A small college town in southern Pennsylvania is the home of the most famous, the most bloody, and the most decisive battle of the Civil War. It is also home to one of the most famous speeches in American history.
The town of Gettysburg has a population of less than 8,000. In July of 1863, more than six times that number became casualties of war. Fox Chapel Publishing is commemorating the epic battle with a 96-page book full of timelines, historic photos, and wonderfully written articles.
A Treasure for Civil War Enthusiasts
The book, entitled “Gettysburg: Three Days That Saved the United States,” which will be available in May, is a great collection of in-depth pieces providing insight into not just the battle overall but specific parts of the battle, including the actions of specific generals, the hospital wards created on location and during the battle, and the religious aspects of the men who fought.
Historians and the editors of Fox Chapel Publishing have come together to assemble a memorable book for readers of all ages. The timelines of the start and end of the Civil War, which includes landmark moments, as well as the timeline of the three-day battle in Gettysburg itself, makes for enjoyable reading and learning.
Confederate and Union Representation
The book provides an equal representation of both the North and the South. It may be one of the most fair works of modern creation. The work does not saddle up to any particular subject, such as slavery, Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, or even the preservation of the Union. So there does not appear to be any modern agenda tied to the articles, photos, or graphics. The only subject that plays a central role in every story is the location of the battle.
It is a nice reprieve from works that seem to reiterate that which we already know: The Civil War was an American tragedy and slavery was an evil. There is, however, articles that touch on slavery, as one would expect, and one, in particular, seen through the eyes of a free black, Alexander Newton. Newton’s perspective on the reasons for his involvement in the war and how one should view the enemy pulls strongly at the heartstrings. The article exemplifies a man whose spiritual and emotional stature is towering.
“His return to the South opened old wounds as he was reminded of injustices committed against him and others. ‘I confess that I had a burning desire to eke out some vengeance which for years had been pent up in my nature,’ he admitted. His better angels prevailed. ‘But of course, from the Christian standpoint, this was all wrong. I was all wrong. I was then on a higher mission than trying to get personal vengeance on those who had mistreated me and mine. I was fighting for the liberty of my people and the righting of many wrongs that belonged to their social and religious warfare.’”
Other Towering Figures
Of course, Lincoln is written about in this collection. The Great Liberator, however, is written about through the eyes of Gettysburg more broadly, and his “Gettysburg Address” specifically. The article entitled “Lincoln’s Gettysburg,” addresses the search for the right man to lead the Union Army. The article discusses how Gen. George McClellan proved to not be that man, nor Ambrose Burnside or Joseph Hooker. The call to duty to lead the Union Army of the Potomac during the Battle of Gettysburg fell to Gen. George Gordon Meade, though noted in his unsent letter to Meade, Lincoln was frustrated with the general for not following up the Gettysburg victory to vanquish Lee and the Confederate Army (the eventual selection of Ulysses S. Grant, who was in Vicksburg at the time, is mentioned).
Among other figures discussed in the book is Confederate Gen. Jubal Early (a most interesting individual); Union Maj. Jonathan Letterman, surgeon director for the Army of the Potomac (a gritty and haunting article); and Reverend William Corby, the Irish Catholic clergyman. The story of Corby is especially moving in its “unusual event” of conducting absolution on the battlefield, as soldiers prepared to enter the fight.
Among the figures written about is the most important of all: the fallen soldier. The subject of “The Unidentified Father” was initially unknown. All that was available to identify him was what he was holding: an ambrotype (an early type of photograph) of three children. The soldier proved to be Amos Humiston, a young, married father of three from New York. The emotionally captivating story is written by historian Mark H. Dunkelman, who has written a book on the young soldier entitled “Gettysburg’s Unknown Soldier.”
Remembering and Preserving Gettysburg
The book comes to a close with focus pieces on remembering the great battle and preserving the land on which the battle took place. One piece, “The Art of War,” is taken from perspectives of Civil War reenactors who dedicate themselves to not only reliving the moments of the Union and Confederate soldiers during the battle but trying to honor those soldiers by replicating their personas.
Lastly, and fittingly, the editors of Fox Chapel Publishing focus on the importance of Gettysburg then and now. The articles “Saving the Battlefield,” “Monumental Fields,” and “Going to Gettysburg,” discuss how the battlefield has been preserved over time (and in different ways) and how to visit the battlefield.
A Short Book Worth Owning
Not only is “Gettysburg: Three Days That Saved the United States” a beautiful collection of articles, graphics, and photos of artifacts, soldiers, and leading members of both sides, but it is an important book to own. One aspect of the book I thought important was how it could be used for educational purposes for children and teenagers. This book would provide the information necessary to understand the battle, its many moving parts, the great speech from Lincoln, and the importance of knowing about the battle and preserving its place in American history and American geography.
As its release is near the end of the school year, it may just prompt families to visit the home of arguably the country’s most important battle.
‘Gettysburg: Three Days That Saved the United States’
By Ben Nussbaum
Fox Chapel Publishing, May 24, 2022
Paperback: 96 pages