For children of veterans, Ed Canfield's uplifting story is especially meaningful. Other students will gain an understanding of the sacrifices made by military families on our nation's behalf.

The Civil War marked a turning point in our nation's history, a time when the nature of our civil and political union and the character of our people were put to the ultimate test. It was a period in which honor and duty were prized higher than life itself.

Many excellent books about this conflict have been written with young readers in mind. This lesson plan mines that rich literary vein in order to give upper elementary students a broad understanding of the causes of the conflict and its consequences. It also includes links to other Internet sites.

More Teaching Resources On This Site:

Objectives of this Unit:

In the course of this unit, students will:

1. Discuss the different social customs, livelihoods, political leanings and attitudes toward slavery that separated that industrial northern states from the agrarian southern states. Students will also be able to explain how these differences led to the Civil War.

2. Explain the key issues of the Civil War from the perspectives of northerners, southerners, soldiers, slaves, politicians and abolitionists.

3. Use the Internet to expand their knowledge of the Civil War; then use that information to write about what they have learned.

4. Identify a favorite figure of the Civil War; describe his or her role; and explain why that person was chosen.

5. Name his or her favorite book about the Civil War and share with the class or a small group what they liked about the book and the titles of any other books by that author.

6. Explain the difference between a biography, history and novel.


The estimated amount of time for this unit is four days. Since the war lasted four days, the material might be covered in the classroom by following the timeline of the war, devoting one day to the events of each year.

Recommended Trade Books

Shown below are some popular books for young readers interested in learning more about the Civil War:

JayhawkerChildren's US History of 1800s Fiction Books)
" rel="self">Jayhawker
by Patricia Beatty (Morrow, 1991). At age twelve, Elijah Tulley meets the radical abolitionist, John Brown, and commits himself to the cause. He and his father join the Kansas Jayhawkers, guerrilla fighters against slavery. When his father is killed by proslavery bushwackers, Elijah goes undercover as a spy for the Union army. He rides with a band of bushwackers, earning the trust of hardened killers such as Charley Quantrill, Jim Hickok, and Jesse James. After a bloody raid, he finds himself face-to-face with his father's killer and must decide whether to exact his revenge.

Turn Homeward, HannaleeTurn Homeward, Hannalee by Patricia Beatty (Morrow, 1984). Twelve-year-old Hannalee Reed, works in a Georgia textile mill in the closing days of the Civil War. After General Sherman has the mill burned, the workers are rounded up and shipped north to work in Yankee mills. Hannalee is bent on fulfilling her promise to make her way home to the family she was forced to leave behind. After escaping, she sets off on a journey that brings her face to face with the horrors of war. Based on historical events, this powerful novel reveals a little-known side of the Civil War experienced by courageous heroine.

With Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil WarChildren's Literature)
" rel="self">With Every Drop of Blood
by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier (Delacorte Press, 1994) Fourteen-year-old Johnny makes a pledge to his wounded, dying father. Johnny promises to take care of the family and not join the rebel army. But he yearns for a chance to avenge his father's death. He jumps at the chance to take his mules and wagon on a mission tp supply rebel troops only to be captured enroute. To his amazement, he is a prisoner of a young Union soldier by the name of Cush, who is a runaway slave. As he comes to know Cush, Johnny begins to like and respect him and question his own beliefs about slavery.

Across Five AprilsContemporary Literature)
" rel="self">Across Five Aprils
by Irene Hunt (Follett, 1964). Coming of age during the Civil War, young Jethro Creighton, soon realizes that war is nothing like the way authors portray it in stories he has read about famous battles and their heroes. His own family and friends are divided by the conflict. With his father ill and his brothers off fighting, ten-year old Jethro becomes head of the household. In the course of four long years of the war, he is grows from a callow youth into a young man of strong character.

Up From Slavery: An Autobiography
" rel="self">Up From Slavery: An Autobiography
by Booker T. Washington (Wilder Publications, 2008)) This is one of the most important biographies ever written. It is the inspiring story of the rise of Booker T. Washington from slave to successful educator and activist. The full text of Up from Slavery is also available online.

