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Students will learn about a raid on local stores by Confederate soldier's wives in March 1863 in Salisbury, North Carolina and use that historical moment to explore conscription, life on the homefront, economic issues facing North Carolina merchants, the challenges of wartime politics, and the role of newspaper editors in shaping public opinion.

Learning Outcomes


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A lesson plan for 8th grade North Carolina history and high school United States history.

Students will enhance their understanding of the Civil War, focusing specifically on life on the southern homefront. 

Students will gain experience analyzing primary source documents, learning more about working with historical newspapers while developing their own thoughtful, original analyses that are well-supported by historical evidence.

Students will learn about letters to the editor and write a letter to the editor from a particular point of view in response to a historical newspaper article.

Students will use their analyses of historical events to participate in a lively role-playing discussion of this bread riot.

8th Grade Goal 4
The learner will examine the causes, course, and character of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and their impact on North Carolina and the nation.
Objective 4.02
Describe the political and military developments of the Civil War and analyze their effect on the outcome of the war.
Objective 4.03
Assess North Carolina's role in the Civil War and analyze the social and economic impact of the war on the state.

High School United States History Goal 3
Crisis, Civil War, and Reconstruction (1848-1877) - The learner will analyze the issues that led to the Civil War, the effects of the war, and the impact of Reconstruction on the nation.

Three days -- one day to read and analyze the newspaper article, one day to conduct research on particular issues related to the article, and one day to hold a role-play discussion about the bread riot of 1863.

(Please note that if time is of the essence, this lesson plan could be condensed into two days by having a shorter half-period research and group planning session, eliminating the writing assignment, and holding a shorter half-period role playing discussion.)

A North Carolina history textbook

"A Female Raid," from Carolina Watchman, Monday, March 23, 1863, which reported on the bread riot of Wednesday, March 18. Several paragraphs from the article are located below and are also available on LEARN NC :


"Between 40 and 50 soldiers' wives, followed by a numerous train of curious female observers, made an attack on several of our businessmen last Wednesday, whom they regarded as speculators in the necessaries of life, for the purpose, as we are informed, of demanding an abatement in prices, or forcibly taking possession of the goods they required. The first house visited was Mr. M. Brown's. They demanded he should sell them flour at $19.50 per barrel. This he declined to do, alledging [sic] that his flour had cost him more than twice that sum. They then said they were determined to have the flour, and would take it, unless he would sell it to them at the price Government was paying for it; and accordingly went to work with hatchets on his store room door. After some time spent in vain efforts to open the door, a parley was had, and Mr. Brown agreed to give them, free of charge, ten barrels, if that would satisfy them. They accepted the offer, the flour was rolled out and hauled off.

They next visited Mr. John Enniss, of the firm of Henderson Enniss, and made a similar demand on him. He gave them three barrels of flour.

They next called on Mr. Frankford, who, it is reported, told them he had not been speculating in provisions, and that he now had nothing in his store but himself, "so ladies if you take anything here, you will have to take me -- yes, take me.  I'll go with you any where you please.  They next called on Mr. H. Sprague.  Mr. S. received them in his usual calm and courteous manner, and gave them a barrel of molasses.

They also called on Mr. David Weil, whom they charge with having run up flour from $40 to $50, and who was supposed to have a large lot at the depot to be shipped South. It turned out that he had none within their convenient reach. He gave them a sack of salt.

They next called on Mr. Thos. Foster, who was advertising salt on consignment. He told them the salt belonged to a man in Wilmington, and that he had no interest in it beyond that of an agent. That he felt it to be his duty to protect it, &c., and that rather than they should take it, he would give them $20 out of his own pocket. Some one in the crowd answered -- "we will take that, and the salt too." Mr. Foster replied, that he would take the responsibility of also giving them one sack of salt. They accepted this offer and left.
They also called at the door of a building formerly occupied by Mr. Simmons; but we think they found nothing there.

And finally they visited the North Carolina depot, in search of flour supposed to belong to Mr. Weil, and other parties believed to be speculators in this and other provision articles. They found, and took forcible possession of, ten barrels flour belonging to some one in Charlotte.

This completed the day's work. The next morning was spent in settling the question of division -- a delicate, and as it proved, a difficult question. There was some disputing, flashing of eyes, and some angry words. It was, however, accomplished, whether satisfactorily to all or no, we cannot say.

This movement was aimed as a blow at the practice of speculating in provisions. Whether or not it fell on proper subjects is not for us to determine. Indeed, that is a question which none should presumptuously decide.

