National Social Science Association

National Social Science Association Home
NSSA History
Membership Form
Conferences and Seminars
Officers and Board Members
New Announcements
Contact NSSA

Hallowed Ground: Historical Investigation

Ronald G. Helms
Wright State University

Jerry Baydo
National Social Science Association


     Time, continuity and change is the NCSS standard that many social studies educators apply to the study of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). The complexities of the Battle of Gettysburg (the turning point of the Civil War) and with causalities estimated between 46,000 and 51,000 have been and will continue to be a major source of historical study for students and citizens of the United States. Nearly 650,000 American soldiers died as a result of the Civil War.

     An actual teaching unit on the Battle of Gettysburg or a secondary or university course on the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War demonstrates that all ten NCSS standards (Culture; Time, Continuity, and Change; People, Places, and Environment; Individual Development and Identity; Individuals, Groups, and Institutions; Power, Authority, and Governance; Production, Distribution, and Consumption; Science, Technology, and Society; Global Connections; Civic Ideals and Practices) apply to this brief time period.

     Historical polls may provide different results for rating the presidents, and the variables of leadership, accomplishments, political skill, appointments, and character are integral to the ratings. Persico (365) cited the 1997 book, Rating the Presidents in which Lincoln is rated first and FDR is rated second.  In a Schlesinger survey of fifty eminent historians, Lincoln is rated first, Washington is rated second, and FDR is rated third (Persico, 365). 

History Channel: Gettysburg Civil War

     This historical leader rating is employed to place Gettysburg in American historical perspective. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought 146 years ago; the Great Depression occurred only 66 years following Gettysburg; and the author first visited Gettysburg 55 years ago. The Battle of Gettysburg is only two lifetimes away using this math, and it is vital that all Americans have a sense of history that includes a vast array of accomplishments that have led to U.S. history. Goodwin (532) observes the following concerning the importance of the Battle of Gettysburg:

If Lee achieved victory at Gettysburg, he could move on to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. His aura of invincibility might, it was feared, eventually lead the British and French to recognize the independence of the Confederacy and bring the war to an end.

     The Dayton American History Project is a professional development program for teachers of U.S. history in the fifth, eighth, ninth, and tenth grades. The three and one-half year project is funded through the “Teaching American History” grant program of the U.S. Department of Education. “Citizenship, Creativity, and Invention” are the themes of the Dayton Teaching American History Project, which is directed jointly by the Dayton Public Schools and Wright State University in partnership with ThinkTV and area historical museums and organizations.

     The $1 Million Partnership grant received $916,000 plus dollars from the Teaching American History federal funds and together with numerous state and local grants exceeded the $1 Million grant.

     The Teaching American History grants are highly competitive federal grants that may be awarded to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in partnership with universities, humanities organizations, libraries, or museums.

     An online lesson bank of 300 deeply-aligned American history lessons, created by an historian from trusted sources such as the National Archives and Library of Congress, is available to all Dayton Public School teachers twenty-four hours a day at the Teaching American History WWW site. This Teaching American History WWW site provides American history curriculum and lesson plans for grades 5, 8, 9, and 10.

Hallowed Ground

     The author was born and raised just south of Uniontown, PA. As a young student, Gettysburg was truly hallowed ground. The author experienced first hand over a period of 55 years the importance of Gettysburg. The author has “felt” the “spirituality” of numerous American historical sites: Ground Zero, The Viet Nam Wall, our great U.S. West national parks, and Gettysburg. As a child, visiting Gettysburg was a life-changing experience that promoted the love of learning and for experiencing firsthand the American landscape.  Family and school visits to Gettysburg were linked with visits to Washington, DC, Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.

     History teachers should view “David McCullough's Talk at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership”. McCullough clearly establishes that teachers and parents must take children and students to visit historical sites. Students need to experience the landscape and architecture of America in order to experience history.

     As a young teacher the author taught in southwestern Ohio and was amazed at how few students had experienced the ten-hour journey to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.  Clearly, there was a mission to enable more Ohio students to experience the Gettysburg National Military Park.  The author soon joined the Dayton Council of World Affairs as a vice president for education while teaching, and led numerous Junior Council of World Affairs expeditions to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.  The Junior Council of World Affairs was leading expeditions of six – eight Grey Hound bus loads of high school students to “Hallowed Ground” that few southwestern Ohio students had ever experienced.

The Dayton Teaching American History Grant

     Following years of public school teaching, the author is currently director of social studies education at an Ohio university.  One of the forty plus grants that the author has been a projector director, is the $915,000.00 Teaching American History project (TAH) that resulted from The Dayton American History grant. This grant is a federally funded project that extended from October 2002 to June 2006.  Several components of the Teaching American History Project are currently sustained, and will benefit Dayton teachers and students into the future. 

