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Lesson Plan: Civil War

For Teachers - An Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a milestone in Minnesota history. Students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research in general. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but rather serve as examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

How did the Civil War impact Red Wing?
Volunteers from Red Wing were among the first to enlist in the Union army. Some reportedly raced for the roster so quickly that they tripped over chairs to be the first to enlist. Red Wing notables such as Lucius F. Hubbard, William Colvill, and Abraham Welch all served with distinction during the war, and many who survived returned to Minnesota to fill government posts or local business needs. Red Wing members were part of the charges at Gettysburg and suffered heavy casualties in that battle.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, lead them through the following sequence (you may wish to use an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on Red Wing.
  4. Click on Civil War.
  5. Read the introductory material on the Civil War and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a article about the attack on Fort Sumter. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this article by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this article and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on the Civil War section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

News 1
Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
This article was published after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter.

    1.1) This article was published about a week after the events at Fort Sumter. Why would it have taken so long for the news to travel?

    Possible Answer: News often was sent by telegraph or letter. These methods were slow and not completely dependable, especially during a crisis such as a war. Also, this paper was published only once a week, so information would not get published until a week later.

    1.2) What sources could we find that would help us see different perspectives on the battle at Fort Sumter?

    Possible Answer: A newspaper from Charleston, which might present the South's viewpoint of the event. We also might be able to find letters or articles from soldiers or leaders on each side of the issue to get their accounts of the beginning of the war and how it affected their communities.

    1.3) The article states "thousands of persons line the shores to witness the attack." Why do you think this would be?

    Possible Answer: During the early phases of the Civil War, it was not uncommon for local citizens to pack picnic lunches and travel out to the battlefield to watch the action. Often these spectators were chased away by fierce fighting or by the defeat of their troops.

    1.4) Why do you think Major Anderson would decide to wait until his supplies were exhausted before surrendering if his defeat looked unavoidable?

    Possible Answer: The article suggests that he was hoping for reinforcements, but he also probably wanted to make a strong stand against the Confederate troops so it wouldn't look like the Union was giving up too easily or that the South would not feel too sure of their victory.

News 2

Click on the News 2 button to open the primary source.
This list of Red Wing volunteers was published in the local newspaper.

    2.1) How does this newspaper account describe the soldiers who volunteered for service?

    Possible Answer: They are described as "fine-looking fellows, and above the average run of men in physical capacity."

    2.2) What does the article suggest might have been a challenge for those who decided to volunteer?

    Possible Answer: The volunteers had to ignore the "appeals of affection and the entreaties of friends" who did not want them to risk their lives in the war, but the volunteers felt that the sacrifice was necessary.

    2.3) Why might those in Red Wing want a list of the volunteers published in the newspaper?

    Possible Answer: It is a matter of public interest, and also would give credit to those who were willing to sign up for the company.

    2.4) What might we be able to do to prove or disprove the claim that the Goodhue Volunteers was the first company in the state to be offered to the governor?

    Possible Answer: We could search state records for information about the dates when companies were organized and registered.

Letter 1
Click on the Letter 1 button to open the primary source.
This letter was written by a Red Wing soldier during his early days of training at Fort Snelling.

    3.1) What details might suggest to you that this letter was written by Private Davis before he was involved in any battles of the war?

    Possible Answer: He mentions that they do not yet have uniforms and that there are a number of spectators who gather to see them practice their drills each day. The fact that a Red Wing friend came to visit also suggests that the soldier is not yet far from home.

    3.2) What differences do you think you might see if this letter was written by a soldier who had been in battle?

    Possible Answer: The solider might write about experiences in battle instead of drills and "taking tea." He might also give some information about his location and contact with the opposing side in the war.

    3.3) What might be the "other sources" that Davis suggests have informed Red Wing citizens about their life as soldiers?

    Possible Answer:Since Fort Snelling and Red Wing are relatively close together, we can assume that other Red Wing visitors may have been to the fort to see the soldiers. It is also likely that other soldiers had already written home to their families with news of their work at the fort.

    3.4) What would be the purpose of drilling the soldiers for the long hours that Davis describes?

    Possible Answer: Having the soldiers practice drills is a way to get them ready for battle and teach them how to use their guns and protect their battle lines. Parade drills usually gave troops the opportunity to practice marching in formation.

Letter 2
Click on the Letter 2 button to open the primary source.
This is a letter the Red Wing soldier sent from Washington D.C. after fighting in battle.

    4.1) How has the soldier's attitude changed since the first letter he wrote?

    Possible Answer: He seems more angry or less relaxed in this letter. His comments are no longer about "taking tea" but about the horror of war and the loss of life. He also mentions the hardships that were part of a soldier's life.

    4.2) Why is Davis especially pleased to have recieved a letter at this time?

    Possible Answer: He has been on a march for the last week and in battle and was happy to know that his family and friends in Red Wing are healthy.

    4.3) Although Davis argues that they could "whip them 2 to one and even 3 to one," what problems does he mention that make the battles more difficult for their troops?

    Possible Answer: He suggests that the Southern troops do not fight fairly and that it was difficult to fight when they didn't know the strength of the Southern forces.

    4.4) What hardships aside from battle did Davis and his fellow soldiers have to endure?

    Possible Answer: They had to march 12 miles to the battlefield and then fight for two hours, followed by retreating 42 miles on foot. They also had to leave their food rations behind and went for 24 hours without eating.

News 3
Click on the News 3 button to open the primary source.
This is an article about Minnesota casualties during the battle of Gettysburg.

    5.1) What other accomplishments had the First Minnesota achieved before going to Gettysburg?

