Lesson Plan

Chatham Plantation: Witness to the Civil War

Chatham Plantation

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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.1, 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, 11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.2, 11-12.RH.3, 11-12.RH.4, 11-12.RH.5, 11-12.RH.6, 11-12.RH.7, 11-12.RH.8, 11-12.RH.9, 11-12.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 5 Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront.
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 is the emotional and physical impact of war?


1. To explain why Chatham became a center of activity during the many battles that were fought near the house;
2. To identify the major personalities associated with Chatham;
3. To describe the impact of the war on Chatham and its owners;
4. To determine, based on the history of Chatham, to what period the house should be restored;
5. To examine how a war or a similar disaster affected people from their own community.


High on a bluff in Stafford County, Virginia, overlooking the Rappahannock River and the town of Fredericksburg beyond, stands the 18th-century plantation house called Chatham. For years this house stood as the centerpiece of a prosperous estate supported by the labor of nearly 100 enslaved individuals. Between 1862 and 1864 it became, in turn, an army headquarters, a communications center, a hospital, a campsite, and a refuge from the cold for Union soldiers.

The setting of Chatham has changed little over the years, so it is easy to imagine what it was like during the Civil War. Standing on the terraced lawn, you can see where thousands of Union soldiers descended the nearby ravine and passed over the river on pontoon bridges. From the high ground above the ravine, artillery shells flew overhead to clear the soldiers’ way to the battle lines where many met death or were grievously wounded. Turning back toward the house, you can envision the scene after the battle--the dark figures of men and women holding lanterns to light the way for the ambulances and supply wagons, the moaning of the hundreds of Union wounded who were taken to that makeshift hospital, and the lawns that quickly had become trampled, raw, and muddy from feet, hooves, and wagon wheels. Off by the few trees left standing were scattered arms, legs, hands, and feet, the grisly results of the surgeons’ amputations.

Four major Civil War battles were fought in the countryside surrounding Chatham. Wartime figures, famous and ordinary, passed through the house, some who would move on to greatness, some cast adrift by the upheaval of military occupation, and some far from homes they would never see again. In the wake of passing armies, Chatham, like the war-torn town visible from its front door, emerged standing, but forever changed by the turmoil of civil war.

Lesson Hook/Preview

Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861. As the northernmost state in the Confederacy, it became the central ground over which major campaigns of the Civil War were fought. From the Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in 1861 to the surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865, the armies of the North and the South moved to and fro across Virginia’s landscape. The same avenues of trade, transportation, and communication that had brought prosperity to the Fredericksburg area of Virginia now brought war. The Rappahannock River flowed past the town carrying people and goods between western and central Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay. The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and a network of wagon roads connected Fredericksburg with Washington, D.C., and Richmond, the capitals of the United States of America and the Confederate States of America respectively.

In the countryside surrounding Fredericksburg, four major battles raged: the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-13, 1862), the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 27-May 6, 1863), the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864), and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864). When the guns finally fell silent at the end of the war, nearly 100,000 casualties could be counted in the region. The military activity in and around Fredericksburg had a dramatic impact not only on the soldiers who fought there, but also on the citizens of the area and the land on which they lived. Chatham, an 18th-century plantation house and the family home of J. Horace Lacy, sits high on a bluff overlooking Fredericksburg. Its commanding location helped insure that this house would become an important part of Fredericksburg’s Civil War history.


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

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
Chatham is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which is a unit of the National Park System. Visit the park's web pages to learn more about the many historic sites, Civil War battles, and people associated with this park's history.

Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet
Compiled by the Duke Special Collections Library, Civil War Women is an on-line manuscript collection which documents women's experiences in the Civil War. Included are diaries, documents, and letters from a variety of different women. Also of special interest are several letters by enslaved women from Duke's African American Women Online Archival Collections.

Hearts at Home: Southern Women in the Civil War
Created by the University of Virginia Special Collections department, Hearts at Home is an on-line manuscript collection examining different aspects of southern women's experiences during the Civil War.

Clara Barton National Historic Site
Clara Barton National Historic Site, Clara Barton's home in Glen Echo, Maryland is a unit of the National Park Service. The park's web pages detail her incredible story, including her relief efforts during the Civil War and with the American Red Cross.

The American Battlefield Protection Program 
The  American Battlefield Protection Program, a division of the National Park Service, provides detailed on-line publications featuring different topics in the Civil War. Included is a battle summary of the Battle of Santa Rosa Island.

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 such as a timeline and stories from various perspectives. Also included are links to Civil War Parks, NPS education programs, and much more.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Last updated: October 15, 2018