Monday, April 23, 2018

Engaging History: American Civil War

history books, children's books, history videos, Civil War, Underground Railroad

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History has always been one of my favorite subjects. There are so many exciting ways to study and teach history. During the presentation of ideas in my Engaging History series, I will provide activities, journal-writing opportunities and questions, ways to include geography, music, and literature in your lessons, and projects for your children to complete to help bring history alive. I urge parents to preview books, movies, and other resources and references prior to sharing with your children. Only you, as the parent, know what your children are ready to read or view in a movie.

There are so many fantastic resources when one wants to study the American Civil War: museums, military parks and monuments, fiction and non-fiction books, movies, music, poetry, reenactments, and more.

Civil War, Underground Railroad, Children's Boks

When studying the Underground Railroad, I found North Star to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad by Gena K. Gorrell to be a valuable resource. North Star to Freedom, originally published in 1996, is written for children 10 years and older and includes personal accounts and experiences, photographs, and illustrations that depict and explain the life of slaves as they escaped from the South and journeyed northward to Canada.

Civil War, Underground Railroad, North Star, Freedom, Children's Books

Underground Railroad Activities
  • In a journal, answer the following question: What does freedom mean to you? 
  • On a map of the United States and Canada, trace the route an escaped slave might take on their journey northward from slavery. 
  • Preview the movie Amistad. Please keep in mind this is rated R. If you think it is appropriate to share with your children, you can watch some or all of it with them and explore how some slaves attempted to gain freedom through the court system. (You can also read about Dred Scott and discuss his court case of 1857.)
  • Many of the plantations where slaves worked grew crops like coffee, sugar, rice, and tobacco. If you live near farms that grow these crops, see if they offer tours. Research how farms grow and manage these crops. One place you can visit that is a former rice plantation is Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
  • Research how the network of the Underground Railroad formed – people were from all different races and religions. Have your child prepare a presentation to share the information that is learned.
  • The book describes the Underground Railroad as "a fellowship of goodwill and sympathy" (63). In a journal, describe what that might mean. 
  • While studying slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the American Civil War, one can also read Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This book had a huge impact on how individuals of the time felt about slavery. 
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Underground Railroad, Freedom, Civil War 

  • There are many events prior to the American Civil War that impacted how citizens felt about slavery and whether or not it should continue in America, be limited to the South, or allowed to expand to new territories. Events and topics include the Kansas-Nebraska Act and "Bleeding Kansas," the Dred Scott case, and John Brown's attack on Harper's Ferry. 
  • In a journal, write about the problems that escaped slaves faced once they found freedom. 
Gettysburg, Lincoln, Children's Books, History BooksAnother valuable resource I picked up is The Gettysburg Address in Translation: What It Really Means by Kay Melchisedech Olson part of Fact Finders' Kids' Translation series published in 2009. In three of its chapters, it explains what the Gettysburg Address is, what it means, and how it came to be for children ages 8 and up.

It answers questions like:
  • Did Lincoln live in Gettysburg? 
  • How long is four score and seven years?
  • For how long did Lincoln speak at the Dedication ceremony? 

Gettysburg Address Activities 

Civil War, Gettysburg, Lincoln, Children's Books, History Books

  • Read and memorize the Gettysburg Address. 
  • Use the Gettysburg Address to practice penmanship. 
  • Research Mary Virginia Wade, also known as Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed at the battle of Gettysburg. 
  • Visit the National Military Park and Cemetery. 
  • Read other speeches given by Lincoln and compare and contrast them to the Gettysburg Address
  • Create a timeline of the events leading up to the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863.
  • Visit the town of Gettysburg, PA for Remembrance Day (November 19).
Gettysburg, Civil War, Historic Parks, History


There are many movies about the American Civil War. Some that sit on my shelves include:
  • Gods and Generals
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Gettysburg
  • The Blue and the Gray
  • Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All 
  • North and South 
  • The Civil War: A Ken Burns Film 
Resources and References 

Even if you cannot visit and take the tour, the website offers several photographs of what the cabins look like that were home to slaves and former slaves who worked on the rice plantation

Gettysburg National Military Park: National Cemetery Virtual Tour
This site provides current and historic photographs of the cemetery, as well as a copy of the Gettysburg Address and the only known photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken at the dedication ceremony. 

Please visit the links below to read more posts from the Homeschool Review Crew as we come together for the 5 Days of...Homeschool Blog Hop during the week of April 23, 2018. And make sure to stop back here each day this week for more great ways to bring history to life with books, movies, and more! 


  1. interesting. I saw the Gettysbury stuff last year with my son in PA. Fascinating. Good to stop in and learn more.

    1. Thanks...So many interesting things to study - maybe that is why my bookshelf has 3 shelves with Civil War books & movies on it. :)

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