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Civil War Trust

Civil War Primer May 8 2009

Teacher Newsletter


Civil War Teacher Newsletter

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) is America's largest non-profit organization (501-C3) devoted to the preservation of our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields.

CWPT's Education Department promotes Civil War battlefield preservation by encouraging the study of the war's timeless lessons, provoking thought about the vital roles these battlefields play in our nation's history.


1.  This Day in Civil War History:
     May 8, 1862:  Battle of McDowell, Virginia
     May 8, 1864:  Spotsylvania, Virginia

2.  Great Web Sites

3.  Professional Development: Eighth Annual Summer Teacher Institute
     July 24-26, 2009 at Fredericksburg, Virginia

4.  May 15th: Extended Deadline for the
     Best Lesson Plan Competition

5.  Actor Robert Duvall Joins in the Fight to Save the Wilderness Battlefield

6.  Trivia

7.  Selection from _The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government_
    "Allegiance, false and true" by Jefferson Davis

8.  Selected CWPT Education Programs


1.  This Day in Civil War History
     May 8, 1862:  Battle of McDowell, VA
     May 8, 1864:  Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, VA

->  May 8, 1862:  McDowell, VA
    The Battle of McDowell, fought on May 8, 1862, was the first of Confederate General T.J. "Stonewall" Jackson's successes during the famous Valley Campaign. Jackson spent the weeks after his defeat at Kernstown rebuilding his forces, developing a strategy to relieve the pressure on Richmond, and halt the advance of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley.  CWPT has preserved property at this site.

-> May 8, 1864:  Spotsylvania Courthouse, VA. 

     This was actually a long series of battles "stuck" at Spotsylvania Courthouse, as evidenced by the "other names" given for the battle:  Laurel Hill and Corbin’s Bridge (May 8); Ni River (May 9); Laurel Hill, Po River, and Bloody Angle (May 10); Bloody Angle (May 12-13); Piney Branch Church (May 15); Harrison House (May 18); and Harris Farm (May 19).

     The American Battlefield Protection Program explains this bloody, confusing series of events:  "After the Wilderness, Grant’s and Meade’s advance on Richmond by the left flank was stalled at Spotsylvania Court House on May 8. This two-week battle was a series of combats along the Spotsylvania front. The Union attack against the Bloody Angle at dawn, May 12-13, captured nearly a division of Lee’s army and came near to cutting the Confederate army in half. Confederate counterattacks plugged the gap, and fighting continued unabated for nearly 20 hours in what may well have been the most ferociously sustained combat of the Civil War. On May 19, a Confederate attempt to turn the Union right flank at Harris Farm was beaten back with severe casualties. Union generals Sedgwick (VI Corps commander) and Rice were killed. Confederate generals Johnson and Steuart were captured, Daniel and Perrin mortally wounded. On May 21, Grant disengaged and continued his advance on Richmond."


2.  Great Web Sites

Stay up to date about our education programs and get interesting teaching ideas by following us at Twitter.  For example - here is a listing of Library of Congress Podcasts - plenty of new ideas will be shared regularly at Twitter:
     -> While you're at it, follow Civil War Traveler on Twitter:

New book arrivals at Project Gutenberg!  Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks.

Four good lessons from the National Archives about the Civil War and Reconstruction

"Best of History Web Sites: an Resource"

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates.  A history of the debates, plus information about the L-D Debate communities.

Celebrating 157 Years of Uncle Tom's Cabin - information on Harriet Beecher Stowe and this highly popular - and highly controversial - book.

     *Did you know you can listen to the novel read online? 

From the "Teaching the Civil War with Technology" web site.  Includes a presentation given at the 2008 Teacher Institute.  Would you like to learn more about the institutes?  Visit


3.  Professional Development: Eighth Annual Summer Teacher Institute
    July 24-26, 2009 at Fredericksburg, Virginia

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) will host its Eighth Annual Teacher Institute from July 24-26, 2009 in Spotsylvania County, VA. This free weekend will feature workshops, battlefield tours of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, entertainment, speakers, and networking opportunities.  Teacher Institute workshops are opportunities for teachers to learn about Civil War instruction and content while engaging with other teachers who have similar interests, challenges, and experiences.  

Once again, Virginia Tech's Center for Civil War Studies will be an active partner in the institute. Dr. James I. "Bud" Robertson, Director of the Center, will be a keynote speaker at the institute and will be joined by William C. Davis, Director of Programs for the Center. Through our partnership with Virginia Tech, CWPT is able to offer Continuing Education Unit credits to participating educators.

