I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863: Summary, Characters, and Lesson Plans

cannons at the Battle of Gettysburg

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863: Book by Lauren Tarshis

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg is book #7 in the “I Survived” series, a popular children’s series about survival in historic situations.

Hope this lesson planning guide to I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863 helps you. It’s a book that connects a lot of elements of literature, history, and geography, and it really comes together with activities like listening to the Gettysburg Address, or learning the basics of military vocabulary. Also, the book begins with some memorable literary elements – like a heart that turns to mush. There’s movement-filled imagery packed with juicy verbs, and similes that come as fast as a bullet.

How to Get the Book “I Survived Gettysburg”:

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Kindle    –   Audiobook, by Scholastic Audio (1 hr, 26 min of audio)   –    Paperback Book 

Summary of I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863: 

Thomas and Birdie, his little sister, ran away from the farm where they were enslaved. On their journey North to freedom, they meet Corporal Henry Green who is a Union soldier. Corporal Green folds them into his army camp, which gives them protections. Until… the regiment is called into a battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Thomas and Birdie must survive nearby Confederate slave-catchers, and must make it through the battle taking place in Gettysburg, which would be the bloodiest battle in U.S. history. Not just in the Civil War, but in the entire national history. Thomas and Birdie make it through the battle, settle in a place where they can attend school as free children.

It’s there, in their new school, where they may have learned about The Gettysburg Address, a speech by President Lincoln commemorating the loss of life at that battle to make sure that a government “of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this Earth.”

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863: Activities

Listen to the Gettysburg Address. There is a copy that is on Audible (free when I found it).

The Gettysburg Address is amazingly short – people who were there at the speech missed it, expecting that the presentation would go on longer.

Youtube version of The Gettysburg Address (presented really slowly, and still 2:45 minutes)

Audible version of The Gettysburg Address that I personally love. (2 minutes)

Thomas hears the bugle play reveille, which is the morning wake-up call to the troops, like an alarm clock. Here is the Navy Band playing reveille. (it’s loud, and it will make your children laugh.)

Gettysburg National Millitary Park – ran by the U.S. National Park Service (official website)

Photographs of the Past and Present at the Gettysburg Battlefield

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863: vocabulary and literary analysis notes

Page 1 vocabulary: Cannons   bullets

Page 2: ammunition

Page 3: gash on the forehead, gushed, meadow

“shatter like glass” is a simile.

“blood-soaked grass” contains imagery.

Page 4: What does it mean to snare a squirrel?

Page 5: grimy

“his heart turned to mush”  hyperbole

Page 6: plantation, North Star

 “be as free as the snake” simile

Page 7: ferocious, flickering, searing

“heart cracked open”, “choked by tears” imagery

hoots, shimmered, shrieked, howled – page 10

“muscles twisting into knots of piles”

Page 11: vicious

“as big as mules” – simile

“stink of their hot breath, hear their snapping jaws, and feel their teeth ripping into his flesh.”

Page 13: “running footsteps, snapping twigs, the pounding of horses’ hooves” imagery

Page 14: bellowed

What emotion words do you see on Page 15?   trembling, terrified (hurt, as well)

Page 16: straggly beard

Page 17: smudged, whimper

Page 18: craned his neck, bellowed

“as quick as a snakebite” simile

What verbs do you see at the start of page 22, in the paragraph about men coughing?  coughing, gagging, struggled, grabbed, dodging. Broke free, bolted.

Page 23 vocabulary: cavalry, Corporal

Page 25: “The bugle played reveille” (sound clip in link)

Vocabulary dialect, on page 25:  it is said the men were “cussing” at the sound of the alarm. In your area, do people cuss, or do they curse? What do you see as the difference between the two words, which are clearly related? [Cussing is often the more informal version for the verb describing ‘to say profanity’, and it comes from the word ‘to curse’, like to say means things, or put a curse on somebody. Same word, different pronunciation over time.]

“A person learned by listening; that’s what Clem always said. Sure enough, Thomas had learned more in the past two weeks than he’d learn in the past two years.”  – Page 31 Motto: Have you ever had an experience like that, where everything happened fast, and you learned a lot?  Do you think that people can learn from listening?

Page 32: Based on this page, what does the North think about slavery? What does the South think about Slavery? What does President Lincoln want to achieve? How many Southern states broke away, and what did they want to do?

Page 40 (math connection): How many people died that day? Write the number of “a hundred and fifty-six” in numbers.

