Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville and the Antidote to Hate

In view of recent developments in Charlottesville, it seemed it might be time to address a few simple points. These are points I tried to make sure my seventh grade students grasped every year.

I can tell you—most did.

During my classroom career, I operated on the principle that history, my subject, was the study of people.

In that light, we often studied the words of the Roman poet Terrance, who once said, “Nothing human is alien to me.” We dissected the meaning of that quote, shortened slightly, the first day of class every year. It was my opinion that all human beings are fundamentally alike.

Working from that premise, we repeatedly focused on empathy in class, “the ability to feel what another person feels.”

I called it “the antidote to hate.”

I had several lesson plans designed to foster empathy in any way I could. One I was most proud of began with a boy on the bus. 


“Back when I was in ninth grade,” (now more than half a century, I must admit) I started by informing every class, “we used to see kids we called ‘hair lips.’ I don’t mean to be cruel. They were born with a birth defect involving a hole in the palate (here I showed what I meant) or lip. Doctors closed the hole. But this left scars and most ‘hair lips’ sounded funny when they talked. 

“We had a boy like that, who had other handicaps, who rode our bus. The only person he talked to was the driver. Every morning he’d climb aboard and call out, ‘Eyyyy, Brrnee.’ Bernie. That was the driver’s name. He’d walk down the aisle and two big high school guys would go: ‘Eyyyy, Brrnee.’ They mocked him every day. It made me sick then. It makes me sick now.

“If I had been bigger, I would have told them to stop,” I added, “but I was skinny and couldn’t do much to help.”

Every student in the room could see the point. The cruelty of the two older boys. The evil of picking on one so defenseless. This held their attention and we went from there.

For homework students had read a handout based on A Brief History of the Indies, published in 1552, written by Bartolome Las Casas, a Spanish priest. Las Casas admitted when he first came to the New World all he cared about was gold. He purchased Indian slaves and ignored the teachings of Christ. When he saw cruelties all around he began to feel a weight upon his soul. He freed his slaves and took holy orders, devoting his life to saving as many natives as he could.

Students read scenes like this:

     The Christians, with their horses and swords and lances, began to slaughter and practice strange cruelty among them [the natives]...and spared neither children, nor the aged, nor pregnant women, nor those in child labor. They not only stabbed them but dismembered them [cut them up] like lambs in a slaughterhouse.
     They made bets as to who could split a man in two or cut off his head with one sword blow...They took babes from their mothers...and dashed their heads against the rocks...Others they seized by the shoulders and threw them into the rivers, laughing and joking...and saying as the babies fell into the water, “Boil there, you offspring of the devil!” 


Part of a project by one of my students on this topic.


Before classes began, I prepared by taping pictures of the Holocaust on the board and pulling down maps and a movie screen to hide them. Students entered and took their seats. I told them the story of the boy on the bus and asked simply, “How can people be so cruel?”

That was our question for the day.

(Preparing this now, to post on my blog, I suppose I’d say it’s still the question for the day—for every day of human history.)

“What was the worst example from last night’s reading?” I inquired.

Almost every student raised a hand. “When the Spanish cut off the hands of the slaves,” Maggie responded.

“When soldiers burned the building with 300 Indian leaders inside,” said Marco.

“Throwing babies into the river,” Deedee added.

“How could they do it?” I asked again. “How could so many be so cruel? And what made Las Casas and others who tried to save the natives different?”

I didn’t expect anyone to bite yet. I continued: “How long did Las Casas spend trying to save the Indians?”

Ken responded: “Fifty years.”

Correct.
 
I asked: “How many of you ever walk down the street and see a bug and step on it?”

All kinds of hands went up.

“Didn’t you feel guilty?” I asked one boy. “Gary! You murderer! That bug had a family, and they’re all like, ‘Hey, when’s Dad coming home, maybe he’ll bring us a toy,’ and you’re like, ‘No big deal. I’ll just scrape dad off the bottom of my shoe and keep walking.’”

The bug idea always got a laugh—the last of the day. I asked how the Spanish (some of them) could do what they did. No one was ready to answer. “It’s the same as the two boys on the bus. Or stepping on a bug. What did the soldiers say when they threw babies in the river?”

