Posts Tagged ‘primary source’


As the summer season comes to a close here at Gettysburg National Military Park, Teacher Ranger Rob Finkill finishes our series on primary sources used at the Bartol Conference with a post about a primary source that many students can relate to as it is written about a civilian teenager’s experience in July , 1863…

On my last day of the summer season in 2013, my final program was scheduled to be one called “Care of the Wounded”, a program that focuses on the medical aspects of the battle and the war in general. I had been hoping to end my summer out on a  battlefield program or in the National Cemetery where I could stand with visitors and amaze them with stories of courage and sacrifice and ride off into the sunset to start the school year – not give a program in a tent that is sometimes more technical than dramatic.  I thought about asking to switch, but didn’t. Boy was I glad I didn’t switch. To make a long story short, I focused my program on the fact that many in the medical corps were fighting “the system” at times and “that’s the way we have always done it”  as they tried to bring change. As I was walking back inside at end of my program, a visitor stopped me and told me how much she  could relate to that story. She worked in the medical insurance field and her job was to promote new views on medical care  – encouraging healthy lifestyles to promote better health and cut doctor visits and she was getting a lot of push back from people who told her that’s not the way it’s been done. “I can’t wait to get back to my team and share this story. These stories are so empowering to me!” , she said. As I walked away with a smile  – and alright I’ll admit it a little choked up –  feeling great that this program I was ready to bail on had a powerful impact on at least one visitor. You don’t always get that as a teacher and  I thought of that moment often as the school year began and felt empowered myself.


making connections


We never know when stories or content we use as teachers will connect with our students. Rangers,  like teachers, work for that moment like I had when a student (visitor) makes a personal connection and they get it!  I have written about this before  in other posts, sometimes it can be a challenge. How do you get all students to take away a personal connection from the Civil War? Sometimes depending on our students ages, they don’t see the connection to their lives. They may feel the Civil War involved adults and  how do kids relate to many of the “adult” aspects of the war?


A story from Gettysburg could be a great way to relate the events and experiences of battle to children and maybe make a connection to their own experiences. Kids are drawn to stories of kids their own age and many who were children living in Gettysburg during the battle in 1863 wrote about what it was like.

What a Girl Saw at Gettysburg

Tillie Pierce

Matilda  Jane Pierce – also known as Tillie, was born in 1848 to one of the wealthier families in Gettysburg. She experiences the battle in all its aspects. Her and her family members end up taking care of wounded soldiers and seeing what war really meant. In 1885, Tillie wrote a book about her experiences during that battle called At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Heard and Saw of the Battle. The book is an excellent primary source. Click on the link to read it for free on Google Books.

Here is a Tillie Pierce account in a summarized document format , with key elements of her experience for classroom use.

Many primary sources are challenging for students to work with, but this one is written using language that students will be able to connect with and , hopefully, put themselves in the shoes of this young woman as she faces what happens when the war comes to her town.


Double Entry Journal

Have students focus on 3 different types of connections they could make with the text:

  • Text to Self – connection to something the student is familiar with
  • Text to Text  – connection to something else the student has read
  • Text and the World  – connection to something else going on in the world

While reading the text, ask students to fill in a Double Entry Journal. An activity adaptable to all abilities and each type of connection , divide a sheet of paper in half, the column on the left is for content that sticks out to the student , and then the right hand column is for their connection. This makes a great reading strategy for students to make that personal connection.

The web site ReadWriteThink.org provides this question as an extension activity to a Double Entry Journal and you can easily adapt to using Tillie’s story…

Choose one connection and explain specifically how it helped you better understand what you were reading


The story left to us by Tillie Pierce might be one  that helps a student make a personal learning connection who may not otherwise be interested in the Civil War or the Battle of Gettysburg. Use it and see what happens!!


              Google Book copy for free of Tillie’s Book

               In document format  – summarized by key moments –

               great for classroom use

             by Tanya Anderson

             A description of Tillie’s story with added details and visuals

            The author’s web site also provides information on several other families

            impacted by the battle.

