While in Gettysburg last week for the CWI I led a dinner discussion about the effects of the campaign on the region’s black population. We discussed two chapters in Margaret Creighton’s book, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle. It was a really nice discussion so I decided to write up a little something for the History News Network. It’s also encouraging to see that others have touched on it as well on blogs and in newspaper editorials. The stories are powerful, but more importantly, it forces us to step back from our tendency to interpret the battle in isolation from the broader picture. We often get caught up in the details of the unfolding drama and lose sight of the fact that the movement of armies and place of battle mattered to ordinary people in profound ways. Anyway, most of you who read this blog are likely familiar with this story, but if I can offer a slightly different view of the campaign and battle for those new to this history than it will have been worth writing.
On Wednesday July 3, thousands of visitors will congregate near the “copse of trees” on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg to commemorate the 150th anniversary of “Pickett’s Charge.” From this position they will be able to imagine the roughly 13,000 Confederates in tight formation, who crossed the deadly field in the face of long-range artillery. Once across the Emmitsburg Road visitors should have little trouble envisioning the deadly effects of short-range canister and the deafening sound of Union rifles. Some will contemplate the tragedy of a war that pitted Americans v. Americans while others will hold tight to thoughts of what might have been before accepting that the charge constituted a decisive Confederate defeat. [Read the rest of the article at HNN]
This morning Fox and Friends spent some time on the Gettysburg battlefield. If I didn’t know any better it looks like Robert E. Lee is auditioning for his own show on Fox or at least as one of its regular talking heads. So much for staying in character. 🙂
I watched a good deal of CSPAN’s coverage of the Gettysburg 150th, including Doris Kearns Goodwin’s keynote address earlier this evening. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. Here are a few tweets. Remember, they are just tweets.
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s #Gettysburg150 would be unidentifiable by every soldier who fought on that battlefield. #cw150 So disappointing.
With all that is being written in newspapers across the country about the Gettysburg 150th most of the editorials have been just plain fluff. The battle is framed as a tragedy that pitted Americans v. Americans or as a crucial moment in the broader struggle for civil rights. Today the New York Times published a short editorial by Civil War Institute Director Peter Carmichael. For those of you who have heard Pete at various events in recent months there is very little that is new, but for those of you who haven’t this is well worth your time.
Tucked away on a hillside, hidden from visitors who descend upon Gettysburg every year, are the outlines of a Civil War burial trench. One of the thousands of Southerners scattered in shallow graves across the battlefield was North Carolinian Charles Futch, shot in the head while fighting next to his sibling John, who never left his dying brother’s side. After burying him in an anonymous grave, a semi-literate John poured out his tortured feelings in a letter home. “Charly got kild and he suffered [a] gratdeal,” he wrote, “[and] I don’t want nothing to eat hardly for I am . . . sick all the time and half crazy. I never wanted to come home so bad in my life.”
In the story of the Futch brothers are timeless questions about what it means to be a nation at war today. How soldiers cope with the trauma of combat, how poverty shapes the military experience, and how acts of mourning influence political loyalties are inquiries that make history engaging and relevant. Unfortunately, the 150th Commemoration of the Civil War has largely missed an opportunity to make the past usable. Too many historians have been afraid to ask hard questions, much of the public is seduced by the heroic view of war, and Congress has defunded the National Park Service (NPS). [click to continue…]