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Chatham, now preserved as part of a national park, is a good place in which to learn of the Civil Warís impact on a particular area and its residents, especially those whose homes became part of the battlefields of the war. The following activities will help students to understand the history of this plantation house.

Activity 1: Write a Letter Home
Have students pretend that they are Union soldiers stationed near Chatham during the winter of 1862-63. Based on the readings, the photo, and the document, have them write a letter home, or a short article for a newspaper, telling people who live in a different part of the country what it was like at Chatham during that winter. After students have completed the assignment, have them get together in groups of five or six to share their letters. Then hold a general classroom discussion about the impact wars can have on the soldiers, on the countryside where battles are fought, and on those who are forced to evacuate their homes.

Activity 2: Restoration of Chatham
Chatham stood for 90 years before the outbreak of the Civil War. The plantation declined after the war and was sold by Lacy in 1872. In the early 20th century, several of the owners of Chatham transformed the appearance of the house and grounds. They installed new paneling on the interior walls, tore down the 19th-century porches, and planted trees and formal gardens around the house. They even made the back door into the front door! Have students pretend they are historic preservationists discussing the restoration of Chatham. Explain that the house documents more than 150 years of history. How they restore it will reflect what parts of its history they think are the most relevant or have the most to tell about the site. Ask students if they think the Civil War era is more "relevant" than the 18th-century period of Chathamís history when it served as a plantation home. Do they think Chatham should be returned to its appearance at the time it was built, as it appeared during the Civil War, or as it was renovated in the early 20th century? Have students justify their answers. Remind students that historians now consider early 20th-century houses to be historic. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of each option? Should special rules apply to house museums, or should all old houses be treated the same? Finally, ask students to find out if there are any Civil War-era buildings in their community. If there are, what was their historical function? What function do they serve today? Have any efforts been made to restore them?

Activity 3: Living through a War
Have students work in groups of three or four and interview someone in their community or members of their family who lived through a war or a natural disaster. Have groups discuss the information they gathered from the interviews and present their findings to the class. When all presentations have been completed, have the class discuss how the experiences of these local people compared or contrasted with the experiences of the Lacy family, the wounded soldiers, and civilians like Barton and Whitman during the Civil War.

 

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