Educational Resources

K-12 Classroom Lessons | Elementary School | Lesson Plan: Unpacking the War of 1812


Authors: Glenn Johnston and Johanna Seymour, Education Consultants, Maryland Military Historical Society
Grade Level: Upper Elementary
Duration: One 40-Minute Class Period

The educational goal of this package is to examine many of the items that a militiaman carried (weapons, accoutrements, uniform, as well as a haversack and its contents) and use each as a window onto a mini-story explaining some aspect about material culture, society, and economics during the War of 1812 in Maryland.


At the conclusion of this block of instruction:

  1. Students will be able to write a few sentences about the economics of Maryland during the War of 1812.

  2. Students will handle and understand how a War of 1812 militia soldier used his government-issued equipment. They will understand the objects’ uses and the processes of making, acquiring, transporting and distributing them.


  • Step 1: Teaching Kit and PowerPoint(Before Class)Have the teaching kit with contents ready to show. The first items that will be passed around are the musket lock, cartridge box, biscuit, linen, and wool trousers. Set up the needed technology for the PowerPoint Presentation.

  • Step 2: PowerPoint (40 Minute) The provided PowerPoint, also found on the Maryland Military History Museum website, contains the complete lesson including: lesson rationale, discussion questions, maps, images, class-work/homework and link to video. The PowerPoint also contains instructions regarding when to pass around the objects in the kit.


National History Standards

United States Era 4

Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

Standard 1A- The student understands the international background and consequences of the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, and the Monroe Doctrine.

Maryland State Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

Grade 4

Standard 4.0 Economics

Topic B: Economic Systems and the Role of Government in the Economy.

Indicator 1: Describe the types of economic systems in Maryland b. Give examples of the kinds of goods and services produced in Maryland during different historical periods.

Indicator 2: Describe the role of government in regulating economic activity and providing goods and services. a. Give examples of how governments’ decision making affect economic growth and the ability to provide jobs and provide services.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C: Conflict Between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 2: Explain the political, cultural, economic and social changes in Maryland during the early 1800’s. b. Describe the importance in industry, transportation, education, rights and freedoms in Maryland, such as roads and canals, slavery, B&O Railroad, the National Road, immigration, public schools and religious freedoms.

Topic Background

On April 10, 1812, Congress called for 100,000 militiamen to stand ready in the event of a British attack. Despite militia laws still on the books since 1792 which required all able-body men from ages 18-45 to join a local company, most citizens proved unready to equip themselves and unfamiliar with military life.1 When war was declared on June 18, the federal government learned that few states could provide militia which was organized, armed and equipped and ready for immediate serve.2 State leaders lacked the resources to prepare their troops, and could not rely on federal equipment or funds to meet the Federally- imposed state quota.3 The process of properly outfitting and training a recruit to fight both as an individual and as part of a unit took years; a luxury that the United States could not afford by 1812.4

After losing the Battle of Bladensburg, Baltimore government officials created the Committee of Vigilance and Safety, chaired by Mayor Edward Johnson. Meeting daily, it resolved to draft every white male between the ages of 16-50 and to provide each recruit with a firearm, known as a musket, and accessories, including a bayonet, cartridge box for ammunition, and tools necessary to maintain them such as screwdrivers, cleaning tools, and oil to lubricate muskets and bayonets.>5 British cruisers on the Chesapeake forced items to be manufactured domestically, not imported from overseas. This new demand provided opportunities to both agriculture and industry, and encouraged Marylanders to use the latest technology to increase production, a trend that predated America’s declaration of war on the United Kingdom.6

Maryland officials relied upon manufactured items and crops secured through government contracts to supply the troops. Muskets came from the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, (then) Virginia, as well as from gunsmiths, especially those located in nearby states like Pennsylvania.7 Fortunately, even if a soldier could not receive an issued musket, he probably already owned a rifle, musket, or fowling piece. A fowling piece was a type of shotgun used for hunting game birds. Other items, such as daily food supplies, known as rations, and clothing, also often failed reach soldiers in a timely or adequate fashion due to government contractors and subcontractors’ desire to make a profit. Adding to the bureaucratic process was the lack of authority and staff of the quartermaster and commissary departments (established in March 1812).8 Quartermasters and commissaries were officers and civilians responsible for supplying troops with weapons, equipment, clothing, and food.

