine and even ammunition will become incredibly precious to civilians, and can even be used as trade fodder. But, like anything that suddenly finds itself valuable, it will be a target for theft and confiscation. Building the stash is one thing, learning how to keep it is another.
  8. Get Medically Prepared – I have already told you that conflict zones are incredibly dangerous places, and even areas of low-intensity fighting can injure or maim you in a thousand different ways. Since you will no longer be able to count on the neighborhood clinic, ER or ambulances being there when you or someone else get hurt, you must become your own EMT. You should get prepared by building your skills and assembling materials you need to treat various wounds and illnesses. Failing to do this could see yourself or someone you care about die from a preventable cause.
  9. Stay Armed – You would be a lunatic to attempt to survive unarmed in a country that is currently experiencing civil war, as a great many people will have a vested interest in killing you just because you were on the “other” side. On the other hand, being caught armed inside a war zone is a great way to be mistaken for a combatant, a partisan or even an assassin. This is a decision that will see you balanced on the blade of a knife, but it must be done.

We will unpack each and every one of these considerations in great detail throughout the remainder of this article. Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite drink, and read on.

Know the Participants

  • Militaries – Officially mandated government soldiers who do much of the fighting. Might be from the standing armed forces or a military assembled by a new, would-be government or nation.
  • Guerillas, Irregulars, Partisans, etc. – Fighters in or out of uniform who engage in actions that are in support of friendly militaries or against opposition factions.
  • Criminal Elements – Conflict zones breed crime, especially organized crime. Thieves, kidnappers, smugglers and thugs will all be looking to carve off a chunk of profit during the confusion and distraction inherent to war.
  • Survivors, Refugees and Civilians – People who are just trying to survive the whole affair. You fit into this category. Be cautious: Desperation, pain and fear make otherwise decent people opportunistic and erratic.

If you imagine a civil war as one side of uniformed combatants fighting against another side of similarly uniforms combatants you will be only partially correct in that assessment.

While it is undoubtedly true, civil wars will always involve more people, combatants, and non-combatants, then just the two or even three official factions going head-to-head.

When I mentioned above that brother will be turned against brother and neighbor turned against neighbor, that is not just a pithy if grim observation.

If you do assume that the only people you’ll have to be on the lookout for are uniformed fighters on the other side, you might be setting yourself up to get whacked by people or persons who are no less combatants but are operating out of uniform.

These irregulars can run the gamut from nearly professional bands of ideological fighters or militias to political partisans, mercenaries, and more. Their motivation might only be as simple as hurting people, civilians and refugees among them, who are on the other side of the fight.

They could do this in and around contested areas, or far behind the lines where civilians are not expecting any trouble, akin to a terrorist attack. Some of these irregulars will be fighting or messing around near conflict areas for nothing more than simple boredom and the possibility of adventure.

Just because the fighters might not be wearing uniforms does not mean you won’t have to watch out for the ones who are, however, and this includes the soldiers who are nominally on your side.

In wartime, the actions and attitudes of professional soldiers can vary wildly, and even if fighters in a given area are known for being the “good guys” (or at least the good guys to you) this does not mean you can drop your guard and breathe a sigh of relief.

A case of mistaken identity or simple human error can see you gunned down or blown up by the people who are nominally there fighting for your interests.

And even among the most professional and moral forces terror, stress and bad information could see them engage in atrocities that you would not otherwise think them capable of.

It is very difficult to overstate just how tense and frightening living and operating in a conflict zone is, and you can go ahead and double those tensions during times of civil war.

The human mind is as fragile as a robin’s egg compared to the enormity of such stressors, and you must always let that inform your own choices before you decide to trust someone, even the nominal good guys on your side.

But beyond the official and unofficial fighters on both sides, you’ll have to watch out for the criminal element as well.

From opportunistic individual crooks to small-time gangs, major criminal enterprises, and even international cartels, each and every one will be looking to make a profit, and expand their sphere of influence through and around an area affected by civil war.

Crime is the bastard son of War, and you can expect trafficking in both mundane and illicit goods to skyrocket in and around a warzone.

Smuggling, human trafficking, extortion, protection, and even assassination will all be the province of these black market businessmen, and you should never turn your back on any of them.

That being said, it is an unfortunate fact that these roguish professionals might nonetheless be able to provide you with needed goods that cannot be had in any other way.

And as sad as it is to consider, you have to keep one eye on your fellow citizens, survivors, and refugees among them, all the while. Misery and suffering breed resentment and desperation.

Desperate people can act erratically. When someone is starving or desperately sick, or the people they care about are starving or desperately sick there is no deed that is out of the question if it means providing for them.

No matter how pitiable they might be, no matter how much worse off, you have to keep your guard up even if you decide to help them.

Don’t Go It Alone

  • Stay Together, Stay Alive – Even the smallest group has a big advantage over an individual during times of war. Only a group can afford you the redundancy and backup needed to minimize risks that are inherent to a civil war.
  • Find Your People – You might find a ready and able group for the duration of the war in your own family, your circle of friends, or even an assembly that is completely contrived, like a prepper network or mutual assistance group.
  • More Mouths to Feed – Despite all the many advantages your group will give you when it is time to work, fight or flee more people will always require more supplies to go around. You cannot count on a group sticking together if people’s bellies are rumbling. Make sure you have enough communal supplies to accommodate them.

The basic unit of humankind is the family, or tribe (which is really just an extended family). Individuals usually do not prosper and rarely survive long in times of real trouble.

Consider the major players in the conflict you are currently trying to survive: You will notice that every faction that is worth paying attention to, every faction that is getting things done at the strategic level is employing people in groups, and oftentimes massive groups- literal armies!

Even criminals, rogues, and adventurers will move around in small groups or units. It is no exaggeration to say that your survival might depend on how many people you have around you.

Your group can help keep watch while you sleep, help you haul important cargo, get through a fight alive, build shelters, scavenge for supplies, and take over when you get hurt or sick.

The only reason why these people will look out for you is that they know that you will do the same for them when they are in your shoes.

Who are these people, then? The most fundamental and indeed most available group members for most of us will be our family, and then our closest friends. You might also be able to make use have other people in your network, like associates, co-workers, and neighbors.

Everyone in these categories enjoys a certain amount of mutual trust with us, from the intimate to the comfortable. Within the spectrum of people, some will only be able to contribute little or even nothing at all to the group interest, but there are still people that we could not go without.

Others will be invaluable resources, having specialized skill sets, material goods, or even property that might be ideal for waiting out the conflict on.

But beyond friends, family, and neighbors we can create our own survival group, or join an existing one in some other way.

One method that is already familiar and unique to preppers is the concept of the MAG, or Mutual Assistance Group, which is something akin to a club or association of preppers who have it in mind to survive together by relying on other members of the group.

How much and how often members of a MAG might be expected to contribute to their fellows can vary wildly, but generally speaking, they can expect to turn to each other for mutual aid in times of trouble.

This might take the form of assisting with work, providing needed supplies or equipment, or even banding together in one or multiple locations to form self-contained villages or compounds.

One excellent idea for any MAG to employ during a civil war is the form a network of safe havens for members.

If each member can prepare as best they are able to receive their fellow members who might have to flee an active conflict zone this can provide immense relief and comfort, as refugees will know they have a place to go.

If one, two, or even multiple members’ locations are compromised, there is still someone else a little farther down the line they can turn to. This type of distributed shelter protocol is invaluable, especially during a civil war where allegiances and battle lines can shift radically and quickly.

As mentioned at the top of this section, you don’t get all the benefits of group survival for free. Very literally it will be bought through the stomach. All people must have food, water, and shelter if they are to survive.

Your group must be able to provide not only for the people doing the work for the group, but also for their dependents, and depending on the supply situation more than anything else your group will remain tight-knit or fracture accordingly.

It does not take too long listening to a rumbling stomach or a child crying from thirst for people to start worrying about their own interests, to hell with everyone else.

war-torn city

Getting Around a Warzone

  • Stay off the Main Roads – Any large and regularly used thoroughfare is going to be subjected to the most obstacles, the most observation and potential ambushes. Use smaller, less traveled or even unknown routes to move around in greater safety.
  • Move in a GroupIt is dangerous to go alone. Try to take along at least two and preferably three or four other people. Any less and you will be vulnerable. Any more and you might be mistaken for a group of combatants.
  • Time it Right – If you have any choice in the matter do not move around when active hostilities are underway. Professional soldiers and irregulars alike are prone to shooting first and asking questions later.
  • By Day or By Night – You might be better advised to go by day or by night depending on the area, who is occupying it, and what has been happening.
  • Beware Cities – Cities more than most other places will furnish ample opportunities for mishap. Constantly infested by snipers, shelled by artillery and prone to being road blocked, you will have to use maximum caution in urban and suburban areas.

