Posts Tagged ‘activities’

Do we need to teach the details of battles as part of the Civil War units?

Students often ask me when we discuss the Civil War – how do you win a battle in the Civil War? I try to describe some basic answers to my 8th grade students but to understand the meaning of victory in a battle, students must understand how the battle fits in to the bigger context of the war. A basic knowledge of a battle in the Civil War can  help students understand things such as strategies and political decisions. Students may struggle at time to put everything in context and understand the military jargon and plans , but are there other things that a battle can be used to teach? There may not be time to go into the detailed aspects of battles such as troop movements and detailed military strategy, but understanding the basics of the battle can open doors to comprehension of events that may connect with students who aren’t versed in the jargon and terminology of 19th century battles.

This summer’s series of blog posts will attempt to use elements of the battle of Gettysburg to help students understand the far reaching impact of what happens both during and after the battles.


The importance of battles

            There’s no denying the importance of battles during the Civil War. The study of which is essential to understanding the Civil War as a whole. President Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural address will state: “…the progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends…” . As stated by Lincoln everything depended on the results of battles. The Confederate nation was certainly dependent on the results of battles for the achievement of their goal of independence from the United States. The Army of Northern Virginia’s victories in the eastern theater in the first half of the war were having an impact on public opinion and morale in the United States, despite the success of Union armies in the western theater. What can we use the results of battles to teach if we are looking at the “progress of our arms”?


Here are just a few examples

  • Elections – results of the capture of Atlanta can directly be tied to Lincoln’s re-election in the fall of 1864
  • Economic mobilization – as a result of the battle of First Bull Run
  • Women’s actions –  Clara Barton at Antietam ,Rose O’Neal Greenhow before 1st Bull Run
  • Slavery – Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, Sherman’s Special Order 15 during the March to the Sea
  • Recruitment of African Americans as the result of the Confederate victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville


Using the Battle of Gettysburg beyond the events of the battle

Most Civil War curriculums cover the battle of Gettysburg, so why not use it to highlight stories of the experiences beyond the battle itself? Students should come into these activities having a basic understanding of the context of the battle which helps teachers create a time sensitive activity that can go beyond just troop movements and military decisions. This post will focus on using the battle of Gettysburg to teach about a Confederate memorial and the discussions surrounding what should go on the memorial that will be placed on the battlefield.


Memorialization on the Battlefield of Gettysburg

In the spring of 2017, the city of New Orleans, Louisiana made the decision to remove 3 Confederate memorials and one to the White League’s victory in the “Battle of Liberty Place” in several public spaces. This decision brought about controversy and discussion about the meaning and purpose of those memorials and what taking them down means. The discussion of Confederate memorialization has long been an issue on the battlefield at Gettysburg. A discussion of the creation of the Virginia Memorial on Seminary Ridge gives us a glimpse as to what the men who fought at the battle thought about putting monuments to the Confederates on the battlefield and the symbolism used.

Virginia Memorial

Virginia Memorial on the Gettysburg Battlefield Controversy

Virginia Memorial Page on StoneSentinels.com

In 1895, the War Department (today’s Defense Department) took over management of the Gettysburg battlefield and the placement of monuments on the battlefield. There were several laws that groups had to follow when creating designs for potential monuments. The main one was that any writing or depiction on the monument must be “without censure, blame, or praise”.

Activity for Students:

Students can examine the letters going back and forth in 1910 and 1912 between officials of the Gettysburg National Park Commission  and officials overseeing the design of the Virginia memorial.

The Gettysburg National Park Commission has two concerns with the initial design for the memorial:

  1. The wording of the inscription on the monument
  2. The placement of the Confederate battle flag on the memorial

Activity Ideas:

A. Have a discussion with students: why does the park commission limit what goes on the monuments to being  “without censure, praise or blame”?

It would be important that students understand the meaning of censure

B. Have students design their own wording for the monument that would pass the “without censure,

praise, or blame” guideline. Have other students evaluate their wording.

The wording originally asked for is :

“Virginia to her soldiers at Gettysburg they fought for the faith of their fathers”

C. Discuss with students why this phrase will be rejected.

In the end the inscription will read : Virginia to her sons at Gettysburg

D. The Virginia Memorial commission wants to put a Confederate battle flag on the monument.

Discuss why or why not that should be allowed.

E. Discuss: What does that tell us about the meaning of the Confederate battle flag to these men in 1912?

In the end: the Confederate battle flag is not allowed on the monument. The state flag of Virginia is placed on the monument instead. This decision was a hotly debated topic at the time.

 Download a Power Point to lead students through the activity

Primary Sources:

Letter from July 31, 1910 referring to the use of the Confederate flag on the memorial

Letter from February 7, 1912 referring to memorials being without “censure, praise, or blame”

Controversy over Paying for the Monument

In 1902, Pennsylvania state representative Thomas V. Cooper introduced legislation that would authorize the appropriation of $20,000 for the construction of the Virginia Memorial.  Supporters argued that the lack of Confederate monuments led to an incomplete story of the battle being told. On the other hand, there are strong feelings about memorialization of the Confederate cause that resulted in the deaths of many Pennsylvanians and Americans. In the end no money from Pennsylvania is given. A good resource is the Park’s blog post by ranger Chris Gwinn on the topic. It’s a quick read that could lead to interesting discussions in class related to the debate today over the removal of Confederate memorials in public spaces.



In future posts , we will examine using students’ understanding of the context of the battle to understand the Gettysburg Address and the impact of the battle on individual soldiers using primary sources.


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Our Days with Documents : Civil War Edition offers many resources for teachers. This page will be updated with information and resources from each day’s presentations.

Resources Day 1   – July 13,2016

8th grade American History teacher Art Titzel’s presentation centered on ways to enhance a field trip. His presentation focuses in on some methods to engage students on a trip to Gettysburg  . He highlights activities for students and stories related to the battle that can be used to tell students which could make for strong connections.

Email: atitzel@hershey.k12.pa.us

            PDF format

Click on link , make a copy and save to your own Google Docs


Resources Day 2   – July 14, 2016

American history teacher Rob Finkill shared some strategies on using primary sources in the classroom. Posted here are links to his presentation and resources in helping teachers find primary sources resources. Our Gettysburg School Bus has several posts on primary sources in the classroom with primary sources – from accounts from the battle both civilian and military as well as using monuments as primary sources.

Email : rfinkill@hershey.k12.pa.us

Presentation Slides

Using Primary Sources in the Classroom Presentation in Google Slides format

Organizers to Guide Student Inquiry


     Blog Posts related to Primary Sources


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