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Lesson Plan Civil War Photographs: What Do You See?

Teachers

In this lesson students analyze a single photograph from the Library of Congress collection Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Using the skills developed, students then find and analyze other images. Conclusions reached will allow students develop links between the Civil War and American industrialization.

Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Utilize skills in photographic analysis.
  • Analyze the Civil War as a catalyst to America's industrial development.

Time Required

Three classes

Lesson Preparation

Resources

Lesson Procedure

  1. Before having the class look at "Dictator" image, it may be useful to choose another picture from Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints to discuss as a class. One excellent example would be "Cold Harbor, Va. African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed in the battle." If you choose to examine this image before looking at the "Dictator," have students make observations, bring in outside knowledge, and draw conclusions based on their observations and knowledge as in part 5 below.
  2. Then show the "Dictator" photograph to class.
  3. Start by asking students with low level questions, such as "What do you see?" Select additional questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  4. Then ask students to focus on different parts of the photograph. "What Do You See?" has six sections with associated questions. You could either divide the class into small groups, with each group looking at one section of the photograph, or have the whole class look at each section of the picture in turn. Click on a section to bring up questions to focus students' attention on details of the picture. Encourage factual observations first, not conclusions. Encourage multiple deductions about different aspects.
  5. Brainstorm answers to questions either in the small groups or as a class.
  6. The teacher's role in the process is to urge students to justify their conclusions by relating the evidence they used. Focus on the process moving from observation to conclusion. The process is:
    • observation
    • bring in outside knowledge
    • conclusions based on (a) and (b)
  7. Once students have developed their answers to the questions, correct any misconceptions by using the "answers" provided. Note that several of the answers are not definitive. There has been much knowledge lost about this and any image from the period.
  8. Then show students this additional photogaph of the "Dictator": Petersburg, Va. The "Dictator," a 13-inch mortar, in position, Discussion might include:
    • Compare this picture with the other views. What is similar? What is different?
    • What additional information can you gain by looking at this new picture?
  9. Not all information about the "Dictator" can be determined from pictures. Books and Web sites can also provide additional information. Conclude the examination of the "Dictator" by having students read additional information. This textual material should answer some of the questions that students had from their examination of the images.
  10. The next stage would be for students to search the Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints Collection for other photographs to analyze. The teacher will have to provide students with guidance on how to search the collection. For example, to search for technology in the Civil War, terms to use would be:
    • telegraph
    • artillery
    • railroad
    • ironclad
  11. Other general topics would be a specific event, place, or leaders.

  12. In small groups, students should find a photograph that is multi-dimensional (e.g. has technology and people), is unusual, has depth of background, etc. Once a photograph has been located, the group should analyze the details in the image as above. Have students observe, apply their prior knowledge, and draw conclusions.
  13. Finally each group should share their image and conclusions with the rest of the class. Make sure that the group relates how they found the image, and how they drew their conclusion. Restrict the group to a given amount of time to find their image, to make observations, and to report to the group.
  14. Bring the whole group together and discuss additional aspects of the Civil War and America's industrial development.
    Possible questions might include:
    • What does the picture tell us about the Civil War?
    • How is war changing?
    • How are changes in technology and industry affecting war?
    • Which side, Union or Confederate, had the greater advantage due to technology?
    • What do we know about the Battle of Petersburg? Who won?

Lesson Evaluation

Students could develop links from the Civil War to industrialization. During the next units students should use their skills in photographic analysis by applying them to other artifacts: both textual and visual. Formal evaluation could take the form of document analysis on semester exams and other tests.

Credits

Bob Hines and John Day

Students

What Do You See?

What do you see in this picture?

This photograph has six sections with associated possible questions.

The picture was taken in 1864, during the American Civil War. If you look closely, you will be able to see more in the picture than you might think.

Click on a section of the photograph to see questions that will focus your attention on details in the picture. You will also be able to see a larger view of each portion of the full picture.

Now click on one part of the picture to see possible questions.

Petersburg, Va. The “Dictator”

Left Section

Left section of photograph
  1. What are the rail tracks used for?
  2. What are the other items in the photograph?
  3. What are these items used for?
  4. What evidence, from this part of the picture, did you use to draw your conclusions?