You should be on maximum alert with your ears perked anytime you are forced by circumstances or just bad luck to move through or around a contested area.

Within that area, you will run into plenty of people with guns who have little provocation about using them, and if you appear suspicious, like you are heading the wrong way, or looking for trouble you could be shot just for being out of doors.

Unless you are in an area that is very removed from any and all fighting never move around carelessly on foot or by vehicle.

Wherever you are and whatever the case always try to move around with a small group in town. Having at least one other person with you and preferably three or four more will allow you to avoid an unhappy fate if you get hurt, detained or kidnapped.

Timing your movement for best results is going to be essential. You don’t need me to tell you to stay in cover and keep your head down if there is a firefight going on or a major battle raging.

If you don’t want to catch a stray round or get blown up by an errant detonation, wait until all the fighting is well and truly over, or else moving away from you before you move.

Consider if you should make movement during the day or night also. If much of the action is taking place at night, you should move during the day. The reverse is also true.

Also consider endemic threats like snipers that typically are most active and take the most shots during the daytime. If you are in an area that has ongoing sniper attacks or spotters calling in indirect fire consider moving around at night.

Lastly, choose your route carefully. Any route that is large, wide, fast and capable of supporting heavy vehicles is most likely going to be guarded, blockaded, or studded with checkpoints, and if opposition forces are in the area they will be placing mines and IEDs whenever they can.

This makes primary routes in and around warzones extremely dangerous to travel, and very slow if they aren’t.

Even if the area is known for stability and safety under the circumstances going through checkpoints and getting your person and your vehicle searched means you will gradually be leaving with less and less in the way of supplies and equipment, or potentially even incarcerated if you are found to be carrying contraband.

Bug In or Bug Out?

  • Bug InStaying put when things are dangerous outside might be difficult to do, but this can still confer many advantages. You will know the area, hopefully know your shelter and have people nearby that can render aid and assistance.
  • Bug Out – Becoming a literal refugee is a daunting prospect, but it might be the only way to avoid death if the situation is becoming too dangerous. Though it is uncertain and perilous, with a little luck you can make it somewhere safe,
  • Where to Shelter – Urban areas, suburban areas, rural villages, and uninhabited wilderness all offer various pros and cons that you should understand before committing.
  • Considering a Bunker – A hidden survival bunker might be just the ticket for surviving a civil war, but making sure they can support you safely for the duration is much harder than it looks on the surface.
  • Don’t Rule Anything Out – There is no “one true answer” for any given situation. You might be afforded multiple choices, or your choice might be made for you depending on the context and what you are facing. It is best to remain flexible and adaptable.

If you are facing an active threat during a civil war the question that will remain forever perched on the lips of everyone with you is whether or not you should run or try to shelter in place. Do you hide or flee? For preppers, this is the quintessential “bug in or bug out” conundrum.

Obviously, many people will choose to run, simply heading away from danger as far and as fast as possible. This is indeed an option, but it might not be the best option when you consider the long-term situation.

If you run from a small-scale, short and sharp fight that is over before it inflicts much in the way of substantial damage and destruction, you might be leaving behind a good shelter, and all of your supplies in the bargain.

As always, the context will likely determine or at least seriously inform your choice. If your area is suddenly swarming with troops, shelled or detonated without warning, or otherwise coming under sudden and devastating attack all, you will probably be able to manage is huddling in place wherever you are and praying for it to end before death takes you.

Another scenario might see you warned of an impending attack or occupation, affording you precious time to get your affairs in order and get on the road before you are overtaken.

Even that latter example is not entirely without uncertainty, as other people will almost definitely be doing the exact same thing.

Roads might get clogged with refugees in vehicles and on foot, compounding a traffic situation already bogged down by damage and abandoned or destroyed vehicles.