“Boil there, you offspring of the devil,” Deedee offered.

Correct. “Now, if the devil walked in this room right now and Gary jumped up and killed the devil, wouldn’t he be good?”

Deedee admitted Gary would be good.

“You admit you’ve stepped on bugs,” I reminded her. “No one thinks killing bugs is wrong?”

They’re just bugs classmates interjected.

Unfortunately, I explained, Hitler and his followers believed killing Jews was acceptable. One Nazi official said the world would build a monument in their honor because they had the courage to do what no one else did. Getting rid of Jews was “like killing vermin,” he insisted, “a matter of cleanliness.”

Did anyone know what vermin were?

“Bugs, fleas. Rats, I think,” Jacob offered. I told the class he was right.   

“It’s a question of dehumanization,” I continued. The definition goes on the board: “to see others as less than human; lower than yourself.”

“I hate to tell you this,” I said, “but most of you dehumanize others. You put labels on groups or individuals you don’t like and you’re on your way!”

“We don’t kill people, though,” Greg objected. True. I turned and added to our notes: “Labeling: to see all members of a group as the same, without individual difference.”

In our school, students admitted peers were labeled “preps,” as in preppy, well-dressed, college-prep types. Poor kids (at least when I started) were labeled “grits,” dirty, lowly, unclean. Labels, we noted, allowed us to ignore the fact our enemies are human. 

I threw this out: “Next time you see someone you don’t like, say: ‘I hate that human being.’ It doesn’t work.”

I said I despised labels. But who could think of one? Every year I worried some parent would see this day’s notes and flip. The examples poured out: nigger, fag, gook, bitch, jock, nerd.

“Yeah,” I interjected, “let’s pick on him. He’s a nerd!” I asked someone to tell me what made a nerd a nerd.

Oliver and Kayla both said nerds were weak. That’s two “N-words” now.

“Oh! Even better! Let’s pick on the weak!” I added scornfully. We were back to the boy on the bus. Students who knew they were guilty of such behavior were already shifting in their seats.

Then we moved to the final steps of the lesson. We raised the maps and movie screen. The kids came forward and looked at pictures of the Holocaust. There were young children being rounded up, Stars of David upon their sleeves. There was a grandmotherly-type looking straight into the camera. “Look: she seems like the type who’d bake cookies for the grand kids.

“Dangerous,” I scoffed.

Another picture showed a house painted with the word: “Jude.” “Notice,” I told my class, “you can walk down the street and say, ‘I hate those Jews!’ You don’t even have to see them to hate them.”

“We do the same,” Antoinette replied. “We label people according to skin color and don’t think.” 

I nodded agreement.

Antoinette was staring at a photo of a long trench filled with emaciated corpses. Tears started. Her friend tugged her arm and led her to her seat. Students were subdued when I sent them back to their places. The bell was about to ring and we would pick up on the subject the next day. 

I used this lesson plan for twenty-five years and it never failed. Then, one day, I heard something completely unexpected. Susie spoke up, one of my favorite students, but still plain-looking and gawky at thirteen. The lesson was finished. The bell was about to ring. Classmates were thinking about labeling and the cruelty that inevitably follows. Susie had her hand up. Clearly, she hoped to have the final say. 

I called on her and she explained in an anguished voice, “You know, Mr. Viall, the other kids label me. They call me a ‘dog.’”

For once I was speechless. We all know teens can be cruel. No one had ever exposed this so perfectly, in such timely fashion, in its starkest forms. The word “dog” hung in the air like a Nazi victim on a scaffold.

We had just devoted an entire period to a discussion of human cruelty. Now those who had inflicted pain on Susie saw themselves, as it were, in a mirror. The image reflected wasn’t flattering.

“That is absolutely wrong,” I spluttered, my voice shaking with emotion. I looked to her peers for explanation. Chastened by a victim’s revelation, no one dared utter a word. The bell rang and I stood and stared as Susie’s tormentors snuck out the door and made their escape to lunch. 

The dehumanizers are always dangerous, always evil, and always wrong.
I don't think that's hard to understand.

   

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In light of current events, I thought a few teachers might be interested in this reading I prepared for my classes.

