Lesson Plans Based on Movies & Film Clips!                                         

Terms of Use   



SUBJECTS — U.S./1861-1865 & Pennsylvania;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage in War; Leadership;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Citizenship.
Age: 10+; MPAA Rating -- PG for language and epic battle scenes; Drama; 1993; 261 minutes; Color.; Available from Amazon.com.

Description: This film is a re-creation of the Union victory at Gettysburg, considered by many historians to be the turning point of the Civil War. It is based upon the book The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara.

Rationale for Using the Movie: The characters, dialogue and action in the film make clear the positions held by both southern and northern troops and can be seen as a microcosmic glimpse at the war as a whole.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will see an accurate account of this battle and gain insight into the important historical figures that played a vital role in the Civil War. Assignments will lead them to improve research skills and formal expository and analytical essays.

Possible Problems: Minor: There is some profanity in the film. It is more than four hours long and therefore difficult to see in one sitting.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Using the Movie
      Discussion Questions


Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.


How to Use Gettysburg in a Classroom Setting: This movie is four hours and twenty minutes long! Teachers can show short excerpts, for example: Chamberlain's speech to the mutinous soldiers, Buford's waking nightmare of how the battle could go badly, the scene at the campfire of the Southern officers and the English observer, the 20th Maine's defense of the Union's left flank, the charge of Pickett's division, the meeting with the runaway slave, etc. In the alternative, the entire movie can be shown in chunks through the course of a unit devoted to study of the Civil War. After each chunk there can be a lecture and discussion or assignments such as essays, research projects, or journal entries. "Gettysburg" is particularly appropriate to chunk because of its length and because: (1) it refers to so many subjects which are important to a study of this period in U.S. history; (2) the music is so powerful that it will pull students right back into the film when it is started again after the lapse of a few days; and (3) the shifts back and forth between the Confederate and Union sides are very clear.

Give an introduction to the movie that will set the time and place of the battle in the context of the Civil War. The scope and complexity of the introduction will depend upon the sophistication of the class and how much of the Civil War they have already studied. The first section of the Helpful Background provides a good introduction for some classes.

Explain any elements of the film that the students may not recognize or understand. Look for facts that will set up an "aha" moment when students see it on the screen. Consider telling students how many men are in a company, a regiment, a brigade, a division and a corps. See "Building Vocabulary" in the sidebar.

If you are only going to use a few excerpts from the movie, be sure to include Chamberlain's speech to the mutinous soldiers of the Second Maine Regiment. Almost every sentence can be the basis for essays, research, or class discussion. Here are some suggested activities based on this speech:

    "There were a thousand of us then. There are less than 300 of us now." -- Research/Essay Project: Compare the losses in the Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars with the losses in the Civil War. Why were the losses in the Civil War so high compared to the earlier wars? Notes on Responses: Strong responses will note that in all wars fought before modern medicine, deaths from disease claimed the lives of many soldiers. Strong responses will also include a reference to the fact that at the time of the Civil War defensive weapons (a soldier in a trench or behind a stone wall with a rifle) were very powerful. A few soldiers, well-protected, could defend a position against a much larger advancing force.

    "All of us volunteered to fight for the Union, just as you did. Some came mainly because we were bored at home. Thought this looked like it might be fun. Some came because we were ashamed not to. Many of us came because it was the right thing to do." -- Research/Essay Project: Test this hypothesis: One of the major reasons that young men signed up to fight in the Civil War was that they were bored at home and, at the beginning, serving in the army seemed like it would be an adventure. Notes on Responses: A good response will conclude that this was a major reason for enlistment.

    "This is a different kind of army. If you look back through history, you'll see men fighting for pay ... for women, for some other kind of loot. They fight for land, [for] power. Because a king leads them, or just because they like killing. We are here for something new. This has not happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free."

      (1) Research/Essay Project: Was Chamberlain right? Were most Union soldiers fighting to abolish slavery? Would he have been right for men in the Union army from the following states: Maine, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, or Missouri? Notes on Responses: A good answer would conclude that his statement was true only for abolitionists who were a majority in only a few states such as Maine and Massachusetts. For other states, abolitionists were a minority and most volunteers to the Union Army were fighting only to save the Union.

      (2) Lecture/Class Discussion Topic: What were the Southerners fighting for? Notes on Responses: Southern soldiers thought that they were fighting the second American Revolution, trying to keep their states free from foreign domination and upholding the principles of the Founding Fathers. Note that a good response will include recognition that one of the main reasons that the Southern colonies joined the American Revolution was a realization that slavery would soon be banned in the British Empire. The Southerners built guarantees into the Constitution protecting slavery. A good response will also include a reference to economic theories of the cause of the war.

    "America should be free ground. All of it. Not divided by a line between slave state and free. All the way from here to the Pacific Ocean." -- Research/Essay Project: Describe how the U.S. came to be divided into slave states and free states and the various compromises that were crafted during the first half of the 19th century in an effort to avoid the Civil War.

    "No man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something." -- Lecture/Discussion Topic: It is amazing when you think about how things change. Today, it would be a joke to suggest that the United States be governed by a king. However, 150 years ago, it was no joke. Kings and aristocracy ruled in most of Europe. It was less than 100 years since the King of England's rule in America had been overthrown. At the present time, we couldn't even think of going back to a system like that, but they certainly could.

    "Here is the place to build a home. But it's not the land. There's always more land." -- Lecture/Discussion topic: Where were we getting the land? What if you were a Native American and heard this speech? What would you think about the statement that "there's always more land"?

    "You and me. What we're fighting for, in the end... we're fighting for each other." Lecture/Discussion Topic: Could this be said for any war?


