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Gettysburg: A Meditation on War and Values Paperback – August 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Gettysburg is a book about values - the values of the Civil War generation and those we live by today. Theirs was a generation willing to die in great numbers for a principle as abstract as union. What motivated them? What have we done with the heritage that they bequeathed to us? This book asks whether America in the 1990s knows what its present character, economics, and society cost, and whether the country's present battles have as noble a purpose and as hopeful a prospect as the great cataclysm of July 1863 - the Battle of Gettysburg. Walt Whitman perhaps said it best: ""Will the America of the future - will this vast, rich Union ever realize what itself cost back there, after all?"" This is, in effect, the story of two battlefields: Gettysburg during July 1863 and Gettysburg during the 1990s. Following Thoreau's dictum that ""it is the province of the historian to find out, not what was, but what is"", the author has searched for contemporary America among the famous places of Gettysburg's historic landscape: McPherson's Woods and the Seminary, where the Iron Brigade made its decisive last stand and defined the economics of glory; the town itself, now a monument to the grim struggle of the past and the commercialism of the present; Cemetery Hill, where German gunners defended their pieces with rammers, water buckets, and unintelligible oaths; Seminary Ridge, where a young division commander pondered the meaning of the war and the will of God; Little Round Top, where the 15th Alabama nearly accomplished the humanly impossible; the Peach Orchard, where determination and heroism saved a day that, in the words of Bruce Catton, ""needed a lot of saving""; the wheat field, where a Yankeecolonel got a deathly glimpse of his future; the field of Pickett's Charge, where Lee's chief lieutenant first had to fight out his own lonely battle, and where a doomed and disgraced general then fought and won his battle with history and honor; and finally the battlefield after July 4 - the aceldama, the field of blood. This book presents a new perspective on the importance of the first day's battle, reassesses the tactical impact of new weaponry, examines in light of battlefield statistics the famous defense of Little Round Top, re-evaluates the thinking of Robert E. Lee, looks to Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln for explanations as to why the nation fought at all, and illuminates such lesser-known heroes as John F. Reynolds, John Buford, A. A. Humphreys, Joseph Kershaw, Freeman McGilvery, John Bigelow, and William Dorsey Pender. This is a book for any person who has pondered the meaning of American history or has visited any of the Civil War battle sites, heard voices from the past, and wondered who those people were and how we relate to them today.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (August 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253211360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253211361
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,782,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kent Gramm is a Wisconsin native who has taught college students in Germany, Illinois, Indiana, and now at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. A lifelong student of the Civil War, he has written several books on the war, Lincoln, and their relevance to the present day. November: Lincoln's Elegy at Gettysburg, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and the graduate writing program at LSU awards an annual Kent Gramm Prize in Creative Nonfiction. He has a Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and studied theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and at the University of Tuebingen, Germany. A winner of the Hart Crane Poetry Prize, he has published the poetry collections Psalms for Skeptics and Psalms for the Poor, along with the nonfiction The Prayer of Jesus: A Reading of the Lord's Prayer.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bradley Stone on July 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
Kent Gramm's, "Gettysburg- A Meditation on War and Values", is the oddest "war" book I've ever read- and the most wonderful. Gramm's novel approach posits the Battle of Gettysburg as a lens through which to view contemporary society for the purpose of examining two basic questions: "Are we better off today than we were in the Civil War era?" and "Have we earned the sacrifice that those soldiers made?" In Gramm's opinion, we fall woefully short of positive answers to both of them.
Gramm attempts to show that we have squandered both the ideals and the dreams those men fought for through a combination of purposeful action and outright indifference. We have, he argues, fallen headlong into a morass of thoughtless materialism. The result of our tumble is an unforgivable lack of any sense of nobility in our society on either the collective or individual level. Whether or not one agrees with the author's conclusions, they are argued cogently and with tremendous passion, and are, at a minimum, quite thought-provoking.
