Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
A More Perfect Union

Understanding Primary Sources:
A Hall of Heroes

Objective: Students use primary sources to discover those men and women whose heroic acts during the Civil War qualify them for nomination to a Hall of Heroes.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
3-4 hours over 2-3 days

Building Background:
For four years, the Union and the Confederacy fought a bloody war. But wars always extend beyond the battlefields. The American Civil War involved hundreds of thousands of people and vast areas of land. There were many individuals whose actions were heroic: fighting men on both sides, including black soldiers who fought both prejudice and battles; doctors and nurses; spies and suppliers; women on the home front supporting their families; political leaders. Tell students they will learn more about people involved in the Civil War and choose nominees for a Civil War Hall of Heroes.

What To Do:

1. Ask students who they think the heroes of the Civil War were and why. Point out that heroic actions were not limited to military men. Encourage students to think of others whose actions during the war, on either side, could be considered heroic. Students' suggestions may include nurses, doctors, and photographers who ventured to or near the battle lines.

2. Point out that while history books sometimes single out individuals whose actions are heroic, many other heroes and their deeds go unmentioned. The unsung stories of these people are usually revealed in primary sources such as diaries and letters.

3.Have students meet in small groups to establish a working definition of heroism. Be sure that they understand that heroism does not always mean feats of derring-do but may also involve quiet acts of bravery, such as facing up to prejudice, taking an unpopular stand on an issue, escaping slavery, and overcoming economic or physical hardships on a daily basis.

4. Distribute the The Nomination worksheet. Tell students that they should use primary sources to uncover the story of someone they think deserves nomination to a Hall of Heroes. Examples of such sources include histories of the time, collections of photographs, reproductions of newspapers, Civil War Internet sites (see below), and anthologies of primary sources, such as The American Reader, by Paul M. Angle, Rand McNally, 1958.

The Valley of the Shadow

Students can learn how the Civil War affected two communities, Pennsylvania's Franklin County and Virginia's Augusta County, through the narrative and primary sources in this site.

Documenting the American South

This electronic text archive from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill contains first-person narratives of slaves and other Southerners, as well as a digitized library of southern literature. Students can search the archive for materials from the Civil War era.

Mr. Lincoln's Virtual Library

The Library of Congress presents information on Abraham Lincoln, including the Emancipation Proclamation and his assassination, in this online exhibit of primary sources.

The Papers of Jefferson Davis

Learn about Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, through his writings. You can also find background information on his life and family.

Civil War Biographies

Check out this site for secondary source biographical information on many Civil War soldiers and political figures.

5. When students complete their research, have each fill out the worksheet. Suggest that they present their information orally and then answer questions from other students about their nominees.

Ask students how what they learned about individual acts of bravery supported or altered their original definitions of heroism. Did what they read in any way change their previous feelings about the Civil War itself? In what way?


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