Trailer Park Unschoolers

Because you don't need to be rich to unschool!

The Civil War Project


So, the kids have this project to do. They have to make a song, game, or book about the Civil War. Well, it’s been modified to include other ideas if the kids get creative. Much like her mother in days of old, Corde has waited until the last minute to start her project. Yes, she definitely takes after me!

Originally the whole idea of the project was met with groans and contempt towards such challenging undertakings. Corde whined that the project would be too hard. She complained that there were no new facts about the Civil War beyond what she learned in class. The only way to convey the knowledge in story form would be in the form of a large chapter book, and that would be too much work. The whole thing would be too challenging and simply could not be done.

Meanwhile, Corde was sitting in front of a time traveler’s guide to the middle ages, muttering her discontent. The idea suddenly struck me. She should write it in travel guide form! We pulled out two different books from two different series to give inspiration, and I made a few suggestions on what she could do. She loved the idea, and soon the ideas started to flow.

Lacking direction, we phoned for help. My aunt is a former teacher and is full of good ideas. She helped me with the dreaded Ellis Island project and guided me through the memorization of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. She would know just where to start a project like this, especially as she was familiar with the books we were inspired by. She had better be! She sent them! I knew she would soon have us on our way to a fantastic travel guide.

The phone call started us with a list of places to visit. We could compare a city in the North with a plantation in the South, since you would surely want to visit both. We would visit the South for the day they broke free of the Union and would talk about the fireworks and parties. Next we would go to the first battle. That would be followed by visits with the Presidents of both the Union and the Confederate States. Finally we would wrap it up with Gettysburg, a must-see for any historic time travel to the Civil War.

Today the research started. I would have liked to do library research, but being short on time and having a need for quick facts, we hit up ole’ faithful, otherwise known as Google. We would start with the North, then work on the rest of it. I was mostly familiar with everything else and could fill in facts from my own knowledge base, but the idea of Northern cities bothered me. I had no idea how much information I would find. Thankfully, Boston was the chosen city. I knew a few details about the Civil War in Boston, since I grew up there. I was able to add a few details, but the amount of information blew me away!

It wasn’t long into reading the facts that we collectively decided it would be better to keep this travel guide focused. All the other visits were cut off the list and we decided to stick with Boston. Not only did this provide us with a healthy list of facts, but Corde now has a long list of new places she wants to visit.

We learned all kinds of interesting facts. For example, the first units to respond to Lincoln’s call for troops were from Massachusetts. They also suffered the first Union casualties of war. Later the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry became the first all African American unit, though it was led by white officers. Not long after the 55th became the second African American unit, though they didn’t get any real notice or attention. Surprisingly, Massachussets contributed a large number of men for the Union army and navy. The recruitment centers were well surpassing their quotas at the beginning of the war, and even towards the end were close, even without the instituted draft. Over 150,000 men served in the Union military from Massachusetts alone.

This is Corde’s particular favorite set of facts. The most important supplier of ammunition and supplies during the war was the Springfield Armory. This is where the Springfield rifled musket was first made, the primary weapon of Union soldiers. As far as I last new, the Springfield Armory is still standing. The Watertown Arsenal produced a good quantity of the ammunition, gun carriages, and leather accoutrements used by the Union. While it appears some of the old factory buildings around it remain, the arsenal building itself is now the Arsenal Mall, a place I sang Christmas carols at with chorus when I was in high school. We also used to take Corde there to shop for clothes when she was little. She wants to go back and see it. There is rumor that the mall may have been demolished as a part of city planning, but Corde hopes she can at least go see what stands there now. There is also a rumor that the land can never be sold from the state because there are nuclear munitions buried under the property. We also learned Smith & Wessen also manufactured in Massachusetts, as did Ames Manufacturing Company in Chicopee. Ames became the largest source of swords, side arms, and cannons for the Union troops, as well as the third biggest producer of heavy ordinance. Best of all was the talk of one of my favorite places to go with Girl Scouts, George’s Island. Along with Castle Island and Governer’s Island, George’s Island became a training and recruiting camp, a harbor defense point, an ordinance testing site, and a prison camp. I have no idea if Fort Independence still stands on Castle Island. Fort Winthrop on Governer’s Island has been replaced by Logan International Airport. However, George’s Island makes for a fantastic visit if you bring along some flashlights. You can still explore Fort Warren today. I got to share all the stories of exploring, rumors that it was haunted by Union soldiers and their Confederate prisoners, and everything else. Now Corde, Beekee, and Sanders all want to go, armed with flashlights, to check the place out. It would be quite an adventure, everything from the ferry ride out to the old fort itself.

Finally, we learned about some famous people. Dorothea Dix, the woman responsible for getting female nurses into every Union hospital, was from Massachussets. She began the Women’s Nursing Bureau, and was the first woman to hold a government position over any bureau. Hendry Whitney Bellows of Boston began the United States Sanitation Commission to send supplies to nurses who needed them among other things. Then there was Clara Barton, the angel of the battlefield. She was an independent nurse bringing medical supplies and food to the wounded soldiers. She began in hospitals with her own private funds, but later took her mission on the road. She was not barred from any battlefield and was often seen as a blessing by even the surgeons, who were not terribly fond of the idea of the often willful female nurses. She is thought to be responsible for bringing the Red Cross to America. Of course, I’m sure you can see why a budding feminist would find interest in Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton. The inclusion of women on the war front and in military hospitals laid some of the early ground work for women’s suffrage and the whole feminist movement. She was thrilled to find out both women were from Massachusetts.

The time travel guide has many good places to start. This project, once thought a boring nuisance, is now looked on with expectation. Tomorrow I get to go to the library and type it up with the pictures Corde selected. It won’t be as fancy as Corde would like, but it will be done and on time. Best of all, Corde now no longer finds the war to be quite so dull.


Author: Fox

With four kids, who has time for much? We spend a lot of time together, which translates to a lot of knitting time for me when we hang out. We've been trying to get back to our unschooling roots. We watch a lot of videos, play a lot of games, and pay attention to the things we notice in our everyday life. It's been quite the big adventure!

2 thoughts on “The Civil War Project

  1. Love the idea of doing a travel guide through time. The civil war can be so boring. We have not try to tackle it yet. Would love to seethe finished guide. Great job Corde and mom!!

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