The following activity started in an antique store. I was looking at old books, when I came across A Youth's History of the Great Civil War written in 1866- just a year after the war ended. I was immediately intrigued, and opened it up to take a closer look.
"TO THE READER :~: This book has been written in the cause of Truth." Ok...as I assumed it would be....
I read on, skimming through the narrative about the Tory and Democratic parties in the early days of the United States. On the second page, however, A sentence caught my eye, "...Mr. Lincoln went much further, and acted much worse than John Adams ever dared to do." Huh, what?! This negative comment about our 16th President was unlike any Lincoln reference I'd heard. My surprise quickly gave way to understanding that the book was written from a Southerners's perspective, a year after the Civil War ended- something I'd never encountered. What an unique find! Reprint and Original: A Youth's History of the Great Civil War
Trading off between shock, and outrage, I realized how important it would be to share it with my 5th graders. Always striving to write or find engaging lessons, I knew this would hold their interest easily. Due to the deterioration of the 1866 version, I was shocked to find it possible to order a copy from The Confederate Reprint Company for classroom use. (It arrived without a disclaimer about taking this book with a grain of historic salt. I must say I was a bit irritated...)
In addition to my 5th graders, I shared passages with my Northern Arizona University students as part of their Social Studies methods class. No one could believe the inflammatory words written in this book. The reaction to this book was universal, whether the student was ten or twenty.
I'd been teaching 5th graders about The Civil War nearly fourteen years when I found the book, but this Pennsylvanian could only describe the ideas of Southern perspective. A Youth's History of the Great Civil War, however, was a Southerner speaking directly to them, and giving his authentic point of view.
Such is the power of the primary resource.
We begin with a review on Primary/Secondary Resources using A Youth's History of the Great Civil War a book I discovered in an antique shop written from the Southerner's perspective. They had the opportunity to analyze the Declaration of Independence when we were learning about The Revolutionary War, but with this lesson, they will compare a Northerner and Southerner point of view after reading the primary/secondary resources. I've added secondary because although these books are very old (1866, 1900), they were not written at the time the events happened, but are a reflection and record. The students will practice RI.5.5 and compare and contrast the overall structure of the ideas and concepts in these two texts written from differing points of view.
As described in the Background section, the book was written in 1866- only a year after The Civil War ended. Without mentioning the point of view, I tell them when it was written and begin by reading the excerpt on the back of the book, "This book is given to the Northern people, under the confident belief that they did not intend to destroy their government by the war, and that they only need to understand the aims and object of the Abolition party, to forever hold it responsible for all the suffering of the country." (Sharing passages from a Southerner's POV)
I don't finish the rest, just pause and let it sink in. The kids recognize that something's off with that statement, but need me to read it again. The second time through they definitely hear the part about the Abolition party being held for all the suffering of the country. They know what it means to be an abolitionist, and they're like, "What?!"
After identifying that this is an authentic point of view that existed, I read a few more passages from the book that absolutely shock them. They can't believe such things would be written. I take care to remind them that these were the views of some Southerners in 1866, and certainly not what Southerners think today.
Bottom line...they are hooked and can't wait to get into this lesson.
This is the first time I have attempted this lesson, but knew I wanted to use the technology of ebooks. At the same time, I was a bit nervous that something would go wrong with connections, etc. and came prepared with printed copies of both texts.
I find that it is helpful to have both types available to the kids, anyway. With copies in hand, and ebooks on the computers, they begin their journey into the pages of A Youth's History of the Great Civil War 1866 and The New Century History of Our Country 1900 found at the links. (Ebay pages of the book from 1900)
The activity is a challenge. They have to compare and contrast the events (Writing comparisons) surrounding Lincoln's Assassination and descriptions of John Wilkes Booth from each of the books (Some info about J.W. Booth/ J.W. Booth not such a bad guy). To organize this information, they use the Primary Resource Text Comparisons worksheet.
The writing of the era is a little difficult, but with my assistance in helping them zero in on specific points, they're up to the task (Reading Primary/Secondary Sources). They are fully engaged in the topic, and enjoy the opportunity to use the ebooks. I hand them their own papers, so as to work individually, but it's soon evident that a number want to help each other with understanding and finding pages, etc. I will definitely make this a partner activity from the start, the next time around, and will also have them highlight some sections while we're still in the classroom. Highlighting while sitting at the computers is a little more difficult due to distractions and cramped space.
Back in the classroom, I pull up the the Primary Resouces Text Comparisons page they used in the activity on the Smart Board (Reviewing the Activity). We discuss the differences between the two texts and kids volunteer to contribute their ideas. A rich discussion takes place, as the kids are still baffled that these opinions really represent the way some people felt.
What's amazing, but not surprising is that no matter how aware they were of there being a differing opinion- and they were quite aware- reading it firsthand, instead of having it described to them in a textbook, is what made the difference. Even seeing a movie that depicts racist Southerners was not as powerful as reading the words of Rushmore G. Horton, author of A Youth's History... He was a man who was as passionate about his beliefs, as he was offensive to all of us who read them.