Feel free to use it any way you like.

If anyone would like a copy in document form, feel free to send me an email.


Hiroshima and Nagasaki


            Colonel Paul Tibbets checked last-minute details one final time. Gas gauges showed “full” and all four engines were running smooth. Crew members reported over the intercom. Everything was ready. Tibbets glanced at his instrument panel and pulled back on his throttles. Slowly, his B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay,[1] picked up speed and headed down the runway.

            More than a thousand miles to the north, on the island of Honshu, lay the target: Hiroshima.

*

            In the weeks leading up to this moment Tibbets and members of the special 509th Bomber Group had practiced hard for some “unknown mission.” Now the mystery had been solved. The night before Colonel Tibbets had called his air crews together. At last, they had orders. He could explain what their training was all about. A new type of “atomic bomb,” he told the men, was about to be unveiled. A film of the first atomic test (on July 16, 1945 in the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico) was shown. Then the lights came back up and Tibbets asked for questions. Even his veteran audience was too stunned to respond.

            When the Enola Gay rose into the sky the next morning it carried a single bomb. It was a weapon unlike anything ever seen before. Nicknamed “Little Boy,” it was ten feet long, 28 inches in diameter, and weighed 9,000 pounds. Most of this weight was “machinery” to make the bomb explode. The destructive power would come from an atomic chain reaction unleashed inside a 22-pound lump of enriched uranium. A little larger than a softball, this mass would generate [produce] an explosive force equal to 20,000 tons of TNT.[2] 

            The men aboard the Enola Gay were about to change history; but their five-and- a-half hour flight to Hiroshima was uneventful. As they approached the Japanese coast a pair of escort planes could be seen checking weather and taking film. At Tibbets’ command everyone put on special goggles to protect their eyes. Co-pilot Robert A. Lewis was busy writing in his journal. The bombardier, Major Thomas Ferebee, had been “very quiet.” Then, with the plane over Hiroshima, Lewis scribbled: “There will be a short intermission while we bomb our target.”

            At exactly 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945 the silent Ferebee pushed his bomb switch. “Little Boy” fell away and Enola Gay rose suddenly as the weight was released. The timing device was set to go off 45 seconds later, while the bomb was in mid-air, hundreds of feet above the city.

            The bomb worked perfectly. That is: it was going to kill more human beings at one time than anything man had yet invented. First there was a blinding flash of light, as if a second sun had appeared in the sky. The fireball flashed and grew until it was a hundred yards in diameter. Heat released by the atomic reaction was measured in thousands of degrees. 

            In seconds four square miles of the city ceased to exist. People and buildings close to the center of the blast were reduced to vapor and ash. Stone walls a third of a mile from ground zero [the point of explosion] melted. Across a wider area 60,000 homes, schools, hospitals and factories were destroyed or damaged. A huge column of flame, smoke and radioactive particles rose high in the atmosphere. At 10,000 feet a head like a mushroom formed. The black cloud continued rising, churning like an ugly beast. Seven miles up a second mushroom head formed, blotting Hiroshima from view. No longer in a joking mood, all Lewis could write was: “My God!” At 8:20 a.m. Enola Gay began turning toward home. Tibbets broke radio silence long enough to inform listeners at his base: “Mission successful.” 

Below, the city was a scene of unthinkable horror.

*

            At the moment “Little Boy” exploded, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was sitting at home, a mile away, looking over the morning paper. Suddenly, a bright flash lit his page. Before he could rise from his chair, the force of the giant blast wave sent him flying. There was a sound of shattering glass and splintering wood. Then his house came crashing down round him. 

            Toshiko Sasaki was at her desk in a nearby factory when the bomb hit, destroying the building. Somehow, she found herself buried under book cases and their contents. Her leg was broken, bent almost double.

At a nearby hospital a young doctor heard a roar and felt the building rock. Walls and ceiling came crashing down on top of the beds. His eyeglasses were torn from his face. Many patients and medical staff were killed instantly. Others were badly cut by flying glass. Blood was everywhere, even on walls. 