Mr. Hari Jones, Curator, African American Civil War Memorial Museum
The Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission
The History Channel
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Parks

Any teacher or librarian/media specialist who work with students grades kindergarten through 12 may attend, not just history teachers.  2.0 Continuing Education Units are offered, by pre-registration.

Would you like to learn more?


4.  May 15th: Extended Deadline for the
    Best Lesson Plan Competition

It's not too late!  Use this weekend to gather your materials and send your engaging, classroom-tested lessons.  The deadline is extended until May 15, 2009.  The History Channel is sponsoring awards of up to $1,000.  

->  Learn more at


5.  Actor Robert Duvall Joins in the Fight to Save
    the Wilderness Battlefield

At a news conference held Monday, April 4th, advocates for historic preservation gathered to speak out against the construction of a Walmart supercenter proposed for the entrance to Virginia’s Wilderness Battlefield. If built, this megastore would stand across the road from the national park commemorating the bloody struggle, and within the battlefield’s historic footprint.

Robert Duvall, Academy Award-winning actor and descendent of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, led the charge. “The Walmart Corporation has it within its power to be a savior of the Wilderness Battlefield. Simply by moving to an alternate location slightly further from the battlefield, they have the ability to protect this critical piece of American history for generations to come.”

     -> Why is the Battle of the Wilderness so important?  According to the National Park Service, "The Battle of the Wilderness was fought on May 5-6, 1864. It was the beginning of the Overland Campaign, the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the war in the Eastern Theatre."  The battle was fought in dense, choking forests in which visibility and maneuverability were limited.  The casualties these entrenched armies inflicted upon one another were staggering - when the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in 1860, no one would have imagined bloodshed on this scale.  And sadly for General Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet - his "Old War Horse" - was seriously wounded by his own men.  The incident was eerily like Stonewall Jackson's tragic wounding one year earlier.  The Wilderness was a tactical draw, but unlike previous Union commanders, Ulysses S. Grant did not retreat - he advanced to the crossroads at Spotsylvania Courthouse.

-> Watch Mr. Duvall speak at our web site:

-> Learn all about the Wilderness and Spotsylvania from the Park Service:


6.  Trivia

A.  About what percentage of the dead buried in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery are "unknown"?

B.  What was Jefferson Davis's middle name?

C.  Who made the following statement at Spotsylvania?  What famous words followed the statement?
    (This person was teasing.)

     "What! what! men, dodging this way for single bullets! What
      will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am
      ashamed of you... ________________."

D.  This is a stanza from a poem entitled "The Shade of the Trees". 
    1) About whom is the poem written? 
    2) Who wrote the poem?  (She has been called the "Poet Laureate of the South.)

    "Has he grown sick of his toils and his tasks?
      Sighs the worn spirit for respite or ease?
    Is it a moment's cool halt that he asks
      'Under the shade of the trees.'"

E.  During the Battle of Gettysburg, the house Robert E. Lee used for his headquarters was occupied by a widow, Mrs. Mary Thompson.  However, who actually owned the home?

Answers at bottom.


7.  Selection from _The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government_
    by Jefferson Davis
Thoughts on "Allegiance, false and true" from Chapter XIII (pages 182 to 183).

"...Another objection made to the right of secession is based upon obscure, indefinite, and inconsistent ideas with regard to allegiance. It assumes various shapes, and is therefore somewhat difficult to meet, but, as most frequently presented, may be stated thus: that the citizen owes a double allegiance, or a divided allegiance—partly to his State, partly to the United States: that it is not possible for either of these powers to release him from the allegiance due to the other: that the State can no more release him from his obligations to the Union than the United States can absolve him from his duties to his State. This is the most moderate way in which the objection is put. The extreme centralizers go further, and claim that allegiance to the Union, or, as they generally express it, to the Government—meaning thereby the Federal Government—is paramount, and the obligation to the State only subsidiary—if, indeed, it exists at all.

This latter view, if the more monstrous, is at least the more consistent of the two, for it does not involve the difficulty of a divided allegiance, nor the paradoxical position in which the other places the citizen, in case of a conflict between his State and the other members of the Union, of being necessarily a rebel against the General Government or a traitor to the State of which he is a citizen.

