Educator Resources

Letters, Telegrams, and Photographs Illustrating Factors that Affected the Civil War

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.

  • Era 5 -Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
    • Standard 2A -Demonstrate understanding of how the resources of the Union and Confederacy affected the course of the war.

This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.

  • Standard II.D.4 -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues in which fundamental values and principles may be in conflict.
  • Standard III.A.1 -Explain how the U. S. Constitution grants and distributes power to national and state government and how it seeks to prevent the abuse of power.

Constitutional Connection

The documents in this lesson illustrate the president's role as commander-in-chief of the military as specified in Article II, Section 2 , of the U.S. Constitution.

Cross-curricular Connections

Share this exercise with your history, government, and American literature colleagues.


Brainstorming Activity

  1. Direct students to list the factors that would be important in winning a battle or a war. These might include leadership, resources, strategy, and social conditions. Assign students to rank their factors from most to least important. Discuss with students the factors they identified, why they chose certain factors, and what reasons prompted them to assign their ranks.

Document Analysis

  1. Divide students into six groups, and provide a copy of one of the first six documents to each group. Direct student groups to analyze their documents using the Document Analysis Worksheet. Ask each group to decide how the factors listed in Activity 1 are reflected in the document they analyzed. Ask a volunteer from each group to describe their document to the class and explain which factor it illustrates.

Research and Presentation Activity

  1. Refer students back to the list of factors they created in Activity 1 and discussed in Activity 2. Direct each student to select one factor and do additional research on the effects of that factor on the course of the Civil War. For example, if the student selected leadership, their research would focus on the leaders of the Civil War. Direct students to report their findings to the class in a five minute oral presentation.

Creative Writing Assignments

  1. Divide students into four groups. Distribute copies of Documents 1-4, giving one document to each of the four groups. Using textbooks, assign each group to research and brainstorm the motivations the author of the document may have had in writing it and what the response of the recipient might have been. Direct each group to write a response to their document as though they were the person who received it.
  2. Assign students one of the following roles and ask them to write a two-page essay explaining the factors they think most affected such a person's Civil War experience. Invite student volunteers to read their essays aloud and ask the class to determine the point of view of the author.

    Slave owner
    Southern farmer without slaves
    Northern farmer
    Northern wife
    Northern black freeman
    Northern Senator
    Southern Senator
    House slave
    Field hand
    Foreign visitor

Science and Technology Research

  1. Distribute copies of Document 6 to students. Explain that this is one of more than 6,000 Civil War photographs available online from the National Archives and that it illustrates one of the technological advances of the Civil War period. Direct students to conduct a search for other Civil War photographs in the National Archives Catalog database that specifically depict technological advances. Direct each student to print out one photograph and conduct additional research using library and Internet resources about the weapon, medical practice, form of transportation, or form of communication. Instruct students to post their photographs on the classroom wall and briefly describe the information they gathered. Discuss with students the correlation between technology and the outcome of the Civil War.

Oral History Assignment

  1. Distribute a copy of the Sound Recording Analysis Worksheet to each student. Play the oral interview with John Salling and direct students to complete the worksheet. Ask students to note examples of how his life was affected by the beginning, middle, and end of the war. Assign students to write one paragraph about what factors may have contributed to his experiences for each period of the war.

The documents included in this project are from Record Group 94, Records of the Office of the Adjutant General; Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate; Record Group 107, Records of the Office of the Military Telegraph; Record Group 11, General Records of the U.S. Government; Record Group 165, Records of the War Department Library; and Record Group 200, National Archives Gift Collection. They are available online through the National Archives Catalog National Archives Identifiers:


The National Archives Catalog replaces its prototypes, the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) and the NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL). You can still perform a keyword, digitized image and location search. The National Archives Catalog's advanced functionalities also allow you to search by organization, person, or topic.

The National Archives Catalog is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use ARC to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.

Currently, about 80% of NARA's vast holdings have been described in the National Archives Catalog. Digital images can be searched. In keeping with NARA's Strategic Plan, the percentage of holdings described in the National Archives Catalog will grow continually.

This article was written by David Traill, a teacher at South Fork High School in Stuart, FL.