Lesson Plan

United States Colored Troops in the Civil War

Rather die freemen than live to be slaves - 3rd United States Colored Troops

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.9
State Standards:
Mississippi Social Studies Competencies for 8th Grade:
2 - Domestic Affairs: How technology, geography, and social conflict has impacted the development of the US.
5 - Economics: Importance of geography, history, and politics affects on economic life.
Thinking Skills:
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. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.


African American troops fought valiantly in the Civil War. This Teacher Ranger Teacher created lesson uses a web quest and primary sources to look at the contributions of these brave soldiers. By the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

*What role did United States Colored Troops play during the Civil War?
*What was the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation for US Colored Troops in the Civil War?


At the outbreak of the Civil War there were a limited number of black soldiers who were a part of the Union Army. Both sides were confident of victory, and neither fully understood how much death and destruction would come to pass before the South surrendered. As the war raged on, the number or men who were needed increased daily. With dwindling armies on both sides, due to losses from disease and combat, the Union started to look toward black for manpower. Many blacks served in support roles in the Union army, but it was not until Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, that blacks were able to officially serve as soldiers and sailors in combat.

By the end of the war 200,000 black soldiers had served and fought in many major battles such as the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, the Battle at New Markets Height, the Battle of Brices Cross Roads, the Battle of Tupelo, and many others. Many whites had their doubts about the bravery of the black soldiers, but their doubts were dispelled at Fort Wagner when the 54th Massachusetts charged gallantly only to be killed in mass.

Despite the acceptance of blacks as soldiers in the Union army, very few were given ranks of any importance. Whites who were willing to take commissions as officers over a black regiments enabled their careers to skyrocket. Each officer treated the men underneath him differently depending on his attitude toward the abilities of black soldiers. Even though it would be years before much progress would be accomplished in the Civil Rights Movement, the black soldiers of the Civil War contributed directly to changing the opinion of many whites about the black race. When soldiers fight side by side sharing the common goals of survival and victory many barriers are broken down that otherwise existed without the strains of combat.

Fifteen men from the USCT received Congressional Medals of Honor from the United States government over the course of the war. This award is the highest recognition for valor that the United States government bestows for service of our country. The men who died were posthumously rewarded with the passage of the 13th Amendment freeing all slaves throughout the United States. Their efforts were not in vain. 


*Students must have web access to complete the web quest which is provided as both a Powerpoint presentation and as a PDF file. Students can complete this webquest independently, in pairs, or in groups depending on computer and web access. 

*One copy per student of each of the following: 

  • Worksheet 1 Emancipation Proclamation per student
  • Civil War Political Cartoons (can also be projected on board or copied for pairs of students)
  • Worksheet 2 Black Soldiers in the Civil War
  • Thirteenth Amendment
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Fifteenth Amendment
  • The Liberator WL Garrison
  • Worksheet 3 Primary Source Analysis

*The Powerpoint “Black Soldiers during the Civil War" should be accessible through the internet for students. 


Upload for web access by students to use during the webquest.

Download Black Soldiers in the Civil War Powerpoint PDF

Make one copy per student.

Download Worksheet 1 Emancipation Proclamation

Make one copy per student.

Download Worksheet 2 Black Soldiers during the Civil War

Make one copy per student.

Download Worksheet 3 Primary Source Analysis

Make one copy per student, per group of students, or project the cartoons on the board for class analysis.

Download Civil War Political Cartoons

Make one copy per student.

Download The Liberator Article WL Garrison

Make one copy per student or group of three students.

Download Civil War Constitutional Amendments

Optional: For use as an anchor or extension.

Download Extension: Emancipation Political Cartoon

Optional: For use as an anchor or extension.

Download Extension: Political Cartoon Primary Source Analysis

Lesson Hook/Preview

*Write on the board two phrases: "Civil War" and "African Americans". 

*Ask students to think about how these two phrases are connected silently for one minute. Then ask students to share their thoughts with a partner. Lastly, make a list on the board of the students' responses. Note: most likely responses will discuss how the Civil War was to end slavery of African Americans. 

*Inform students that today they will learn about the achievements and accomplishments of African American and colored soldiers during the Civil War. By the end of class, they will see how many African Americans were ctive agents who faught for their own freedom in the Civil War. 


First Day: Introduction

Objective - The student will investigate the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation in allowing blacks to join the United States army.

