Geography is War: The Lost Battalion

Guiding Question:

How do geography and terrain influence the experiences and outcomes of battle?


Students will analyze primary source accounts from members of the Lost Battalion to understand the role they played in World War I, the importance of terrain and geography, and how the men surmounted these difficulties as they held their position.


Historical Context

The Lost Battalion learned the importance of geography during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. During the chaos of battle, members of the 77th Division became separated from the rest of their division. Surrounded by German troops, they found themselves with their lines of communication compromised and without means of reaching food, fresh water, or other supplies. The men held their position for five days, but suffered heavy casualties. The survivors of the Lost Battalion owed much to the deep ravine where they took cover as it provided them with some protection from German mortars.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Analyze primary source excerpts to pull out key events from the battle;
  • Link knowledge about war and geography to the specific situation of the Lost Battalion; and
  • Communicate the challenges faced by these men in a product.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear among the key details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.Geo.4.9-12 Analyze relationships and interactions within and between human and physical systems to explain reciprocal influences that occur among them.
D2.His.1.9-12 Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.14.9-12 Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects on events in the past.
D2.His.15.9-12 Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.

Lesson Preparation


Activity One (15 minutes)

  • Pass out the Joshua Chamberlain Dedication Handout
  • Ask Students:What do you think Joshua Chamberlain meant by the words he spoke at the dedication of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg?
    • Teacher Tip: Answers will vary.Possible answers include: on great battlefields a spirit and memory remain; people come to remember and commemorate acts of valor on battlefields; people come to thank fallen soldiers or their sacrifice.

Activity Two (60 minutes)

  • Hand out the Primary Source Excerpts Handout. Explain to students that they will be reading primary and secondary sources about the Lost Battalion, a group of American soldiers who became separated from other American forces in the middle of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
  • Choose one of three options for conducting the source analysis:
    • Option One: Each student reads each source and completes a Primary Source Analysis Worksheet for each (to modify, teachers may choose fewer sources or have students choose from a group of sources).
    • Option Two: Students work in a jigsaw group. Students first meet in expert groups, in which students will analyze the same source using the Primary Source Analysis Worksheet. Then students meet in “jigsaw groups,” or groups with students that have read different sources to compare and contrast the varying accounts. Students in the jigsaw group complete the Lost Battalion Comparison Worksheet.
    • Option Three: Students are assigned to groups of 1 - 6 and each student group reads two different sources. The group compares and contrasts each student’s sources. Each group member completes the Comparison Worksheet.
  • Closure: Ask students how the Lost Battalion soldiers’ personal accounts reflect the statement by Joshua Chamberlain they read at the beginning of the activity.

Assessment Materials

  • Students will choose an option from the Lost Battalion Menu Handout to demonstrate understanding of how geography and terrain impacted the Lost Battalion.
  • Menu products will be assessed using the Lost Battalion Rubric .

Methods for Extension

  • Menu products may be modified with regard to technology. Students may create iMovies, digital documentaries, podcasts, or voice recordings if technology permits.


  • Sources may be modified to accommodate various reading levels.
  • Choice of menu assignment allows for individual learning styles and preferences.