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Lesson Plan Civil War Photojournalism: A Record of War

This lesson will analyze Civil War photographs and explore how and why the American Civil War was photographed.


Students will be able to:

  • Explore who has photographed war and why
  • Learn about Mathew Brady's process for photographing the Civil War
  • Learn how photographic equipment has improved through time
  • Analyze Civil War photographs

Time Required

Two to three weeks

Lesson Preparation


For the photograph analysis activity (Procedure, step 3), copy for each student:


Lesson Procedure

  1. Introduce the unit by displaying the "Civil War images page". Students will then write a rough piece (2 - 3 paragraphs) entitled "Why Photograph War?"
  2. Discuss the progress of the process of photography. Start with Taking Photographs during the Civil WarThe Daguerreotype Medium and Timeline of the Daguerreian Era also have information.
  3. Model photograph analysis using [Johnsonville, Tenn. Camp of Tennessee Colored Battery]. Students will need a copy of the photograph and the Primary Source Analysis Tool.
  4. Working in pairs, students analyze photographs, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  5. Following analysis in pairs, students share their results with the class. Plan more than one class period.
  6. After listening to all groups, students return to their initial written piece "Why Photograph War?" and edit this into a finished essay, adding knowledge gained from the discussion to this essay.


As an extension, this activity could be used with photographs from other wars with students comparing and contrasting what was photographed during each war.

Use this lesson as a starting point for students' own photo essays. Students take twelve pictures that would describe to the world who the student is and what is important to him/her. Since many students spend a lot of time composing some shots for their photo essay, preface this activity with a discussion about whether the Civil War photographs were posed or candid.

Brainstorm categories for searching for war photographs. Some possibilities are artillery, uniforms, medical aspects, battlefields, casualties, camps, camplife, transportation, hospitals, uniforms and forts. Put students in pairs. Model searching strategies and keywords to use in searching. Allow sufficient time for searching. Each group will choose 2 - 3 photographs from the collections that they will use for further analysis. Students kept a list of keywords they used that were related to their topic. They kept track of how many hits they found and what other subjects were listed for the photographs found.

Lesson Evaluation

Students will be evaluated on:

  1. photographs they selected;
  2. their analysis of those photographs;
  3. their ability to work with a partner; and
  4. the completed essay "Why Photograph War?".

All photographs and observation forms can be compiled into a scrapbook as a class record of photojournalism during the Civil War.


Chris Fricke and Glenda Ritz