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State Historical Society of Iowa
Civil War At-Home Expedition Graphic

Civil War and the Underground Railroad

At-Home Expedition Activities
   + Innovative Iowans Activity: Civil War Spies
   + "Think Like an Iowan" Cards
   + Civil War Flickr Album
   + Iowa Freedom Trail Guide
   + Video Tours of National Historic Landmarks
   + Upcoming Iowa History 101 Program about Underground Railroad
   + Primary Source Sets, additional videos, articles and more! 

The American Civil War was a four-year war (1861-1865) that began after decades of simmering tensions between northern and southern states over the practice of enslavement, states' rights and expansion. As the war began, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to enlist for three months to put down the rebellion. Iowa quickly exceeded its quota and Iowa soldiers fought mainly in the western battles. The Underground Railroad was a network of people who helped freedom seekers (formerly-enslaved people) escape beginning in the late 1700s until the end of the Civil War. During this time, Iowa had a significant amount of Underground Railroad activity because of its geographic location to Missouri, a pro-slavery state to the South, and Illinois, a free state to the East.

Explore the activities, videos and additional resources in this at-home expedition to discover more about the roles of Iowans in the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. Also, learn about two featured National Historic Landmarks in Iowa – the Historic General Dodge House and Reverend George B. Hitchcock House – that have deep ties to this expedition theme. 

Become a Civil War Spy

Find hidden messages from Goldie the Goldfinch by deciphering the secret questions with this Civil War spies activity. Complete the four clues, record the answers and become a master spy. This Innovative Iowans activity connects Iowa history with STEAM education – science, technology, engineering, art and math. 


Think Like An Iowan

Explore the history of Iowans who played notable roles in the Civil War or Underground Railroad by downloading a set of the State Historical Society of Iowa's "Think Like an Iowan" cards. The set features at least eight individuals and provides a brief bio and photo of each, as well as accompanying questions to help you think about history through multiple perspectives.


See Civil War Snapshots 

View a digital album with a sampling of photographs related to the Civil War in the collections of the State Historical Society of Iowa. Use these visual literacy instructions to help you look beyond an image to search for clues to better understand the historic photographs.


Follow the Iowa Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail is the path taken by abolitionist John Brown on his last trip across Iowa in 1859. Brown, a radical abolitionist, made several trips across Iowa to aid freedom seekers on their journey. Use this online guide to learn more about the Freedom Trail sites and plan a trip across the state. 


Virtually Tour National Historic Landmarks

Watch video tours of two National Historic Landmarks in Iowa with connections to the Civil War and Underground Railroad.
     + Historic General Dodge House (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
     + The Reverend George B. Hitchcock House (Lewis, Iowa)


Register for Iowa History 101 Program

Forever Free: Rediscovering Heroes, Heroines & Helpers on Central Iowa's Underground Railroad
July 22, Noon-1:00 p.m.
Join Gale Brubaker, executive director of the West Des Moines Historical Society, as she provides an introduction to the Underground Railroad in Iowa, focusing on the Jordan House in West Des Moines. As part of the presentation, Ricki King, genealogist and mentor for Forever Free, and university students who participated in Forever Free will present their research findings and introduce the heroes, heroines and helpers of the Underground Railroad in central Iowa.


Research with Primary Sources

Analyze primary source sets to view photographs, maps and more cataloging the history of the Civil War and Underground Railroad in Iowa. 
     + African Americans and the Civil War     
     + Civil War
     + Enslavement to the Great Migration     
     + Underground Railroad


Discover Additional Resources

Check out kid-friendly videos, articles and other resources about Iowa's role in the Civil War and Underground Railroad. 
     + Highlights from the "Iowa and the Civil War" Exhibit   
     + Video: Civil War Presentation from State Curator Leo Landis 

     + Video: Iowa and the Civil War - State Historical Museum
     + The Goldfinch - The Civil War and Iowa
     + Iowa PBS: Iowa and the Underground Railroad
     + Video: Restoration of Iowa's Civil War Battle Flags