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Civil War
Lesson Plan

Civil War Letters

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Honorable Mention, Best Lesson Plan Contest 2012-2013

Grades: Middle School

Approximate Time: Two 45-minute class periods

Goal: Students will utilize text based primary source documents to respond to the guiding question “Did soldiers on both sides of the war experience the same level of hardships during the American Civil War?”


Using the Text-based Documents (Civil War Letters) students will be able to:

  1. Complete a graphic organizer using evidence from the letters to identify the experiences of Confederate and Union soldiers.
  2. Create two summary statements for each letter that include a claim and evidence from the source.
  3. Write a paragraph that answers the guiding question.


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

  1. Test Based Primary Source Investigation Tool (graphic organizer).
  2. Two Confederate Letters (Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Milton)
  3. Two Union Letters (Robert W. Christie, John Miller)

Anticipatory Set/Hook:

Bring in a collection of primary source documents that include birth certificates, dairy entries, a driver’s license, and a passport. Give each table a few samples to look at. Ask your students "What do these all have in common?" Give students some time to discuss the question in their groups. Discuss student responses with the whole class.


  1. The teacher will model how to use the letters to complete the graphic organizer. The teacher will start with a small portion of the letter to model the procedure.
  2. Together with the class the teacher will read a section of a Confederate or Union letter.
  3. The teacher will ask, “What does this letter tell you about the experiences of a soldier?” Teacher will remind students to record positive experiences of the soldiers as well as the hardships.
  4. Students record their ideas on the graphic organizer.
  5. The answer to the question is the claim.
  6. Students will create a summary sentence beginning with the claim and adding the stated reason for the claim, connecting the two ideas with the word “because.” This requires students to use the evidence from the letters to support the claim.
  7. Students will work in groups to follow the model to complete the graphic organizer and create summary sentences. There will be a total of two summary sentences for each letter for a total of eight sentences.


Students will share the summary statements they created. Using the summary statements students will draw conclusions that address the guiding question: Did soldiers on both sides of the war experience the same level of hardships during the American Civil War?


Students will write a three-paragraph essay that answers the guiding question using their summary sentences.