NEW IPO Logo - by Charles Larry Home Search Browse About IPO Staff Links
C U R R I C U L U M    M A T E R I A L S

Robert Krey


Main Ideas

In the Civil War, 259,092 soldiers from Illinois served the Union cause comprising 150 regiments of which five were ethnic— two Irish and three German. Ethnic regiments were organized around popular or political leaders. The ability of these leaders to recruit troops depended on their political power and their ability to appeal to the national heritage of the volunteer. Illinois' ethnic soldiers served in all branches of the Union armed forces and in both the eastern and western theaters of war. Most of the ethnic soldiers served in the western arena, either in the Army of the Tennessee under Ulysses S. Grant or the Army of the Cumberland under William Rosecrans' command, later replaced by William Tecumseh Sherman. The following activities involve students in various stages of an ethnic soldier's participation in the Civil War.

Connection with the Curriculum
The activities to follow could be used to teach Illinois history, U.S. history, and writing skills.

Teaching Level
Grades 8-12

Materials for Each Student

• A copy of the narrative portion of this article

• Handouts 1-4

Objectives for Each Student

• Understand the diversity of the population of Illinois by analyzing historical data.

• Appreciate the various techniques used in recruiting posters to attract volunteers.

• Examine the reporting style of the 1860s and consider how the press would have covered an ethnic unit's formation and battle participation.

• Simulate the perspective of an ethnic soldier in recalling personal battle experiences.


The activities are designed to take an ethnic soldier from enlistment to actual involvement in the Civil War. All or some of the lessons may be used depending on the dictates of the established curriculum and other lesson plans.

Opening the Lesson

• Ask the students to read the narrative portion of this article.

• Assign the activities in the handouts.

Developing the Lesson
The key to the lesson is to have the students read the article and for the teacher to integrate the various activities into the lesson. The activities can be done in sequence or they can arranged as the activities fit into the established curriculum.

Concluding the Lesson
Teachers may wish to close the lesson by discussing the primary points of the activities.

• Handout 1: 20 percent of Illinois residents were of ethnic origin.

• Handout 2: Heritage of ethnic men was used to entice them to volunteer.

• Handout 3: Newspapers were used as recruitment agents.

• Handout 4: Writing styles and vocabulary differed greatly from today.

Extending the Lesson

• Determine when your community's newspaper began, and examine how it reported the Civil War.

• Examine local ethnic background and individual participation in the Civil War.

Assessing the Lesson

• Assess each activity individually based on its individual merits.

• Ask the students to answer the following summary questions:

  1. What percentage of Illinois was of ethnic origin in 1860? List three of the major ethnic groups.

  2. List and explain three methods used to recruit ethnics into ethnic regiments.

  3. Explain two difficulties encountered in organizing ethnic units in Illinois.


Handout 1 - Illinois Ethnic Population

Review the map below and answer the questions on the following page.

Illinois Ethnic Map

Foreign Born Population in Illinois, 1860

Source: Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War, 1848-1870 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987)


Handout 1 - continued

Man with a telescope


  1. Approximately how many counties or parts of counties had foreign-born populations of 40 to 50 percent?

  2. Approximately how many counties or parts of counties had foreign-born populations of 30 to 40 percent?

  3. Approximately how many counties or parts of counties had foreign-born populations of 20 to 30 percent?

  4. Based on the narrative portion of this article, what were the major ethnic groups in Illinois?

  5. After answering questions 1-3 above, what can you conclude about the population in Illinois in 1860?


Handout 2 - Recruiting

Using the poster below as a model, develop and draw your own recruiting poster that would attract ethnic volunteers. Be sure to refer to the narrative portion of this article for ideas. Students within each group can divide responsibilities according to their skills. For example, students who are good at drawing can draw the poster, while students who are good at writing can write the words for the poster.


The Sixty-ninth Regiment, whose recruitment poster is shown above, was organized in New York City and mustered in in November 1861. It served throughout the war in various prominent actions including the battles of Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor. General James Shields, whose Irish Brigade of the Sixty-ninth Regiment was announced in this poster, was a prominent Illinoisan. Born in Ireland in 1806, Shields came to the United States in 1823 and to Illinois in 1832. He became a lawyer, an associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, and U.S. senator from Illinois before he moved to Minnesota just before the Civil War. Elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota in 1858, he resigned in 1861 to become brigadier general of the Irish Brigade. He was mustered out in 1863 and died in 1879.


Handout 3 - Newspaper Reporting

Review the front-page articles below from the Chicago Tribune. Divide students into four groups. Each group will make a part of a front page of a newspaper that could have existed in Illinois during the 1860s. Have each group use information from the narrative portion of this article.

Group 1 — Report on the Forty-third Illinois Infantry fighting at Shiloh.

Group 2 — Report on political quarreling in Chicago that was involved in selecting a colonel to lead an ethnic regiment.

Group 3 — Develop an advertisement recruiting troops to join an Irish regiment.

Group 4 — Develop an advertisement recruiting troops to join a German regiment.


Handout 3 - continued

Chicago Tribune


Handout 4 - Writing Home

Solider and quotes

Ask students to assume the role of an ethnic soldier who has just survived a battle. They should write a letter to their parents in Chicago, using the writing style of the period and the vocabulary.

The writing style of the 1860s consisted of two key elements, making it distinctive from today's writing: (1) no contractions were used, and (2) most words for the ordinary soldier were spelled as they sounded. Including some of the words from this vocabulary list, write a letter home to your parents in Chicago.

Period Slang

bogus—false, or a mill or stamp for counterfeiting coins

bub—a fellow or man, probably derived from the German word "bube", a small boy

bite the bullet—to stand firm, from the British in the 1850s

finagle—to be cheated

hornswoggle—to be cheated

kit and kaboodle— the whole thing

likeness—a photo

salthorse—pickled beef sowbelly—salted pork

skippers—maggots infesting army meat

sea biscuits—army hard bread or crackers

worm castles—maggot infested hardtack

johnny cakes—cornbread

grey back—body lice


croaking—to complain constantly


saw the elephant—been in battle

grab a root—to take cover under fire

gobbled up—taken prisoner

shebang—a shelter made of brush or cornstalks rubbed out—tired

argee—bad whiskey

searching for happiness—to pick lice out of your clothing

skillygalee—hardtack soaked in water and fried in bacon grease

fresh fish—a raw recruit

open the ball—start the battle

bumblebee—a fired bullet

change your breath—to drink

not on your tintype—certainly not

Click Here to return to the Article


|Home| |Search| |Back to Periodicals Available| |Table of Contents| |Back to Illinois History Teacher 1997|
Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO) is a digital imaging project at the Northern Illinois University Libraries funded by the Illinois State Library