You might run into checkpoints along the way, ones manned by troops with bad attitudes and plenty of heavy weapons at their disposal. This is a great example of jumping out of the frying pan and potentially into the fire.

You might take the time to consider where you are currently living and what you are facing. If you are in an out-of-the-way area with little to offer in terms of resources or strategic importance, you might buck up, and simply deal with some troops moving through and bunking for a few days.

A city that is under more or less constant attack could still be a good place to stay if you were living in a neighborhood on the fringe of town that rarely sees troops move directly into it. Conversely, an isolated town that lies along a major transit route could constantly be visited and hassled by troops and irregulars on either side.

Before you stay or go anywhere, ask yourself if you will have what you need there or where you are. Will you know anyone there?

Will the people there even be friendly to the idea of refugees, or will they view you with disdain or even hostility because they cannot spare the resources, including a roof or even their water?

Fleeing into an area with a nasty climate where you will have to stay outdoors might wind up being just as fatal as staying in the basement of a house that is in a hotly-contested city.



Considering all of the above this is usually the part where most preppers will be dreaming about a fully-equipped and nicely stocked bunker with a twinkle in their eye. What could be better than that during a civil war?!

Your own private, secret shelter to ride out the death throes of a nation. As it turns out, for all of the appeal of a bunker they are a very difficult thing to utilize correctly in the context of a civil conflict. Let me explain.

The major drawback of any bunker system, or any secret shelter for that matter, is that you drastically increase the risk of discovery anytime you enter it or leave it.

If you are followed or observed as you come or go it stands to reason that people will begin to wonder where you are going. If the presence of the bunker is ascertained, you have just painted a giant target on your shelter.

Anybody with half a brain will immediately infer the presence of plentiful supplies within the confines of your bunker; supplies they might decide to come and get or just report to interested parties for a reward.

Your troubles actually begin well before the war, as any bunker worth the name must be constructed.

Unless you and your family are the ones constructing it, the people involved, and its design, construction, and finishing we’ll all be potential leaks that can see your bunker targeted the very day that hostilities break open. You aren’t the only one who keeps copious notes…

Where to Shelter

Among preppers, overwhelmingly the most popular idea for choosing a refuge during a civil war seems to be tiny, rural communities that are well out of the way or even pristine and untouched wilderness. This definitely has its merits but if you think it is the de-facto or even only choice you aren’t playing with a full deck.

Yes, it does stand to reason that cities will become dangerous places during civil wars. First and foremost, they are strategic targets, centers of industry, hubs of commerce, and nodes of transportation. Cities are also full of people, civilians, and members of government alike, and that makes them valuable.

You can depend on all major cities turning into serious flashpoints during a civil war. Expect to see legions of troops, armored vehicles, and more deployed in an effort to control or contest the control of any given city that is worth the label.

But things aren’t all bad about cities. The buildings found in cities are oftentimes more durable than the lighter structures found in less developed areas.

Cities are also full of nooks and crannies, underground and secret passages, sewers, tunnels, and warrens that wind through buildings both above and below ground. This can make them ideal for moving around safe from prying eyes and heavy ordnance.

A city might also be where your people are, and if you hail from a particular city where you know the terrain and the players intimately you might be best served by staying there in order to band together and try to make a go of it as a group.

That being said, rural territories do have advantages. Fewer people typically mean fewer problems, especially when considered in the context that they will not have very much in the way of strategic targets located in or around them.

If no one has a reason to “go out there” in a country as big as ours they probably won’t unless it is just to get away from the violence. That notion can both help and hurt you, in that it will give you a place to head to but other people will be thinking the same thing.

Before you completely make up your mind about living way out in the country and waiting for this whole conflict to blow over, remind yourself that many isolated people, including modest groups, are often preyed upon remorselessly during civil wars owing to the lack of witnesses, reinforcements and a general remoteness.

The best all-around option for most people will probably be taking you and your group to a large town or small city. Ideally, choose one that has no major strategic targets, no assets of importance, and little in the way of major transportation hubs.

If your chosen city does not offer much to criminal enterprises, professional militaries or a regular warbands you’re less likely to have war visited upon your new home.

Remember, when push comes to shove and you have to fight you want more people on your side in a more defensible location. Chances are that is not going to be a village or some small town out in the boonies.

