Examines the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of a Confederate soldier Edward Estes.

Dates and Eras 1863
Themes Battles, Soldiers, Leaders
Grades 5–7
Standards VS.7, US!.9 VUS.7; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.4, .9-10.4,11-12.4


Historical Context

The battle of Gettysburg was the culmination of Robert E. Lee’s campaign into Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863. From July 1st through July 3rd, Lee’s army clashed with the Army of the Potomac under General George G. Meade, near the town of Gettysburg. On the final day, Lee ordered about 15,000 Confederate soldiers to attack the U.S. Army center at Cemetary Ridge. The charge became known as Pickett’s Charge because the majority of the troops were in the division led by Major General George Pickett. The charge failed, and in the end, these three days of fighting resulted in roughly 51,000 casualties (men either killed, wounded or missing in action), making Gettysburg one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. It was a devastating defeat for Lee who lost approximately one-third of his army, putting an end to future Confederate incursions north.

Suggested Questions

1. After reading Estes’ letter, what do you think the morale of the Confederate army was like following the battle of Gettysburg? Provide examples from the text.

2. Throughout Estes’ letter, what kinds of words does he use to provide detailed imagery of the battle and the army? List the words or phrases below.

3. After looking at the photograph of captured soldiers at Gettysburg, write a short paragraph describing these men.

4. What were substitutes?

5. Discuss Estes’ stance on substitutes and explain why you agree or disagree with him.

Suggested Activities

1. Have students read the Encyclopedia Virginia entry on “Pickett’s Charge.” Then, distribute to them the letter from Edward H. Estes describing Pickett’s Charge during the battle of Gettysburg. You may want to have students as a class or in individual groups try to transcribe the letter before handing out the actual transcription. Hold a class discussion using the letter and the information in the article. Use the following questions to guide the discussion: What does Sergeant Estes reveal about Pickett’s Charge? What officers does he specifically mention? Whose gallantry does he describe? Are there some things he got wrong? Whom does he blame for the failure of Pickett’s Charge? How does this letter reveal bias within the Army of Northern Virginia?

2. Have students read “Gettysburg: Turning Point or Small Stepping Stone to Union Victory?” by Aaron Sheehan-Dean at Teaching History.Org and hold a classroom discussion or debate about the significance of this battle. Have students use their own research as well as the article to answer the following questions: What were Lee’s hopes in bringing the war to the North? If he had won, what might the possible results have been? What contributed to the Union victory at Gettysburg? What outcomes resulted from a Union victory at Gettysburg?

3. Have students make a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the photo of Estes with one of the captured Confederate soldiers.