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The Civil War. A Film by Ken Burns
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Civil War in Your Town

How to Research the Civil War in Your Town

Grade Level:
Subjects: U. S. History, Civics, World History, Language Arts
Estimated Time Required: 2-4 class period for most activities; some homework

The Civil War is a defining event in American history. Battles, which drew participants from all of the then-existing states, still intrigue students of military history. Men, women, and children on the homefront were challenged to assume new economic and social roles and to provide support for those directly engaged in the war. Politically, the war confirmed the unalterable relationship between the states and the union and the right of its African American population to be free. Above all, the war defined the character of Americans during the period, many of whom exhibited extraordinary creativity and courage.

Lesson Activity Summary
This lesson identifies Online documents, records, and articles as well as books useful in studying the U. S. Civil War. Whenever possible, research is linked to historic people and events in the student’s own community or to the student’s background and experiences.

Activity Objectives
In this lesson students will have an opportunity to
• Study Civil War battles, hospitals, and prisons in their own state as well as military participants and civilians affected by the war.
• Examine articles, records, letters, and diaries available online and in their state archives and libraries.
• Assess the contributions of leaders, soldiers, and civilians to the war effort and the effects of the war on citizens in their state.

Relevant National Standards
This lesson correlates to standards for the Mid-Continent Regional Laboratory
• Understands how increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed American lives and led to regional tensions.
• Understands the causes of the Civil War.
• Understands the course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people.
• Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life.
• Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life.
• Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations.
• Understands how certain character traits enhance citizens’ ability to fulfill personal and civic responsibilities.
Language Arts
• Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
• Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
• Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
• Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of informational texts.

Lesson Plans

• Select a battle which occurred in your state. (see Battle Summaries by State If no Civil War conflict took place there, identify a battle in which soldiers from your state participated. (You may consult Regimental Histories by State or Regiments Assess the importance of leadership, number and condition of troops, and terrain in determining the outcome of the battle. Conclude which factors seemed most important.
• If no soldiers from your state participated in the Civil War, select a major battle, such as Antietam, Gettysburg, or Vicksburg. Identify factors which you feel affected the outcome, such as leadership, strategy, or troop morale. Decide whether or not the criteria you developed could be used to analyze other battles. Although your community did not participate directly in the Civil War, how would citizens have reacted to a Union or Confederate victory? Based on the battle you selected, write a news story or editorial to appear in a local newspaper shortly after the conflict.
• Compare a battle which took place in your state with one which occurred in another theater of the war. (See Civil War Battle Summaries by Campaign Consider leadership, number and condition of troops, terrain, and strategy. Conclude which factors accounted for similarities or differences in battle outcomes.
• If your state regiment participated in the war, select two or more battles in which they were engaged. Note differences in leadership, terrain, or other important factors. Compare battle results.
• Historians contend that each side in the Civil War had certain advantages. The North had a larger population and could field more troops. It also had more factories, a good railroad network, and control of the U. S. Navy. However, the South fought on familiar territory and did not need long supply lines. Many Confederate leaders were West Point graduates, and southerners were experienced in using firearms and horses. To what extent did the battle which you studied reflect the perceived advantages of each side? Decide whether you agree with traditional assumptions about the North and South. Justify your conclusion.
• Compare the battle which you studied with one that occurred in a different year. Consider events which took place during the time period between battles, such as important political events or changes in military leadership. (You may wish to use Timeline, the Civil War, 1861--1865 ( or The History Place: The U. S. Civil War 1861—65 ( Determine why results of the two battles were similar or different.
• Create you own Civil War game. Minimum requirements are knowledge of commanders, forces engaged, and terrain. For information on commanders and troops, click on Civil War Battle Summaries by State ( For maps click on Civil War Battles by States ( or West Point Civil War Atlas (
• Compare two or more accounts of a battle which took place in your state or one in which soldiers from your state participated. Note differences in factual information, point of view, or conclusions. To what extent does reading several accounts provide a fuller understanding of the battle’s significance? Conclude how the battle contributed to the final outcome of the war.
• Compare a historical account of a major battle with a fictional one. For example, compare the Battle of Gettysburg as described in online historical accounts with the description of that battle in Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels. Or compare a historical account of the Battle of Chancellorsville with Jeff Shaara’s portrayal of the conflict in Gods and Generals. Determine whether the fictional account distorts or enhances the historic record.
• Write a story based on one of the battles you have studied. While using the actual terrain and participants as setting and characters, fashion the plot to reveal the characters’ ideals, emotions, and reactions to the battle.
• For the whole class: click on The American Civil War ( The timeline provides links to major battles. Ask individual students or groups to explore each battle, following links to additional information. The class should agree on the basic data each group will provide, such as names of commanders, number of troops engaged, battle strategy, results, and casualties. In addition, students should look for ways in which each battle impacted their community. For example, did it draw participants from your state, disrupt trade, create hardships, engage volunteer medical personnel, or convince community members to participate in the war? Students may want to consult their State Archives or State Historic Preservation Office for additional information. (see Recommended Research Sources, General Information)

