Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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America's History in the Making

A Nation Divided

Theme 2

Rampant illness, shortages of supplies, poor camp conditions, and very high casualty rates quickly overshadowed the noble ideas that soldiers brought to the war.

Many soldiers on both sides of the conflict expected the Civil War to be decided quickly and honorably, in a series of decisive battles filled with heroic charges.

Instead, the two sides found themselves locked in a seemingly endless conflict. Modern weaponry cut down charging infantry long before they could even see the enemy, putting a premium on creating trenches and other well-positioned defensive structures. Diseases swept through tightly packed camps and killed even more soldiers than the bloody battles.

The scale and nature of death shocked soldiers on both sides of the interminable, unromantic war.

Primary Sources


Text Artifact

Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Robert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Vintage Books, 1992) 65-6.

Text Artifact

Excerpts from Letters Written Home from the Front

Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Johnny Reb (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943) 32-33.


Incidents of War. A Harvest of Death

Timothy H. O'Sullivan, INCIDENTS OF WAR. A HARVEST OF DEATH, GETTYSBURG, JULY, 1863 (1863). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Army of the Potomac, A Sharp Shooter on Picket Duty

Winslow Homer, THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, A SHARP SHOOTER ON PICKET DUTY (1862). Courtesy of Paul McWhorter.

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