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Brother Against Brother: The Tragic Civil War

From the Confederate (Southern) Side

June 29,1863

My dearest Mother,

I know we’re right. We must defend our homeland and our way of life. We have no choice. We are Virginians first, and Americans second. My dear big brother Jed does not feel this way. He does more thinking than I do. I follow my heart and my home. Oh, how I wish we were fighting side by side, instead of against each other. I miss him so. God be with him in this awful hour.

Tonight we are sitting around our campfire cooking supper: beans, salt pork and hard bread. We are so sick of this war. We talk about home all the time. But we talk about food even more. Having enough food is our first worry. After food, the biggest comfort is coffee, at any time of day or night. Now my friends are singing “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” It cheers us to sing about going back to a pretty girl. Thoughts of home and those we left behind keep us going. I hope to continue this letter tomorrow.

Love from your son Beau.

The North against the South

From the Union (Northern) Side

July 1, 1863

Dear sister Rose,

Will you and Mother ever forgive me for joining the Union side? I tried to explain before I left. Maybe I think about morality more than most men do. I cannot accept slavery. I believe with all my heart that it is immoral, and that is what forced me to join this side. I hope you can make Mother understand.

We all fear the battle tomorrow. Still, the men sit around the campfire singing and writing letters.

They’re singing a song about going back home to “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” We need songs to cheer our weary hearts.

The younger boys talk about their fears. They fear being separated from the unit; they fear dying alone; they fear not being identified if they die. A boy sleeping next to me is only 15. Tonight he told me “as the bullets were flying over me today, I thought what a foolish boy I was to run away from home and get into this mess. I would be glad to see my father come after me now.” He said he marched off with 34 soldiers from his town, and now, two years later, only four are still alive.

Many young boys joined to escape the boredom of farm life. They expected a good time, an adventure. Not much talk about glory or honor now. We talk about going home. Who would have thought it would last this long, two years. After this is over, I want to go home to Virginia. I hope you will accept me back. I will finish this letter tomorrow.

Love from brother Jed.


In mid 19th century, differences about slavery between the North and the South led to a bloody civil war. The South wanted slavery to be extended into new western territories. The South needed slaves for its large-farm economy, and was afraid the North would try to abolish slavery in the South too. Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860. He wanted to keep the country unified. But eleven southern states seceded from, or left, the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. The Civil War that followed tore the country apart. Sometimes it tore families apart, too. This story is about two brothers from the southern state of Virginia, fighting on opposite sides at the Battle of Gettysburg. The story is in their letters written during this battle.


The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the war. It weakened the Confederate side, but they still fought on for two more years. It was the war’s bloodiest battle, with 7,000 men killed and 42,000 wounded on the two sides.

The weapons in this war had 10 times the killing power of those in the Revolutionary War. On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln gave one of his most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address. Here, dedicating а cemetery at the battlefield, Lincoln asked his countrymen never to forget the dead soldiers, who gave their lives “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”

After Gettysburg, Joshua Chamberlain was wounded six times and rose to Major General, but went on to be Governor of Maine for four terms, and president of Bowdoin College.


1. What other countries have had a civil war?

2. Are there civil wars being fought now?

From the Confederate Side

July 2, 1863

Dearest Mother,

I’m lucky I can continue this letter. I want you to know everything, but I don’t want to frighten you. Today was the worst ever. It was the second day of fighting here at Gettysburg, a town in southern Penn­sylvania. General Lee has most of our army here. We came so far north to bother Mr. Lincoln and to show those Yankees they must let us go.

We have been marching since I started this letter. Before Gettysburg, our men were ready for a fight. Before this battle, those Union Yankees were running away more than they were fighting. Now we are deep in their territory and they are fighting harder.

Today we fought on Cemetery Hill. We attacked going uphill, with the light in our eyes. They were hiding behind a stone wall and shooting down on us as we came through the trees. It was terrible to see so many men fall on that hill. My group charged, then fell back. For a while, the Yankees quit firing on us, so we thought they had retreated. But just as we went up through the trees, a Yankee officer yelled, “Charge! Charge!” And all those Yankees came down on us with bayonets. Half my regiment was killed, wounded or captured. I don’t know how I survived.

Have you heard which regiment Jed is in? I pray he is not here.

Love from the battlefield.

Your son Beau.

From the Union Side

July 2, 1863

Dear sister Rose,

We’re still camped outside a small town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. We are on Cemetery Ridge, the hill we held yesterday. Tonight I feel the heaviness of this terrible war more than ever. I am so afraid brother Beau is across the field from me, camped in the trees. Instead of sleeping across the room from each other, we sleep across this deadly battlefield. I can see the light of the Rebel campfires. They must see ours. It was bound to happen, that we would meet in battle. Brother fighting brother is wrong. I know his regiment, the First Virginia, is there. I pray I don’t see him tomorrow. I pray they don’t attack again.

Do you wonder which regiment I joined? Since I’m not from the North, I can join any one. We southerners are welcomed. I’m in a regiment from Maine. I have a spectacular commander, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. He is a professor and a graduate of Harvard University, but he is as good a fighting man as any West Point man. Before the battle, he talked to us and said “All the men who have died in the past are with you today.” That was inspirational.

