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Interpreting the Evidence

Photograph of Lincoln, Shortly Before His Death, 1865

  • 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 Photograph of Lincoln, Shortly Before His Death, 1865 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A photograph of Abraham Lincoln shortly before his death. Photographed by Alexander Gardner in Washington, D.C., 1865.
Historical Context
The United States needed a strong and dedicated man to lead it through such a devastating and desolate time as the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln proved that he had the strength and valor to preserve the Union. A few lines from his famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, capture his dedication to freedom:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that 'all men are created equal.' Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation may live."

President Lincoln was harshly criticized by some and seen as a savior by others. The dichotomy of the nation seemed to be aptly symbolized in his life.  On April 9, 1865, the Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. The war was over. In President Lincoln’s last speech, he encouraged the states of the Confederacy to quickly rejoin the Union and to begin the new era of American freedom. Unfortunately, President Lincoln never saw the results of his efforts and passion to preserve the Union and to end slavery in America. John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln on April 14, 1865. He was only fifty-six years old.

Essential Question
How do individuals influence national and global events?
Check for Understanding
Describe the individual in the photograph and evaluate the influence of Lincoln on the start and outcome of the Civil War.
Historical Challenges
Observe the clothes President Lincoln is wearing in this photograph. After researching men's clothing in the 1860s, draw and label various articles of clothing that American men wore at the time this photograph was taken. Then describe how men's fashions have changed since the 1860s and how they have stayed the same.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: About how many years passed between when Lincoln's earliest known photograph was taken and when this photograph was taken? About how old was President Lincoln when this photograph was taken?
Science: What were some of the photographic processes being used at the time this photograph was taken?
English Language Arts: This photograph was taken at the end of the Civil War after Lincoln had already been elected for a second term as President. Pretend you are President Lincoln and write about what you want to accomplish in your second term as President.