The online tool for teaching with documents, from the National Archives

The Civil War: Commemorate or Celebrate?

Weighing the Evidence

All documents and text associated with this activity are printed below, followed by a worksheet for student responses.

Introduction

How do we honor the American Civil War? With a commemoration or a celebration? Though the two ideas are similar, they are also very different. To determine how to observe this time in our nation's history, we'll weigh the evidence by examining Civil War records.

Carefully examine each document by clicking on the orange Details icon, then drag and place it on the scale to decide whether the evidence supports a commemoration or celebration.


Name:
Class:

Worksheet

The Civil War: Commemorate or Celebrate?

Weighing the Evidence

Examine the documents and text included in this activity. Consider how each document does or does not support two opposing interpretations or conclusions. Fill in the topic or interpretations if they are not provided. To show how the documents support the different interpretations, enter the corresponding document number into the boxes near the interpretation. Write your conclusion response in the space provided.

Interpretation 1
Commemoration

How do we honor the American Civil War — with a commemoration or a celebration?
Interpretation 2
Celebration



1

Activity Element

Naval Engagement in Hampton Roads. Merrimac and Monitor. March 1862. Copy of print by J. Davies after C. Parsons

Page 1



2

Activity Element

Carver Hospital, Washington, D.C. Interior view

Page 2



3

Activity Element

Drawing of Improvements in Breech-Loading Repeating Cannon

Page 1



4

Activity Element

US Military Telegraph Operators, Headquarters, Army of the Potomac. July 1863.

Page 1



5

Activity Element

Casualty List of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from the Assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina

Page 1



6

Activity Element

Letter from Robert E. Lee to Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, in which Lee Resigned from the U.S. Army

Page 1



7

Activity Element

Register of Marriages

Page 1



8

Activity Element

Contraband camp, Richmond, VA

Page 2



9

Activity Element

Petition from West Point Class to Secretary of War Simon Cameron Asking to Graduate Early

Page 2



10

Activity Element

Baseball game between Union prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina

Page 1



Conclusion

The Civil War: Commemorate or Celebrate?

Weighing the Evidence

You completed the activity. 
  • How did you weigh the evidence?
  • Were there documents that supported both sides of the celebrate or commemorate question?
  • Was there overwhelming evidence that supported one side versus the other?


Your Response




Document

Naval Engagement in Hampton Roads. Merrimac and Monitor. March 1862. Copy of print by J. Davies after C. Parsons

1863

This primary source comes from the Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.
National Archives Identifier: 518105
Full Citation: Naval Engagement in Hampton Roads. Merrimac and Monitor. March 1862. Copy of print by J. Davies after C. Parsons; 1863; Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, . [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/naval-engagement-in-hampton-roads-merrimac-and-monitor-march-1862-copy-of-print-by-j-davies-after-c-parsons, June 18, 2024]


Naval Engagement in Hampton Roads. Merrimac and Monitor. March 1862. Copy of print by J. Davies after C. Parsons

Page 1



Document

Carver Hospital, Washington, D.C. Interior view

ca. 1860 - 1865

This primary source comes from the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.
National Archives Identifier: 524592
Full Citation: Carver Hospital, Washington, D.C. Interior view; ca. 1860 - 1865; Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, 1921 - 1940; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, . [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/carver-hospital-washington-dc-interior-view, June 18, 2024]


Carver Hospital, Washington, D.C. Interior view

Page 2



Document

Drawing of Improvements in Breech-Loading Repeating Cannon

7/29/1862

This primary source comes from the Records of the Patent and Trademark Office.
National Archives Identifier: 4531643
Full Citation: Utility Patent 34,730; Drawing of Improvements in Breech-Loading Repeating Cannon; 7/29/1862; Utility Patent Drawings, 1837–1911; Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/drawing-of-improvements-in-breechloading-repeating-cannon, June 18, 2024]


Drawing of Improvements in Breech-Loading Repeating Cannon

Page 1



Document

US Military Telegraph Operators, Headquarters, Army of the Potomac. July 1863.

