U.S. Civil War Technology Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students are going to learn about technological advancements during the U.S. Civil War. They will consider how people at the time would have felt about these technologies, particularly photography.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe several technologies of the 1860s and their role in the Civil War
  • Explain how people in the 1860s would have understood technological changes
  • Use 19th-century ideas about technology to help with the analysis of technology-produced primary sources


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.



  • Start by reviewing what your class knows about the U.S. Civil War.
    • What was the U.S. Civil War? Why was the conflict fought? What was each side trying to achieve?
    • How was the Civil War fought? What was warfare like during this conflict?
  • Distribute copies of text lesson U.S. Civil War Technology: Advancements & Facts.
  • Divide the class into small groups. Students will read this lesson in their groups, with one person reading aloud at a time, switching every paragraph. Using this method, ask students to read sections ''The War Between the States'' and ''Advances in Transportation'' (including the subsections ''Combined Use of the Railroad and Telegraph'' and ''Submarine'').
  • Have the students pause when they reach ''Submarine'' to discuss the following questions:
    • Why are communication and transportation useful for an army to have access to?
    • How did telegraphs and trains help armies in the Civil War? What impact do you think this had on the Civil War?
    • If you knew that almost all telegraph and railroad lines were controlled by the North, how do you think this impacted the course and outcome of the Civil War?
    • What would be the advantage of a submarine?
    • Why would armies in the South be more interested in submarine technology than armies in the North? How do you think the geography of the South may have affected this?
  • Have students continue reading in their groups and complete the lesson.
  • Discuss the following questions:
    • How would hot air balloons be useful in wartime? What factors would limit their practicality?
    • Why do you think the popularity of hot air balloons waned?
    • What commercial use could this technology have after the war was over?
    • Why do you think photography was such a big deal?
    • Why do photographs feel different from a painting or drawing?
    • How did photographs shape the public's feelings about the war? How do you think this made the U.S. Civil War different from wars that had come before?
  • You may test student understanding with the lesson quiz.

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