     The Teaching American History grants are highly competitive federal grants that may be awarded to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in partnership with universities, humanities organizations, libraries, or museums:
The Teaching American History Grant program is a discretionary grant program funded under Title II-C, Subpart 4 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The goal of the program is to support programs that raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of American history.

The program supports competitive grants to local educational agencies. The purpose of these grants is to promote the teaching of traditional American history in elementary and secondary schools as a separate academic subject. Grants are used to improve the quality of history instruction by supporting professional development for teachers of American history. In order to receive a grant, a local educational agency must agree to carry out the proposed activities in partnership with one or more of the following: institutions of higher education, nonprofit history or humanities organizations, libraries, or museums.

     As project director, the author learned that few southwestern Ohio teachers had visited Gettysburg and the historical areas of Virginia. Teaching About Early American Historic Sites: Virginia, the Chesapeake, and Washington, D.C. became a mandatory goals for several years of the TAH institute, which included an expedition to the Chesapeake region and sites such as Gettysburg National Battlefield, Smithsonian’s American History Program, D.C. memorials, Mt. Vernon, Manassas, Colonial Williamsburg, and the National Road Zane Grey Museum.

     The TAH project offered major field trips to Boston, San Jose, Philadelphia, Gettysburg, Washington, D.C, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg offered free college credit, free meals and lodging, free transportation, as well as stipends to purchase classroom resource materials.  The teachers’ favorite national conference is the annual NCSS conference, and the TAH project directors were able to write an NCSS conference proposal that permitted our teachers to present at Kansas City.

The Teaching American History Grant: The Gettysburg National History Park

     The Gettysburg National Military Park is a critical visit and experience for educators and for students. It seems amazing that school groups will set their sites on Washington, D.C. or Williamsburg with little knowledge of the geography of Gettysburg. These two historical areas are one hour and thirty minutes apart or nearly 86 miles.  I have always tried to avoid the summer tourist season for educational visits to Gettysburg.

     In addition to WWW resources, we equipped all teachers with the following guides:
National Park Civil War Series (1994). The Battle of Gettysburg, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior (1998). Gettysburg – Official Map and Guide, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior: A Field Trip Guide for Educators – The Battle of Gettysburg.

     To teachers and students who may envision the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle Verdun, the Battle of the Marne, the Battle of Midway, the Battle of Yorktown, the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the Battle of New Orleans as a confusion of dates, enemies, and time, that is to be memorized and forgotten, teaching history requires more than reading a few pages, PowerPoint presentations, and lectures. The Battle of Gettysburg has important focal points: Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, the Peach Orchard, Culp's Hill, Pickett's Charge, Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, Seminary Ridge, a cast of leading generals, and statistics that may seem arcane to both teacher and student.

     Best Practice may be applied in several ways to the teaching of the Battle of Gettysburg. Best Practice includes lectures, group discussion, Socratic questions, reflective responses, learner participation, active learning strategies, cooperative group assignments, modeling, and climate setting.

     While a combination of Best Practice is recommended, active learning strategies that follow the Dewey tenet of “learning by doing” applies to a field trip to Gettysburg.  The NCSS and many states social studies standards clearly mandate the value of field trips.

     The Ohio Department of Education (2) Academic Content Standards for K-12 Social Studies provides for the importance of field trips as a best practice:

Whenever possible, students should have opportunities to learn social studies in real-world contexts. They should be able to examine artifacts, read primary source materials, engage in authentic experiences and take field trips. Research shows that learning is enhanced when students make meaningful connections between new information that they are learning and their own experiences. Combining social studies instruction with the study of other disciplines, such as art and literature, helps to reinforce the learning within each discipline. It also helps the students to develop conceptual frameworks that lead to broader understandings.

The Gettysburg National History Park: Planning and Experiencing

     In planning a field trip to Gettysburg, allow for one – three days of actual 9:00AM – 7:00PM touring.  There are 34 plus hotels and motels, 33 plus Bed and Breakfasts, and 25 plus restaurants.  Several of the “tavern dining inns” may add a to this unique visit. This same WWW site provides a number of historical package visits for those who prefer to leave the planning to others; visit their website for more information.

     The $915,000.00  Dayton Teaching American History project legacy website provides numerous U.S. history lessons and while the specific lesson is developed for grade 8, this lesson plan is easily modified for several different grades.  By clicking on Unit 8, The Civil War, teachers will receive a five-day lesson plan.pdf. This specific unit encourages the use of many appropriate WWW sites, and all the sites and lesson plans have been carefully field-tested. is a listing of the many TAH projects that have constructed web sites for teachers.  Many of these web sites will provide lessons for teaching about the Battle of Gettysburg.  In preparing for the Dayton teachers to journey to Gettysburg, the teachers were required to review the available lessons and to begin construction of their own Battle of Gettysburg teaching unit.

