Life at War: Traditional Middle School Lesson Plan

This image depicts two portraits of Union soldiers posing in their uniforms.

Grades:  Middle School

Approximate Length of Time: 50 Minutes

Goal: Students will be able to discuss the average Civil War soldier and some of the hardships.


  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. After reading portions of soldiers’ letters, students will be able to identify and discuss hardships soldiers faced.

Common Core:

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

NCSS Standards for Social Studies:

2—Time, Continuity, and Change
3—People, Places, and Environment
5—Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
6—Power, Authority, and Governance
8—Science, Technology, and Society
10—Civics, Ideals, and Practices


  1. Life at War Worksheet
  2. Life at War PowerPoint
  3. Where Battles Happen
  4. Samuel Cabble Letter
  5. George P. McClellan Letter
  6. John Sweet Letter
  7. Zachariah Benefield Letter
  8. William Norton Letter
  9. Analyzing a Primary Source Letter
  10. Exit Pass

Anticipatory Set/Hook:

  1. 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?


Review the PowerPoint prior to class. 

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. Read the following letters with your students as a group
    1. Samuel Cabble Letter
    2. George McClellan Letter
    3. John Sweet Letter
    4. Zachariah Benefield Letter
    5. William Norton Letter
  2. Have the students Analyze one of the letters using the Analyzing a Primary Source Letter.


  1. Have students answer the last question of the Analyzing a Primary Source Letter utilizing all of the letters.

Assessment in this Lesson:

  1. Completed Life at War Worksheet
  2. Informal assessment through responses to the anticipatory set questions
  3. Informal assessment through responses to PowerPoint questions
  4. Informal assessment through the Where Battles Happen page
  5. Completed Analyzing a Primary Source Letter