Activity 1: 

Materials: One copy of worksheet 1 Emancipation Proclamation per student.


  1. The teacher should give a brief introduction to the subject matter
  2. Pass out a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to each student, and Worksheet 1 about about the document. Students may work alone or in pairs.
  3. After the student have examined the document and answered the questions, the teacher will lead a classroom discussion, by have students present their answers and discuss the importance of the document.

Activity 2: Political Cartoon Analysis 

Materials: Civil War Political Cartoons either project on board or copies provided to students.


1. The teacher will project on board or provide to students the political cartoons.  

2. Students will answer the questions in pairs.

3. Then, students will share their interpretations with the class to discuss the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Activity 3: Review activities and introduce tomorrow’s lesson 

Second Day: United State Colored Troops

Objective- The students will investigate the role black soldiers played during the war.


  • One copy per student of "Worksheet 2 Black Soldiers in the Civil War" 
  • Computers with web access to the Powerpoint, “Black Soldiers during the Civil War". Note: If computers are not available, the teacher could show “Black Soldiers during the Civil War” and have the students answer the questions as they follow along.


  1. The teacher will hand out "Worksheet 2 Black Soldiers in the Civil War" to each student. 
  2. Using the computer lab and the Civil War Webquest Powerpoint, the students will complete the "Black Soldiers in the Civil War" assignment. 
  3. To conclude the activity, ask students to list the achievements of Black soldiers and African Americans during the Civil War they discovered during the webquest. 

Third Day: The Aftermath of the War

Objective: The students will investigate how the service of the black soldiers in the Union Army played a part in the passage of the thirteenth amendment.


*One copy per student of each of the following: 13th, 14th, 15th amendments, “The Liberator WL Garrison”, and "Worksheet 3 Primary Source Analysis". 


Activity 1: The Thirteenth Amendment 

1. The teacher will introduce and briefly discuss the 13th Amendment.

13th Amendment

SECTION. 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

SECTION. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

2. Hand out “The Liberator WL Garrison” and "Worksheet 3 Primary Source Analysis" to each student. 

3. The students will read and assess the article written by William Lloyd Garrison about the passage of the 13th amendment using their Primary Source Analysis Worksheet.

Activity 2: Investigating the Civil War Amendments 

1. The teacher will break the students up into groups of three. The teacher will assign each individual in the group one of the Civil War amendments (13th-15th).

2. Each student will read his or her amendment and then explain it to the others in his or her group.

Activity 3: Connect the Colored Troops to the Civil War Amendments

1. Each group will then write a brief description of how they believe that the USCT contributed to the increased rights for the black men and women in the period following the war. They should cite evidence from the primary sources from the webquest, as well as the amendments themselves.

2. After 15 or twenty minutes of group work have each group share their theories with the class. 

3. The class will now re-focus back on the list made in the class prior of accomplishments of Colored Troops and African Americans during the Civil War. The class will add achievements they've learned about today - at least five. 


*Secede -  withdraw formally from membership in a federal union, an alliance, or a political or religious organization.

*Union - the action or fact of joining or being joined, especially in a political context.

*Confederation - an organization that consists of a number of parties or groups united in an alliance or league.

*Emancipation - the fact or process of being set free from restrictions. 

*Proclamation - a public or official announcement, especially one dealing with a matter of great importance.

*Legislation - laws. 

Assessment Materials

African American Accomplishments Timeline

Students will create a timeline from 1860 to the passage of the fifteenth amendment highlighting the top ten most important accomplishments of that time period. The students will also justify their choices of these events compared to others they learned about in the primary and secondary sources. Encourage students to use the list on the board to assist in their selection.

African Americans in Civil War Timeline

Download Assessment

Supports for Struggling Learners

*Heterogeneous groups for the webquest and Constituitonal Amendment investigations. 

*Pre-teaching of vocabulary 


Enrichment Activities

*Students can analyze a political cartoon primary source using an 1865 illustration called "Emancipation" and "Political Cartoon Analysis Questions" available in the materials section of this lesson. 


Additional Resources

Mississippi's Final Stands is the partner visitor center for Brice's Cross Roads and the Battle of Tupelo (Harrisburg)

Civilwar.org is the official website of the Civil War Trust

Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield https://www.nps.gov/brcr/index.htm 

Tupelo Natoinal Battlefield https://www.nps.gov/tupe/index.htm 

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Last updated: July 29, 2015