Houghton Mifflin Trade and Reference Division

Detailed Search

A Teacher's Guide

Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth

Lesson Five: Brother versus Brother: The Human Face of the Civil War


The rift between Edwin Booth and his younger brother John Wilkes Booth was repeated between hundreds of brothers, neighbors, and friends during the Civil War. For Edwin Booth, the war was very real: he had friends in the army, including Adam Badeau (wounded in fighting near New Orleans) and Richard Cary (who died at Antietam.) Because pupils today are nearly one hundred-fifty years removed from the participants, they should research a human aspect of the war and prepare a written report, skit, project board, or computer slide-show about their findings. This lesson is most appropriate for high school students, grades 9–12, but may be suitable for middle school students, grades 6–8.

National Curriculum Standards

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning has created standards and benchmarks for language arts, math, science, geography, economics, and history. This lesson meets standards and benchmarks for:

United States History Standard (4th Ed.) for Era 5 — Civil War and Reconstruction (1850–1877) including benchmark 14: Understand the course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people:

Level III (Grades 7–8)
2. Understands how different groups of people shaped the Civil War (e.g., the motives and experiences of Confederate and white and African-American Union soldiers, different perspectives on conscription, the effects of divided loyalties)

Level IV (Grades 9–12)
4. Understands how the Civil War influenced Northern and Southern society on the home front (e.g., the New York City draft riots of July 1863, the Union's reasons for curbing civil liberties in wartime, Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the war)

Historical Understanding (4th Ed.) Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective including benchmark:

Level III (Grades 7–8)
1. Understands that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history

Level IV (Grades 9–12)
11. Knows how to perceive past events with historical empathy
13. Evaluates the validity and credibility of different historical interpretations
14. Uses historical maps to understand the relationship between historical events and geography

Time Required

This lesson will probably take three to four class periods, more if research and project preparation is not completed outside of class.

Materials Needed

Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth
• Timer or watch with a second hand, to time five minutes
• Calculator

The Lesson


1. Ask students to take out a piece of blank paper and a pen or pencil. Explain that when you start the timer, you want them to list as many names as they can of people that they know (friends, family, teachers, neighbors, coaches, and team members, people they know from stores and the community) in five minutes. Spelling doesn't matter, nor do full proper names (if they may know somebody only as "our mailman"). Students may not use any celebrity, political, or public figure whom they have not met. Set the timer and announce, "Go."

2. Announce when time is up and tell students to put down their pens or pencils. Ask if their hands are tired and if they were having trouble at the end coming up with names. Next, direct students to count the number of names on their lists and begin recording each student's total. (You may do this on the board or a transparency or have a student recorder take down the numbers.)

3. Add up the numbers to produce a total for the entire class; post the lists around the class. Finally, divide the number into the rounded number 623,000. (This is the estimated combined total of Union and Confederate casualties, both combat and non-combat, from the Civil War, according to the U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.) The resulting number equals the number of days every student in the class would have to spend writing the name of everyone who is believed to have died in the Civil War. If you divide that number by 180 (the number of days in a typical school year) students can calculate how many years the job would take.

4. Point out that if the list the students made were the roll of the Civil War dead, everyone included on the list would have died either from combat or something else. Ask students how many of them would have become orphans? Would have lost their best friend? Point out the number of days they would have to write new lists, the same length, but with entirely new, different names. Every day, everyone on the list would die. Remind students that 623,000 isn't just a number, it is 623,000 individuals, many of whom were best friends, brothers, fathers, sons, cousins, as well as mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. This is the human face of America's bloodiest war.


1. The Civil War is sometimes called a "brothers war." Ask students to read Good Brother, Bad Brother to learn about how the Booth family was torn apart by the Civil War. As students read, they should look at how the war impacted the relationships within the family (Edwin, John Wilkes, Junius, Jr., Asia Booth Clarke, John S. Clarke, Mary Ann Booth, and Mary Devlin Booth) and also jot down the name of each person whose life was impacted by the Civil War. The war's general outlines are covered in this book, but how is it different from a military history (either written or similar to the documentaries they may see on television, including the well-known Ken Burns's series, The Civil War)?

