Posts Tagged ‘primary source’

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.





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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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