History of the US Civil War

By Tara Fletcher

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Civil War Lesson Plans

Student Activities for History of the Civil War Include:

The Civil War is considered to be one of the most devastating events in American history. The war not only tore the nation in two, but divided families. Brothers, sons, fathers, and uncles fought against each other during Civil War battles in the bloodiest four years in America’s history.

History of the Civil War Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Causes of Civil War

A valuable tool in understanding any historical event is a deep understanding of its causes. Delving deeper into the economic, political, and social upheavals of war provides students with an overall picture of the beginnings of crises within the country.

Students can create and show a storyboard that outlines the causes of war, and the effects on both the North and South. In this case, a ten-cell storyboard outlines the major causes of the Civil War. In one cell, the students create a scene that clearly depicts the cause of rising tensions prior to the war's outbreak in 1861. In the next cell, students create a scene depicting the effect of the issue on the fractured nation.

Causes / Effects of Civil War Example

Sectionalism Issues arise when both the North and South put their needs first. Northerners were focused on their fast paced business industry, while Southerners were dependent on agricultural growth.
States Rights vs. Federal Power Political battles took place over the scope of governmental authority. Southerners believed in authority resting in individual states. Northerners believed in the power of the federal government.
Slavery Religious abolitionist groups in the North found slavery morally corrupt. Southerners deeply believed in maintaining their way of life. They also claimed major economic, social, and political issues would arise that could cause chaos in the country as a result of the end of slavery.
1860 Election Demonized by the South prior to his election, Southerners believed that the election of Abraham Lincoln signaled the end of slavery due to his party affiliation.
Southern Secession Fearing that the election of Lincoln signaled the end of slavery, seven states secede within three months. The Confederate States of America was formed, explicitly guaranteeing the legality of slavery in 1861. Rejoining the Union was one of Lincoln's goals during the Civil War.

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Advantages of the North and South

While learning about Civil War, it is important students note the numerous advantages of both sides. Despite their differences, the North and South both had advantages heading into the Civil War. Storyboards are a great way to have students gather information about the advantages of both sides. The storyboard becomes a simple graphic organizer, easily facilitating student learning through stunning visuals.

Northern Advantages

Large Population

Industry in the North attracted a large working class. The large population caused the North to have four times as many soldiers than the South. A larger population also meant that the North was better able to produce food to send to the troops.

More Money

Lincoln had much more money at his disposal to fund the war. He was able to raise funds by selling war bonds to the American people.

Railroads and Factories

Factories could make guns and weapons rapidly for Union troops. The network of railroads meant that these vital goods could be transported quickly to the front, resupplying troops.

Southern Advantages

Fighting for a Cause

Southerners were fighting to keep their new nation independent from the Union and to maintain the institution of slavery.

Excellent Generals

The best trained Generals could be found in the South. One of the best known generals of all time, the legendary Robert E. Lee fought valiantly for the Confederacy. Several times during the war, the North faltered due to poor leadership.

Defensive War

By fighting a defensive war, the South only had to win enough battles to destroy the morale of Northern troops. Southerners hoped that Northerners would quickly tire of fighting, lose popular support, and bring an end to war.

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Historical Investigation - The Battle of Gettysburg

Investigation and inquiry are important tools in developing solid historical thinking skills. There are numerous battles of the Civil War for students to explore and investigate independently. Students can independently research various battles for their significance and outcomes and present their findings in storyboards.

By following a simple graphic organizer created from a traditional storyboard, students will have the tools to successfully evaluate a Civil War battle. The activity will have students effectively evaluating what happened during the battle, why decisions were made, and the long-term results of the event. Check out this example on the Battle of Gettysburg.

Battle of Gettysburg Analysis

Introduction The Battle of Gettysburg - July 1-3, 1863
This was one of the most important battles of Civil War for the North. It marked a turning point for the Civil War.
51,000 Total Casualties
Union losses: 23,000
Confederate losses 28,000
Who General George C. Meade led the Union soldiers, and General Robert E. Lee was in charge of the Southern forces.
Why After a series of wins in the South, Lee decided to make a second attack on the North. Both sides hoped this would be the final battle of the war.
What Over the course of several days, Lee made several attacks, but the North stayed defensively strong. After three days of vicious fighting, Lee retreated. Meade waited too long to attack; Lee’s army was able to escape to Virginia.
Where Heavy fighting took place on farmland, in a peach orchard, and cemetery located in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Results The Battle of Gettysburg is considered a Union victory. Heavy losses for the South meant that it could no longer attack the North. A cemetery was built and dedicated by Lincoln four months later.