These proceedings were also caused, in part, by pinching want. It is said there are many families in this town and vicinity who have not tasted meat for weeks, and some times, months together. Of course, they have had no butter, molasses, or sugar. Many of them have no gardens and consequently no vegetables of their own raising, and the scarcity and high price of potatoes, peas, beans, &c, render it extremely difficult if at all possible to obtain these articles.  What, then, have they to support life?  Bread and water!  Bread is the only thing with their limited means they could provide for themselves; and at present prices, it is not very easy for even the industrious poor to provide this. They certainly cannot afford to buy flour at $50 per barrel. Fortunately, our soil is peculiarly adapted to CORN, which, as a staff of life, is not excelled in the world. And we believe there is enough of this invaluable rain in the country to save us from suffering. The only difficulty about it is in distributing it among the people. Speculators must be prevented from sending it out of the reach of our needy people. Avaricious horders of grain and other provisions, for high prices, must open their eyes to the danger of their selfish and covetous practices. It is impossible for the poor to endure the hardships and privations these two classes have imposed upon them. They cannot, they will not, and it is the part of wisdom to recognise the truth and provide against the danger which threatens the good order and well being of the country. Speculators must stop their operations or they will ruin themselves and every one else. Those who have surplus provisions must make up their minds to put themselves on short allowance for the sake of the common good, and sell their surplus not to those who can pay the highest prices, but to those whose wants are most pressing. The darkest days of our struggle are coming on. The times which try men's souls are at hand, and cursed be he who is not willing, not only to stake his property, but his life for the sake of our cause.

The Commissioners appointed by the County Court to administer relief to soldiers' families, and who were authorised [sic] to use the credit of the County for this purpose to the amount of $50,000 will be held accountable in large part for this first demonstration of lawlessness? How have they discharged their trust? Have they any stores of corn or other provisions to distribute out to the destitute families of soldiers? None whatever. They thought it best to give them the money, and let the heads of families purchase their own supplies where it would suit them best. An honest conviction, no doubt, but the plan has been subject to the grossest abuses for months, and has failed in accomplishing the end designed. Many have applied for an obtained money who were not in need, whilst helpless and suffering ones in remote parts of the county have received nothing. If the present Board of Commissioners continue to hold their office, they should immediately lay aside their pride of opinion and judgment and visit Mecklenburg, Davie, Iredell, and other neighboring counties where similar appropriations have been made for the relief of solders' families, and learn from the Commissioners of these counties how they dispense this public fund for the relief of the needy. Let them go, all blushing with shame for the scene enacted in our streets on Wednesday last, and sit at the feet of the more successful Commissioners of these counties and learn practical wisdom and enlarged views on a subject of vital importance to the country. They have trifled with the confidence reposed in them until the mob fiend has displayed his hideous form in our midst. Do they suppose they will escape the fury of the devil their mal-administration has helped to arouse? Men of position are already suspicioned of countenancing, if they did not secretly provoke, the proceedings of last Wednesday. It is natural, for one of the immediate and sure results of such out breaks is the distinction of confidence between man and man, and the conception of dark suspicions and restless jealousies. Let official show by extra diligence in the discharge of their duties as Justices of the Peace and as Commissioners, that these suspicions are groundless as to them. They owe it to themselves and to the public and will not escape the consequences of neglect.

If the ladies who composed the party of last Wednesday will take the trouble to think a little, they will see that although that day's work may not prove hurtful, yet that the experiment of "impressments" is a very dangerous one, and must, if persisted, lead to the gravest consequences imaginable. In the first place, it is unjust to the few whose property is taken. Others who have done as much or more to bring them in trouble, are unfairly permitted to escape. For instance, it was the duty of the Commissioners for relieving soldiers' families to have practiced common foresight and purchased provisions for their use, so that none would be left to suffer by heartless spectulators. You passed by these Commissioners on Wednesday and made your demand on those you considered speculators. The latter have been doing what every body loves to do, to wit: making money. The former have proved inefficient and unworthy the trust committed to their hands for your benefit. Was your decision just? The Commissioners are sharp business men in their own affairs and stood as good a chance to look ahead for you, as the speculators to look ahead and make money for themselves..."

A summary of the raid from This Month in North Carolina History: March 1863: The Salisbury Bread Riot --

Research materials on the Civil War, conscription, military service, and the homefront during the Civil War.  Eighth grade teachers should focus on North Carolina, but U.S. history teachers could broaden the research to include the entire Confederacy.  These resources could come from the library's media center or the instructor could choose to research computer lab time to allow students to conduct research on the Internet.