As to true allegiance, in the light of the principles which have been established, there can be no doubt with regard to it. The primary, paramount allegiance of the citizen is due to the sovereign only. That sovereign, under our system, is the people—the people of the State to which he belongs—the people who constituted the State government which he obeys, and which protects him in the enjoyment of his personal rights—the people who alone (as far as he is concerned) ordained and established [pg 183] the Federal Constitution and Federal Government—the people who have reserved to themselves sovereignty, which involves the power to revoke all agencies created by them. The obligation to support the State or Federal Constitution and the obedience due to either State or Federal Government are alike derived from and dependent on the allegiance due to this sovereign. If the sovereign abolishes the State government and ordains and establishes a new one, the obligation of allegiance requires him to transfer his obedience accordingly. If the sovereign withdraws from association with its confederates in the Union, the allegiance of the citizen requires him to follow the sovereign. Any other course is rebellion or treason—words which, in the cant of the day, have been so grossly misapplied and perverted as to be made worse than unmeaning. His relation to the Union arose from the membership of the State of which he was a citizen, and ceased whenever his State withdrew from it. He can not owe obedience—much less allegiance—to an association from which his sovereign has separated, and thereby withdrawn him.

Every officer of both Federal and State governments is required to take an oath to support the Constitution, a compact the binding force of which is based upon the sovereignty of the States—a sovereignty necessarily carrying with it the principles just stated with regard to allegiance. Every such officer is, therefore, virtually sworn to maintain and support the sovereignty of all the States.

Military and naval officers take, in addition, an oath to obey the lawful orders of their superiors. Such an oath has never been understood to be eternal in its obligations. It is dissolved by the death, dismissal, or resignation of the officer who takes it; and such resignation is not a mere optional right, but becomes an imperative duty when continuance in the service comes to be in conflict with the ultimate allegiance due to the sovereignty of the State to which he belongs."



8.  Selected CWPT Education Programs
Unless indicated otherwise, email for details.

->     CWPT Gifted & Talented Curriculum
Designed for "gifted and talented" students — or for students with a special interest in the Civil War — this adaptable enrichment experience may be used alone or in addition to your existing curriculum.

->     Two-Week Civil War Curriculum CD-ROM
Most Americans come to care about battlefields for one of three reasons: either they had an ancestor who fought in the war, they read a great book or watched a great movie about the Civil War, or they had a great teacher — you! We hope that our curriculum will make your job easier.

->     Teacher Institute: July 24-26, 2009, Spotsylvania County Virginia

->     More Civil War Lesson Plans

->     Civil War Glossary

->     Classroom Memberships
Monthly "Civil War Classroom" and quarterly "Hallowed Ground" magazine, classroom materials, curriculum CD-ROM & "It Happened in the Civil War". Email to sponsor a classroom, sign up, or review a sample classroom newsletter.

->     Adopt a Battlefield
Great for your springtime Civil War unit!  Participants pledge to become involved in preservation through fundraising, service and advocacy.  Receive Civil War materials including a mix of fun and informative items with adaptable activities.  For youths, classrooms, scouts, and homeschoolers.  Email for more information.

->     Traveling Trunk:
Reserve one for the 2009-2010 school year to access hands-on items, books, music and visuals. Email for more information.


Trivia Answers


A.  About 85%. 

B.  "Finis."  Or, in Latin, "Final."  Davis was the tenth and *last* child of Samuel and Jane Cook Davis. 

C.  The man:  US Gen John Sedgwick.  The full statement:  "What! what! men, dodging this way for single bullets! What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you.  They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." 

Martin McMahon (Chief-of-Staff, Sixth Corps) described Sedgwick as "an inveterate tease".  On May 8, 1864 (Spotsylvania Courthouse) Sedgwick was attempting to get his men in the correct position: "That is wrong. Those troops must be moved farther to the right; I don't wish them to overlap that battery." The men dodged when sharp-shooters' fire came dangerously close.  He teased the men - twice - about dodging.  Unfortunately, a third sharp-shooter bullet hit its mark - under the general's left eye.

->  Read an interesting account about this sad incident written by Martin T. McMahon (Chief-of-Staff, Sixth Corps):

D.  "The Shade of the Trees" was written about Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.  The poet is Margaret Junkin Preston.  Margaret's sister, Elinore, was Jackson's first wife. 

E.  The home was owned by Thaddeus Stevens, Radical Republican statesman.  Not only was his home used by Robert E. Lee, but Jubal Early's cavalry burned his ironworks at Caledonia during the Gettysburg campaign.


Jennifer Rosenberry
Education Coordinator
Civil War Preservation Trust
11 Public Square, Suite 200
Hagerstown, MD  21740

Go to to see how you can help us save battlefields!



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