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Emilie Davis' Civil War

Emilie Davis was a free black woman living in Philadelphia during the Civil War. Her three diaries, written in 1863, 1864, and 1865, highlight her perspective on many important historical moments, such as, the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s assassination, and the Battle of Gettysburg. Comparing her diaries to other accounts and sources from the same time period will allow students to see the world in which that Emilie lived. As a woman in her early twenties, she was concerned with her personal goals, friends, and daily routines. Yet, layered within those accounts, is a world where racism is still very prevalent and violence is often not far away.

This unit will focus on African American education, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Presidential election of 1864. These lessons were created by the Memorable Days Project at Villanova University. These lessons work in conjunction with the recent book, Emilie Davis’s Civil War, edited by Judith Giesberg. This book is a transcription, with annotations, of the original diaries. For more information on the diaries, visit


19th century

African American


Civil War




Big Ideas

Perspective on Events

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?

Why is time and space important to the study of history?


  • Historical skills are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction

  • Learning about the past and its different contexts shaped by social, cultural, and political influences prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society.


  • Articulate the context of a historical event or action.

  • Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures, and place.

Background Material for Teacher

Emilie Davis Website

Institute for Colored Youth

End of Unit Assessment

Have students compare and contrast newspaper articles written about Lincoln’s assassination to Emilie’s account of the incident and seeing his coffin:

Have the students answer the following questions:

Does her language suggest it is something that impacted her life? Why or why not?

How are the newspapers different from Emilie’s account?


Plans in this Unit

The Battle of Gettysburg

1864 Presidential Election

African American Education

Grade Level

High School

Standards/Eligible Content



PA Core Standards:



About the Author

These lessons were created by Dr. Judith Giesberg along with graduate students from Villanova University. The lessons were adapated to HSP's website by Education Manager Alicia Parks


Blog Post

Emilie Davis's Civil War

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