Putting It All Together
The creation of soldiers' homes and grave markers helped honor Civil War veterans and preserve their legacy. The policies created after the war to deal with veteran issues are still in place today. The following activities will help students understand how and why these policies evolved and see their effects in their own communities.
Activity 1: African Americans in the Civil War
Joshua Dunbar, father of famous African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, is buried in the Dayton National Cemetery. Born into slavery, Joshua escaped slavery and, through the Underground Railroad, came to Ohio on the way to Canada. When the war began, he returned to Ohio, and then traveled to Massachusetts to join the Massachusetts 55th; he later served in the Massachusetts 5th Colored Cavalry.
Divide your class into three sections assigning each section one of the following activities:
a. Have students research Joshua Dunbar's story, write a biography about his life, and present it to the class.
b. Joshua Dunbar had a profound impact on the writings of his son, Paul Laurence Dunbar who wrote The Colored Soldiers, The Unsung Heroes, and Our Martyred Soldiers. Have students study the following excerpts from The Colored Soldiers and then lead a class discussion including some of these questions: When was this written? What was the "status" of African Americans in American society during this time? What message was Dunbar trying to convey? Do you think African American contributions to the Civil War were appreciated? Why or why not?
…They were comrades then and brothers,
c. Research the contributions of American-American soldiers to the Civil War and report to the class.
Are they more or less to-day?
They were good to stop a bullet
And to front the fearful fray.
They were citizens and soldiers,
When rebellion raised its head;
And the traits that made them worthy,--
Ah! those virtues are not dead. …
… And their deeds shall find a record
In their registry of Fame;
For their blood has cleansed completely
Every blot of Slavery's shame.
So all honor and all glory
To those noble sons of Ham--
The gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam!
Activity 2: Explore Your Community for Memorials
Have students locate and visit a war memorial in your community. Students should create an exhibit for the school that addresses the following questions, and include visuals to illustrate their points: Who or what is being recognized by the memorial and why? What war is memorialized? Who erected the memorial? Where is it? Why do you think your community has the memorial? Did they play a particular part in the war effort? If so, what? What is the physical condition of the memorial? Does it need to be repaired or "conserved" by a historic preservation professional? If so, prepare a letter to the city or local historical society asking them for help in preserving this piece of history.
Activity 3: Local Cemeteries
Have students inventory the veteran gravesites in your local cemetery. Students should use cemetery records and undertake a physical search. Do the records and the physical evidence agree? How many veteran graves are interred here? Are there any unmarked graves? What is the physical condition of the markers? Assign one or more of the following activities:
a. Create a database and status report on the markers and present it to the appropriate caretaker of the cemetery.
b. If you locate an unmarked grave, work to get the grave marked with a headstone. Visit the Veterans Benefits and Services website [www.cem.va.gov/hm.htm] to find information about ordering a marker. Work with your local cemetery to order the marker and maintain it.
c. Research how to clean and care for an historic gravestone or marker.
Contact your State Historic Preservation Office and/or the Association for Gravestone Studies to learn what techniques, cleaning solutions and tools are appropriate-and what not to do to avoid damaging the stone. Volunteer to help clean the headstones or help with the grounds upkeep.
Activity 4: A Soldier's Life
Have students research the life of a war veteran for whom you have located a headstone, or select an ancestor who served in a war. Students should create a biography of the soldier's life from birth through the war, to his or her final resting point in the cemetery. Donate the biography to the local historical society or library so their story can be preserved for future generations.
Some research sources include:
a. Cemetery Association Records
b. Headstone Inscription
c. Genealogy data (local library or genealogy organization)
d. Obituary notices in newspapers (on microfilm at library)
e. Local Historical Society records
f. Soldiers Military File (National Archives)
g. Soldiers Pension File (National Archives)