Lesson Plan

Casualties of war

U.S. and Mexican armies clash at Palo Alto
U.S. and Mexican armies at Palo Alto.
Library of Congress (No known restrictions)

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Grade Level:
Eighth Grade-College Undergraduate Level
Health, History, Mexican War, Military and Wartime History, Social Studies
This lesson will take 30-45 minutes to complete.
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
National Standards:
Gr 5-12 Social Studies: World History Eras 4 & 7
Gr K-12 National Standards-Language Arts: 1, 3, 4, 12
U.S. Army, Volunteer Soldiers, Mexican War, casualties, War Casualties, disease


In this lesson, students do an interactive activity to compare the casualty rates of volunteers and regulars due to battle wounds vs. disease. Next, they study battle statistics and discuss what they mean.


Guiding questions:
How did disease affect U.S.-Mexican War soldiers?
Were regular or volunteer soldiers better able to survive army life? Why?

Critical content:
The effect of disease on U.S.-Mexican War soldiers

Student objectives:
Do an interactive activity comparing the casualty rates of volunteer and regular soldiers due to battle wounds vs. disease
Analyze battle statistics of soldier deaths.


Before starting, review and print out the PDF files in the Materials section. This lesson can be modified for High School students.


PDFs for this lesson plan include:
  1. Dividing the Class (PDF 54.9 KB)
  2. Casualties Volunteers and Regulars (PDF 55.9 KB)
  3. Combat Deaths (PDF 101 KB)
  4. Regular Soldier (PDF 110 KB)
  5. Volunteer Soldier (PDF 106 KB)


  • Use the Dividing the Class worksheet to divide students into two different corners of the room.
  • Tell the class that they are all U.S. soldiers during the U.S.-Mexican War. The smaller group represents the regular or permanent army and the bigger group represents the volunteer army.
  • Use the Deaths of Volunteers and Regulars worksheet to further divide each group into two different areas.
  • Tell the larger group of volunteers and the smaller group of regulars that they represent those who died during the war.
  • Use the Combat Deaths PDF to further divide each group into two other areas.
  • Tell the smaller group of volunteers and the larger group of regulars they died due to combat wounds
  • Ask students why they think that a higher percentage of regular soldiers died of combat wounds and a higher percentage of volunteer soldiers died due to disease. Be sure to mention: discipline, ability to survive a soldier's life (e.g., monotony of daily drills, daily fatigue duty, boredom), and hygiene.
  • Give the regulars a Regular Soldier worksheet and the volunteers a Volunteer Soldier worksheet.
  • Have the two groups (regulars and volunteers) work together to complete the worksheets.
  • Tell each group to develop a persuasive argument for why they (regular or volunteer) are a better soldier.
  • Conduct a debate about why the group is a better soldier. Allow each group enough time to present and to respond
  • Have a class discussion on whether it would have been better to have the regular army or a volunteer militia fight in the Battle of Palo Alto.   

  • Assessment

    Assess student performance in two key areas:
    • Participation in group discussion
    • Worksheets
    Above proficient
    Group discussion:  Offers information which directly relates and builds on the topic.
    Worksheets:  Thoughtful answers. Effective and accurate use of writing conventions.

    Group discussion:  Offers information which directly relates to the topic.
    Worksheets:  Completed. Effective and accurate use of writing conventions.

    Below proficient
    Group discussion:  Offers very little information of which some relates to the topic.
    Worksheets:  Incomplete. Writing conventions are not always followed.  


    The statistics in this lesson are from the essay "The Immigrant Soldier in the Regular Army During the Mexican War" by Dale R. Steinhauer (source cited below). Have students use these statistics to calculate the percentages of regulars vs. volunteers in their family, school, city, or another group.

    Overview of American forces in the Mexican War
       % of the Army  Overall Deaths  Combat Deaths
     Regulars  27%  32%  60%
     Volunteers  73%  66%  40%

    Additional Resources

    Steinhauer, Dale R. "The Immigrant Soldier in the Regular Army During the Mexican War." Papers of the Second Palo Alto Conference, Brownsville, TX, 1997.


    regular army: permanent army of a country with professionally trained soldiers.
    militia: group of citizens who are not part of the regular army with some military training who are called to active duty only in an emergency.