Teaching the Civil War Vol. 2: The Intro Packet

As you might already know, I will be teaching an elective class on the American Civil War at a nearby middle school this fall, starting on Wednesday afternoon. Though it is only once a week for less than an hour, I am excited nonetheless, even more so when I realized that probably half the class or more are players in our hockey league that I coach at—I am still waiting for my official roster, but I just had to ask around [and campaign] during our last practice! I have several worksheets made up, but I have decided to post the gist of my intro packet here for you, whether you would like to use it yourself for a class or lecture series, or just if you are interested in reading it. I will include everything except my actual weekly skeleton outline, which was posted in my first article regarding this class.

One thing I have decided to do is have the students address each other and myself by rank, me being a General, of course. Because the actual description of this class is that we are living the Civil War, and not just learning about it, I thought this would be a nice touch. Each student will begin as a private, and with each 100 they get on a quiz or extra credit assignment they hand in, they will receive a promotion. Because there are a lot of potential assignments, it is certainly possible for them to attain the rank of Lieutenant General. How awesome is that? When the class ends, they will receive discharge papers noting the rank they finished with. Below is the packet:

Course Description

The American Civil War is one of the most important and tragic events in our nation’s history. For the next twelve weeks, we will not only be learning about it, we will be living it. Through our work as history detectives, we will be looking at the major battles, events, and people involved in the war that divided a nation. This course is being offered because we are in the midst of commemorating the War’s 150th anniversary.

If you or a parent/guardian has any questions, please feel free to email me anytime at nyr1199@comcast.net.  Also, if you are absent from class, have someone email me and I will send you the notes in .PPT format, and quiz (if there is one that week), which you can print, fill out, and submit the next week, so you do not fall behind.

Grading Breakdown

1) Seven take-home quizzes: 10% each for a 70% total

2) Class participation and behavior: 20%

3) One page paper at end of course: 10%

  • After major lessons, you will be given a brief (and hopefully easy) quiz to do at home. Because we have such a limited amount of time in the classroom, we cannot waste time doing them in class. You can use your notes, or hang out with a classmate and work together. The questions are taken directly from the notes, so if you write what I tell you, then you will have the test in your hands!
  • 2) This is an easy 20% of your grade right here (it basically counts as two quiz grades, because everything is worth equal weight). If you pay attention, take notes, ask and answer questions, and just participate, you will get a 100 in this category. Every student starts out with a 100, but if you misbehave or disrupt the class, the grade goes down. However, you can boost your grade back up again with a change of attitude in the following weeks. For those of you who will be playing in the hockey league, if you do not behave well, you will not play—it’s that simple.
  • 3) Near the end of our twelve weeks together, you will have to write a very simple and short paper on the most interesting thing you learned about in this class. It can be anything you want. You can even write more than the required one page for extra credit. They will not be graded harshly, so do not stress over it, because it is easier than you think! (This will most likely be given out in Week 11 and due in the final week.)

Enrich Your Learning Experience

Because the course is so short, unfortunately, we will not have enough time to cover everything involved with the American Civil War. If you find yourself interested and wanting to learn more, please email or see me before/after class, and I can give you titles of some good books to read or films to watch that are age appropriate. If your family is considering a vacation to a battlefield (Gettysburg and Antietam are less than five hours away), please ask me for travel tips and secrets as I have been to these locations many times.

Weekly Descriptions

1) During this week, we will get to know each other a little bit and ask ourselves, “What is history?” and “Why is it so important?” This will be our first step in becoming history detectives that will bring the past alive. Keep in mind, over these twelve weeks we are not going to learn about the Civil War, we are going to live it. We will start by looking at actual battlefield photos from the war, to get familiar with what we will be learning about.

2) Contrary to popular belief, the Civil War did not just “happen”; it was a slow build up of different events and opinions that really began right after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Here, we will look at some of these causes, and you may be surprised to learn that slavery was not the only issue at hand. Movie clip includes pre-war scenes from Gods and Generals.

3) This is our chance to experience life like a soldier, even though you will be wearing comfortable shoes and nice new clothes. We will be going outside for this, and learning how the soldiers marched, by trying out battle line and column formations, and using steps such as regular marching, double-quicking, and charging. Please wear comfortable shoes because we will be on the move.

4) This is the first major battle of the war, one that came after Union generals were so sure of victory, that they openly said the war would be over within weeks. Well, the Confederates would surprise them with a stunning victory, and then everybody knew the war would not be over quickly. There is also some humor involved, when wealthy civilians came and picnicked up on a hill while watching the battle, and accidentally got fired upon by cannons. Movie clip includes a battle scene from Gods and Generals.

5) We have our first crammed class, as we will learn about three battles and a major campaign. This will focus on two Western battles, Shiloh and Stone’s River, under the famous Ulysses S. Grant, and one battle and a campaign that both ended in complete disaster, under Union General George McClellan (you are going to want to hurt this guy by the time we are done with him!)

6) This is the bloodiest battle of the war, and most deadly day in American history. In just twelve hours of fighting near the small Maryland town of Sharpsburg, 23,000 men combined from both sides would lay dead and wounded. Why were there so many casualties? We will look at the tactics used during the day, and do our best as history detectives to find out what went wrong. Movie clip includes a brief, yet action packed battle scene from Gods and Generals. If time allows we will also watch a short scene from Glory, which includes a discussion on the Emancipation Proclamation.

7) One of the saddest battles of the war, in which Irish Brigades from both sides clashed on the same field, and one that saw a massive blunder by Union General Ambrose Burnside. The Union sent sixteen waves of soldiers to march across an open field to attack the Confederate position along a stone wall. Another general, Darius Couch, would remark, “This was not warfare, it was murder.” Movie clip includes a sad scene from Gods and Generals.

8 ) The Confederacy reached its high point at this battle, where Lee surprise attacked the Union army and sent them fleeing for miles. However, the victory was short lived, as beloved General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson would be seriously wounded, before dying just days later. Movie clip includes a battle scene and the death of Jackson from Gods and Generals.

9-10) The most important and massive battle of the entire war. The Confederacy felt they were just one win away from forcing the Union to surrender, and in a series of bold attacks, they lost more than they gained, which signaled the beginning of the end for them. 53,000 men would be killed or wounded in just three days at the sleepy Pennsylvania town. This is so important that we will be spending two weeks on it. Movie clips from the film Gettysburg include action from all three days of fighting, including a spectacular scene from Pickett’s Charge on the third day.

11) Here we will be cramming the last major battles of the war into one day. We will cover Fort Wagner, Chickamauga, Vicksburg, Petersburg, and the Wilderness and Atlanta Campaigns. It will end with Lee’s somber surrender to Grant at Appomattox.

12) For our last class, we will wrap it up with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as well as an in-depth look at his assassin, John Wilkes Booth. We will examine whether or not the assassination was an act of insanity or patriotism, and will view scenes from Gods and Generals, that show Booth’s performances in Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar, as he was the most famous actor in America at the time.

Obviously I will not be able to cover everything that I would like to, and everything that should, including the battles of the Western Theater in great detail, but this class is a bit of a trial balloon, which I hope to perfect after [hopefully] teaching it many times. Depending on my college schedule in the fall, I may be returning to the school for their second and third trimesters, but am undecided on what I would want to teach. Maybe if the students enjoy this and want to have me again, I will leave it up to them. The two topics I floated by the principal when we first met, the first on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and the second on 1960’s America were warmly received. Time and fate will tell what shall happen after the fall trimester.


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