Center-left Section

Center-left section of photograph
  1. Is this person in the Union or Confederate Army?
  2. What season of the year do you think this is?
  3. What time of day is it?
  4. What evidence, from this part of the picture, did you use to draw your conclusions?

Center Section

Center section of photograph
  1. What is unusual about the gun?
  2. Why is the barrel so short and thick?
  3. Why are there steps in the front of the gun?
  4. What is the function of the small metal loop on the top of the gun?
  5. What is the function of the metal rod and wheel on this side of the gun?
  6. What is the function of the metal rod in the back of the gun (look between the two men)?
  7. Why are the men wearing different hats?
  8. Why is there a line moving from upper right to lower left in the picture?
  9. What evidence, from this part of the picture, did you use to draw your conclusions?

Right Section

Right section of photograph
  1. What are the round objects?
  2. Why are they stacked in that manner?
  3. What is the man in suspenders holding in his left hand?
  4. What is the function of that object?
  5. Look at the hat worn by the man in the right side of the picture. Are any other men in the whole picture wearing a hat like his?
  6. What evidence, from this part of the picture, did you use to draw your conclusions?

Possible Answers

What do you see in this picture?

This photograph has six sections with associated possible questions. Below are some possible answers to the questions.

Petersburg, Va. The “Dictator”

Left Section

Left section of photograph
  1. What are the rail tracks used for?
    To transport the heavy gun (too heavy to be pulled by horses or humans) and ammunition
  2. What are the other items in the photograph? Rope, wooden barrels, boxes, railroad ties, rail cart on wheels
  3. What are these items used for?
    Rope for moving heavy objects (such as the gun); wooden barrels may contain food, water, gunpowder; boxes may contain food or ammunition; railroad ties to hold rails down; rail cart on wheels to move supplies, heavy objects such as the cannon balls or the gun

Center-left Section

Center-left section of photograph
  1. Is this person in the Union or Confederate Army?
    No evidence is presented in this picture. Look at other portions of the picture to help answer this question
  2. What season of the year do you think this is?
    The man has rolled up the sleeves on his shirt, and is not wearing a coat. This indicates that it would be either summer, late spring, or early fall. Look at vegetation for further clues.
  3. What time of day is it?
    The shadows behind the man and the shadows on his face indicates either late morning or early afternoon.

Center Section

Center section of photograph
  1. What is unusual about the gun?
    The shape and size of the gun.
  2. Why is the barrel so short and thick?
    The shortness of the gun would allow ease of maneuverability. The gun is a mortar, which allows a high arc (a high altitude), not precision aiming. The gun fires a 225 pound cannon ball over 4,000 yards, using 20 pounds of gunpowder. This much explosive force needs to be contained in a very thick barrel.
  3. Why are there steps in the front of the gun?
    These assist in the loading of the gun.
  4. What is the function of the small metal loop on the top of the gun?
    This assists in removing the barrel from its carriage (the base of the gun) for repair or cleaning.
  5. What is the function of the metal rod and wheel on this side of the gun?
    To rotate the cannon for aiming right to left at various targets.
  6. What is the function of the metal rod in the back of the gun (look between the two men)?
    This rod is called a hand spike which aids in changing the elevation (angle of fire) of the gun.
  7. Why are the men wearing different hats?
    The "issue" (uniform) cap is small and similar to a baseball cap. In the field soldiers preferred the wider brim hat which provided better protection from insects, sun, etc.
  8. Why is there a line moving from upper right to lower left in the picture?
    The original image was produced from a glass negative. At some time a crack developed in the negative, but a good image can still be printed.

Right Section

Right section of photograph
  1. What are the round objects?
    Cannon balls (solid shot - solid metal) or mortar shells (hollow with gunpowder inside).
  2. Why are they stacked in that manner?
    For ease in handling. If the cannon ball weighs over 200 pounds, putting one on top allows for less lifting.
  3. What is the man in suspenders holding in his left hand?
    Tongs.
  4. What is the function of that object?
    Tongs are used for lifting the shells. This would be a two person task. The shells would have indentations to ease in lifting.
  5. Look at the hat worn by the man in the right side of the picture. Are any other men in the whole picture wearing a hat like his?
    This hat is an official uniform (issued) hat. Four other men (all on the right side of the picture) may be wearing similar hats.
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