Our  blog series continues with our final  post in the series addressing using Civil War battles, specifically the battle of Gettysburg, to teach other topics related to the American Civil War. The posts in this series will provide class activities that can be completed in a class period or two. Most teachers we talk to here at Gettysburg on field trips or in workshops we host, don’t have the time built in their curriculum to go into great depth on any topic, let alone individual battles of the Civil War.

Our focus in this post will include activities to:

  • guide students through the analyzing of a primary source
  • help students understand what the experience of being in battle had on a soldier


Battlefield Connections

As stated in the first post in this series, the teaching of battles are important to an overall understanding of the war and how it is won and lost. Often times, in a Civil War curriculum, there isn’t time for the extensive study of military strategy. However, a battle such as Gettysburg allows for multiple connections to relateable  experiences for students and teachers to use in a time sensitive fashion. This post will connect the battle of Gettysburg to the impact the battle had on an individual soldier.

  Edwin Forbes’ painting of fighting at Culp’s Hill

Primary Source Backstory

John Futch was a Confederate soldier who served in the 3rd regiment of the North Carolina Infantry. Futch was from New Hanover County, North Carolina when he enlisted on February 1, 1862. Both John and his brother Charlie will serve in Company K of the regiment. The 3rd North Carolina will see action with the Army of Northern Virginia through the battles in 1862 and into 1863. Charlie and John Futch’s letters to family members have been digitized by the State Archives of North Carolina and can be found online at the North Carolina digital collections page.  In June of 1863, John Futch will march north with the Confederate army into Pennsylvania. The 3rd  North Carolina will be a part of General Richard Ewell’s Third Corps and George Steuart’s brigade. The men from North Carolina will be involved in the fighting on July 2 and 3 in the unsuccessful attacks on Culp’s Hill. In the fighting, Charlie will receive a mortal wound and die on July 3. Futch’s letters home after the battle can help students see the cost of war. He writes home describing his sadness at Charlie’s death. The expressions he uses to describe his pain are very telling. Describing himself as “half crazy” after the battle of Gettysburg. He “never wanted to come home so bad in his life“. In the end, this man ,who had served through some of the hardest fighting of the war, will try to go home by deserting the Confederate army along with several other men. The deserters will be caught and executed in front of the other men of the regiment. Students may struggle to understand the troop movements and vocabulary involved in understanding a battle, but this can be a powerful reading  to help students grasp the cost of war without having to understand  military terms and names.

AAPARTS strategy

When having students examine a primary source, it is important to give them a focus as they examine the source. A method discussed previously on this blog is the APPARTS strategy for analyzing a primary source. Students are given a primary source and are asked to determine:

Author: Who created the source? What do you know about the author? What is the author’s point of view?

Place and Time: Where and when was the source produced?  How might this affect the meaning of the source?

Prior Knowledge: Beyond information about the author and the context of its creation, what do you know that would help you further understand the primary source? For example, do you recognize any symbols and recall what they represent?

Audience: For whom was the source created and how might this affect the reliability of the source?

Reason: Why was the source produced at the time it was produced?

The Main Idea: What point is the document trying to convey? How would you summarize it?

Significance: Why is this source important? What inferences can you draw from this document? Ask yourself, “So What?” in relation to the question asked.

Click here to download a power point slide with APPARTS info

Our activity will use the APPARTS strategy to examine a letter from John Futch written after the battle.


 Futch’s Letter from NC    Digital Archive


John Futch’s letter home

Our activity to analyze a primary source will focus on John Futch’s letter written on July 19, 1863 on the march back to Virginia following the battle of Gettysburg.


Lesson Plan


Display the  quote (that is often attributed to Joseph Stalin)  “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” for students to view and discuss its meaning. State to the students that you will be attempting to discuss the validity of that quote by examining the impact of the one death of those 10,000 men killed at the battle of Gettysburg

Review the context of the battle of Gettysburg. Be sure to include the casualty numbers.

Give students a copy of the letter John Futch wrote on July 19, 1863.

Futch’s letter has many misspellings and no punctuation, on the downloadable document there is also a transcribed letter with accurate spellings for easier reading.

Give students a copy of the APPARTS graphic organizer.

Have students work alone or in groups to fill in the APPARTS graphic organizer.

Students can also access the actual copy of the letter by clicking here

Document Downloads

John Futch letter with transcription on Word Document

APPARTS Graphic Organizer on Word Document



Review the graphic organizer with students together and then return to the quote in the introduction – how is the death of Charlie Futch a tragedy not a statistic?



Give students a copy of the letter from Edward Armstrong, also in the 3rd North Carolina from September , 1863. He will describe the execution of Futch and the other deserters. Note: in the letter, Armstrong says he saw the execution John Fulch, but he is referring to Futch.

Discuss with students the reasons from the executions and how they feel after know John’s experiences were.

Document Download

Armstrong letter describing the execution of Futch

It’s a powerful activity that puts a face to the tragic side of the war.


Extension Activity

Have students examine more of the Futch family letters. The letters discuss a variety of aspects of the war.

Use the APPARTS strategy to analyze another letter.

Click here to go to the index of the Futch letters from the North Carolina State Archives.

Click here to go to the Civil War Sesquicentennial Blog of the North Carolina State Archives post that links to some of the highlights


Our goal in this series has been to create time sensitive activities for teachers and students to use to understand parts of the battle. The letter from John Futch, his subsequent desertion and execution demonstrate a different aspect of the war that students  can understand with a basic level understanding of the details of the battle.

