Civil War Battle Project

By Gretchen Davis, September 1, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

180 minutes for classroom activities and 30 to 60 minutes for homework


During this lesson, students will turn their attention specifically to the battles of the Civil War.  This lesson will benefit students because it will zoom in on a specific battle, rather than an overview of the entire war.  By narrowing focus, students will understand the minute struggles and challenges that were faced by the various Americans on both sides of the war.  We want students to get a deeper grasp of how complicated war can be—especially the Civil War.  Conditions were harsh, families were torn apart, supplies were woefully scarce.  By focusing on one battle, students will get a more detailed view and thereby gain a greater understanding of this period in American History.  By using the design process to gain this knowledge, students will be active in their exploration of alternative outcomes, learn strategy, and be engaged in the planning of their own version of a battle.

National Standards

United States History
Standard 13. Levels II. Understands the causes of the Civil War
2. Knows the locations of the southern and northern states and their economic resources (e.g., the industries and small family farms of the industrial North, the agricultural economy and slavery of the South)
Standard 13. Level III. Understands the causes of the Civil War
1. Understands the economic, social, and cultural differences between the North and South (e.g., how the free labor system of the North differed from that of the South)
Standard 14. Level III. Understands the course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people
1. Understands the circumstances that shaped the Civil War and its outcome (e.g., differences between the economic, technological, and human resources of both sides; the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation on the outcome of the war)
2. Understands how different groups of people shaped the Civil War (e.g., the motives and experiences of Confederate and white and African American Union soldiers, different perspectives on conscription, the effects of divided loyalties)


Students will understand:
  • the major battles of the Civil War
  • how individual battles connect to their developing understanding on the causes of the war
  • the many different factors that affected a battle, and, in turn, the entire war


Everyday Life in the Civil War by Michael J. Varhola

American Journeys textbook – author TBA


See attached worksheet


None other than the names of various battles including Vicksburg, Gettysburg, etc.


1. Do Now: (Quick Write)
Think about battle scenes you’ve seen in movies or read in books. What makes a battle scene come alive? (Anticipated: emotions, vivid setting, details, etc.)
(Note: This will get students thinking about the details of a battle, what is involved, what is at stake, etc.)
2. Discuss Do Now
Teacher leads a quick share out about what makes a battle come alive.
3. Transition
Teacher transitions between a discussion of battles in general to battles of the Civil War. Teacher reminds students of the conditions which affected battles during the Civil War on both the North and South sides (social, economic, cultural, human resources).  Teacher explains that many battles from the Civil War are very famous, and that this lesson will introduce us to many of those battles, while focusing on an individual one.
4. Reading
Have students open American Journeys to p. 45.  Have them read pp. 45-47, and ask them to take notes as they read.  Tell them this is an overview of the battles in the war, and they will be looking at specific battles in more detail with groups later.
5. Beginning the Design Process
Review the challenge: After an exploratory overview of the major battles of the Civil War using textbooks, students are told that their group of three will be assigned one battle to focus on for this challenge.  They will research a specific battle (causes, outcomes, region, challenges, length, etc.) and then must determine WHY either the North or South won that battle and HOW it might have gone differently.  They will design an alternative outcome to that very battle by using their research and going through the design process. (Important note: Students must only introduce new elements that make logical sense, and are historically plausible. Therefore, no acts of God, etc.)

Students will look at a brief description of their assigned battle and brainstorm/predict causes of the outcome and what new elements they might introduce.  (Source:

Investigate: After receiving their assigned battle, students will be guided through a discovery process in order to gather information on their specific battle.  Resources will include classroom texts, textbooks, articles and Web sites.  Teacher will model in the beginning and will provide a worksheet to help the students find what would be most important in understanding the battle as a whole.  Students spend the remainder of the day doing research and are also expected to complete research for homework (approximately one hour).  (Sources:;; Everyday Life in the Civil War; worksheet {is attached}.)

Frame the Problem: After the allotted time for research, students will hold a discussion with their group around the questions:
  • Did we correctly identify the reason of the battle’s outcome in our initial conversation?
  • How has our researched shaped our understanding?
  • Why exactly did the battle end the way that it did?
  • What do we still need to know?

Generate Possible Solutions: Students will brainstorm possible elements/solutions to the challenge.  At first, no idea is too crazy, even though one of the design constraints is to keep it historically plausible.  Allowing students a brief amount of time to let their imaginations run wild will grease the wheels of their critical, deep thinking.  After five minutes, each group will conduct their own brainstorming process.  To allow for everyone to be a participant, there will be three minutes of silent, individual work, and then the small groups will come together for group brainstorming.  Brainstorming can take the form of a list, a drawing, or a diagram.  Quantity will be emphasized.

Editing and Developing Idea: Teacher will help the students to narrow down their ideas by reminding them of the constraints (logical sense and historically plausible).  This will be done by using one group’s battle challenge as a model and posing questions to determine its historical plausibility.  Students may choose two or three different ideas to develop though writing, sketching, diagramming, or modeling.

Sharing and Evaluating: Student groups will be partnered with another group who is working on the same battle to briefly share their solution.  Teacher will model this briefly and provide specific guiding questions for groups to ask each other.  The goals are to provide excellent feedback, to be receptive to peer comments, and to utilize the best of those comments to improve your work.

Finalize: Students will choose one solution to focus on and develop that idea further.  At this point they will decide who among the group will take on the following tasks: sketching the solution; building the solution as a model; writing a written explanation of the solution.

Articulate: As a final step, students turn in a complete battle project: sketch, model, written explanation of the battle, and solution. (Note: If there’s enough time, teacher can have volunteers groups present to the class.)


Differentiation – This can be achieved in three ways: teacher can pay attention to the way he/she is formulating groups; teacher can have students with lesser abilities use the Web sites as their main source while giving higher-achieving students Everyday Life in the Civil War; teacher can assign the different aspects of the final project (model, sketch, or written explanation) instead of letting students choose.

Assessment – Students will prove their learning in these ways:
  • Do the sketch and model represent the battle accurately?
  • Are there sufficient details present in the final project to demonstrate deep understanding of many battle aspects?
  • Does the written explanation demonstrate an understanding of the battle and depth of thought on proposed “alternative” ending/solution?

Enrichment Extension Activities

If at all possible, a great enrichment activity would be to visit a Civil War battle site.  Other ideas include having students do presentations of their projects; tie in science with reference to diseases that soldiers faced at that time; stage one of the “alternative” battles.

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