Lesson Plan

Fort Pickens and the Outbreak of the Civil War

The outline of a historic stone fort on a sandy coast

Overall Rating

Not that bad
Add your review
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 5 Standard 2A: The student understands how the resources of the Union and Confederacy affected the course of the war.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

What role did Fort Pickens play in the build-up to the outbreak of the American Civil War?


1. Describe events in the region of Pensacola, Florida, that preceded the Civil War;
2. Examine the role of Fort Pickens prior to and during the Civil War;
3. Evaluate decisions made by key individuals in Pensacola in 1861, and to describe the consequences of those decisions;
4. Investigate the impact of military installations in their own community.


Time Period: Late 19th century
Topics: The lesson could be used in units on the Civil War or on coastal military fortifications.


The peaceful surroundings--white sugar-sand beaches, clumps of golden sea oats, and the soothing sounds of coastal waves pounding on the shores of a long barrier island--belie the serious purpose of Fort Pickens, located on Santa Rosa Island in Florida. One of the largest brick forts built in the United States, Fort Pickens provided the setting for a serious effort by a small group of men to avert or at least postpone the outbreak of the Civil War. Months before the firing on Fort Sumter, the Southern forces at nearby Pensacola, Florida, worked to find a way of seceding from the Union without initiating bloodshed.

Fort Pickens and nearby Fort McRee, Fort Barrancas, and Advanced Redoubt today lie within Gulf Islands National Seashore. They provide an intriguing setting for the important events that occurred in the Pensacola area just prior to and during the Civil War.

Lesson Hook/Preview

Pensacola, Florida, is located on one of the best deep water harbors on the Gulf Coast. Large ships can pass through the entrance and enter the protected bay. The Spanish, French, English, and the Americans recognized that Pensacola Bay’s entrance provided the key to the defense of Florida’s panhandle. When Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819, the U.S. Navy selected Pensacola Bay as the site for a navy yard.

Beginning in 1829, Americans built four forts in the area--Pickens (1829-34), McRee (1835-39), Barrancas (1839-44), and the Advanced Redoubt (1845-56)--to defend Pensacola and its navy yard from possible attacks by foreign powers. The strategy was to build up defenses that appeared so formidable an enemy would be deterred from attacking. At Pensacola this buildup was successful as no foreign country ever did attack the forts. The American Civil War, however, made for a different story.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.

Additional Resources

Andersonville National Historic Site
Andersonville National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System. The park's web page details the history of the park and visitation information.

National Park Service Civil War Website
Visit the official National Park Service Civil War website. Offering the current generation of Americans an opportunity to know, discuss, and commemorate this country's greatest national crisis, while at the same time exploring its enduring relevance in the present, the website includes a variety of helpful features and links such as the About the Civil War page that offers a timeline and stories from various perspectives. Also included are links to Civil War Parks, NPS education programs, and much more.

Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System
The National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System is a recently created database containing facts about Civil War servicemen, lists of Civil War regiments, and descriptions of significant Civil War battles. Also on this site is a descriptive history of African-Americans in the Civil War.

Historic Places Honoring Those Who Served
The National Register of Historic Places online itinerary Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This itinerary explains where the idea of national cemeteries came from and their meaning today.

Southeast Archeological Center
Southeast Archeological Center, a division of the National Park Service, offers a detailed discussion of their archeological investigation at Andersonville Civil War Prison. The site includes historical background and a description of the conditions at Andersonville.

National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration offers a wealth of information about the Civil War as well as Andersonville Prison. Included on the site when searching "Andersonville Prison" is a special collection of photographs covering many aspects of the Civil War, such as prisoners and prisons. Another interesting search on "Civil War records" provides comprehensive sources of Union and Confederate records.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress web page has selected Civil War photographs in their digital collections. Included on the site is a photographic time line of the Civil War covering major events for each year of the war.

The Valley of the Shadow
For a valuable resource on the Civil War, visit the University of Virginia's Valley of the Shadow Project. The site offers a unique perspective of two communities, one Northern and one Southern, and their experiences during the American Civil War. Students can explore primary sources such as newspapers, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, military records, and much more.

Wirz Trial Home Page
The Wirz Trial Home Page provides coverage of the famous trials surrounding the execution of Henry Wirz. Included on the site is a discussion about the controversies of the trial, the impact it had on military rules of conduct, and the legal implications. The materials were prepared as part of a class assignment at the University of Missouri-K.C. School of Law.

National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration offers a wealth of information about the Civil War. Use the search engine to access a special collection of photographs covering many aspects of the Civil War. Also search on "Civil War records" to locate comprehensive Union and Confederate records.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress created a selected Civil War photographic history in their digital collections Included on the site is a photographic time line of the Civil War covering major events for each year of the war.

The American Civil War Museum
The American Civil War Museum is a center to explore the war and its legacies from multiple perspectives. Their website contains photographs, flags, and online exhibits.

Contact Information

Email us about this lesson plan

Last updated: October 15, 2018