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A Slice of Life: A Look at the Soldier and his Family During the Civil War

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
One week-two weeks 2-3 days in class, using library computers. The remaining time will be done on the student’s on time, completing as an out of class assignment
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will analyze letters, audio, and art to learn about soldiers in the Civil War.

The students will work with a partner and examine letters and pictures of people and events from South Carolina.  The letters, found at, are arranged by Confederate or Union and may be searched, as I did, to determine which state they are from.  I chose letters from my state for my students to examine.  The letters deal with concerns of hometown issues, fears of the battlefront, fears of wartime living, loss of friends in war, worries about family, etc…..They reflect various classes and ages.  They also show soldiers who have crossed geographic boundaries and are fighting for the opposite side.  Using the attached worksheet, the students will examine the letters for specific information to gain an understanding of the concerns of these men.


A second stage of this exercise deals with music of the Civil War. The website lists music from each year of the war and it has not only the audio (without lyrics) but the lyrics are also available for use.  A song analysis is a great method of completing a lesson on persuasion. The accompanying worksheet, modified from a previous lesson posted in previous years (thank you Jesse McClain) is an excellent tool to look at this concept.  If you wish to turn this into a visual lesson, the students can then take their particular song and create a poster based on the doctrine of the song.


The final part of this lesson is visual art, as is depicted by the artist himself.  There are many fine artists of the time period.  It is interesting to compare the artwork of southern artists (although you have to look harder for this as much was destroyed during the Civil War) to that of northern artists.  Suggested artists:  Southern:  William Ludwell, William Dickinson Washington, James Adams Elder, John Ross Key; Northern:  Edward Lamson Henry, Eastman Johnson, Winslow Homer; other areas: George Caleb Bingham’s work in Missouri.   The students will complete an exercise dissecting a painting, determining the meaning of the painting.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Through this activity, students will learn to analyze primary source materials such as pictures, letters, music and the visual arts, and synthesize that information with material presented in the classroom to produce a technological representation of their view of life during the Civil War. 

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Conduct original research using primary source material regarding the life and culture of the common soldier and his family during the American Civil War.
  • Conduct secondary source research based on the primary source material in order to confirm or expand information in their primary source material.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

South Carolina State Standards: as of 2011  (I do not know what they will be if we actually DO go to the new Common Standards)


Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

USHC-4.2   Explain how the political events and issues that divided the nation led to civil war, including the compromises reached to maintain the balance of free and slave states, the successes and failures of the abolitionist movement, the conflicting views on states’ rights and federal authority, the emergence of the Republican Party and its win in 1860, and the formation of the Confederate States of America. (H, P)

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Suggested website for letters: (copies of the actual letters may be printed for some of the letters.)

The National Archives:  Has a wonderful collection of photographs to be used for display.

Suggested website for music:

Suggested website for music:  there are many artists that may be used.  Websites will vary, depending on teacher’s choices.

Technology Required

Computer with internet access, book and video library and means to play them

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

The teacher will explain the assignment to the students near the beginning of the unit on the Civil War.  This will give the students time to complete the assignment by the time the unit is completed. As closure to the assignment,   the students will choose one of the following assignments:  a technology project where they create a photostory, using the music and images of the Civil War to create a personal account of someone’s experience through the war or a diary where they create a month long journal of the soldier’s life, detailing his time in and out of camp, describing his experiences, joys and sorrows.


Using the photo and document analysis sheets provided by the National Archives, students will conduct a detailed analysis of both of the documents to make some determinations about their composite “soldier.”  Using available information, students should research the area and battles the soldier was engaged in, if they can determine the location.


Students will use the research they have done as background to create a story for their soldier.  The story should be approximately 3-5 minutes (in length) for photostory and 10 pages in length (pages double spaced and should include at least five realistic details from their research) for their diary.  These details can be specific to their soldier, from his letters and available background information, and historical facts from the war materials. 


Peer editing, teacher editing, and use of the writing lab are recommended as the paper will be graded on grammar and spelling in addition to creativity. 

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Song Analysis Sheet:


Song   (Record, CD, Cassette, LP)  Analysis


1. Title of the song_______________________________________________________________


2. Format of the song (record, CD, cassette, LP, 8 Track)________________________________


3. Production Information: Name of artist(s) (vocal)___________________________,if not the original song’s artist, who      

     is?________________________________  Name of producer/company_________________________

    Date of recording_________________________________


4. What is your immediate reaction upon hearing this song for the first time?_________________


5. Lyrics of song you remember:____________________________________________________


6. Refrain (repeated part) of song:___________________________________________________


7. If you have the cover or case available, what symbols, graphics, colors, letterings etc. embellish it and why do you think  

     these were chosen? __________________________________


8. Key words of the song:_________________________________________________________


9. Message (theme) of the song:____________________________________________________


10. Who do you think the intended audience is?________________________________________


11. Describe the emotional impact, if any, the presentation had on you._____________________


12. What informatio