    Discussion Questions:

    After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

    1.  Although most often the Civil War is seen as an effort to end slavery, the Confederate soldiers again and again maintain they were fighting for other reasons. What were some of those reasons and what is your opinion on their validity? Suggested Response: Confederate soldiers came from the poorer classes of the South and didn't own slaves; indeed, their leader, Robert E. Lee, opposed slavery. Most claim they were fighting because they were invaded and wanted to keep the political freedom that had been promised in the American Revolution.

    2.  What reasons were presented in the film by Union soldiers to justify their participation in the war? Suggested Response: Most Northern soldiers were fighting to save the Union and the cause of democracy in the world. A minority were abolitionists fighting for their beliefs. A considerable number of soldiers were fighting because, as in many ware boredom and economic problems at home drove them into the army.

    3.  How did Chamberlain show respect for the troops as well as imagination and bravery in his leadership? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Colonel Chamberlain showed respect when he ordered the mutinous troops to be fed and assured them that they would not be shot. He appealed to their patriotism and principles to get them to fight rather than simply ordering them to rejoin the troops. He showed imagination and bravery when he ordered his troops to charge down the hill despite the fact that they were out of ammunition. Using bayonets, his troops surprised the enemy and seized control of a situation that looked disastrous.

    4.  Some historians condemn General Robert E. Lee as one of the worst Generals in U.S. history. They do this because, although he didn't believe in slavery, General Lee fought for the South. They point out that President Lincoln had offered Lee the command of the entire Union Army just as war was breaking out. Lee however, opted to fight for his state rather than his country. Had Lee been leading the Union troops the war would have been over in less than a year. This one decision by Lee, to defend a criminal institution and focus on his state rather than his country, extended the war by years and cost the lives of three or four hundred thousand American young men. Do you agree or disagree with this analysis. Suggested Response: This is an arguable proposition. Any reasonable response, based on facts, will do.

    For additional discussion questions, click here.


    Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

    1.  Write a newspaper account of the Battle of Gettysburg. In it include comments that may have been said by important participants in the battle, both leaders and soldiers. Seek accuracy in the summary of events and in the details and be certain that the quotes ring true.

    2.  Write an analysis of the military decisions made by both Chamberlain and Lee. Be critical when such analysis is called for and suggest changes in the battle plans that may have led to a different outcome. Write formally and defend your position.

    3.  Write an opinion essay on why you think this particular battle in a long and gruesome war stands out as the most important of the many encounters between Union and Confederate troops.

    4.  Research President Lincoln's shift in his attitudes toward slavery from the beginning of the war to its end. Write an expository essay showing the changes. In your essay, cite Lincoln's Second Inaugural address.

    5.  Research the state of captives in the Civil War. Look closely at both Union and Confederate policies about the treatment of captured enemy soldiers. Be sure to gather information on the prisoner exchange programs that were instituted during the Civil War and the reasons for such arrangements. Prepare a power point presentation of your information for the class.

    For additional assignments, click here.


Click here for TWM's lesson plan to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Parenting Points: Tell your children that the movie is true in most of its facts. You may want to engage in discussion about the honorable behavior of the battle's leaders and encourage them to read the book from which the film was made.

Note to Teachers: This film is best chunked; students will have no difficulty drawing back into the story as they are accustomed to watching a mini-series on TV. Assignments and discussions can be of great value between segments of the film. You may be especially interested in focusing on Chamberlain's speech to the mutinous soldiers of the Second Maine Regiment and the dialogue between Chamberlain and his Irish Seargant after the capture of the runaway slave. The Seargant's opinion reveals a rarely discussed reason that many soldiers fought in the battles to keep the Union together. .

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: Posthaste, enfilade, and left oblique. Units of the armies were as follows:
    company: 50 to 100 men;

    regiment: 1000 - 1500 men (regiments were recruited by state and given a number, such as "20th Maine");

    brigade: usually 4 - 6 regiments, 4,000 to 9,000 soldiers (usually a brigade was led by a brigadier general);

    division: 2 - 5 brigades;

    corps: 2 or more divisions.

    The corps was the largest grouping within an army. Confederate corps were commanded by a lieutenant general and Union corps were commanded by a major general. General Longstreet commanded a corps within the Army of Northern Virginia. One of the divisions of his corps was commanded by General Pickett. One of the brigades in his division was commanded by Lewis ("Lo") Armistead. On the Union side, Colonel Chamberlain commanded a regiment. It had 1000 men when it was formed but illness, injury, and death had reduced its strength to 300. It then increased by about 100 men when Colonel Chamberlain convinced the mutinous soldiers of the Second Maine to fight. Source for numbers in military units: History Classroom.

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: All films listed in the Subject Matter Index under U.S./Civil War.


For suggestions about using filmed adaptations of literary works in the ELA classroom, see Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories and Plays.

Last updated July 22, 2011.

Spread the GOOD NEWS about



© TeachWithMovies.com, Inc. All rights reserved. Note that unless otherwise indicated any quotations attributed to a source, photographs, illustrations, maps, diagrams or paintings were copied from public domain sources or are included based upon the "fair use" doctrine. No claim to copyright is made as to those items. DVD or VHS covers are in the public domain. TeachWithMovies.org®, TeachWithMovies.com®, Talking and Playing with Movies™, and the pencil and filmstrip logo are trademarks of TeachWithMovies.com, Inc.

TWM grants free limited licenses to copy TWM curriculum materials only to educators in public or non-profit schools and to parents trying to help educate their children. See TWM's Terms of Use for a full description of the free licenses and limits on the rights of others to copy TWM.