Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Civil War Podcast for the Teaching American History Grant

This podcast was created using the R.A.F.T. (role, audience, format, topic) Strategy, which I learned in the Civil War Module of the Teaching American History Grant.

• Helen Davis is the assistant clerk to John C. Black, Commissioning Officer of Veterans' Pensions in Washington D.C. Helen Davis is processing the pension claims files for veterans of the civil war. Her job is to assess each file and decide whether or not to pass it along to John C. Black. As part of her job, she reads through hundreds of daily accounts of hardships endured by these veterans during the Civil War. In this podcast, she is sharing with us the contents of Corporal James Cochrane's pension claims file, including affidavits from Corporal Cochrane and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Captain Frederick R. Kantz.
• Lieutenant Captain Frederick R. Kantz is the commanding officer Company G, 59th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was Corporal Cochrane's commanding officer, and he provides an affidavit for Cochrane's pensions claim file. He led his men on Sherman's famous Campaign Against Atlanta.
• Corporal James Cochrane, a Civil War Veteran, formerly of Company G, 59th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He enlisted in the Army when he was about 40 years old because he passionately believed in preserving the Union. During the Campaign Against Atlanta, he fell very ill due to the cold and exposure. It is now over twenty years from the time he has left the Army, and he has still not recovered from his illnesses. He is filing a claim for a Veterans' Pension of ten dollars per month.
• This is meant for 5th grade students who are learning about daily life during the Civil War. This provides students with a personal account of hardship faced by a Civil War soldier.
• It also allows students to evaluate different reasons for joining the Army and choosing to fight in the Civil War on a personal level.
• This may lead to a discussion about whether or not the soldiers' compensation was worth their personal sacrifice (ie: Many soldiers died or became disabled. Is a small salary and $10 monthly pension worth it? Or are there stronger reasons for fighting, like preserving the common good of the nation?)
This is a video podcast suitable for viewing in the classroom or online at a computer center.
• In this podcast, Helen Davis introduces herself to the audience and begins to read a letter she is writing to her boss, John C. Black, the Commissioning Officer of Veteran's Pensions. In her letter, she recommends that a file for Corporal James Cochrane be reviewed. She tells us that the contents of the file include affidavits from Corporal Cochrane, as well as his commanding officer. She goes on to read both affidavits.
• Lieutenant Captain Frederick R. Kantz was Corporal Cochrane's commanding officer. In his affidavit, he says that Corporal Cochrane was a good soldier, but succumbed to the disease and illness that was rampant in the field. He gives a brief timeline of Corporal Cochrane's service and emphasizes the hardships endured during the Campaign Against Atlanta.
• Next we hear Corporal Cochrane's affidavit. He relates the events which led to his disability, which include inadequate rations, constant illness, and freezing weather. At the end of his account, he admits that he has been slow to process his claim, but emphasizes that his purpose for joining the Army was to preserve the union... yet in doing so, he has become unable to support his family and as a result has lost his dignity.
• After hearing both affidavits, Helen Davis continues her letter, recommending that her supervisor carefully consider Corporal Cochrane's file.

I have a friend who is obsessed with researching his family history and genealogy. In discussing this topic with him, I discovered that he had access to all of the pensions claims files that his Civil War Veterans ancestors had filed. Soon, several gigantic PDF files sat waiting in my email inbox. My friend sent me nearly a hundred affidavits from his ancestor's file- this is when I learned about the real Corporal John Cochrane. As a third grade teacher, I am accustomed to deciphering illegible cursive, so reading these handwritten files, sometimes with creative spelling, was a challenge. However, once I started reading these primary source documents, I couldn't stop. I became so immersed in Corporal Cochrane's struggle for compensation that it was difficult to sit back and lift a simple "story" out of this real history. There were so many anecdotes-- some humorous, but most heartbreaking. This research experience allowed me to become acquainted with the personal side of the war. I felt much less intimidated by all of the big battles and confusing timeline of the Civil War because, in reading Corporal Coochrane's file, I was seeing it all through his eyes. Researching with these amazing primary source documents changed the way that I view the Civil War. I am attaching a few of these files in case anyone would want to view them.
I used an audio editing program called "Garageband" on an Apple computer. First, I recruited a couple of male coworkers for reading the parts of Lt. Captain Kantz and Corporal Cochrane. I read my part, and then uploaded our audio files. Once in Garageband, I added effects, filters, and music and adjusted their volumes. Originally, I intended to add visual images, such as scans of the original primary source documents, photos of the actual Army flag used by the 59th Regiment at that time, and a photo of Corporal Cochrane's actual cemetery headstone. However, I felt that I did not have enough time to adequately do all of this by the deadline, so I decided to just stick with the audio.
I imported the audio into iMovie and searched for images to accompany the story. I created jpeg files from the PDF scans of the primary source documents, and along with images found online, imported these into iPhoto for editing. Then, I imported the edited images into iMovie. I spent several hours editing with iMovie, using effects and transitions. Then, I exported the project as a quicktime file and uploaded to this blog.
Here are some ideas I have for using historical storytelling with my students:
• Students can use the RAFT strategy with any historical period. I would suggest that my students take on the roles of reporters, children, inanimate objects, etc...
• After using historical storytelling, I plan to show my students various clips of historical films. Then, students will use what they have learned in creating their own historical stories to critique what they are watching. After completing their own historical storytelling projects, I suspect that students will pay much more attention to historical accuracy, props, speech patterns and accents, etc...
• Digital Yearbook: Students can interview each other, as well as faculty members. They can record greetings, anecdotes, and impressions of the school year. We can combine this audio with photos and videos to create a digital yearbook.
• Themed Public Service Announcements: Students can create audio public service announcements on monthly themes, such as "friendship," "teamwork," etc... These public service announcements can be broadcast schoolwide or posted online.
• Recorded Announcements: Students can record announcements, classroom newsletters, and information on upcoming events. This audio can be posted online or broadcast through the school.
• Reading Fluency: Students can record themselves reading a selection and listen to it to gauge their fluency. They can periodically re-read the same selection so that they can hear how they are becoming more fluent. This audio recording can be burned to CD and saved as a part of student portfolios.
• Student Publishing: Each student will record him/herself reading their favorite piece of their own writing. Then, import these audio files into itunes and create a playlist. Burn the playlist to a CD so that each student can receive an anthology of their class's creative writing. Because students are reading their own writing, they are not violating copyright laws. A variation on this would be each student reading several pieces of their own writing to create a personal anthology. In any case, a burned CD "anthology" would be a great keepsake, as well as a valuable assessment item.

  • James Cochrane pension file excerpts
  • Hunt, Gaillard. The United States Pension Office. The Atlantic Monthly. Volume 65, Issue 387, January 1890.
  • The Civil War (soundtrack), various artists. September 23, 1990.
Special thanks to the Gaskill family, for allowing the use of James Cochrane's veterans' pension file.

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