Caring for the Wounded

• To find a Civil War hospital in your community, click on Civil War Hospitals ( If a hospital was located in or near your town, you may be able to find more information by conducting a search of the surgeon in charge (listed in the column under officer) in your state archives or state library. The surgeon’s journal or report may indicate the type of wounds or illnesses treated, volunteers who offered assistance, and survival rates.
• If your state was in the Union, see Caring for Casualties of the Civil War ( to read about casualties in the First Battle of Manassas and the 1862 Letterman Plan for organizing field hospitals and dispatching ambulances. Compare conditions and procedures at the hospital in your community with medical treatment after the Manassas Battle. Determine whether the Letterman Plan affected treatment.
• If your state was part of the Confederacy, read Caring for the Men – the History of Civil War Medicine ( The article describes the Confederate Medical Department which established "pavilion hospitals" under the direction of Dr. Samuel Preston Moore. Decide whether the hospital in your state was a pavilion hospital. You may also wish to click on Civil War Medicine (, which has links to many articles on hospitals and medicine in the former Confederate states.
• Much of the work in Civil War hospitals was carried out by volunteers working for the U. S. Sanitary Commission, Western Sanitary Commission, and Women’s Central Relief Association. These organizations had hundreds of branches in the Northern and Western states. To read about the U. S. Sanitary Commission, click on ( The article Ladies’ Union Aid Society ( describes the activities of the Western Sanitary Commission based in St. Louis. Search the Civil War database in your state archives or library to find information on these organization in your community. Based on your findings, write a letter or design a brochure to raise contributions and recruit volunteers for the organization.
• If you studied the Battle of Gettysburg or the Peninsular Campaigns in Virginia, click on Medical Directors’ Reports from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion ( If you studied other battles in the eastern theater of the war, click on U. S. Sanitary Commission—Commission Activities at Shiloh, Antietam, Olustee, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, or Chancellorsville ( What do the articles reveal about the problem of caring for the wounded under battle conditions? Assume the role of a reporter who has interviewed a chief surgeon or member of the Sanitary Commission. Write an article on care of the wounded for a national newspaper or magazine.

An estimated 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War—more than in any other American conflict. The losses partly explain why the war is inscribed in our collective memory.
• Review Deaths of Union Forces by State, 1861—1865 ( Note the number of Union soldiers from your state who were killed in action, died of wounds, or who died of diseases and other causes. Then click on The Price in Blood! Casualties in the Civil War ( Compare statistics in your state with those of all Union armies. Are the percentages similar? Also review the estimated losses of Confederate troops. Draw conclusions about the state of medicine and care of the wounded in the Civil War.
• Read American Civil War Battle Statistics: Commanders and Casualties ( Locate statistics for a battle you have studied. From your knowledge of the battle, to what extent did military leadership, battle strategy, or just unavoidable circumstances account for the losses? Is the battle site memorialized in a National Military Park or Monument? [You may refer to Civil War Related Sites in the National Park Service ( or your State Historic Preservation Office (]. Write an editorial or persuasive essay on why the site should be preserved.
• Read Losses in the Battles of the Civil War and What They Mean ( If you studied the Battle of Antietam, Gettysburg, or Chickamauga, do you agree with the author’s assessment? Justify your answer. The author contends that Civil War losses attest to the courage and endurance of both Union and Confederate soldiers. Does his thesis apply to a battle which you studied? Provide examples to support your position.


During the Civil War civilians experienced the loss of loved ones, economic hardship, and, in the case of women, a change from traditional roles. Many responded by contributing food and funds to support the fighting men, volunteering in hospitals, or even acting as spies.
• Students who live in Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, or Wisconsin should investigate sources in this lesson plan listed under Recommended Research Resources, Homefront. After reading about someone living in your state during the Civil War, describe how the war affected his or her life.
If you live in a Northern or Western state, read The Diary of Alice Williamson, a schoolgirl who describes Union occupation of Gallatin, Tenn. ( or The Journal of Jane Howison Beale, who lived in Fredericksburg, Va. ( Compare her reaction to the war with that of the person from your state.
If you live in a former Confederate state, read Civil War: the Wisconsin Homefront ( or Rachel Cormany Diary, June 14—July 6, 1863, describing the town of Chambersburg during the Gettysburg campaign ( Compare her reaction to the war with that of a person from your state.
• To find additional information about life in your state during the Civil War, see Facts About Different States in the Civil War. ( Or you may search the Civil War database or collection of your state archives or library. Newspapers published in 1861-65 are a good source.
• Students in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, D. C., and Wisconsin may want to read James Marten’s The Children’s Civil War. The book relates how newspaper articles, letters from family members, and children’s literature influenced attitudes toward the war. After reading the book, identify one dramatic or formative experience which affected a young person from your state. Conclude how the event influenced his attitude toward the war.
• Students from Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin may wish to read Emmy E. Werner’s Reluctant Witnesses: Children’s Voices from the Civil War. The book describes young people who witnessed Civil War Battles, some as musicians in the army and others as residents of nearby towns. After reading the book, relate how someone from your state became a witness or participant in a battle. Write a poem or monologue describing the battle scene from his or her point of view.