     The single premier WWW site is The Gettysburg National Military Park. The WWW site For Teachers suggest planning a trip, curriculum materials, and even a “Traveling Trunk” for those students who may not be able to visit Gettysburg. The curriculum materials include the following:

Learning Activities

  1. Choose and develop a character.(pdf- 24.9k)
  2. What would you do, stay or flee? (pdf- 28.4k)
  3. "A new birth of freedom."? (pdf- 14.1k)
  4. Long Remember- Postwar (pdf- 11.6k)


  1. African American Bios. (pdf-19k)
  2. Supplementary Material. (pdf-29k)
  3. Mag Palm Account. (pdf-112k)
  4. The Gettysburg Address. (pdf-12k)
  5. Lincoln on Race Relations. (pdf-12k)
  6. Reactions to the Gettysburg Address. (pdf-21k)
  7. Contemporary Views of the Lincoln Administration. (pdf-20k)
  8. Worksheet. (pdf-13k)
  9. Grave diggers at Gettysburg (photo; pdf-43k)
  10. Basil Biggs and wife (photo; pdf-69k)
  11. Owen Robinson (photo; pdf-66k)
  12. John Hopkins (photo; pdf-32k)

     Because of the limited “Teacher Workshops,” the Dayton Teaching American History Project has not been able to take advantage of these in-service opportunities; however, previous experience with similar workshops indicate that these “Teacher Workshops” deserve a high priority. The Gettysburg National Military Park provides an excellent annotated bibliography on the Civil War and on the Battle of Gettysburg.  The Dayton Teaching American History Project provided $500.00 to each participating teacher to purchase curriculum materials for their classrooms.  An excellent source for the teachers is Gettysburg National Park Service Visitor’s Center and Bookstore.  We were traveling in vans, and had plenty of room for teacher supplies.

     While there are several options for touring the Gettysburg National Military Park, it is important to have a plan unless the teacher cohort is accompanied by a Gettysburg historian.  Experience recommends some initial time at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor’s Center, to view the film "A New Birth of Freedom," and to View the Gettysburg Cyclorama program.

     An essential factor in an education tour is to employ a Licensed Battle Field Guide. The fee is extremely reasonable given the knowledge and personal attention that the Licensed Battle Field Guides provide.  The Dayton teacher cohorts choose to forgo the commercial bus tours, and as projector director, I had vouchers prepared months in advance for payment of these fees; I was able to also provide a “tip” for the service.

     Our method is to hire a guide for each van of teachers.  In all of my many visits to the Gettysburg National Military Park, this is the best way to appreciate the three days of history that may have changed the course of U.S. history.  I am certain that future visits with friends and family will include the services of the Licensed Battle Field Guides.

The Gettysburg National History Park: Conclusion

     One of the most important historical sites in the nation is the Gettysburg National Military Park located near Gettysburg, PA.  Numerous Teaching American History Grants have the economic resources to bring teachers to the Gettysburg National Military Park.  The Gettysburg National Military Park is about one and one-half hour from Washing, DC and is centrally located to millions of Americans. The following illustrates some selected driving distances to Gettysburg: New York City – 206 miles; Philadelphia – 118 miles; Trenton – 149 miles; Chicago – 640 miles; Columbus, OH – 348 miles; Baltimore – 54 miles; Washington -78 miles.  

     Gettysburg National Military Park is within a day’s drive of nearly one-half of the U.S. population.  First hand experiences such as field trips are Best Practice. A visit to Gettysburg National Military Park and its history much be planned and savored.  A visitor has little to gain by aimlessly driving through the park. America’s children and students must experience the importance history of Gettysburg National Military Park. This author highly recommends the Licensed Battle Field Guides in small groups for the most engaging history of the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Gettysburg DVD Postcard - National Military Park


American Civil War Battle, Gettysburg Pennsylvania, July 1-3 1863. Retrieved December 12, 2008 from

Best Practice. Retrieved December 15, 2008 from

The Dayton American History Grant. Retrieved December 14, 2008 from

David McCullough's Talk at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. Retrieved December 10, 2008

Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Retrieved December 14, 2008 from

Gettysburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Retrieved December 14, 2008 from

The Gettysburg National Military Park. Retrieved December 12, 2008 from

The Gettysburg National Military Park Licensed Battlefield Guide Retrieved December 16, 2008 from

Goodwin, D. (2005), Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, New York: Simon & Schuster.

The Ohio Department of Education K-12 Academic Content Standards for K-12 Social Studies. Retrieved April 10, 20010 from

Persico, J. (2008), Franklin and Lucy, New York: Random House. Retrieved April 11, 2010 from

Teaching American History project. Retrieved April 14, 2010 from

Teaching American History project. Retrieved April 15, 2010 from

Home | About NSSA | Membership Form | Conferences & Seminars | Publications | Officers & Board | Newsletter | Announcements | Contact Us
Site Map | Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy
Designed by Dreamwirkz Web Designs 2010-2011 All Rights Reserved