How do you read “12,000” verbally?

Page 43 (human rights connection): Why hadn’t Thomas learned to read and write? Was him learning to read encouraged?

formations, bayonets, ammunition, ramrods, calvarymen, muskets- Page 48

[This is a good page to do a synonym game for. As they read, the children change muskets to “guns”, calvarymen to “horseback riders”, ammunitions to “bullets”, bayonets to “spears”  – or their own equivalent. The point is to build “fuzzy definitions”, when reading a difficult text, we change the big words into more managable images in our heads. We still can identify a bayonet, but are thinking about how it’s a “sword on a gun.” Which of course, is a ‘musket.’ ]

Page 49: “Sacks of flour and beans were scattered everywhere, some burst open by bullets” imagery (showing).

Alliteration:  What letter sound do you hear a lot of in that sentence, and what effect does it have?  Sacks, beans, scattered, some, burst  – makes that sizzling s sound. Also burst, bullets to make that popping, ‘bubble’ sound.

Page 42: Attention!  (what does it mean in a military sense)

Page 54: fury, wilting, withering

Inferences: What is happening to Thomas and Birdie at the end of page 57? Why have they been captured, and what do those men plan to do to Thomas? page 57

  • What does this line mean: “Don’t hurt this one. A strong buck like this? He’ll fetch us at least a thousand dollars at the slave auction.”
  • Should people be sold? What price would you put on selling your grandparents, family members, yourself? [People should not be sold.]
  • Why do they not want to hurt Thomas? Is it because they’re helpful, kind people?  [No, they don’t want to hurt him because if they did hurt him, they cannot sell him. It’s about the money for them, not about hurting or not hurting someone.]

Page 60: Readers React: Do you find this scene believable? Do you feel like it was done to make a good story? Do you think it would really happen that way? What other version do you think is more likely?

Page 72: Henry separates himself from his book of paintings, which Mary had given him. Henry gives it to Thomas. At this point, what do you think will happen in the story?        (Prediction-making, foreshadowing)

  • Will Henry and Thomas meet back up?
  • Will one of them make it and the other one not survive?
  • How does this action – the “hold this for me” – create a choice of what may happen next?

Page 78 and 79: Are these pages filled with long sentences? Or short sentences?

  • What’s the shortest sentence on the page? Is it a true sentence, or a sentence fragment?
  • What effect do all these sentences have on the story? What feeling does it create?

Fragment examples:  Very bad.  The rebel yell.   (Boom! – it’s not a fragment, but it’s the shortest sentence)

These sentences create an effect of Thomas being stressed, confused, and in need of help.

Page 82: Prediction check-in: How had the gift of the book of paintings been important to the story?

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863 characters



Mr. Knox

Corporal Henry Green (pg 23)

Captain Campbell (pg 23)

Lester and Homer (pg 27) – Lester is also referred to as “Les”

President Lincoln (pg 32) – What do we learn about him?

Robert E. Lee (pg 36) – What do we learn about him?

Teamsters (page 66) – What do they do to help the war effort?

Clem (introduced pg 16; returns pg 87): How did the teamsters play a role in Clem’s story?


I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863 Map locations

the story begins on the Knox farm in Oakridge, Virginia

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Fredericksburg, Virginia

Page 46: Henry offers Thomas and Birdie and education in Vermont. Where is Vermont on the map?

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863 related go-along books


The Civil War: An Interactive History Adventure (You Choose: History), by Matt Doeden

Addy books (American Girl), by Connie Porter

These books likewise cover the escape of Addy and her mother into freedom, from North Carolina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Emancipation Proclamation plays a role in the later books.

Bull Run, by Sid Fleishman

This book covers 16 people at the Civil War’s first battle. It provides a lot of short stories and perspective-taking, as everyone gears up for war.

I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly, The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina 1865, Joyce Hansen

This book from the Dear America series features a young girl who was enslaved on a plantation. In 1865, freedom arrives and changes start to happen on the plantation where Patsy lives. It shows the day-to-day life on a plantation, before and after slavery. Patsy had been always called “slow” by her captors, but she used her time as caregiver for the plantation’s son to listen into lessons and learn to read and write (illegally). When the war ends, and resources come to town, she establishes a school from the Freedman’s Bureau to teach reading and writing to others.  Great for 4th to 6th grade reading level, but could be a read-aloud for 3rd graders.

This concludes the notes for I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863, by Lauren Tarshis. 

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