Lesson Plan: The Civil War: On the Battlefield a hoosier Perspective on the March to the Sea: The Diary of William Miller Eighth Grade Purpose of Lesson

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1Lesson Plan: The Civil War: On the Battlefield

A Hoosier Perspective on the March to the Sea: The Diary of William Miller

Eighth Grade

Purpose of Lesson: This lesson can be used to illustrate Sherman’s march from Atlanta to Savannah. The lesson includes the reading of selected diary entries from Hoosier soldier Sergeant William Bluffton Miller of Wells County, Indiana, who served with the 75th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.
Objective: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Describe an eyewitness account of the burning of Atlanta

  • Explain how one Hoosier soldier dealt with the realities of war

  • Describe Union soldiers' attitudes toward Southerners

  • Describe the actions of black slaves when meeting Union troops in the South

  • Describe the effects of the “March to the Sea” on the South

Correlation to Indiana Standards
Social Studies
8.1.27 Recognize historical perspective by identifying the historical context in which events unfolded and by avoiding evaluation of the past solely in terms of present-day norms.
USH1.3 Review and summarize key events and developments in the following periods of United States history: Founding the Republic (1775 -1801), Expansion and Reform (1801 -1861), Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 -1877).
USH9.1 Locate and analyze primary and secondary sources presenting differing perspectives on events and issues of the past.
Lesson Activities:

This lesson includes several diary entries written by Sgt. William Miller (“We have surely done a big work: The Diary of a Hoosier Soldier on Sherman’s March to the Sea,” Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 94, September 1998, pages 214-239). Students should read each entry and answer the corresponding questions. Students may work individually or with a partner. A conclusion about Sgt. Miller’s unit is included at the end of the entries and questions.
Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:
At the beginning of spring 1864 the war was at a tipping point. Union troops were spread thin defending captured cities and towns. The three-year enlistment period for Union volunteers was up – 136,000 reenlisted but another 100,000 headed for home. States made up the difference with conscripts and paid bounty soldiers, but many of these men showed little dedication to the cause once in the heat of battle.

From May through August of 1864 the forces of General Grant in Virginia and Pennsylvania and Sherman's forces in Georgia were engaged in nearly constant warfare with southern forces. As Grant and Lee fought their way through Pennsylvania and Virginia, Union casualties were horrific. In seven weeks from the beginning of May, 65,000 Union soldiers were dead, wounded, or missing. Public opinion in the North began to turn against Lincoln; Confederate leaders began to hope that if they could hold out until the November election, they might negotiate for peace with a new president.

Sherman's Atlanta campaign ended those southern hopes. He outmaneuvered Confederate troops sent to intercept him and began a siege of the city. On September 1, 1864, after several costly battles, Gen. John Bell Hood ordered the evacuation of Atlanta and withdrew his battered Army of Tennessee. Union troops marched into the city and took command. The effect on both North and South was immediate and significant. Atlanta was one of the few major manufacturing centers for the southern war – its factories, foundries, and munitions plants were supplemented by a complex of railroad lines running out from the city. Southern diarist Mary Chestnut lamented that "We are going to be wiped off the earth."

Sherman then took a bold risk. He wanted to "move through Georgia, smashing things to the sea" and take the port of Savannah.. "I can make the march," he wrote, "and make Georgia howl." On the night of November 15, Bluffton and his fellow soldiers who were camped east of Atlanta witnessed a great fire, deliberately set to destroy businesses and industrial sites. As the troops marched away from the city the next morning, the railroad depot was destroyed behind them. Union forces, however, were in high spirits. As the regiment left Atlanta, one member of the 75th noted: “It was a charming November morning. The [Fourteenth] Corps. . .with swinging, regular step, arms glistening in the sunlight, and colors unfurled to the balmy breezes, was as fine a picture as eyes ever saw.”

Sherman's forces wreaked havoc as they went, and purposely so. The general believed that "We cannot change the hearts of the people of the South, but we can make war so terrible . . . that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it." The 75th Indiana was part of the process, destroying Georgia railroads as they marched. Foraging parties, soon nicknamed “Sherman’s bummers,” confiscated large amounts of rations from southern farmers and homeowners.

By early December Sherman's forces reached Savannah. On December 20, the Confederates withdrew from the city and Unions forces occupied it the next day. Sherman's troops had marched through one of the most important states in the Confederacy, split it in two, destroyed its communications and transportation lines, and decimated its towns and farmlands.

1. Students should read the selected entries and answer the questions. A group discussion may follow.
2. If time allows, students might create an illustrated time line of Miller’s experiences on the March to the Sea.
3. An alternative longer project is appended to this lesson. In this project, students use the excerpts from Miller's diary and the illustrations provided to create an illustrated newsmagaine article about one soldier's experiences on Sherman's March to the Sea.

