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High School Lesson Plan:
A Potent Remedy: African American Surgeons and Nurses of the Civil War Era


Grade Level: 10-12

Time Needed: three 45-minute class periods

Description: Students view several primary sources and closely examine transcripts of the sources, featuring two Civil War African American surgeons and a nurse. In Class 1, students assess and then build on their existing knowledge about African American doctors and nurses during the U.S. Civil War. In Class 2 students share their findings from close examination of two primary sources from Class 1 and study the case of Dr. Augusta's streetcar incident in 1863 through several related primary sources, including a record of a congressional debate on the resolution to desegregate Washington, DC, streetcars. In Class 3, students share their findings from the examination of the congressional record, and write a short essay about the contributions African Americans made to expanding the roles available to African Americans during the Civil War and to others' views of them and their roles in society.

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Learning Outcomes: Students will be able to:

  • Use critical and analytical skills to examine primary sources
  • Use primary sources to interpret and analyze history
  • Compare multiple sources that represent differing points of view
  • Demonstrate higher order thinking skills moving from concrete observations and facts to questioning and inferences
  • Construct content knowledge and understanding by applying and integrating prior knowledge and experience to the analysis of primary sources
  • Recognize that African Americans surgeons and nurses moved beyond the prejudices they faced to serve the nation in a time of conflict, pushing the boundaries of the role of African Americans in America

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Background Information: The Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine exhibition examines the lives and contributions of several African Americans who served the nation as surgeons and nurses during the American Civil War. They moved beyond prejudices, challenged the prescribed notions of both race and gender, and pushed the boundaries of the role of blacks in America during a time of conflict. Teachers are encouraged to preview all sections of the online exhibition. This lesson plan draws its instructional materials form the following areas of the exhibition:

Details about the creation of the U.S. colored troops is provided online at "War Department General Order 143: Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops (1863)" on the "Our Documents" website.

The Library of Congress provides rich historical content specifically about the African American Civil War experience online at The Civil War section of The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship.

The National Archives & Records Administration features online the "District of Columbia Emancipation Act" document, dated April 16, 1892, which preceded "Emancipation Proclamation" declared by the President Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

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Vocabulary:

The following words may be introduced/incorporated during class procedures.

  • abolitionism, adjournment, analysis, assertion, commission, cordially, corroborate, debarred, emeritus, emancipation, expediency, freeborn, freedman, garrison, interpretation, odious, preceptor, prejudice, province, resolution, streetcar, primary source, transcript

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Materials:

Handouts:

  • For Optional activities before Class 1:
    • What We Know about the American Civil War (PDF) (MSWord)
    • Class Discussion Rubric (PDF)
  • African Americans in the U.S. Civil War (PDF) (MSWord)
  • Teacher's African Americans in the U.S. Civil War (PDF)
  • transcript of the War Department General Order 143: Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops (1863) (PDF)
  • Examining Primary Sources (PDF) (MSWord)
  • Teacher's Examining Primary Sources (PDF)
  • transcripts of:
    • Dr. Harris' A Sketch of Autobiography (PDF)
    • Dr. Augusta's letter to Lincoln (PDF)
  • The Streetcar Incident Summary (PDF) (MSWord)
  • transcripts of:
    • Dr. Augusta's report (PDF)
    • excerpt from The Evening Star (PDF)
  • hard copies (PDF) on tabloid-size paper or online access of the Congressional Globe, 38th Cong., 1st Sess., 553-555 (1864)
  • Findings from Senator Sumner's Resolution Debate (PDF) (MSWord)
  • Teacher's Findings from Senator Sumner's Resolution Debate (PDF)

Other materials and set-ups:

  • a display set-up for the class (e.g., overhead projector and screen, smart- or promethium-board, etc.)
  • materials for class display include all student handouts listed above, as well as the following:
    • the original War Department General Order 143: Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops (1863) (PDF)
    • Susie King Taylor's photo and quote (PDF)
    • the original hand-written documents by Drs. Augusta (PDF) and Harris (PDF)
    • Dr. Augusta's Streetcar Incident (PDF)

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Class 1 Procedures:

[Optional: Prior to Class 1, teachers may use What We Know about the American Civil War to assess students existing knowledge of the Civil War. Teachers may also distribute copies of Class Discussion Rubric to inform students of how their participation in class and group discussions will be evaluated for the whole lesson.]

  1. Have students work in groups of four students and hand out a copy of African Americans in the U.S. Civil War to each group to complete the questions 1 and 2.
  2. Review student responses and leave "3" (see step 6) for later. See possible discussion notes on Teacher's African Americans in the U.S. Civil War
  3. Display for the class the original War Department General Order 143: Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops (1863). (Optional: If appropriate, explain to students an original historical document such as this letter is called a "primary source.")
  4. Hand out copies of the transcript of the Order 143 to students and have them work in their groups to read and summarize key points—i.e., The Order 143 outlines the framework of how a newly established bureau is to organize and supervise Colored Troops. Explain that the transcript is easier to read than the original document.
  5. Share the following statistics—more than 12,000 African Americans served in the Union army and nearly 40,000 died from infection, disease, and battles. Accessed from http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=35 on 10/01/2010.
  6. Call students attention to "3" noted below the table on their African Americans in the U.S. Civil War worksheets. Ask students to think about and write down the roles that African Americans might have played in the military after the creation of the Colored Troops in the Union (in addition to being foot soldiers).
  7. Have students volunteer their answers for "3," and highlight or introduce the role of doctors and nurses in caring for the wounded African American soldiers in the Union army.
  8. Display Susie King Taylor's photo and quote for the class and read aloud the two short excerpts from her book. Introduce her as one of many African American nurses who cared for the wounded African American soldiers.
  9. Conduct a brief class discussion to help students analyze and reflect on the photo and quotes:
    1. Photo: This photo was published in her memoir about being a nurse in the Civil War. Describe some details you see in her portrait. What do you think the portrait says about Susie King Taylor?
    2. Quotes: What information do you gather from the quotes? What message does the information convey about the African American soldiers and nurses?
  10. Tell students that they will expand their knowledge about African American surgeons during the Civil War by examining writings by Drs. Augusta and Harris.
  11. Show students the original hand-written documents (Drs. Augusta and Harris) by the two doctors who were each seeking a surgeon's post in the Union Army.
  12. Have students work in pairs and distribute to each pair copies of the Examining Primary Sources worksheet and the transcripts of Dr. Harris' A Sketch of Autobiography and Dr. Augusta's letter to Lincoln.
  13. Class 1 Evaluation: Collect completed What We Know about the American Civil War (if used), African Americans in the U.S. Civil War, and Examining Primary Sources from the students for evaluation.

