In many classrooms, a study of the Civil War will emphasize battles, war strategies, and outcomes. While indispensable to an understanding of this significant event in American history, these facts alone provide little insight into what life was actually like for the soldier. An enormous amount of material is now easily available, both through Mississippi History Now and other Internet sites, for students to gain a much broader view of the war by examining the personal letters and diaries of the participants. Reading the examples printed in this lesson will encourage students to:
- reflect on their knowledge and impressions of the Civil War both before and after this study.
- consider the use of primary resources to gain a more accurate view of historical events.
- determine the significance of “historical fiction” as a learning tool in addition to primary resources and textbooks.
Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 4; Objectives 10, 12.
Grades 4 (with modification) through 12
MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT
- Copies of the Mississippi History Now article (Teacher may wish to use selected letters and diary entries.)
- Mississippi history textbooks
- Additional Civil War Internet sites
- Pictures taken in first few months of Civil War (soldiers enlisting, camping scenes, etc.)
- construct a Civil War time-line detailing major campaigns and battles of the war.
- create a work of historic fiction using specific details from the diaries and letters in the Mississippi History Now article.
- Share their PRE and POST perceptions of the actual experiences of the Civil War soldier.
OPENING THE LESSON
Have students examine pictures depicting soldier life in the early days of the war. Ask questions such as:
- What does the camp look like?
- What is the appearance of the soldiers?
- What is their mood?
- What do the soldiers think lies ahead?
- What do the soldiers think lies ahead?
Have students read the opening section of the Mississippi History Now article. Lead a class discussion in which students discuss the strong emotions that drove the soldiers to enlist in the army. Ask them to share their impressions of the hopes and dreams of the soldiers as they marched off to war. As students read the personal diaries, letters and journals of soldiers, they should reflect on any differences they discover between what the soldiers thought war would be like and what it actually was.
DEVELOPING THE LESSON
- Ask students to develop an illustrated time-line of the major campaigns and battles of the Civil War. (SOURCES: texts; www.CivilWar.com; Civil War Time Line provided on web site of Library of Congress at www.loc.gov). Teacher may wish to provide students a list of required events to be placed on the time-line, perhaps including battles mentioned in the Mississippi History Now article.
- Explain to students (as necessary) the significance of primary documents and let them suggest examples of such. Talk to them about the genre of historical fiction, perhaps displaying novels such as Across Five Aprils and others suggested by your librarian. In historical fiction, writers researches time, place, and events on which to base their story, but the main characters are fictional.
- ACTIVITY OPTIONS: a chart with headings such as: living conditions, location, emotions, etc.; a series of illustrations showing the “real” life of a soldier; a poem or song of adequate length to include pertinent information. Students should use their time-lines and the Mississippi History Now article as sources.
CONCLUDING THE LESSON
- Lead a class discussion where students indicate how their perceptions of the Civil War have changed throughout the lesson.
- In an essay, ask students to write about their perceptions (number 1) and the importance of using history texts, primary resources, and historical fiction to give a well-rounded view of an historical event.
ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING
- Activity options
- Concluding essay
EXTENDING THE LESSON
- Students may wish to do additional research on a variety of topics: Civil War music; Black soldiers; weapons; military leaders.
- Students may select a book of historical fiction to read.