After working on some of Matthew Brady's Civil War photographs, one of my students commented that the images looked like the streets of New Haven. While I was saddened by the statement, I recognize now that the student had found a connection in the past to her own life. That experience inspired this unit. The Civil War itself presents many human stories for my students to connect with ranging from sacrifice, violence to recovery and redemption
The Civil War still looms over our nation, yet its origins and protagonists remain a mystery to most of us. Taking on the entire conflict in a survey class would not allow the depth and understanding that is intended for this unit. But focusing on the first half of April 1861, two weeks, can illustrate all of the major causes that led to the conflict, thereby, providing students with key insight into the entire Civil War. This would not be possible given the time limitations in a survey course. This in–depth approach also aligns itself with the goals and standards of the Common Core especially: Key Ideas and Details, Strands 2 and 3, Integration and Knowledge, Strand 9, and Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity, Strand 10.
This project occurs in three distinct phases: the first involves compiling the day–by– events of early April 1861, the second entails identifying these themes and causes of the Civil War suggested by these events, and the last requires students to evoke personalities that they uncovered in their research through role–playing in class. They will write up their own daily reflections and journals as they do this. Their work then becomes the collective biography of these critical weeks, from which students will examine the origins of violence at another time in our history while making comparisons with their own experiences.
The Civil War was fought far from New Haven. The only direct reminders are the war memorials at the intersections of York, Broadway and Elm Streets and on top of East Rock. Through this unit, my students will find meanings in these monuments, just as they did with Brady's photographs and the streets of New Haven. What makes a crisis? who is a leader, an instigator, or a destroyer? What are critical turning points? What is a war and what are the effects of war? These questions will emerge from our unit and force our students to think about the world they live in and how they interact with it.