“Four score and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that that mighty nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”
Abraham Lincoln penned those words as he dedicated the grave site of over 20,000 men. He was quite right, no words he could say would make that battle any less horrific. I wanted to convey a little bit of the gravity in this history lesson, and show them a small taste of the scariness of war. All in all the Battle of Gettysburg lesson is a success.
(This post contains affiliate links marked with, in addition the painting above is part of Creative Commons and is used with permission)
Battle of Gettysburg lesson introduction
Before starting our activity we read The Last Brother, a story about an eleven-year-old boy who follows his brothers to war and watches two of his brothers die, and at the Battle of Gettysburg has one brother left. He is scared that his brother might die too.
It’s a heart-rending tale to read as a Mom, I’m imagining how the young bugler felt, but it’s also a good introduction to this battle.
And with older kids it makes for a great discussion of right and wrong choices.
But, I had another point to draw out.
How did you tell who was on your side at the Battle of Gettysburg?
Times being what they were, most soldiers weren’t official soldiers, and they showed up in whatever uniform they had. This was especially true on the Confederate side. Some had old Union uniforms, others had their state militia uniform, and still others just showed up in the clothes they owned.
So we looked at the confederate soldiers. That’s them in the picture, and we talked about their uniforms.
We talked about how hard it might be to know if the person coming at you was a friend or a foe.
And then all of the boys started their little guys shooting, and I figured that was enough for one day. When teaching young kids you have to know when to cut your losses, and as far as the boys were concerned this lesson was done.
What makes the Battle of Gettysburg so important?
It was the first turning point in the war. Robert E. Lee was destroying every Union army he came up against, and this was his gamble to turn the tide.
It was also the bloodiest battle of the entire war with 50,000 casualties over three days.
I highly recommend if you have time you watch The Blue and the Gray* as a great mini-series that shows all of the missteps of the Battle of Gettysburg and how easily things could have gone differently. Though I will warn you it is not for the faint of heart.
Learn more about the Civil War
Or check out all of the American history posts.
Finishing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
It feels wrong to finish this post without sharing President Lincoln’s final words. They deserve a post by themselves, and someday I might write that post. For today, I’ll leave you with the final haunting images (if you can ever find a copy of this picture book, BUY IT, the pictures are amazing, and perfect accompaniment).
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they fought here thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we are highly resolved that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.