Putting It All Together
The Battle of Gettysburg was not the clear-cut victory President Abraham Lincoln had been waiting for. As the Confederate army limped back to the south, the Union army failed to follow up its advantage and allowed the enemy forces to retire across the Potomac River to the relative safety of Virginia. When the Union victory at Gettysburg was followed by the July 4 surrender of Vicksburg in the western theater of the war, however, President Lincoln had tangible evidence that the United States could prevail. The following activities will help students empathize with the soldiers of the Battle of Gettysburg and help them put the Gettysburg Address in proper context.
Activity 1: Putting Yourself in the Shoes of a Civil War Soldier
Based on the readings and other available primary sources, have students imagine themselves as a civilian, a family man, or a son confronted with the choices presented to the men they studied in Reading 2. Ask them to write two or three diary entries explaining who they are, what position they took toward the war, their justification for taking that position, and a description of their activities during the war. Ask a few students to read their entries aloud and then hold a classroom discussion on the different choices made by the students. Emphasize the point that for those who took part in the Civil War most decisions were life and death matters.
Activity 2: Comparing Perspectives
President Lincoln revealed his aspirations for the nation and his thoughts about the war in his two minutes of remarks at Gettysburg. Ask students to reexamine the Gettysburg Address, keeping the following questions in mind: What do you think is the value of a symbolic speech such as the Gettysburg Address? What phrases or images are particularly powerful? What is Lincoln's attitude toward the soldiers? toward the Civil War? Why do you think the Gettysburg Address became such a famous speech? After students have had time to formulate answers, hold a classroom discussion based on their ideas.
Next, have the class work as a group to identify issues in their lives or in society today that generate conflict or disagreement. Discuss the kinds of choices that they would face in these situations. Pay particular attention to ways disagreements can be resolved without violence. Have students discuss how the resolution of this issue would be different from those issues that were causes of the Civil War.
Activity 3: Persuasive Writing and Speaking
There were many battles in the Civil War, but only one evoked Lincoln's great oration. Ask students to think of a problem or controversial issue facing their community and write a persuasive speech that will energize people to work toward finding a solution. Speeches should be limited to 300 words. Ask for volunteers to share their effort with the class. Discuss student speeches and emphasize how much more difficult it would have been to solve the issues that brought about the Civil War than to ameliorate community differences.