Potential soldiers knew of such short-comings and often preferred other employment. Seafaring could be especially lucrative, particularly if it meant going to sea in a private warship known as a privateer, where sailors received a share of a captured ship’s cargo. Agricultural workers often could make more money and expect more reliable wages by signing seasonal contracts. Already on contract, apprentices were not permitted to enlist without the consent or their masters. Urban factory workers did not possess such obstacles to recruitment and thus became prime targets for recruiters9

Although an apprentice needed to seek his master’s permission to enlist, he often enjoyed a better life than his factory or laborer counterpart. Besides learning a trade from start to finish and thus becoming a skilled tradesman, an apprentice would enjoy room and board with his master. Factory workers and unskilled laborers needed to secure their own lodging and hire their services at a daily rate. Labor movements, limiting the work day or improving factory conditions via strikes had only just started.>10

Many Marylanders enlisted in local militia companies out of a sense of adventure, as a result of peer pressure, or because it offered a departure from the routine. Genuine patriotism motivated many more. British naval vessels were an immediate threat to Maryland towns along the Chesapeake, often cruising up to the mouth of the Patapsco River. As Baltimorean John Pendleton Kennedy, a recent law school graduate who had enlisted in Sterrett’s 5th Maryland Regiment recalled:

The war was coming nearer to our own doors, and events every day grew more exciting. Our military ardor was on the rise. I was in a state of constant exhilaration. Our drills and occasional detached service became more frequent and severe. In fact, Baltimore assumed more and more the character of an extensive garrison … I visited a great deal among the younger belles of the city, and rather piqued myself upon the importance of belonging to the army which was entrusted with the defense of the state.11

In August 1814, following the American defeat at Bladensburg and the burning of Washington DC, Kennedy and his comrades in the 5th harbored no doubt as to the fate of their homes and families if they failed in that mission.

1 Edward C. Skeen, Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812 (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999), 2, 43.

2 Skeen, Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812, 39.

3 Skeen, Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812, 62.

4 J.C.A. Stagg, The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 163-164.

5 John K. Mahon, The War of 1812 (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1972), 307.

6 David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, Daily Life in the Early American Republic, 1790-1820, Creating a New Nation (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004), 84.

7 Mahon, The War of 1812, 228.

8 Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Short History (Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 21-22.

9 Stagg, The War of 1812, 56-57.

10 Gaillard Hunt, As We Were: Life in America 1814 (Stockbridge: Berkshire House Publishers, 1993), 98-100.

11 Henry T. Tuckerman, ed., The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy (New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1871), 69.

Price List

Knapsack Contents:

  • 1 Musket, flintlock, Model 1795 Harper’s Ferry with Maryland property marks ($400-500)
  • 1 bayonet ($80)
  • 1 white shoulder sling
  • 1 cartridge box (Fifth Regiment badge on belt) with turnscrew, oil bottle, and flints) ($300)
  • 1 Knapsack ($100)
  • 1 Coatee, Pattern of 1812 ($500)
  • 1 pair Trousers made of Russia linen ($200)
  • 1 pair wool trousers for winter wear ($200)
  • 1 Shako, yeomanry style, with plume ($300)
  • 1 shirt ($80)
  • 1 pair Stockings ($40)
  • 1 stock ($30)
  • 1 pair common shoes ($200)
  • 1 pair black gaiters ($50)
  • Pipe clay ($2)
  • Black ball ($3)
  • 1 polishing brush ($2)
  • 1 blanket ($75)
  • 1 wooden bowl ($20)
  • 1 tin cup ($5)
  • 1 set, knife, fork, and spoon ($15)
  • 1 wooden canteen ($135)
  • 1 haversack ($12)
  • salt pork, ship’s biscuit,

Resource Sheets

  • Power Point Presentation – Unpacking the War of 1812 Elementary


Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler, Daily Life in the Early American Republic, 1790-1820, Creating a New Nation. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Short History. Urbana, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Hunt, Gaillard. As We Were: Life in America 1814. Stockbridge, Massachusetts:Berkshire House Publishers, 1993.

Mahon, John K. The War of 1812. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1972.

Skeen, C. Edward. Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Stagg, J.C.A. The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Tuckerman, Henry T. Tuckerman, ed., The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy. New York, New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1871.

Lesson Plan Documents for Download