Gramm's history is as well-done as his sociology, rendered in a semi-conversational style that is eminently readable, informative, and entertaining. His accounts of events and people from the Battle of Gettysburg are fascinating and spot-on, with the effect of making his social critique that much more moving (his brief study of Confederate general Dorsey Pender is especially effective in that sense).
"Gettysburg" is a brilliant book that not all will find to be such- if one prefers his history "straight up", Gramm's approach will likely be rather annoying.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I spent many years living within an hour of Gettysburg, and I've probably been there close to 100 times. This is the first book I've ever seen that comes close to explaining what the subjective experience of visiting the battlefield is like.
The book is essentially a series of essays tied together by the Gettysburg battlefield, past and present. The theme running through the book is the enormity of the loss of lives that occurred there. To some, this theme might appear as an overtly political statement of pacifism. However, Gramm's target is the cheap patriotism and glorification of war that avoids comprehension of the nature of war and its aftermath. While he attacks the party-like atmosphere that surrounded the First Gulf War, he speaks reverentially of the people who fought it, as well as a more general attestation to the sacrifices of men who go to war in his account of the history of the units that made up the Iron Brigade, up through World War II. The first few pages of the book are an accurate representation of the content of the remainder of the book, although the recounting of the story is a bit more basic in these pages.
This is not necessarily a book about the history of the battle, the battlefield, or the debates that still rage about the actions and personalities of the commanders of the battle. While the story of the battle is sufficiently told to orient someone unfamiliar with the battle, and while there are accounts that will likely be new to even the more hardcore enthusiasts (e.g. his parallel telling of the story of Gen. Pender and his wife, and Gen. Reynolds and his fiancee), it is not as a history that this book has its value. The reason this book deserves a place on the shelf of essential books about Gettysburg is that it offers an intensely personal and relevant reflection on what the battle was and is about. It is a story of all wars, of why men go, and what is done to them. Rarely have I seen a book that tells it better.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S.E. Davis on March 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
To any person who has visited the Gettysburg battlefield and experienced its spiritual quality, this book is definitely for you. This book brought back the rush of visiting the battlefield with a crushing force. The author describes the battlefield in terms of sight, sound, smell, and sometimes touch in such detail that a past visit is recalled and an additional visit is desired. Anyone who is anticipating a visit to Gettysburg would find this a useful preparatory source. The locations and geographic aspects of the battle are vividly described. The only down side of the book is that detailing some of the author's "Values" which I find a curious combination of sixties liberalism and latterday pessimism. I found the historical analysis of the battle to be accurate but challenging to many of the commonly held tenets which are printed about the Civil War and the battle. More than anything else, the author's love and reverence of the Gettysburg National Park flows out of this book like a river.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
I became interested in Kent Gramm's writings after reading his outstanding essay in the collection "The Gettysburg Nobody Knows" edited by Gabor Boritt. In that essay, Gramm discussed in a historicaly informed and reflective way the famous charge of the Second Minnesota to defend the Union center at a critical moment during the second day of the battle of Gettysburg.

I thus read eagerly this reissue of Gramm's 1994 collection of essays "Gettysburg: A Meditation on War and Values." This collection has many of the characteristics that I found admirable in Gramm's essay on the Second Minnesota. Gramm is a long-term and devoted student of the battle of Gettysburg. He writes well and simply about the events of that pivotal battle. But unlike many accounts, such as those by Coddington, Pfanz, Sears, Trudeau, and others, Gramm's book doesn't purport to be a history of the battle. Rather, consists of highly personal reflections on the battle and its significance with discussions of the events of July 1 -- 3, 1863 interwoven with Gramm's thoughts.

In eighteen short essays, Gramm discusses particular events of the battle such as the fighting at McPherson's woods, the seminary, and in the town of Gettysburg itself during the first day. He discusses the action at the Round Tops, the Wheatfield, Culp's Hill, and, of course, Pickett's charge among other aspects of the battle. He teaches the reader about the ground and the ambience of Gettysburg then and now and about the personalities that made the battle.

Gramm's reflections are many layered. He is preoccupied with theology and meaning. He writes from a non-denominational, non-fundamentalist Christian perspective that shows a great deal of influence of Eastern religious thought.
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