Hook | Questions | Procedures | Data Investigation | Analysis | Findings | New Questions

Student Page


The student page contains the hook only. It is intended to spark interest in the topic and lead students to ask questions or make predictions.

Have you ever wondered what life would have been like for you had you lived during another era?

What era intrigues you?

How could we learn what it was like during that time?

Read aloud with your classmates or by yourself a letter that was written August 15, 1862. What was happening in the United States during the early 1860s?

The letter was written by Thomas Garber to his sister Addie. From reading the letter what have we learned about Thomas and Addie? Can you answer any of the following questions based on what you read in the letter?

  • Do you think Thomas was afraid?
  • Do you think Thomas missed his family?
  • What do you think was Thomas' job in the army?
  • How old do you think Thomas was when he wrote this letter?

Can you explain or justify your answers with evidence from the letter?


The Valley of the Shadow web site contains information about the Civil War that you might not have seen before - information about regular people like us. Letters, diaries, newspaper articles, census reports, and many other things can help you figure out what the Civil War would have been like for you had you been alive during the 1860s.


Students might ask similar but different questions than those listed here. The more students are guided to ask specific questions, the less inquiry-oriented the activity.

The goal for this activity is to have students investigate how the American Civil War affected the lives of regular people, not just Presidents and famous Generals.

Students have just read a letter written by what appears to be an everyday confederate soldier fighting in the Civil War. Students could be led to ask overarching questions similar to:

  • What was life like during the Civil War for the average family?
  • What was it like to be a teenager during the Civil War?

Having already learned a little bit about Thomas Garber and his family, students might also have some specific questions about the Garbers that when answered will shed light on the larger questions above:

  • Was Thomas killed in the war?
  • Did Thomas have other brothers and sisters?
  • Who were Thomas' parents?
  • Was he afraid?
  • Etc.


After students have asked questions related to the topic, they will need to make decisions regarding a number of things, including:

  • Type(s) of data needed to answer the questions
  • Defining important terms
  • Choosing tools for data manipulation
  • Defining how data will be manipulated and presented

Type(s) of Data

Students might not be entirely aware of all the different type(s) of information available to them in the Valley of the Shadow archive. It might be beneficial to introduce them to the various primary sources available to them in the archive so that they can decide what to investigate. It is possible that they will include in their search:

  • letters
  • diaries
  • census records
  • military records
  • and possibly newspaper articles

In the example shown below, letters and census records are investigated.

Defining Important Terms

Since the primary sources being investigated were created in 1860, it is possible that terms encountered may have to be defined during the activity. Students should be prepared to look up anything they do not understand.

Investigation Tool(s)

Students will be exposed to a great deal of information during their investigation. In addition to class discussion they will need some way to organize this information and their thoughts.

  • Creating a concept map might be appropriate, or
  • creating a KWL chart might be helpful.

For the examples shown on this web page a concept map is used.

Manipulating Data

If a KWL is being used, after each document is investigated students should reexamine what they Know, what they Want to know, and what they've Learned.

If using a concept map, the map should be added to and/or altered after each document is investigated.

Data Investigation

There is often a giant leap from defining the type(s) of data desired and actually finding the data. Providing guidance to students in finding the necessary data may be necessary.

Limiting this activity just to within the materials provided in the Valley of the Shadow archive will be more than sufficient. Students will get the opportunity to perform historical inquiry using a variety of resources.

In the hook, a letter was read that shed insight into the life of Thomas Garber. This is a great opportunity for students to start a concept map which might look something like this:

Example of concept map created after reading first letter


Raw data/information usually has to be manipulated before it can answer any questions. Students might be unaware of how data can best be manipulated, so teacher guidance may be appropriate.

Search the 1860 Census

Some of the questions asked about the Garbers can be answered using census records. For example, we could do a search of the 1860 Augusta County census on Thomas Garber.

