Lesson Plan

Woe to the Wounded

Students Portraying a Wounded Soldier
Woe to the Wounded Program
Leslie McClammy
Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Sixth Grade
Civil War, History, Medicine
90 Minutes
Group Size:
60 or more
in the park
National/State Standards:
VS.1, VS.7, USI.9


Students examine the hardships soldiers faced when they were sick or wounded during the Civil War by role-playing a battle.  Students are assigned the role of a wounded or unwounded soldier, Confederate or Union.  Following the battle, students will assist the wounded to the field dressing station for medical attention.  Students will learn the difficulty of caring for the wounded soldiers with limited medical supplies.


1) At the end of this program, students will identify two types of surgery performed during the Civil War.

2) At the end of this program, students will explain two sources of dressings and bandages used by the soldiers.

3) At the end of this program, students will describe two problems of caring for the wounded at Petersburg.


After the first battle in 1861, Civil War soldiers quickly realized this was not their forefather's war. One of the twin-tragedies to befall these men was the advances in the technology of war colliding with the near stagnant science of battlefield medicine. The simple change alone from musket ball to rifled bullet meant larger wounds and shattered limbs from greater distances and at a higher rate of fire. This resulted in the field surgeons performing endless amputations.

As daunting as this was, doctors were also facing the larger problems of sanitation, sterilization, and organization. During the course of the war, sanitary policies were often ignored, creating camps that were breeding grounds for fatal cases of dysentery, measles, malaria, etc. Though the importance of sanitation was understood by doctors, the concept of germs was nearly unknown. This meant that a surgeon's hands and instruments went unwashed between operations which spread gangrene from patient to patient as they were being treated. To add to this, not until the second year of the war, did an effective system of removing the wounded from the battlefield and an effective field hospital plan exist for either side.

Fortunately for the front line soldier, the pressure of war brought advances to the medical world. For example, though there were two deaths from sickness for every death from battle wounds in the Civil War, it was a far cry from the ten to one ratio in the Mexican War. By the time of the siege of Petersburg, medical organization and sanitation had reached its peak at Chimborazo in Richmond, Virginia, (the war's largest permanent hospital complex) and the Union's Field Depot Hospital at City Point, (the war's largest field hospital complex). Wounded soldiers could now get treatment at front line stations, be quickly transported to rear field hospitals, and then to permanent hospitals, by rail or ships, if needed. By the end of the war, battlefield medicine evolved significantly because of the collision between the will to kill and the will to heal.


1) hospital tent

2) stretcher & cot

3) surgeon's kit

4) Medical kit

All supplies courtesy of PNB.


1) Interactive program involving medicinal props and procedures

The program will begin with a first hand account of hospital life from a soldier either sick or wounded. Discussion of what life may have been like in a field hospital. Take students through the procedure of caring for the wounded, beginning with the ambulance system, the cots available, types of medicine, and the surgical equipment.

2) Assign different roles to the students by randomly giving a role card to each student. The roles include: 1) Surgeon and 2 Nurses, 2) two flag carriers, 3) wounded Union soldiers, 4) wounded Confederate soldiers, 5) unwounded Union soldiers, 6) unwounded Confederate soldiers. Each card should provide a brief background of the soldier he/she is representing.

3) Once students have randomly chosen their cards, they will assemble into appropriate groups to receive their instructions. Students will divide into the two armies and line up for the battle drill. Upon command, they will begin marching towards each other as if in battle.

4) Call out different numbers on the cards at 5-10 second intervals. Appropriate colored cards should drop when their number is called as if wounded in battle. After the numbers are called, the battle is over. All soldiers should remain in place. The students assigned as nurses and surgeons will begin to lead the wounded off of the field. When all the wounded have reached the hospital tent, the surgeons should select wounded soldiers for treatment.

5) Surgeon and nurses will use the bandages available to wrap up first the leg wounds, then any others they can with the limited number of bandages they are supplied. The point of the activity is to compare the number wounded to those unwounded, and then to observe the number wounded that are able to be cared for to those who are not.

c) Conclusion and Dismissal:

1) Discuss their feeling during the battle, fear, frustration

2) Decide who represented the angels of the battlefield

3) Review why the care of soldiers was so primitive during the war.

4) Explain how the Civil War opened better avenues to treatment.

5) Read the letter of a nurse who worked in the Depot Field Hospital at City Point


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:

Beller, Susan, Medical Practices in the Civil War, Charlotte, VT, Susan Provost Beller, 1992.

Dammann, Dr. Gordon, Medical Instruments and Equipment (Vol. I, II, III), Missoula, MT, Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1983.

Jaquette, Henrietta S., Letters of a Civil War Nurse, Lincoln, NB, University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Adams, George W., Doctors in Blue, Baton Rouge, LA, Louisiana State University, 1980.

For Students:

Beller, Susan, Medical Practices in the Civil War, Charlotte, VT, Susan Provost Beller, 1992.

Herbert, Janis, The Civil War for Kids, Chicago, IL, Chicago Review Press Inc., 1996.