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        4-7,13+

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        Minnesota | Activity 5.3: A Letter to My Brother

        Students read a letter written by a soldier during the American Civil War and describe the soldier’s experiences. Students write a letter of their own to a friend to describe a personal experience.

        Lesson Summary

        Students read a letter written by a soldier during the American Civil War and describe the soldier’s experiences. Students write a letter of their own to a friend to describe a personal experience.

        The lesson is part of "Great States | Minnesota | Unit 5: Minnesota in the Civil War", where students will consider how Minnesotans contributed to the Union side during the Civil War as well as how the results of the Civil War contributed to expanding rights for African Americans.

        Time Allotment

        35 minutes

        Learning Objectives

        Standards: 

        6.4.4.19.2: Create a timeline of the key events of the American Civil War; describe the war-time experiences of Minnesota soldiers and civilians.

        Supplies

        Directions

        1. Explain to students that during the time of the American Civil War (1861–1865), communication was a lot different than it is today. The Internet and cell phones didn’t exist. People used letters and telegraphs to communicate. Modes of communication transport weren’t the same as today, either: cars and planes hadn’t been invented yet. Trains were around, but a lack of interconnected railways in the South impeded on the speed communication could travel compared to the North.

        2. Explain that news also spread slowly during the Civil War. Reporters traveled by horse and wagon to deliver stories of the war. Photography was in its infancy but offered a way for newspapers to show what the war was like without relying on sketch artists. It was still a long and complex process to take and develop pictures. Between the long photography process and the lack of quick communication, news wouldn’t reach civilians for days, weeks, or even months after an event happened. For example, tell students how President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared that as of January 1, 1863, any enslaved person was free. But news of the proclamation didn’t reach Texas until June 19, 1865 (now celebrated as Juneteenth). That's almost two and a half years later!

        3. Show the image of a letter written January 30, 1862, by William G. Christie to his brother [Christie Family Letters].

        4. Explain that the letter was written by a soldier during the Civil War to his brother. Remind them that letters were how soldiers had to communicate at the time.

        5. Hand out the Christie Family Letter Transcript, which has an excerpt of the letter for students to read either quietly or aloud in turns.

        6. Ask students to summarize the letter by answering the following questions:

          1. How does William address his brother?

          2. What items does William describe in the letter?

          3. Identify one person described in the letter. How is this person described?

          4. What does it tell you about the Civil War?

        7. Ask students to explain why it was important to describe people and items as William Christie did in his letter to his brother.

        8. Ask students to think about how life would be different for them if they could only communicate over long distances via mail. Ask students whether they would prefer to mail their letters or text people about their surroundings and experiences. Why?

        9. Distribute the Wartime Letter handout to your students. Then, ask students to write a letter on one of two options: 1) as a soldier to a family member back home, or 2) as someone waiting for a soldier to return from war. The letter should include a heading, greeting, body, closing, and signature.

        Answer Key

        1. Discussion answers:
          1. William addressed his brother as “Dear brother” in his letter.

          2. William goes on to describe the arsenal grounds, the chief of the ordinance department, a man who was arrested for fraud, their weapons, etc.

          3. He describes the chief of the ordinance department as being about 45 years old, 5’6” or 5’8” in height, and intelligent looking.

          4. The letter describes life stationed at an arsenal grounds. It does not say much about the battles of the war, but rather the quiet times between action.

        2. It was important to describe people and items as William Christie did in his letter to his brother because cameras and telephones were not readily available, especially on the battlefield. Most of the communication devices we have now were not available back then. Often, the written word was the only means of communication, so writers had to describe with words the images they wanted to create in someone else’s head.

        3. Answers will vary.

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