TwHP Lessons

Choices and Commitments:
The Soldiers at Gettysburg

[Cover photo] Monument in Gettysburg
(Gettysburg National Military Park)

On July 11, 1863, Lt. John T. James of the 11th Virginia Infantry, Confederate States of America, sat down to write a letter to his family telling them of his experiences at the Battle of Gettysburg. He explained that on July 3 his unit had been ordered to march about one mile over open, slightly undulating farmland toward a battle-hardened Union army that was defending its own northern soil. James and his comrades believed that the fate of the Confederacy hung on their efforts. But in less than an hour, one-half of the men who marched with him became casualties. The South lost the Battle of Gettysburg and never again, in a major action, was able to fight on Union soil. James must have wondered how he could possibly describe this enormous loss to his loved ones. His simple explanation told the story: "We gained nothing but glory, and lost our bravest men."

The Civil War (1861-1865) was an epic period in the American experience. Still a relatively young nation of about 33 million people, the United States would see almost 5 million of its men directly engaged in the conflict. Both the North and the South believed they were fighting for political ideals--the North to maintain the liberty and union that the hard-fought Revolutionary War had brought about; the South, to uphold that liberty as it was reflected in states' rights.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Civil War battles in Maryland and Virginia
 2. Both armies during the battle

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Three Days of Carnage at Gettysburg
 2. Perspectives of the Participants
 A. A Soldier's View
 B. The Call to Duty
 C. Changes in Loyalty
 3. The Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

Visual Evidence: Images
 1a. Union Dead
 1b. Aftermath of the battle, Trostle House

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Putting Yourself in the Shoes of a
 Civil War Soldier

 2. Comparing Perspectives
 3. Persuasive Writing and Speaking

Supplementary Resources

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Gettysburg National Military Park

Teaching with Museum Collections: Life of a Civil War Soldier

American Civil War:
Gettysburg Camp Life: Civil War Collections

American Civil War:
Symbols of Battle: Civil War Flags


This lesson is based on the Gettysburg National Military Park, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

 

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