New Publications for the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg
In the 150 years since Confederate and Federal troops clashed at the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, thousands of books and publications have explored the events and people that were part of the largest battle ever fought in North America. Not surprisingly, the sesquicentennial has seen many new titles released. Armchair General has already looked at The Graphic History of Gettysburg, which used the graphic-novel format to tell the history of the battle, and The Civil War: The Third Year, which includes some first-person accounts related to Gettysburg. Here are summaries of two other publications worthy of readers’ consideration on the sesquicentennial of North America’s largest battle.
At 11 inches high and 10.5 inches across, this 186-page (including index and image credits) could be considered a coffee-table book, especially with its cover image of artillery pieces bathed in slanting sunlight. In a two-page introduction, historian James M. McPherson explores “Why Gettysburg Matters.” In an unusual approach, historical novelist Jeff Shaara provides a prologue that has a fictional Confederate soldier preparing for Pickett’s Charge.
For the most part, the book’s text takes an overview approach accompanied by maps, giving background on “The Road to Gettysburg,” then covering the three days of fighting, with profiles on some of the major leaders added. There are also occasional pages of first-person accounts. At the beginning of each section covering the three days of fighting, an informational page not only provides a timeline of that day’s events but also gives readers a Military Lexicon that explains such terms as battery or salient, which is very useful for readers not steeped in the language of 19th-century militaries. There is also such useful information as a breakdown of how many men comprised the different organizations from corps and divisions through brigades and regiments, all the way down to companies and platoons. This should be a requirement for every book on any war, instead of authors and publishers assuming that all readers know that a regiment of the times, for example, contained 400 to 1,000 men.
As a sort of epilogue, a section titled “Gettysburg in Memory,” looks at the role of photography in the war, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and a synopsis of the war after Gettysburg. The book also contains a chapter on the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a chapter in which historian Drew Gilpin Faust and filmmaker Ric Burns survey the changes wrought by the battle’s high death toll, one in which scholar Douglas L. Wilson explores Lincoln’s reputation as a wordsmith, and film critic Richard Corliss reviews Hollywood’s approach to the war.
Of course, since this book is from the publishers of TIME, there are plenty of illustrations: period photographs, paintings and drawings, as well as modern interpretations by artists such as Don Troiani and color photos taken at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
TIME’s Gettysburg: Turning Point of the Civil War is a well put-together overview of the battle, broken into manageable bite-sized chapters and featuring some outstanding artwork and maps. It deserves a place on Americans’ coffee tables and bookshelves.
Whereas TIME’s book primarily looks at the events of Gettysburg from a writer’s professional distance—a historical overview—Gettysburg: Three Days of Courage and Sacrifice puts readers into the battle lines and homes, even up a tree with Gettysburg resident Daniel Skelly watching as John Buford’s cavalry skirmishers gradually fall back, and then taking to his heels as Confederate artillery shells begin passing overhead. This paperback publication is filled with eyewitness accounts; each is no more than two pages long, including photos or other images and pullout quotes, making them very easy to read and absorb.
Additionally, sidebars tell the stories of individuals caught up in the events, such as Catherine Horn, wife of Peter Horn, the caretaker of Gettysburg’s now-famous cemetery. With her husband off serving in a Pennsylvania regiment, Catherine—six months pregnant—cooked meals for generals, made bread for hungry privates, provided refuge for people who had fled the town, and risked personal injury showing officers around Cemetery Hill and pointing out roads and landmarks. After the battle was over she buried more than 100 soldiers with her father’s help.
The publication begins with “Lee’s Great Gamble,” an explanation by historian Gary W. Gallagher of the reasons Lee chose to invade Pennsylvania. Following that, a page provides statistics on the battle. Apart from the expected stats – size of the armies, number of casualties – there is such information as “277,000 rounds fired” and “The Union lost 3,183 horses and 370 mules.”
After the last of the personal accounts—which conclude with observations about the hospitals and about Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address—a section titled “This Illustrious Battlefield” explores some of the history of the Gettysburg National Military Park, including such images as an electric trolley car carrying visitors past Devil’s Den. The final chapter, “My Favorite Place,” has individuals ranging from historian Harold Holzer to S. Waite Rawls III, president and CEO of the Museum of the Confederacy, to GNMP Superintendent Bob Kirby talking about their favorite spot at the park.
The publication’s text is enhanced with topographical maps showing the movements of the two armies to Gettysburg and the maneuvers of each day of the battle. There are also period photographs and modern photos of artifacts such as flags or a Sharps carbine.
Gettysburg: Three Days of Courage and Sacrifice was assembled by the staffs of two of our partner publications, America’s Civil War and Civil War Times. It isn’t nepotism, however, when we say this is a unique publication that provides great insights into the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of those who were there. Readers looking for something beyond historians’ broad-stroke descriptions of the movements of armies and the hours of battle should definitely add this one to their collection.