Library of Congress uses LaRue’s Civil War lesson

By Martin Graham -

Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue, a retired Washington High School social studies teacher and local historian, has once again released a historical lesson for students concerning African-American veterans and their service to the country — but this time through The Library of Congress.

According to the lesson, in 1866 following the Civil War, a newspaper editor by the name of William O. Bourne wanted to do something for Union disabled veterans. Based on information from the National Institute of Health, there were approximately 60,000 amputations performed on Civil War soldiers and sailors.

“Bourne organized a unique left-handed penmanship contest for Union veterans who had lost the use of their right hand,” the lesson reads. “Veterans were encouraged to submit a letter they had written using their left hand and a total prize money of $1,000 was offered. The Library of Congress holds the many of the entrants’ letters and other information on Bourne and the contest.”

This lesson covers specifically two of the entries into the contest from African-American veterans who served in the 5th Regiment United States Colored Infantry. The letters were by First Sgt. Robert A. Pinn and Sgt. William H. Thomas, and are first-hand accounts that give some insight into African-American Civil War service. Included with the lesson are links to both letters and a series of activities for teachers to utilize in their classrooms.

“Ask students to examine the first pages of the Pinn and Thomas letters and then to read and transcribe the letters,” the lesson reads. “As an extension students might research combat injuries in the Civil War versus injuries from current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Students might also research the lives of Pinn and Thomas. One soldier was a Medal of Honor recipient, the other soldier became a controversial author following the Civil War.”

LaRue also suggested this lesson could be the perfect wrap up to Black History Month, and will help to give students the opportunity to study the service, sacrifice and contributions of African-American Civil War soldiers. The full lesson can be found on The Library of Congress website at

“I am extremely proud that the Library of Congress is featuring this important story of service and sacrifice by African-American Civil War Soldiers,” LaRue said. “Black History Month is an important opportunity for teachers and students to reflect on our country’s rich and diverse history.”

Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.

Paul LaRue LaRue

By Martin Graham