The Union or Secession Web Exhibition is an ideal place for educators to get primary sources to teach their students about the events leading up to the Civil War in Virginia. Using letters, newspapers, images, and speeches from the time, students can explore what average Virginians were doing and saying as the nation slowly, and not inevitably, moved towards secession and war.
A special section for younger users of the site is Callie's Mailbag. Presented in a style modeled after social networking sites, Callie's mailbag is a selection of letters written to a young woman in Campbell County, Virginia, between 1859 and 1861. Interspaced with gossip about friends and family members, news from school and home, her correspondents tell their opinions and fears concerning current events.
To help you lead your students through some of the important topics covered by Union or Secession we have developed a number of lesson plans.
Fugitive Slave Law, choose from two plans:
Sectional disputes over the enforcement of fugitive slave laws increased tensions between the North and the South preceding the Civil War.
Sara Lucy Bagby and the Fugitive Slave Law
VSOL: USI.9 (a), CE.1 (a, c, f, g), CE.2 (a), CE.6 (a), VUS.1 (a–c, f, h, i), VUS.7 (a), GOVT.1 (a, c, e–g), GOVT.4 (c), GOVT.5 (a, d)
NHS: Era 4 – Standards 2D, 3B, 4A; Era 5 – Standard 1A
The case of Sara Lucy Bagby involved an enslaved African American woman, her owner in Virginia, the abolitionist community in Cleveland, Ohio, and the enforcement of federal law.
Perspectives on the Fugitive Slave Law
VSOL: USI.1 (a, b, e), USI.9 (b), CE.1 (a, c, f, g), CE.2 (a), CE.6 (a), VUS.1 (a), VUS.6 (e), GOVT.1 (c), GOVT.5 (a)
The law is often subjective and open to interpretation. Investigating a combination of primary sources and biographies of William Lloyd Garrison, Abraham Lincoln, Sara Lucy Bagby (a fugitive slave from Virginia), and James Coles Bruce (a slave owner and delegate to the Virginia Convention of 1861), students will compare varying views on enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry, choose from three plans:
John Brown’s Raid is often cited as a significant turning point in the coming of the Civil War.
John Brown’s Raid and Reaction in Virginia
VSOL: USI.9 (a, b), VUS.1 (a, b, c, f, i), VUS.7 (a)
NHS: Era 5 - Standard 1A
Reactions to John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, reflected increased sectional division over the future of slavery in the United States. Southerners feared further action by Northern abolitionists, some of whom voiced support for Brown and his cause. Inspecting an array of primary sources, students are exposed to the voice of Americans on opposing sides of the debate of Brown's fate.
Investigating John Brown’s Raid
US.1 (a, b, c), USI.9 (a, b), VUS.1 (a), VUS.6 (e), GOVT.1 (c)
Decades of compromise ceased as physical action replaced typical legislative action. Students analyze a series of images about the raid, placing them in chronological order. Two broadsides lead into a discussion of the abolitionist reaction to John Brown’s impending execution.
Voices from the Past: John Brown’s Raid
US.1 (a, b, c), USI.9 (a, b), VUS.1 (a), VUS.6 (e)
Using letters and newspaper articles, students examine perspectives of Northerners and Southerners reacting to John Brown’s activities. This lesson includes a SOAPS graphic organizer for comparing varying viewpoints.
Virginia – North or South?
VSOL: VUS.1 (a–c, f, i), VUS.6 (e), VUS.7 (a)
Virginia was culturally similar but economically different than the states in the Deep South. Differences existed in agricultural production, manufacturing, and population of slaves. After analyzing statistical data about population, agricultural products, and manufacturing, students are able to better understand Virginia's unique position in the Union.
Election of 1860 – Dividing Virginia
VSOL: USI.1 (a–c), USI.9 (b), VUS.7 (a)
Where did Virginians stand during on the presidential election of 1860? After reviewing the presidential candidates and their party platforms, students are asked to predict how citizens in three Virginia communities―Richmond, Alexandria, and Winchester―voted. Newspaper editorials, articles, and other statistics help students to understand what was valued by these communities, as well as the limits of liberty during this volatile time in American history.
Federal vs. State—Who Has the Power?
VSOL: USI.1 (a, b, e), USI.9 (b), VUS.1 (a), VUS.6 (e), CE.6 (a), GOVT.1 (c), GOVT.5 (a, b)
One of the most fundamental issues in the formation of the United States was to have a balance of power. Checks were put in place so neither the federal nor state governments would have supreme power. Secessionists believed states had the right to break away from the Union because they compromised it. Anti-secessionists believed the Union superseded the ability for states to break away. The secession crisis was an issue of federalism.
This lesson begins by asking students to define federalism, and then explore how the issue of federal versus state power was argued by two participants in the Virginia Convention of 1861. The lesson concludes by asking students to analyze a political cartoon parodying secession.
VSOL: US1.1 (a,b,e); US1.9 (b); VUS.1 (a); VUS.6 (e); VUS.7 (a); CE.2 (a); CE.6 (c); GOVT.1 (c); GOVT.5 (a)
This lesson looks at various opinions about who was the perpetrator of secession: North or South? It shows the divisiveness and diversity of opinion prior to the Civil War. Since the founding of the nation, there were very different perspectives on what the term “nation” and “union” meant. Students will look at the work of John Locke and how the term “social contract” has been used to explain better the system between the government and the people. A primary source exploration will enhance students’ understanding of why Northerners and Southerners each thought the other was not upholding its side of the contract.
Free African Americans During the Civil War
VSOL: VS.1 VS.7c USI.1 USI.9 VUS.1 VUS.7
What choices did free African Americans have to make during the Civil War? They occupied a tenuous position in Virginia’s society, as well as the rest of the South. These conditions were exacerbated by the outbreak of the Civil War. Some free blacks supported the Union and hoped for their victory, hoping to gain greater rights for themselves. Others publicly supported the Confederacy. Using primary sources, this lesson examines the experiences for free African Americans in Virginia during the years of the Civil War.
Impact of Lincoln's presidential election, the secession crisis, and outbreak of Civil War on enslaved African Americans
VSOL: VS.1 VS.7c USI.1 USI.9 VUS.1 VUS.7
The outbreak of the Civil War had a significant impact on most Southerners, including enslaved African Americans in the South. The enslaved African Americans had no rights, and they faced uncertainty with Lincoln’s election and white Virginians' preparing for war. Some enslaved African Americans saw their roles change; some anticipated freedom as a result of Lincoln’s presidential victory; and others took their liberty into their own hands. Students will investigate the status of enslaved African Americans in Southern society, along with the choice that enslaved African Americans made during the Civil War. Furthermore, through the use of primary source investigation, students will learn the roles that enslaved and escaped African Americans played during the Civil War.