Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 2: People and Places in the North and South

A We The People Resource


The Lesson


Anti-slavery poster form the 1850s

Anti-slavery poster form the 1850s

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

More Americans lost their lives in the Civil War than in any other conflict. How did the United States arrive at a point at which the South seceded and some families were so fractured that brother fought brother?

A complex series of events led to the Civil War. The lessons in this unit are designed to help students develop a foundation on which to understand the basic disagreements between North and South. Through the investigation of primary source documents —photographs, census information and other archival documents—students gain an appreciation of everyday life in the North and South, changes occurring in the lives of ordinary Americans, and some of the major social and economic issues of the years before the Civil War.

Guiding Questions

  • What differences existed between ordinary Americans living in the North and those living in the South in the years before the Civil War?
  • What important issues are reflected in the differences between life in the North and the South? What kinds of changes were taking place in the United States at the time?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to

  • List three differences and three similarities between life in the North and the South in the years before the Civil War.
  • Discuss how these differences contributed to serious disagreements between the North and South.


Important Enough to Fight About
By 1860, the differences between the North and South had become so great that Northerners and Southerners felt as if they belonged to two different countries. What were some of these differences? Which ones were important enough to fight about? Explain to students that they are going to study life in the United States in the years before the Civil War to gain a better understanding of why people grew willing to fight to defend their way of life.

Many of the documents students will look at reflect the lives of ordinary people, those who would fill the ranks of the armies and those on the home front supporting the war effort. Public support for a war comes more easily when those who have to fight feel they are defending what is important in their own lives. Students will learn about everyday life before the Civil War in the South and North to begin to understand which differences were significant.

Preparation Instructions

The Civil War erupted after a long history of compromises and sectional debates over representation, federalism, tariffs and territories. Though many of the political differences are beyond the scope of the intermediate curriculum, students can use their analysis of archival documents to begin to appreciate the differences between the North and South and the changes afoot in the United States that contributed to the developing conflict.

Before you begin to teach this unit, review the suggested activities and familiarize yourself with the websites involved. Select, download and duplicate, as necessary, any documents you want the class to use.

For the census activity in this lesson, either the teacher or students will need to keep a calculator at hand.

You may wish to provide students with a copy of the Document Analysis Worksheet, available through the EDSITEment resource The Digital Classroom, to guide them as they review the documents in this unit.

The purpose of this lesson is to prepare students with background information for understanding the causes of the Civil War. You can find information on the causes of the Civil War, accessible through a link from the EDSITEment resource The Internet Public Library.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. People and Places in the North and South

To set up the idea of a conflict that would cause even friends and relatives to disagree and fight with each other, encourage discussion of the following:

Can anyone in the class describe an incident they witnessed or heard as an example of how any of the following potential conflicts can lead to a serious disagreement?

  1. What one person was doing prevented someone else from doing what he or she needed to do.
  2. One person was so different from another that neither could understand the other or that their needs were conflicting.
  3. Someone was treating someone else very badly.
People and Places in the North and South

Conflicts arise from differences. In this lesson, students concentrate on differences as they look at the way people made a living before the Civil War in two communities, one Northern and one Southern.

Starting in the early 19th Century the United States underwent an industrial revolution. The work that many people did changed as they moved from farms and small workshops into larger factories. They tended to buy things in stores, rather than make them at home or trade with their neighbors. They used machines, and purchased the products of machines, more than they ever had.

Source: Whole Cloth

The EDSITEment resource Valley of the Shadow provides archival documents for two nearby communities—Franklin County, Pennsylvania (considered part of the North during the Civil War), and Augusta County, Virginia (South)—both located in the Shenandoah Valley. The differences between these communities are probably not as pronounced as they would be if one were comparing a Massachusetts town with a Mississippi town, but there are differences that students can compare through primary source documents.

This lesson uses the Valley of the Shadow's searchable census for 1860. At that time, the total population of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, was 42,126. The population of Augusta County, Virginia was 27, 749. To compare statistics equally between the counties, multiply Franklin County figures by .65 or divide Augusta County figures by .65. For example, if Franklin County had 100 machinists, a count of 65 machinists in Augusta would represent an equivalent number of machinists within the community, adjusting for the population difference.

If your class has sufficient access to computers, students can conduct searches on their own. If not, you can do the analysis on one computer in class and discuss the results or you can print out search results such as the following:

  1. Search the population census for trades and professions such as Machinist, or Doctor.
  2. Search the population census for a particular family name, such as Clark.
  3. Search the manufacturing census for a capital investment of $10,000 or a type of business, such as a Mill. (Note: Begin search terms with capital letters. A list of common business types is available here)
  4. Search the agricultural census for farms worth $10,000.
  5. Search the slave owner census for anyone with more than 25 slaves, for example.

If possible, let students suggest search terms. Avoid searches that will be too broad -- they will return so much data that the computer will work slowly.

Multiply Franklin figures by .65 to see how they compare to Augusta County values. How do the adjusted values for the two counties compare? In what areas did the adjusted values fail to match? What differences and similarities between the two counties do the students note?

Remind students that these counties are located in the same valley system. Are students surprised by the differences between two communities that are geographically close to each other? (If you wish, have students locate the two communities on a map to see just how close they are.)

Have students work in groups to discuss the search results and list any conclusions they draw from the data. Appoint a spokesperson for each group. Compile a composite list of conclusions as each group in turn shares one conclusion at a time, until all unique responses have been listed. If desired, students can use the Venn diagram available for download in .pdf format as an aid for sorting out similarities and differences.

What differences existed between the communities? How might these differences cause conflict between two communities? What advantages or disadvantages would either community have in supplying a war effort?

For additional information, if desired: 1860 Census Population by Color and Condition, available from Valley of the Shadow, gives a breakdown of the total population of both counties. This census also provides the number of free blacks and slaves, which is useful for comparative purposes.

Activity 2. Different Needs
Differences in urbanization and industrialization led to
conflicting needs for the North and South.

By 1860, the North had about two and a half times the population of the South (about 22 million compared to about 9 million, including the South's 3.5 million slaves) and was more urban and industrial. Of the top 25 cities by population in 1860, only three were located in the South: Louisville (ranked #12, with a population of 68,033), Charleston (#22, population 40,522) and Richmond (#25, population 37,910).

Have students compare the following views of Richmond and New York City, two important urban areas. Richmond was the third largest city in the South; it became the capital of the Confederacy. New York was the largest city in the North.

What differences between the North and South do these photographs reflect? Which city would be more effective in contributing to a war effort?

New York, New York
(Note: In 1860, New York County had a population of 813,660.)

Richmond, Virginia
(Note: The growth of the railroads in the mid-1800s led to Richmond becoming a commercial and industrial center. Richmond was also one of the most important slave markets in the United States.)


To culminate this lesson, ask students to demonstrate their knowledge of daily life before the Civil War, with an emphasis on differences between the North and South. Students with sufficient access to technology can search for additional documents in the EDSITEment approved resources listed below. Here are some examples of activities that students may wish to undertake to express what they have learned through this lesson(specific project ideas should always be pre-approved by the teacher):

  • Set up a timeline display of the meaningful documents studied in the lesson, with appropriate captions.
  • Create a piece of historical fiction set in the 1850s. For example, students could write letters or journal entries in the voice of someone living during the period before the Civil War, describing key elements of their lifestyle. Be sure that both northern and southern views are represented.
  • Write and perform a skit that dramatizes the conflict created by different life styles in the North and South.

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Demographic Changes
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Economic Transformation
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets