Lesson Plans

Civil War & Reconstruction

A Nation Divided: Why Couldn’t They Just Get Along?

Author: Andrea Sponsler

School: Rolling Ridge Elementary

Grade Level: 4th

Time Estimated: 4 days (60-minute sessions)

Historical Background

Many contributing factors led to the war between the North and the South. Although slavery was a major issue in the cause for Civil War, there were many Southern Americans who could not afford slaves and the oversized and often referred to, plantations were somewhat a small part of the population. Slavery, then, was more an economic issue than a moral one for both sides before and during the Civil War era. Even so, as the war went on and Union soldiers saw, first hand, the horror of slavery, slavery became more of reason for fighting, especially for the North.

The Southern states depended on the slave system for the vast majority of their economy. With the invention of the cotton gin, the South desperately needed the free work of the slaves to support the mass production of the cotton industry. The Northern economy was based around manufacturing and while slavery was illegal, the working class was paid. While the working conditions were often quite poor for the working class in the North, the factory system held great hope and promise for many.

While the abolishment of slavery would be detrimental to the South, in the North, Americans were chiefly divided between strict moral defiance (abolitionists) and indifference. In 1854, the legislative Kansas-Nebraska Act, which made it possible for slavery to be introduced in virtually any new territory, brought slavery, economics, and future prospects for the country to the forefront. The differences between the country were too much to compromise on and soon after led to the grave war between brothers, friends, and neighbors—the American Civil War. Although slavery is often referred to as the primary cause for the war, it is crucial to explore the underlying foundations on why the slave system was a big enough reason for war and a country divided.


  1. Through analyzing and interpreting primary sources, the student will explore both, Northern and Southern, perspectives of the Civil War and understand the issues that led to the secession as it applies to the differing economies.
  2. The student will recognize and evaluate the reliance of slave-labor in the South and articulate the reasons for why the Northern states were called the “free states” and the Southern states were the “slave states.”

Essential Knowledge: Differences between northern and southern states:

  1. The economy in the northern part of the United States was industrialized, while in the southern part it was agricultural and relied on slave labor.
  2. Northern states wanted the new states created out of the western territory to be “free states,” while the southern states wanted the new states to be “slave states.”

SOL Skills

VS 1:
a) identify and interpret artifacts and primary and secondary source documents to understand events in history;
g) interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives;

SOL Content

VS 7.a: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the issues that divided our nation and led to the Civil War by identifying the events and differences between northern and southern states that divided Virginians and led to secession, war, and the creation of West Virginia.


Day 1

  • Paper bill replicas for the Northern and Southern States (see attached files)
  • Notice/Background/Questions (N.B.Q) student record sheet
  • Real dollar bills
  • Overhead copies of each paper bill
  • Marker

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4


Day 1: Analyzing paper money from the North and South

Background: At the start of the Civil War, there were two basic types of currency which included silver and gold coins (“hard money”) and paper money issued by major banks. The government passed strict taxing laws on banks in 1863 and caused much of the private-bank paper money to diminish. When the southern states seceded from the Union, the Confederate States of America began issuing its own money from their first capital in Montgomery, Alabama and eventually from the permanent capital of Richmond, Virginia. Much of the paper money was highly decorated with war heroes, mythological characters, and economic or political images. To save money and resources though, many paper bills were only printed on one side. Ultimately, the conclusion of the Civil War led to the unification of a national currency, primarily paper bills.

  1. VOCABULARY FOR THIS LESSON: allegiance, currency, value, economy,
  2. Anticipatory Set: Review the meaning of primary sources. A primary source is any material directly related to a historical topic by time or participation. It is not written by a scholar about a topic, but actually from the time period itself. “Today we are going to analyze a primary source from the time of the Civil War. We will be exploring paper money.”
  3. Ask students about the purpose of paper money and why it has value. (The paper has to be backed up by a source of value like gold, silver, cotton, etc.)
  4. Model/ Guided Practice: Pass out a current day paper bill to each pair of students.
  5. As a class, do a board chart with “Notice” “Background” and “Questions.”
  6. Discuss the current-day bill and its symbolism.
  7. Independent Practice: Without telling the students which side their bill came from, pass out a replica Civil War paper bill to each pair of students.
  8. Have each pair analyze their replica bill and do their own Notice/Background/Questions (N.B.Q) chart.
  9. Have students make predictions about which side (Union or Confederate) their bill represents. “To which side is your state’s allegiance and how can you tell?”
  10. Pass out the copy of the bills pages to each student.
  11. Have students share evidences and symbolism with the class.
  12. As the pairs share, have the other students circle, in marker, the evidences of allegiance.
  13. Closure: Separate students according to which side of the war their bill was on. Have all the students who supported the Union create one poster that lists the important things about the North’s economy. Also, have the students who supported the Confederates create a similar poster representing the South’s economy.
  14. WILT (What I Learned Today) Have students predict about the differences between the North and South’s economy, views on slavery, etc.

Day 2: Interpreting a political chart map and connecting to each the northern and southern economy

Background: The Republican political party was founded in 1854 due to arising views and apprehensions about slavery. The newly formed Republican Party ran a presidential candidate in 1856 named John C. Fremont. His political chart illustrates many of the antebellum issues and differences between the North and South, including the Republicans view to ban the spread of slavery into the western territories. Among other important messages, the chart depicts comparisons between the economies, land area, manufacturing, and representation of the increasingly more divided American states. Democrats believed that if Fremont won, the South would certainly secede. Fremont lost the election to James Buchanan, but did have a significant amount of support and votes from the northern part of the United States.

  1. VOCABULARY FOR THIS LESSON: Republican vs. Democrat political parties, capital, products, economy, manufacturing, plantation, factory
  2. Anticipatory Set: Pass out the Industries Map (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/census/mfr1.jpg). Ask students what they notice about the map and what the key tells us about the economy of the states at the time of the Civil War. (The North is almost completely covered in red=manufacturing)
  3. “Today, we are going to compare and contrast between the Northern and Southern industries.”
  4. Ask the students what they already know about political parties such as the Republican and Democratic parties. Have they heard things on the news, a recent election, campaigns, etc? Fill them in with the background of how the Republican party came to be, formed around the arguments over slavery.
  5. Pass out the Republican Political Chart. (cover the title)
  6. Ask the students to guess what kind of source they are looking at. List responses and ask for rationale behind each.
  7. Ask students what they recognize and what the map and bolded words refer to. “What are we looking at?”---A political chart for a republican presidential candidate (John C. Fremont).
  8. Collaboration: In groups of three, have the students analyze a smaller section of the political chart using the provided analysis sheet.
  9. Have students share their findings with the class and instruct other students to highlight (on their own chart) the valuable sections that each group shares.
  10. Add details to a class T chart comparing the Northern and Southern states.
  11. Closure: “Why does this all matter?” When the groups are finished, ask, “According to this political chart, besides slavery, what was the North also worried about?”—manufacturing, land, property value, leadership of the country, overall population, representation, the Western Territories, etc.

    Guiding Questions
    • "Why do you think slavery was so important to the Southern states?"
    • "Why did the Northern states feel slavery should be abolished?"
    • "Why were Northerners still concerned about slavery?" — political power
    • "What are you still wondering about?"

Day 3: Analyzing a political cartoon to explore how Virginia’s secession from the Union was significant to the entire country.

Background: In 1859, John Brown's Raid occurred and was on the mind of the entire nation as they entered the election year of 1860. The Democratic Party split and nominated two separate candidates for President over the issue of the expansion of slavery in the Western Territories. Because they were split, Abraham Lincoln, the republican candidate, wins the election of 1860. Within weeks of Lincoln’s election, South Carolina was the first to leave the Union followed by South Carolina (1860), Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas in 1861. The political cartoon in this lesson illustrates the seceding states, and Virginia’s reluctance to leave as soon as the other Southern states did. The nursery rhyme portrayal symbolizes the Union as Little Bo Peep, the states as lambs, and the wolves as European powers that some people thought would attack to weaken the newly independent states. The dogs named “Old Buck” and “Old Hickory” represent the ineffective former president James Buchanan and champion of federal union, Andrew Jackson, respectively.

  1. VOCABULARY FOR THIS LESSON: secession, symbols, Union, persuade
  2. Anticipatory Set: Read the original nursery rhyme of “Little Bo Peep.”
  3. Purpose Statement: “Today, we are going to look at a primary source that spins off of this well-known nursery rhyme and see how it relates to the historical significance of the Civil War.”
  4. Guided Practice: Watch the scholar analysis clip for background understanding of the 1860 Election.
  5. Pass out a copy of the cartoon to each student. Include hand-held magnifying glasses as well.
  6. Tell the students that they will be detectives today and need to find interesting clues that give hints about what the author of the source is trying to say.
  7. In small groups, allow the students to search the source and then fill out Level 1 of the cartoon analysis sheet together.
  8. When most groups are finished, come back together as a class. Ask students about what kind of source they are looking at—cartoon. What do cartoons try to do?-persuade people to think one way about a topic. Show some present day cartoons from the newspaper for schema-building.
  9. Put an overhead of the cartoon on the screen and discuss the symbols of importance (Bo Peep’s dress=flag=America, Eagle=America/Union, Crown’s on wolves=England, Abbreviations of states=Southern states running into the woods, Palmetto trees=South Carolina’s state tree (first to secede), Virginia’s lamb=still with the Union, “Old Buck” =James Buchanan, “Old Hickory”= Andrew Jackson, champion of a strong federal union-dead, etc.)
  10. What time frame can we place this source in? (1861-End of James Buchanan’s presidency and right before the election of Abraham Lincoln).
  11. Independent Practice/Assessment: Have students complete the rest of the analysis sheet with their small group.
  12. End with guiding questions discussion and WILT (What I Learned Today) student written response.

    Guiding Questions:
    • What is the message of the cartoon?
    • Why do you think the author used the Little Bo Peep nursery rhyme?
    • Who is writing this cartoon and whose point of view is being expressed?
    • How does this fit in with what we already know about the Civil War and Lincoln’s election?
    • Why is Virginia still with Little Bo Peep?

Day 4: Applying understanding of the economic division between the North and South through a persuasive war recruitment poster—Recruitment posters from the Union and Confederate points of view

Background: Both the North and South eventually used or at least threatened the use of a war draft to “muster” men to service for their cause. Even so, the recruiting posters, specifically for the Civil War, enticed men with patriotic appeals, enlistment bonuses, and promises of well-supplied units with experienced officers. The imagery on the posters illustrated Patriotism, heroic themes and political persuasions for each sides’ cause. Some posters were designed to appeal to certain segments of the population, and include posters in German, or with harps and shamrocks to appeal to an Irish constituency.

  1. VOCABULARY FOR THIS LESSON: recruitment, persuasion
  2. Anticipatory Set: Show examples of recruitment posters and important economic features of both sides of the Civil War. Particularly point out and analyze the symbols and word choices used for accuracy of the time period.

