Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

A Slice of Life: A Look at the Soldier and his Family During the Civil War
Mary Ann Wilson
United States History
Time Frame:
One week-two weeks 2-3 days in class, using library computers. The remaining time will be done on the student’s on time, completing as an out of class assignment
Civil War

Grade Levels:
10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

The students will work with a partner and examine letters and pictures of people and events from South Carolina.  The letters, found at www.soldierstudies.org, are arranged by Confederate or Union and may be searched, as I did, to determine which state they are from.  I chose letters from my state for my students to examine.  The letters deal with concerns of hometown issues, fears of the battlefront, fears of wartime living, loss of friends in war, worries about family, etc…..They reflect various classes and ages.  They also show soldiers who have crossed geographic boundaries and are fighting for the opposite side.  Using the attached worksheet, the students will examine the letters for specific information to gain an understanding of the concerns of these men.


A second stage of this exercise deals with music of the Civil War. The website http://pdmusic.org/civilwar2.html lists music from each year of the war and it has not only the audio (without lyrics) but the lyrics are also available for use.  A song analysis is a great method of completing a lesson on persuasion. The accompanying worksheet, modified from a previous lesson posted in previous years (thank you Jesse McClain) is an excellent tool to look at this concept.  If you wish to turn this into a visual lesson, the students can then take their particular song and create a poster based on the doctrine of the song.


The final part of this lesson is visual art, as is depicted by the artist himself.  There are many fine artists of the time period.  It is interesting to compare the artwork of southern artists (although you have to look harder for this as much was destroyed during the Civil War) to that of northern artists.  Suggested artists:  Southern:  William Ludwell, William Dickinson Washington, James Adams Elder, John Ross Key; Northern:  Edward Lamson Henry, Eastman Johnson, Winslow Homer; other areas: George Caleb Bingham’s work in Missouri.   The students will complete an exercise dissecting a painting, determining the meaning of the painting.


Through this activity, students will learn to analyze primary source materials such as pictures, letters, music and the visual arts, and synthesize that information with material presented in the classroom to produce a technological representation of their view of life during the Civil War. 

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

South Carolina State Standards: as of 2011  (I do not know what they will be if we actually DO go to the new Common Standards)


Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

USHC-4.2   Explain how the political events and issues that divided the nation led to civil war, including the compromises reached to maintain the balance of free and slave states, the successes and failures of the abolitionist movement, the conflicting views on states’ rights and federal authority, the emergence of the Republican Party and its win in 1860, and the formation of the Confederate States of America. (H, P)

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Suggested website for letters:  www.soldierstudies.org (copies of the actual letters may be printed for some of the letters.)

The National Archives:  http://www.archives.gov/education  Has a wonderful collection of photographs to be used for display.

Suggested website for music:  http://pdmusic.org/civilwar2.html

Suggested website for music:  there are many artists that may be used.  Websites will vary, depending on teacher’s choices.

Technology Required:

Computer with internet access, book and video library and means to play them

Full description of activity or assignment.

The teacher will explain the assignment to the students near the beginning of the unit on the Civil War.  This will give the students time to complete the assignment by the time the unit is completed. As closure to the assignment,   the students will choose one of the following assignments:  a technology project where they create a photostory, using the music and images of the Civil War to create a personal account of someone’s experience through the war or a diary where they create a month long journal of the soldier’s life, detailing his time in and out of camp, describing his experiences, joys and sorrows.


Using the photo and document analysis sheets provided by the National Archives, students will conduct a detailed analysis of both of the documents to make some determinations about their composite “soldier.”  Using available information, students should research the area and battles the soldier was engaged in, if they can determine the location.


Students will use the research they have done as background to create a story for their soldier.  The story should be approximately 3-5 minutes (in length) for photostory and 10 pages in length (pages double spaced and should include at least five realistic details from their research) for their diary.  These details can be specific to their soldier, from his letters and available background information, and historical facts from the war materials. 


Peer editing, teacher editing, and use of the writing lab are recommended as the paper will be graded on grammar and spelling in addition to creativity. 