            At exactly 8:15 a.m. Shigeru Shimoyama was hard at work in his company’s warehouse. He, too, heard the blast and felt himself flying through the air. When he came too a little later he was impaled on a broken wood post, with five nails stuck in his back.

            Thirteen-year-old Yoshitaka Kawamoto was at his desk in school when “Little Boy” exploded half a mile away.[3] Before he could ask himself what the explosion was, the school was torn apart. Two-thirds of his classmates died instantly. He was buried in wreckage, but managed to crawl out and consider his situation. Three of his upper teeth were broken. A piece of wood stuck in his left arm like an arrow. After rigging a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, he began searching for survivors. A hand sticking up led him to his best friend. The boy’s back was broken and he was missing an eye. The two youngsters spoke a few words. Then his friend died quietly.

            With flames licking at the splintered remains of the school, Kawamoto fled to safety. He could hear students trapped in the ruins singing the school song to let rescuers know they were alive. Behind him, the body of his friend stared at him with its one good eye.

            Hara Tamiki had risen from bed a few minutes before Enola Gay released its deadly load. Wearing nothing but shorts he headed toward his bathroom. Now the bomb blast ripped apart his home and he felt a stunning blow to the head. When he finally recovered his senses, he was bleeding and his shorts were gone. The wreckage around him was on fire. So he gathered what clothes he could and fled. In his yard he noticed a large maple tree snapped like a stick.

            In every direction scenes of horror filled the view. Four thousand soldiers of the Japanese Second Army, stationed near the center of town, had been wiped out. A handful of U. S. airmen, shot down during an earlier raid and held in the city castle, were incinerated. Countless civilians were horribly burned or buried in wreckage. As survivors scrambled from the ruins, they could hear screams for help from beneath the rubble. Fumio Shigeto, for one, was “lucky.” At the moment “Little Boy” exploded he was standing in line for a trolley car. Everyone in front was burned to death by the fireball. 

            A corner of a building shielded Shigeto and he survived. 

            The people of Hiroshima had no idea what hit them. Many were in shock. Others were so badly injured they could not have cared what kind of weapon had been used—even if someone could have explained how the atomic bomb worked. Terrified and confused, some cried out that more planes were coming with more of these awful bombs.

            With hospitals, fire and police stations destroyed, survivors headed for the banks of the Ota River. Others stumbled out of the city in search of safety or simply fled the hell around them. Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto saw hundreds of victims streaming along the Koi Highway. “The eyebrows of some were burned off and skin hung from their faces and hands. Others, because of the pain, held their arms up [away from their burned bodies] as if carrying something in both hands...Many were naked or in shreds of clothing.” Michiko Yamakoa, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, was among those headed for the countryside. Spotting a friend, she called to her, but at first the other girl could not recognize her. “Your nose and eyebrows,” she explained, “are gone.”

            By 9:00 a.m. Shigeru Shimoyama had pulled loose from the nails in his back and headed for the river. Along the way he saw a sight he would never forget. Before him was a pink horse, standing, head down, its skin seared off. The beast looked at him as he passed—tried to follow—but could not.

            Other survivors uncovered Toshiko Sasaki from the piles of books in her wrecked office. There was no time to treat her smashed leg. They left her under a shed with two other victims. One was a woman whose chest was crushed. The other was a man burned so badly his face looked like a tomato. Nearby, a young mother clutched a dead child and begged passers-by to find her husband. “You’ve got to find him,” she sobbed. “He loved our baby so much. I want him to see her once more.”[4] In a park along the river, Reverend Tanimoto stopped to assist others. As he lifted one burned woman from a boat, “her skin slipped off in huge glove-like pieces.” Working amid scenes of horror he had to keep reminding himself:  “These are human beings.” 

            Many who survived the blast and flames began dying that night from radiation sickness. Seven-year-old Shizuko Iura neared death. Still, she had strength to try to comfort her mother. Shizuko’s father, a soldier, was stationed far away from home. Now the little girl pleaded, “Please stay alive, Mother. If both of us die, he will be very lonely.” She spoke briefly about friends and relatives she loved, called out, “Papa! Papa!” and died.

            The toll on this day was 90,000 killed.


Two of the lucky survivors.

