Last Look at the Civil War
Lasts. Our society has an obsession with lasts. We want to get the ‘last word’ and the ‘last laugh’ and be the ‘last one standing’. We want to do or say things one last time ; take one last look; hear a song one last time. We even have traditions of honoring last requests, giving a last meal, and recording last words. It seems as though we believe that witnessing something that will never happen again is in some way significant or important.
Why? What meaning do we hope to get from the last of something?
As we close our unit on the Civil War it is worth thinking about what is remembered from that time. What is left from the days of Lincoln and Lee?
Famous Last Words
The words that were spoken and written during the Civil War can give us vivid pictures of life in the 1860’s. What can be inferred from a person’s dying words? Sometimes they can tell us a lot about a person, and other times they tell us almost nothing at all. Below is a small collection of phrases uttered in last moments by men who were an important part of this struggle.
Robert E. Lee – “Strike the tent.”
- A phrase usually used to mean it was time to break camp, take down the tent, and move on.
Ulysses S. Grant – “Water”
General John Sedgwick – “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
- This phrase was actually Gen. Sedgwick’s next-to-last words, but is widely remembered because the general made this remark just before being hit in the head by a sharpshooter’s bullet.
Gen. Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson – “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of those trees.”
Gen. J. E. B. Stuart – “I am going fast now; I am resigned; God’s will be done.”
- Not long before this Gen. Stuart had asked a friend, “Honey-bun, how do I look in the face?” and these words are sometimes given as his last.
Jefferson Davis – “Pray, excuse me”
Abraham Lincoln – “It doesn’t really matter.”
- Lincoln said this when his wife told him not to hold her hand in the theater because people might see.
- The last thing Lincoln expressed was laughter when a line in the play he was watching included a joke about the president. Lincoln was laughing when he was shot.
Famous quotes are great and sometimes interesting, but what about the regular people. Lee, Grant, Jackson, and even Lincoln would never have been famous or noteworthy without the people they led. They couldn’t make history on their own.
Capt. Jimmy Sayles wrote often to his sweetheart (the girl he was secretly engaged to), Miss Florence Lee, and he asked her to write more often. In his last letter he describes fighting around a place called White Oak Swamp, VA. After that she received nothing else until she got this.
(Click the ‘Text’ tab to read the letter in typed form and use the Next button to see the following pages)
At some point all the men and women who lived through even a little of the Civil War died. They were the last living link with a period in history that has become almost ancient to us. Even in their last years they seemed to belong to another age.
This excerpt is from a book about Civil War veterans. It focuses mostly on two men, but includes information about many of the veterans who outlasted the war.
Read the quotes, the letter, and the excerpt. Then choose one of the following options.
Option 1 – Write a primary source analysis of the linked letter. Include high quality observations and inferences as well as questions and places to look for more information. Get an analysis sheet from me if you need one.
Option 2 – Write an article report on the excerpt about Civil War veterans. Be sure to include a main idea, half-page summary, and a half-page response as well as questions. In your response consider this question: Do you care if some of these last surviving soldiers were fakes? Why or why not?
You can write out this assignment by hand or type and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org