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History Lesson Plan: Civil War Prison Camps

written by: Curt Smothers • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

This lesson plan is a Civil War research project for students working alone or with a group. It is designed to help students hone their research, presentation and writing skills. The project also challenges students to judge both the Union and Confederate treatment of POWs.

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    Andersonville, GA, Confederate Prison Camp According to Thomas R. Flagel’s The History Buff’s Guide to the Civil War, “A Civil War soldier marching into battle stood a one-in-thirty chance of dying. If he stepped into one of the 150 stockades, warehouses, or forts serving as prison camps during the war, his odds fell to one in seven (254)." This was true whether the soldier was a Yankee or a Confederate.

    Again, according to Flagel, “More than 211,000 Union and 265,000 Confederate servicemen were captured, or about one out of every eight men who served." According to National Geographic News, estimates are that 56,000 died in the neglectful, squalid conditions in the POW compounds of each side.

    This lesson plan will encourage students to examine the problems confronted by both North and South in warehousing these unprecedented numbers of prisoners. Students will also gather facts and statistics on at least ten of the most notorious and deadliest military prisons of the Civil War.

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    Learning Objectives

    After completing this lesson plan, students should be able to:

    • Conduct independent historical research in the library and on the internet on a narrowly focused subject.
    • Collaborate with other students to complete a handout worksheet with facts and statistics on their assigned Civil War prison.
    • Understand why the conditions in Civil War Prison camps were so miserable and deadly.
    • Make value and moral judgments on the treatment of prisoners in both North and South. *

    *Note: According to Flagel, “Carelessness, rather than conspiracy" appears to be at the root of the horrible conditions in all Civil War camps. Further, “[n]either side was prepared nor apparently very motivated to care for hordes of captured foes…" The teacher may wish to withhold this observation from the students until the project is completed to see what moral judgments student groups make on this issue. This issue could be the focus of a follow-on essay assignment.

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    Resource Material

    Flagel's Cover National Geographic News: “U.S. Civil War Prison Camps Claimed Thousands"

    Civil War - Civil War Prisons and Prisoners

    Sarratt...Families of America, Civil War Military Prisons & P.O.W. Camps

    Flagel, Thomas R., The History Buff’s Guide to the Civil War, “Top Ten Deadliest Military Prisons (P. 254-262)"

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    Class Activities

    Provide an overview of the basic facts on the evolution of Civil War POW camps. Include the following:

    Divide students into groups, and distribute blank worksheets (sample provided at the end of this section) to each student with the following instructions:

    • Each student in the group is to conduct independent research (no collaboration yet) using the student worksheet. After students complete their individual research, they will meet in class, compare research, and prepare a combined worksheet that will be used as the basis of the group’s presentation to the class. Students will make five-minute presentations to the class with each group serving as a “panel." As agreed by the students, each panel member will present a portion of the fact sheet. (Have a US atlas displayed so that the students can point out the location of the prison. Students will turn in their individually completed fact sheets along with the group presentation sheet. Grading options: Provide overall group grade based on completeness and quality of presentation. Provide individual student grade based on apparent contribution of each (judging from individual fact sheet completed by each student.)
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    Worksheets for Class Activities

    Student FactsheetTeacher's Factsheet
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    Writing Assignment

    The research, presentation and discussion can be the basis for an essay assignment. Possible focus of the essay could as discussed above; i.e., whose fault was it that such conditions were allowed? Were both sides cruel to each other’s prisoners on purpose?

    Return the graded worksheets to the student to serve as a basis or the essay assignment.

US Civil War Lesson Plans

Use these lesson plans to enrich your students' understanding of America's greatest conflict. Students will research, collaborate and critically examine the political, cultural, social and moral issues underlying the US Civil War.
  1. US Civil War Lesson Plan: Should Robert E. Lee Have Been Tried for Sedition?
  2. History Lesson Plan: Civil War Prison Camps
  3. Lesson Plan for History: The Inauguration Speech of President Jefferson Davis
  4. Civil War Lesson Plan: Confederate VP Alexander Stephens' "Cornerstone Speech"