Civil War 150: Bloodshed and Emancipation

Students study slavery in the United States through the prism of the Civil War, historic documents and legal acts: From D.C. slave auctions to the D.C. Emancipation Act of 1862, from the battles of Harpers Ferry and bloody Antietam to the Emancipation Proclamation, from selective manumission to the Fourteenth Amendment. Activities and articles focus on April 1862 to January 1, 1863. 

As the Civil War battles continued into September 1862, Generals Robert E. Lee and George McClellan, their officers and enlisted men advanced deadly confrontation into the border state of Maryland. The Union terminal at Harpers Ferry and the devastating bloodshed in the once-tranquil cornfields, lanes and woods, and Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg tried the leadership and challenged inexperienced and experienced troops alike. 


Beyond a study of leadership and battles fought 150 years ago, the time period focuses attention on this nation's division over slavery. Following compromises in 1820 and 1850, the nation remained torn over this issue. Lincoln took action in April 1862 to enact the D.C. Emancipation Act which compensated D.C. slave owners to manumit their slaves. In September after Antietam the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation alerted international and national interests that he would use his powers as commander-in-chief to save the Union, freeing slaves in rebel-held states. The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, was another step toward freedom. Yet not until the Fourteenth Amendment would all slaves held in the United States be emancipated.

Bloodshed and Emancipation provides the resources, primary documents and suggested activities to bring these events and issues to life for your students.


September 2012

Civil War Museums
Resource Graphic 

Puzzle It Out
English, Social Studies, U.S. History
Two types of puzzles are provided in this guide. Use them to warm-up students to the study of the battle of Antietam. "At Antietam Creek" is a word find. Students might be asked to use five or more of the terms in a paragraph about the battle. "Maryland Cornfield, September 1862" is a scrambled word puzzle.

Read a Map
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History 
As students prepare to focus on the Civil War’s continuation into the fall of 1862, locate the following places on a U.S. map: Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia; Shenandoah Valley, Potomac River, Shenandoah River; Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, and Antietam. Why would this section of the country be vital to the war efforts of the North and South?

Activate an Interactive Map
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History
For an interactive map experience, visit The Washington Post’s “Battles and Casualties of the Civil War map.” 

On the timeline at the top, select the tab for September 1862. Students should watch the map as it changes to focus on places where military action was taking place between September 1 and 30, 1862.

• First read the “Battle casualties” bar across the top. How many battles took place that month? How many casualties took place?
• How do students easily know where most action was taking place?
• How is “casualty” defined?
• Using casualties as an indicator of activity of troops, where was the most action taking place in September?

Roll over the largest circle.
• Where is this action taking place?

• Click on the circles for more information. Position the map so that Rockville in the east and Gore in the west are within the field. Students could be assigned to explore different red circles. As they read the information given, create a timeline for the days in September. For each date indicate: Who was involved, where were the troops, how many soldiers were involved, and what loses took place.


Meet Exceptional People
Political Science, Social Studies, U.S. History
Individuals played many roles in the 1800s — facing slavery, fighting and recording the war and healing the wounded. Read about and discuss the lives of eight such people in the “Cast of character." 

Use these nine individuals to give students experience in formulating an historical question and conducting research to find the answer. “Compose Historical Questions: Meet a Cast of Characters” guides this assignment. After students have formed a question about an aspect of the Civil War, they are to use one of the individuals in the “Cast of Characters” to illustrate the response:
Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke
Ambrose E. Burnside 
Benjamin F. Butler
Alexander Gardner and his photographs
Gen. Philip Kearny 
Dr. Jonathan Letterman
William B. Mumford
George W. Smalley 
Henry David Thoreau


Explore the Exploits of the Gray Ghost
English, Social Studies, U.S. History
One of the elusive and effective Southern military leaders lived to be an old man. Linda Wheeler’s “Confederate raider Mosby was a master of surprise,” captures the colorful personality of John S. Mosby.

A young lawyer, Mosby joined the Confederate army and served under Capt. J.E.B. Stuart. On a map of northern Virginia locate places where Mosby and his small band disrupted Union movement, captured a Brig. Gen. and surprised soldiers. What role did enterprising officers such as Mosby play in the war effort?

Relive the Civil War

Set the Stage in Harpers Ferry
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History 
On the “Battles and Casualties of the Civil War map locate the casualty circle for Harpers Ferry. Discussion questions and activities could include:

• How many casualties were experienced by the Confederate troops? How many by the Union troops?
• What kinds of conditions are included in the definition of “casualty”?
• Click on the circle for more information. Why was the Union casualty total so high?
• Who are Col. Miles, Jackson, Lee and A.P. Hill? How did each figure in the capture of Harpers Ferry?

The Washington Post Civil War 150 commemoration included print special supplements and online Special Reports. The digital coverage that coincides with the printed CW 150 coverage is divided into chapters. For this curriculum guide, we focus on Chapter 5.

For background and more details of the military encounter at Harpers Ferry, read “At Harpers Ferry, a prelude to slaughter.”  Joel Achenbach begins his article:

One of the most beautiful Civil War sites, at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., commemorates an unsightly and chaotic battle that led to the capture of more than 12,000 Union soldiers and set the stage for the wholesale slaughter of rebels and federals at Antietam two days later.

Review this lede (or lead) with students. How does he indicate the present (“commemorates) and the past (“led to the capture” and “two days later”)? He implies the Who (Union and Confederate forces), describes the Where (Harpers Ferry), and tells the What (chaotic battle).

Continue to read the article about the Confederate victory and its influence. Discussion questions are provided in “Confederates Gain Confidence at Harpers Ferry.” Answers for the discussion questions are provided. 


Relive the Battle at Antietam
Photography, Social Studies, U.S. History
In “Antietam’s bloody, defining day” Washington Post reporter Michael E. Ruane introduces readers to the actions that took place in Maryland on September 17, 1862. Through eyewitness remembrances, documents and interviews with historians, Ruane captures the day’s events and decisions that lead to the most casualties of any one day of military engagement of U.S. troops.

Discussion questions and activities are found in “When a Creek Turns Red.” These include consideration of the writer’s craft and Alexander Gardner’s photograph that accompanies the article


View the Photographs of Battle
Art, English, Photography, Social Studies, U.S. History
More than 70 of the photographs in the Mathew Brady exhibit were taken by Alexander Gardner, the first to capture the Civil War dead on the field of battle. He was one of the team of photographers Brady had hired to photograph the war — portraits, field camp scenes and battlefields. Brady realized the significance of the war and the important role that the new technology of photography could play to inform his contemporaries and future generations.

View examples of Civil War photography with students. Teachers may focus on battlefield images or life during the time period. The Library of Congress photographsglass negatives , and Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of War are accessible sources. The National Park Service and the National Archives as well as Civil War history websites are additional resources.

Ask students to select photographs. Whether taken by Mathew Brady and his team of photographers, those hired by the Union and Confederate governments, civilians or military, how do these images reflect life during 1860-1865? Write about aspects of the Civil War —North and South, civilian and military activities, in battle and its aftermath — as illustrated in the photographs.


Review Photographs of Battle
Art, Journalism, Photography, Social Studies
On October 20, 1862, The New York Times published a review of an exhibit at Brady’s New York gallery. The Times comments on the impact of Matthew Brady’s photographs and the public’s response, or lack of sympathy, to the dead of the civil war. The images of the battle at Antietam are those of the first battle on American soil to be photographed. Read “Brady’s Photographs.; Pictures of the Dead at Antietam.” An excerpt is provided in this guide or students may read the entire review as it was published in 1862 online. 

In what ways is the selection as much an editorial as it is a review of an art exhibit?

PBS offers “The Battle of Antietam,” a lesson plan in which students act as a newspaper staff working in September 1862. The information found in Michael Ruane’s “Antietam’s bloody, defining day,” Gene Thorp’s maps and the Civil War photographs found in the resources listed above will help students to complete the assignment.


Question Leadership
Mathematics, Social Studies, U.S. History
For more advanced study of the battle at Antietam and the role of the military leader, read “In defense of George McClellan: A contrarian view.” Gene Thorp presents a case for a different perspective on General McClellan’s leadership. Questions and activities tied to this article include:
• Gene Thorp enumerates the criticism of McClellan’s leadership. State four arguments against McClellan.
• Thorp counters with the situation faced by McClellan. Summarize Thorp’s arguments in favor of McClellan.
• What is Special Order No. 191?
• Explain the research done by Maurice D’Aoust at the Library of Congress.
• Create the timeline of McClellan’s action beginning Sept. 13 as presented by Thorp.
• Prepare a bar graph to illustrate the number of casualties of the battle of Antietam as given in records of Confederates, McClellan and those researched by Thorp.
• Write a statement in which you explain why you are/are not persuaded by Gene Thorp’s “contrarian view” of Gen. George McClellan’s leadership. 

Read About Antietam

Read a KidsPost Article
Reading, Social Studies
Life for slave children in 1861” by Carolyn Reeder was first published in KidsPost on June 14, 2011. It provides a perspective on the life of a child who was held as a slave. Younger students who read it have background for understanding slavery and the need for the D.C. Emancipation Act and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Carolyn Reeder wrote about history for young readers. Two of her works about the Civil war are Shades of Gray  and Captain Kate.


Discover D.C. Emancipation
Social Studies, U.S. History
Nearly nine months prior to establishing the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln took action against slavery in the District of Columbia. On April 16, 1862, “An act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia” was enacted. This day is celebrated annually as a holiday in the District of Columbia.

In D.C. Emancipation Act, teachers are provided primary documents, questions to direct discussion of the documents, a Washington Post article and resources for additional study.

Develop Vocabulary
English, Social Studies, U.S. History
Within the You and Your Rights lesson, “The Fourteenth Amendment: Guardian of Our Liberties,” terms are defined for better comprehension.

Check out the vocabulary words found In the Know. These are terms are found in the Emancipation Proclamation and Philip Kennicott's "The Freedom Conundrum." Review these terms before reading the document and The Washington Post article. 

Act With Abraham Lincoln
Civics, Social Studies, U.S. History
Writing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln confronted the limits of democracy and stretched the Constitution in its interpretation of an executive’s war powers. He was also prepared to enact slavery laws beyond the borders of the District of Columbia.

Students could be asked to explore Lincoln as the candidate, the president and the commander-in-chief.

The KidsPost article, “Lincoln inaugural foreshadowed Civil War” summarizes the events between Lincoln’s election and his taking the oath of office. As younger students think about the election of a president every four years in America, teachers might have students discuss what it might have been like for Abraham Lincoln to take the stands he did when he ran for office and the points he made in his first inaugural address.

To discuss Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address and his legacy, teachers should review Presidential Legacy and Language, a previous Washington Post NIE curriculum guide, published January 9, 2009.

Ask older students to consider what they would do if they were faced with a country divided over the issue of slavery. Brainstorm the choices they think were available to the president at that time. Include reading Article II which denotes the executive powers in the U.S. Constitution. “The Freedom Conundrum” by Philip Kennicott provides information for understanding public response to Lincoln’s decisions. Acting as President Lincoln, why would you:

•  sign a preliminary emancipation document and speak to a crowd that had gathered outside the White House?
• be uncertain if this is the time to issue manumission in the rebelling states?
• want government and the presidency to solve crises?
• defend the Emancipation Proclamation as a military necessity?


Prepare for the Emancipation Proclamation
English, Journalism, Social Studies, U.S. History
Teachers should discuss with students the social, historical and military context of Fall 1862 to January 1863. This would include the reasons for and against ending slavery, the role of media, and Lincoln’s leadership.

