Through Their Eyes—Letters from Soldiers in the Civil War

Glimpse war through the eyes of soldiers.

Soldiers’ letters offer students an intimate view of the impact of war. In this lesson, students analyze letters written by soldiers during the Civil War.

The activity addresses the following standards:CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1 and CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2

Teacher Directions

Model the process. Define inference for your students. Read aloud the last letter Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife in 1861. As a class work through the following questions:

  • What can you infer about the letter writer’s home, family members, work, level of education? What are these inferences based on?
  • Can you tell which side the author of this letter supported, the Union or Confederacy? If so, what specific evidence reveals the side he fought for?
  • What inferences can you make about why this letter writer enlisted in the army? What specific evidence supports your conclusions?
  • What does this letter reveal about the lives of women during the Civil War?
  • What personal concerns does the author express?

Assign students a soldier’s letter to interpret. Find excerpts of soldiers’ letters at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s online exhibit, “I Take Up My Pen.” As an extension activity, pair students with someone who read a letter written by a soldier from the opposing army. How are the letters similar and different in content and tone?

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