LIFE AFTER WAR
Standards: CCSS. ELA-Literacy.R.H.9-10.2
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary
or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of
how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
Objective: Students will be able to compare veteran treatment after the
Civil War to current policies for current veterans.
Evidence: This lesson contains a variety of primary sources to aid students through their various
activities. Students will be examining sources such as: Newspaper articles, diary entries,
& federal documents. Each of these documents reveals information for or about
veterans’ affairs after the Civil War.
Lesson: This lesson focuses on life after the Civil War, during the era of Reconstruction. The most
commonly studied era after the Civil War is the era of Reconstruction. This lesson,
however, explores what life was like for returning union soldiers who had fought in the
war. With the available sources, students will be able to compare treatment of Northern
Illinois soldiers from the Civil War era to treatment of soldiers presently.
Students will be divided into three groups, each with a different type of document. Group 1
will have the personal accounts of union veterans, the second group will have public ads,
and the third will have government documents. In groups of 5 or 6 (depending on class
size) students will create a timeline, illustrating the length of time it took for union
veterans to receive federal compensation.
Time Frame: This lesson may take up to two days depending on bell schedule.
Essential Question: Does a country have an obligation to care for its veteran’s after war?
Bell Ringer: Students will describe a good and bad day they’ve experienced when coming home from
school. The purpose of this bell ringer is to get students to describe how they wanted to
be treated after a hard day. What do they think they deserve at home? Should they get a
reward for being at school all day? How about for their extracurricular activities?
Set Induction: Students will watch a two-minute video about the V.A. hospital scandal (a sample video
has been provided, however educators feel free to use a different video that best suits the
needs of your classroom). Is this “scandal” new? Have student discuss why they believe
this particular story is causing a debate. Relating it back to the bell ringer: is it a similar
to the feelings of students after they’ve had a difficult day? Should soldiers be
compensated for their work?
Download Lesson Plan
Throughout the history of United States there have been instances of local governments granting benefits to individuals who fought in combat. It wasn’t until the early 1880s that the first federal hospitals and pension programs were established to help all veterans. By the end of the Civil War the number of veterans had skyrocketed. There were approximately 1.9 million Union veterans were receiving some sort of federal aid (Confederate soldiers were not granted any benefits until 1958). During this time the government also started expanding its services to veterans by setting up a series of institutions to house former soldiers. These residences also provided medical care to disabled soldiers. Furthermore, during the second half of the 19th century veteran benefits expanded to includes stipends for late soldiers’ wives and children. Today the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is responsible for providing healthcare services, benefit programs, and access to national military cemeteries for veterans. This is done through three sub-departments of the VA: Veterans Benefits Administration; Veterans Health Administration; and National Cemetery Administration.
AllGov, Department of Veteran Affairs, last modified 2014, http://www.allgov.com/departments/department-of-veteran-affairs?detailsDepartmentID=567
Activity 1: Document Jigsaw
Step 1: Divide students into groups or 4 or 5 depending on class size
Step 2: Pass out documents (each set of documents will be in designated folders. For instance the folder marked “group 1” will hold all of the personal accounts for that group to view) Teacher may use one or all documents depending on their needs.
Step 3: Pass out Handout 1. This handout is a graphic organizer meant to assist students in processing the preliminary information of the sources. Let students have about 10 minutes to look for the information on the hand and give time to answer the last question “why do you think it is important to find this information?”
Step 4: Once students have had some time to finish their handout, pass out the second handout (Handout 2) to each group. As a group have them fill out this guide to the documents.
Once students finish their group handout, have the students summarize the information in a short paragraph (4-6 sentences). The goal of this exercise is for students to be able to articulate the main idea or focus of the documents before them.
Group 1 - Diary Entries and Correspondence
Group 2 - Advertisments
Group 3 - Government Documents
Activity 2: Timeline
Materials Needed : markers, Paper (long enough to fit all dates associated with lesson)
This is a summative exercise where students can place their documents in the appropriate time they occurred. The goal is for students to see their sources in context of the Reconstruction era. By giving the students to see the “big picture” of this lesson, students should be able to analyze these sources in context and get a relative understanding of the process it took for union veterans to receive compensation for their service.
Step 1: Set up timeline range
Step 2: Have each group come up to the timeline, before marking their place have the group share their summary of their documents to the rest of the class. This would be a great opportunity to allow students to share the information they’ve gathered, but also allow them to share something they may have found interesting or unique in their sources and have them explain why they choose that particular detail.
Step 3: Once all of the students have written their dates down have students make some observations of the timeline they have created. When they are down have them share their observations with a partner.
*Teachers: Give students a range for instance at the beginning of the timeline start at 1865 and end it around 1890
Re-watch the current clip of the VA “scandal” used in the beginning of this lesson. Re-visit questions asked earlier in this lesson, “Is this new”? “Does a country have a obligation to care for veterans”? “Has the VA improved over time or is it still suffering from the same issues from the 1800s”? You may also want to pose questions along the lines of, “Is the VA necessary”?
RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic). With this assessment students take on the perspective of an individual from the era they are studying. In this lesson students will have the opportunity to take on the role of a soldier, doctor, or government agent, during the era of Reconstruction. Students may choose roles outside of their previously assigned group if they like, or to the teacher’s discretion.
Format: Diary entry
Topic: Life after war. In this entry discuss what you are going for after finishing your duty as a soldier. You may describe what conditions are like in the local hospital you are staying at. What is your room like? Are you sharing it with anyone? Why are you there? Will you be released soon? What is your physician (doctor) like? Write about the overall experience. You may also want to discuss what it is like trying to receive your benefits and pensions. What is the process of getting a paycheck? What information do you need? Will your family receive anything? If so what do they have to do?
Audience: Government officials
Format: Professional letter
Topic: Hospital conditions. This can be a positive review or a negative one. Write a business letter to your bosses (government) on the conditions of the hospital you are working at. How many patients are in your care? Do you have all the supplies you need? Is it sanitary enough for the patients? These are just some examples you can use to get started in your letter.
Role: Government Agent
Format: Advertisement Poster
Topic: You are giving information on the latest laws and benefits offered to soldiers. Your poster should be informative as well as creative. Anyone looking at it should be able to tell right away what you are advertising. Make sure the poster has a title, date, and states who they are targeting, as well as what is being offered. The student may use the advertisements provided as a guide, but the information should be their own.
*If the technology is available for both the teacher and the student. Instead of an advertisement poster, the student could create their own modern TV commercial advertisement as well.
**Teachers: A great resource to help your students format their assessments can be found at: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/653/01/ This site has several writing samples that students can use as a template.
Teachers and students wishing to explore this topic further may want to use these following resources:
Congressional Church of Batavia, Regional History Center at Northern Illinois
Giles P. Ransom Family, Regional History Center at Northern Illinois University
Presidents’ Papers, John Williston Cook, Regional History Center at Northern Illinois
U.S Department of Veteran Affairs, About VA, last modified March 13, 2013,