            Resources for making connections and using a Double Entry Journal

            An 18 year old boy’s account to being Gettysburg in 1863 – summarized

            for key moments


Comment here with ideas or share your own story of a student making a connection…

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As we continue preparations for the Richard Bartol, Jr. Conference for Educators this week, Teacher Ranger Rob Finkill continues a series for teachers who cannot attend the conference, but that focuses on the same types of primary source document comparisons that will be done by those attending the conference…this week’s post compares two accounts of the events at Little Round Top here at Gettysburg National Military Park.


littleroundtop   Little Round Top here at Gettysburg is one of the most visited spots on the battlefield. Countless visitors have stood and gazed out in amazement at the picturesque scenery and maybe contemplated what occurred there July 2, 1863.  The well known book “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara and the subsequent movie “Gettysburg” have brought much attention to the actions of Joshua Chamberlain and his regiment at the end of the Union line on Little Round Top , the 20th Maine. Their struggle against Colonel William Oates and the 15th Alabama has been written about by men on both sides. The accounts given are excellent primary sources to compare, as they both describe the same event from 2 different points of view.




Our post today will provide some ideas for you in the classroom to incorporate accounts from both of these men and their soldiers in an attempt  to analyze these primary source accounts to take a more in-depth look at the events on Little Round Top. These accounts would provide an excellent pre or post activity for those classes who participate in one of the Park’s free Battlefield Footsteps Program called “Determination”, which is a hike in the footsteps of the 15th Alabama regiment and the 20th  Maine regiment, but if you can’t bring a class to the park, these resources  will still help you put together a worthwhile and meaningful lesson.

Using these accounts is also an excellent way to incorporate primary sources in your classroom and make connections to objectives from the Common Core State Standards

Here are a few objectives would apply:

Grade 5: Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and difference in the point ofview they represent

Grades 6-8: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources

Grades 11-12: Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and  larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

The Library of Congress has an excellent publication called “Teaching with Primary Sources”




Ideas for a lesson:

Before digging into the activities, it is a good time to discuss how sometimes people who experienced the same event  may view that event differently , even though they experienced the same moment. You may want to “stage” a moment in class and then have students write down what they saw and see if there are any  differences in student perceptions of what happened. Ask students for any examples that they might have and then discuss how major events in history are no different. If you are not in a Civil War Unit, be sure to set the context of the battle for your students – this short overview video is a good one to watch of the events of the Civil War leading to Gettysburg.

Here are a few ideas of how to start off your activity:

Background of Oates and Chamberlain

Maps of the area

Key vocabulary explanations

For a teacher reference or student extension activity, view the video of a Ranger tour of Little Round Top for an overview


  • Watch portions of  the movie of Gettysburg on the fighting at Little Round Top

(spoiler alert: it is from Chamberlain’s point of view)

              You may also want to have your watch this again after having students read the primary source accounts


financialorganizationHelp Students Organize their Thoughts

After introducing the lesson and the purpose, have your students read the accounts of the events at Little Round Top from the both the Northern side, Joshua Chamberlain, and the Southern side , William Oates.

Set your students up with some easy to use graphic organizers as they read over the accounts of both men. Below are several strategies to pick from to guide your students in analyzing these primary sources.

Two strategies to use use are:

APPARTS  – have students determine author, place & time, prior knowledge they have, audience,  reason, the main idea, and significance

Click here for a more detailed explanation

Click here for a graphic organizer for APPARTS

SOAPS – students determine subject, occasion, audience, purpose, and speaker

Click here for a graphic organizer for SOAPS


 Extension / Discussion Activities

After your students read the accounts and fill out Graphic Organizers- (this could be done in groups, pairs or alone ), pick from this list of activities to complete ….

1. Develop thesis or claim statements that students can support with evidence about

either side, then support their claims

2. Using a Venn Diagram , have students determine what is different and the same

about each account, discuss together why there may be differences of opinion in the accounts.

How could they find out the “truth”?

Click for a completed Venn diagram as a basic example

3. Stage a debate in class between Oates and Chamberlain in class. One side would be “Chamberlain” the other could be “Oates”

4. Have students pretend they were soldiers in one of the regiments, re write the accounts from a soldiers point of view.


Here are the accounts from Chamberlain and Oates

Joshua Chamberlain’s official report on the events at Little Round Top

William Oates report on the events at Little Round Top

William Oates letter years later about the events at Little Round Top



Click here to view a video of the route that Oates’ men took and the area where the fighting took place

This video is good for students who may not be able to visit Gettysburg and want to see what the ground looks like today.

Little Round Top from MrFinkill on Vimeo.

Comment here with more ideas or thoughts...

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