Last Look at the Civil War

Lasts. Our society has an obsession with lasts. We want to get the ‘last word’ and the ‘last laugh’ and be the ‘last one standing’. We want to do or say things one last time ; take one last look; hear a song one last time. We even have traditions of honoring last requests, giving a last meal, and recording last words. It seems as though we believe that witnessing something that will never happen again is in some way significant or important.

Why? What meaning do we hope to get from the last of something?

As we close our unit on the Civil War it is worth thinking about what is remembered from that time. What is left from the days of Lincoln and Lee?

Famous Last Words

The words that were spoken and written during the Civil War can give us vivid pictures of life in the 1860’s. What can be inferred from a person’s dying words? Sometimes they can tell us a lot about a person, and other times they tell us almost nothing at all. Below is a small collection of phrases uttered in last moments by men who were an important part of this struggle.

Robert E. Lee – “Strike the tent.”

  • A phrase usually used to mean it was time to break camp, take down the tent, and move on.

Ulysses S. Grant – “Water”

General John Sedgwick – “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

  • This phrase was actually Gen. Sedgwick’s next-to-last words, but is widely remembered because the general made this remark just before being hit in the head by a sharpshooter’s bullet.

Gen. Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson – “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of those trees.”

Gen. J. E. B. Stuart – “I am going fast now; I am resigned; God’s will be done.”

  • Not long before this Gen. Stuart had asked a friend, “Honey-bun, how do I look in the face?” and these words are sometimes given as his last.

Jefferson Davis – “Pray, excuse me”

Abraham Lincoln  – “It doesn’t really matter.”

  • Lincoln said this when his wife told him not to hold her hand in the theater because people might see.
  • The last thing Lincoln expressed was laughter when a line in the play he was watching  included a joke about the president. Lincoln was laughing when he was shot.

Last Letter

Famous quotes are great and sometimes interesting, but what about the regular people. Lee,  Grant, Jackson, and even Lincoln would never have been famous or noteworthy without the people they led. They couldn’t make history on their own.

Capt. Jimmy Sayles wrote often to his sweetheart (the girl he was secretly engaged to), Miss Florence Lee, and he asked her to write more often. In his last letter he describes fighting around a place called White Oak Swamp, VA. After that she received nothing else until she got this.

(Click the ‘Text’ tab to read the letter in typed form and use the Next button to see the following pages)

Last of a Dying Breed

At some point all the men and women who lived through even a little of the Civil War died. They were the last living link with a period in history that has become almost ancient to us. Even in their last years they seemed to belong to another age.

This excerpt is from a book about Civil War veterans. It focuses mostly on two men, but includes information about many of the veterans who outlasted the war.


Read the quotes, the letter, and the excerpt. Then choose one of the following options.

Option 1 – Write a primary source analysis of the linked letter. Include high quality observations and inferences as well as questions and places to look for more information. Get an analysis sheet from me if you need one.

Option 2 – Write an article report on the excerpt about Civil War veterans. Be sure to include a main idea, half-page summary, and a half-page response as well as questions. In your response consider this question: Do you care if some of these last surviving soldiers were fakes? Why or why not?

You can write out this assignment by hand or type and email it to me at 

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Once Upon a Time…in 1927

This past summer I read a largely wonderful (and wonderfully large) book by Bill Bryson titled One Summer: America 1927. The book is full of topics and people that don’t always make it into history textbooks. So let me give you a few highlights.

During the summer of 1927 Calvin Coolidge was president of the United State and he spent most of the summer on vacation. Coolidge didn’t really do much as president. In 1927 times were good and ‘Silent Cal’ didn’t get in the way. He did attend a ceremony marking the beginning of work on the carvings on Mount Rushmore. The monument was conceived and designed by Gutzon Borglum, an….interesting man, who would not live to see the project completed.

Babe Ruth beat his own home run record in 1927, after most people thought his career was ending, by knocking 60 balls out of the park in one season. To get an idea of how amazing this was keep this in mind; in 1927 most ball players had never hit half as many home runs, and Ruth’s record wouldn’t be beaten until 1961. However the biggest sporting event was the boxing rematch between Jack Dempsey the former heavyweight champ and Gene Tunney. Tunney had beaten Dempsey the year before, but most people favored Dempsey to win with his ferocious fighting style  . During the ten rounds Tunney beat Dempsey on points but not without controversy. Many people lost money betting on Dempsey but the most famous/infamous was probably Al Capone, who bet $50,000. Capone had lots of money though. He’d become rich by importing and making illegal alcohol. The US had outlawed the sale (not the consumption) of alcohol, which made it possible for men like Capone to make a fortune selling illegal (bootleg) liquor. Prohibition of alcohol caused a huge rise in organized crime. In 1927 Capone was at the height of his power and popularity, but it was soon to end because he wasn’t paying taxes on any of his income and that summer someone in a government office had just figured out that the government could easily imprison crime bosses for that even if they couldn’t prove any of their other illegal activities.

