“[I]n 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 power to add or detract.” —President Abraham Lincoln
James M. McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, and arguably the finest Civil War historian in the world, walks us through the site of the bloodiest and perhaps most consequential battle ever fought by Americans.
The events that occurred at Gettysburg are etched into our collective memory, as they served to change the course of the Civil War and with it the course of history. More than any other place in the United States, Gettysburg is indeed hallowed ground. It’s no surprise that it is one of the nation’s most visited sites (nearly two million annual visitors), attracting tourists, military buffs, and students of American history.
McPherson, who has led countless tours of Gettysburg over the years, makes stops at Seminary Ridge, the Peach Orchard, Cemetery Hill, and Little Round Top, among other key locations. He reflects on the meaning of the battle, describes the events of those terrible three days in July 1863, and places the struggle in the greater context of American and world history. Along the way, he intersperses stories of his own encounters with the place over several decades, as well as debunking several popular myths about the battle itself.
What brought those 165,000 soldiers—75,000 Confederate, 90,000 Union—to Gettysburg? Why did they lock themselves in such a death grip across these once bucolic fields until 11,000 of them were killed or mortally wounded, another 29,000 were wounded and survived, and about 10,000 were “missing”—mostly captured? What was accomplished by all of this carnage? Join James M. McPherson on a walk across this hallowed ground as he be encompasses the depth of meaning and historical impact of a place that helped define the nation’s character.
The country's most distinguished Civil War historian, a Pulitzer Prize winner (for Battle Cry of Freedom) and professor at Princeton, offers this compact and incisive study of the Battle of Gettysburg. In narrating "the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere," McPherson walks readers over its presently hallowed ground, with monuments numbering into the hundreds, many of which work to structure the narrative. They range from the equestrian monument to Union general John Reynolds to Amos Humiston, a New Yorker identified several months after the battle when family daguerreotypes found on his body were recognized by his widow. Indeed, while McPherson does the expected fine job of narrating the battle, in a manner suitable for the almost complete tyro in military history, he also skillfully hands out kudos and criticism each time he comes to a memorial. He praises Joshua Chamberlain and the 2oth Maine, but also the 14oth New York and its colonel, who died leading his regiment on the other Union flank in an equally desperate action. The cover is effective and moving: the quiet clean battlefield park above, the strewn bodies below. The author's knack for knocking myths on the head without jargon or insult is on display throughout: he gently points out that North Carolinians think that their General Pettigrew ought to share credit for Pickett's charge; that General Lee's possible illness is no excuse for the butchery that charge led to; that African-Americans were left out of the veterans' reunions; and that the kidnapping of African-Americans by the Confederates has been excised from most history books. This book is a very good thing in a remarkably small package. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-McPherson focuses on the period July 1-3, 1863, and explains why readers should know about the battle 140 years later. The book is concise, sprightly, and full of personality-both McPherson's and the participants' in the conflict. A prologue and epilogue flank the three chapters on the battle (each covering one day), relating why it happened and what followed. The author walks readers through Gettysburg from beginning to end, telling a story of simple personal decisions that had a global impact. The importance of the battle is elucidated in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. When readers have finished this book, the only way they can know Gettysburg better is by going there. Hugh McAloon, formerly at Prince William County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I've been lucky enough to live within thirty-five miles of Gettysburg almost my entire life and luckier still to have been a frequent visitor to the battlefield. While my knowledge of the field and the battle itself likely do not rival McPherson's, I know exactly what he means when he says the place is like a second home. I love Gettysburg. So, too, does McPherson, and his passion permeates this slim little book. Easily read in a couple of hours, Hallowed Ground is part travel journal, part guidebook, part history, deftly woven together by this gifted historian and storyteller. For those familiar with Gettysburg the battle and the place, reading Hallowed Ground is like visiting with an old friend. For those who have never been, it is an invitation. All the sites are there: the Round Tops, Seminary and Cemetery Ridges, Culp's and Cemetery Hills, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, the Peach Orchard, the McPherson Farm (no relation to the author). But McPherson goes deeper, to the monuments and their stories, even to the observation towers that old hands will recognize. The emotions are here, too. The strange elation you feel driving beneath the trees on Seminary Ridge or climbing the boulders at Devil's Den (at least in your younger days), knowing that men, great and small, walked these same paths, stood on the same ground, fought here for cause and comrade. And yet, knowing that many of these men died here--maybe in the Wheatfield--you feel the solemnity of the place, the horror of tens of thousands of casualties. You sense your own smallness and are awed by the actions that took place here; you are both proud and grateful. None other than Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who acted heroically at Gettysburg, captured these sentiments and emotions. "In great deeds, something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate the ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them..." The spirit of Chamberlain's words pervades McPherson's book, a work that should appeal to buffs as well as neophytes. Before reading, though, beware. If you can put this book down without wanting to visit Gettysburg (again or for the first time), you have greater will power than I.Read more ›
