Educational Resources

K-12 Classroom Lessons | Elementary School | Lesson Plan: What is a Citizen Soldier?


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

This package will present elementary school children with materials that spark their imagination regarding what it was like to be in the Maryland militia and participate in the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812.


At the conclusion of this block of instruction:

  1. Students will be able to write a few sentences about intentions, problems, and expectations of Baltimore militiamen during the War of 1812 based on primary resources.
  2. Students will understand the differences and challenges between primary and secondary resources.


Step 1: Introduction to Primary Sources (5 Minutes)
Explain to students that they are going to explore primary sources written during the War of 1812 to better understand Baltimore militiamen and ask the following questions, “What are primary sources?” “What are secondary sources?” Hand out Resource Sheet #1. Do exercises together as a class. “How are they more or less helpful in understanding what happened?” (Note that they are the actual voice of someone living at the time but can be difficult to read, can contain unknown vocabulary, and are not written with hindsight).

Step 2: Lesson Rationale (1 Minute)
Explain to students that they are going to analysis primary sources from the War of 1812 to research Baltimore’s militia soldiers.

Step 3: Framing the learning activity. (5 Minutes)
Ask students questions about the War of 1812: “What is a militia soldier?” “Why did citizens want to become soldiers to fight?” “What were some of their concerns and fears when joining a militia company/organization?” “Why did officials think Baltimore needed to be defended in 1814?” “From whom?” “How do you think that soldiers planned to defend Baltimore?” “What do you know about militia during the War of 1812 and today’s militia? How did they differ from the Regular Army?”

Step 4: Pair and Share Activity (20-25 Minutes)
In pairs give students Resource Sheets #2-6 and the Vocabulary sheet. Instruct them to write their answers on Resource Sheet #6. Allow them to ask questions.

Step 5: Synthesis of learning and assessment (5-10 minutes)
Discuss your findings as a group. Also worth discussing: how using primary sources is helpful and challenges that arose when reading the letters. What other primary sources would be useful in understanding the defense of Baltimore? Assign the homework (located on Resource Sheet #6).


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 United States History

Grade 4
Standard 5.0 History
Topic C. Conflict Between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 2- Explain the political, cultural, economic and social change in Maryland during the early 1800s. a. Describe Maryland’s role in the War of 1812.

Standard 6.0 Social Studies Skills and Processes
Topic A. Read to Learn and Construct Meaning about Social Studies

Indicator 1- Use Appropriate and Opportunities to Increase Understandings of Social Studies Vocabulary. c. Use Content Clues to Understand New Social Studies

Indicator 2- Use Strategies to Prepare for Reading (Before Reading). c. Set a Purpose for Reading the Text.

Indicator 4– Use Strategies to Demonstrate Understanding of the Text (After Reading). a. Identify and Explain What is Directly States in the Text. b. Identify, Paraphrase or Summarize the Main Idea of the Text. f. Explain What is Not Directly Stated in the Text by Drawing Inferences. i. Draw Conclusions and Make Generalizations on the Text, Multiple Text, and/or Prior Knowledge

Grade 5
Standard 6.0 Social Studies Skills and Processes
Topic F. Analyze Social Studies Information

Indicator 1- Interpret information from primary and secondary sources. d. Analyze the perspective of the author

Additional Standards:

English Language Arts
Standards for Reading Literature (RL)

RL1 CCR Anchor Standard
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Grade 4: RL1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. (SC, 4)

Grade 5: RL1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. (SC, 5)

Standards for Writing (W)

W2 CCR Anchor Standard
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Grade 4: W2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. (SC, 4)

Grade 5: W2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic. (SC, 5)


Grade 4
Domain: Operations and Algebraic Thinking

4.OA.3 Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding.

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 militia company, most citizens proved unready to equip themselves and unfamiliar with military life.[1] When war was declared on June 18, 1812, the federal government learned that no state 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 imposed state quota.[3] The process of properly outfitting and training a recruit to fight both an individual and unit took years; a luxury that the United States could not afford by 1812.[4]

Maryland Governor Levin Winder could legally call his state militia in case of invasion.[5] On July 1, 1814, Winder’s nephew, Brigadier General Winder accepted President James Madison’s appointment to head the newly created 10th Military District, which Madison created to protect the region from Annapolis to Norfolk, including the cities of Baltimore and Washington.[6] On August 24, 1814, Winder attempted an improvised last-minute attack with 6,000 regular soldiers, militia, volunteers, artillerists, flotilla men and navy yard employees at Bladensburg, Maryland. This force hoped to stop 4,500 British troops who were on their way to Washington, DC; unfortunately, Winder’s lost the Battle of Bladensburg within three hours.[7]

After this loss, 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 and accessories, including a bayonet, cartridge box, and tools necessary to maintain them. City papers even encouraged elderly men “who are able to carry a firelock and willing to render a last service to their company and posterity” to form a company. The Committee asked exempt citizens, such as African Americans, to serve as members of fire squads when the city’s regular firemen became busy with military duty and asked doctors to join corps which lacked a surgeon. Still lacking camp supplies, nearly 9,000 men joined Baltimore’s defenses. Being better trained, equipped and organized, Baltimore’s militia along with regular Army soldiers ensured success in September 1814 with victories at North Point and Fort McHenry.[8]

  • [1] Skeen, C. Edward. Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999, 2, 43.
  • [2] Skeen, 39.
  • [3] Skeen, 62.
  • [4] Stagg, J.C.A. The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012, 163-164.
  • [5] Skeen, 127.
  • [6] Stagg, 126-127.
  • [7] Stagg, 129.
  • [8] Mahon, John K. The War of 1812. Gainesville, Florida: University Presses of Florida, 1972, 307-310.

Resource Sheets

  • Resource Sheet #1 – What is a Citizen Soldier. Primary vs Secondary Resources
  • Resource Sheet #2 – Injured Soldiers in Hospital Need More Bedding
  • Resource Sheet #2 – Injured soldiers in hospital needing more bedding
  • Resource Sheet #3 – Regiment Ready for Duty
  • Resource Sheet #3 – Regiment Ready for Duty
  • Resource Sheet #4 – Receipt for Wages
  • Resource Sheet #5 – Soldier Asking to Go home
  • Resource Sheet #5 – Soldiers Asking to Go Home
  • Resource Sheet #6 – Student Answers- Analysis Primary Resources

Vocabulary List

(in order which unknown words appear)

  • Militia– An army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers; A military force that is not part of a regular army and is subject to call for service in an emergency; The whole body of physically fit civilians eligible by law for military service. During the War of 1812, all able-body white men were supposed to be able to equip themselves and be already prepared to fight with a unit. However, militia laws were not greatly enforced during the early 1800’s and most men lacked the necessary equipment and training to immediately fight.
  • Destitute– Utterly lacking; devoid; Lacking resources or the means of subsistence; completely impoverished
  • Committee– A group of people officially delegated to perform a function, such as investigating, considering, reporting, or acting on a matter. After the defeat of the US Army at the Battle of Bladensburg in Maryland, Baltimore’s citizens created the Committee of Vigilance and Safety. Meeting daily, it resolved to draft every white male between the ages of 16-50, who already was not part of a militia unit, and to provide each recruit with a firearm and accessories, including a bayonet, cartridge box, and tools necessary to maintain them.
  • Vigilance– alert watchfulness
  • Articles– An individual thing or element of a class; a particular object or item: an article of clothing; articles of food.
  • Regiment– A military unit of ground troops consisting of at least two battalions, usually commanded by a colonel
  • Duty– An act or a course of action that is required of one by position, social custom, law, or religion: Do your duty to your country. Moral obligation: acting out of duty.
  • Esteem– To regard with respect; prize; Favorable regard
  • Forage– The act of looking or searching for food or provisions; To wander in search of food or provisions
  • Foregoing– Said, written, or encountered just before; previous
  • Subsistence– the means by which one maintains life; the act or condition of subsisting
  • Desirous– Having or expressing desire; desiring
  • Endeavour– To attempt (fulfillment of a responsibility or an obligation, for example) by employment or expenditure of effort. To work with a set or specified goal or purpose
  • Discharge– To release, as from confinement, care, or duty: discharge a patient; discharge a soldier
  • Firelock– a firelock musket


Lesson Plan Documents for Download