Don’t delude yourself: you’ll be facing professional soldiers or battle-hardened guerillas that you probably don’t want to tangle with. You aren’t running off opportunistic looters or nihilistic rioters anymore…

Coping With Curfews Orders and Restrictions

  • Understand Orders and Other Regulations – Any controlling group or faction in an area will be likely to issue and enforce mandates on civilians. These orders, “lawful” or not, will make achieving your survival objectives more difficult.
  • Prepare for Martial Law – Military troops will regularly take over governance and law enforcement functions in an area under their control. You can expect a much higher level of force and less leeway if you decide to break a law in an area currently under martial law.
  • You Have No Rights: Any constitutional rights you might have left will be suspended under martial law, and even if they aren’t the chaos, apathy and pandemonium attendant with civil war means you will not have any guardians of justice lining up to fight your case. Getting detained or facing summary punishment means you will be flapping in the breeze.
  • • Act Prudently: Though your objectives will often be completely at odds with those governed by mandates handed down from a controlling faction, you might or might not need it to act in defiance of them to do what you need to do. It will be completely up to you and your group whether or not to dare the devil and risk punishment under the circumstances.

In any conflict, there will be state actors, unofficial actors, and popular alliances that will bring areas temporarily or semi-permanently under their control. This could be a neighborhood, city, county, or even regional level.

These governing bodies whoever they might be will issue mandates, orders, and regulations and have every expectation of civilians to obey. Whether in an official capacity or not, expect the law in and near conflict zones to be handled by the military, a status known as martial law.

Martial law is when standing military forces take over governance and law enforcement of a given area, and that means they are responsible for punishment…

To say that this might become a problem for you is a good candidate for understatement of the decade! Generally speaking, during wartime you need not expect any forces handling infractions while under martial law to be as sweet, nice, and understanding as typical police officers during peacetime.

If any given order runs contrary to your survival objectives – a curfew, stop order on movement, banning of weapons and other personal armaments, confiscation orders for food and water, etc. – you will have to make a choice, a choice that might be deadly.

Disobeying any such order during a civil war might see you targeted as a saboteur, subversive, dissident, or any other label that will allow you to be persecuted as an enemy.

The punishment could range anywhere from incarceration to field execution in a ditch, or up against the wall. No judge, no jury.

Remember; as a rule martial law temporarily suspends certain constitutional rights of citizens for the duration, and prolonged civil war has a way of seeing soldiers and other actors wipe their asses with civilians’ rights in any case.

There is not much you can do to prepare for such an eventuality except to mentally rehearse and be prepared for it. This is a factor where intelligence, knowing who the players are, and knowing what is going on will be absolutely crucial for making a good and informed decision.

Running afoul of radicals or a unit of soldiers that have a reputation for brutality is a lifespan-limiting move. Breaking the same rule, and getting caught by a militia group that is greatly beloved by the people for their mercy and fair treatment could be a different story.

Discretion is Paramount

  • Stay Quiet, Stay Hidden – This is a crucial directive anywhere fighting takes place or occurs without warning. There are three things that will attract human attention: Noise, movement, and light. If you attract attention in a warzone, you attract bullets.
  • Blend In – You don’t want to look better off or even more pitiable than most people do in your area. Try to look somewhere in the middle, like an average Joe under the circumstances. Looking better off will make you a target. Looking like the dregs of the earth can do the same.
  • Keep Your Shelter Conservative – The above advice on blending in applies to your shelter also. Your building, tent, hutch, cave or whatever should not look better equipped, better stocked, or in any better repair than the ones around it.
  • What about Defenses? – This is something of a catch-22, as fortifying your shelter area with visible defenses might make the difference if you come under attack by criminals or partisans, but those very same defenses will drastically raise the profile of your shelter, attracting attention. See Point #1…

More than anything else, you must take pains keep yourself, your shelter, and everyone in your group living and working in a low- or no-profile mode.

You want to look beneath notice, not too well equipped, not too well-fed or too well-dressed, and definitely not well off. Try not to look important!

On the other hand, you don’t want to look like the scum of the earth, either. There is a curious reaction in human beings, one that surely speaks to the evil residing in the very pit of our hearts, that sees some of us react with anger, contempt, and outright cruelty toward those of us who have fallen beyond rock bottom.

A wretch will often be targeted for a beating or just for shooting out of spite…

This concept extends beyond keeping your cards hidden, so to speak. You must pay close attention to the way you and other people in your group dress.

Camouflage, cargo pants, and other tactical or “business tactical” wear that is so en vogue in peacetime is a great way to get yourself shot in a war zone. If you aren’t a soldier don’t play and dress like one! Now is not the time for games.

The same caution should apply to your backpacks and other gear. Obviously civilian color and style should be the standard, and if you need to reduce your profile you can make use of situational camouflage techniques.

Extending this factor to your shelter gets tricky, however. You are well within your rights and indeed are advised to make your shelter location as defensible as possible, whatever it is.

A block of houses occupied by you and your neighbors that you have turned into your own fortified zone would be well protected by piled sandbags, barbed wire, barricades on doors and windows, and more, but anyone who notices a fortified block of houses is going to get really curious in very short order.

Fortifications are always protecting something, and in wartime people protect things worth protecting, meaning food, water, and so on.

Ideally, you can construct defenses that will escape casual observation, but this is often times difficult or impossible. Whether you should or should not construct defenses is a matter of assessing risk and acting accordingly.

There’s a time to remain hidden at all costs, and a time to assume that your location is already known, and should be defended accordingly.

No matter where you go, who is with you and what you are doing you must reduce your profile as much as humanly possible if you want to survive.

Stack Supplies Deep

  • Stay Small and Light – Preparing for a civil war means that all supplies must be kept as small and portable as possible, since you might have to move at a moment’s notice, and don’t want to leave anything valuable behind.
  • Stockpile for Yourselves – The basics will be more valuable than ever during this time. Food, clean water, medicine, medical supplies, hand tools, ammunition, clothing and more will all be needed and precious.
  • Stockpile for Trade – You should stockpile for more than just yourself and your group. Whatever cash you were using prior to the outbreak of the conflict will probably be nearly worthless for the duration. Other survivors and even troops will need and want the same things that you need. Be prepared to trade for what you want and need. A bountiful supply will help you do that.

The value of basic necessities like food, water, medicine, and tools and equipment to provide shelter and warmth is obvious. I and other authors have written in great detail about this subject on this website and elsewhere.

What might not be as obvious is the value of things in and around a war zone that would otherwise be beneath notice for a typical prepper in some other situation.

Things that we take for granted today, items we can get at every single grocery and corner store, will become precious luxuries during wartime.

People will still be people no matter how desperate their situation is, and sometimes a “morale booster” like cola, a candy bar, or even something as mundane as shampoo or toothpaste could command quite a premium in trade or get you a favor.

Keep this idea in mind as you read the following list items you should have stocked deep in your civil war survival stash.

Medicines for common ailmentsAntibiotics
Bandages, gauzeBand-Aids
AntisepticHand tools
Fire StartersSpare parts for guns, cars, generators, etc.
Fuels – Gasoline, Kerosene, etc.Shampoo
Nail ClippersToys

All of these items might be highly valuable to the right person surviving in or around the areas afflicted by the civil war, or at the very least, they will be things you and your group will be glad to have when they are needed.

Get Medically Prepared

  • Look at Me: You Are The Medic Now – The trials and tribulations of war mean that medically trained personnel will be in short supply. You must be prepared to be your own first responder. This will require training, practice, and the right supplies.
  • Have a Kit – While it is possible to improvise bandages and use tools for medical operations that they were never intended for, having the right supplies and the right gear could make all the difference in a successful intervention. Stock up now!
  • It’s Gonna Hurt – War in general, and civil wars in particular are extraordinarily dangerous events. There are a million ways to get hurt. Count on it happening to you, or to one of yours sooner or later.

Getting hurt during a civil war is as easy as falling off a unicycle. Since you can depend on trained paramedics, nurses and doctors being in extremely short supply, it will be up to you or someone else in your group to provide medical care to patch up any injuries or wounds.

The nature and type of the wounds you are facing will be as varied as the stars in the sky since, as mentioned, there are thousands upon thousands of ways to get hurt, sick, or maimed in an active warzone.

This is a daunting prospect for most of us but, like anything else, these skills can be learned, should be learned, and must be learned before we need them.