Other Resources:
For more on Sherman's March to the Sea, see the collection of online documents at:
http://www.cviog.uga.edu [See especially Sherman's Dec. 17 letter to the Confederate General holding Savannah. Use the keyword search "Sherman"]
The lyrics to the Civil War song "Marching through Georgia" are available at:

For a brief biography of Sherman, see the Ehistory web site at:

and the entry on Sherman from the Columbia Encyclopedia:

For more on Lee's surrender at Appomattox (for possible use in students' newsmagazine articles), see the National Park website at:

or see the longer, detailed account by a Union general who was present:

From the Diary of Sgt. William B. Miller
Tuesday, November 15, 1864

Moved out at daylight and arrived at Atlanta about nine Oclock A M. We stopped in the city until afternoon and then moved out on the Augusta Rail Road and camped on a elevation that overlooks the city. The city is fired in several places and about dark the Torch was set into the Business part. It was a grand sight from our camp to look down on the burning city. The night is dark and an occasional shell burst and scatters things around promiscuously. Some of our Boys was down and got some clotheing from the burning buildings. The entire city was destroyed but a few occupied houses. It reminds me of the destruction of the city of Babylon as spoken of in the Bible which was destroyed because of the wickedness of her people and that is the case with Atlanta. I feel Sorry for some of the people but a Soldier is not supposed to have any concience and must lay aside all scruples he may have. We drew some clothing and Rations and have orders to move in the morning. With all the excitement and attending to duty I did not get any Sleep.

1. Where did Miller’s unit set up camp and why would they choose this position?

2. What did Miller and his fellow soldiers see and do that night?
3. What Bible story does Miller note? What comparison does he draw between the story and what was happening in Atlanta?
4. Miller notes that “a Soldier is not supposed to have any concience and must lay aside all scruples he may have.” Why do you think he wrote this statement? Why do you agree or disagree with Miller’s statement?

Sunday, December 4, 1864
Miller and his fellow soldiers were engaged by rebel forces near Waynesboro, Ga. He notes,

They had to retreat across a large swamp about a mile wide and the road was graded high and about wide enough for three or four men to ride abreast they was in such a hurry the[y] crouded each other off. Some of them undertook to ride through the Swamp and they mired down and was shot off their horses and quite a number lay along the road. We pushed on after our Cavalry into town and followed them some distance but they did not hault any more untill they put the river some distance between them and us. We then returned to town. Gathered up the guns and wounded left the dead to be burried by the citizens and started to catch up with the ballance of the Army. . . We camp at Alexandria. We run Wheeler away from his breakfast and came very near captureing him and his Staff. They was completely surprised at infantry getting there so soon and supposed we was at Millan. Our loss was about forty men altogether. We caputred about a hundred prisoners and killed about thirty of them. It was fun for us to see them Skip out. I seen one old Reb lying along the road (quite an old man) that had been a Saber stroke across his back and not dead yet but mortally wounded and under other circumstances his grey hairs would have appealed to my heart for simpathy but we are not here to Simpathise with men who brought it on themselves. When we skirmished through town we did not see any body but Rebel Cavalry but when we returned it was alive with women and children who had on their Sunday clothes and it reminded me of home. They had hid in the cellars while the fight was going on and come out to see us.

1. Describe what Miller experienced in the above passage.
2. Why did Union forces leave the dead Rebel soldier unburied?
3. Explain what Miller meant when he wrote, “. . .we are not here to simpatise with men who brought it on themselves.”
Friday, December 9, 1864
When we destroyed the Bridge across Big Ebonezer this morning the road as far as we could see north was lined with Negroes who have followed us. It was really pitty full to see them and they are afraid of the Rebels and begged hard to get over. Some of them Swam the river but the women and children could not get over. I noticed women with two or three little children trudgeing along through the mud. Old white headed men who could hardly walk all trying to get away. They are very ignorant but they know on[e] thing and that is they want to be free. Thinking they ould go with us they have gathered up their little effects and left their old homes. They are taught to believe that we were regular cut throats by their masters but when we come they are ready to go with us. They know we are their friends and the mystery is how they know it. Some of them say they thought the Yankees had horns like an ox. I don’t see how they can live in the country we have passed over for every thing was destroyed. Some Negro Huts are left but Smoke marked the advance of our Army and many of Shermans Monuments (as we call the chimneys) are standing in memory of the “March to the Sea.”

1. Describe what Miller saw on the morning of December 9.

2. What was the goal of the slaves?
3. Miller notes that the slaves had gathered up “their little effects.” What might have been “little effects”?
4. How do the slaves know Miller and his fellow soldiers are friendly?
5. Why might the slaves think that the “Yankees had horns like an ox”?

6. What are Sherman's monuments? Why would Miller seem to be proud of these "monuments"?

Wednesday, December 14, 1864, in camp outside Savannah
We remained in camp all day and the cannonadeing was kept up as usual but seems to be down the river from us and I suppose it is our fleet Shelling the city. We got the news of the capture of Fort McAllister on the Ogechee river and that we could now write our friends, as that opened communication. I did not learn what our loss was but our men charged the fort from the land side carrying it by storm captureing the entire Garrison. This marked the thirty second day Since we left Kingston and Seventy one since we started north from Atlanta, since which we have been moving continuously and we have surely done a big work. We have cut the Confederacy in twain and destroyed the crops in the richest part of their country so as to cut off their supplies and now we are beseigeing one of their principle Seaport cities.

