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Putting It All Together

The entire country felt the effects of the Civil War. Nearly every community lost fathers, husbands, and sons to battle or disease. Soldiers who were wounded in battle carried the effects of their injuries for the rest of their lives. Many soldiers who survived the years of bloody conflict wrote memoirs and erected monuments to ensure that the war and the sacrifices of the fallen would not be forgotten by later generations. The following activities will help demonstrate to students the effects of war on veterans and the memorialization of these events in their own communities.

Activity 1: Your Account of a Civil War Battle
Civil War battles were noisy, smoky, confusing, and deadly affairs. Have students imagine they are soldiers in a battle and they took wounds similar to Capt. Ephraim Wilson's, or, like Capt. Benjamin Williams, saw a close friend fall wounded, believing him dead. Have them write two brief personal accounts on being a casualty or seeing a comrade become a casualty. They should write the first account as a letter to a family member shortly after the battle (like Wilson's account); then write a second account on the same event as the memoir of an old soldier looking back many years later (like Williams' memoir). Have students read their accounts in class and discuss their differences and why they wrote them that way.

Activity 2: Following the Local Boys Through the War
The Civil War was the single most important event in the lives of most men who fought. It is not surprising that many survivors committed their memories of the war to paper. Either divide students into teams assigning them each a part of this activity or have individual students work on this as a long-term class project. Have students' research and write a history of a local unit. They are to follow the war's course through the actions of the local unit by doing the following: Check the local library for memoirs that were written by local Civil War veterans or a history of a local regiment preferably written by one of its members. Research to see if any local landmarks in the unit's history (a field where the unit first assembled, the site where it received its flag, or the train station where the troops departed for the front) still exist. Locate and trace the different places on a map where the unit was stationed or fought. Write to the battlefields that are preserved as National Parks or state parks for information on the site and your unit's role in the battle. See if the memoirs give any vivid accounts as to what it was like to face minie balls, or if the local unit experienced attacks on fortified positions and then changed tactics as a result. At the end of the war determine the number of men the unit started with and the number of men it finally lost to combat and disease. If possible, locate and photograph the graves of veterans from the unit in the local cemetery. If there is a monument to the unit's service in your hometown, examine and photograph it for what it can tell you about how the community remembered the local boys who served in the war. Students should summarize the findings of their project and share them with the class.

Activity 3: Memories of War
Nearly every community has been affected by war. In your community have students identify a veteran of war or someone who lived on the homefront during wartime and interview him or her as a class project. As a class, have students develop an outline for an interview or discussion questions to ask about that person's wartime experience. They should prepare a written account of the person's memories of war and present the account to the local library or historical society so that it can be preserved for future generations. Following are some suggested questions to help get the interview started: Where was he or she during the war? In which battle did he or she serve? What was it like to serve in the war? What was it like being on the homefront during a war? What does he or she remember most vividly and why? Have students take a photo of the person they interview and include it with a brief biography as part of the oral history they give to the library or historical society.

Activity 4: Monuments
Most communities have also honored the memory of their soldiers who fought in a war. Have students locate soldiers' monument or war memorial in their hometown or county. Then have them prepare a class presentation on it with illustrations or photos. Have students use the following questions for their report: What sort of monument is it--a statue or cannon in front of the courthouse, or a marker in the local cemetery? What inscription does the monument carry--does it name the local men killed in the war or list the various battles they fought in? What feelings are conveyed through the monument--sorrow, pride, defeat, or victory? What can the monument tell you about the community's memory of war and what it meant to recall the sacrifices of the dead? If you were to create a monument to commemorate this event, how would you design it and what would it say? If students find several monuments from different wars, have them describe how they compare to each other.

 

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