American Portraits

Fix Bayonets! Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s Courage at Gettysburg

In this lesson, students will explore the role Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain played in the Battle of Gettysburg. Students will specifically learn about his actions on July 2 on Little Round Top and its significance to the Union’s overall victory in the battle.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

It was a hot summer day in July of 1863. Thousands of men in mud-stained uniforms found themselves sweating in their thick, wool uniforms under the tireless sun.  One of the hundreds of regiments that made up the Army of the Potomac was the 20th Maine. The Maine men and their colonel, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, had come a long way from their home to fight to preserve the Union….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

What is the difference between courage and recklessness?

Virtue Defined

Courage is the capacity to overcome fear to do good.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will explore the role Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain played in the Battle of Gettysburg. Students will specifically learn about his actions on July 2 on Little Round Top and its significance to the Union’s overall victory in the battle.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s role in the Battle of Gettysburg
  • Students will understand how they can be courageous in their own lives
  • Students will apply their knowledge of courage to their own lives

Background

In the summer of 1863, the Civil War was in its second full year of conflict. The previous months had been difficult for the Union Army. They had lost several major engagements, including the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 and the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.

Robert E. Lee thought the Union was on its last legs. If he could invade the north, defeat the union forces in a major battle, and threaten Washington D.C., he might just end the war. He decided to move his forces north, where he eventually encountered the union army at the small Pennsylvanian village of Gettysburg.

Vocabulary

  • Union
  • Confederate
  • Colonel
  • Regiment
  • Flank
  • Volley
  • Bayonet

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Questions in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Colonel Chamberlain’s role in the Battle of Gettysburg?
  • Why was holding Little Round Top so critical to the Union’s success?
  • What does Colonel Chamberlain’s stand say about his identity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Shaara, Michael. Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War.  New York: Ballantine, 1987
  • Trulock, Alice Rains. In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
  • Gettysburg (1993), film

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