*

            Even in the face of vast destruction the Japanese hesitated to surrender. On August 9, a second atomic bomb fell on the city of Nagasaki. There surrounding hills cushioned the blast and loss of life was not quite so terrible. Still, the destruction was staggering. Again a brilliant ball of flame appeared over the doomed city. Then there was a roar, “as though the sky were being scooped out with a sharp tool.” High overhead, the American co-pilot studied the awful scene below. Then he called back to bombardier Kermit K. Beahan, “Well, Bea, there’s a hundred thousand Japs you just killed.” Later a Japanese author summed it up grimly: “A large city had disappeared in a twinkling, from one explosion.” 

            The fate of Nagasaki was awful. Those exposed to the fireball were roasted. Thousands were trapped in smashed buildings. Fires whipped by high winds spread flames in all directions. Fujie Urata had left her mother earlier that morning to go for a visit. Now she raced back to find her house gone and her mother dead. The pumpkin field in front of the home was blown clean. Nothing remained, except a woman’s head where the pumpkin crop had been. A gold tooth gleamed from the wide open mouth. Fujie could not recognize the victim.

            Elsewhere, Fujie’s sister, Tatsue, saw a woman burned till “her face was one blister,” holding two equally scarred children. The blinded mother begged Tatsue to take them; but the girl knew all three would soon be dead. In another burning neighborhood a mother “rushed around half-crazy, trying to find [her daughter] until she was overcome by smoke and collapsed.” She suffered serious burns but could not rescue the girl. By a twist of fate, the same woman’s husband had been visiting Hiroshima three days before and died there.

            Once more, a large part of the city was pulverized, and survivors fled into the surrounding countryside. One boy saw them coming along a road and remarked that the burned people “looked like a parade of roast chickens.” Another girl, who tried to enter the city to reach her home, asked all passing women if they had seen her mother. Many were blistered and unrecognizable and might have been her mother! As at Hiroshima the explosion was followed in some areas by large greasy raindrops. High above, moisture surrounding the pillar of smoke and hot dust was condensing and falling like black rain.             

            Nagasaki was reduced to “a hill of ashes.” Where once had stood a great city nothing remained but charred bodies and white ash. Thousands were dead, more thousands injured. Yet the dying would not end quickly, even after Japan finally agreed to surrender.
 
            As the days and weeks passed, countless victims died in agony. Often, the cause was radiation poisoning.[5] Symptoms, though not always fatal, varied. Many victims lost their hair and suffered from high fever and diarrhea. Blood disorders might develop. Sores broke out all over the body. Wounds refused to heal. Men were made sterile. Pregnant women miscarried. One nine-year-old boy who survived the attacks remembered watching his mother slowly die. Thirteen days after Hiroshima was hit, her hair had fallen out. There was a deep wound in her back which never closed and her breathing was labored [difficult; hard work]. One day he tried to feed her a little soup. She struggled to swallow, took a last breath, let it out, and her suffering was ended forever.[6]

*

            In the weeks and months to come men and women round the world paused to wonder. What would future wars be like if one side—or both—employed these terrible tools of death? In the days following the attacks at least one survivor interrupted a priest who was offering support. “If your God is so good and kind,” he asked angrily, “how can he let people suffer like this?”

            Perhaps the two atomic bombs had to be used. Perhaps not.           

There was disagreement then. There still is. 

            Whatever the case war, and mankind’s future, changed forever during those grim days of August 1945. The shadow of the mushroom cloud has darkened humanity’s path ever since.



Your work:

1. Pretend you were in Hiroshima or Nagasaki when the bombs hit. Write about what happened to you, your neighbors, family and friends.



[1] The plane was named after Tibbets’ mother.
[2] At the time the United States had only two atomic bombs ready for use. Because their designs were different they were tagged with nicknames to suit them. A shorter, thicker bomb was called “Fat Man.”
[3] Normally, Kawamoto remembered, students looked forward to air-raid warnings. At such times they were allowed to stop work and seek a safer spot.
[4] The poor woman refused to give up the dead child for four days.
[5] Japan agreed to stop all fighting on August 15. A peace treaty was signed on September 2, 1945.
[6] Counting those who died from lingering affects like cancer, many ten or twenty years later, the toll at Hiroshima is said to have reached 138,000. Losses at Nagasaki were probably around 49,000. By comparison the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 killed about 3,500.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Retired Teachers Never Quit: Teaching about Gettysburg

I retired in 2008 but I still have teaching running in my blood. So I putter around with fresh materials even today.