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The Civil Rights Act of 1866

Developing historians should also have the ability to evaluate laws. During Reconstruction, several laws and amendments were enacted to help guarantee rights to the newly emancipated. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was one of the first to attempt to guarantee these rights in a tumultuous post-war society.

Using a storyboard, students can evaluate the document for perspective, audience, and significance. Consider having students take the perspective of one of the various Civil War figures. Using the suggested guidelines of main idea, setting, evidence, perspective, and significance, students will develop a deep understanding of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and how it impacted society.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866

Main Idea
Passed after the Civil War, The Civil Rights Act of 1866 grants citizenship and equal rights to the newly emancipated.

Post-Civil War society, in a politically divided nation.

The Act declared freedom from discrimination, “without distinction of race or color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.”

Republicans, who viewed black voting rights as crucial to maintaining their power in the South, passed the act. President Johnson vetoed the act, only to have it passed by Congress over his veto. As a response to the Civil Rights Act, Southerners quickly passed laws to limit the rights of African Americans.

Most Southerners were against reconstruction, and pro-slavery. They were angered by the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Northern abolitionists hoped that former slaves would be treated differently and would protect African Americans from the segregation they faced everyday.

While the Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted citizenship and equal rights under the law, black codes and terrorist organizations like the KKK struck fear in freed blacks and their supporters. The passage of this Act led to the 14th Amendment.
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Evaluating Primary Sources: The Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln’s expertly-crafted “Gettysburg Address” is poignant and to the point. While its brevity is cause for many to memorize, the power of its words addresses the human sacrifices of war. This document has been studied and celebrated by historians and politicians alike for more than two hundred years.

Students can create a story that captures the details of “The Gettysburg Address”. For each cell, they will depict one of the following the following: setting, main idea, evidence strengthening main idea, perspective/beliefs, audience, and significance. The completed storyboard can be assessed for the depth of knowledge acquired by the student.

Gettysburg Address

November 19,1863, the Gettysburg, PA battlefield dedication.

Main Idea
Lincoln believed that it was the nation’s duty to fight to defend the idea of freedom for all Americans. He also believed in preserving the union for future generations.

  • To defend the freedom for all Lincoln stated, "...conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”.
  • When speaking of defending the union Lincoln stated, “ …that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth”.

Lincoln speaks as the head of the Union government. He speaks about reuniting the nation and discusses the idea of equality for all.

Lincoln intended that the audience was the whole nation.

Rather than making an angry speech that would further divide the nation, Lincoln’s speech chose to recognize the sacrifices made by both sides in the war. He redirected the nation to think about the ideas of equality as they relate to the Declaration of Independence.
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Preface to the US Civil War

The United States of America was still very young when it began to fall apart in the mid-1800s. Regions of America had different economies and priorities that caused friction in the federal government. Many people from southern states wanted to maintain states' rights to choose what is best for their states, while others pushed for a stronger and united federal government. The expansion of the institution of slavery into new territory was a huge topic of debate, and was one of the major causes of tensions between the North and the South.

Several southern states felt so strongly about slavery and states' rights, that some of them formed the Confederate States of America, or the Confederacy. From 1861-1865, war raged between the Confederacy and the Union. After the election of Lincoln in 1860 and eventual secession of southern states, the Confederacy planned to fight a defensive war against the North. Southerners were willing to fight long and hard to maintain the institution of slavery and their newly discovered independence as the Confederate States of America.

After numerous failed compromises over slavery, it took four bloody years to reunite the Union. The defeat of the South proved that federalism worked, and finally resolved the dispute over slavery. The Civil War became the single greatest test of democracy. Lincoln, and others in the North, believed that maintaining the Union was of utmost importance. World leaders watched carefully to discover whether democracy could withstand the pressure. The historical significance of winning the war was critical for the success of democracy in the United States as well as in the rest of the world.

Essential Questions for the History of US Civil War Lesson Plans

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