Newspaper analysis worksheet and Bread Riot group worksheet

If the newspaper article and research materials will be accessed online, the instructor will need to make arrangements to have computers available for individual students or small groups.

Students should be familiar with the southern economy in the antebellum period, the typical experiences of southern planters and yeoman farmers, and the different roles and expectations for men and women in the Old South.

Students should be familiar with Civil War history through 1863.  Eighth grade students should be aware of North Carolina's unique wartime experience to 1863.

This plan relies heavily on primary sources.  The following resources can help students learn to analyze primary sources like the ones used in this lesson plan more effectively.  If your students have little experience with primary sources, they may want to explore some of these web-based resources and practice working with historical documents, or you may want to review these resources so that they can provide you with some ideas for talking about primary sources with your students:

Reading Primary Sources: An Introduction for Students by Kathryn Walbert from LEARN North Carolina:

DAY ONE -- Setting the Stage -- Analyzing the events of March 18, 1863:
(1) Explain to students that for the next few days, they will be learning about a riot that took place in Salisbury, NC during the Civil War.  It may be worthwhile to take a few moments to review the southern economy, the role of men and women in the pre-war years, and the impact of conscription on southern families.  Ask students what they think it would have been like for families left on the homefront when husbands and fathers went off to the Civil War. 

(2) Hand out printed copies and/or arrange for computers to view the online version of "A Female Raid" as well as the Learners' Guides to factual reporting and opinion pieces.  You may find it helpful to first read the newspaper article aloud with students following along.  When you reach the illegible sections, you may want to explain that sometimes historians have to deal with primary sources that are incomplete or damaged.  In this case, parts of the newspaper article were illegible on the available microfilm copy and so we have to work with the text that remains.

(3) Divide students into groups of two to five (depending on the teacher's preference) to first read the learners' guides and then analyze the article in greater depth.  Students may find it helpful to use the levels of analysis and individual questions located in Reading Primary Sources: An Introduction for Students by Kathryn Walbert from LEARN North Carolina:
 or the instructor may wish to create a unique handout that students can use to analyze this document.  A sample handout (Newspaper Analysis Worksheet) has been included for reference, but teachers should feel free to adapt this handout to focus on the issues that are most important for your own class to address.  Allow students to spend 20-30 minutes analyzing this document and filling out the analysis sheets.  Each student should have his or her own analysis worksheet since the groups for Day One may not be the same as the groups for Day Two and students may want to have a copy of their Day One notes alter on in the lesson.  The instructor should circulate among the groups to answer questions, make sure all of the groups are on-task, and to raise additional questions for groups that seem to be working quickly and may be able to explore the resource in even greater depth.

(3) Close the day with a whole-class discussion of the article.  You may wish to ask students to share what they wrote on their worksheets for the key questions. On a closing note, you may also want to ask who students thought was in the right and who was to blame in the events that they read about.  Let them know that tomorrow they will be working in groups to explore unique perspectives

DAY TWO -- Research, Group Planning and Writing:
Today students will work in groups to determine how specific individuals might have reacted to the bread riot of 1863 in preparation for a role-playing "town hall meeting" discussion on Day Three.  Let students know that if they finish early, they can work on their homework assignments individually.

(1) Hand out copies of the newspaper article that was used on Day One and ask students to get out their own analysis worksheets from Day One for reference.  Divide students into five groups and assign each group a role: Rioters, Shopkeepers, Soldiers, Commissioners, Newspaper Editor.  Remind students that yesterday we analyzed the newspaper article's content as historical scholars, but that today we will be adopting a particular point of view and thinking about how the bread riot might have looked differently to different people at the time.  Hand out the Salisbury Bread Riot Group Worksheet and make research materials available (textbooks plus either books about the Civil War and the NC homefront or computers for Internet-based research) so that students can look up the answers to any questions that arise during their research.  The instructor should circulate among the groups to make sure that all students are on-task and to answer any questions that may arise.

(2) When groups have finished their work and feel ready to represent their assigned group in tomorrow's Town Hall Meeting, students will work individually on a homework writing assignment.  The teacher may wish to create a handout explaining the assignment (a sample has been provided for teachers to modify) or to write the assignment on the board for student reference.  Students will need a copy of the newspaper article and a copy of the learners' guide to reader contributions to complete the assignment and it may also be helpful to provide a selection of letters to the editor from modern newspapers for students to use as models for their own writing.

