Archive for the ‘Gettysburg Address’ Category

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.



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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr gestures to the crowd during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 1963

AFP/Getty images

     August brings us to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which included the “I Have a Dream Speech” by Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. This event and speech, of course,  is regarded by many as a pivotal moment in not only the Civil Rights movement, but also American History. The speech has been used by History ,English, and even Speech teachers to emphasize the points made and the style as well.

 Not Your Typical Memorial Day Speech

 Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr. wasn’t in Gettysburg in 1963, but Vice President Lyndon Johnson was  on Memorial Day. He will give a speech that year at the Memorial Day event at the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg. On the surface you would think that his speech would  focus on honoring the sacrifices of those soldiers buried there and he certainly does that, but after asking us to remember their sacrifice and understanding that having a military helps keep peace (i.e. Cold War Era) , he took a different approach.

“As we maintain the vigil of peace, we must remember that justice is a vigil, too–a vigil we must keep in our own streets and schools and among the lives of all our people–so that those who died here on their native soil shall not have died in vain. One hundred years ago, the slave was freed, One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.”

The New York Times recently did an article on the 1963 speech and it caught my attention. The words of this speech reveal some



of LBJ’s thinking and just a few months later he will become president where his “Great Society” plans will be put into action. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 will be passed roughly a year later. Some might say these were a part of the “vigil of justice”.

We incorporated this speech in our end of the year unit called Active Citizenship. In that unit, we focus on four methods that citizens can make change in our nation: education, litigation, legislation, and innovation.  Our unit pulls examples from the Civil Rights Movement for each method.  This speech served as an attempt to educate, just as Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” will a few months later.

Lesson Plan Ideas

1. Compare the text of LBJ’s speech to that of the Gettysburg Address. What questions can be raised? What was the status, in 1963,  of  the “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln talked of in his speech in 1863 ?

2.For a Civics lesson use the fact that  Johnson will reference the “Law” in his speech. That reference can lead to a discussion of the Constitution as “higher law”. What do laws mean if they are not enforced? The question of States’ Rights can be brought into discussion as well. Those issues were still there in 1963, 100 years after the war ended (and even today to an extent).

“The law cannot save those who deny it but neither can the law serve any who do not use it. The history of injustice and inequality is a history of disuse of the law. Law has not failed–and is not failing.”

3. If you teach a unit on the 1960’s , this speech could give students a glimpse into the thinking of LBJ. Have students research what may have made a man from Texas come to these views on freedom and equality.

The moment you start to think that Gettysburg is about a three day battle or one speech given by Lincoln, you start to realize the connections between 1863 , 1963 , and 2013 are many .


Shribman, David. “L.B.J.’s Gettysburg Address.” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 24 May 2013. Web.

Link to the article  – which includes a recording of the speech

Link to text of the speech from the LBJ Presidential library

Link to Newsreel footage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being signed

Comment here or email with your thoughts, ideas , questions or resource ideas


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