Debunking Civil War Photographs: The Case of the Moved Body

This lesson plan is based on a study conducted by William Frassanito and an activity on the Library of Congress Web site, The Case of the Moved Body. In this lesson, students will compare two images and texts taken from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War, written by Alexander Gardner and published between 1865 and 1866. Students will understand how Civil War photographers used both the photographic medium and text to make a specific point to the public and how the photographs were used as propaganda.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Determine an author's point of view and/or purpose in a text, analyzing how style and content contribute to its effectiveness.
Evaluate the topic or subject in multiple diverse formats and media.
Analyze how an author's choices regarding the ordering of ideas and events, the introduction and development of ideas, and connections among ideas...
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

The learner will:

  • Analyze two photographs using the Primary Source Analysis Tool and guiding questions, and then compare these images to find similarities
  • Analyze the two texts, using a series of guiding questions
  • Analyze the technological limitations of photography and understand how those limitations affected what a Civil War photographer photographed
  • Using both the analysis of the photographs and the analysis of the texts, conclude whether the pictures and texts are a truthful representation of an event, or if it was portrayed in a specific way to achieve the photographer’s interpretation of the event
Essential and guiding questions: 

How and why did Civil War photographers use photographs to convey information?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

As an additional assignment, provide each student with a copy of Pictures Like These Have Inspired War! Pictures Like This Will Stop War!, Gettysburg, Pa. Bodies of Federal soldiers, killed on July 1, near the McPherson woods (this is the photograph that appears in the newspaper article), and Worksheet 3. Have the students write an essay answering one of the questions on Worksheet 3. 

    Helpful Hints


    • Primary Source Analysis Tool
    • Teacher's Guide, Analyzing Photographs & Prints
    • Worksheet 1
    • Worksheet 2
    • Worksheet 3 (optional extension)
    • PowerPoint (optional)
    • Background information on William Frassanito and Alexander Gardner (for the teacher)