Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Not- Just-Military, Military History: the Interplay of Political and Social Influences on Civil War Battles
Doug Winkler
American History
Time Frame:
3 Class Periods
Civil War

Grade Levels:
11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • Students will research a major battle of the Civil War and prepare a resource paper that outlines all aspects of the battle:  the overall military objectives, the reasons for troop placement, the personalities and goals of the overall commanders on both sides, and the political pressures and maneuverings that affected the battle.

  • Military history has been de-emphasized because it is often seen as one dimensional. 

This type of study requires students to see battles in the larger context of the war, the surrounding geography, the political environment, and personalities.

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

  • AP US History Theme:  War and Diplomacy :Armed conflict from the precolonial period to the twenty-first century; impact of war on American foreign policy and on politics, economy, and society.
  • AP US History Topic Outline:  Civil War
    • Two societies at war: mobilization, resources, and internal dissent
    • Military strategies and foreign diplomacy
    • Emancipation and the role of African Americans in the war
    • Social, political, and economic effects of war in the North, South, and West

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • AP students are expected to be able to conduct their own research, but certainly I would direct them to several secondary sources other than their texts.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
Full description of activity or assignment.
  • I would choose a battle from the war to present to the students (Why not use the PPT on the Truman website developed by Dr. Gerges and Dr. Hospodor on Chickamauga?)
    • Be sure to focus on the political environment on both sides of the front; the background, personality, and style of the two major commanders; the geography of the site and the positioning of the armies in relationship to geography; the issue of supply; the reasons for the outcome of the battle; and the ramifications of the battle for the war and the political and military leaders.
  • Allow students some time to use their texts and find a battle that engages them.  Most survey texts will mention only the major battles so this is probably safe, but you could also provide a list of battles for students to choose from.
  • Once students have chosen a battle introduce the specific parameters of the assignment:
    • Students could work individually or in pairs or groups depending on time and ease of set up.  Google Docs is a great way for students to collaborate at or away from school.
      • I encourage not allowing PPT for this project.   Students need to write for this assignment and PPT is not designed as a medium for extensive writing.  Students can also spend too much time on the appearance of PPT and not focus on the content.
  • Provide at least one day of research time during class to help students begin their focus.
  • Provide a template for students to work with so that they hit the major areas and for ease of sharing and grading.  This also saves students’ time because they do not focus on the set up or appearance.—one is attached at the end of the lesson plan.  It also lays out clearly all the areas the students need to research and address in their paper.
  • Students must write using formal language and quality writing.  The text they produce should be easy to understand and read.  Grammatical errors and syntax errors should be kept to a minimum.
  • Share the primary and secondary sources above with the expectation that the AP student can go beyond these and probably should.
  • Students must use a minimum of two secondary sources and two primary sources (maps would easily cover these two).
  • Students must analyze their sources to completely address all the categories and make connections between the different influences on the causes and outcomes of the battle.

Depending on the whether the work is done individually or in groups, you may need to schedule some time for students to do some in-class collaboration during class time.

  • On the due date, allow students to share one or two things from their project that surprised them and that gave them a new perspective on the battle they chose and in the interplay of military and non-military history.
  • These could easily be sent electronically and loaded into a website or a BlackBoard site for sharing with other students.

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

Because of the complexity of the assignment, I would use a rubric to grade.  I have left the point values vacant so that each instructor can set their value.  I would use a range of values for each of the column categories so that as the instructor you have flexibility in points you assign.  Most completed assignments do not fit nicely into the categories.





Not Acceptable


( point value of category here)

Assignment has been completed in its entirety with all categories addressed fully.

(point range here)

Assignment has been mostly completed.  A few of the categories are only given cursory attention or are left blank.  (point range here)

More than just a few categories are not completed or are given only cursory attention.  Student did a “rush” job

(point range here)


Obvious analysis done within the context of the assignment.  Student conclusions concerning the battle and the influences on the battle show a depth of understanding and interconnections between military, political, and social influences.

Some analysis is present, but it only shows up on occasion.  Student may understand some of the influences on the cause and outcome of a battle, but not all of them.

No analysis present.  Student presents facts, but makes no attempt at analysis.


More than the minimum number of sources are used and they appear to be quality sources—both online and text.  Student did not just use first website he or she came across.

Student met the minimum requirement for sources, but stopped there.  Some sources may not be as valid as others he or she could have accessed.

Minimum number of sources not met.


Student wrote clearly and used formal language to present ideas.  The writing is easy to read and contains few if any grammatical or spelling errors.  Student’s voice is heard—not cut and pasted from a website.

Student’s writing is clear and formal language used most of the time.  Some of the writing may be awkward at times, but overall well written.  Some grammatical or spelling errors exist and occasionally get in the way of the writing.  Student’s voice is heard.

Poorly written and difficult to read.  Many grammatical and spelling errors that interfere with the student’s attempt at communication.  AND/ OR

Most of the work is cut and pasted from a website.