Posts Tagged ‘primary source’

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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In July, 2016, teachers from across the country spent time at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site’s  professional development workshop entitled: Days with Documents : Eisenhower Edition. Participants  explored key eras in Dwight Eisenhower’s life. The days focused on his time as a young army officer stationed at Gettysburg, Supreme Allied Commander, and President.  Teachers heard presentations from historians, experienced site visits to the  Eisenhower Farm and looked at primary source documents to enrich their  classroom lessons.

This page will host links to the primary source documents that the educators in attendance used, so for those who attended or were unable to attend, digital access to these documents is available here. Resources for methods for engaging students in primary sources are found at the bottom of this page. All the files have been placed in Dropbox folders and are able to be downloaded. Please comment here or on the Dropbox file itself with ideas or questions.

Click on the link below for the complete document folder in Dropbox:

Days with Documents :Eisenhower edition Complete Dropbox folder

Below is a listing of the essential Eisenhower documents found in the Dropbox folders, click on the headings to go to directly to the document folder or to find more information on selected topics.

Ike D-Day photo PRINT

Primary Source Documents : World War I & World War II

World War I

Even though Ike didn’t fight in Europe during the war, he commanded a tank training camp located in Gettysburg.

  • Two articles related to conflicts between the townspeople and soldiers of the camp.
  • Copy of the speech Ike gave to the trained “tankers” before leaving for Europe  Recruitment poster for the tank corps.


World War II

  • Ike’s messages and famous Order of the Day prior to the D-Day invasion
  • “If D-Day had failed” message he had prepared in case the invasion in 1944 failed.
  • Photo of Ike with paratroopers prior to the D-Day invasion
  • Ike’s message to General George Marshall in Washington, D.C. about the grim discovery of Nazi concentration camps
  • Photo of  Ike visiting a concentration camp.
  • Photo spread of Ike from an April, 1945 issue of Life magazine


Primary Source Documents : Eisenhower’s Presidency

Foreign Relations and the Cold War

Included in this set of documents are a collection of speeches, internal memos, telegrams, political cartoons, news accounts and photographs



U2 spy plane incident

  • Political Cartoon regarding the incident
  • State Department Press Release May 9, 1960
  • Memo of internal discussions about U2 flights February, 1960
  • Memo Authorizing U2 flights April, 1960


Relations with the U.S.S.R.

  • Joseph Stalin themed political cartoons
  • A draft of Ike’s condolence message to the Russian people upon the death of Joseph Stalin
  • Transcript of “Kitchen Debate” between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev
  • Photo of the “Kitchen Debate”
  • Document detailing the U.S. objectives for Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to Washington, D.C. in 1959



  • Time Magazine cover showing the leader of Poland Wladyslaw Gomulka
  • TASS news report on the Hungarian Revolution, 1956
  • Time magazine commentary on the lack of U.S. response to Hungarian Revolution


Domestic Issues: Civil Rights

School Desegregation and Little Rock Central High School

  • Video: NPS ranger presentation at Little Rock Central High School from Cspan
  • Text of Brown v Board of Education Rulings
  • Ike’s Executive Order directing the use of Federal Troops at Little Rock
  • Ike’s personal notes on the Little Rock Central High School situation
  • Telegram from Little Rock Nine parents to Ike
  • Telegram of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to Ike about the events at Little Rock
  • Telegram from Arkansas Senator John Stennis to Ike describing how wrong integration is
  • Diary entry excerpt from “Warriors Don’t Cry” by Melba Pattillo Beals (one of the Little Rock Nine)
  • Political Cartoon about school segregation
  • Political Cartoon about Virginia’s resistance to school desegregation
  • Photo of the Little Rock Nine being escorted by soldiers
  • Photo of Elizabeth Eckford being verbally attacked walking to class the first day
  • Newspaper headlines declaring the end of school segregation about the Brown decision


Speeches and Laws

  • 1959 State of the Union Speech
  • Civil Rights Bill 1957 – actual document
  • Civil Rights Bill 1957 text on word document
  • Photo of Ike with African American leaders at the signing of the Civil Rights Bill 1957


Montgomery Bus Boycott

  • Rosa Parks arrest report
  • Poster announcing fundraiser for those impacted by the bus boycott


Emmett Till

  • Telegram from mother of Emmett Till to Ike asking for justice for her son
  • Frederic Morrow memo to Ike on Emmett Till response



Days with Documents :Eisenhower edition Complete Dropbox folder

Click here to see ways to use primary source documents in  lessons and activities

Professional development opportunities  for the 2016-2017  school year will be published on the Gettysburg National Military Park web site Professional Development page on August 15, 2016.


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