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Civil War
Lesson Plan

Emancipation 1861 to 1863

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1st Place, Best Lesson Plan Contest 2011-2012

Grade Level: Middle School and High School

Approximate length of time: The lesson can be conducted in two to three class periods; one to two days for document analysis and an additional day for completing the writing task.

Goals: Students will gain an understanding of how ideas about emancipation evolved as the American Civil War entered its second year.


Students will be able to discuss how opinions (as reflected in articles from the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Daily Union) regarding emancipation changed from 1861 when the American Civil War began, to 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.

Materials Used:

Download the lesson plan, along with the following materials, at the bottom of this page.

  • Historical Context
  • Key Terms
  • Sacramento Bee primary source documents A-F
  • Primary source analysis questions
  • Writing task grading rubric

Guiding Question:

How did Sacramentans' opinions about emancipation change from 1861 to 1863?


Vocabulary Development

A list of key terms has been provided.  Guide students in a careful reading of each document.  Students should first use context clues as they read to discover the meaning of important words and phrases.   Students may also use classroom resources such as a dictionary, a thesaurus, or their textbook to define important terms.

Document Analysis and Discussion

Students read each document independently and attempt to answer the questions that follow. The analysis (and a second read-through) can be done in pairs, within small groups or as a whole-class activity.  The teacher should closely monitor student understanding and continuously return to the guiding question, “How did Sacramentans’ opinions about emancipation change from 1861 to 1863?”


Students write a paragraph explaining how opinions about emancipation changed from 1861 to 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.  In order to successfully complete the task, students must use a citation from Document A and compare it to a citation from at least two of the other documents.  A suggested rubric follows the documents.


Write a newspaper article, journal entry, or letter describing Sacramento’s Emancipation celebrations.  Write from the perspective of someone living at the time.