Lesson Plan - Life at War
Civil War
Lesson Plan

Life at War

You are here

A Civil War Curriculum Lesson

Grades: Middle School

Approximate Length of Time: 50 Minutes

Goal: Students will be able to explain the day to day life of a Civil War soldier.


  1. Students will be able to describe the use of equipment, uniforms, weapons, and other items that soldiers carried.
  2. Students will be able to identify three reasons why battles happened in certain locations.
  3. Students will be able to discuss the role of the African American soldier, using primary and secondary sources.
  4. After reading portions of soldiers’ letters, students will be able to identify and discuss hardships soldiers faced.


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

  • Life at War Worksheet
  • Life at War PowerPoint
  • Where Battles Happen
  • Samuel Cabble Letter
  • George P. McClelland Letter
  • John Sweet Letter
  • Zachariah Benefield Letter
  • William Norton Letter
  • Analyzing a Primary Source Letter
  • Journey of a Slave Lithograph
  • Exit Pass

Anticipatory Set/Hook:

Discuss with students what they think a soldier did on a day-to-day basis during the Civil War. Were they always fighting battles? What do students think soldiers did when they weren’t fighting battles? Do they think life was hard or easy for a Civil War soldier?


Print out the PowerPoint with notes prior to class. There are notes included with the slides that can be on the printed slides, but won’t be seen by your students during the presentation.

Activity 1

  1. Pass out the Life at War Worksheet to each student.
  2. Read and discuss the Life at War PowerPoint with your class, discussing different aspects of soldiering.
  3. Have students complete the Life at War Worksheet during the presentation.

Activity 2

  1. Pass out Where Battles Happen and discuss as a class why battles happen in relation to railroads, waterways, and capitals, filling in the boxes.
  2. Discuss the second question, “Where else might a battle occur?”

Activity 3

  1. Break students into five small groups, giving each one of the following letters:
    1. Samuel Cabble Letter
    2. George McClelland Letter
    3. John Sweet Letter 
    4. Zachariah Benefield Letter
    5. William Norton Letter
  2. Have students read their letters silently and independently.
  3. In their groups, have students analyze their letter using Analyzing a Primary Source Letter.
  4. Have each group share its primary source letter and responses with the class.

Activity 4

Pass out Journey of a Slave Lithograph, and have the students write a new caption under each scene describing the action occurring in each picture.


Have students each write down two hardships a soldier would face during the Civil War on the Exit Pass.

Assessment in this Lesson:

  • Completed Life at War Worksheet
  • Informal assessment through responses to the anticipatory set questions
  • Informal assessment through responses to PowerPoint questions
  • Informal assessment through the Where Battles Happen page
  • Completed Primary Source Letter Analysis
  • New captions for Journey of a Slave Lithograph
  • Completed Exit Pass, providing two hardships a soldier would face