Carrie Berry and William Bircher: Seeing the Civil War through the Eyes of Children

By Iles, Lea Anne; Masellis, Gina | Social Studies Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Carrie Berry and William Bircher: Seeing the Civil War through the Eyes of Children


Iles, Lea Anne, Masellis, Gina, Social Studies Review


We are bombarded daily with news reports of war. The war in Iraq is mentioned, as are conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Darfur. We study wars to understand how our nation was created and how we have responded to the challenges we have encountered within our nation and from other nations. Today, we are living with the consequences of these wars, but many people are not aware of their influence on our lives.

Children in the Civil War: Carrie Berry and William Bircher

Since the children in our classroom will be voters and perhaps leaders of our country, it is imperative that they understand the cost and consequences of war, not only in dollars, but more importantly, in human terms. In order to encourage the development of responsible citizens, we must not only teach our students about the wars in which we have fought, but they must become aware of how war affects the health and well-being of the individual, society and nation. War influences the future of our country in many ways. By studying such an important war as the Civil War, from a child's perspective, the concept of war and its impact on society is contextualized, so it may become meaningful to children.

Primary sources, such as diaries, provide multiple insights into the impact of war. Two such valuable resources are the diaries of Carrie Berry, a ten-year old Confederate girl who survived General Sherman's destruction of Atlanta, and William Bircher, a fifteen-year old drummer boy who served in the Union Army. Studying these two primary sources will provide many opportunities for classroom discussion and reflection on how war impacts civilians, those serving in the military, and the future of our nation.

This article includes a description of Carrie Berry and William Bircher and their experiences, suggestions for activities, resources, a bibliography, and internet sites.

History-Social Science Standards

5.4.6; 5.6.7; 5.7.3; 8.7; 8.9; and 8.10

Historical and Social Science Analysis Skill: Kindergarten - 5th grade

Chronological and Spatial Thinking: 1; 2; 3; 4; and 5.

Research, Evidence, and Point of View: 1; 2; and 3.

Historical Interpretation: 1; 2; 3; and 4.

Historical and Social Science Analysis Skills: 6th - 8th grades

Chronological and Spatial Thinking: 1; 2; and 3.

Research, Evidence, and Point of View: 1; 2; 3; 4; and 5.

Historical Interpretation: 1; 2; 3; 4; and 5.

Children's Experiences

The children of the Civil War faced many challenges and showed great determination to survive during this significant period in United States history. Children were often hungry and many became refugees. Some of the battles were fought in people's backyards, so many times children were in harm's way as flying artillery shells were exchanged near their homes. Sometimes, they would have to stay in underground cellars for days at a time. Being a child during the Civil War was frightening because children did not know what to expect from day to day. For many children, household chores began before the sun came up. Only half of the children were able to attend school. Children contributed to their families during the war by helping with many household activities and earning extra income. Many children in the North worked in factories instead of going to school. When children did go to school there was only one classroom for students in all of the grade levels. Many schools collected food or produce from farm families to help to feed the army. Even going to church was not an option for as many as half of all children in the South.

Carrie Berry

Carrie Berry was only 9 years old when the Civil War began. Carrie and her family lived in Atlanta, Georgia. She was a Southerner and was also referred to as a Confederate. Carrie kept a diary for six months while many battles were fought in and around her hometown of Atlanta. She wrote about how the war affected her life and family, her experiences, and her feelings during the Civil War. …

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