Teach PA History
Sgt. Humiston, Where are You?
Equipment & Supplies
  • markers rulers

Provide Student Worksheet 1: Photo Detective, a picture of Humiston Children. Have students answer the numbered questions 1-4.

"Photo Detective" Worksheet

1. Who do you think these children are? [accept any general ideas from students]
2. Do you think they are related?
3. Is it an "old" picture? What are some clues to help figure out when the picture was taken?
4. This picture is actually called an "ambrotype." Does anyone know what an ambrotype is? Post and read the definition to all students in the class.
PBS Antiques Roadshow defines it as the following:

In the mid-1850s, the ambrotype process was invented. A glass negative was made positive by coating its back with black lacquer. Although they lacked the tonal range [shading quality] and brilliance of the daguerreotype [an earlier type of photography], the ambrotype had one great advantage: they were less expensive. Thousands of these images were taken in the Civil War.
Ambrotype did have one disadvantage: the glass was fragile and often broke, destroying the image. By the mid-1860s, the ambrotype was largely replaced by the tintype and newly-developed paper photographs.
Have students look at the Humiston ambrotype again. Now based on the definition of ambrotype, what new information do they know? Students will complete lettered section A- C on Worksheet 1: Photo Detective. List student answers on the board. If they need prompting, ask the following:
o What might we deduce about the class of the family? [Most likely middle-class, since ambrotypes were less expensive and accessible to middle-class.]
o When was this most likely taken? [We now know that it wasn't before the mid-1850s or after the mid-1860s. Most likely it was taken around the Civil War.]
o If you were going to be away from your family for awhile, what might you bring with you to remind you of them? [a picture, a letter, a memento]
o Who might these children belong to? [a soldier]
Have students make a KWL Chart regarding basic Civil War knowledge and complete the "What I Know" and "What I Want to Know" sections. You can supply basic questions to help them complete the chart:
1. When was the American Civil War fought? [1861-1865]
2. Who fought in it? [North v. South/Union v. Confederates]
3. Why was it fought? Name some possible reasons. [Differences in the regions" political and economic way of life. The south relied heavily on slavery for the production of cotton and agriculture, while in the northern states, industrialization was providing economic growth without slavery. The south wished to see power lie more strongly within each state's government (states rights), while the north emphasized the importance of a federal government–a union of states.]
4. Who won? [the Union]
5. Has anybody heard of the Battle of Gettysburg?
6. Why is that a famous battle? [It was an accidental, bloody battle which marked the turning point of the war. It crushed the hopes of the south to be recognized formally by foreign nations, and is considered the furthest north the south was able to come.]
7. What famous speech was made there? By whom? [The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln]
Go over these concepts for basic comprehension of the significance of the Civil War (and Gettysburg in particular). For further information of the Civil War, you may reference the time table offered by the Library of Congress at or refer to the Gettysburg Campaign.
Explain to your students that the ambrotype they have been studying was found in the hands of a union soldier who died on the field at Gettysburg. There was no identifying information on the soldier except for the picture. He would have buried as an unknown soldier, except for the interest of a man named Dr. Bourns who was passing through town and heard of his story and saw the picture of his children.

Set up the story as a mystery. Ask your students:
Who was this soldier?
How do you think Dr. Bourns set about to find his identity?
How would you go about identifying this mystery man?
What did they have in 1860s to use to identifying this soldier? [no phone, no internet, no computer, no government issued dog tags. They had telegraphs, pictures, newspaper.]

Pass out marker The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 19, 1863 and excerpt of the article marker "Whose Father Was He?". Dr. Bourns used the press to spread the story of this soldier and his children. Have students read the excerpt of the article that describes the children.

Then explain to your students that Dr. Bourns had cards (called "carte-de-visite"–or visiting card) made of the children that the public could purchase to see the children's image.

Tell students they found the family of the soldier a month after the article was printed. Who was he?

Handout Amos Humiston ambrotype. Explain that Sgt. Humiston was from New York and enlisted in the army before the battle of Gettysburg. His wife and children would have mapped his location as they received information on the 154th. The class is going to do the same thing. The students will receive information about the locations of Sgt. Humiston and then mark it on the map. This information is from the primary document The National Historic Official Reports "War of the Rebellion", specifically, the movements of the Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac, 154th New York from June 1, 1863 to July 31, 1863.

This activity can be done in cooperative groups or by individuals. (Group organization should be based on the knowledge and skills of the class.) Distribute Student Worksheet 2: Theater of Operations of the 154th New York, pencils/markers, and rulers. Explain this is a map of the region where Sgt. Humiston was known to be in 1863 according to the National Historic Official Reports "War of the Rebellion".

Distribute the troop movement documents from National Historic Official Reports "War of the Rebellion" (Student Handout 2 or Student Handout 3 for the abbreviated version).

Deliver instructions for activity. "Read the information on Sgt. Humiston's regiment's movement, Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac, 154th New York." Find the place on the map and mark it with an "x" include the date he was there. Find the next place he went to, mark it, date it and then use the ruler to draw an arrow showing his path. Continue on until he arrives in Gettysburg. Check maps for accuracy.

After students have successfully mapped the progress of Amos Humiston's war travels, you may also choose to incorporate a reading/writing activity to further enhance the multidisciplinary aspect of this lesson. As a segue to continue the lesson ask the students what they think Amos might have been thinking about as he marched from place to place? Was he tired and hungry? Was he in good health? Was he excited about his contribution to the war, or did he just want to come home? Or both? Did he think of home often? Your students will look at an actual letter written from Amos to his wife three months before his Gettysburg experience. They will interpret the letter (which was written in the form of a poem), and then write a return letter to him.

Break the class into six groups, one for each stanza. Distribute marker To My Wife and read through the entire poem. Have each group work on the 3-4 interpretative questions of their section. Provide help when needed. Refer to Teacher's Guide to Worksheet 3: To My Wife for possible responses and assessment. Then go through the poem again and have each group contribute their knowledge of their stanza.

After students have demonstrated comprehension of the poem, have students write a response letter for homework. Direct students to imagine they are one of Amos" children–Frankie, Fred, or Alice–and to write a letter to their father. In their letter they need to show in some way:
• an understanding of which war their father was in and for what the Union fought
• include some of the geographical locations of his troops movements
• emotional realities of the family (homesickness, loneliness, depression)

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