Final Farewells: Signing a Yearbook on the Eve of the Civil War

These three links represent the lesson plan regarding a Rutgers yearbook from 1860. The yearbook belonged to George McNeel, a Texan at a Northern school. The lesson plan focuses on the politically charged farewell messages within the book, and implements a timeline to explain how tense the political climate was through McNeel’s college years. Then, the PDF includes background information on McNeel and the fates of a few of his classmates

Source Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Dates and Eras 1860
Themes Soldiers, Homefront


Suggested Questions

  1. According to the messages left in McNeel’s yearbook, what do you think his classmates recognized him most for and why? Use examples of messages from the book.
  2. Which student or professor expresses his political opinion the most? How does he do this? Use the messages for detail.
  3. Look at the two yearbooks given for comparison. Are there any significant similarities or differences? Explain.
  4. Why do you think only seven out of the twenty-six graduates went on to fight in the Civil War? Do you think this ratio was typical of college graduates at the time?

Suggested Activities

  1. Have student pick an event from the timeline to research further. Then, have students pick a student or professor, and have them write about that event from their person’s perspective. What is their opinion or view of the event? Students should use the messages left in the yearbook, as well as any valuable information they have gained through the lesson or research.
  2. Have students imagine themselves as a graduate and write a message in McNeel’s yearbook, taking the events that transpired within what would be “their” college years.