Results of 1860 census search for "Thomas Garber"

If Thomas was 14 years old in 1860, then we students can reason that he was 16 years old, give or take a few months, when he wrote Addie in 1862.

The census record gives us Thomas' family number. This allows us to do a search on his entire family. By going back to the census search page to do an advanced search of the 1860 census on Thomas' family, we learn a great deal about the Garbers.

Advanced search on Garber family in 1860 census

Results of search on Garber family in 1860 census

Many things are learned from this search, including the ages of all of Thomas' family members, his fathers worth, whether or not Thomas and his siblings went to school during the previous year, etc. The concept map can now be adjusted and might look something like this:

Example of adjusted concept map

Search the 1860 Slave Census

There is also a slave owner census. Searching the slave owner census tells us that Thomas' father, Arthur, owned 2 male and 2 female slaves.

Slave owner census search results

Search the 1860 Census

What does doing a search of the 1870 census tell us about the Garbers? Unfortunately, the family number isn't the same as in 1860, so doing a search of the 1870 Augusta County census on Albert Garber yields a family number of 686.

With the family number for the 1870 census known, we could do an advanced search of the 1870 census on the Garber family:

Search on Garber family in 1870 census

Results of search on Garber family in 1870 census

What has happened to the Garber family as a result of the war? It is clear that Albert's estate values were significantly hurt by the war. The family has changed as well, but just because all the sons and daughters aren't listed in the census doesn't mean they were killed in the war. They might have moved.

The Rest of the Letters

The big question that students will likely want to pursue is what happened to Thomas during the war? The Garber family letters answer this question for us. Specifically, the letter written by Lewis Harman to Addie Garber, July 20, 1863 tells us of Thomas' death.

Completing the Concept Map

At this point, the concept map should be added to reflect our new knowledge about the Garbers. Concepts should also be organized and perhaps connected to show relationships, moving the students closer to answering the overarching questions.

Example of completed concept map


No result is meaningful unless communicated appropriately. Discussion of findings should be supported. There may or may not be definitive answers to the questions students raised.

From their inquiry, students should construct historical narratives, accounts, or presentations that result from their historical inquiry. There might not necessarily be right and wrong constructions. Depending upon the information gathered, different students might present accounts that represent differing perspectives.

Narratives could be presented in a variety of ways, including:

  • Historical story - Students create a dramatized short story as a vehicle for understanding historical events, themes, or personalities from history.

    • Example: Students write a short story about the Garber brothers encounters with Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee as they fought during the war. Included in the short story are elements of the things learned during the investigation.

  • Simulated diary - Students write a daily account from the point of view of a particular individual in a specific time and place. By doing so, students develop an understanding of a particular time and place or of a specific individual.

    • Example: Students write a diary kept by Thomas or Addie Garber during the War. Included in the diary are specific references to other family members and other things learned during their investigation.

  • Parallel Diaries - Students write the diaries of two people in specific times and places, comparing and contrasting the two individuals, places, and/or periods in history.

    • Students write a diary from the perspectives of Thomas Garber during the Civil War and an Afghan teenager in 2002 fighting for the Afghan Northern Alliance. Included in the diaries are parallel representations of a wars' impact on the family.

Possible New Questions

Answers often lead to new questions, starting the inquiry cycle over again.

In this activity, students likely learned a number of things about the Garbers, a southern family living during the Civil War. Students might now have other questions related to this era, such as:

  • How did the Civil War affect the lives of Franklin County (i.e. Northern) families?
  • What was the role of African-Americans during the Civil War, for both the North and for the South?

Suggestions for other families to search:

Franklin County

  • James Kennedy, an Irish born farmer with a large family
  • Sarah Stewart, a seamstress and a single parent
  • Margaret Moore, a sixteen year old seamstress

Augusta County

  • Robert Campbell, a wealthy black barber
  • Family of W. Cochran, a free black shoemaker



Activity created by Philip Molebash
Adapted from an activity created by Cheryl Mason and Alice Carter