Thursday, August 11, 2011

A House Divided

The American Civil War remains one of the saddest chapters in U.S. history. It lasted for four years, divided a nation and some families, and forever shaped the American psyche. For many people, it was a war of horrible necessity – a last resort when political and cultural ideologies clashed, and all hopes for a peaceful resolution faded. While the vast majority of battles were fought in southern and mid-Atlantic states, it was also a war that saw conflicts around the country in places like Vermont, New Mexico, and Florida. Virtually no family in the nation was left unscathed, as sons, fathers, husbands, and neighbors either enlisted or were drafted to fight their countrymen. The death toll from the war was immense, and it remains the deadliest war in U.S. history. Over 620,000 soldiers were killed in the war (about 2% of the total U.S. population at that time), as were countless civilians. At the Battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia, for example, 7,000 men alone died within the first 20 minutes of battle.

The American Civil War meant different things to different people. The moral and ethical questions regarding slavery was obviously a hotly-contested issue in both political and civilian circles, and certainly played a vital role in the war. While classrooms tend to focus on the desire to end slavery as the primary cause of the American Civil War, historians draw a much more complex picture, and cite numerous reasons for the conflict. Economics played a role, as the American South remained agrarian and the North became increasingly industrialized, factors which inflamed already divisive cultural tensions. Many southern states viewed the “Northern Aggression” as a quest to undermine a deeply-entrenched way of life and tradition, and an attempt to wrest economic control from profitable plantations. Northerners in turn felt strongly that the economic benefits of a free labor market would best suit the nation. Others felt that the federal government had overstepped its bounds, and that states should be allowed to exercise greater rights for their constituents. Opponents to this view countered that the federal government needed greater control in order to move the country as a whole forward in the world economy and set a standard for human dignity and justice. Still others fought to preserve a nation and reclaim states that had seceded, in the hopes that the country could mend itself and become a world leader.

Teaching about the Civil War has benefits that extend beyond U.S. history classes. It was the first truly “modern” war, where both sides relied on mass-produced weapons, hot-air balloons for surveillance, submarines, railroads, and other technologies. A great deal of literature, poetry, music, and poignant letters came out of the war, as well as new therapies and treatments in medicine. Examination of the economics of war, battle strategies, and the fundamental quest for human dignity and civil rights are all rich topics for students to explore. This week I’ve highlighted three resources on the American Civil War from the Gateway’s collection, and will feature many more lesson plans, activities, and information throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Please be sure to check those pages and let us know what you think.

Map the Civil War Lesson Plan

Subjects: U.S. History, Math, Geography

Grade: 4-7

Mapmakers were very important to Civil War generals. The generals used maps to figure out how to move their armies from one place to another, and how to trap the enemy forces against rivers or high bluffs. If the maps were wrong, the army could be late getting to a battle…or worse. In this activity, students will be mapmakers. Their job is to survey the land for their general so they can pick sheltered places for their army to camp and open areas where they can march and fight. This activity was created by The Civil War Trust, which is America's largest non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of endangered Civil War battlefields. The Trust also promotes educational programs and heritage tourism initiatives to inform the public of the war's history and the fundamental conflicts that sparked it.

The Battle of Honey Springs: The Civil War Comes to Indian Territory

Subjects: U.S. History
Grade: 5-12

Learn how the Civil War created fierce conflicts among American Indian nations who had been moved across the Mississippi River. This lesson could be used in teaching units on the Civil War, particularly the war in the West, on Native American history, or on cultural diversity. This lesson was produced by the National Park Service (NPS), a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The NPS oversees America’s national parks, as well as provides educational resources on American history and places to the public.

On the Eve of War: North vs. South

Subjects: Economics, U.S. History

Grade: 9-12

This lesson will examine the economic, military, and diplomatic strengths and weaknesses of the North and South on the eve of the Civil War. In making these comparisons students will use maps and read original documents to decide which side, if any, had an overall advantage at the start of the war. This lesson is a product of EDSITEment, an educational outreach program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. EDSITEment offers lesson plans and activities for social studies, literature and language arts, foreign languages, art, culture, and history classrooms.

~Joann's Picks - August 4, 2011~

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