Lesson Plan

August Anguish at Andersonville (Grades 4-6)

Thousands of graves, decorated with American flags, are arrayed in long rows
The graves of August 1864

NPS/C. Barr

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Sixth Grade
Algebra, Civil War, Mathematics, Military and Wartime History, Writing
1 Class Period (45-60 minutes)
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
CCGPS Mathematics (4th Grade)—CC4.MD.1
CCGPS Mathematics (5th Grade)—MCC5.NF.3
CCGPS Mathematics (6th Grade)—MCC6.RP.3


In August of 1864, over 32,000 American soldiers were held captive at Andersonville. Mismanagement and overcrowding lead to a high rate of suffering and death among the prisoners. Understanding the scale of suffering is a challenge; this activity uses math activities and word problems to explore the darkest moment of the prisons history.


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to do one or more of the following:

  1. Students will be able to determine the area of a rectangle.
  2. Students will understand that a/b = a ÷ b.
  3. Students will be able to convert fractions to percentages.


After the breakdown of the prison exchange system in mid-1863, both Union and Confederate forces were forced to hold prisoners for an extended period of time. The Confederacy first held Union prisoners in the capital city of Richmond, VA, but this placed a tremendous strain on the city's resources. So in early 1864 the Confederacy built a new prison in rural Georgia – Camp Sumter, which quickly became known as Andersonville.


By the summer of 1864 Andersonville was incredibly overcrowded. Approximately 33,000 prisoners were held in a space intended for 10,000 and diseases related to sanitation and nutrition were rampant. By the time the prison ceased operation 45,000 men passed through the prison gates, and 13,000 of them died, making Andersonville the deadliest ground in American history.


It can sometimes be difficult for students to grasp to scale of suffering at Andersonville. This activity provides an opportunity for students to apply math skills and get a better sense of the overcrowding and death that occurred in August of 1864, when the prison was at its maximum population.   


Photocopies of materials that may be needed are included in this lesson and will be provided by the teacher.



An answer key is provided:

(1)       How many prisoners died in the month of August? 2,993 died in the month of August

(2)       What was the total square footage of the prison before it was expanded? And after?

           There are 43,560 square feet per 1 acre.

           16 acres x 43,560 sq. ft. = 696,960 sq. ft. before the expansion

            26.5 acres x 43,560 sq. ft. = 1,154,340 sq. ft. after the expansion


(3)       What fraction of the total prison population tried to escape during August? What percent?

           30 total prisoners tried to escape in August

           34,760 is the total number of prisoners that lived at the prison during August.

           30/34,760 is the fraction of the prison population that tried to escape. This fraction reduces to approximately 1/1,158.

            34/34,760 expressed as a percentage is 0.0863% (less than 0.1% of all prisoners escaped)


(4)       What fraction of escape attempts was successful? What percent?

           30 escape attempts were made, and 6 were recaptured, meaning that 24/30 escapes of were successful. 26/30 is the fraction of escape attempts that were successful (13/15 if reduced). 26/30 expressed as a percentage is 86.66% escape attempts were successful.

Park Connections

The prisoners buried in sections E and F in Andersonville National Cemetery died over a 32 day period from the end of July to the end of August 1864. These sections are a powerful visual representation of the scale of suffering in Andersonville when the prison was at its height.   


Students should imagine themselves as prisoners at Andersonville. Their job is to write a letter to Abraham Lincoln describing the conditions they are forced to live in and giving a detailed report of prisoner numbers (in the hospital, deaths per day, etc.) and living space (dimensions of the prison and square feet per prisoner) using the Consolidated Returns of the Month of August.


Sum, Square Foot, Fraction, Numerator, Denominator, Percent

Last updated: April 14, 2015