During the battle, the Rebels kept coming, even though it was uphill. They’d appear through the trees, stop behind one and fire. We’d fire back, then re-load. They’d shoot again. Men were falling all around me. Finally we ran out of ammunition. Most commanders would retreat from the battle at that point, but not Chamberlain.

He said, “Fix your bayonets, boys. We’ll charge on them.”

And so we did. When they attacked again, we charged down the hill at them. They were so surprised to see us come charging with our bayonets, most of them ran away or they gave up and we captured them. That was a masterly thing for Chamberlain to do.

Unfortunately, we lost half our regiment in the battle.

When this cruel war is over, I hope to continue my studies. I’d like to be a college professor like Colonel Chamberlain. He gives fine speeches. He sounds like a preacher. I can see why women fall in love with preachers. A professor is something like a preacher.

From your loving brother Jed.

Jed searched the battlefield and found his brother Beau dying

The next day, the Confederate charge ended in disaster for General Lee’s army. Jed searched the battlefield and found his brother Beau dying. Beau asked him to make sure his mother received his letters. Jed held Beau until he died.


secedeseparate from, revolt, rebel, leave
moralityethics, virtue
identifiedrecognized, known
gloryhonor, fame, praise
chargea rushing attack
bayonetsa knife-like blade fixed to the end of a rifle, used in hand-to-hand fighting
regimenta military unit
surviveto continue to live or exist
cemeterya burial ground
rebel(verb) to resist authority or control (noun) one who refuses to obey
bound tocertain to, likely to happen
spectacularstriking, impressive, amazing
West Pointthe United States Military Academy
inspirationencourage and give hope
preacherreligious speaker, minister
dedicateto devote to a person or a sacred use to honor
perishto die



1. What is the main idea in this story?

2. If you had been a southerner, which army would you have joined?

3. Which cause, the northern or the southern, was right? Give a reason.


Fill in the space with the best word from the list below.

1. Eleven southern states _____________________ from the United States.

2. The Union Army was on a ridge named after the burial ground, the ______________________.

3. When soldiers run out of ______________________, they usually retreat.

4. After fighting for a year, a soldier didn’t think of war as adventure or ______________________.

5. Jed said fighting against his brother was __________ happen at some time.

6. Jed ____________________ the Gettysburg battle, but his brother Beau didn’t.

7. Jed thought that Colonel Chamberlain was an amazing man, a ____________________ man.

8. Beau was glad he hadn’t been injured, killed, or ____________________.

secededspectacularbound to


Read the question. Find the answer in the story. Write it down.

1. Did Jed join the northern or southern army?

Jed joined the northern army.


2. Does Beau know what regiment his brother Jed joined?



3. Did Abraham Lincoln want the southern states to secede?



4. Which song are the soldiers in both armies singing?



5. On the night before the battle, what do the young soldiers say that they fear?



6. Why does Jed think that Colonel Chamberlain is “inspirational”?



7. What does Jed want to be after the war is over?



8. Do the brothers know that they are fighting against each other in this battle?




Match two parts to make a correct sentence.

1. The two brothers fight

2. Beau doesn’t know

3. The two armies

4. Chamberlain’s men use

5. Jed is inspired

6. Beau doesn’t write

7. Jed’s conscience

8. Jed finds Beau

A. to his mother about the battles.

B. by Colonel Chamberlain’s words.

C. dying on the battlefield.

D. in enemy armies.

E. made him join the northern army.

F. bayonets to charge down the hill.

G. camp opposite each other outside Gettysburg.

H. what regiment Jed joined.


Students take parts. Plan the dialogue or improvise on the spot.

A. Jed and Rose: He says he’s joining the northern army. She argues with him.

В. Jed and Beau: They argue about slavery. Jed says it’s immoral. Beau says it’s a way of life.

C. Jed and Col. Chamberlain: Jed wants to go to the southern side and talk to his brother.

D. Beau and Rose: She tells him he’s too young to join the army. He wants to join.

E. Mother and Rose: She wants to find the army and talk Jed into returning. Mother says no.


2. 1. seceded; 2. cemetery; 3. ammunition 4. glory; 5. bound to; 6. survived; 7. spectacular; 8. captured


2. Beau doesn’t know which regiment Jed joined.

3. No. He wanted to keep the country unified.

4. The Girl I Left Behind Me.

5. They fear being separated from their unit, dying alone, not being identified if they die.

6. Because of the way he talks to them. Because he talks like a preacher.

7. A college professor.

8. Jed knows, but Beau isn’t sure.

4. 1. D; 2. H; 3. G; 4. F; 5. B; 6. A; 7. E; 8. С

“The Girl I Left Behind Me” was originally an Irish song. It became popular in America, and was sung with equal sadness in every army camp, Union and Confederate, during the American Civil War.

The Girl I Left Behind Me

Oh, ne'er shall I forget the night
The stars were bright above me
And gently lent their silv'ry light
When first she vowed she loved me

But now I’m bound to Brighton camp
Kind Heav’n, may favor find me
And send me safely back again
To the girl I've left behind me

By Myrtis Mixon

From Americana Historical Spotlights in Story and Song

Submitted by Erin Bouma