Civil War: Blacks on the Battlefield


Student notebooks, computers with Internet access, Internet Scavenger Hunt reproducible.


Related Episodes

Spotlight on a letter from a young Union soldier interested in a commission with an African American regiment  and a tintype of a young master and his slave, Silas Chandler, who fought together in the Confederate Army.



What role did blacks play in fighting the Civil War?




Estimated Time Required


1-2 class periods






After watching excerpts from the episodes Chandler Tintype and Civil War Letters, each of which looks at how blacks were involved on both sides in the fighting of the Civil War, students engage in a scavenger hunt to learn more about this subject.


Related Reproducible

Students conduct an Internet scavenger hunt on the controversial role of African-Americans in the Civil War using this reproducible.

Before Viewing

Divide the class in half, and designate one half the "Confederate army" and the other half the "Union army." Tell each side to imagine that they have been charged by their military superiors with developing military strategy for the Civil War with respect to blacks. 



  • How might enslaved or free blacks be engaged in the war effort to your side's advantage? How might you recruit them?

Tell students to jot down their ideas in their notebooks.

After a few minutes, invite students from the Union side to share, and list their ideas on the board. Then have the Confederate side share ideas, and list them on the board. Look at the lists side by side as a class.



  • Are there any overlapping ideas, or do they entirely diverge? 
  • What differences are there? What accounts for these differences? 
  • What laws would have had to be in place to allow for this involvement? 
  • What might it have been like to be black and serve the Union? 
  • What would the motivations be? 
  • What might it have been like to be black and serve the Confederacy? 
  • Why might some blacks have done that?



After they have watched the History Detectives Chandler Tintype episode and an excerpt from the Civil War Letters episode, tell the class that they will find out more specifics about how blacks were involved in the Civil War, and the controversies over this issue, by working in pairs or small groups to execute a Web scavenger hunt. They can use the reproducible Internet Scavenger Hunt to guide them on this mission.


Going Further


When the Web scavenger hunt is complete, reconvene the class and have the groups share their findings. Then, have them further research the role of race in the military. What is the racial breakdown of the military today? How has it changed over the past century? Students should research the following minority groups to learn more about their inclusion in the military: Native Americans, Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, African-Americans, What challenges remain?



Civil War Memory 

Run by historian Kevin Levin, this site focuses on the intersection of slavery, race relations and the Civil War. It presents a range of articles on Black Confederates with information about both sides of the discussions, as well as links to a range of Civil War sites.

National Archives: Black Soldiers in the Civil War 

Primary sources for teaching and learning about African-Americans who fought in the Civil War

African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum 

Historical records relating to blacks who were involved in the Civil War

Smithsonian Civil War Timeline 


McRel Standards

United States History

13. Understands the causes of the Civil War 

14. Understands the course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people


Historical Understanding

1. Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns

2. Understands the historical perspective


Life Skills - Working with Others

1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group

4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills