Courage and Responsibility: The American Civil War

Courage and Responsibility: The American Civil War makes an excellent topic for an interdisciplinary, thematic, reading unit. Consider expanding the theme to include topics such as fear, honor, and inner strength. This project is designed for the middle and high school, but it could be adapted for other levels. Rather than focusing on the war itself, use the books to understand the impact of the war on individuals and families. War brings out both the best and worst in people. This is reflected in the books below. Internet can play an important role in this unit by providing resources to better understand the places and situations in which the characters live.

Click on the book covers for information from Amazon.

Title: Across Five Aprils
Author: Irene Hunt
Publisher: Berkley Pub, 1965, 1991 (reissue)
ISBN: 0425102416
Ages: 9-14
Summary: The Creightons live in southern Illinois. When the Civil War breaks out, one of the sons leaves home to fight for the Confederacy while the other serves in the Union. Jethro stays home to take care of the family farm. He learns about the war through letters that span five Aprils.
Ideas: This is a popular Newbery Award winning book for middle school aged students.
Author Information: Irene Hunt, Teacher Resource File
Book Information and Discussion Questions: Literature Connection

Title: Soldier's Heart
Author: Gary Paulsen
Publisher: Laureleaf, 2000 (reprint)
ISBN: 0440228387
Ages: 10-14
Summary: At fifteen, Charley Goddard was eager to enlist in the first Minnesota volunteers. He left his farm looking for a great adventure. He found out that war was full of terrible physical and mental horrors. The book was based on the life of a real boy.
Ideas: This book is shorter, easier to read, and of higher interest than many Civil War books. It would be good for reluctant readers.
Author Information: Gary Paulsen, Learning About Gary Paulsen
Book Information and Discussion Questions: Book Guide, Teacher's Guide

Title: The Red Badge of Courage
Author: Stephen Crane
Publisher: Washington Square Press, 1996 (reissued)
ISBN: 0671002759
Ages: Adult
Summary: This is a classic work of American literature. The Civil War story follows Henry Fleming as he goes into combat for the first time.
Ideas: This book will be a challenge for some students. This book is also available free online in an Electronic Text Version.
Author Information: Stephen Crane Society Author Links
Book Information: American Literature Activities, Courage and Fear, Discussion Questions, War Beyond Romance, War Literature, Anticipation Guide
WebQuests: News from the Front

Title: Lincoln: A Photobiography
Author: Russell Freedman
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 1987
ISBN: 0899193803
Ages: 9-12
Ideas: This is a good choice for low reading ability students who are visual learners.
Author Information: Russell Freedman
Book Information: Book Resources, SCORE CyberGuide

Other Civil War Books
Boy's War by Jim Murphy
Jayhawker by Patricia Beatty
Two Roads to Greatness by Marjorie B. Smiley
Bull Run by Paul Fleischman
Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen
Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling
Letters from a Slave Girl by Mary E. Lyons
Charley Skedaddle by Charley Skedaddle
The Last Silk Dress by Ann Rinaldi
Sherman's March by Cynthia Bass 

Technology Connections
Try some of the following activities using the software in your classroom, lab, or library:
  • KidPix or Paint Software. Create a map showing the movement of the characters through the book.
  • Kidspiration or Inspiration. Create a diagram showing the relationships among the characters in your book.
  • Timeliner. Develop a timeline showing the key events in the book.
  • Word Processor. Take on the role of one of the characters and write a letter as that character. Copy a historic photograph into your document and write about what might have happened on that day.
  • Email. Communicate with a class in the north or the south. Email a class in a state described in your book. Communicate with an epal as a character from your book.

Internet Connections
Thematic Starting Points
42 eXplore: Civil War
Teacher Resources and WebQuests
Civil War Literature Circles (Middle School)
Courage to Help and Civil War Era Literature Circles - off-site PDF file (Grade 5)

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Updated by Annette Lamb, 6/99. Updated 01/04.