Putting It All Together
The growth of the railroads and the introduction of new types of weapons
made the Civil War in many ways the first modern war. The following
activities will help students apply what they have learned about the
effect of these new technologies on warfare. They will also have a chance
to investigate how changes in transportation affected the history of
their own community.
Activity 1: How to Fight a Battle
American officers entered the Civil War with two conflicting military
doctrines. One followed Napoleon, who saw mobility, surprise, and attack
as key to victory. The other emphasized control of strategic positions
and favored entrenched defenses. For General Halleck, an adherent of
the second position, the Union victory at the Siege of Corinth demonstrated
the effectiveness of entrenchments and the importance of controlling
important transportation centers. He saw the siege as a major victory,
gaining an important objective without risking his army in battle.
But the Confederate army escaped intact and the war continued for three
more long years. General Grant, committed to a war of mobility, saw
the siege as pointless. Many years later, he described it as:
of strategic importance, but . . . barren in every other particular.
It was nearly bloodless. It is a question whether the morale of the
Confederate troops . . . was not improved by the immunity with which
they were permitted to . . . withdraw themselves. On our side I know
officers and men . . . were disappointed at the result. They could
not see how the mere occupation of places was to close the war while
large and effective rebel armies existed."9
Hold a class discussion asking students to imagine that they are advisors
to General Van Dorn as he moves towards Corinth. Would they advise an
attack based on mobility and surprise? If so, why? Would they recommend
the same kind of siege that was so effective for General Halleck? If
so, why? Based on what they have learned in this lesson, what advantages
might each course have? What disadvantages?
Activity 2: Eyewitness to History
Divide the class into four groups. Ask one group to assume the roles
of soldiers in the Union army at the Siege of Corinth; the second Confederate
troops defending Corinth during the Siege; the third, Confederate troops
attacking in the Battle of Corinth, and the fourth, Union defenders.
Have them write letters to family or friends or write articles for their
hometown newspapers describing their experiences. They should use resource
material available in the school or public library or consult the supplementary
resources in this lesson to make certain their accounts are historically
accurate. When the writing assignment is completed, have spokespeople
from each group make presentations about the experience of their group.
Then hold a general classroom debate about which assignment they would
have preferred to have and why.
Activity 3: Transportation in the Local Community
Most cities and towns in the United States were settled because
they represented a good place for a water, rail, or road "port," or
because they were at some kind of a crossroad. Divide the class into
small groups and ask them to research the following questions: What
transportation routes have played a role in their community's history?
How important are transportation routes today? How do the local routes
fit into larger transportation systems--water, rail, airways, or highways?
Are these the same systems that were historically important? How have
they changed? Are there still places in the community that represent
historic transportation patterns? As a class, create a local transportation
history display to donate to the local library or historical society,
or to display in their school.
9 Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Vol. l (New York:
Charles L. Webster and Co., 1885), 381.