Writer Wednesday: The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of the Civil War’s Greatest Battle

Writer Wednesday

On Writer Wednesday, I discuss another author and his or her book. Today’s pick is The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of the Civil War’s Greatest Battle by Rod Gragg.

In November 1863, Abraham Lincoln stood in Pennsylvania to deliver that fateful speech, words which I was required to memorize to AP US History in high school and that ring with truth to this day.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 

He spoke of Gettysburg as Hallowed Ground. In addition to “make holy or consecrate”, the dictionary defines hallowed as “to greatly revere or respect”.
It is fitting that fields that stood witness to such carnage be consecrated and draped with an assertion for peace. Only through deliberately reaffirming the value of freedom for all people could a holiness, a wholeness, heal that broken land and the larger lands of the United States in total.

Gettysburg had been a quiet town in the Union until July 1863, when the largest North American battle ever erupted over the opening days of the month. Rod Gragg, in his book The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of the Civil War’s Greatest Battle, asserts that it was Gettysburg that changed the tide of the war and assured the Union’s victory.

Gragg chronicles those days, from both sides. For much of the battle, the South seemed assured of winning. A number of cumulative events saw the Union to victory instead.  In addition to the grisly details, what struck me most was that time and again there is a recognition of the commonality of the two sides between the fighting men. Arrangements were made by some of the soldiers to visit with members of the opposing side after the war. One marvels that war could divide men who so clearly recognized their shared American roots. It is striking to read of Confederate troops celebrating the Fourth of July, for instance. For many of them, the Civil War was a continuation on of the Revolution, a culmination of the right to rule themselves.

This book is comprehensive and nearly every other page is a personal account. Photographs, maps and drawings from those that were there complete this important account. I highly recommend it.

Wishing you peace, as we strive to remember our commonalities as people, rather than our differences.

My best to you all,

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