Researching Civil War Historical Figures

If you’ve taken a look at the History Blueprint Civil War unit, you probably know that students study and follow a historical figure from the period during the unit. Since (up to this point) the unit contains one-page source handouts on 14 historical figures, only two or three of the students in any class will have the same historical figure. The sources handouts have a secondary biography of the figure and excerpts from primary sources either by or about the figure. In the Perspectives lesson, students first collect information about the figure and then analyze his or her perspective. (The unit has a lesson on how to analyze point of view or perspective in history immediately before this activity.) In the lesson on Lincoln’s Speeches, students write a response to one of the speeches from the point of view of their historical figure. In the final lesson, students create a visual Freedom Billboard and represent their figure in the Civil War Talk Show. They express their historical figures’ perspective on whether the Civil War was a war for freedom in speech and in writing.


Last week, two of our teacher leaders, Amy Hale and Kristi Peckham, from Santiago Charter School in Orange, began teaching the History Blueprint Civil War unit to their students. Amy and Kristi were members of the team of the six teacher leaders who wrote the original draft of the unit. Because they wanted their students to conduct additional research, they modified the Historical Figures assignment. Amy created six additional Historical Figure sources handouts to supplement the ones that we had created originally.

It takes hours of work to research each historical figure, write a secondary biography that does not violate copyright and is not too long or complex for an 8th-grader to understand, and to select primary sources. It takes a tremendous amount of work to shift through all the primary sources to find just those short pieces that students can comprehend AND that address the historical question of the unit, “Was the Civil War a war for freedom?”

Probably with Kristi’s help (as they say that always work together on their teaching), Amy created sources handouts for:

Robert Gould Shaw

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Clara Barton

William Harvey Carney

William Tecumseh Sherman

Ulysses S. Grant


This is a phenomenal effort and a huge asset for teachers everywhere. Thank you, Amy and Kristi!

In Lesson 4: Perspective , in the third draft of the Civil War, there are sources handouts for 14 Historical Figures:
Louisa May Alcott
Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas
Jefferson Davis
Frederick Douglass
Harriet A. Jacobs
Robert E. Lee
Robert Smalls
George Templeton Strong
Clinton Hatcher
Michael F. Rinker
Charles Berry, Senior
John P. Wilson
Oliver Wilcox North
Susie King Taylor

Photo Sources (from top to bottom):
1. Colonel Robert G. Shaw, half-length portrait, facing right, 1863? Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010647750/
2. Kristi Peckham, Amy Hale, and Professor Anne Hyde of Colorado College, at the American Historical Association Conference, Jan. 2012, CHSSP file
3. Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA General, between 1863 and 1870. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010647758
4. Clara Barton, from portrait taken in Civil War and authorized by her as the one she wished to be remembered by, between ca. 1890 and 1910. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/93513623/
5. Sgt. William Carney, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, ca. 1900. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/97506080/
6.Pres. U.S. Grant, between 18770 and 1800. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/brh2003000325/PP/
7. William T. Sherman, between 1860 and 1870. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003003504/PP/

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