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Class 2 Procedures:

  1. Return students' African Americans in the U.S. Civil War and Examining Primary Sources worksheets collected at the end of the previous class.
  2. Debrief as a class by having pairs volunteer their study of the two primary sources. See a discussion guide in Teacher's Examining Primary Sources.
  3. Place before the class the transcript of Dr. Augusta's letter to President Lincoln. Quote the phrase in the letter, "prejudice against colour," and ask students to speculate whether Dr. Augusta, after he became a commissioned major and a physician in the Union Army, no longer faced such a prejudice during the Civil War.
  4. Display Dr. Augusta's Streetcar Incident for the class and read aloud the quote and the summary of the incident.
  5. Tell students that they are going to examine the transcripts of other primary sources on this incident that brought about an important change in Washington, DC, in 1864.
  6. Provide each student with copies of The Streetcar Incident Summary worksheet and the transcripts of Dr. Augusta's report and an excerpt from The Evening Star newspaper article about the incident. Allow students to read the transcripts and complete the worksheet.
  7. Debrief as a class about students' findings from the two primary sources about the streetcar incident that Dr. Augusta experienced.
  8. Explain that Senator Sumner of Massachusetts was outraged by this incident and presented a resolution to desegregate DC streetcars during the 1st session of the 38th Congress in 1864. [Note: Teachers should read the debate record ahead of time in order to review and plan for how to mediate possible student reactions to the language used to refer to African Americans during the Civil War era. Teachers may also identify additional learning outcomes for their students.]
  9. Distribute the hard copies of, or provide online access to, the debate record—start at "Mr. SUMNER" near the top of the third column on page 553, and end at "so the resolution was agreed to." near the middle of the first column on page 555, as well as copies of the Findings from Senator Sumner's Resolution Debate worksheet to students.
  10. Place students in groups to read the record of the debate by dividing up the speakers in the debate—there are 13 speakers among whom Senators Sumner, Hendricks, Grimes, Wilkinson, and Wilson are most active debaters, after which they can share their findings within their groups to complete the first page of the Findings from Senator Sumner's Resolution Debate worksheet in the class.
  11. Have students individually answer the questions on page 2 of the worksheet, and ask them to bring the completed worksheet to the next class for class discussion.
  12. Class 2 Evaluation: Collect The Streetcar Incident Summary from students for evaluation.

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Class 3 Procedures:

  1. Return The Streetcar Incident Summary and briefly review as a class the tasks and questions on the Findings from Senator Sumner's Resolution Debate worksheet.
  2. Debrief as a class the students' findings from the debate and their answers to the questions on the worksheet. See discussion guides in Teacher's Findings from Senator Sumner's Resolution Debate.
  3. Summarize the class discussion and have students write a short essay response to the question "What was one of the most significant changes that African Americans helped achieve during the Civil War?" This is a variation on the question that was first posed to the students in the African Americans in the U.S. Civil War worksheet at the beginning of Class 1.
  4. Class 3 Evaluation: Collect Findings from Senator Sumner's Resolution Debate and the short essay response from students for evaluation of their understanding of the obstacles African Americans faced in their efforts to contribute to the Union effort in the Civil War, those of surgeons and nurses in particular; the opportunities they were given and took; and how their expanded roles did and did not change the perceptions of African Americans by others in American society. Student answers will vary depending on the extent of their overall knowledge of the efforts of African Americans in various fields during the Civil War, but stress that their responses must be backed up by historical evidence.

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Evaluations

In addition to observing and assessing students during class discussions, teachers can evaluate student progress and understanding by reviewing completed What We Know about the American Civil War (if used), African Americans in the U.S. Civil War, Examining Primary Sources, The Streetcar Incident Summary, Findings from Senator Sumner's Resolution Debate, and the short essay collected from each student.

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Extension Activities:

  1. Assign students to use the Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine to create a presentation (electronic or poster board) that introduces at least two African American doctors or nurses featured in the exhibition. Provide the following criteria:
    1. Minimum of four primary sources are included as evidence.
    2. The contributions and obstacles of the featured Civil War doctors or nurses are clearly stated.
    3. The impact of the roles and work of African American doctors and nurses to contemporary health workers is inferred.
  2. Assign students an independent research project to explore and present about contemporary African Americans and women in the medical field, the contributions they have made, and the obstacles they have faced, using the following online exhibitions:

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National Education Standards

History

  • The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people

Social Studies

  • culture and cultural diversity
  • the ways human beings view themselves in and over time
  • people, places, and environments
  • individual development and identity
  • interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions
  • how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.
  • the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

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