Gettysburg’s Problem

Many Americans are familiar with the Gettysburg Address. You know, the Lincoln speech that begins “Four score and seven years ago…” But what many people don’t realize is the circumstances leading to that famous address. Sure, they’ll connect it to the Battle of Gettysburg, but perhaps they think Lincoln showed up and started talking the day after the battle.

This month is November. In November 1863 – four and a half months after the battle – Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, so I thought we should discuss the speech and specific events surround it for the next couple weeks during “Back to Gettysburg on Tuesdays.”

The situation which led to the Gettysburg Address was created by the battle. It is a somber topic. For the sake of my readers, I have chosen to go into graphic detail, but I feel it is important to take time to remember the sacrifices and what actually brought Lincoln to Gettysburg.

The Problem

The experts tell us writers to create problems, conflicts. Then, increase the drama and lead to a climatic moment of resolution.

Gettysburg had a problem in 1863. Correction. Gettysburg had many problems during 1863 – Confederate raid, battle, wounded soldiers, limited supplies. But there was another issue compounding all of that…

Gettysburg DeadThe Dead.

When the Battle of Gettysburg ended, there were approximately 7,058 dead men in the fields. (This does not include the soldiers who were wounded and or the additional 4,000 who would die of their injuries.)

The Army’s Solution

Contrary to popular belief, the Union Army did make a serious attempt to bury their fallen comrades. The Union battle lines were mostly defensive, so their dead were near or within their lines. Thus, each regiment buried their soldiers, making attempts to mark the graves with wooden headboards.

The Confederate army had fought offensively (attacking) during Gettysburg. Their fallen were usually in open fields in front of the main Confederate positions. Therefore – to speak generally – the Confederates did not organize burial details. The Confederate dead were left in the fields.

Gettysburg DeadAfter the Union survivors had managed to clear the fields of the wounded and temporarily bury their own dead, they left the Gettysburg area.

Civilian men from the Gettysburg community volunteered to help bury the fallen Confederates. Many were buried on local farms and the graves were simple recorded as “Confederate graves” – rarely including units or names of the deceased.

The Emerging Problem

Although the Union army had made an effort to honor their dead, the burials had been hasty. The graves were shallow. The headboards were lightly carved or the information was written in pencil.

Gettysburg experienced torrential rains in the week following the battle. While the rain helped to cleanse the landscape (and probably prevented an epidemic of illness), it also opened the shallow graves. Across the Gettysburg community, frightful and unsettling scenes appeared. Decomposing bodies uncovered by the streaming water. Skeletal limbs protruding from the ground. The civilians began the awful task of trying to rebury – or at least cover – the dead.

The stench was horrible. Most civilians commented on the terrible odors in their writing. Some carried handkerchiefs sprinkled with peppermint oil and keep the cloths pressed to their faces whenever they went outside.

A Solution?

In the weeks immediately following the battle, most civilians were focused on helping the wounded or repairing the damages to their property. And yet, the sights of the shallow graves and the horrible stench was a constant reminder of the loss and suffering.

People realized something had to be done, but most were too busy to even begin thinking about a solution. However, one man hatched an idea that would solve the problem of the Gettysburg graves and would also bring honor to the fallen soldiers.

Conclusion (For Today)

Gettysburg had a serious problem. What could they do about the soldiers’ graves in their community? Was their a way to honor the dead, or would the graves be ploughed apart in the next spring’s planting?

Next week, we’ll explore David Wills’s suggested solution and build up to the moment when Mr. Lincoln stood to speak in “a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

Holiday History & Craft – November 2015

P1030797Gobble, Gobble…Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner. Whether you prefer turkeys in the wild or on your dining room table, you have to admit they’re part of Thanksgiving in America. Let’s learn little more about the holiday and make a craft.





Artist's idea of the first thanksgivingHoliday History

“The First Thanksgiving” was in 1621. The Pilgrims of Plymouth (in Massachusetts) decided to have a celebration to enjoy the harvest foods and socialize with their friends.

Throughout American history, leaders set aside certain days for prayer and thanksgiving. It was usually a day to attend church and be extra reverent and grateful. During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln established the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanksgiving – this was first step to making it a national holiday with everybody celebrating on the same day.

In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt made Thanksgiving Day an official American holiday and announced that it would always be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of each November.

Now, here’s a fun fact about American turkeys… Did you know Benjamin Franklin voted to make the turkey our national bird? Do you know what our national bird is? (It’s the Bald Eagle!) Which do you think the better choice for a national bird and why?

Holiday History and Craft, November 2015Craft: Harvest Turkey

Today we’ll decorate a turkey with some of the “harvest from the fields.” I hope you’ll enjoy this autumn craft.

What You’ll Need:


Printer or Copy Machine

A Turkey Coloring Page (I found my example turkey here  PARENTAL GUIDANCE strongly advised. There were ads on this website).

Colored Pencils

A variety of dried seeds, bean, or rice (I used popcorn, black beans, kidney beans, rice, and green split peas)

Wet Glue

Begin by finding a Turkey Coloring Page (see above for suggested website) or draw your own.

Holiday History and Craft, November 2015Color the turkey with colored pencils and decide which parts are going to be covered with the beans/seeds/rice.





Holiday History and Craft, November 2015Put a moderate amount of wet glue on the area or line you want to cover with beans/seeds/rice and place the items on neatly to cover the area. Continue until all desired areas are covered.



Allow to dry complete.

Display your Harvest Turkey and wish your family “Happy Thanksgiving!”

Holiday History and Craft, November 2015

Thanksgiving Trivia Question (& Thoughts)

Gazette665 Thanksgiving 2014Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s your historical trivia question for the day: which president established Thanksgiving as a national holiday? (By the way, there wasn’t an American president when the Pilgrims celebrated).

If you said Abraham Lincoln, you’re correct. Lincoln established the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanksgiving. Prior to Mr. Lincoln, different states and communities often had a day of thanksgiving in the autumn but not all on the same day. Leaders – George Washington included – made proclamations for days of thanksgiving after great victories or challenging events. However, it wasn’t until 1941 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt that Thanksgiving became an official holiday on the 4th Thursday of November each year!

And here’s your one sentence reminder about the very first Thanksgiving in America: The Pilgrims arrived in Cape Cod region (Massachusetts) in 1620, survived an extremely difficult winter, received help from the Wampanoag tribe, and in the autumn of 1621 decided to have days of celebration and thanksgiving. (I think next year, we’ll cover the Pilgrims and their “thanksgiving feast” in detail because the real history is fascinating!)

Now the history facts are concluded and I thought I’d write a “personal” note. Someone asked me to list five things I’m thankful for. There are so many blessings it’s challenging to list only five, but here’s what I’m especially grateful for this year.

1. My Faith

2. My Family

3. Heritage of America (and getting to share this history through writing and living history)

4. Life’s Challenges – building character through all the difficulties

5. Opportunities to Serve – though teaching, volunteering, being a friend, or helping at home.

What five things are you grateful for?

Thanksgiving Blessings –

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah