Civil War 150: Grant Takes Command

As Grant sought to win the war, hundreds and thousands of lives would be sacrificed at places such as Cold Harbor, the Battle of the Crater and even in the D.C. area as Gen. Jubal Early approached the capital city. Using the work of Post staffers we examine how the Civil War’s casualties and those of today’s conflicts and wars can be understood in words and through informational graphics.
Primary Disciplines 
Additional Disciplines 
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Ulysses S. Grant took command of Northern forces determined to end the war. In one month of fighting Grant would lose more than 54,000 men, but remain resolved. Post reporters and guest writers report on the casualties, leadership and impact of changes.


Significant battles and Jubal Early's attempt to capture D.C. are covered. The leadership and military strategies of Grant, Early, Ambrose Burnside and George Meade are examined. As is the purchase (twice) of Robert and Mary Lee’s Arlington House to found a cemetery.


Interdisciplinary activities and study questions provide different approaches to using the articles, timeline and graphics. In Think Like a Reporter, students are asked to examine and use composition techniques such as analogy and comparison with other wars. Informational graphics are used to contrast the casualties of war — whether 150 years ago or yesterday. Students meet Ernesto Londoño, The Post’s Pentagon and national security correspondent, to learn how he covers today’s wars, issues and people. We learn that the impact of medical assistance is as important today as it was on the battlefields of 1864.


May 2014

Defending Washington, D.C.
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
English, Journalism, Social Studies, U.S. History

The 20 terms that are listed in In the Know were used by Post reporter Joel Achenbach in “Unknown Soldier.” Ask students to define the terms. Find all the words in the feature article. Does context help them to define the words? Are their definitions confirmed in context?

As students read other articles in Grant Takes Command, ask them to compile a list of new terms and the words for which they are uncertain of definition. Teachers might compile a vocabulary list based on the terms most unfamiliar or unknown to students.


Map It
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History

Writers of many of the articles in Civil War 150: Grant Takes Command relate the locations of forts, skirmishes and battles to present day locations. Use this information to locate military activity and to relate to students and their experiences in these locales.


Post reporter Steve Vogel writes in “The day ‘Old Jube’ nearly took Washington”:

“Forty-one white headstones form two concentric circles around an American flag in the tiny graveyard that is tucked into the middle of a block on Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington.”  This is a description of the commemorative marker at Battleground National Cemetery. He later gives directions to Fort Stevens. Walkers and drivers are to “go six blocks south on Georgia and take a right at the Wonder Chicken.” Fort Stevens is is located at 13th Street/Piney Branch Road NW and Quackenbos Street, NW. Have students locate these two Civil War sites on a modern map of D.C.


Civil War Defenses of Washington” provides the locations of the ring of fortifications that were built to protect the nation’s capital from Southern advances. The District was situated between slave-owning Maryland and Confederate Virginia. Students might be asked to
• Locate Civil War-era forts in present day Maryland, Virginia and D.C.
• Look at the typography of the area. Relate the different reasons each fort would be an important part of the defense.
• Discuss the role of the Potomac River and Anacostia River (Eastern Branch) in the defense and potential capture of the District of Columbia. 


Visit a Civil War Fort
Geography, U.S. History

Neighborhoods are named after Civil War fortifications and, for many, are the only acknowledgement of the ring of forts built to defend the federal capital. Give students “Civil War Defenses of Washington,” a map that shows the location of the major forts in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. Are any located in places students know? Have students visited any of the 19 forts that are administered today by the National Park Service?  Have students select a fort to read its story. On a contemporary map locate each fort.


This guide features General Jubal Early’s attack on the area, including Fort Stevens. “Fort Stevens and Battleground National Cemetery” provides information to locate these two parks. Have students locate Metro stations near Georgia Avenue (Seventh Street in 1864). The fort, which is undergoing restoration, is located at 13th Street/Piney Branch Road NW and Quackenbos Street, NW.


For more activities and resources download Civil War and The Capital City. This fifth of nine once-a-month guides, produced between September 2003 and May 2004, focuses on the transformation of the federal city, the area between Maryland and Virginia. 

Timelines in The Washington Post’s Civil War 150 series provide battlefield maps. Use them in conjunction with current maps to locate where significant events took place. 

Write a Headline
English, Journalism, Media Arts

The print and online headlines of news articles and feature stories often differ. The digital version is written to facilitate searches. Digital headlines are more specific with fewer, if any, word play.

Compare the headlines for stories about 1864 Civil War battles.

Print: “At the Battle of the Crater, a brilliant plan is bungled”

Online: “At Battle of the Crater, black troops prove their courage”


Print: “On a hot July day, Bethesda became a battleground”

Online: “For Gen. Jubal Early, a raid north nearly led to the capture of Washington”


Print: "Out of a sense of betrayal, Arlington Cemetery is born"
Online: "Arlington National Cemetery, and the fight over Robert E. Lee’s home”


Read today’s newspaper. Ask students to select five headlines to rewrite for posting online. When finished, go online to compare students’ revisions with the ones written by Post online editors.