2. A number of elements of the book may serve as a springboard for a research project on the theme "The Human Face of the Civil War." The final project may be in any one of the formats established by National History Day (see http://www.nationalhistoryday.org/ for exact criteria) including a paper (individual only), exhibit, documentary, or performance. Students may work individually, in pairs, or, in the case of performances, small teams. They will have ten minutes to present their final project in class, either as a performance or an explanation of what they learned in their research and how it relates to the theme. Provide three minutes follow-up time for question and answer.

Possible topics for research include (but are not limited to),

• The battle of Antietam, in which Richard Cary died. September 17, 1862, remains the bloodiest day in American history, the day on which 3,650 Americans died. It is deadlier than September 11, 2001, or even D-Day (June 6, 1944). The National Park Service Web site has further information at http://www.nps.gov/anti/casualty.htm. Yet, out of the bloodiest day came the Emancipation Proclamation and the beginning of the American Red Cross, in the person of Clara Barton.

• Evaluate if John Wilkes Booth was correct when he said, "If the North conquers us it will be by numbers only . . ." Examine the balance sheet, North and South, with a focus on populations and the impact that immigrants and African-American soldiers had on the North's ability to conduct the war. For a detailed account of the size and condition of the Confederate forces by April 1865, see Jay Winik's book April 1865: The Month That Saved America (included in the resource list at the end of this guide).

• Compare and contrast the lives, and deaths, of John Brown and John Wilkes Booth. Or compare John Brown's trial with that of the Lincoln conspirators. For information on both the Brown and the Lincoln conspirators' trials look at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School's Famous Trials Web site, which has trial testimonies and reports, John Brown's speech to the court, his letters from prison, and the provisional constitution he would have implemented had his rebellion succeeded. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/johnbrown/brownhome.html and http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnconspiracy.html

• How did the Anaconda Plan and Grant's war of attrition give Lincoln the reputation of "Abe the Widowmaker" yet help the Union to win the war?

• The Confederate Signal Corps and other secret services not only recruited John Wilkes Booth for the Lincoln kidnapping but attempted arson in New York City, conducted espionage, developed new weaponry, and smuggled quinine and other necessities. To what degree was this in reaction to the Anaconda Plan and the war of attrition?

• Examine one northerner and one southerner alive during the Civil War at the University of Virginia's Web site Valley of the Shadow, which has an online archive of letters, newspapers, county records, and other documents about the people of Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania (http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/). Select one person from each community and compare and contrast lives, views, and experiences over the years of war, 1861–1865.

• Maryland was a border state — even Edwin refers to himself as southern-born. Examine pro-Confederate activities in the state such as the Baltimore Riot against Union troops passing through the city in April 1861; the arrest of Francis Scott Key's grandson (Frank Key Howard) and his confinement in Fort McHenry; and the network of Confederate sympathizers who passed quinine, gold, and information through the state. (Look at The Civil War in Maryland, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Reveille in Washington 1860–1865, and the two books by William Tidwell, all mentioned in the resource list at the end of this guide.)


The student's assignment may be graded on a twenty point scale (which may be multiplied by five to convert to a one hundred-point scale or for conversion to letter grades) using the following rubric:

  Excellent (10) Good (9-8) Fair (7-6) Not Satisfactory (5-1) No Work (0)
Research Located and used specific information from a wide range of sources both obvious and unusual

Exceptionally strong presentation of the theme, The Human Face of the Civil War

No factual errors
Located and used general information and examples from obvious sources

Good presentation of the theme, The Human Face of the Civil War

No factual errors
Located and used general information from a limited number of sources

The project generally related to the theme, The Human Face of the Civil War

No factual errors
Research was weak, topic coverage was incomplete or unbalanced

The research had little or no relationship with the theme, The Human Face of the Civil War

