The American Civil War began when Southern secessionists attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861, a month after Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration as president of the United States. The war lasted from 1861 to 1865. One of its most iconic battles was the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1 – 3, 1863. Following a major victory for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee decided to march his forces north to Pennsylvania  for a second invasion of Union territory. In response to this movement, Major General George Meade and the Army of the Potomac crossed the Potomac River and approached the town of Gettysburg, the northernmost advance of the Confederate army. Small regiments of the opposing forces clashed west of Gettysburg in the early morning of July 1, and both Union and Confederate forces began marching westward, only to converge on one another, beginning full scale battle. By the end of the third day, the Confederate forces withdrew; the Union army had successfully stopped Lee’s invasion of the North. The Union and Confederate forces suffered a total of approximately 58,000 casualties during the entire campaign, making it the deadliest battle of the Civil War (Reardon). The reactions to this battle in the North bolstered the Union cause, and the battle itself was used as fuel to maintain enthusiasm as the war continued on for another two years. Lincoln capitalized on this in his succinct but powerful Gettysburg Address during which he reinforced the cause for preserving the Union. After the conclusion of the war, the Battle of Gettysburg took on new meaning with the physical battlefield and the construction of commemorative monuments coming to represent reconciliation and brotherhood among Union and Confederate soldiers. The Battle of Gettysburg remains a popular symbol of successful preservation of the Union.


Reardon, Carol. Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory. University of North Carolina Press, 


Educational Purpose

This set will allow students to develop an understanding of the Battle of Gettysburg in the context of the American Civil War while exploring larger themes of historical inquiry. The items in this set challenge students to think critically about point of view and bias as well as the subjectivity of memory and history. Students will learn about the events preceding the battle, those events during the battle that receive the most emphasis, and the dynamic nature of constructing meaning seen in multiple stages in the aftermath of the battle.

Grade Levels

This set can be tailored to fit grades 3-12.

State Standards

  • Elementary Standards 3-8, Historical Analysis and Skills Development
    • 8.1.5.B. Classify and analyze fact and opinion from multiple points of view, and secondary sources as related to historical events.
    • 8.1.8.A. Compare and contrast events over time and how continuity and change over time influenced those events.
    • 8.1.8.B. Compare and contrast a historical event, using multiple points of view from primary and secondary sources.
  • Secondary Standards 9-12, Historical Analysis and Skills Development
    • 8.1.12.A. Evaluate patterns of continuity and rates of change over time, applying context of events.
    • 8.1.12.B. Evaluate the interpretation of historical events and sources, considering the use of fact versus opinion, multiple perspectives, and cause and effect relationships.
  • Elementary Standards Grades 3-8, Pennsylvania History
    • 8.2.3.B. Identify historical documents, artifacts, and places critical to Pennsylvania history.
  • Secondary Standards Grades 9,12, Pennsylvania History
    • 8.2.12.B. Evaluate the impact of historical documents, artifacts, and places in Pennsylvania which are critical to U.S. history and the world.

Source Set

1. The Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., July 3d. 1863
2. Letter, To: "Dear Parents" From: William C. White, July 5, 1863
3. Thanks to God! July 7th, 1863
4. National Defender, v. VIII, no. 15, Tuesday, November 24, 1863
5. Gettysburg Address engrossing, 1928
6. Daily Evening Bulletin, 1863
7. Souvenir : survivors' association, Gettysburg, 1888-9
8. A Brief History of the 69th Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, 1889

Discussion Questions

  1. What important developments of the Civil War occurred before July 1, 1863, that help to contextualize the Battle of Gettysburg? (Source #6)
  2. Who were the major military leaders involved in this battle? How are these leaders described and portrayed by the various sources? How are the armies they command portrayed in these sources? What moral implications are applied to these leaders, their forces and the causes they are fighting for? (Sources #1, #3, #4)
  3. What events that occurred during the Battle of Gettysburg are emphasized by these sources? How is the Battle of Gettysburg portrayed by those sources created in the immediate aftermath of the battle? (Source #1, #2) What does the battle symbolize in those sources? What does this battle mean to those who created the source? (Sources #4) 
  4. How do individual interpretations of the Battle of Gettysburg affect the political climate of the Civil War in the aftermath of the battle? (Sources #4)
  5. How does the meaning and symbolism of the Battle of Gettysburg change over time? What factors influence this change? What groups or individuals are involved in the dynamic nature of the meaning of the Battle of Gettysburg? What actions represent this change in perception? (Sources #3, #7, #8)
    • Think about how your own memories or perceptions of events may change over time. Has there been a time when your memory of an event differed from how another person experienced that event? How does that compare to accounts of the event, such as in newspapers or photographs? Discuss the various ways in which an event is documented, through personal experience and records. How does this reflect the relationship of memory and history?

Classroom Activities

  1. Creative project. Students are grouped into pairs and instructed to imagine they are Union soldiers who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. Using three large sheets of poster paper, they are to draw three postcards that include an image and a written caption of two full sentences both of which must reflect the assigned perspective. The first postcard is dated July 4th, 1863, and must reflect the sentiments of Unionists in the immediate aftermath of the battle. The second postcard is dated November 19, 1863, and is to reflect the sentiments of those in attendance for Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The third is dated 1889 and is to reflect the sentiments of the members of the 69th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Veterans. Then students are instructed to write one page that explains how the postcards represent the assigned perspectives and then they must draw connections among the three posts to explain how it reflects a change in perception of the Battle of Gettysburg over time. 
    • As a follow up activity or a separate activity, have students research the Confederate reaction to the Battle of Gettysburg and ask similar questions of the relationship between memory and history as explored in this primary source set; questions like: what events are emphasized? What symbolism or meaning does the battle take on? How does this become politicized?
  2. Secondary grades specifically: Point of view exploration. Group students into partnerships and instruct students to visit each document on the DPLA website. Students are to record the author, location, and date of creation for each source and then are instructed to search online for more information that will help them answer the following questions: from what point of view was this created? What bias does this source contain due to this point of view? After completing this, partners should discuss and record what other sources they believe would be necessary to create a more holistic understanding of the Battle of Gettysburg and its meaning in the eyes of the American people.

Additional Resources for Research

  • Reardon, Carol. Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory. University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Paris, Louis-Philippe-Albert O. The Battle of Gettysburg: A History of the Civil War in America. Scituate, Mass: Digital Scanning, 2001. https://archive.org/details/battleofgettysbu00pari/page/n10.
  • Tucker, Spencer C.. Battles That Changed American History: 100 of the Greatest Victories and Defeats, ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central.
  • “The Battle of Gettysburg at a glance.” Arbor Age, May-June 2013, p. 17. General OneFile.

Set created by Stephanie Cuomo, Temple University College of Education.

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