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Civil War

The following questions are designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. As you analyze the documents, take into account both the source of the document and the author’s point of view.
Historical Context
New York State's contribution to the Union cause in the Civil War was extraordinary, despite deep divisions among the state's populace. The state enlisted 448,000 troops, suffered 46,534 casualties, and raised 150 million dollars for the Union war effort. All exceeded the contributions of any other state. More than 200 New York infantry, cavalry, and artillery units served in the war and collectively saw action in nearly every campaign. A host of New Yorkers distinguished themselves through military and public service during the war. While the state's leadership pulled together to raise enormous levels of volunteers and funds for the cause, longstanding divisions rendered this process very difficult at times.

In New York as in the rest of the Union, support for the policies of President Lincoln and even the war itself rose and fell with the fortunes of the Union army. New Yorkers disagreed over what they felt was the true purpose of the war. Support for the Emancipation Proclamation was far from unanimous and the conscription act passed by Congress in March of 1863 caused deep resentment in the state. Desertions were not at all uncommon.

Class, ethnic, and racial tensions, as well as opposition to the draft came to a head with the New York City draft riots of July 1863. The riots resulted in the deaths of 119 and the wounding of over 300 persons. Property damage was estimated at roughly one million dollars. Still in the end, the state raised twenty-three ethnic regiments, dominated by individuals of German and Irish descent, as well as three regiments of African American troops.

Despite the outcome of the Civil War, social conflicts and inequities that existed within New York prior to the war endured well into the future. Still, New York's economy grew, industrialization of the state proceeded, wages increased, and the city of New York assumed its place as the financial center of the nation.

Task Description
Using the information from the following documents, and your own knowledge of history, answer the questions in Part A that follow each document. Your answers to these questions will help you complete the writing assignment given in Part B.
Part A: Instructions
Read and analyze each document and answer each of the questions in the space provided.
Part B: Essay
a. Using information and evidence from all of the documents to support your thinking, and using your own knowledge of history, write an essay that describes the different ways that people were affected by the Civil War, as civilians, soldiers, and support staff. Your essay should be well organized and should include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion.

b. Using information and evidence from all of the documents to support your thinking, and using your own knowledge of history, write an essay comparing the Civil War to the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan. How are the causes of the two wars alike and different? How would the civilians’ and soldiers’ experiences be alike and different? Your essay should be well organized and should include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion.


About this Activity


Lesson Topic:


     Civil War. Wounding of General Sickles at Gettysburg
New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_8425
Document Description
Bronze relief depicting the wounding of General Daniel Sickles at the Battle of Gettysburg. Sickles was shot in the leg, which later had to be amputated. The artist was Caspar Burberl, who created this image for a New York State monument in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
  1. What kind of object is this?
  2. What event does this object commemorate?
  3. Which figure is General Sickles? How can you tell?
  4. Describe what appears to be going on in the scene.
  5. Using your knowledge of history, why was the Battle of Gettysburg important in the Civil War?

     Application of Late Army Nurse
New York State Archives, NYSA_A0710-80_ClaytonAmelia_01
Document Description
Application of Civil War nurse Amelia Clayton to the New York State Veterans' Home, 1901. Clayton, an Irish immigrant and resident of Brooklyn, served as a nurse during the Civil War, which entitled her to admission at the home for veterans.
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. Who is filling out this application? What is she applying for?
  3. How did the applicant serve during the Civil War? Where did she serve?
  4. According to this document, who would be entitled to apply to live in this home?
  5. Under what two categories is Amelia Clayton eligible to apply?

     Descriptive List of Substitute Deserters
New York State Archives, NYSA_A4111-78_B4_F2_1863_10_01
Document Description
Descriptive list of substitute deserters enlisted at Oswego, NY, 1863. The list contains names of soldiers who were hired to enlist in the Union Army as substitutes for men who had been drafted. Some substitutes never showed up for duty even though they had been paid beforehand.
  1. On what date was this document printed?
  2. What is a deserter?
  3. How many deserters does this document list?
  4. How many deserters on this list were born in a foreign country?
  5. On what date did Henry Demmer enlist? Where? On what date did he desert? Where?

  6. Why might a person have deserted from the army during the Civil War?
  7. How much was the reward for delivery of a deserter? Why would the army have paid a reward for this?

     Proclamation by Major General Charles W. San[d]ford
New York State Archives, NYSA_B0462-84_1861_05_25
Document Description
Proclamation by Major General Charles W. San[d]ford of the New York State Militia, shortly after the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. The proclamation guaranteed that while Fairfax County, Virginia, was occupied by the militia (in the service of the United States Army), no harm would come to the person or property of Virginia citizens.
  1. On what date was this document written?
  2. Where was the document written?
  3. Who ordered this proclamation to be made? Why was it important to him and the readers?
  4. Using your knowledge of history, how are the residents of an area usually affected when the area is occupied by a military force during a war?
  5. Arlington House was the home of Robert E. Lee, a well-known Confederate general. What message is the author sending by issuing this proclamation from Arlington House?
  6. Find Fairfax County, Virginia on a map. It is very close to Washington D.C. Why was this important during the Civil War?

     Abstract of muster roll, James C. Spry
New York State Archives, NYSA_B0807-85_USCT26_SpryJamesC
Document Description
Muster roll abstract for Civil War soldier James C. Spry of the U.S. Colored Troops. Spry was promoted to Second Lieutenant during his service, and was killed in action in 1864.
  1. Whose military service record is this?
  2. How long did this soldier serve in the army?
  3. In what regiment did the soldier serve?
  4. Why might African American soldiers have fought for the Union cause?
  5. What happened to the soldier?
  6. The Return Slip attached to the service record refers to pay that will be given to the soldier’s wife. Whose pay is it and why would it be important to the soldier’s wife?