Civil War: Teaching a Defining Conflict

Antonio Aquino, right, and Angel Aviles lead a line of 6th graders from Stonewall Jackson Middle School, in Manassas, Va., as they reenact 1861 military life at the Manassas National Battlefield Park.
—T.J. Kirkpatrick for Education Week
One hundred and fifty years after shots fired at Fort Sumter ignited the Civil War, a growing number of teachers are digging directly into primary sources and using technology to help their students better understand the conflict and bring it to life.

That approach may be especially important when it comes to the Civil War, educators and historians say, since public debates about its meaning are alive and well, and young people may be exposed to misinformation that original sources can dispel in compelling ways.

With the help of technology, teachers are moving beyond textbooks and digging directly into primary sources to help their students better understand the past.
April 20, 2011 | Updated: May 1, 2016 – Education Week

Even 150 year after the war, debates about the conflict persist and misinformation still thrives.
April 18, 2011 | Updated: August 25, 2017 – Education Week

The Teaching American History grants program could see its budget cut from $119 million in fiscal 2010 to $46 million in the current year.
April 20, 2011 | Updated: May 10, 2016 – Education Week

The program Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student combines movie-making with national history, engaging students in the history of the Civil War and the country at that time through reenactments and storytelling at sites throughout the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area. This video, about abolitionist John Brown, was created by students from Harpers Ferry Middle School.

Fort Sumter

Bull Run





Sherman's March Through Georgia

Appomattox Court House


In the 150 years since the Civil War began, a broad range of primary source documents have become available to scholars – and increasingly to the public. Click on each of the battles for a sample of the original letters home, military reports, and diaries from people on both sides of the conflict that are now available to students to encourage critical thinking for deeper learning.

Forum Discussion

Primary Sources in Civil War Studies
Have you incorporated primary sources into your Civil War studies? How so? Which primary sources do you consider most valuable when developing a curriculum based around the Civil War?

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