Lesson Plan

A Slave, A Plantation, A War

Appomattox Manor City Point Hopewell Virginia
Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Twelfth Grade
Civil War, History
90 minutes
Group Size:
60 or more
in the park
National/State Standards:
VS.1, VS.7a, USI.9


At the kitchen building, students explore the experiences of slaves who lived and worked on the Eppes' plantation as they tour the kitchen and examine tools that both field and household slaves used on the plantation.  At Appomattox Manor, students investigate the experiences of the Eppes' family by touring the Eppes family’s  plantation house, and reading diary entries written by Dr. Richard Eppes.


1) At the end of this program, students will differentiate between the lives of the slave, the plantation owner, and the Union generals, and explain how their lives were interconnected.

2) At the end of this program, students will describe the impact the siege of Petersburg had on each representative and his way of life.

3) At the end of this program, students will reflect on how the outcome of the Civil War permanently altered life at City Point.


On the eve of the Civil War, Dr. Richard Eppes looked with pride over the lands of his Appomattox plantation that his ancestors had called home for the last one hundred years. Working those lands were his slaves, whose efforts kept a roof over his family, provided food for his table, and maintained his upper-class lifestyle. Though it seems simple at first glance, the relationship between the plantation house and the slave quarters was tense, complex and fragile.

In his journals, Eppes revealed his belief that slavery was a part of the natural order, and that he viewed his relationship with his slaves as a fatherly one. In keeping with the attitude of many slaveholders, he saw the institution of slavery as the natural hierarchy that made the South comparable to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. These slave-based societies allowed free men to create great civilizations - with the South being the last in this line.

The complexity of Eppes’ relationship with his slaves stemmed mainly from his fatherly attitude toward them. While he allowed slaves to wed in his house, had his children baptized along with slave children, and avoided breaking up slave families, he also saw them only as human beings merely capable of knowing right from wrong. This meant, among other things, that Eppes decided who could marry, whipped them for transgressions, and controlled their movements on and off the plantation. While there are few slave accounts from this plantation, through Eppes’ journal one can discern that work slowdowns, feigning illness, playing up stereotypes, and misplacing/losing property were tactics used by the slaves to express their feelings about, and to exert some control over their situation. Though Eppes never notes a slave escape in his journal, a former slave of his said slaves around the area escaped all of the time with the help of captains on the ocean ships docked nearby.

However Eppes viewed his relationship with his slaves, its tension and fragility were exposed with the intervention of the Union army in May 1862. As the Union army attempted to take Richmond, Federal gunboats plied the James River along which Appomattox Plantation stood. In response to this the Eppes family and their slaves made decisions about their own lives that forever altered life on this plantation. Eppes’ wife and children moved to Petersburg and by the end of the summer all but five slaves had left with the Union army. Though the war would not come to the manor in earnest for another two years, its touch had redefined a century-old relationship.

"God grant that this war may not be of long duration or direful in its effects but to preserve our liberty we must be prepared to endure trials & afflictions and one of the greatest is our separation from our numerous friends and relatives in Philadelphia."


Props representing a plantation owner, slave, and Union general

Letters & songs of each representative

Provided By PNB


a) Introduction:

Standing on the grounds of Appomattox Manor, three structures represent a glance into the past of three distinct groups of people. To your left, the Kitchen was a dependency once used as slave quarters. To your right, a restoration of Grant's cabin stands as a representation of the Union occupation of this area during the winter months of 1864. Directly in front of you is the Appomattox Manor, once the Eppes' family plantation home.

Within these three structures, reflections of class struggle, and state and individual rights unfold. A tour of these structures, will provide an insight into the experiences of these three lifestyles, and how the Civil War connected and forever altered their existence. At each stop, students will view belongings of these individuals and explore their experiences through literature and song.

b) Body of the Program:

1) Stop One: Appomattox Manor

The plantation home represents America before the war. Students will tour the Appomattox Manor Plantation. They will view the parlor and the sitting room, taking notice of the furniture, rugs, mirrors. Students will discuss the life of a plantation owner, the operation of a plantation, the usefulness ofslave labor, etc.

2) Stop Two: Kitchen & Laundry

Between the manor and the kitchen is really where the story of the war begins. Above the kitchen was located a dwelling probably used for slaves. Dr. Eppes owned 127 slaves at the outbreak of the Civil War. A few accounts of these slaves, such as Paula Ruffin's, indicate that they were very well treated by Dr. Eppes.  A walk through the kitchen will illustrate where slaves cooked the meals for the plantation owners. At this first stop, students will discuss the life of a slave. Using literature and songs, students will describe how it would have felt to be owned  by someone else.

3) Stop Three: Grant's Winter Cabin

Between the manor and the cabin, the story of during and after the war continues. Students will take a tour through Grant's cabin to examine how the Union General lived during the siege of Petersburg. Obviously, Grant's cabin was much nicer than would be an average soldier. Students will discuss the causes of the Civil War, the irony of Grant's being at City Point, and the changes this created for the institution of slavery.

c) Conclusion and Dismissal:

1) Stop Four: Magnolia Tree Students will discuss how the Civil War altered the lives of the three individuals personified in these structures. Relate these events to something occurring in their own lives.

2) Read a couple of passages written by slaves to explain the horrors of bondage and explain why the Civil War and specifically the events of the siege of Petersburg meant so much to people held in bondage.


Randomly assign students to a role of slave, plantation owner, or Union soldier. Students will describe their life before and after the Civil War. How did the war change their ways of life? How did they feel?

Provide the teachers and students report cards to evaluate their likes and dislikes of the activities. Suggestions?

Park Connections

Nine and a half months, 70,000 casualties, the suffering of civilians, thousands of U. S. Colored Troops fighting for the freedom of their race, and the decline of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of No. Virginia all describe the Siege of Petersburg. It was here Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut off all of Petersburg's supply lines ensuring the fall of Richmond on April 3, 1865. Six days later, Lee surrendered.

Additional Resources

For Teachers

Vlach, John M., In Back of the Big House, Chapel Hill, NC, 1993.

Trudeau, Noah A., The Siege of Petersburg Civil War Series, Eastern National, 1995.

Perdue, Charles; Barden, Thomas, and Phillips, Robert, Weevils in the Wheat, Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves, Charlottesville, VA, The University Press of Virginia, 1997.

Grant, Ulysses, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant Vol. II, New York, NY, Charles L. Webster & Company, 1886.

For Students

Reeder, Carolyn, Across the Lines, New York, NY, Avon Books, Inc., 1997.

Kalman, Bobbie, Life on a Plantation, New York, NY, Crabtree Publishing Company, 1997.

For a complete listing of Park Programs see the Peterbsurg Battlefield Educators Guide.