7/1863

This primary source comes from the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.
National Archives Identifier: 530480
Full Citation: US Military Telegraph Operators, Headquarters, Army of the Potomac. July 1863.; 7/1863; Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, 1921 - 1940; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, . [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/us-military-telegraph-operators-headquarters-army-of-the-potomac-july-1863, June 18, 2024]


US Military Telegraph Operators, Headquarters, Army of the Potomac. July 1863.

Page 1



Document

Casualty List of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from the Assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina

7/18/1863

This list includes all the enlisted men of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment missing—and presumed dead—after the assault on Fort Wagner. The total loss was 5 sergeants, 9 corporals, and 86 privates.
This primary source comes from the Records of the Adjutant General's Office.
National Archives Identifier: 300389
Full Citation: Casualty List of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from the Assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina; 7/18/1863; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, . [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/casualty-list-54th-massachusetts-assault-on-fort-wagner, June 18, 2024]


Casualty List of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from the Assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina

Page 1



Casualty List of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from the Assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina

Page 2



Document

Letter from Robert E. Lee to Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, in which Lee Resigned from the U.S. Army

4/20/1861

When offered leadership of the U.S. Army on the eve of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee refused, citing loyalty to his home state of Virginia. In this letter to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, Lee resigned from the U.S. Army.

On April 18, 1861, the day after Virginia voted for secession, President Lincoln sent an unofficial representative, Francis P. Blair, Sr., to ask Robert E. Lee to take command of the United States Army. At this meeting, Lee spoke of his devotion to the Union and then asked to speak to fellow Virginian Winfield Scott. Lee told Scott that he would resign. The old Mexican War hero replied, “Lee you have made the greatest mistake of your life.” 

In a letter to his sister, Anne Marshall, Lee explained, “I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword.”

Text adapted from “Robert E. Lee's Resignation from the U.S. Army” in the February 1997 National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) publication Social Education.

Transcript

Arlington, Washington City, P.O.
20 April 1861

Honble Simon Cameron
Sect of War

Sir
I have the honour to tender the resignation of my Commission as Colonel of the 1st Regt of Cavalry

Very respt your ob Servt

R E Lee
Col 1st Cavy
This primary source comes from the Records of the Adjutant General's Office.
National Archives Identifier: 300383
Full Citation: Letter from Robert E. Lee to Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, in which Lee Resigned from the U.S. Army; 4/20/1861; Returns of Military Organizations, ca. 1800 - 12/1916; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, ; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/lee-resigning-us-army, June 18, 2024]


Letter from Robert E. Lee to Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, in which Lee Resigned from the U.S. Army

Page 1



Document

Register of Marriages

9/30/1865

While many enslaved couples formed lasting bonds during their enslavement, their marriages had no legal foundation or protection. The abolishment of slavery not only meant citizenship, but the ability to have legally recognized marriages without fear of the loss of a spouse through sale.

Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands — better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau — as the Civil War neared its end, in 1865. The Bureau helped facilitate and record marriages.

The Freedmen's Bureau recorded the county marriages seen in this document, performed by D Maxwell, Clerk of the Court in North Carolina, for the quarter ending on September 30, 1865.

Transcript

Record of Marriages for Which licenses were issued by D Maxwell Clerk of County during the quarter ending September 30, 1865.