Comment here with ideas about other connections to battlefields that can be used for student activities.






Our blog series on using Civil War battles for instruction continues with our second post in the series . This series addresses using battles, specifically the battle of Gettysburg, to teach other topics related to the war. The posts in this series will provide class activities that can be completed in a class period or two. Most teachers we talk to here at Gettysburg on field trips or in workshops we host, don’t have the time built in their curriculum to go into great depth on any topic, let alone the Civil War. Our focus in this post will incorporating a primary source and analyzing of the text of the Gettysburg Address.

Battlefield Connections

As stated in the first post in this series, the teaching of battles is important to an overall understanding of the war and how the war is won and  lost. Often times in a Civil War curriculum, there isn’t time for extensive study of specific military strategy in individual battles. A battle such as Gettysburg allows for multiple connections for students and teachers to make to the content that don’t necessitate  an in depth understanding of military terms and names of specific commanders. Teachers can use the story of Union soldier  Pliny White ,who fought at Gettysburg, as a jump start to analyzing the Gettysburg Address.

Primary Source Backstory: Pliny White

14th VT monument at Gettysburg

Pliny White was born in the year 1838 in Starksboro, Vermont. White didn’t join the Union army in the initial rush to enlist in 1861, but will enlist in October of 1862 with the 14th Vermont regiment. This young Vermonter, who was 25 years old at the time, had signed up to serve in the United States army for 9 months.  He and the rest of the 14th Vermont were due to get out of the army in mid July of 1863. For most of their time in the army, Pliny and the Vermonters guarded the forts around Washington, D.C. But in the spring of 1863 that would change as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia moved into Maryland and then Pennsylvania. On June 25, the Vermont regiment would be told to join the Union Army of the Potomac as it moved north in pursuit of the Confederates. The 14th Vermont and several other Vermont regiments would be part of the 2nd Vermont Brigade assigned to the First Corps. As an instructor , be sure to take time to discuss what a corps, brigade, and regiment are. Click here for a good web site to describe army organization.

This brief letter is perfect for use as a time sensitive classroom activity.

Ask students:

  •   How does Pliny reassure Lamyra about his potential death?
  • Why might he not feel “worthy” to meet her?

The Vermont men will defend Cemetery Ridge from the Confederate attacks and do very well for their first time in battle on the second of July. On July 3, they will be at the center of the Union line and face the onslaught of the Confederate attack – commonly known as Pickett’s Charge.

Tragically, Pliny White will be wounded very badly in the arm and be removed to one of the many hospitals near the battlefield. The doctors will have to amputate his arm. He will go to the hospital in the Lutheran Seminary west of town where he will stay for several weeks to recover. His fellow soldiers in the 14th Vermont will be getting out of the army while Pliny is in the hospital. This young soldier, like many on both sides, will never go home for he will die on August 5. He eventually will be buried in the Soliders’ National Cemetery in the Vermont section.

A nurse who took care of Pliny will write home to his family and say:

How my heart does ache to think about all the mothers and sisters at home

while their  loved ones are groaning and dying alone all because of this unjust war.

Is this war just? Is it right? Is it worth it? These questions were being asking by this nurse and others across the United States  in the summer and fall of 1863. Here is where we can use this letter to tie to a brief activity on the Gettysburg Address.







What is the purpose of the Gettysburg Address?

Teachers can use the letter from Pliny White’s nurse to springboard into a discussion of the Gettysburg Address’s meaning and purpose in the speech. Abraham Lincoln will journey to Gettysburg in November of 1863 to speak at the dedication of the cemetery that Union soldiers killed in the battle will be buried in. The speech’s significance is well documented, but how can teachers help students with limited background knowledge understand the significance of the speech. The ideas presented below can give teachers a series of lesson ideas that teach the significance of key parts of the speech and allow students to use text based evidence to support their work.

Give the students a starting point to support such as:

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a speech that reminds the citizens what our nation was founded on and  justifies the sacrifice of men like Pliny White in the Civil War.

Use these guiding questions:

A. How does Lincoln remind people of the ideals America was founded on?

B. Where is Lincoln referring to the honoring and remembering soldiers who fought at Gettysburg like Pliny White?

C. How does Lincoln call people to continued action despite the deaths of men like Pliny White?

Teachers will want to ensure students have understandings of terms such as conceived, dedicate, consecrate, hallow, vain.

Gettysburg Address Activity Ideas:

  1. Give students 3 different color highlighters and printed copies of the Address. Designate different colors for the different guiding questions and highlight supporting text accordingly. Students then should support their selections in written or verbal form.
  2. Give students a copy of the Gettysburg Address with the portions of text already highlighted that answer the guiding questions. Ask the students to describe why those lines match the answers to the questions.
  3. Print out the text of the Gettysburg Address. Divide it into sections and cut those sections out for the students. Ask the students to arrange the sections in order and then select which sections would answer the guiding questions.
  4. Give students a copy of the Address and download a note taking guide below. Have students fill it in. This is a great activity for working in pairs or small groups. There is also a modified note taking guide.

Documents to download for the activity:

Gettysburg Address highlighted document

Gettysburg Address text based evidence graphic organizer

Gettysburg Address guiding questions modified document



For more in depth information, watch this video from NPS Ranger John Hoptak discussing Pliny White, the National Cemetery , and the Gettysburg Address. more videos like this are found on the Gettysburg National Military Park You Tube Page


Use the story of Pliny White to set the stage for class activities on the Gettysburg Address!

Comment below with questions or your own ideas about using the Gettysburg Address.