Two men who were already in prison for a murder which they might not have committed were executed in the summer of 1927. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born anarchists who were convicted of murdering two men during the armed robbery of a shoe factory. There was not a lot of evidence against Sacco and Vanzetti but the country was very fearful of immigrants (especially Italians) and anarchists, so they were convicted. Many people protested and wrote letters demanding re-trials or release, but none of it worked; Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair.

Henry Ford, the great American industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company, had shutdown all his factories by summer in 1927. His Model-T was old and out of date and instead of continuing production while a new car was designed Ford shut everything down. Ford had some weird beliefs and also didn’t like hiring ‘experts’ so no trained engineers and designers were part of designing the next car. Predictably, the Model-A didn’t do very well when it came out in the fall.

By far the biggest event of the summer was the winning of the Orteig Prize by young Charles Lindbergh. The Orteig was a prize for the first person to cross the Atlantic from New York to Paris by airplane, and many pilots competed. Lindbergh did it in a self-designed (fairly cheap) plane from which he could not see the runway in front of him. It was a great accomplishment and people all over the world were obsessed with anything that had to do with airplanes. Lindbergh was mobbed everywhere he went and hated all the attention. People crowded the runways and parade routes when he came to town. People threw ticker-tape along parade routes where ever he went. When they ran out of ticker-tape some people threw phone books and other heavy objects out of four or five story buildings in celebration. They called him ‘Lucky Lindy’ even though he hated the name and named a dance after him even though he never danced. Lindbergh loved flying but quickly grew to hate being famous.



  •  Click on all of the links in the info above.
  • Research important events in the United States from this past summer  (May 26 – Sept 1) and create a list of at least seven important events from politics, sports, and popular culture.
  • Each event listed should include a 1-2 sentence description explaining its importance.
  • Full bibliography required. Each event should have its own separate source. The sources and events should be numbered in such a way as to correspond and enable easy understanding of which events link to which bibliographic entry.
  • This assignment is due on Thursday, April 19 and is worth 30 points!


These must be typed. You can either turn in a printed copy or email me an attached copy at

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When I was your age…

Nearly everyone in my generation remembers when our schools first got computers. They were a type called Apple II GS. There were a few small computer labs in my school and you could play a few rudimentary math games (Number Crunchers) and such by inserting and loading the game from giant 5.5in floppy disks. They were slow, with pixilated graphics, bad/no sound…and we loved them.

By far the most beloved game, which enthralled us all with its graphics, storyline, and gameplay, was Oregon Trail. Obviously the game was created by some visionary genius who in an underhanded and sneaky way knew how to get children to care about the western migration of the 1800’s. We spent hours, no – days pretending we, as westward bound pioneers, were trying (and often failing) to make it to the west coast in 1848.

If you were a historian studying the early 1990’s in the United States one of the primary sources you would have to look at would be Oregon Trail. It was a cultural touchstone for an entire generation of kids; the first generation of kids to have computers readily available in school. Try, if you can, to put yourself in my (5-7 grade) shoes and imagine sitting at a clunky looking white box, screen glowing a pixilated green, two friends leaning over your shoulder whisper-shouting advice about how many oxen to buy, when to stop and rest, and – all importantly – whether or not to ford the river. It was obsessing.

Your assignment is to get to the west coast. Play Oregon Trail!..and love it.

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The Greatest Show on Earth?

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When I was very young (maybe 6 – 8) my family went through a phase during which we went to the circus every year. There are a lot of traveling circuses, but by far the biggest and probably most impressive was Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. They began each multi-hour performance with music and loud speakers blaring an announcer’s voice,

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! Children of All Ages! Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth!!!!

This was the circus we visited every year.

Much later I realized that the ‘Barnum’ in the circus’s name was for P.T. Barnum. Perhaps the most well known showman, promoter, and maybe conman in American history. Barnum was good at making money by creating a scene and getting publicity. He might have been one of the first to put the principle ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’ to work making money.

When he bought a beloved elephant from the London Zoo P.T. Barnum made people in England angry. It was big news. Barnum didn’t care that people in London printed bad things about him. He knew that all the hype (good or bad) would make people want to see the elephant. After the elephant died he gave it t the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which was more publicity for Barnum.

And there is the story of the Cardiff Giant, in which P.T. Barnum plays a small but important part. [Warning: The story of the Cardiff Giant contains one instance of crude language; Skip this if you think it might offend you]

I want you to read the intro to his Wikipedia entry to get an idea what kind of a person he was. Also you can (if you want) read the chapter on him in History of US: Book 7.


