Continuing along in with our Early American History studies, the kids and I embarked on the American Civil War. It was a terrible war, taking more lives than any other American war. According to Civil War Facts’s website, “Roughly 1,264,000 American soldiers have died in the nation’s wars–620,000 in the Civil War and 644,000 in all other conflicts. It was only as recently as the Vietnam War that the amount of American deaths in foreign wars eclipsed the number who died in the Civil War.”
We looked into all facets of the Civil War, exploring regions, every-day life, battles, the President and his policies, songs, food, and anything else of interest.
Civil War Projects
Making Hardtack and Johnny Cakes
Making hardtack is actually quite simple using just flour and water. You can find variations to this recipe, but simple hardtack is really just two ingredients. It lives up to its name “hardtack” because it is so hard! If you try the recipe, be sure to eat gently! The soldiers would dip their hardtack in liquid (broth) so that they could bite into it and not loose a tooth in the process. The kids didn’t care too much for it because it was so hard. Hardtack was mostly made by the north.
We also made Johnny Cakes which was eaten by the south as an occasional treat for their soldiers. The kids said it tasted like cornbread without the honey. They didn’t like it much either.
I ordered some Civil War Soldiers Action Figures and let the kids play fight between north and south. There are a few Generals in this bunch, along with horses for the calvary, wagons for the wounded to ride in, cannons for shooting across enemy lines, fences, trees, Union and Confederate flags, and a General’s tent.
Then they took them outside and played war amongst the trees.
They lobbed spent pinecones back and forth across the field as they tried to get the other.
We watched a rather informative, (but very 70’s style) video on the major battle sites and did a geography study on which states stayed loyal to the north, which seceded, and which were known as “border states.” They did pretty well actually. My seven year old, when trying to remember on his own which were which, only missed three (two of which were border states). My 5 year old thought west was north and east was south. 🙂
Here’s the very 70’s style video:
And the map of major battlefields:
My seven year old painted the Confederate Flag. I helped to outline where the borders of the colors were to go and he went to work and put on some stars to finish it off. We were going to need this flag for the battle to come!
Throughout this time, we read a lot of books for kids on the Civil War. Here are a few of our favorite Civil War books that we read:
The Blue and the Gray
This was a book written from the perspective of a young boy and his friend. He and his family are having a house built on a piece of land that was once a battleground of the Civil War. His father tells the story of what happened there. There is not a national marker to remember it by, but by telling his story in the book every child can learn its history.
Drummer Boy: Marching to the Civil War
Drummer Boy is about a 14-year-old boy who lies about his age in order to join the army and become a drummer boy. He wants to be useful, just like his big brother, despite the objections of his father. He soon learns what war is really like, but finds that he is making a difference. Being the drummer boy was a very dangerous job and in fact, was later one of the first to be shot because his beats told the army what they were to do and, in a way, could have controlled the very outcome of the war.
Civil War On Sunday
You can’t go wrong with the Magic Tree House when it comes to kids. Though it may not be a factual story, it is rooted in truth as Clara Barton is the main focus of this story. She is a Civil War nurse who helped the injured. Jack and Annie stick by her and help the injured while they find the list they need to return to the Frog Creek Woods. The kids love reading about Jack and Annie and all their adventures and this time with Clara Barton as their guide.
To understand what the Gettysburg Address was, we watched the movie Gettysburg. It was a long movie, but slow and not very graphic. It would show people getting shot, but it wasn’t bloody and gruesome as a lot of movies can be. They didn’t understand everything that happened, but understood that Gettysburg was a very deadly battle and a turning point for the war.
We also saw the Animated Hero Classics movie, Abraham Lincoln, which you can watch for free on Funnier Moments’s website.
Both of these shows led them to understand what the Gettysburg Address was about and when we read the book Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln, they understood what he was saying in his address and memorized the first couple sentences of his famous speech.
Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln
Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln is the true story of the President and his famous address to the crowd standing on the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg where just a short time before a great battle had been waged there and many soldiers, on both sides of the lines, had fallen. This also came in a video format from our library which was very well done!
Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero
Mary Walker was one of the first women doctors in the country and she fought to get there. She also rebelled against the traditional clothing of the time. When all other women wore dresses, skirts, and corsets, she insisted on wearing pants. At the time of the Civil War, she fought to join the army as a doctor. During her tenure, she provided medical aide to the soldiers on the battlefield and was thusly imprisoned as they thought her to be a spy. For her service to her country, Mary Walker received the Medal of Honor.
Our Homeschool Civil War
Now, of course, all of this must culminate into having a Civil War of our own!
The kids picked 8 of the more popular battlefield sites and wrote them on index cards, which were then glued to popsicle sticks and punched into plastic cups. We also wadded up some old printer test paper to make cannon balls.
The kids got to choose which side they wanted to be on. Somehow, I think they knew the war was going to be won by the north. 🙂 Their dad was General Robert E. Lee.
We did my 5-year-old’s hair up like Mary Walker’s.
Everyone painted their own uniform from a paper bag. Yes, a paper bag, and the kids loved it. Hey, you do what you can when you can’t sew well, but the paper bags worked great! We also made everyone a paper hat according to their affiliation.
We were hoping to battle outside, but we were rained out. Instead, the kids set up the battlefield cards around the house and stationed the action figures around them. The south fired on Fort Sumter.
The Battle of Shiloh was a fierce one.
The Battle for Harpers Ferry was a victory for the south.
The north conquered at Fredericksburg.
The south lost again at Vicksburg.
The south thought Gettysburg was a sure win, but again the north conquered.
Finally the south surrendered to General Sherman at Appomattox.
Our Favorite Civil War Songs