    Possible Answer: They crossed the Potomac River and helped to protect the retreat at Bull Run. They also were in a number of other battles for the Union army.

    5.2) The First Minnesota originally had more than 1,000 men, but by 1863 there were only 410 at Gettysburg. How many soldiers remained after Gettysburg?

    Possible Answer: Fewer than 100 men and officers remained.

    5.3) What sources might we use to figure out if those who were considered "mortally wounded" actually survived?

    Possible Answer: Lists of regiment members from later battles would tell us if any of those soldiers lived to fight again. It was not uncommon for soldiers to be reported dead and then be found later to have recovered from serious wounds or to have been taken prisoner and survived.

    5.4) What does Wilkinson mean when he says that "I hope this is overdrawn"?

    Possible Answer: He is hoping that the account he has been given is not accurate and that fewer soldiers have been hurt or wounded in the battle.

Letter 3
Click on the Letter 3 button to open the primary source.
This is a letter from Hubbard to his aunt about the end of the war.

    6.1) What reaction do Hubbard's men have to the news that Lee (the Confederate commander) has surrendered?

    Possible Answer: Even though they were tired and sore, they cheered, shouted, and fired salutes into the air joyfully at the news.

    6.2) What other news made their celebration less cheerful when they arrived at their next destination?

    Possible Answer: They were told that Lincoln and Secretary Seward had been assassinated. The information about Secretary Seward was incorrect, but they did not know that at the time.

    6.3) What reaction do the men have to the news of Lincoln's assassination?

    Possible Answer: While they had felt joy recently about the end of the war, they now feel a need to gain revenge for the death of Lincoln.

    6.4) What do you think Hubbard meant when he said that in Lincoln, the Southerners had "lost their best friend?"

    Possible Answer: Hubbard suggests that the Northern soldiers without Lincoln in charge would be harder on the Southerners. Lincoln managed to negotiate a surrender that allowed most of the Southerners to keep some of their land and return to their homes without future punishment.

Thought Questions for online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. The two letters from a soldier in this section show changes in his attitude over a short period of time because of the war. What other kinds of changes might we see if we had a letter from him near the end of the war? How do letters you may have written as a child differ from letters you might write today? How does seeing what changes a person goes through during a traumatic event (like a war) help us to better understand the impact of that event?

  2. Another artifact that can tell us much about a person is the stationery on which they write their letters. Today we often choose stationery to reflect our personal interests. Where do you think the Edward Davis got his stationery for the letter he wrote from Washington, D.C.? What can that tell us about him and his beliefs about the war? How do you think the stationery of a Confederate soldier might have been different?

  3. The newspaper accounts in this section show us the war from a Northern viewpoint. How might an article about Fort Sumter be different if it was published in a Southern newspaper? Which do you think would be more accurate as a source? What might be the best way for us as historians to get the "whole story" about this event?

  4. Two of the newspaper articles in this section contain listings of names. One list shows the volunteers who signed up for the war, and the other shows casualties of the Gettysburg battle. How can sources like these help us as researchers? Why might these sources be less than completely reliable for our research? What other sources might we need to prove that a source is correct?

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes in the Civil War
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to the Civil War in Minnesota. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about the Civil War does not give us a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

Possible Themes:
A community responds
War communication

Theme One:
A community responds.

The student will be able to:

  1. Describe and evaluate how a community responds to a national event such as the Civil War
Class Discussion:
Allow students time to discuss the following questions in small groups or as a class.

  • When the call was made for volunteers for the army in the Civil War, Red Wing citizens raced for the honor of being first in line. Do you think the reaction would be the same today if a call for volunteers was issued? Why or why not?

  • How has the image of war and the soldier's life have changed for Americans since the Civil War? Why might that be so?
Optional activities:
  • Research your own community's response to the Civil War or another like event. What was the initial reaction? What heroes came out of the struggle? What changes were made in the community to aid those who were fighting?

  • Study newspaper accounts of the war from your community. What information was presented in the articles? How reliable do you think they were? What role did propaganda or patriotism play in the articles?

  • Ask students to debate the issue of whether or not the U.S. should have a draft. What are the needs of the nation and how are they weighed against a person's individual needs? Should women be included in the draft? Why or why not?

  • Invite a war veteran to come to class and describe his or her experiences during the conflict. What did they think when they first signed up? What did they feel when they got home? What can nonveterans do to better understand what they experienced?

Theme Two:
War communication:

The student will be able to:

  1. Describe and examine how information was transmitted during the Civil War and today.
Class Discussion:
In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

  • What methods of communication do we use most often today? What forms of communication do you think are used most during wartime?

  • What other modes of communication are used less often and why?

  • What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to each method?

  • How can communication strengthen and complicate our lives?

Optional activities:

  • Locate four or five books of letters by famous people. Divide students into groups and ask them to study two or three letters of one famous person. What can these letters tell us about the person that we might not know otherwise? How can these change our image of the person and give us a clearer picture of them than we might get in a textbook?

  • Have students research the invention and use of a mode of communication (e.g. telephone, telegraph, newspaper, email). What are its strengths and limitations? Why or why isn't that form of communication still in use? What changes have been made to it over the years?

  • Invite a local historian or archivist to class to talk about the use and preserving of letters for study and research. What must be done to ensure a letter will survive to be read in the future. What can students do now to make sure that their letters or scrapbooks will not be damaged by age?

  • Ask students to go one day (or one week) without using the telephone or email (or some other form of communication that they use widely). How did their day (or week) change? What other methods did they develop to communicate? Did they see any advantages in not using that form of communication? What problems arose when they were depending on that communication?

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