James McPherson is no stranger to the American Civil War in general and the battle of Gettysburg specifically; his book on the war, Battle Cry of Freedom, won the Pulitzer Prize, and he has led many guided tours and walks of Gettysburg in the past. Hallowed Ground, in essence, is a short but compelling combination of both: a history of the battle and a walk/guided tour, worked into a small hardback book a little over 140 pages in length. Mr. McPherson's narrative takes the reader through a walking tour of the battlefield from the beginning of the battle on July 1, 1863 and sequentially leads the reader from one section of the battle to the next, nearly sequentially as they happened on the battlefield. Occasionally there is a slight detour to other geographic or historic areas of note. At the same time, Mr. McPherson describes how that part of the battle took place, pointing out specific locations where there is a statue or interpretive marker and why it's there. Other odds and bits, like frequent Gettysburg myths, mentioned include the one about statue's hooves and the fate of the rider, or the ever-persistent "fought because of shoes" idea. Strangely enough, Mr. McPherson seems to take offense to various monuments and other events that, while providing stirring examples of Union and Confederate veteran unified nationalism, seemingly forgot what the war was all about in the first place. Such criticisms seem out of place given the context of the book. Book-ending the description of the battle and the guided battlefield tour is an account of the creation of the park itself, and some of the geographic changes that have occurred since 1863. At the end is Lincoln's poignant Gettysburg Address. Three maps detail the major locations and movements of forces during each day of the battle, but there is no map depicting the tour itself or even the location of park buildings, or how the battlefield stands today. There is no index or bibliography, though Hallowed Ground really doesn't need them. Finally, Mr. McPherson's tone is readable and very down-to-earth, and even inserts a joke or two, even a bad pun, which may seem a bit strange but doesn't really feel out of place. A few small criticisms aside, Mr. McPherson's newest work on Gettysburg accomplishes what it set out to do: provide a short history and tour of the battlefield, cover all the high points, and entertain the reader, all of which he more than adequately accomplishes.Read more ›
In the abstract, the notion of a book replacing an actual tour of the Gettysburg battlefield would seem a little far fetched...until one considers that this assignment is performed by the estimable Civil War author James McPherson. Under his pen, we get an amazingly new and unique perspective on this seminal battle that all Civil War readers should treasure as I certainly did.
Taking a walking tour of the battlefield and having the many anecdotes and stories that McPherson has developed over time and developing it into a small book (about 175 pages), the reader is treated to an intimate session with the master Civil War historian and undoubtedly learns many new and unique things previously lost to time and history. A study devoted to the battlefield as opposed to the battle, McPherson lets us in on things that never made the campaign studies of Coddington, Trudeau, Phanz or Sears...like the fact that many acres of the battlefield are being judiciously reformed back into the state it took in 1863...from clearing land that has since grown over, to re-growing woodland that has been cleared since the battle, or even, amazingly, culling wooded areas to make them resemble the partially wooded areas in 1863, thus giving the touring historian a feal for what that particular area was like back then. An explanation of the many monuments that dot the fields and the many stories associated with their placement will surely entice Civil War buffs with many new stories that add to the Gettysburg legend. All this is interspersed with a summary level discussion of the battle and the main players...all told in McPherson's unique way that combines both the military and the political climates of the times.
A marvelous gem of a book and one that features many new views associated with a battle and time in history that has been covered in many different ways, James McPherson has performed a marvelous service, again, to history and to the general reader. If you're like me, this work will be a vital part of my Gettysburg visit and, frankly, should be a focal point that the National Park Service stresses as a literary companion. A great book!!Read more ›
James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He has published numerous volumes on the Civil War, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom, Crossroads of Freedom (which was a New York Times bestseller), Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, and For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, which won the Lincoln Prize.