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Song Analysis Sheet:


Song   (Record, CD, Cassette, LP)  Analysis


1. Title of the song_______________________________________________________________


2. Format of the song (record, CD, cassette, LP, 8 Track)________________________________


3. Production Information: Name of artist(s) (vocal)___________________________,if not the original song’s artist, who      

     is?________________________________  Name of producer/company_________________________

    Date of recording_________________________________


4. What is your immediate reaction upon hearing this song for the first time?_________________


5. Lyrics of song you remember:____________________________________________________


6. Refrain (repeated part) of song:___________________________________________________


7. If you have the cover or case available, what symbols, graphics, colors, letterings etc. embellish it and why do you think  

     these were chosen? __________________________________


8. Key words of the song:_________________________________________________________


9. Message (theme) of the song:____________________________________________________


10. Who do you think the intended audience is?________________________________________


11. Describe the emotional impact, if any, the presentation had on you._____________________


12. What information did you gain from the song that would not have been conveyed by a written format?      



13. What did you learn about what was happening in society from the presentation?___________




14. What questions still remain or have arisen as a result from listening to the recording? _______







1. Listen to a recording from either the WW I, II, Korean, Vietnam or Iraq War time period and fill out this activity sheet based on that experience.


2. Choose a favorite song from either the Civil War, WW I, WW II, Korean, Vietnam or Iraq to play moderate a discussion and analysis of with the class.


3. Exchange your recording with a classmate and answer all 14 questions based on their musical choice.


4. Research the song and/or original artist and present your findings to the class.


Compliments Jesse McClain
















































Analyzing a Photograph/Painting



 Photo Analysis Worksheet

(Adapted from Teaching with Historic Places Photo Analysis Worksheet,  Maryland Historical Society’s “How to Interpret a Picture” and the National Archives “Photo Analysis Worksheet”)  http://history.nd.gov/historicsites/chateauLesson/pdf/PhotoAnalysisWorksheet.pdf




Step 1:

Examine the photograph for One Minute. How would you describe the photograph? What clues can you find about the location and date of the picture?





Step 2:

Divide the photograph into four sections and study each section individually. What details--such as people, objects, and activities--do you notice?




























































Step 3:

What other information--such as time period, location, season, reason photo was taken--can you gather from the photo?





Step 4:

How would you change your first description of the photo using the information noted in Steps 2 and 3?






Step 5:

Based on what you have observed list three things you might infer from this photograph.










Step 6:

What questions do you have about the photograph?



How might you find answers to these questions?



Where could you find answers to them? 













Moderately Weak




Provides at least five realistic details regarding their subject and his/her circumstances







Provides specific examples from the letters or photographs to support their details







Demonstrates understanding of the situation Americans found themselves in during the War







Conveys clear meaning by using proper grammar, spelling and punctuation







Follows instructions with regard to mechanics of writing the paper









A 5 paper presents a well-developed story and demonstrates good control of the elements of effective writing.  A typical paper in this category

  • clearly identifies important features of the analysis and develops them in a generally thoughtful way.
  • develops ideas clearly, organizes them logically, and connects them with appropriate transitions
  • sensibly supports the main points of the analysis
  • demonstrates control of the language, demonstrating ability to use the conventions of standard written English but may have occasional flaws.

A 4 paper presents a competent analysis and demonstrates adequate control of the elements of writing. A typical paper in this category

  • identifies and analyzes important features of the analysis
  • develops and organizes ideas satisfactorily but may not connect them with transitions
  • supports the main points of the analysis
  • demonstrates sufficient control of language to convey ideas with reasonable clarity generally follows the conventions of standard written English but may have some flaws.

A 3 paper demonstrates some competence in analytical writing skills and in its control of the elements of writing but is plainly flawed. A typical paper in this category exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

  • does not identify or analyze most if the important features of the discussion, although some analysis is present
  • devotes most of its time to analyzing irrelevant issues
  • is limited in the logical development and organization of ideas
  • offers support of little relevance and value for points of the analysis
  • does not convey meaning clearly, or contains occasional major errors or frequent minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

A 2 paper demonstrates serious weaknesses in analytical writing skills. A typical paper in this category exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

  • does not present a critique based on logical analysis, but may instead present the writer's own views on the subject
  • does not develop ideas or is disorganized
  • provides little, if any, relevant or reasonable support
  • has serious and frequent problems in the use of language and in sentence structure, containing numerous errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics that interfere with meaning.

A 1 paper demonstrates fundamental deficiencies in analytical writing skills. A typical paper in this category exhibits more than one of the following characteristics:

  • provides little evidence of the ability to understand and analyze
  • provides little evidence of the ability to develop an organized response
  • has severe and persistent errors in language and sentence structure, containing a pervasive pattern or errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics that results in incoherence