DAY THREE -- Role Playing Discussion:
In today's discussion, students will (in groups) take on the roles of rioters, shopkeepers, soldiers, commissioners, and the newspaper editors in discussing the bread riot.  Before class begins, arrange the seating in the room so that students can sit in their groups and so that all of the groups can see the other groups -- a U-shape or circle might work well.

At the start of class, announce that you are the mayor of Salisbury and that it is late March 1863.  You have called a Town Meeting about the recent bread riot and you want to hear from all of the interested parties.  Start by asking each group, in turn, to share their own perspective on what happened -- you may want to remind the other groups to listen and take notes so that they can ask questions or rebut specific points later in the discussion.  You may wish to begin with the newspaper editors who may be viewed as a more neutral group, then proceed to ask the rioters, shopkeepers, soldiers away in the war, and commissioners who may have more biased opinions.

After each group has provided an introduction, ask groups to share their questions for the other groups.  If a group needs a moment to confer before answers, grant them a 1 or 2 minute discussion period to confer.  Each group should ask at least one question to each other group and answer the questions posed to them.   Working through all of these questions should generate some lively debate and discussion and should take most of a typical class period.  You may also wish to ask each group:

(1) Which other groups do you agree with and on which issues?
(2) Which group do you most strongly disagree with and why?
(3) What would your group want the mayor, the county commissioners, the state legislature, or the Confederate government to do about the problems that led to the riot?

Close by asking students (now responding as themselves, not as their groups) what this specific incident tells us about the homefront of the Civil War.  You may also want to ask them how taking on the perspective of a particular role changed their view of the events and whether they, personally, agreed with the point of view that they adopted during the group.

-- Students could also choose to create a political cartoon about this event.  It might be particularly interesting to ask student groups to create two or three cartoons showing different ways of interpreting this event.  They might create cartoons that are sympathetic to or critical of the women, sympathetic to or critical of the shopkeepers, sympathetic to or critical of the commissioners, or from the point of view of a soldier in the field whose wife and family lived in Salisbury.

-- Students could compare and contrast the support of soldiers' families in the Civil War to the support for soldiers' families during modern deployments.  This could be a particularly relevant comparison for students in schools that serve large military communities and where deployments are common.  Attention to the home front and the lives of soldiers' families during wartime could be a theme that could carry throughout the course as well.

Assessment will be based on the student's body of work from throughout the lesson, taking into account students' participation in discussions, analysis of documents, written letter to the editor, and contributions to group-based activities. Teachers can determine how much to weight each part of the lesson and what specific rubric to use based on their own priorities and classroom practices. The following questions will help you think about how to assess students' work for various parts of the lesson.
Discussions & Classroom Activities:
Did students contribute frequently and thoughtfully to class discussion?
When group work was a part of the lesson, did students cooperate and do their fair share of the work?  If you wish, you can incorporate a peer-review or self-assessment to allow students to comment on the contributions of group members or on their own contributions to group work and class discussion.
Primary Source Analysis (newspaper article):
Did students identify significant information about this source and its main ideas?
 Did students summarize the content of this source thoughtfully?
Did students draw reasonable conclusions when analyzing this source?
 Did students write down their observations carefully and in detail for later analysis?

Written Letter to the Editor Assignment:
Does the student's letter contain accurate historical information and are the student's interpretations or speculations plausible for the specific historical context?
Does the student's written assignment demonstrate thoughtful historical analysis with all key points well-supported by historical evidence?
Does the student demonstrate a clear understanding of the differences in historical perspective between various individuals who might have a personal stake in the bread riot of 1863?
Is the student's letter well-organized and clearly written?  Is it free of the kinds of errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting that might distract or confuse a reader?   Does it follow typical conventions for a letter to the editor?

The following websites may be useful for additional student research:
This Month in North Carolina History: March 1863: The Salisbury Bread Riot --

"The Home Front," part of an online exhibit on North Carolina and the Civil War from the North Carolina Museum of History:

New Georgia Encyclopedia article on Women and the Civil War: (While this article focuses on the experiences of Georgia women, many of the experiences and attitudes described would have been typical of the North Carolina experience as well.)

This lesson plan is part of a series of instructional materials created for the North Carolina Newspaper Digitization Project of the State Archives of North Carolina. 

Kathryn Walbert teaches online professional development courses on topics in U.S. and North Carolina history for LEARN North Carolina. She received her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in United States history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked with educators throughout the state in various capacities since 1992. Her areas of specialization include women's history, Southern history, African American history, North Carolina history, and the history of education. This lesson plan was created for the North Carolina Newspaper Digitization Project of the State Archives of North Carolina.


Last Modified: 04/30/2012

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