If you’re interested in material on the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, there are easy ways to put together a good slide presentation for students.

(Feel free to borrow any of those that follow.)

First, I always made sure, when we did a unit on the Civil War, that my students knew what the Rebel battle flag looked. 

Naturally, we talked about what it can mean today.



If you’re interested, this barn stands not far north of Cincinnati, as you head north on I-71. The roof has been painted the same way since 1972, at least. Until recently, a burned cross, symbol of the Ku Klux Klan stood in a nearby orchard




The map of Gettysburg above shows the position of the two armies on the second day of the fight. Long ago, I learned you could cut out black and white art from old history books. You can pick up a lot of old books at antique stores and use the work without fear. Almost everything printed before 1930 is out of copyright. Most black and white art I have could be scanned into handouts for students to read.

This might be a good example. I love the story:



Like any good teacher, I brought my own experiences to discussion (although I admit I taught before everything had to be standardized and a teacher might be horsewhipped if he or she didn’t teach to the test). At the age of twelve, I developed an abiding interested in the Civil War, which had much to do with why I later became a history teacher myself. But I had a totally unrealistic view of what war might involve.

Still na├»ve, in 1968, I enlisted in the United States Marines and twice volunteered to go to Vietnam. I was both dumb and lucky and was never sent. During my teaching career, however, I was able to bring in all kinds of combat veterans to talk to my kids. It wasnt even hard to convince them to come in and spend an entire day, as Ive previously discussed on my blog. And in all the years the veterans came to talk, I don’t think I ever heard a word they said that made me wish I had been personally shot at.

One veteran of Iwo Jima told me after he talked to my classes in 2005, that he had nightmares every day for the next month.

In any case, because of my own background, I tried to make it crystal clear to students that there was no glory in war.




My old school still continues a program I helped start in 2003 to bring out veterans to talk to all our kids in classroom settings. (SeeThe Veterans Come to Loveland Middle School.) We’ve had as many as twenty veterans come on one day. Some are now former students, who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their tales are sometimes harrowing, and sometimes make you very proud of what these young men have done. (We still haven't manged to find any young female veterans to visit; but we still aren't giving up.) At least one, who was sitting in my class on 9/11, told Loveland students in 2014 that he, too, had nightmares all the time as a result of what he saw.


Because of my own background, and because of what veterans have told me (one Vietnam vet broke down in tears during his talk) I tried to make it clear to my students there was no real glory in war.

The two pictures above obviously serve that purpose. The doctor’s kit from the Civil War (it’s a little blurry; I took it in 1978) includes a very noticeable saw—for amputating hands, feet, arms and legs. I myself chose not to mince words when talking about the carnage in any Civil War battle—or any battle before or since. I took the picture of the belt buckle struck by a Minnie ball through the glass of a display case at the Gettysburg National Park Visitor’s Center museum in 2011. 

So I never used it in class, myself.

If I was teaching today, I’d ask students what the man who was hit must have thought. I assume he got knocked out and bruised badly, of course. That would get students talking, I think.









Today, if you go, the battlefield at Gettysburg is quiet, even picturesque. The stone statues and monuments, the polished cannon in the museum display, have nothing to say about the great contest waged there in July 1863. (See above.) Of course, the job of any good history teacher is to put flesh and blood back on the bones of those who lived in the past, to breathe life into the story.

I never used many of these pictures myself, having taken them or reproduced them since I retired. But the examples of shot and shell (above) might help your classes understand the destruction artillery wrought on every battlefield of the war.

Another great way to assemble pictures for your own class involves nothing more taxing, albeit time-consuming, than checking images readily available on the internet.

Yes, I still remember: “time-consuming” sums up the endless work required of every teacher every day, every week, and every year.

