Civil War Unit

A Complete Unit Plan for US History in Middle School or High School

One of the most important units in my US History curriculum covers one of the most well-known events in American history: the Civil War. With lessons on secession, specific battles, the ending of slavery, impact of President Abraham Lincoln, and more, students will gain an extensive look into this era and how it has shaped America today.

There is clearly a lot that needs to be covered in this era, so it is one of the longer units in the curriculum. A variety of creative activities and lessons are utilized to bring this period alive for students, including interactive notebooks, 3D pictures, digital activities and more.

You can download all the lessons and activities for this unit here, or sign up for a Students of History subscription to gain access to everything online.


The unit begins with a look into the events and conditions that led up to the Civil War. Students begin with an interactive timeline on the events leading up to the conflict before breaking up into groups for a stations activity, to learn about the differences between the North and the South. ” the “Civil war resources worksheet,” and the “Vocabulary interactive notebook.” Students can also introduced to the digital notebook set, interactive notebook, and unit guide packet based on what you prefer for your classroom.

Lesson two delves into the secession of southern states, with students analyzing a set of primary sources to determine how slavery fed into each state's decision to secede. To add further background (and differentiation) to the lesson, there are several activities to choose from next, including a reading on the division, a map activity on the Union & Confederacy, and a Venn Diagram activity.

The next lesson gets into the nitty gritty war details, perhaps students’ favorite part of the unit. Detailing specific battles and events, this lesson will provide a bit more detail into what exactly occurred during the Civil war and why the turnout was the way it was. After reviewing the PowerPoint and guided notes worksheet (along with Google Slides and a "flipped classroom" video lesson), students can complete a primary source analysis on a Civil War soldier’s life or a lighthearted primary source about a solider attempting to get a haircut.

The next lesson focuses on key political and military figures that your students need to know from this era. This amazing PowerPoint on the key people, brings them to life with moving "magic portraits" videos embedded right into the presentation. Or, you could choose a more hands-on activity with these "interactive pop-ups" of the important people students need to know. Following this, students think critically about these figures with a Wanted Poster and Honorary Plaque Activity.

Another awesome resource focuses on the Civil war through the eyes of regular citizens. This lesson helps students to make better connections and relate to history on a more personal note.

Also available for this unit is a PowerPoint in full 3D that can blow your students' minds and make for an amazing lesson.

Lesson 6 is all about emancipation and the end of slavery in America. This section includes a specific lesson plan with 10 different primary sources that can be done either in stations, individually, in pairs, or in groups. Teachers can tailor this specific lesson according to students’ needs and the time available within the unit.

Of course, the a Civil War unit has to also look at the words and speeches of Abraham Lincoln. A specific lesson plan is available on Lincoln’s words with students analyzing documents and speeches. 

The unit concludes by covering the surrender at Appomattox and a film Worksheet” for the movie Glory should you elect to use a movie for the unit. A primary source Color Guard Song Analysis is also included for learning more about the 54th Massachusetts regiment from the film

A thorough unit guide packet and awesome set of interactive digital notebook activities are also available to use throughout your unit. 

This unit on Sectionalism and Reform finishes up with a set of fun review games and activities followed by an editable test, which includes editable Google Forms version for easy grading.

You can click all of the above links for teacher reviews or to download any resource individually. You can also download the entire unit here in a zip folder and immediately have everything saved to your desktop. You can also choose to gain access to everything through a subscription, which also grants you immediate access to the ENTIRE US History curriculum.

If you’re not sure which option is better for you, you can read more about the differences between subscriptions and TpT purchases here.

US History Units