Michigan responded quickly when the Civil War began in April 1861. The First Michigan Infantry arrived in Washington, DC, a month later, on May 16, 1861. The Union army segregated units into white, Black and Indigenous soldiers, but ultimately 90,000 Michigan men – and a few women and young boys – served in the Union army.
During the Civil War, many different people volunteered to fight. Men, eighteen years or older could enlist in the Union army, but there are many cases where boys as young as eleven enlisted as musicians or drummer boys. In some cases, women followed their husbands or brothers into war and became nurses or camp aids. Black and Indigenous solders volunteered to fight, but were separated into their own units, apart from white soldiers.
Photography increased in popularity during the Civil War. Many soldiers and their families took the opportunity to have their photograph taken before they left for battle.
Students can analyze the images to interpret point of view, context, bias, and frame of reference. They will gain an understanding of all the people who participated in the Civil War and develop questions about why different people chose to fight in the Civil War. In addition, students can also build their own questions about the war and the people in the images.
Primary Source Analysis
Students can analyze these photographs as primary sources. For each source ask students to indicate:
For inquiry-based learning, ask students to:
- Explain how a source tells its story and/or makes its argument
- Explain the relationships between sources
- Compare and contrast sources in terms of point of view and method
- Support conclusions and interpretations with evidence
- Identify questions for further investigation
Document analysis worksheets from the National Archives
Teacher guides and analysis tools from the Library of Congress
Michigan Social Studies Standards
- 8–U5.2.5: Construct generalizations about how the war affected combatants, civilians (including the role of women and Indigenous Peoples), the physical environment, and the future of warfare, including technological developments.
- USHG Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877) – Individually and collaboratively, students will engage in planned inquiries to understand the causes, course, and character of the Civil War and its effects on people, as well as how various Reconstruction plans succeeded or failed.