    Recruitment posters

    Confederate: Union:
  3. Role play an argument between a Northern factory worker and a Southern farmer. Allow the students to wear the army hats that represent both sides. Use props such as a shovel and sewing machine to represent the two economies.
  4. Purpose statement: “Today, you are going to try and convince the other people in our class to join your cause for the war.”
  5. Guided Practice: On the overhead, show numerous recruitment posters from the Civil War (see above, Union & Confederate).
  6. Discuss and analyze what types of things the makers of the posters included. “What was the purpose of the posters? What did they include and exclude? What language and symbols were used to get their point across? What would convince you to leave your family and put yourself in danger to go to war?”
  7. Independent Practice/Assessment: Tell students that they will be creating their own recruitment poster for their side of the divided nation. If they have been supporting the Union all week, they will promote the North’s cause and economic reasons for war. If they have been supporting the Confederacy all week, they will promote the South’s cause and economic reasons for the war.
  8. Go over the rubric so the students are clear about what they should include in their poster and how they will be graded. (Make sure to point out and model Civil War dialect used in original posters).
  9. Pass out blank white paper and allow students to work on their posters.
  10. Hang real recruitment posters around the room for inspiration.
  11. Share posters and discuss guiding questions as a class.

    Guiding Questions
    • “Can you understand the other side’s point of view?”
    • “Was there a clear good and bad side?”
    • “Was the war only about slavery?”
    • “What evidences from this week have helped you to see both sides of the economic dilemma going on during the Civil War?”


Write a letter to President Lincoln explaining your side/position on slavery. Include 4 historical facts that we have discussed and at least two (2) economic issues that you believe are important for the good of your cause.


Students will be paired in heterogeneous small groups. There will be many opportunities to express knowledge through the multiple intelligences. Using role-play activities, replica artifacts, costumes, small group organization, partner work, technology, writing, art, and oral communication, the students will use all senses and intelligences to accurately and thoroughly comprehend the unit’s concepts and objectives.


  • Money analysis chart—Day 1
  • Political Chart analysis sheet—Day 2
  • Cartoon Analysis Sheet and WILT—Day 3
  • Day 4 (Culminating assessment) Recruitment posters

References: Web

Primary Source Analysis Worksheets, National Archives

    From the National Archives, this website offers a variety of primary source analysis worksheets. The particular one used for this lesson is a record sheet for students to use when analyzing a political cartoon image. It includes important analysis questions and guides student comprehension of the document. This source is used on Day 3 of the unit.

Library of Congress, American Memory, original Civil War recruitment posters



    The above sites show Civil War recruitment posters for both sides of the cause. The posters can be magnified and clearly read to demonstrate era-appropriate language and feelings of the conflicting ideas during the Civil War.

Map of Manufacturing in America during Civil War

    The map of the United States shows the manufacturing and trading populations in states east of the Mississippi River in 1840. With a color-coded key and population portrayals, this source serves as a background builder for students to understand the importance of manufacturing and trade in the Northern states before the war. Source referenced in the Edsitement lesson: http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=289.

Causes of the Civil War
Web Author: Gordon Leidner
Copyright 2006/7 by Great American History

“Little Bo Peep and Her Foolish Sheep”, Political Cartoon

    The digital image includes the source as well as an extensive background on the symbols and meanings of the cartoon. It is part of Harpweek and under the category of American Political Prints 1766-1876. The print is thought to be the second image in the “Dime Caricatures” series drawn by John H. Goater.

Primary Source Definition

Interview with Chandra Manning, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University

    This site offers background information about the views of Northern states as well as a great narrated clip about the election of 1860. It describes how the Democratic Party is split over the expansion of slavery in the Western Territories and how Abraham Lincoln wins the election. It also references the first state to leave the Union which is important for building background for the political cartoon on Day 3 of this unit. Clips 12, 13, and 14 are especially pertinent for this thematic unit.

References: Books & Media

Political Chart of the United States 1865:
Baicker, Karen, 2003. Primary Sources Teaching Kit: Civil War, Scholastic: New York, (p. 20).

    The book offers great reproducible primary sources for the Civil War period. It also includes lesson ideas and background information about each source. Information from this source is used on Day 2 of the unit.

Background Information:
Foner, Eric and Garraty, John A. The Reader's Companion to American History. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1991.

    The Reader’s Companion to American History is a wonderful resource for understanding background information about a plethora of historical topics. For this unit, the book was used for background references about the causes of the Civil War, Lincoln’s election and the secession of the Southern States, and economic differences between the Northern and Southern States of America.