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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Battle of Gettysburg

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Battle of Gettysburg, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. In July 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a town of 2,400 people who happened to live at the place where Union and Confederate forces engaged. What was the impact of the Battle of Gettysburg on the people of Gettysburg? Cite specific evidence from the photograph of Gettysburg in early July 1863, the photograph of the headquarters of General Meade, the map of military action during the Battle of Gettysburg, or other sources in this set to support your answer.
  2. Examine the map of military action during the Battle of Gettysburg and the map of military action, graves, and local landmarks during the Battle of Gettysburg. Which army appears to have the offensive position and which the defensive? Thinking strategically, why were hills like Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, and Big Round Top important sites for battle?
  3. Read the soldiers’ accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg in the letter from Samuel Hodgman, the letter from Edwin Kerrison, the excerpts from Nathaniel Rollins’s diary, the letter from George Franklin Robinson, the letter from Francis Deleglise, and the letter from John Futch. Collectively, what do they tell us about the experience of soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg? What similarities and differences exist among the Union and Confederate soldiers’ accounts of Gettysburg? How might these letters have been received at home?
  4. Read the letter from Samuel Hodgman closely. What changed for the Union Army on July 2 at Gettysburg? How did this shape Samuel Hodgman’s ideas about the battle before and after July 2?
  5. How do the letter from Edwin Kerrison and the letter from George Franklin Robinson describe Confederate morale during the battle and in its aftermath? Use specific textual evidence to support your analysis.
  6. The excerpts from Nathaniel Rollins’s diary and the letter from Francis Deleglise describe the prisoner-of-war experience for Union soldiers at Gettysburg. Compare and contrast the two sources. Why might Francis Deleglise have been captured for such a short period? According to Nathaniel Rollins, what is “parole” and why would soldiers refuse it?
  7. What do the letter from John Futch, the list of soldiers of the Nineteenth Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the “Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter” photograph, and the photograph of Union dead indicate about the violence and death involved in war? In the list of soldiers of the Nineteenth Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, what stories about soldiers’ death and burial do these records tell? What does “home” refer to in the title the photographer chose for his “Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter” photograph? Using evidence from these sources, describe the psychological impact on soldiers of witnessing this violence.
  8. The Civil War was the first major American conflict to be photographed. Images like the photograph of Gettysburg in early July 1863, the photograph of the headquarters of General Meade, the “Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter” photograph, and the photograph of Union dead were displayed at exhibits in major Northern cities and later republished as engravings in newspapers and magazines. How did this documentary evidence shape public perception of the war?
  9. Identify specific items in the box of relics collected at the battlefield at Gettysburg. What stories do they help viewers remember about the battle?
  10. In the early years of the Civil War, Union politicians described the war’s purpose as the preservation of the Union. The Gettysburg Address, delivered to honor fallen Union soldiers at Gettysburg, broadened this purpose. According to the speech, what was the goal of the Civil War? How did Lincoln use the Union victory at Gettysburg to support this goal? How does the letter to Mrs. Bixby reflect Lincoln’s new thinking after 1863?

Classroom activities

  1. Ask students to imagine that they are residents of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863, and to write a diary entry for one of the first days of July describing what they see, hear, and experience. Students should use specific information from the map of military action during the Battle of Gettysburg and the map of military action, graves, and local landmarks during the Battle of Gettysburg to add places and historically accurate events to their entries as well as other sources to understand the sensory experience of the battle.
  2. Ask students to pick one of the photographs in this set (the photograph of Gettysburg in early July 1863, the photograph of the headquarters of General Meade, the “Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter” photograph, and the photograph of Union dead) and to write a 300-500 word newspaper article about the Battle of Gettysburg that their photograph might have been used to illustrate. Students should consider what evidence the photograph offers and what particular emotions the photograph might arouse in their article’s audience.

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