Lesson Plan

United States Colored Troops in the Civil War

Rather die freemen than live to be slaves - 3rd United States Colored Troops
Rather die freemen than live to be slaves - 3rd United States Colored Troops
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


African American troops fought valiantly in the Civil War. This Teacher Ranger Teacher created lesson uses a web quest and primary sources to look at the contributions of these brave soldiers.


  •  To learn about the role of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War through web research and use of primary sources.
  • The student will investigate the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation in allowing blacks to join the United States army. 
  • The students will investigate the role African American soldiers played during the war. 



 At the outbreak of the Civil War there were a limited number of black soldiers who were a part of the Union Army. Both sides were confident of victory, and neither fully understood how much death and destruction would come to pass before the South surrendered. As the war raged on, the number or men who were needed increased daily. With dwindling armies on both sides, due to losses from disease and combat, the Union started to look toward black for manpower. Many blacks served in support roles in the Union army, but it was not until Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, that blacks were able to officially serve as soldiers and sailors in combat.

By the end of the war 200,000 black soldiers had served and fought in many major battles such as the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, the Battle at New Markets Height, the Battle of Brices Cross Roads, the Battle of Tupelo, and many others. Many whites had their doubts about the bravery of the black soldiers, but their doubts were dispelled at Fort Wagner when the 54th Massachusetts charged gallantly only to be killed in mass.

Despite the acceptance of blacks as soldiers in the Union army, very few were given ranks of any importance. Whites who were willing to take commissions as officers over a black regiments enabled their careers to skyrocket. Each officer treated the men underneath him differently depending on his attitude toward the abilities of black soldiers. Even though it would be years before much progress would be accomplished in the Civil Rights Movement, the black soldiers of the Civil War contributed directly to changing the opinion of many whites about the black race. When soldiers fight side by side sharing the common goals of survival and victory many barriers are broken down that otherwise existed without the strains of combat.

Fifteen men from the USCT received Congressional Medals of Honor from the United States government over the course of the war. This award is the highest recognition for valor that the United States government bestows for service of our country. The men who died were posthumously rewarded with the passage of the 13th Amendment freeing all slaves throughout the United States. Their efforts were not in vain. 


 Students must have web access to complete the web quest which is provided as both a Powerpoint presentation and as a PDF file. All primary sources are provided below. All Worksheets are below.


 1st Day- Introduction

Objective- The student will investigate the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation in allowing blacks to join the United States army.

Activity 1-

Materials: Copy of Emancipation Proclamation, Worksheet 1 for Emancipation Proclamation exercise.


1.      The teacher should give a brief introduction to the subject matter

2.      Pass out a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to each student, and Worksheet 1 about about the document. Students may work alone or in pairs.

3.      After the student have examined the document and answered the questions, the teacher will lead a classroom discussion, by have students present their answers and discuss the importance of the document.

Activity 2-

Materials: Political Cartoon (projected from link on transparency)

Procedure: The teacher will show political cartoon pertaining to the Emancipation Proclamation and have students answer the questions beneath each slide. Discuss their answers and their interpretation of the political cartoons.  

Activity 3- Review the lessons and briefly introduce tomorrow’s lesson 

2nd Day- United State Colored Troops

Objective- The students will investigate the role black soldiers played during the war.


·        Worksheet 2 Black Soldiers in the Civil War (each student or group)

·        Computers with web access to the Powerpoint, “Black Soldiers during the Civil War”

o   As an alternative, the teacher could show “Black Soldiers during the Civil War” and have the students answer the questions as they follow along.


1.      The teacher will hand out Worksheet 2, Black Soldiers in the Civil War.

2.      Using the computer lab and the pre-made web quest, the students will complete the assignment. This activity should take up most, if not all of the period.

3rd Day- The Aftermath of the War

Objective – The students will investigate how the service of the black soldiers in the Union Army played a part in the passage of the thirteenth amendment.

Materials: (each student or group): Copy of the Thirteen, 14th, 15th amendments; copy of “The Liberator WL Garrison”; copy of Worksheet 3 Primary Source Analysis

The teacher will introduce and briefly discuss the 13th Amendment.

13th Amendment

SECTION. 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

SECTION. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


Activity 1- The students will read and assess the article written by William Lloyd Garrison about the passage of the 13th amendment using their Primary Source Analysis Worksheet.

Activity 2- The teacher will break the students up into groups of three. The teacher will assign each individual in the group one of the Civil War amendments 13th-15th). Each student must read his or her amendment and then explain it to the others in his or her group. Then they must write a brief description of how they believe that the USCT contributed to the increased rights for the black men and women in the period following the war. After 15 or twenty minutes of group work have each group share their theories with the class.

Activity 3- If there is time left in class have the students create a timeline of black accomplishments beginning in 1860 through the passage of the 15th Amendment.  


 Students will engage in a primary source analysis using an 1865 illustration called "Emancipation". 

Click here for extension materials. 

Additional Resources

 Some relevant Civil War websites:

Mississippi's Final Stands is the partner visitor center for Brice's Cross Roads and the Battle of Tupelo (Harriburg)

Civilwar.org is the official website of the Civil War Trust