1. Miller writes that “we have surely done a big work.” What do you think this means?

2. Follow a map of Sherman's March and then, also using a map, follow the final marches of the 75th Indiana as described below.

On January 20, 1865, the 75th Indiana left Savannah to begin the march through the Carolinas. They advanced through the South Carolina capital of Columbia and were the first organized Union troops into Fayetteville, North Carolina on March 11. The troops experienced several skirmishes but reached Goldsboro, North Carolina, on March 22, where they rested until April 10. At this point, the regiment had marched more than 400 miles in 50 days.

Their final march was to the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. On April 13, they learned of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. After the final surrender paperwork was signed on April 26, the regiment marched in Washington, D.C., passing up Pennsylvania Avenue in grand review before President Andrew Johnson. The 75th Indiana was officially mustered out of service on June 8, 1865. Sgt. Miller returned home and worked as a carpenter and druggist in various locations in northern Indiana. He died in Charleston, Illinois, in 1918.

Alternate Assignment: Create an Illustrated Newsmagazine Article
Students, working individually or in teams, will pretend they have been assigned by a current newsmagazine to create a four-page spread illustrating Miller and his fellow soldier’s experience during Sherman’s march to the sea. Students will be assessed on content, historical accuracy and creativity.
The four-page spread must include the following elements:

  1. Copy (or story) of at least four paragraphs highlighting content from the assigned letters

  2. Appropriately written headline (sub headline optional)

  3. At least six illustrations, from those provided or using additional illustrations found in books or online, with written captions

  4. A map of the march as experienced by Sgt. Miller and his fellow soldiers

As an example, the teacher may wish to show a current issue of a newsmagazine (Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, etc.) and discuss the purpose of the elements (copy, captions, illustrations, headline, etc.) which make up the spread. A student hand-out is provided with suggestions for the four-page newsmagazine spread.

Suggestions for Newsmagazine Spread
You have been assigned to create a four-page newsmagazine spread illustrating Sgt. William Bluffton Miller and his fellow soldier’s experience as they marched with Gen. Sherman across Georgia. Your newsmagazine spread must include the following elements:

  1. Copy (or story) of at least four paragraphs highlighting content from the assigned letters

  2. Appropriately written headline (sub headline optional)
  3. At least six illustrations, from those provided, with written captions

  4. A map of the march as experienced by Sgt. Miller and his fellow soldiers

Copy Suggestions
In “news speak” copy is another word for story or article. Your copy should be at minimum four paragraphs and include information from the letters you read.
Writing copy for a newsmagazine is somewhat different than writing an essay:

  • Be concise—get to the point quickly and use as few of words as necessary, yet include the basic facts—who, what, where, when, why and how

  • Don’t try to impress your reader with big words; use everyday words

  • Write in short paragraphs—no more than 3 or 4 sentences per paragraph

  • Leave out your opinion— it is important to write only the facts

  • You might wish to write out “interview” questions for Sgt. Miller, find the answers in the letters and attribute the “answers” to Sgt. Miller. For example: If you wish to include information about Atlanta burning, your “question” might be: “What did you see burning?” After finding your “answer,” you might write: As Sgt. Miller and his fellow soldiers camped outside Atlanta, he witnessed Gen. Sherman’s famed burning of the city. As darkness descended upon the city, Sgt. Miller noted, “The city is fired in several places and about dark the torch was set into the business part.”

  • All information included in the copy should be historically accurate

  • If typed, your copy should use 12-14 point type in an easy-to-read font such as Arial, Century, Courier, or Times New Roman. Your copy should not be in a script and/or handwritten font.

Headline and Sub-Headline Suggestions

The headline is similar to the title of a book. It tells the reader what to expect from the story. A sub-headline provides additional information to supplement the headline.

Your headlines and sub-headlines should:

  • Draw the reader’s attention to the copy

  • Identify the subject or topic of the copy

  • Be easy to find on the spread

  • Headline, if typed, should be 18+ point

  • Sub-headline, if typed, should be 16-18 point type

  • Sub-headline should be placed near the headline

Illustrations and Captions Suggestions
Your newsmagazine spread should include at least six illustrations with written captions.
Your illustrations should:

  • Help “tell the story” of your copy

  • Include a caption

  • Be placed throughout the four-page spread

Your captions should:

  • Accurately describe the illustration in 2-4 sentences

  • Include the basic facts about each illustration—who, what, where, when, why, and how

  • Be placed next to the illustration

Other Elements
You may wish to include other elements throughout your newsmagazine spread. Other elements include:

  • Sidebar story: a short story (1-3 paragraphs) highlighting additional information from the copy or about another subject (for example: a biography of Gen. Sherman or a story on Gen. Lee’s surrender)

  • Pulled quotes: highlighted quotes from the copy, usually in larger font (16+ point size)

  • Timeline of the Sgt. Miller’s experiences or timeline of the Civil War
  • All other elements should be historically accurate

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