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Cotton and the Civil War lesson plan

OVERVIEW

Students are generally aware of the significant role played by southern cotton production in the pre-Civil War economy of the United States. This lesson encourages them to explore how the Confederacy used its cotton resources during the Civil War, and to determine what happened to the South’s cotton production after the war.

CONNECTION TO THE CURRICULUM

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 4

TEACHING LEVELS

Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12

MATERIALS

Mississippi History Now article, Cotton and the Civil War

OBJECTIVES

Students will:

• realize how the South used its main economic resource as a way to influence diplomatic relations with other countries during the Civil War;
• identify the successes and failures of King Cotton diplomacy;
• show how the post-war demand for cotton influenced the Reconstruction Period.

OPENING THE LESSON

On the board or overhead, write this question:

In what ways can the economic and political influence of oil in today’s world be compared to the influence of cotton in the 19th century?

Ask students to work in groups to come up with answers. As students report, write comments on the board.

Encourage students to think of how nations can use their sought-after resources to gain things they want from others. Ask them to suggest some additional examples of economic resources that could be used in this way. In this lesson, they will realize how the South attempted to use cotton to gain allies in the Civil War.

DEVELOPING THE LESSON

1. Tell students that they are employees of the State Department of the Confederate States of America (CSA). It is the eve of the Civil War. With a partner, they are given an assignment to design a plan that would cause Great Britain to join the CSA in its war effort against the United States. (The previous discussion should enable students to think of using “cotton” as a tool to get what they want. It may be necessary to talk about the function of the State Department and the meaning of the terms “diplomacy” and “foreign relations.”) Have students turn in a copy of their plan.

2. Assign students to read the first four paragraphs of the Mississippi History Now article to identify the Confederate strategy. Let them work with their partner again to compare the plan adopted by Confederate leaders with the one they devised. Ask them to identify strengths and weaknesses of both plans.

3. As they read the next four paragraphs, ask students to make a chart showing the SUCCESSES and FAILURES of King Cotton diplomacy. Lead a class discussion on the subject and ask the students to determine the effectiveness of the Confederate “foreign policy” strategy.

4. Ask students to brainstorm the future of the cotton industry once the Civil War was lost by the Confederacy. Ask them to think of such questions as:

• Would the southern states continue to grow cotton, even without slave labor?

• Was there a demand for southern cotton after the war? If so, why and by whom?

• What was the attitude of the federal government and northern businessmen regarding the resumption of cotton production by the southern states?

5. Assign students to read the last five paragraphs of the article in order to gain information regarding the previous questions. Place them in small groups to discuss the information and to formulate answers to the previous questions.

CONCLUDING THE LESSON

1. On the board or overhead, write this paraphrase from the article:

By 1870, the American South had produced more cotton than it had in 1860.

With the dates of the Reconstruction Period in mind, 1865-1876, students will write an essay detailing the roles played by the federal government, northern businessmen, and southern landowners in rebuilding the southern cotton economy.

2. Students may wish to discuss how their perspectives regarding Reconstruction may have altered as a result of the lesson.

ASSESSING THE LESSON

1. Participation in large-group discussion and small-group activities
2. Completion of diplomatic plan and chart
3. Essay

EXTENDING THE LESSON

• Students may create a “King Cotton” cartoon strip to summarize the main points of the article.

• Students could create “bio-boxes” or newspaper articles about individual blockade runners.

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