The Battle of Gettysburg through Many Eyes

by Kathy White

Unit Objective

This unit on the Battle of Gettysburg is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These resources were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Students will demonstrate this knowledge by writing summaries of excerpts from several key primary source documents and, by the end of the unit, articulating their understanding of the various views of the Battle of Gettysburg. Through this step-be-step process students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Lesson 1


In this lesson, students will read and understand primary source writings by Union and Confederate leaders as well as President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Reading a brief excerpt from each selection, students will use a graphic organizer to guide them as they read and analyze the words and interpretations of various leaders to determine what each thought of the battle and its outcome.


The three days of battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, from July 1 to July 3, 1863, constituted a turning point in the Civil War. General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia met General George G. Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac, in three days of bitter fighting that resulted in an estimated 28,000 Confederate and 23,000 Union casualties. As Lee began his slow return to Virginia on July 4, General Meade, tired and cautious, did not pursue the Confederates. President Lincoln was furious and wrote a scathing letter to Meade that was never delivered. President Lincoln visited the battlefield on November 19 to help dedicate it as a military cemetery and delivered a brief message, the Gettysburg Address.



Teachers may have students work independently or in groups of two or three students.

  1. Distribute copies of the excerpt of the letter from President Lincoln to General Meade.
  2. Share read with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  3. Distribute copies of the Graphic Organizer for Lincolns letter to Meade. A key paragraph from this document is selected for the students to use to identify key words and Lincoln’s thoughts about the Civil War and this battle. Model expectations by completing this first graphic organizer and lead the class in a discussion of the key words that reflect Lincoln’s views. Then guide the students through an analysis of the feelings behind those words and complete with them the “deeper meaning” section of the organizer.
  4. Students continue the same work on Lee’s letter to his wife and the Gettysburg Address.

Lesson 2


In this lesson, students will view five photographs of events at the Battle of Gettysburg and analyze them using the same strategies found in Lesson 1. 


Photographs are a key primary source, and many images of Gettysburg help us gain insight into the gravity and significance of this battle. Students will learn to analyze photographs in this lesson in much the same way they analyzed written documents in Lesson 1.



Teachers may have students work independently or in groups of two or three.

  1. Distribute copies of the four photographs or post in the room and allow the students to walk around and study the pictures.
  2. After reflection, students will select two photographs to analyze, and they will complete a graphic organizer on each of the two photographs.
  3. The teacher will lead a class discussion focusing on the details of Gettysburg that are revealed in the pictures. They will analyze the intent and message of each photograph and discuss how this primary source impacts their understanding of the battle and of war in general.
  4. At the conclusion of the discussion, students will write a paragraph (or more if appropriate) that addresses the following question: How and why do the people in these sources have such different opinions of the battle and of the war itself?  

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