Lesson Plan: Memory of the Civil War

The Lost Cause

University of Alabama professor Lesley Gordon discusses the Lost Cause and provides and overview of the memory of the Civil War.


This lesson plan opens with reflective questions that ask students to reflect on historical storytelling and how historical narratives can shift. Students then watch, analyze, and respond to an introductory video that presents an overview of Civil War memory and the Lost Cause myth. Next, students engage in an engagement activity, where they choose to study two of five topics that detail specific aspects of Civil War memory, including the three phases of the Lost Cause myth, the roles of veterans, and the construction of monuments. The lesson concludes with three reflective video clips that detail the roles of northerners and African Americans, before students respond to a summative writing prompt.


  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handout and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resource for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Graphic Organizer (Google Doc).

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.


    Pose the following brainstorming questions to your students, directing them to record their responses in their graphic organizer, share with a partner, and then with the class if they choose.

    • How do we remember the past?
    • Do people share the same memories of the past? Why or why not?

    Play this introductory video clip [Clip #1] (5:05) of University of Alabama professor Lesley Gordon discussing the Lost Cause and providing an overview of the memory of the Civil War. Direct your students to answer the following questions on their graphic organizer.

    • Who “initially” wrote the history of the Civil War?
    • According to Lesley Gordon, where did the term Lost Cause come from?
    • Based on the clip, what tenets did Edward A. Pollard “set out” in his writing of the Civil War?
    • How and why was Virginia “center” in the memory of the Civil War?

    Direct your students to their graphic organizers to view and define the vocabulary terms that will appear in the lesson in the chart in their graphic organizer handout. The vocabulary words are also listed to the right on this webpage. We recommend having your students define and present the terms in a jigsaw activity to save time.

    Depending on time and resources, you may consider having your students define and present the terms in a Frayer's Model activity, where each student takes one or two items. Students can then post their models around the room for reference throughout the lesson. Note: This is not an all-encompassing list of terms included in each video. We recommend you previewing the video clips to determine any necessary additions/subtractions to this list for your specific students.


    Direct students to the engagement section of their graphic organizers. Have students choose (or you can assign) two of the five listed topics that focus on specific aspects of Civil War memory. Instruct your students to view the video clips, take notes, and answer the related questions in their graphic organizers. Direct your students to prepare a presentation to share their findings with the class when finished. Note: each clip features University of Alabama professor Lesley Gordon.

  • Phase One

    Clip #2: Mourning and Death (1:10).

    Clip #3: Causes of Loss (2:46).

    • What is the first phase of memory “marked by?” Why is this “not surprising?”
    • What holiday was established on April 26, 1866? Why was this date chosen?
    • According to Lesley Gordon, what “soul searching” was occurring?
    • Based on the clip, what “inner blaming” was occurring?
  • Phase Two

    Clip #4: Virginia (4:00).

    Clip #5: Scapegoat (1:11).

    • According to Lesley Gordon, what role did Jubal Early and the Southern Historical Society play?
    • What “shift” regarding slavery occurs, and what “broader context” was occurring?
    • Based on the clip, what how Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson seen during this time?
    • How were some other Confederate leaders viewed, and why?
  • Phase Three

    Clip #6: Organized Groups (2:29).

    Clip #7: Women (3:11).

    • Membership to which two groups had strict “genealogy” requirements?
    • What were the messages and actions of the groups, according to Lesley Gordon?
    • According to Gordon, what role did LaSalle Corbell Pickett play during this phase?
    • Why were women “so involved?” What “pushback” existed and how did they respond?
  • Veterans/Memorial Day

    Clip #8: Veterans (3:30).

    Clip #9: Memorial Day (1:25).

    • According to Lesley Gordon, what did both Union and Confederate veterans want to do?
    • What was a point of “discussion” among the veterans? What was their motivation?
    • Why did Memorial Day become a holiday, according to Gordon?
    • What was “Decoration Day?” Compare its purpose with both Memorial Days.
  • Monuments

    Clip #10: Monument Building (4:03).

    Clip #11: 1951 Monument (3:15).

    • Where will monument building after the Civil War occur, according to Lesley Gordon?
    • Compare the meaning of earlier monuments with the “generic” monuments.
    • What “intensifying belief” began, and how did this influence the “narrative” of the time?
    • Based on the clip, describe the purpose and meaning of the monument from 1951.

    Allow time for your students to prepare and share their presentations from the engagement section of the lesson. Then, direct your students to view the following three clips that offer reflective thoughts.

    Have your students record their notes and answers to the questions in their graphic organizers and share with a partner, small group, or the class.

  • Clip #12: The Union (4:01).

    • According to Lesley Gordon, when did the Civil War become focused on slavery in the North?
    • What did Northerners “gain” by “accepting” the Lost Cause narrative?
    • How did “media” play a role in developing the Lost Cause message?
  • Clip #13: African Americans (2:53).

    • Based on the clip, did African Americans accept the Lost Cause view?
    • Summarize the quote from Frederick Douglass.
    • Why is the monument to Robert Gould Shaw “unique?" Why were African Americans’ memories not as widely shared?
  • Clip #14: Gettysburg Anniversary (2:59).

    • Based on the clip, what “story” was being “fused” in the early part of the 20th century?
    • What was the “message” at the Battle of Gettysburg reunion in 1913?
    • Summarize the excerpt from President Woodrow Wilson’s speech.

    After your students are finished with the reflective clips, direct them to complete the final culminating writing prompt in their graphic organizers, and have students share their responses, comparing their perspectives with their classmates' perspectives: Having now learned about the shifts of the Lost Cause and Civil War memory, describe how historical memory can change. Be sure to include evidence from the video clips and your research to support your response.

Additional Resources


  • Antebellum
  • Civil War
  • Confederacy
  • Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
  • Jim Crow
  • Lost Cause
  • Plessy V. Ferguson (1896)
  • Richmond Examiner
  • Secession
  • Southern Historical Society
  • Union
  • Veteran
  • White Supremacy


U.S. History


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