• To find Civil War leaders from your state, you may click on Civil War Biographies (, or Northern Leaders of the American Civil War (, or Southern Leaders of the American Civil War ( Additionally, you may find information on local leaders by checking out Facts About Different States in the Civil War ( After you have found biographical information on a leader from your state, evaluate his contribution to the war. Write an obituary or commemorative article on your subject. You may find a photograph to accompany your article at Library of Congress – Selected Civil War Photographs (
• Some of the most interesting Civil War stories are captured in the biographies, diaries, and journals of ordinary people who served in the war. If you have an ancestor who participated in the Civil War, click on Genealogy
( The site provides access to sources by family name and other links to state genealogical and historical societies.
• To find names of members of your state regiments, go to Regiments ( Or you can click on Soldiers ( and find names of Civil War soldiers from your state, if records are available. A third alternative is to "adopt a veteran" by choosing the name of a Civil War soldier buried in your local cemetery. Once you have a name, you can search records in your state archives or library. While record keeping varies from state to state, you may begin your search by accessing the Civil War database or collection, state Civil War service or pension files, or records of U. S. and state veterans’ homes. When you have completed your research, write a brief biography of your subject. If possible, address questions such as: Why did he participate in the war (was he a conscript or volunteer)? Which battles did he engage in? Was he wounded? Did he apply for and receive a pension?
• Some students may wish to investigate their racial or ethnic heritage. To study African American contributions to the war, read A Historical Overview of African Americans and the Military ( The article identifies African American regiments which served in many U. S. conflicts, including the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment of U. S. Colored Troops depicted in the movie Glory. By clicking on "Regiments," students can obtain the names of individual soldiers. Or students can click on Sailors Project ( to find information on African American sailors who served in the U. S. Navy. A map identifies states in which sailors were born, and students can access names and information about sailors by state.
• To find information on Native American participants, click on Union and Confederate Indians in the Civil War ( Students interested in the contributions of various ethnic groups can go to Ethnic Groups/Immigrants. ( or European Recruits (
After they have completed their research, students should provide a biographical sketch of their subject. They may write a one-act play about a post Civil War meeting of veterans who discuss their experiences in the war.
As the war progressed, prisons were built to house an increasing number of deserters and captured soldiers. A Union prison at Ft. McHenry, Md., detained not only confederate prisoners of war but political prisoners arrested after President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. They included the mayor of Baltimore, 31 members of the Md. legislature, and 32 newspaper editors and owners. Ft. McHenry also received Confederate prisoners captured at Gettysburg, Antietam, and other Maryland battlefields.
• If you know the name of a prisoner at Ft. McHenry, you can click on Records from two Civil War Prisons: Ft. McHenry, Md., and Andersonville, Ga. ( Go to Search Records. You can also enter "political prisoners" or "prisoners of war" to obtain names of prisoners.
• The largest Confederate prison, Camp Sumter at Andersonville, Ga., confined 45,000 union prisoners after it was built in 1864. If you know the name of a prisoner at Andersonville, you can go to Search Records to get the name of his unit, capture site, and other data. Or you can enter the name of your state and get a list of soldiers from your state who were detained there.
To find the names and locations of 16 other Union and Confederate Civil War prison camps, click on maps ( If a prison was located in your state, you may find more information in your state archives or library. Civil War databases in some state libraries also list members of state regiments who were detained at Ft. McHenry or Andersonville.
• Were soldiers from your state among the 12,912 who died due to disease, malnutrition, or poor sanitation at Camp Sumter? Hold a mock trial of prison officials. Prosecutors can site conditions at the Andersonville prison as well as mortality rates. Defense attorneys can base their argument on shortages of food and supplies in the South during the last months of the war. For information on an actual court martial, click on Official Records of the War of the Rebellion/Court-Martial of Henry Wirz (

Revolutions, Historic and Current
• Students can compare the U. S. Civil War with foreign revolutions they have studied. For information on the French Revolution, click on To read about the Spanish Civil War, click on They may compare objectives, leaders, important battles, casualties, or results.
An interesting basis of comparison is "treatment of defeated leaders and armies." Click on The End of the Civil War ( The excerpt from Reminiscences of the Civil War by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, CS, describes the surrender at Appomattox. Students should determine how the conclusion of the U. S. Civil War differed from that of the revolution they studied.
• Students may wish to compare the U. S. Civil War with a current conflict in their country of origin. Click on The World at War
( for data on current wars worldwide. Are there important similarities between the U. S. Civil War and the foreign war? To what extent do differences reflect the passage of time, geography, culture, or the influence of outside parties?

This lesson was written by Nancy Hall.

Copyright 2002 WETA. All rights reserved.