The Battle of Saltville Lesson Plan

2nd Place, Best Lesson Plan Contest 2010-2011
By Paul LaRue

usct header

Saltville and its controversy provides an excellent opportunity to teach a lesson that highlights some complex and difficult aspects of the civil war. This lesson helps students see the complexity of African American military Service. As our nation begins its Civil War Sesquicentennial; students need to see past “Glory” and look at some often difficult aspects of the war.

Grade Level: High School

Approximate Length of Time:  One, 50 minute class period


1. Students will view the controversial events at Saltville from multiple perspectives.

2. Students will understand the challenges African American soldiers faced in combat. 


1. Students will be able to recall and write details about the Battle at Saltville.

2. Students will be able to discuss orally and in writing the relationship between African American troops and Confederate troops.

3. Students will be able to discuss in writing the sacrifices made by families of African American soldiers.

4. Students will be able to analyze the definition and use of the word "massacre."

5. Students will be able to compare the events at Saltville with other historic events, and argue whether or not Saltville should be considered a massacre.


All materials can be downloaded with the lesson plan on the right side of this page.

  • Student Handouts:
    • Union description of battle
    • Confederate description of battle
    • Surgeon description
    • List of killed, wounded, missing
    • Story of Private William Garry, Private Co. "H", 5th United States Colored Cavalry Battle/ Event Summary Clue Sheet
  • Teacher:
    • Quiz: Measure Lesson Objectives (Student Evaluation #1 and #2)
    • Movie Maker Civil War Battles/ Events

Inquiry Question for Class Discussion:

Can be used before and/or after completion of the lesson.

1. Was Saltville a battle or a massacre?
2. What defines a massacre? 
3. Develop a list of features/examples of both battles and massacres. 


1. Present inquiry question 1: Was Saltville a battle or a massacre?

2. Have students read the handouts, which are all primary source documents.

3. Discuss what defines a massacre.  Discuss the difference between a battle and a massacre.

4. Have students complete the Evaluation #1, the quiz.

5. Review the answers to Evaluation #1 as a group.


Have students complete Evaluation #2; the student writing assignment.


1. Evaluation #1
2. Informal assessment through group discussion
3. Evaluation #2

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