Several artists have done excellent work. Winslow Homer would be one, and anything he has done is long out of copyright and can be used in almost any way. You can also look for the photographs of Matthew Brady. Two painters still working today certainly stand out, Don Troiani and Mort Kuntsler. To assemble some of the images below, I purchased one of Troiani’s books at a used book sale, cut out the photos I wanted to use, and scanned them through my printer to my computer.

It cost me all of $3. You can make use of them if you like for free!!! Hey, I’m retired. I have a good pension!

This painting by Troiani shows members of the Iron Brigade, fighting on July 1.
The 19th Indiana, pictured here, suffered terrible casualties, losing 210 out of 308 men.

Troiani captures the drama of the battle on July 2.
General Barksdale, leading his Louisiana troops (shown waving his hat here) was killed.

I can't remember what unit this is, clearly Zouaves.
Scene by Troiani from the fight on July 2

If you go on vacation you may get some useful pictures yourself.
Here we look down from Little Round Top, a key point on the battlefield, particularly on July 2.

From this spot you look toward Little Round Top.
A Confederate sniper took post behind the stone wall and went to work picking off Union soldiers.
That sharpshooter himself was killed.

At a key moment on July 2, the 20th Maine, holding the line atop Little Round Top
ran out of ammunition.
Their colonel, Joshua Chamberlain, ordered a desperate bayonet charge and they held the position.
Mark Maritato's work, shown here, is also good.


Naturally, if you can weave more women into the story that’s always wise. At least two female soldiers took part during Pickett’s Charge, one of whom was killed, the other wounded. (They Fought like Demons by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook, about women who disguised themselves and served during the war might interest many teachers as well.) And the only civilian to die during the fighting was Jenny Wade.

Here’s how I told her story in a piece I prepared for my classes:

Wesley Culp grew up in Gettysburg. Later he headed south to start a new life. In the summer of 1863 Culp, now a member of Lee’s army, returned to his hometown. On the evening of July 1 he visited his sister’s house. He mentioned a message he had for Jenny Wade, a childhood friend. By chance Culp had seen her Yankee boyfriend, Jack Skelly, in a Confederate hospital. Skelly was badly wounded but hoped to return home soon.

Culp told his sister he would deliver the message personally in a day or two. Instead, he died fighting, July 2. Jenny Wade was also killed—while baking bread—the next day. The 20-year-old was hit when a stray bullet ripped through the front door of her home, passed through a small inner room, cut a second door, and struck her in the back. Wade collapsed without a sound, never knowing what hit her. She was the only civilian to die at Gettysburg. Skelly never heard the news. He died on July 12, as a result of his wounds. Whatever message he had meant for Culp to deliver, Jenny Wade never had the chance to hear it.



High fashion in 1863.

The key event at Gettysburg—and likely the key event of the war—was Pickett’s Charge, a heroic but doomed effort by 15,000 men. There are all kinds of good details that you can use to bring the moment alive; but to keep this post shorter, I’ll just add a few of the pictures I’ve found.

Longstreet opposed ordering Pickett's Charge but was over-ruled by Robert E. Lee.

Climbing a fence in their path, Pickett's men take punishing fire.


Scene of Pickett's Charge from the Gettysburg museum.
At center a caisson blows up.


I found you could scan old black and white art into materials for your students.



Were these  three Rebel soldiers lucky to be captured?



Finally, if I may, I would emphasize again the need to introduce the human element into any discussion of war. In most textbooks, the death toll at Gettysburg is duly and perhaps dully noted. But it’s just a number to your students today. Try asking them how they’d feel if a father, brother, cousin or other loved one was killed fighting for our country.

Make sure they feel.





The quote, above, I photographed at the battlefield museum simply so I wouldn’t have to write it down or forget it entirely before I got home.

The picture of the three young children was found after the battle ended. Here’s the way I told students the story behind it:

Sergeant Amos Humiston, a Yankee from New York, was killed on the first day of battle. Soldiers rarely carried identification in 1863 and when Humiston’s body was found later no knew who he was. In his hands, however, he held a picture of three young children. Northern papers ran it under the headline: WHOSE FATHER WAS HE?

The children were recognized.

The photo was returned to the family. 


Anyway, if this material is of any use to any young teachers today, then I’ve done my good deed for now.


As a retired teacher, it’s time for a nap.