Purpose of Lesson: This lesson introduces students to (1) the power of political messages contained in visual artifacts, (2) the political messages conveyed by the illustrations that appeared on personal stationery used during the Civil War and (3) the ways in which those visual messages might have affected the war effort.
Objectives:At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:
Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Eighth Grade Social Studies and United States History)
USH 2.9 Identify the main ideas from primary sources, such as nineteenth century political cartoons, about urban government, corruption, and social reform. (Civics and Government; Individuals, Society, and Culture)
USH 9.1 Locate and analyze primary and secondary sources presenting differing perspectives on events and issues of the past.
Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:
Central to this lesson is the concept of Propaganda.
propaganda. noun. 1. ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause
Propaganda exists at all times on various cultural levels. But during wartime, however, its persuasive power reaches a quantitative and qualitative peak, implemented on a much larger scale and in a much wider range of settings. Propaganda is vital to the maintenance of the morale of soldiers and civilians (on both sides of the war effort).
But persuasion does not have to take the form of huge text banners or loudspeaker broadcasts. It can be more subtle in its presentation, using no words or sound, but only photographs or drawings. This type of understated persuasion is illustrated in this lesson: a simple envelope becomes a canvas for the southern and northern causes of the Civil War.
Printers and publishers on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line produced inexpensive envelopes that featured an extraordinary range of symbols and slogans to capture the sentiments of the time.
To introduce the lesson, the teacher may wish to read the following:
In the summer of 1862 soldier David Johnson was discouraged about the lack of news from home. He was still in his teens when he left Lafayette Township in Owen County to enlist in Company H of the 59th. He had counted on his sister, Eliza Ann, to be his link with his home so far away. He wrote to her from northeastern Mississippi in September to complain.
It is with much pleasure that I seat my self to let you know that I am well at this time and I hope when these few lines reaches you they will find you enjoying the same blessing. I have not got any letters from home yet and I begin to think you have forgotten me as I have wrote three letters home and have not received any answers yet. I want you to write or I will quit writing to you. . .
(Excerpted from "I Take My Pen to Hand," Vivian Zollinger, IMH, vol. xciii, June 1997)
*Note that this introductory statement is meant only to provide a starting point for the lesson (i.e. the importance of letter writing during the war). It should not be assumed by the teacher that the correspondence between David Johnson and his sister was sent in a Civil War “cover.”
During the War, soldiers wrote many letters as letter writing was the main form of communication with family and friends on the home front. To write their letters home, soldiers purchased paper, envelopes, ink and pens. Stationary makers printed many styles of patriotic stationary and envelopes with engravings of camp scenes or political humor and these were quite popular among soldiers. Envelopes, also known as "covers", with elaborate printed patriotic scenes or political statements were some of the most popular to use.
Allow time for students to study the envelopes and complete the chart.