Grade Level

Middle Level Lesson

Document Type

Lesson Plans


United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans--Study and teaching;


Learning Objectives

  • Describe the U.S. Government’s responsibility to fallen soldiers and their families.
  • Discover how African American military service has been memorialized over time.

Lesson Overview

Historians now stress how many African Americans achieved their own emancipation by escaping slavery and fighting for what they knew the war was about: what Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom” and the end of slavery. African Americans were eager to fight for the Union, but they were not officially allowed to enlist in the military until 1862.

This lesson explores how the Confederate burial of African American Union troops and their white officer, Robert Gould Shaw, all killed in battle, helped to ignite a national controversy over race, death, and honor. Students are asked to consider what constitutes an honorable burial and what the country owes to its fallen. Students also look at how African American military service has been memorialized over time. Students will compare grave markers, monuments, and sculptures and examine where, when, and why they were erected.


Department of History


This lesson plan was developed for the Veterans Legacy Program, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Veterans Legacy Program offers educators an integrated new suite of lesson plans designed to teach students about the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans, and to take advantage of our national cemeteries as historic places for teaching and learning — both in the classroom and on-site. The educational resources of the Veterans Legacy Program draw on rich stories from national cemeteries to offer teachers a variety of hands-on activities directly connected to national curriculum standards.

Original Date




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