A House Divided: Civil War Photography

This lesson plan covers a series of photographs related to the Civil War. Each photograph comes with some context and credit, and each photograph represents a different aspect of war. Students are encouraged through the photographs to understand how 1860’s Americans viewed the Civil War, and are asked to make statements about their own feelings and emotions related to the photographs.

Source Smithsonian National Museum of American Art and Portraiture
Dates and Eras The Civil War
Themes Soldiers, African Americans
Standards VS.7 b USI.9 e,f VUS.7 b,e

Suggested Questions

  1. If you were alive during the Civil War and had the chance to view one of these photographs, which one would stand out the most to you and why?
  2. Why do you think these pictures of places after a battle were produced more than the mid-battle and popular dead-body pictures?
  3. Why do you think someone wanted to photograph Major Marnum’s healed wound?
  4. Why do you think it was so common to have photograph portraits done?

Suggested Activities

  1. Have students pick a photograph and write a one-page story about the person/place, or write a short research paper about the context of the photograph.
  2. At the beginning of the lesson, show students the photographs without context. Have students then write a word map of what comes to mind when they look at the photographs. Then, with the class, determine if there are any common words chosen, and have students explain why they chose those words.
  3. Have students draw to the best of their ability a photograph they believe would be popular and write a short paragraph explaining why.