Teaching Guide: Exploring Women in the Civil War

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Women in the Civil War, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Analyze the activities for women during wartime portrayed in Winslow Homer’s engraving. Describe the roles women play here. Who is shown playing these roles? Compare the women in the image to the real women in this set, such as Clara Barton, Susie King Taylor, and Nancy Kile Green. Now compare ideas about women’s roles during the Civil War to ideas about women in war during the twenty-first century.
  2. Read Josephine Crump’s “Two Brave Women” and the excerpt from Alcott’s Hospital Sketches. Describe the hardships and sacrifices they portray. Discuss the similarities and differences between these eyewitness accounts. Evaluate the impact of the author’s loyalties, Confederate (Crump) and Union (Alcott).
  3. Use Josiah Benton’s speech to identify the obstacles that hindered women’s involvement in the war effort. How does the speech support Clara Barton’s statement that the war helped advance women’s status?
  4. Use the sources on Susie King Taylor, the “Contraband of War” illustration, and Harriet Tubman’s affidavit to describe some of the roles black women played during the Civil War. Compare these to the portrayal of a black female character in a film set around the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Classroom activities

  1. Divide students into groups. One group will compare the two images of vivandières: the engraving of Kady Brownell and the postcard. The other will compare the drawing of Loreta Velasquez with the illustration of Belle Boyd. How do these images contrast the ideal with the actual?
  2. Collectively research Harriet Tubman’s role in the Combahee River raid in 1863. Ask students to use this information to develop arguments supporting or denying Tubman’s claim to a military pension.

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