United States Colored Troops in Missouri:
Finding African American History at the Missouri State Archives

Lesson Overview:

This lesson, developed by the Missouri State Archives for fifth through eighth grade students, will instill student appreciation for original documents by introducing them to primary sources relevant to the role of Missouri's enslaved African Americans in the Civil War.

Students are provided images of two original documents pertaining to the enlistment of George W. Reynolds, a slave, in St. Joseph, Missouri, into the U.S. Army: the Colored Volunteer Descriptive List and the Colored Volunteer Enlistment. Accompanying histories of the role of U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) in the Civil War will help students in their analysis of the relevant documents.

Instructional Procedures:

  • History of United States Colored Troops
  • Missouri's African American Troops
  • The Records: A Sense of History Preserved
  • Original Documents (may be viewed on-line or via PDF files)
  • Original Document Worksheet
  • Enrichment/Reinforcement Activity List
  • Sites of Interest
  • Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Social Studies Framework
  • Guided Discussion Questions

Learning Goals:

  • To engage students in an age-appropriate discussion of the role of U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War, especially in Missouri.
  • To help students understand why some records are deemed to be of "permanent, historical value" to the state.

Lesson Plan:

  1. Begin the lesson with a discussion of what students think the role of enslaved Missourians would have been in the Civil War. Have the students get into groups and brainstorm a list of their ideas.

  2. Distribute copies of the History of USCT in Missouri, Missouri's African American Troops, and The Records: A Sense of History Preserved. Have the students take turns reading aloud from the history.

  3. Optional Vocabulary Activity: Ask students to mark words that they find hard to understand. Within their groups, students may divide up the problem vocabulary. Distribute copies of dictionaries, or have the students consult the glossary of their textbooks or on-line dictionaries, writing down brief definitions of the vocabulary words. Once they have done that, go around the room and ask each group to report their findings. Lead a discussion of the relevancy of these words to the topic.

  4. Distribute copies of the original documents, or have students view them on a computer. The documents may be easier to see and navigate on the computer, if one is available for students.

  5. In groups, ask students to complete their "Learning from Primary Sources: Original Document Worksheets," one for each original document.

  6. Bring all groups together in a discussion of what the documents can tell us about USCT in Missouri, and about what can be learned from these historical documents. What differences and similarities can be found between these two documents? Why is each important? Use the questions from the document worksheets to discuss the specific subject matter of each document. Refer to the three history summaries and the Guided Discussion Questions.

  7. Choose an appropriate follow-up activity from the list of Enrichment Activities.