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Interpreting the Evidence

Lincoln and McClellan at Antietam, Civil War, 1862

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 - 1877)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Civil War

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Lincoln and McClellan at Antietam, Civil War, 1862 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Photograph taken by Alexander Gardner of President Lincoln, General George B. McCellan, and other officers at Antietam, October 3, 1862.
Historical Context
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Hodgenville, Kentucky. His mother was illiterate and his father was an uneducated carpenter and farmer. However humble these circumstances may seem, Abraham Lincoln grew up to be one of the most influential men in American history. His life was wrought with challenges - lost loves, lost business ventures, lost elections - but he continued to steadfastly follow his heart in love, life, and politics.

Lincoln’s early formal schooling was typical for the age. He wore buckskin clothes and a raccoon cap to his log cabin schoolhouse.  It is hard to believe that Lincoln, who developed into an eloquent orator, didn’t even own his first book until he was sixteen years old, and even this caused a mishap.  Lincoln had borrowed a book from a neighbor, but left it out in the rain. The neighbor made Lincoln work off the price of the book by doing chores around his farm. Maybe it was fate, but the book was The Life of Washington by Parson Mason Weems.

Lincoln’s early life seems full of these kinds of stories; the events that were unlucky somehow made him stronger. His mother died when he was only nine years old. When he was ten, he was kicked by a horse and almost killed. When Lincoln was seventeen, his sister died.  During this time, the Lincoln family moved from Kentucky to Indiana, and then to Illinois.

In Illinois, Lincoln joined the local militia for the Black Hawk War but never saw any action. In 1832, he ran for the Illinois State Legislature, but was defeated. Lincoln and a business partner then opened a store, but it too failed. He became postmaster of a small post office and learned surveying. In 1834, his luck changed a little, when he ran again and was elected to the Illinois Legislature. Things seemed to be going well for him until 1835, when his first love died. In 1837 he proposed to Mary Owens, but she rejected him.

However devastating these losses may have seemed, Lincoln persevered. In 1838 and 1840 he was re-elected and became engaged to another young lady, Mary Todd. Mary and Abraham were married in 1843, even though she broke off the engagement once.  Lincoln’s political career continued to do well, and in 1846 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. By 1860, he was President of the United States.

Lincoln took office on March 3, 1861. However, his presidency was challenged even before he became president. On February 18, 1861, just three weeks before his inauguration, Jefferson Davis became President of the Confederate States of America. Then, in April came the Battle of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War.

Essential Question
How does war impact a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene and individuals in the photograph and evaluate the impact of the Civil War on the lives and careers of these individuals.
Historical Challenges
Make a timeline of African American history from emancipation to the present day. How did Lincoln’s life influence the progress of African Americans?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: More than 23,000 men died in a single day at the Battle of Antietam. About how many soldiers died per hour that day?
Science: This photograph is in color. When were the first color photographs made? How do you think this photograph came to be in color?