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Civil War Battlefield Visits Bring Fifth Grade History Lessons Alive
Posted 05/02/2017 11:41AM

In the third trimester, fifth graders learn about the most destructive war in U.S. history: the United States Civil War. Students find this time fascinating as teachers avail themselves of the rich history in our local area. The class travels to Antietam, Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry, and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick in order to bring history alive.

The fifth graders spent two days immersed in the Civil War, visiting two battlefields: The Monocacy Battlefield in Frederick and the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. Students were surprised to learn how the Battle of the Monocacy was won by the Confederacy in July, 1864 but that the Union soldiers stalled long enough for reinforcements to arrive and “save” Washington, D.C. from being attacked by General Lee’s forces. The students especially enjoyed the interactive displays at the Visitor’s Center, the stellar views of the battlefield from the balcony, and the gift shop.

Lead fifth grade teacher Katja Behrend and Middle School social studies teacher Doug Hart then accompanied the class 30 miles north to Gettysburg. The first stop was at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. Students watched a gripping film summarizing the impact of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863. Everyone was surprised to see large screen maps of Confederate troop movements heading north which actually showed the town of Barnesville, Maryland caught right between Virginia and Gettysburg.

Students then experienced the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting upstairs. The Gettysburg Foundation explains:  “In the late 1880s, French artist Paul Philippoteaux took brush to canvas and created the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama painting. He spent months on the battlefield researching the battle with veterans, a battlefield guide and a photographer. It took Philippoteaux and a team of assistants more than a year to complete the painting. The result is a breathtaking canvas that measures 377 feet in circumference and 42 feet high. Longer than a football field and as tall as a four-story structure, the Gettysburg Cyclorama oil painting, along with light and sound effects, immerses visitors in the fury of Pickett’s Charge during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.”

After a 2-hour bus and walking tour of the battlefield, including visits to the famous Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill, and Seminary Ridge, students enjoyed a big dinner before heading to play putt putt, eat ice cream, and then head to the hotel to unwind.  

Mr. Hart commented, “It was great actually standing in places that were discussed in our textbook and in the other readings and videos we have been studying. Kids were making great connections all day! The kids also had great appreciation of the artwork, the photography, and the many inventions and scientific advancements made during the war.”

The next morning focused on the plight of Gettysburg residents during the battle as the group explored the Gettysburg Heritage Center. Students learned about hiding in cellars and how only one civilian actually died during the three-day battle where there were over 50,000 casualties combined for Union and Confederate forces. Water sources were contaminated, crops and farm animals were left destroyed and dead, and the townspeople were left to bury the dead soldiers after Lee’s forces retreated July 4, 1863. President Lincoln visited Gettysburg to honor these dead in November, 1863, and he delivered his famous Gettysburg Address. Fifth graders honored the dead by visiting the location of Lincoln’s speech. Students had read the speech in class, and they examined the connection with America’s  past and hopes for its future, according to Lincoln.

Students returned to Barnesville after a nice lunch and park visit in downtown Frederick. Mr. hart plans to take the group back to Frederick to visit the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Mr. Hart reflected on how complimentary the tour guide was of the 5th graders’ knowledge of the war and their understanding of its causes.  He also said, “We have spent so much quality time exploring the many conflicts leading up to the Civil War, and this trip just confirmed to the kids how much they really know. They really get it!”  

Each 5th grader will end their study of the Civil War by researching a specific character of the Civil War (a spy, a military leader, a nurse, etc.) over the next several weeks. They will dress up like the character and present to an audience their “story” as a culminating activity.  

Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences is an independent private school in Montgomery County, Maryland offering innovative preschool through 8th grade programs. Cross-curricular teaching encourages students to explore how subjects relate to one another, helping them to make connections that spark inquiry and deepen understanding

An independent private school in
Montgomery County, Maryland
offering innovative preschool
through 8th grade programs.

Barnesville School

21830 Peach Tree Road
PO Box 404
Barnesville, MD 20838

p: 301.972.0341
f: 301.972.4076


We offer a vigorous academic program for students as well as engaging, hands-on learning experiences.


Our positive, supportive learning environment promotes imagination, exploration, personal growth, and achievement.

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