President Lincoln read his “preliminary proclamation” to his Cabinet in July 1862. Under advice, he withheld it from the public until the Union experienced a military victory. The abolitionists were sounding their concerns. Lincoln did write a letter to Horace Greeley, the abolitionist editor of the New York Tribune who had criticized Lincoln for not making emancipation a priority goal. It was published on August 22, 1862.

After the bloody battle at Antietam, the preliminary proclamation of emancipation was signed and sent for publication on September 22. 


Locate the States in Rebellion
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History
Lincoln states in the Emancipation Proclamation that as Command-in-Chief of the Army and Navy he has authority to identify the states and parts of states that are in rebellion against the United States. It is these areas that the emancipation of slaves took effect on January 1, 1863.

Review the “Legality of slavery” map. Have students identify the states and parts of states in which slavery is illegal as of January 1. Why were only parts of Virginia and Louisiana exempted? Why may Tennessee and border states retain slaves?


Parse the Emancipation Proclamation
English, Political Science, Social Studies, U.S. History
Teachers are encouraged to lead students in parsing the Emancipation Proclamation. The careful reading may be guided by using “After Reading the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Philip Kennicott writes a thoughtful piece that examines what President Lincoln considered “the signal accomplishment of his administration.” In “The Freedom Conundrum,” Kennicott examines Lincoln’s decision to write and publish the document as well as enact it on January 1, 1863.

Kennicott uses an extensive vocabulary. Terms found in his article and the Emancipation Proclamation are found in In the Know. Teachers should assign or review these terms before students read the selections.

Indecision and strategy are part of the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation’s history. Are these reflected in the document itself? Discuss also the reaction to the document by the different stakeholders.

For additional study, read “An Act of Justice,” John Hope Franklin’s essay. The historian gives context to the document.


Debate the Emancipation Issue
Debate, English, Social Studies, U.S. History
In April 2012, D.C. Emancipation Day observance included the “Great Debate” at the Lincoln Theatre. As a reminder of the seven debates between Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Sen. Stephen Douglas, in which slavery was a prominent topic, the debaters focused on contemporary issues.

Teachers could either hold a debate as if it were held in the Fall of 1862, focusing on slavery, emancipation and the war’s continuation or hold a debate on today’s issues.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Lincoln’s Cottage provides another resource in which students play the role of one of President Lincoln’s cabinet members to debate emancipation. Review “Debating Emancipation Online” for its activities, Emancipation Timeline for younger and older students, guidelines and glossary of Civil War terms.

Study the Fourteenth Amendment
Civics, Government, U.S. History
The Fourteenth Amendment is one of three post-Civil War amendments known as the “Reconstruction” or “Civil War” amendments. Daniel J. Crooks III, a Fellow with the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project and licensed attorney, wrote the You and Your Rights lesson.

The resources in Fourteenth Amendment guide can be used as a lesson taught over several days or used individually to focus on different lessons, such as “How to Amend the U.S. Constitution,” “What Is Due Process?” and “Focus on the First Section of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Historical background includes an overview of the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the Constitution and slavery. The main lesson focuses on the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, including court cases in which this section has been applied. A handout relating to the Due Process Clause is also included. Study questions check on students’ understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Government teachers may use this lesson to introduce the amendment process. Students could be asked to review the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the history of all the amendments and contemporary discussion of amending the Constitution. If they were to amend the Constitution what would they change? Why would they make this change?

History teachers might have students note events from 1858 to the end of the Civil War that lead to the Fourteenth Amendment.


Amend the Constitution
Civics, English, U.S. History, Government
Making an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is fairly complicated. Once Congress or the states propose an amendment, the Archivist of the United States sends a packet of information to all 50 governors, who then send the proposed amendment to their respective state’s legislature. If a state votes to ratify the amendment, then the state sends the decision back to the Archivist of the United States, who records all of the votes. If there are enough states that ratify an amendment, the Archivist certifies that the amendment has become part of the Constitution.