Think of this as something akin to reformatting a hard drive; injuries and illnesses which are virtually beneath notice or concern in times when medical care is plentiful could take on a life-threatening new significance while trying to survive the perils of a civil war.

Knowing how to treat even a simple cut or sprain, or deal with a high fever or gastrointestinal distress could spell the difference between life and death in extremis.

Just as important as having the skills and know-how is having the right supplies and husbanding them cautiously. All wars have a way of depressing a given region and draining them of supplies utterly, all sent and spent in the belly of the blood-soaked beast.

This means that even finding proper gauze or antibiotics could be challenging to impossible if you need them and don’t already have them.

Take the time to assemble a comprehensive and proper medical kit. This should be a bag or portable chest that can go with you at a moment’s notice. Remember that any medicines contained inside will eventually expire and you will have to be committed to rotating them out until you need them.

If you or someone in your group is already medically trained, even if they are just a veterinarian, count yourself lucky. But saying that, don’t rest on your haunches; everyone should have some medical skills and learn them before the time is nigh.

You should focus on a blend of basic first-aid essentials like CPR, as well as simple trauma care for penetrating or lacerating injuries, burns, and internal injuries like concussions. Trust me when I say you will find all three in no short supply during a civil war.

Stay Armed

  • Don’t Flash Your Piece – No good will come of anyone knowing you are armed and people of all factions will likely be suspicious or even hostile toward anyone who is armed. Don’t draw attention, and don’t get your stuff taken by keeping your guns a secret until you absolutely have to use them.
  • If One is Good… – More is better! Having plenty of guns and plenty of ammunition will serve as a hedge against loss, confiscation, or breakage and both are extremely valuable trade fodder.
  • Nothing Fancy – The ideal defensive gun in a war zone is one that is reliable, durable, and easy to fix. You don’t want anything so specialized that if the gun goes down there is no hope of repairing it.
  • Dilemma – Being armed might see you killed or imprisoned by state-sponsored actors, but going without defense can just as easily get you killed.
"Civil War Firearms: The Guns of North & South" Full Documentary

You would be crazy to forgo the best possible means of defense in an active war zone, and that defense is definitely a gun of some kind.

But you might also be thought a madman if you toted around the one thing that was most likely to see you shot out of hand if you are caught with it! If this sounds like a no-win situation, you don’t know the half of it.

It is true there are plenty of people in a warzone even besides the actual combatants who would kill you as soon as they look at you, but protecting yourself with a gun means you must have a gun in the first place!

And a gun is the one thing that most factions will want to take from you or see you go without. The reasoning may vary, but all you need to know is that being caught with a gun by most state-sponsored forces or hostile partisans will see the gun taken from you at best, and see you imprisoned or shot at worst.

Dealing with this dilemma requires careful preparation and forethought. Any guns you do have must be kept absolutely secret and also safe from searches or shakedowns while still being accessible enough to produce in a hurry when you need them for self-defense.

Perhaps the only time you should have your guns close to hand is when there is little risk of a formal or informal shakedown by one group or another. If everyone in an area is “playing for keeps”, there is no reason to have the gun hidden, only out of sight.

As mentioned above, having multiple guns and plenty of ammo is generally a good idea. You’ll want to come up with a great hiding spot, a real hiding spot, but you might also consider stashing some of them in a separate location so you don’t have all of your ballistic eggs in one basket.

Another worthwhile strategy if you fear discovery is to hide one or two broken or otherwise “dummied” guns in a comparatively easy to find location in the hopes that the searchers will give up after they find your initial stash.

But no matter what happens, you need to be quick, clever, and cautious in equal measure when it comes to keeping a gun during a civil war. Making a mistake in any which way could spell disaster.


You can hope that neither you nor anyone you care about will ever be touched by civil war or any of its resulting effects, but hope is not a strategy.

Any civil war will mean the collapse of a nation, abject destitution, pain, bloodshed, and misery by the gallon for that nation’s civilians. Surviving a civil war will take a little luck, but it is not a matter of luck alone.

There is always something we can do to influence the outcome of any event, no matter how big it seems compared to ourselves…

If you take the time to get the right skills and supplies today, and further take the time to understand the most crucial factors, you’ll stand a much greater chance of keeping you and yours unharmed and whole for the duration of the war.

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