I most often think about Barnum today when people talk about reality TV shows and extreme game shows. We get entertainment out of spectacles. Like Barnum many TV producers have found a way to get us to pay for/watch shows just to see how strange/shocking the outcome is. Tempting as it is to think that we’re more sophisticated than people back in Barnum’s day, the truth is that we’ll still stare at someone who yells really loud and puts on a show. It doesn’t really matter what the show is.


  • You’re only assignment in connection with this is to find a TV show or live performance that you think represents the kind of money making, sort-of dishonest, showmanship that Barnum would have practiced.
  • Find a clip or a web page and email me the link along with your ~3/4 page typed explanation of how the show you picked fits the requirement and what your opinion of the show is.
  • This assignment is due by Monday,  March 19th

You must email this assignment to me at  

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The Landlord’s Game

Image result for Monopoly man

If you’ve been wondering who the heck ever invented such a long, boring, frustrating game as Monopoly, well your prayers are answered. Below is a short podcast about the game and how it was/is designed.


The Landlord’s Game

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The Civil War According to John Green


I’m feeling a little guilty about only spending a week covering the Civil War. To somewhat rectify this I’ve posted links to John Green’s overviews of the conflict. Like any historian Green has an angle though and he has to pick what he emphasizes and what he doesn’t.

For each of the videos below write a couple of sentences summarizing the point John Green is trying to make with his take on history. This assignment is due on Friday, Feb 9






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Dear John; Dear Abigail

Image result for john adams


They are, perhaps, the best American love story I know of. John and Abigail Adams were a matched set. Both had incredible minds and were in favor of declaring independence from Great Britain before nearly anyone else in the colonies thought it was a good idea. He was the politician and she was the one who kept him grounded, took care of their family and farm while he was away, and even pushed him to think about issues relating to women and slaves. The Adamses spent many long years apart as John worked for independence and then was an ambassador to Europe. As hard as that was for them, we get the benefit of it today in the form of their letters, which have been preserved. In those letters they discuss their children, the new country, independence, old friends, their love life, farm life and thousands of other things. [Abigail even wrote one letter while in the process of giving birth]


I have several things for you to examine regarding the Adamses.


Part I

First,  two actual letters that have been transcribed. They are easy to read in typed form, but if you want you can click on the images along the right side and see the original pages. Each letter is several pages and each page is separated by a solid line. The spellings and capitalization are a bit off for some words; try not to let that throw you.


Letter from Abigail to John [March 31 – April 5]  

A little background info on this letter:

  • Abigail is writing from the family farm in Braintree, Massachusetts just outside Boston.
  • The British army has recently left Boston after many months occupying the city
  • Salt Peter is an ingredient in making gun powder, which the American forces (Continental Army) lacked severely.
  • She switches topics with nearly ever paragraph; try to keep up.


Letter from John to Abigail [April 14]

A little background info on this letter:

  • John is writing from Philadelphia, where he is part of the Continental Congress.
  • He has been trying for quite a while to get all the colonies to vote for independence from Great Britain, but many of them are afraid or unwilling to do so.
  • Independency is another word for independence.


Some Questions Regarding the Letters – Answer these before going on to part two below

  • Abigail mentions their second house in Boston. What does she say of it? What is John’s response?
  • How does John respond to Abigail’s request that he ‘remember the ladies’?
  • Who do you suppose the ‘solicitor general’ is?
  • What do John and Abigail think of the colony of Virginia?
  • What do these letters tell us about the character of the Adamses? What kind of people were they? Can you get an idea of their personality through the letters?


Part II

Next, two sound recordings from a musical called 1776. The main character is John Adams and Abigail appears on stage only when John is writing letters to her. She stands at one side of the stage and he at the other, and they talk/sing to each other through their letters. Sorry I couldn’t find a good video of it, but you’ll be able to picture it if you’ve read the above letters and give it a little imagination. You’ll also hear a few other actors interrupting John once in a while with their lines. Make sure you listen to these in order.

[Important: This musical is a work of fiction. It is based on real events and some of the lines are actual quotes, but by no means is it all completely true]

Also beware there are some minor expletives. If you don’t want to hear them skip this section.

Clip #1

  • This begins with John ‘praying’ to God after being very frustrated with Congress, which he thinks isn’t getting anything done.

Clip #2

  • This begins with John writing to Abigail after all the southern colonies walked out of Congress because of a disagreement over slavery. John Adams was in favor of ending slavery while in the deep south the economy and way of life of many depended on it.


Questions about the Musical – Answer these on the same paper/email that you used for the questions above

  • What similarities and differences exist between John and Abigail as they are portrayed in the musical as opposed to their own letters?
  • What do you think the writer of the musical was trying to say about the character of Abigail and John Adams?


You can write the answers to these questions out by hand or type them and email them to me at 

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