Teachers may use the Fourteenth Amendment lesson to introduce the amendment process. Students could be asked to review the Articles of Confederation,  Constitution and Bill of Rights, the history of all the amendments and contemporary discussion of amending the Constitution. If they were to amend the Constitution what would they change? Why would they make this change?

In The Know 
Autocrat  Placate
Confiscation Precedent
Constitutionality Proclamation
Conundrum Quiexcence
Countervailing Repress
Emancipation Rhetoric, Rhetorical
Equivocate Slave, Slavery
Exorcise Trope
Flummox Usurpation
Habeas corpus Vexations
Ignominious Vitiate
District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

U.S. History and Geography I: Students analyze the issue of slavery, including the early and steady attempts to abolish slavery and realize the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. (8.10, Grade 8)

U.S. History and Geography I: Students analyze the multiple causes, key events, and complex consequences of the Civil War (8.11, Grade 8)
4. Describe Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his significant writings and speeches and their relationship to the Declaration of Independence (e.g., his House Divided speech in 1858, Gettysburg Address in 1863, Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and inaugural addresses in 1861 and 1865). (P)
7. Describe critical developments and events in the war, including locating on a map the major battles, geographical advantages and obstacles, technological advances, and General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. (G,M,P)

D.C. History & Government: Students describe the effect the Civil War had on life in Washington, DC, and they explain the effects of Compensated Emancipation and the Emancipation Proclamation on the city.
1. Describe how the Union Army transformed the city into an armed camp.
2. Describe the conflicting loyalties of people living in the city.
4. Explain the participation of white and black residents in the Union and Confederate armies.


Learning Standards for DCPS are found online at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Social Studies: Explain the political, cultural, economic and social changes in Maryland during the early 1800s
b. Describe the importance of changes in industry, transportation, education, rights and freedoms in Maryland, such as roads and canals, slavery, B&O railroad, the National Road, immigration, public schools, and religious freedom (History, Grade 4)

Political Science: Explain how the United States government protected or failed to protect the rights of individuals and groups (Standard 1.0, Topic C, Indicator 2, Grade 8)
a. Describe significance and effects of the Emancipation Proclamation

Political Science: Analyze the impact of historic documents and practices that became the foundations of the American political system during the early national period (1.0,Indicator 2, Grade 8)
g. Evaluate the significance of the Civil War Amendments (13th, 14th and 15th) and how they protected individual rights

Political Science: Examine the principle of due process (Standard 1, Topic C, Indicator 3, Grade 8)
a. Identify how due process of law protects individuals
b. Describe the due process protections in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment

Government: The student will analyze historic documents to determine the basic principles of United States government and apply them to real-world situations (1.1.1, Indicator).


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Virginia, U.S. History: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era and their importance as major turning points in American history by
b) identifying the major events and the roles of key leaders of the Civil War Era, with emphasis on Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and Frederick Douglass;
c) analyzing the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the principles outlined in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; 
d) examining the political and economic impact of the war and Reconstruction, including the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (VUS 7)

Virginia, U.S. History: The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis and responsible citizenship, including the ability to

a) identify, analyze, and interpret primary and secondary source documents, records, and data, including artifacts, diaries, letters, photographs, journals, newspapers, historical accounts, and art, to increase understanding of events and life in the United States;
c) formulate historical questions and defend findings, based on inquiry and interpretation;
i) identify the costs and benefits of specific choices made, including the consequences, both intended and unintended, of the decisions and how people and nations responded to positive and negative incentives. (Skills, VUS.1)



Standards of Learning currently in effect for Virginia Public Schools can be found online at

Common Core Standards 

Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12: Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes and rhetorical features. (Grades 11-12, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, 9)

Reading Standards for Informational Text: Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences from the text. (Grade 8, Key Ideas and Details, 1)

Reading Standard for Information Text: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone. (Grade 7, Craft and Structure, 4)

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes. (Text Types and Purposes, Grades 6-12)

Common Core State Standards currently in effect can be found online at