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The Battle of Gettysburg: Mapping the Turning Point of the Civil War

September 11, 2013

Title of lesson:  The Battle of Gettysburg:  Mapping the Turning Point of the Civil War

Author of lesson: Jason Navarro, Wheaton High School

Grade level: 9-12

Resources: PowerPoint (with maps), Gettysburg Address text and related question.   Paper and art materials such as markers could be instructor provided. 

Lesson Summary:  The students will demonstrate their understanding of the Battle of Gettysburg by drawing the key features of the battlefield and manipulating troop movements.  Using skills in writing and drawing, the students will demonstrate a grasp of the influence that individual decisions had on the outcome of the battle. 


H5aC:  Describe physical characteristics and human characteristics that make specific places unique.

H7aB:  Create maps, charts, diagrams, graphs, timelines and political cartoons to assist in analyzing and visualizing concepts in social studies

H7aF:  Interpret maps, statistics, charts, diagrams, graphs, timelines, pictures, political cartoons, audiovisual materials, continua, written resources, art and artifacts

Historical Background:

In the summer of 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to launch an invasion of the North.   The Civil War had raged on for over two years and this was Lee’s second attempt to force the North to deal with the conflict on its own soil.   Lee was turned back in September of 1862 at Antietam, but the Confederate Army didn’t feel defeated.  Here was a chance to try again. 

The Union had many reasons to dread Lee’s arrival.  The war in the east was not going well.  The Union had suffered disastrous defeats at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and was no closer to capturing Richmond than it had been at the beginning of the war.  The biggest problem was finding a competent commander for the army.  George McClellan was too slow, Ambrose Burnside had performed horribly at Fredericksburg, and Joe Hooker was embarrassed by Lee at Chancellorsville.  Abraham Lincoln was still trying to find his general, and George Meade was next in line.  Meade would meet his challenge at Gettysburg.

The Confederate army moved through Maryland and into Pennsylvania.  It was unclear where they were headed.  Some expected an attack on Washington, Baltimore, or maybe even Philadelphia.  Local militias organized for a nervous resistance.  Neither army knew how to locate the other.  The Confederates used the Blue Ridge Mountains as cover to drive deep into Pennsylvania.  The Union cavalry set out to find them.  Lee also didn’t know the location of the Union army.  His cavalry commander, JEB Stuart, was gone on a mission and had not returned.  Both armies were basically blind and something had to give.  That finally happened on July 1st when the two armies bumped into each other on one of the ten roads that converged on the small town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania.  The largest and most destructive battle of the Civil War was about to begin.   

Anticipatory Set:  Discuss what the students already know about the Battle of Gettysburg.  The first slide of the PowerPoint also serves this purpose. 

Do Now Activity:  The students will take notes on the lesson and discuss the visuals with the instructor.

Procedures:  The students will take notes on a PowerPoint presentation from the instructor.   For each day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the instructor will explain the battle with the maps provided.  The students will then draw their own maps for each day, including relevant physical features, but will change one troop movement.  They will then write a paragraph or two describing their changes and predicting the effect that this change would have on the battle outcome as a whole.

Assessment:  The maps and paragraphs the students create will serve as assessments when complete.  The student must demonstrate knowledge of the battle by showing an ability to manipulate the results in a realistic way.

Extension: The students will read the Gettysburg Address and discuss the meaning of the speech, both then and in our own times.  The extra question provided with the copy of the Gettysburg Address can be used as a writing prompt and will add a fourth day to the total unit. 


Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg
Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers 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 dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

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 who fought here have 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 here highly resolve 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.


 Rewrite the paragraph in your words, putting modern language to the message that President Lincoln wanted to convey.






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