Classroom Resources, Educators

The Civil War: Up Close and Personal

Nov 17 2016

Confederate Private William D. Huff began a diary after he was captured during the Battle of Chickamauga, fought September 18 and 19, 1863. In his diary, Huff narrates his experiences at Camp Douglas, Chicago’s confederate prison camp. He includes descriptions of escape attempts, harsh punishments, and disease. The diary ends with Huff’s parole and return to his hometown of St. Mary’s Parish, Louisiana.


The lessons in this unit use Huff’s diary to provide a new perspective of the Civil War by allowing students to look through the eyes of someone who lived it. Lessons cover photo analysis, deciphering Civil War–era slang, journal writing, and drawing.

Lesson 1: A Picture Worth a Thousand Words?
Camp Douglas, located on Chicago’s South Side, was the largest training camp in Illinois. During the Civil War, it held over 18,000 prisoners. During this lesson, students will derive factual information about one of Chicago’s roles in the Civil War by studying photographs of Camp Douglas. The lesson encourages students to empathize with both sides of the war and to understand that both the North and the South suffered losses. Download A Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

Lesson 2: Who is William Huff? Blueback or Grayback?
People in history often lose their identities and become names in textbooks. By studying the diary of Private William Huff, students will learn that people in history were real people and not so different from people today. Students will also explore how language adds authenticity to documents and consider how studying the language of the past helps us to see history more clearly. Download Who is William Huff? Blueback or Grayback?

Lesson 3: I Have a Story to Tell
“I Have a Story to Tell” encourages students to use journal writing to study the Civil War and its effects on the people of the time. After studying Huff’s diary, students will be asked to use their imaginations to combine factual research with creative elements to write a believable diary from the perspective of a Civil War identity. Download I Have a Story to Tell.

Lesson 4: Look Out My Window. What Do You See?
Private William D. Huff included many drawings in his diary. By studying these drawings, students will discover how artwork enhances a document and helps to better our understanding of a time period and place. Students will then assume a Civil War identity and create their own illustrations depicting life in the 1860s. Download Look Out My Window. What Do You See?

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