The Bloodiest Battle in Maryland

This is a lesson for the AP US History Civil War Unit that is examining two societies at war. Analyzing issues in the North and the South such as the mobilization of troops and resources; internal dissent among military leadership and Executive branch; military strategies and foreign diplomacy as a means of exerting influence. Evaluating the ramifications militarily and socially of the Emancipation Proclamation and the social, political and economic effects of the war on the North and the South and specifically the Mid-Atlantic region.

Historical Background

The Battle of Antietam was one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War and is recognized as one of the greatest threats to the Union government. Prior to Antietam, the Union had lost at the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Confederates hoped to capture the Federal capital at Washington D.C.

General McClellan organized the federal armies and blocked the Confederate's advances. Both Union and Confederate troops suffered heavy loses as a result of the battle, with approximately 12,000-13,000 casualties on each side. After the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, threatening to free slaves not residing in Union territory.

Lesson Objective

Students will be able to:

Examine assigned Primary Source documents in the form of eyewitness accounts, diary entries and letters.

Analyze the military, social, political and economic outcomes from the Battle of Antietam by writing a corresponding letter, diary or journal entry in response to the assigned Primary Source document.

Students will be able to physically evaluate the topography of a Civil War site and determine the military, social, political and economic outcomes from the Battle of Antietam by completing a scavenger hunt provided by the National Park Service.



  1. Day One: Background knowledge and preparation for the trip
  2. Students will log onto computers. They will be directed to the Civil War Trust site, to read the background on the Battle of Antietam and view the animated map of the battle.
  3. Students will then view the Battle of Antietam PowerPoint and view the maps and documents provided from the Civil War Trust website. The social studies teacher will conduct that portion of the lesson with support from the media specialist. (The PowerPoint must be printed out with notes for the teacher commentary and background).
  4. Day Two: Field trip to the Battlefield at Antietam
  5. Students will be given a map of the Battlefield and a copy of the Scavenger Hunt and placed in groups. The groups will be assigned to different teachers who will describe different parts of the battle at the various locations.
  6. Students will physically walk the battlefield and engage in various demonstrations, including firing cannon and firearms, flag and signal corps messaging, discussions of military life wearing authentic clothing of the various troops.
  7. Students will complete their scavenger hunt and the answers will be shared by teachers/Park Rangers.
  8. Students will then process their homework assignment by discussing in groups: What advantage General McClellan had by intercepting General Lee’s orders What were the strengths and weaknesses of both Generals? What other factors led to the final outcome?
  9. Day Three: Cloze reading activity
  10. Students will be handed Primary Source documents in the form of letters, eyewitness accounts or diary entries from the battle.
  11. Students will be asked to determine which side, the Union or the Confederates, were the author of the statement? To whom was it addressed? What was occurring when this document was written? (before, during or after the battle?) What was the social/socioeconomic status of the writer? What choices does the writer make (if any?) What statements do the writers make about war? What clues are provided in the document that affirms your conclusions? Are there other texts that support the statements made in the document?


Day 1: Students will read General Lee’s Orders that were intercepted by General McClellan and be prepared to discuss what advantage this provided for the Union army after the tour.


Students will be working in groups and the Primary sources will be at differentiated levels. Some of the documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation have a read aloud feature in the program. However this is an AP class, so most of the students will be on or above level.


Students will then write a letter, journal or diary entry at least three paragraphs in length as if they are a Civil War soldier who had just survived the Battle of Antietam. They are to use five terms from the Civil War Glossary and Slang.

Students will also be provided a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and write an entry predicting how this will effect the North or the South, based upon their perspective as a soldier.


Stillman, Todd. “Battle of Antietam” PowerPoint Presentation. Richard Montgomery High School. Rockville, MD. 23 Nov 2012.

“Battle of Antietam.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

“The Battle of Antietam” National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Antietam National Battlefield. (accessed Nov. 23, 2012)

“Antietam” Civil War Trust (accessed Nov. 23, 2012)

“Antietam” Civil War Trust. Animated Maps (accessed Nov. 23, 2012).

“General Robert E. Lee’s “Lost Order” No. 191, Hdqrs. Army of Northern Virginia, September 9, 1862” Civil War Trust. (accessed Nov. 23, 2012).

“Scavenger Hunt for Maryland Students” National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Antietam National Battlefield. (accessed Nov. 23, 2012)

“Antietam National Battlefield Letters and Diaries of Soldiers and Civilians” National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Antietam National Battlefield. (accessed Nov. 23, 2012)

“Teachers Packet” National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Antietam National Battlefield. pp. 73-74

“The Emancipation Proclamation (1863).” Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Ed. Colin A. Palmer. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 2413-2414. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 23 Nov. 2012.

Great Neck, Publishing. “The Emancipation Proclamation.” Emancipation Proclamation (Primary Source Document) (2009): 1. History Reference Center. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

“AP® UNITED STATES HISTORY Curriculum Framework 2014–2015”. The College Board. P. 47. (accessed Nov. 23, 2012).

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