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Did Civil War Soldiers Come from Your Community? - Lesson Plan
Doing a group field research project helps students learn about the past. By visiting graveyards, the downtown area of your community or its parks, the local library, or the historical society or archives; by reading books and journals to research old records; and by interviewing older relatives and friends and examining family trees to learn about Civil War soldiers, students gain confidence in their ability to discover the past for themselves.
- Students use historic materials and learn where to find those materials.
- Students discover past connections to the present in family names.
- Students use visual and artistic skills-drawing pictures of the graves, taking photographs or doing gravestone rubbings.
- Students make a map of the cemetery.
- Students describe their findings in a written report.
Michigan Social Studies Curriculum Content Standards
This lesson presents an opportunity to address, in part, these standards:
- 1.2.4 (8, 12, 15). HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Identify and explain how individuals in history demonstrated good character and personal virtue.
- 1.4.3. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Identify problems from the past that divided their local community, the state of Michigan, and the United States and analyze the interests and values of those involved.
- 5.1.4. INQUIRY: Locate information about local, state, and national communities using a variety of traditional sources, electronic technologies, and direct observations.
Pencils; lined, plain and tracing paper; cameras if available; art supplies (crayons, colored pencils, chalk or paint).
Time Involved: two separate field trips of about two hours each.
Part I A
- Plan a trip to the cemetery for students to gather information about Civil War soldiers, their companies and their families. Contact the cemetery sexton ahead of time and see if there is a map of the cemetery to help students find the graves of any Civil War soldiers and their families.
- Have students explore different ways they can gather information at the cemetery. Have them form groups of four or five and let them determine who will be responsible for each part of the project.
- At the cemetery have students look for a Civil War monument commemorating soldiers and see if veterans' names are listed. Students can then try to determine if any of these veterans are buried in the cemetery. This Civil War monument is in the Dimondale Cemetery, Dimondale, Michigan.
- Have students look for U.S. flags. They will see that they mark where soldiers have been buried (from more wars than just the Civil War). Read the metal markers that hold the flags: Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R) (for the Civil War), World War I, Spanish American War, World War II. Have the students write down any soldiers' names, take photographs of the graves, draw pictures or do rubbings of the tombstones. Have them take notes on what is written on the stones, draw a map of the cemetery and record where they went and what they found.
Part I B
- Have students go to the downtown area to look for Civil War monuments or memorials-in a city park, at a school or near a courthouse. The memorials may have the names of Civil War veterans inscribed with dates. Have them also look at other buildings along the way in the community and see if they have names that are the same as those of the soldiers.
- Contact your local library, historical society or archives ahead of time. Arrange a time to take students to one of these places to talk with staff. Have students take the names, dates and any other information they gathered from the first field trip and see if they can find more information. Have them explore the reference section and see if it includes a genealogical or local history section of the community.
- Have them find the set of books Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865-commonly referred to as "The Brown Books"-which include the history and roster of infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers and mechanics and "colored troops." Students can find out about a specific individual by first looking in the index to this set of books (which is in a separate book).
- Jonothan Robertson's 1882 book Michigan in the War includes tables and charts with such information as the number of years soldiers served, the number of troops furnished by each state and the number of troops who served in different categories. Develop student activities involving counting, charting, percentages, averages based on statistics from this book. You may wish to work in conjunction with a math teacher on this segment.
- Have students check with their families and friends to see if any of their relatives lived in the community at the time of the Civil War. If so, have them find out if any relatives fought in the Civil War. Maybe some families have family trees that they are willing to share with the class.
For a simpler project, find out if there are any Civil War monuments or memorials in your community. If so, organize a field trip to these sites. Have students find the names on the memorials, if any. Read and discuss any inscriptions on the monument and try to find out who erected the monument.
Back in the classroom, have a discussion about people's lives during the Civil War. Have students each write a letter imagining they were a character living at that time such as a young boy or girl writing to their father who went off to war, or a parent of a soldier, or a soldier who went off to war writing to a girlfriend, a parent, a spouse, a son or daughter.
Questions for Discussion or Research
Ask students to try to find out the following information from books and old records and by exploring a cemetery in your community.
- What is special about the graves of people who fought in the Civil War?
- What kinds of military designations are there on the tombstones?
- Are there any drawings or decorative carvings on the tombstones?
- How big or small are the tombstones? What condition are they in?
- Where are the soldiers' tombstones relative to their family members' tombstones?
- How are soldiers' tombstones and other family members' tombstones similar or different from each other?
- How many companies were represented in the Civil War in the students' community?
At the Museum
- In the Civil War gallery, look at the graphic that shows the high number of deaths from disease. Is it what you expected? Why or why not?
- Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865, compiled by George H. Turner, Assistant Adjutant General, State of Michigan. Published by Ihling Bros.& Everard Stationers, Printers and Publishers, Kalamazoo, Michigan, under Act 147, Public Acts of 1903.
- Michigan In the War compiled by Jno. Robertson Adjutant General. Published by W. S. George & Co., State Printers and Binders, 1882.
- The American Civil War Coloring Book. Oscala, FL: Action Publishing, 1994.
- Mason, Philip P. From Bull Run to Appomattox: Michigan's Role in the Civil War. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University, 1961.
- Michigan. Adjutant General's Department. Michigan in the War. Lansing, MI: W. S. George & Co., 1882.
- Smith, A.G. Union Army Paper Soldiers. NY: Dover, 1995.
- Truesdell, Barbara. Oral History Techniques: How to Organize and Conduct Oral History Interviews. Indiana University Oral History Research Center.
- Williams, Frederick D. Michigan Soldiers in the Civil War, Fourth Edition. Lansing, MI: Michigan Department of State, 1998.
Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.