Backround Research for Reading Historical Fiction about the American Civil War

Research Scenario

confederate soldiers
Confederate soldiers
Source: Library of Congress

union officers
Union officers' mess
Source: Library of Congress

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."

--Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, 1863

The Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, was a major event in American history. Most soldiers found that the "War Between the States" was not the great adventure or the easy victory they had expected. The bitter, ruthless fighting sometimes pitted brother against brother and proved to be the nation's bloodiest conflict. More than three million Americans saw battle; close to 600,000 lost their lives; another 400,00 were scarred, maimed or disabled for life.

This important event in American history has provided a rich and powerful setting for many historical fiction novels, including Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt , Bull Run by Paul Fleischman, A Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen, and Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

To better understand any of these novels and their historical contexts, you will investigate a topic related to one facet of the American Civil War experience. Your research should enable you to answer the following question:

How does an understanding of the historical and cultural background of the American Civil War enhance your reading of historical fiction set in this time period?

Task and Product



african american soldiers
African American Soldiers
Source: Library of Congress

Your task will be to research an important aspect of the American Civil War along with another class member. You will become specialists on this topic and will then present your findings to the class in an informative and creative product. Your teacher or library media specialist may decide to upload all of your products to a class wiki for sharing purposes.

Possible Topics
African American soldiers   Prisoner of War Camps
Author (Irene Hunt, Gary Paulsen, or Michael Shaara) Civil War Uniforms Role of the British
Battle Tactics and Strategies Confederate Army Generals Soldier's Life
Causes of the Civil War Letters and Diaries Spies in the Civil War
Children Soldiers Abraham Lincoln Union Army Generals
Civil War Photography Medical Practices in the Civil War Weaponry of the Civil War
Civil War Poetry and Song Navies of the Civil War Women in the Civil War

Possible Products (and assessment tools)
Visual Displays (with oral presentation)
Multimedia Presentations
Web 2.0 Tools



Poster PhotoStory Vodcast
Scrapbook Page Newscast/Video Animoto video
Museum Box Promethean flipchart Wiki page
help me logo

The most difficult part of a research assignment is knowing where to begin! You may feel overwhelmed by the assignment, the vast amounts of information, all the reading you will need to do, and the decisions you must make in order to ace this assignment.

Check out the the Information Literacy Process Model for a step-by-step guide.


Union marines
Source: Library of Congress

The following scoring tools may be used or adapted by your teacher to evaluate your research process and your final product and presentation.

Research Process Assessments:
  • Daily-- Formative
  • Research Process--Summative (Student/Self)
  • Research Process--Summative (Teacher)

Final Product Assessments: 



Source: Library of Congress

Essential Question:

How does an understanding of the historical and cultural background of the American Civil War enhance your reading of historical fiction set in this time period?

Subsidiary Questions:
1. What events led up to the Civil War?
2. What were some of the major battles or conflicts and their results?
3. How did the Civil War affect the soldiers on both sides of the conflict?
4. What was life like for those at home ?
5. Who were some of the major leaders during the time period and how did their leadership affect the war's outcome?
6. How was the war conducted in terms of technology and strategy?

Generate additional, more specific questions about your own topic using Who, What, When, Where, Why, or How as question-starters. For example, what would you like to find out about Civil War medicine, for example?

Gather and Sort


Confederate Artillery
Source: Library of Congress

Use a variety of resources for gathering information about Civil War soldiers.

Sort your research findings using research organizer #1 , research organizer #2, note cards, or another note-taking method recommended by your teacher.

  • You may print out the research organizer sheet and write your notes, or save it according to your teacher's directions and word process your notes.

Avoid plagiarism by properly paraphrasing and quoting in your writing. Use additional resources if needed to learn more about avoiding plagiarism.

Cite all information sources you use for a list of Works Cited. Use the citation resources below as directed by your teacher or library media specialist.



Ambulance drivers picking up
wounded soldiers
Source: Library of Congress


field hospital
Army Hospital Tents
Source: Library of Congress


union soldier
Union Soldier
Source: Library of Congress

Analyze your research notes to determine if you have sufficient information to complete the task.

  • Do you have enough information to answer each of your subsidiary questions?
  • Have you gathered sufficient details to inform your audience about your topic?
  • Will the information you've gathered enable you to create your product ?

Individual Team-members:

  • Analyze your research notes to determine if you have answered your subsidiary questions.
    • Have you gathered sufficient details about your topic to create your section of the team display?


  • Analyze your research notes to determine which details will best address the needs of your audience and the demands of your research task.
    • Meet with your team-members to share research notes, bibliography entries, pictures, etc
    • What new insights have emerged about your topic?
    • Which facts are the most important and would be most interesting for your classmates to know?
    • Which facts are irrelevant or unimportant and could be eliminated?
    • As you go through your notes, each team member should highlight the information you decide as a group to include in your product. If team members have any identical information, only one person should highlight those notes.
    • Evaluate the effectiveness of your team's research for the task..
      • Does your team have sufficient information to answer the essential question?
      • Is your team ready to create your final product?


Evaluate your first draft by referring to the scoring tool.

  • Your teacher may instruct you to get feedback from a classmate using a PQP Peer Response Form.
  • Revise and edit your drafts to ensure you have met the requirements for the task as indicated on the scoring tool.
  • Is this your best work?


Union soldiers with American flag
Union soldiers in Wash. D.C.
Source: Library of Congress



dead soldiers at gettysburg
Union casualties on the
battlefield at Gettysburg
Source: Library of Congress

Presentation Options

  • Participate in a museum-like Gallery Walk in the computer lab.
    • Set up your product on a computer in a computer lab (or an area in the lab) to display your team's product.
    • Complete the Gallery Walk evaluation sheet as you view your classmates' products.
  • Submit your product to your teacher in digital format so that it can be uploaded to a Civil War Wiki for your class.
    • If your product is a brochure, poster, or scrapbook that is not electronic in format, take digital photographs of your product and write a description of it for uploading to the wiki.
    • Complete the Wiki Walk evaluation sheet as you view your classmates' products.


  • Summarize what you've learned by writing a Content Constructed Response to the question in the box below. Support your answer with details from your own research notes or the notes you made on the evaluation sheet as you viewed other students' products.
How does an understanding of the historical and cultural background of the American Civil War enhance your reading of historical fiction set in this time period?

Extension Activities:
  • Publish a journal entry online! Use the knowledge you have gained from your research to create a journal entry as if you lived during the Civil War. Add historical details from your research to try to make your entry as realistic as possible. then visit Scholastic's Our America: Civil War web page and click on the link to Write a Journal Entry. Be sure to follow the directions given to ensure online safety and the privacy of your personal information!
  • Explore the Gettysburg National Military Park's Civil War Page For Kids to learn more about soldiers' lives in the Civil War.