Lincoln's Assassination: A Nation's Emotional Response

My sophomore students are wrapping up their unit on the American Civil War.  There is a lot of information for them to take in; massive casualty numbers, battles, generals, politicians, primary source readings like the Peninsula Campaign Letter and the Emancipation Proclamation, the lives of slaves during the war...

The final lesson of the Civil War is always the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  This year I was searching for a new way for my students to study the information.  After a little searching, I found an amazing website: The Abraham Lincoln Papers from the Library of Congress.  One of their special collections is called The Lincoln Assassination.  There I found broadsides, illustrations, and other publications that convey the public sentiment surrounding the shocking events of April 15, 1865.

So.... here is my plan for Monday!

The Set Up
First, I will ask the students to read this short summary of the events surrounding the assassination.  Then, to make the rich primary resources into a lesson, I will divide them into 5 categories.  Each category will be assigned to one of 5 small groups of students in each of my sophomore classes.

To see more detail for any of these images, simply click on it.

Lincoln is Shot
The Nation Reacts
Mourning Lincoln
Memorializing Lincoln
Punishing the Perpetrators

Each group/category will have three images.  What you see above is just a taste.

The Analysis
In order for students to see all of the incredible emotion that is captured in these images, I will ask them to use the following questions to analyze them in their small groups.
  • Identify at least 3 details from the document.  Write them in a list with an explanation of the importance of each detail.
  • What inferences can you make about the feelings and intent of the creator from this document?
  • Who do you think is the target audience the creator had in mind? Why do you think so?
  • After looking at and analyzing this document, what is the main idea of the document?
The Share-Out
When all groups are done with the above analysis of all three of their documents, I will ask each group to get up in front of the class.  While I project the images in full size and in color on my SMART Board, they will lead a class discussion in the analyses of these rich images.  I hope that, inevitably, students will notice details they didn't on first glance.  Maybe some groups, who thought they had done a thorough job before getting up in front of the class, will even learn from their audience during these discussions.

The Culminating Question
After each group presents, the students in each group will be asked to consider their 3 documents together and answer this question:
  • Taken together, what emotions or ideas do these documents demonstrate?  Use words or images from your documents as evidence of these emotions and ideas.
My hope is that the answers will be thoughtful and that the students will point to specific details or words used in the documents that convey the emotions of the time period.  The goal is for them to have a greater understanding of what is must have been like to live during these tumultuous times, based on the words and images created by the people who were there.

Wish me luck!


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