Post-Visit Lesson: a house Divided: Civil War

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Post-Visit Lesson: A House Divided: Civil War

Grade 7 – 12


After completing this lesson, students will be better able to understand Reconstruction following the Civil War in the South, explain multiple viewpoints when discussing historical events, and analyze historical text and artwork.


The title of this artwork, Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations, refers to a requirement in former Confederate states during Reconstruction through which a southerner could regain citizenship to the United States by taking an oath of loyalty. After taking the oath of loyalty, administered by the Union soldier, this southern woman will be able to receive rations for her young son. Her newly freed slave stands by as a witness to the situation.


Have students read the diary of one Civil War-era American, noting historical events as well as evidence of the writer’s character, beliefs, and feelings about the war. Students should consider the following questions:

  • What personal concerns did the writer express?

  • What does the text tell us about the writer’s life?

  • What does the excerpt tell us about the strength of the writer’s allegiances?

  • What are the reasons the writer supports one side of the war vs. the other?

Have students look at John Rogers’ Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations. While looking closely at the artwork, have students keep in mind their diary writer’s character, beliefs, and feelings about the war.

  • Who do you think these people are? Describe each person and his or her actions to form an idea of the individual.

  • What does their body language tell you about their relationship to each other? Why is the soldier taking his hat off? Why is the woman looking at the child?

  • What has brought them together in this scene?

  • How would the writer of the diary entry you read feel about the woman in this sculpture? How about the man?


Have students remain “in character” to write two additional diary entries to add to their selected excerpt. Have students reflect upon the events of late April 1865 including General Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox as well as President Lincoln’s assassination.

  • What might be happening in your writer’s life at this point? How have his/her daily concerns or allegiances changed, if at all?

  • Imagine that your diary writer was present at the scene depicted in Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations. How would your diary writer react to this scene?

  • How would s/he describe it in a diary entry?

Students’ diary entries should address the message of the artwork and should reflect the writer’s character and beliefs as well as his/her writing style. Have students include a sketch of the imagined spot where the writer is sitting as s/he records their experiences that day.

Louis Leon joined the Confederate Army in April of 1861. While his preconceptions about the noble life of a soldier fall away in extreme temperatures and weather, his diary shows that he still fancies himself a ladies’ man, a bit of a comedian, and a true believer in the fight for Southern independence.
Louis Leon

June 10, 1861 - … This is the first land battle of the war, and we certainly gave them a good beating, but we lost one of our regiment, Henry Wyatt, who was killed while gallantly doing a volunteer duty. Seven of our men were wounded. The Yankees must have lost at least two hundred men in killed and wounded. It was their boast that they could whip us with corn-stalks, but to their sorrow they found that we could do some fighting, too. After the fight some of the boys and myself went over the battlefield, and we saw several of the Yankee dead – the first I had ever seen, and it made me shudder…  

July 1, 1863 - … We got to Gettysburg at 1 P.M., 15 miles… we got into battle in earnest, and lost in our company very heavily, both killed and wounded. This fight lasted four hours and a half, when at last we drove them clear out of town, and took at least 3,000 prisoners. They also lost very heavily in killed and wounded, which all fell into our hands... Major Iredell, of our regiment, came to me and shook my hand, and also complimented me for action in the fight... We laid all night among the dead Yankees, but they did not disturb our peaceful slumbers.
July 14 - … Many a general have I seen walk and a poor sick private riding his horse, and our father, Lee, was scarcely ever out of sight when there was danger. We could not feel gloomy when we saw his old gray head uncovered as he would pass us on the march, or be with us in a fight. I care not how weary or hungry we were, when we saw him we gave that Rebel yell, and hunger and wounds would be forgotten…
May 6, 1864 - Fighting commenced at daylight, and lasted all day. So did it last with their everlasting reinforcements. If General Lee only had half their men, and those men were rebels, we would go to Washington in two weeks. When he has fought such an army for four years it certainly shows we have the generals and the fighting-stock on our side, and they have the hirelings. Look at our army, and you will see them in rags and barefooted. But among the Yankees I see nothing but an abundance of everything. Still, they haven't whipped the rebels…
April, 1865 - I suppose the end is near, for there is no more hope for the South to gain her independence. On the 10th of this month we were told by an officer that all those who wished to get out of prison by taking the oath of allegiance to the United States could do so in a very few days. There was quite a consultation among the prisoners. On the morning of the 12th we heard that Lee had surrendered on the 9th, and about 400, myself with them, took the cursed oath and were given transportation to wherever we wanted to go. I took mine to New York City to my parents, whom I have not seen since 1858... When I commenced this diary of my life as a Confederate soldier I was full of hope for the speedy termination of the war, and our independence. I was not quite nineteen years old. I am now twenty-three. The four years that I have given to my country I do not regret, nor am I sorry for one day that I have given - my only regret is that we have lost… Excerpted from:

Mother of little Cora, Canadian-born Rachel Cormany wrote her diary in Pennsylvania while her husband was away with the Union Army. Aside from recording the movement of troops through her town, she writes of trips to the grocer’s, visits with neighbors, and her contempt for the Confederate “Rebs.”


June 15, 1863 -   … The report now is that they [the Rebels] will be here in an hour. If I could only hear of My Samuels safety--Many have packed nearly all of their packable goods--I have packed nothing. I do not think that we will be disturbed even should they come. I will trust in God even in the midst of flying shells--but of course shall seek the safest place possible in that case--which I hope will not come to us. I have just put my baby to sleep & will now sit at the front door awhile yet--then retire, knowing all will be well.

June 16, 1863 - … At 2 oclock A.M. all was quiet again save an occasional reb. riding past. We went to bed again & slept soundly until 5 the morning. All seemed quiet yet… Soon however [the Rebels] became more active. Were hunting up the contrabands & driving them off by droves. O! How it grated on our hearts to have to sit quietly & look at such brutal deeds--I saw no men among the contrabands--all women & children. Some of the colored people who were raised here were taken along--I sat on the front step as they were driven by just like we would drive cattle. Some laughed & seemed not to care--but nearly all hung their heads. One woman was pleading wonderfully with her driver for her children--but all the sympathy she received from him was a rough "March along"--at which she would quicken her pace again…

June 24, 1863 - Another eventful day has passed--All morning there was considerable riding done up & down street. At 10 A.M. the infantry commenced to come & for 3 hours they just marched on as fast as they could. it is supposed that about 15,000 have already passed through, & there are still more coming. Ewel's brigade has pas . I do not know what others. Longstreet & Hill are expected this way too. It is thought by many that a desperate battle will be fought at Harisburg . This P.M. the Rebs are plundering the stores. some of our merchants will be almost if not entirely ruined--I was sitting on Jared's poarch when a young man (rebel) came & shook hands with Mr. Jared--a relative, his brother is in this army too. He was raised here--His mother is burried here--Mr. Jared told him he ought to go & kneel on his Mothers grave & ask for pardon for having fought in such a bad cause…

June 27, 1863 - … They [the Rebels] are poorly clad--many have no shoes on. As they pass along they take the hats off our citizens heads and throw their old ones in exchange. I was at the window up stairs with my baby nearly all day looking at them--at one time one of them said something that I did not like so I curled my lip as disdainful as I could & turned away just look at her he said to another I saw a lot looking up, so I just wheeled & left the window at which they set up a cheer... I did wish I dared spit at their old flag--I pity some of the men for I am sure they would like to be out…

Excerpted from:

John Rogers Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations modeled 1865, patented 1866 1882.1.1

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