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Brother versus brother: the Drayton Letter

In times of civil war, it is not just a country that becomes divided against itself, but individual families as well. The Brother versus Brother unit teaches students about the personal impact of the Civil War by focusing on the microcosm of one Pennsylvania family, the Draytons.

In November of 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Drayton wrote a letter to his brother Percival. In his letter, Thomas predicts that war is imminent and explains his loyalty to the South. Although he knows it will place him in opposition to the rest of his family, Thomas intends to join the Confederate rather than the Union Army. His letter details some of his reasons and highlights the differences and areas of tension between the antebellum North and South.


19th century

Civil War


Big Ideas

Historical Context

Perspective on Events

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?

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


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

  • Historical literacy requires a focus on time and space, and an understanding of the historical context of events and actions.

  • Historical skills (organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigate materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence) are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction.


  • Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, geographic, political, and social relations of a specific time and place.

  • 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

The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns (Also available at many local and school libraries.)

End of Unit Assessment

Students are to compose a 3-5 paragraph reply to Thomas Drayton's letter in the voice of his brother Percival. The letter should illustrate what students have learned about the political, economic, and social differences between the antebellum North and South, using knowledge culled from both class discussion and the Ken Burns documentary.


Plans in this Unit

Brother versus Brother: The Drayton Letter

Grade Level

Middle School

Standards/Eligible Content


About the Author

This lesson was created by Megan Donnelly. Updated for SAS by Kaitlyn Pettengill, Education Intern, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Blog Post

HSP Commemorates 1865

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