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Putting It All Together

The first battle of Manassas, or Bull Run, greatly changed the way the majority of Americans viewed the Civil War. Initially, soldiers like Sullivan Ballou wrote flowery, poetic letters, romanticizing the coming war and what it stood for. After the battle, soldiers viewed the conflict much as J.W. Reid did--as a terrifying, horrible experience, in which thousands of men were killed and wounded. By war's end in April 1865, more than 620,000 soldiers would lose their lives. The civilian population of the nation also was affected by the events at Manassas. Those who lived near the battlefields, like the Henrys, had their livelihood ruined because the battles were fought on their property. Others who lived hundreds of miles away, like the Ballous, were devastated by the loss of a cherished family member. No longer would Americans think of the Civil War as an entertaining spectacle, as had the Washingtonians who followed the troops to view this conflict.

Activity 1: Considering Life as a Soldier
Despite the opportunity to leave the army after the battle at Manassas, most of the Union troops reenlisted for a period of three years. Have students pretend to be a soldier writing a letter home explaining his reasons for reenlisting. Remind the students that the only method of communication during the Civil War was by mail.

Activity 2: Manassas National Battlefield Park
As is the case with many battlefields such as Manassas, few reminders exist today that provide interpretation for visitors. Ask students to debate this statement, "The United States should continue to maintain historic sites that commemorate important battle sites even though little substantial remains exist."

Activity 3: Local and Personal Impact of the Civil War
The Civil War affected nearly every part of the United States during the four years of conflict and in the years afterward. It continues to affect American life today. Have students investigate their own home town or county to determine how it affected or was affected by the war. Ask them to write an essay describing their findings. What did they learn? What did they already know?

For example, if they live in a state that participated in the war, the region probably saw local men enlist and might have supported a regiment. Battles and skirmishes took place across the United States, even as far west as Arizona and New Mexico. Many modern military bases bear the names of Civil War figures. Students also could look for evidence of the indirect impact of issues that led up to the war. For instance, was their state one of those admitted to the Union as slave or free as part of "compromise legislation?" Were Civil War veterans prominent in exploring or developing their area? Were or are there conflicts created or intensified by continuing resentments?

 

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