[Entries include the following information in the following order:] Date – Names: Males – to – Females – Remarks [this column is entirely blank]

July 8 1865 – Albert Wheatly – to – Cressy [illegible]
[July] 5 [1865] – Elias Winthrop – [to] – Hannah Willson
[July] 21 [1865] – Joseph Gentile – [to] – Rebecca Sims
[July] 28 [1865] – Milas Owens – [to] – Sylva Brown
[July] 29 [1865] – Robert Johnson – [to] – Martha Blair
Aug 12 [1865] – John Sandford – [to] – Ellen Graham
[Aug] 17 [1865] – Monroe Harris – [to] – Miriam Simmons
[Aug] 17 [1865] – Thos Simmons – [to] – Charity Orr
[Aug] 26 [1865] – Thos Barnwell – [to] – Anny Houston
[Aug] 26 [1865] – Anozie Stile – [to] – Elina Stile
[Aug] 26 [1865] – Sandy Johnson – [to] – Roxana Pitts
[Aug] 31 [1865] – Doctor Sheppard – [to] – Indy McNealy
Sept 7 [1865] – John McCullough – [to] – Amanda Taylor
[Sept] 14 [1865] – Thos Orr – [to] – Louisa Orr
[Sept] 18 [1865] – Stephen Torrence – [to] – Dovy Maxwell
[Sept] 16 [1865] – James Sawson – [to] – Mary A Davis
[Sept] 18 [1865] – Amos Caldwell – [to] – Dinah Wilson
[Sept] 21 [1865] – Adolphus Young – [to] – Martha Lewis
[Sept] 25 [1865] – Edward Willson – [to] – Francis Johnson
[Sept] 27 [1865] – James Walker – [to] – Alicia Garth

The above is a correct Record transcribed from the Marriage Record in its Clerks office of this County.
[signed] John C Barnett
Capt & Asst Supt F.M.B.



Bu R F & A L
Charlotte NC
Oct 10th 1865

Barnett John C
Capt. & Supt.

Report of Marriages registered
During quarter preceding
September 30th 1865
This primary source comes from the Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.
National Archives Identifier: 595052
Full Citation: Register of Marriages; 9/30/1865; Reports, 1865 - 1869; Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, ; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/register-marriages, June 18, 2024]


Register of Marriages

Page 1



Register of Marriages

Page 2



Document

Contraband camp, Richmond, VA

1865

This photograph shows a "contraband" camp in Richmond, Virginia. During the early months of the Civil War in August of 1861, Congress passed, and President Lincoln signed, the First Confiscation Act. It stated that the Union could seize and confiscate property used in the Confederate war effort – including enslaved people. The Union Army set up camps to provide relief, including shelter, rations, clothing, medical attention, education, and even employment. The term ''contraband''— property confiscated in war—was given to enslaved people who escaped, or were freed as the Union Army advanced.
This primary source comes from the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.
National Archives Identifier: 524494
Full Citation: Photograph 111-B-75; Contraband camp, Richmond, VA; 1865; Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, 1921 - 1940; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/contraband-camp-richmond-va, June 18, 2024]


Contraband camp, Richmond, VA

Page 2



Document

Petition from West Point Class to Secretary of War Simon Cameron Asking to Graduate Early

4/15/1861

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduated enough professional officers each year to staff a peacetime army – but not nearly enough for the more than 2,000 regiments raised by the Union during the Civil War. The 27 members of the class of 1861 who signed this petition persuaded Secretary of War Simon Cameron to let them graduate early and join the war effort.
This primary source comes from the Records of the Adjutant General's Office.
National Archives Identifier: 4656205
Full Citation: Petition from West Point Class to Secretary of War Simon Cameron Asking to Graduate Early; 4/15/1861; Correspondence Relating to the Military Academy, 1819 - 1866; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, ; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/west-point-class-petition, June 18, 2024]


Petition from West Point Class to Secretary of War Simon Cameron Asking to Graduate Early

Page 2



Document

Baseball game between Union prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina

1863

This primary source comes from the Records from the War Department.
National Archives Identifier: 530502
Full Citation: Baseball game between Union prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina; 1863; Civil War-Era Photographs, ca. 1921 - ca. 1921; Records from the War Department, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/baseball-game-between-union-prisoners-at-salisbury-north-carolina, June 18, 2024]


Baseball game between Union prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina

Page 1