May have contained factual errors
No research
Project presentation (Audio or Visual display or performance or demonstration) Well-balanced, thorough presentation of topic information

Appealing project or performance, showed originality

Media enhanced understanding of topic

Captions or introductory explanations were excellent, either audible and clear or well-written and informative
Generally balanced, complete presentation of topic information

Appealing project or performance

Media generally supported topic

Captions were useful and generally conformed to language rules; or, introductory explanations were useful and audible
Presentation of information was not complete for the topic

Appealing project or performance

Media may have not always been appropriate to topic

Captions were missing in some cases or not clear and may have contained errors in language usage; or, introductory explanations were not helpful or are so soft, rapid, or mumbled that they could not be heard
Presentation of data was incomplete or missing in some aspects of topic or very vague

Project was sloppy or disorganized

Media did not tie in with topic

Little or no captioning or introductory explanations that may have been unclear or irrelevant, and exhibit had many errors in language usage
No project

Internet Resources

The companion Web site for Ken Burns's The Civil War documentary series is http://www.pbs.org/civilwar/

A recruitment poster and other documents about black soldiers during the Civil War is at the National Archives Digital Classroom Web site. http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war/

Interdisciplinary Activities


The Civil War was fought all across the country and the ships of the North and the South engaged in combat around the world (the CSS Alabama was sunk off of Cherbourg, France, in the English Channel and the CSS Shenandoah ranged as far as Australia and the Bering Sea).

1. Go to the Civil War Battle Summaries by State (part of the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program Web site) at http://www.cr.nps.gov/hps/abpp/battles/bystate.htm for a list of locations, either in your home state or a state of your choice, and then locate and mark them on a modern state map.

2. Find out about the Civil War in your state, or in a state of your choice. Remember that states that experienced no combat may have sent troops, and territories (such as Colorado and New Mexico) participated in the Civil War prior to statehood. A list of state archival sites may be visited at http://www.pbs.org/civilwar/classroom/archival_resources.html.

3. Plot the voyages on a world map of one of the Confederate raiders, the CSS Alabama, the CSS Shenandoah, or the CSS Florida.

4. Determine if there is a cemetery with Civil War burials in your community. If so, you may wish to organize a wreath-laying ceremony for Veterans Day or Memorial Day (which originated in the decorating of graves of Civil War soldiers with flowers on Decoration Day), either at an individual's grave or at the cemetery's flagstaff. If the school has a trumpeter, part of the ceremony might include the playing of "Taps," the bugle song that originated in the Civil War, and which is still played at military funerals. This activity may be researched and coordinated along with a local, contemporary veterans organization, such as the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars.


1. There is no theater more famous in America or one more closely associated with the Civil War than Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Conduct research about Ford's Theatre before and after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Start research at the National Park Service Web site, http://www.nps.gov/foth/index.htm. To find out what's going on at Ford's Theatre today, visit http://www.fordstheatre.org/Pages/home/home.htm and check for dates of the annual gala broadcast on television.

2. In Good Brother, Bad Brother, Giblin writes, "People were hungry for entertainment of all sorts — anything that would distract them from the war . . ." And he quotes Mrs. John Sherwood's diary, in which she recalled, "In that first year of the war, when we were profoundly miserable and frightened, what a relief it was to go and see Edwin Booth in Hamlet."

a. Read Good Brother, Bad Brother to find the names of other Washington theaters (such as the National and Grover's) and those in New York (such as the Winter Garden) and other locations (such as the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans) that operated during the Civil War. Conduct research to find more information about one of these theaters and what has happened to it since the Civil War.

b. Research another actor or actress of the Civil War and the roles he or she performed through the period 1861–1865.

c. John Wilkes Booth was not the only actor to engage in espionage; the Union employed New Orleans–born actress Pauline Cushman as a spy. Research the dual lives, as actress and spy, of Pauline Cushman.

Home | FAQ | Contact Us |Site Map
Privacy Policy | Trademark Information | Terms and Conditions of Use
Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.