The OAH Magazine of History

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American Wars on the Web: Internet Resources for Teaching Military History

Every teacher has heard the following complaint: “I hate history. It’s all names and dates and dead people.” To convince students to give the study of history another chance, we all have developed our own secret weapons in the campaign to transform these young skeptics into citizens who appreciate the significance of America’s past. In this pursuit, those of us who specialize in military history enjoy a special advantage. For a variety of reasons, military history dominates the history selections in book stores, and for those students more apt to turn on the television than open a book, the history of armed conflict remains a staple of both the History Channel and Military Channel.

Such popularity can become a curse, however, as we realize that our students may find military history exciting, but still lack even the most fundamental understanding of the causes, conduct, and consequences of war and the experiences of those engaged in the struggles. When we push our students to ponder questions about why soldiers fight and how war affects a society that produces, supplies, and sustains their armed forces, we find ourselves facing the same challenge to engage and educate that always confronts teachers.

Every summer I work with Texas K-12 history teachers to develop ways to accomplish that task. First, we update teachers on the latest historical scholarship and methodologies, and then we provide them with engaging primary materials designed to capture their students’ attention and facilitate discussion and understanding. Students, weary of lectures, will suddenly sit up in their seats to read a handful of letters between a soldier, his wife, and their children, all of whom lived in the students’ hometown. They will crowd around an original newspaper photograph of a local African American nurse who served in a hospital in Paris during World War I. Students will excitedly read diaries and news stories that enhance the dramatic events in their books. Such sources reveal how Americans understood these events at the time and how they were shaped by the values and prejudices of that era. Before they know it, students will learn why these men or women volunteered, and how that service affected them, their families, the community, and the nation. Our results have been astonishingly successful. Some of these students are now appearing at our university as history majors. More importantly, our statistical data show that students develop a more solid understanding of American history through this primary-source technique than do students taught without utilizing the approach.

To help you to successfully incorporate more military history into your teaching, I have created a list of easily accessible and reputable online primary source collections. Some of these sites have lesson plans, and some have additional material that you can request by mail. All of them contain letters, diaries, and other primary source materials that can captivate and enlighten your students.

The list is not meant to be comprehensive, and I have limited it to consistently reliable sites and online archival collections. Indeed, most of these sites are sponsored by archives, government agencies, or universities committed to monitoring closely the quality of the material and accompanying analysis.

To help your students interpret and analyze primary source material, you may need to review the history of the major wars of the United States. The following are reliable background texts: Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense, (rev. ed., 1994); Robert A. Doughty, et. al. American Military History and the Evolution of Western Warfare (1996); and U.S. Army Center of Military History, American Military History (1989). This last work can be found online with free access at

Military History: General Web sites

The Legacy Project: This project began on Veterans’ Day in 1998. It locates and preserves the correspondence of American military personnel:

Battle Lines: Letters from America’s Wars, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. This site draws on the Legacy Project and includes beautifully presented images of original letters which are transcribed and read aloud:

American Experience: War Letters, PBS. This site also draws on the Legacy Project and includes a “Teachers Guide” to the letters and information about organizing a project that allows students to gather letters from their own families and communities to contribute to The Legacy Project:

Wisconsin War Letters, University of Wisconsin: This site, as well as the following two sites, provide city and state war letter collections. Teachers and students can do a Google search for war letters from their town or state to see if a collection exists for their area:

Rochester War Letters, WXXI-TV, Rochester, New York:

West Virginia War Letters:

Veterans History Project, Library of Congress. This site provides a vast oral and written history archive of veterans’ experiences in U.S. conflicts from World War I to the present. It includes interview transcripts and audio files. Students can analyze the information revealed in the interviews and learn how to conduct interviews that can be submitted to the collection:

World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Oral Histories, Rutgers University:

Military History, Smithsonian Institution:

United States Military Academy Military Atlases:

American Battlefield Monuments Commission (ABMC). Established by Congress in 1923, the ABMC maintains the nation’s twenty four overseas military cemeteries, mainly in Europe from World War I and World War II. This site includes a searchable database covering more than 250,000 U.S. veterans buried or memorialized at ABMC cemeteries, memorials, and markers:

U.S. Civil War: General Web Sites

Teaching with Documents: Letters, Telegrams, and Photographs Illustrating Factors that Affected the Civil War, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This site includes lesson plans and an audio interview with the last living Civil War veteran: lessons/civil-war-docs/.