The Boys' War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil WarChildren's History & Historical Fiction Books)
" rel="self">The Boys' War
by Jim Murphy (Clarion Books, 1990). Many of the Union and Confederate soldiers were not men, but mere childen who were twelve, thirteen and fourteen when they went off to war. Author Murphy uses firsthand accounts by these boys as well as photos to paint a vivid picture of camp life, drilling and the chaos of combat.

Shades of GrayChildren's US Historical Fiction Books)
" rel="self">Shades of Gray
by Carolyn Reeder (Macmillan, 1989). Orphaned after the Civil War, twelve-year-old Will Page must live with his Uncle Jed's family. But Will considers his uncle a traitor because Jed refused to fight for the Confederate cause. It is only when Will sees his uncle stand up for what he believes in that he realizes that there is more than one way to display courage and honor.

Harriet Tubman - The Moses of Her People
" rel="self">Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People
by Sarah Bradford (Applewood Books) Former slave Harriet Tubman was more successful than any other person of her time in liberating African-Americans from slavery. This classic biography of one of America's most important woman was based on a collection of essays compiled in 1869. The proceeds from the book were used by Harriet Tubman to house indigents until her death in 1913.

The American Library Association has a more extensive list of
recommended books for young readers interested in learning about the Civil War. Those book selections are related to the ALA's program for commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War,starting in 2011. The traveling exhibition is called Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War.

Additional Materials

GloryAfrican American Drama)
" rel="self">Glory:
This Academy Award-winning film is based on the Civil War accomplishments of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first formal army units made up entirely of black freedmen and runaway slaves. They must overcome the bigotry of white soldiers and prove themselves in battle. Their white commanding officer, Robert Gould Shaw, gradually forges a strong bond with his men. The screenplay was based on Shaw's letters; the film stars Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Cary Elwes.

Slavery and the Making of America
" rel="self">Slavery and the Making of America:
A four-part series produced by PBS and narrated by Morgan Freeman, it uses dramatic re-enactments to recreate the slaves' experiences and highlight their contribution to the growth of the nation. Programs in this series:
Program 1: The Downward Spiral
Program 2: Liberty in the Air
Program 3: Seeds of Destruction
Program 4: The Challenge of Freedom

The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns
" rel="self">The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns
The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns
" rel="self">:
This Emmy Award-winning documentary brings to life the stories of famous generals and ordinary soldiers, a legendary president and a nation sundered by a bloody conflict.

The American Library Association has compiled
a list of other Civil War movies that may be available through your school library or local library.

Background Research

For an overview of Civil War chronology, you can direct students to the timeline on
The History Place, You might also encourage them to research relevant topics, perhaps assigning pairs or small groups to delve deeper into specific events and issues. A few of the topics they might explore are:

Key Events/Issues:

* King Cotton
• Slavery
• The Underground Railroad
• The Missouri Compromise
• The Jayhawkers
• State's Rights
* The Attack on Fort Sumter
• The Union Blockade (Anaconda)
• The Emancipation Proclamation
• Advances in Weaponry and Communication
• The Battle of Bull Run
* The Battle of Shiloh
• The Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac
* The Battle of Gettysburg
* The Battle of Chancellorsville
* The Siege of Vicksburg
• Surrender at Appomattox

Key People:

* General Robert E. Lee
* General U.S. Grant
* General William T. Sherman
• Stonewall Jackson
* Jefferson Davis
* Abraham Lincoln

Genre Study: Biographies vs. Histories vs. Novels

The books on the list of recommended titles include biographies, novels and histories, which affords an opportunity to distinguish between each genre.

Find out what biographies, novels and histories the students may have already read about the Civil War. Explain that, while historical books may feature real events and real life characters, the events are always seen through the eyes of the author; and, therefore, subject to interpretation by him or her. The discerning reader must determine the author's perspective and consult a number of books on any historical event before forming a personal view of the subject.