Take Me Back to the 1860s
Resource Graphic 

Visit Arlington National Cemetery
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History

In  "Out of a sense of betrayal, Arlington Cemetery is born," Post reporter Linda Wheeler relates how and why Robert E. Lee's home became a cemetery. Before reading the article, locate Arlington National Cemetery on a map. If students have visited the cemetery, what features or experiences do they remember most?

Read the article and discuss the relation of the following to Arlington House: George Washington, Mary Custis Lee, Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, Selina Grey, Custis Lee and Jim Parks. 

Discussion of Arlington Cemetery might include:
• The fairness of the Union seizing the property, issuing new rules for tax payment and purchase of the property (twice)
• Disregard for rose beds and landscaping. Read the Union soldier's account of Arlington House for an eyewitness reaction.
• Turning the property into a cemetery in June 1864
• Requirements to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, reasons for the expansion of the grounds, ceremonies held there
• Presidents buried there
• Marking the grounds to indicate the location of "wells, springs, slave quarters, slave cemetery, dance pavilion, old roads, ice houses and kitchens" prior to the Civil War

Relive the Third Invasion of the North
D.C. History, Geography, Maryland History, U.S. History, Virginia History

Washington Post reporter Steve Vogel, who has written about the War of 1812, takes readers from present-day Georgia Avenue to Seventh Street, 1864. Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early has been charged by Lt. Gen. Robert E. Lee to invade the North and secure the federal capital city.


Before students read "The day 'Old Jube' nearly took Washington," have them picture the hilly areas with woods, streams, farms and a ring of forts as troops neared the nation's capital. Ask students to plot troop movement on a map. They should locate Maryland locations named in the fourth paragraph.


Read the article. Discussion could include
• Why did Gen. Lee send Early to the North at this time?
• What is Early's background and temperament?
• Has the nation's capital been under attack before?
• Describe and explain the significance of the Rebel advance to Fort Stevens.
• Why would President Lincoln be at Fort Stevens? 


Compose Using Comparisons
English, Geography, Reading, U.S. History

Writers of "The day 'Old Jube' nearly took Washington" and "On a hot July day, Bethesda became a battleground" include present day landmarks in the opening paragraphs of their articles. This is an example of a reader aid.
• Why would a writer of an article about an historical event include references to contemporary places?
• Do these references help all readers or mainly those who live in the D.C. area?

Relate Civil War locations to today's streets. Teachers could ask students to write about a Civil War event after reading an article from the Civil War 150 series. They are to include what is now located where the event took place, compare to present-day activities, and/or contrast settings then to now.


In a similar writer's technique, authors of "At the Battle of the Crater, a brilliant plan is bungled" use a World War II analogy to help readers understand the disaster that resulted from the failure of the leaders. Read the last five paragraphs of the article.
• What is the "darker realm of warfare" as illustrated by Burnside and Meade?
• What do readers need to understand about June 5, 1944, and Omaha Beach for the analogy to work?
• Do students agree with the authors that the "Battle of the Crater was one of the most mismanaged tragedies of the war"?


Tell It Like It Was
English, Media Arts, Reading, U.S. History

Bring together social media and the Civil War through the suggested activities in "A Personal Side of the American Civil War." Give students the handout and review the list of resources, "Civil War Diaries, Letters and Manuscripts." Each of these is found at a different website in order to provide many examples for each activity and to introduce students to different reliable sources. 

Read Memoirs

Analyze General Grant
Media Arts, Social Studies, U.S. History

What kind of man and military strategist would it take to end the war? When Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant to take command of Northern troops, the country was wary and war weary. Would he be the general to end the war? And at what cost?

In “Unknown Soldier” Post reporter Joel Achenbach reports on the impact of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on the trajectory of the U.S. Civil War, his success as president and how historians can influence the legacy of leaders.


Students may also read “‘We were turned into fiends and brutes’: For sustained, frightful fighting in horrible conditions, Spotsylvania is perhaps unsurpassed in the annals of the war.” Michael E. Ruane reports from Spotsylvania, Va., where open fields and pine trees stand on grounds where “wounded men fell in the mud, then were trampled and buried under the bodies of the dead.”

Meet the Pentagon Reporter
Career Education, Journalism, Media Arts, Social Studies

The Washington Post Pentagon and National Security correspondent Ernesto Londoño answers our questions. Read how his early reporting experience informs his current assignments and what it is like to cover diverse stories.


Teachers might ask students to follow his byline. Summarize the different stories he is covering, indicate his dateline and discuss the sources he has interviewed. 



Consider the Ending of America’s Longest War
Journalism, Media Arts, Social Studies, U.S. History

In “The last casualties: As a long war ends, risks still prove real,” Ernesto Londoño, The Post’s Pentagon reporter covers the medical and personal stories of troops as the U.S. is lowering its presence in Afghanistan. It is clear from Londoño’s reporting that medical technology has improved since 1864. Yet what is the impact of troop withdrawal on those who remain on the battle front?