Selected Civil War Letters from the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina:

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database, National Park Service:

Civil War Memory: American Treasures, Library of Congress:

Civil War eHistory, Ohio State University. This site includes diaries, letter collections, and memoirs:

U.S. Civil War: HomeFront

Civil War Women, Duke University:

The Valley of the Shadow Project, University of Virginia. This site includes primary source material pertaining to a Pennsylvania and a Virginia county during the Civil War era:

U.S. Civil War: African American Participation

Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, University of Maryland’s Freedmen and Southern Society Project,

The District of Columbia Emancipation Act, NARA:

The Emancipation Proclamation, NARA:

Frederick Douglass on arming African-American Men, “Fighting Rebels with Only One Hand,” Fremarjo Enterprises, Inc.:

Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War, University of Maryland:

Teaching With Documents: The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War, NARA:

U.S. Civil War: The Face of Battle

The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Cornell University. These records are better known to Civil War historians as the OR. They include commanders’ reports of their participation in battles, as well as the president and his cabinet members’ communications with field commanders, and other reports directly related to actions on the battlefield. On Union and Confederate armies: moa/browse.monographs/waro.html. On Union and Confederate navies: moa/moa_browse.html.

The Battle of First Manassas: Guide for Teachers, National Park Service:

Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier, University of North Carolina. This site includes lesson plans:

Eyewitness Accounts from the Battle of Antietam, National Park Service:

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park Educator Resources, National Park Service:

The Gettysburg National Military Park: History and Teacher Resources, National Park Service: and

Civil War Medicine:

The Siege of Petersburg, National Park Service. Follow the “Education” links to “Teacher Pages” to find lesson plans:

The Great Reunion of 1913: Union and Confederate Veterans Meet Again at Gettysburg, National Park Service:

World War I

Trenches on the Web: An Internet History of the Great War:

The Great War Society:

The Doughboy Center: The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces:

The World War I Letters of Sgt. Walter Horne Lockard. This site includes original images of Lockard’s letters as well as transcriptions, photographs, and material relating to wartime censorship of correspondence:

Teaching With Documents: Photographs of the 369th Infantry and African Americans during World War I. This site includes lesson plans:

Harry S. Truman’s WWI Letters, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library: study_collections/personal/large/ww1_letters/ww1_letters.htm.

Training at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas through the letters of Sgt. Charles L. Johnston: and

Dear Home: Letters from World War I, History Channel:

North Carolinians and the Great War, University of North Carolina, Documenting the American South Project: and For lesson plans that utilize these sources:

WWI Document Archive, Brigham Young University:

1918 War Angelus: Religion and War, Tulane University:

World War II

U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project, University of Texas:

Dear Home: Letters from World War II, History Channel:

World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University:

U.S. Women and World War II, Bryant University’s Letter Writing Project:

Teaching With Documents: Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art of World War II, NARA. This site includes lesson plans:

Teaching With Documents: Documents and Photographs Related to Japanese Relocation During World War II, NARA. This site includes lesson plans:

Teaching With Documents: Memorandum Regarding the Enlistment of Navajo Indians, NARA. This site includes lesson plans:

Teaching with Documents: D-Day Messages, NARA. This site includes lesson plans: and

Korean War

Teaching With Documents: The United States Enters the Korean Conflict, NARA. This site includes lesson plans:

Letters from the War Zone, The Korean War Educator:

Korean War Oral Histories, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library:

Oral History with Bruce C. Clark, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. This oral history provides insight into the integration of U.S. Armed Forces during the Korean War:

Korean War Photographs, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library:

Address on the Situation in Korea, July 19, 1950, audio clip, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library:

Radio Report to the American People on Korea and on U.S. Policy, April 11, 1951, audio clip, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library:

President Truman on the Firing of General MacArthur, October 21, 1959, audio clip, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library:

Veterans describe their combat experience in the Korean War, audio clip, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library:

Vietnam War

The Vietnam Center and Archive: Oral History Project Interviews, Texas Tech University. This site includes tools to help your students interview members of their families and communities to contribute to the collection:

Teaching With Documents: The War in Vietnam: A Story in Photographs, NARA. This site includes lesson plans:

Reflections on a War, American Experience (PBS):

Documents: The Wars for Vietnam, Vassar University:

Digital History: Learn About the Vietnam War, University of Houston. This site includes documents and lesson plans:

The Vietnam War: Time Collection, Time magazine:,21428,c_vietnam_war,00.shtml.

Susannah U. Bruce is associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University. She specializes in nineteenth-century U.S. history, with an emphasis on Civil War history, U.S. military history, and Irish-American history. She is the author of The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861—1865 (New York: New York University Press, 2006). She edited Ethnicity in the American Civil War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming 2008). Her next book is entitled Hood’s Texans: A History of the Texas Brigade and Southern Society (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, forthcoming 2009).