In the case of biographies, it's often the case that two different people will have opposing views of the same issues and events. For example, the biography of a plantation owner may describe slavery as a "divinely ordered institution" while the diary of a slave portrays the "peculiar institution" as an abomination. For example, the biography of a Union general will describe a battle from his personal perspective while the biography of the opposing Confederate general will describe it from his perspective. (In fact, in a number of cases, the combatants gave different names to the same battle.) As another example, the diary of a general will take a very different slant than the diary of one of his lowly privates.

Historical Novels:
A historical novel may relate actual events and include historical figures as well as fictional characters. The author's writing may be informed by scholarly research gleaned from primary sources such as military records, diaries, journals, speeches and newspaper accounts. But, the novel's plot, dialogue and much of the descriptive text are products of the author's imagination and personal history. The author's slant on events is often subtly revealed through the way characters interact and speak. For example, Uncle Tom's Cabin; Or Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe reflected the author's strong abolitionist's views. It became the best selling novel of the 19th century and led Lincoln to declare on meeting the author: "So this is the little lady who started this great war."

Most history books are written by the victors and not by the vanquished. So the facts in history books are often marshaled in such a way as to lionize the victors. For example, historians cast Abraham Lincoln as the hero of the Civil war and Jefferson Davis as the villain. But if the South had won the war, the two men would have reversed roles in the history books. Ironically, the "truth" may be on the victor's side, but in the War Between the States, the South's "Lost Cause" is well represented in an impressive body of fiction. Books like "Gone With the Wind" have been perennial best sellers.

Students should be encouraged to use the Internet to access primary source materials on the Civil War. As a starting point, they might visit
Civil War Sites on the Internet and branch out from there using the many links found on that site. They might also delve into specific issues as seen through the yes of the North and South. For example, they might search for: A Slaveholder's Diary or any of the Slave Narratives from the Civil War

Combing Reading and Writing

The following exercises can help students blend their own writing with the reading they are doing in the unit.

1. Choose one of the characters in a book you have read about the Civil War, and write a series of journal entries as if you were that character.

2. Compose a speech in which you express the views of either an abolitionist or those of a souther politician defending slavery.

Enrichment Activities

Impersonators and Re-enactors

You may be able to find a local impersonator of President Lincoln and have him read the Gettysburg address. You might also contact a local regiment of a
Civil War re-enactor's group and invite one or more of their members to address the students about such topics as major battles in your area; Civil War camp life; Civil War weaponry; Civil War casualties and diseases; Civil War medical practices; and Civil War prisons.

Encourage students to learn about their family's history and whether any of the ancestors fought in the Civil War. Invite them to bring to school any Civil War heirlooms their family might have.

Museums and National Parks
Provide students with a list of local Civil War libraries, museums and National parks and invite them to visit them and take photos of themselves visiting each site. Post the photos on the bulletin board.

Music of the Civil War
Music is such an important part of the life of young students that they may be interested in hearing some of the music that inspired people on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line. Three sources available through Amazon.com are:
Songs of the Civil WarTraditional Bluegrass Music CDs)
" rel="self">Songs of the Civil Wa
r: The Civil War: Its Music and Its SoundsTV Soundtracks CDs)
" rel="self">The Civil War: Its Music and Its Sounds
: and
" rel="self">The Civil War - Traditional American Songs and Instrumental Music Featured in the Film by Ken Burns: The Original Sound Track Recording

Traveling Library Exhibition
You may want to check if and when your local library is participating in the American Library Association's traveling exhibit to commemorate the Civil War's 150th anniversary.
The itinerary is posted here.

Unit Wrap-Up

At the close of the unit, you may want to hold a class discussion in order to review what students have learned. Some questions you may want to raise:

Who were the most interesting or inspiring characters that you learned about during this unit? Did seeing the Civil War through their eyes change your mind or feelings in any way? How?

What issues divided North and South, leading up to the Civil War? Were those differences resolved by the fighting? Are there any unresolved issues from that period that still divide some segments of our society?

How did using the Internet help you to explore the Civil War in ways that couldn't be done with books alone?

Numerous other lesson plans are available online. For example, at Edsitement, you'll find 24 plans dealing with slavery. And Scholastic has an excellent Web article entitled "Why and How to Teach with Historical Fiction."