The photography of Nikki Khan enhances the story.

Think Like a Reporter

Art, Journalism, Media Arts, U.S. History

Whether reporting on the American Civil War or today’s conflicts, a reporter faces the task of relating fatalities and injuries. The suggested activities that comprise “Think Like a Reporter” lead students through the process of communicating casualties — in words and through informational graphics.

Until The Post has Part 8: Fight to the death timeline online, teachers may use the e-Replica format timelines to complete the Use Informational Graphics section.

Wilderness — May 5-7 to Fight for the Valley — May 15-June 5
A hard drive south — May 23-31 to Petersburg assaults — June 15-18
Lynchburg — June 17-18 to Battles for Atlanta — July 20-28
Second Kernstown — July 24 to Atlanta falls — Aug. 31-Sept. 1

For Use Text, students are asked to annotate an excerpt from “At Battle of the Crater, black troops prove their courage.” Five questions are provided to guide their discussion of the writers’ techniques to relate information.


Contemporary War Correspondents and Pentagon Reporters focuses more attention on how comparisons in text and informational graphics can provide readers with a better understanding of the numbers and proportion of casualties. In the last section, students are asked to find and use different types of charts and graphs in order to compare and contrast casualties of different wars. 

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Adept  Malign
Ancillary Memoir
Capitulation Morale
Consummate Obstinate
Endgame Perpetuation
Eulogized Reverberation
Immolate Siege
Imperiled Succumb
Imperturbable Unconditional
Interlude Unrelenting

Think Like a Reporter
ANSWERS. "Fight to the death: May to September 1864
1. Union, 6,266
2. Lynchburg, 200
3. Cold Harbor, 12,737
6. Answers will vary.
7. “Half of the 223 Union troops reported killed in the battle are from African American units.”
8. Answers will vary.
9. a. Union troops are dark figures; Southern troops are outlined figures. b. Grant. c. Troop movement. d. It does not relate casualites; readers must use other source of this information. 

ANSWERS. "At Battle of the Crater, black troops prove their courage"
1. They gave or scrificed everything they had — their lives. Lincoln used the phrase in his Gettysburg Address: "from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion."
2. Disease was prevalent, lack of basic hot water and soap as well as antibiotics and other recent medical advances
3. They are using a proportionate number to compare 1864 population to today's.
4. Battle of the Bulge was a German offensive that caught the Allied forces off guard; the costliest battle of WWII in terms of U.S. casualties
5. Answers will vary. 

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

U.S. History: Historical and Social Science Analysis Skills.
3. Students evaluate major debates among historians concerning alternative interpretations of the past, including an analysis of authors’ use of evidence and the distinctions between sound generalizations and misleading oversimplifications. (Historical Research, Evidence and Point of View)


District of Columbia History and Government.
12.DC.7. 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.
3. On a map, trace the creation of a ring of forts to defend the city. (Slavery, War, and Emancipation)



Academic Content Standards may be found at


Maryland Academic Content Standards 

5. Analyze factors affecting the outcome of the Civil War
d. Identify the goals, resources and strategies of the North and the South
e. Describe the political impact of Lincoln's decisions regarding the deployment of black regiments (Standard 5, Grade 8)


Reading. Comprehension of Informational Text.
2. Analyze text features to facilitate and extend understanding of informational texts.
a. Analyze print features that contribute to meaning
b. Analyze graphic aids that contribute to meaning
f. Analyze the relationship between the text features and the content of the text as a whole (Grade 8)


Academic content standards may be found at

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Virginia and U.S. History. Civil War and Reconstruction: 1860-1877
The student will demonstrate knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era and their importance as major turning points in American history by
a)  evaluating the multiple causes of the Civil War, including the role of the institution of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict;
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;
e) examining the social impact of the war on African Americans, the common soldier, and the home front, with emphasis on Virginia;
f) explaining postwar contributions of key leaders of the Civil War. (VUS.7)


English: Communication: Speaking, Listening, Media Literacy
The student will produce, analyze, and evaluate auditory, visual and written media messages.
c)  Describe possible cause and effect relationships between mass media coverage and public opinion trends.
d)  Evaluate sources including advertisements, editorial, and feature stories for relationships between intent and factual content.  (9.2)


English: Reading
The student will read and analyze a variety of nonfiction texts.
g)  Analyze and synthesize information in order to solve problems, answer questions, or complete a task.
h)  Draw conclusions and make inferences on explicit and implied information using textual support as evidence.
i)  Differentiate between fact and opinion.
j)  Organize and synthesize information from sources for use in written and oralpresentations.  (Grade 9)


Academic content standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

History/Social Studies
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science. (Craft and Structure, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4)


History/Social Studies
Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims. (Craft and Structure, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.8)



Common Core content standards may be found at