Florida in the Civil War
The Battle of Natural Bridge: Evaluating Primary Sources
9–12 Grade Lesson Plan
The Battle of Natural Bridge, the last major skirmish of the American Civil War in Florida, was fought near present-day Woodville, Florida, on March 6, 1865. The Confederate force was made up of trained troops, elderly men, and young volunteers from the nearby Florida Military and Collegiate Institute. The Union troops consisted mostly of African-American soldiers and disaffected Floridians who had cast their lot with the U.S. rather than remain with the Confederacy. The Confederates were ultimately victorious. By driving their Union opponents back to the Gulf of Mexico, they prevented the U.S. from controlling the St. Marks River and Tallahassee.
In this activity, students will read excerpts from letters and recollections written by Floridians about the Battle of Natural Bridge. In groups, they will have the opportunity to evaluate the readings as primary sources, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each piece as a tool for explaining what actually happened during the battle.
The excerpts used in this activity have been slightly modified to omit simple mistakes in spelling and punctuation, but otherwise are taken verbatim from the originals, many of which are held by the State Archives of Florida. You may choose to shorten some of the passages based on the time available for completing the activity.
- Analyze primary source documents.
- Evaluate primary sources to determine their reliability.
- Differentiate between kinds of historical actors and evaluate their contributions to the broader narrative.
- Synthesize information from multiple primary sources to form a more complete perspective of a historical event.
Sunshine State Standards
- SS.912.A.1.1: Describe the importance of historiography, which includes how historical knowledge is obtained and transmitted, when interpreting events in history.
- SS.912.A.1.2: Utilize a variety of primary and secondary sources to identify author, historical significance, audience, and authenticity to understand a historical period.
LAFS.910.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
- LAFS.910.RH.1.2: 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.
- LAFS.1112.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
- LAFS.1112.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
- Background information for teachers (see above).
- Student worksheet. PDF | Word Doc
- Four documents from the State Archives of Florida (see below).
Part I: Introducing Content
- Teachers should review previously covered material dealing with the Civil War, giving special attention to the Battle of Natural Bridge.
- Depending on the amount of time you have and the reading abilities of the students, you may wish to create the groups and have the students read their documents for homework the day before the activity.
Part II: The Jigsaw
This activity uses the “jigsaw” method for encouraging collaboration between students. Teachers should choose a selection from each document that matches their students' reading level.
- Divide students as evenly as possible into four groups. For larger classes, eight groups may be more appropriate; the idea is to have roughly the same number of students reading each of the documents used in the exercise. Each group of students will be responsible for reading and discussing one of the four excerpts. Distribute copies of the excerpts to the groups, along with the activity instruction sheet.
- Students will then read the documents and answer the individual analysis questions on the activity instruction sheet to the best of their ability. Within each group, students then should share and compare their findings.
- Once the groups have finished discussing their common excerpt, re-divide the class into groups so that each group has at least one member from each of the four original groups. This way, all four documents are represented in the new groups.
- The new groups now have several sources to compare and contrast. Instruct the students to discuss and construct answers to the group analysis questions on the activity instruction sheet. The questions will encourage students to evaluate their sources, point out strengths and weaknesses, and determine what kinds of information might yet be missing from the big picture regarding the Battle of Natural Bridge.
- After the new groups have had an adequate amount of time to complete their task, return to a full class discussion to review the process just completed.
Part III: Group Discussion
The documents in this section present recollections of the battle from the perspectives of several kinds of historical actors.
The account of General William Miller discusses the tactics used by the Confederates, and evaluates the leadership of various individuals involved. In Ellen Call Long's book Florida Breezes, Long’s correspondent Ruth provides the viewpoint of a civilian in Tallahassee who was absent from the fighting, but could hear the cannon fire and captured snippets of information from couriers and other word-of-mouth sources. Sylvanus M. Hankins and Joshua Hoyet Frier were both enlisted men who fought on the front lines of this battle.
Here are some useful discussion questions, along with some possible points to raise. Ask students to describe each of the documents used in the exercise.
- How are these documents similar? How are they different?
- Different perspectives – Ruth was a civilian, Hankins and Frier were enlisted soldiers, and Miller was a commanding general.
- Ruth was not present at the battle; the other three writers were.
- Do we get a good picture of what the Battle of Natural Bridge was like? What are the strengths and weaknesses of these documents?
- Only Ruth's account has a chance of having been written at the time, and even that isn't certain. The other three are written long after the war.
- We have no sense of the Union perspective; all of these writers are from one side of the battle.
- The writers (with the exception of Ruth) were present at the battle, and can give us a good picture of what was going on moment by moment.
- If we were writing a history of the Battle of Natural Bridge, what other historical voices might we want to include that aren't included here? What kinds of sources could give us that information?
- Possible historical voices: women, nearby civilians, Union soldiers, African-Americans, deserters, children, etc.
- Possible sources: Diaries, newspapers, letters, military reports.