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Pickett's Charge in History and Memory (Civil War America) Hardcover – November 15, 1997

ISBN-13: 978-0807823798 ISBN-10: 0807823791

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Pickett's Charge--the Confederates' desperate (and failed) attempt to break the Union lines on the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg--is best remembered as the turning point of the U.S. Civil War. But Penn State historian Carol Reardon reveals how hard it is to remember the past accurately, especially when an event such as this one so quickly slipped into myth. She writes, "From the time the battle smoke cleared, Pickett's Charge took on this chameleonlike aspect and, through a variety of carefully constructed nuances, adjusted superbly to satisfy the changing needs of Northerners, Southerners, and, finally, the entire nation." With care and detail, Reardon's fascinating book teaches a lesson in the uses and misuses of history.


This is a skillful and compelling example of the way an event whose story we think we know turns out to be as mobile as quicksilver when we try to put a finger down for certain.--Allen C. Guelzo, The Barnes & Noble Review

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Product Details

  • Series: Civil War America
  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (November 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807823791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807823798
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #650,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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This book makes you think and is a good read!
Eclectic Reader
Despite its focus on the American Civil War, this book has universal significance and demands reading by anyone genuinely interested in the social sciences.
James W. Williams
Ms. Rearson goes into great detail to uncover them and to separate fact from fiction and history from memory.
Michael Patterson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Kerr Smith on May 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Reardon's wonderful book underscores the challenge that we all face as we read and attempt to separate fact from fiction and fancy.This book is a case study in the mysterious confluence of objective history and subjective history. Ms Reardon deftly takes the reader from July 3, 1863, the day of Pickett's Charge, to the present day and shows how elusive the truth is. As an avid student of the American Civil War in particular and history in general,I learned three very important lessons from Ms Reardon. First, the thundering violence and confusion of battle make the search for the truth exceedingly difficult. The actual participants in Pickett's Charge were able to vividly and tellingly relate their emotions at the time. However, their reports of actual events and actions were understandably contradictory. Second, as Ms Reardon illuminates throughout the book, the careful reader must consider the possible motives of the author while reading the work. Ms Reardon demonstrates that the Virginia Historical Society was more interested in protecting state pride than searching for the truth. The numerous instances of conflicting accounts of this single day of the Civil War reminds me of Richard Nixon's resopnse to the question of how history will judge him : "It depends on who writes the history ". One can call Nixon's response cynical, but Ms Reardon reminds us that the wise reader will posses a healthy skepticism. Finally, when one pores through a Civil War book,or any book on warfare for that matter, the reader must understand that the neat maps of the terrain and the formations belie the utter confusion,terror, and violence inherent in battle.Read more ›
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By James W. Williams on November 23, 1997
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book ranks among a tiny handful of works that anyone who really wants to understand history and historical processes, military or otherwise, should read. The title grossly understates the real subject. In concepts and content, this book stands with John Keegan's The Face of Battle, Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory, Carl Builder's The Masks of War, and Viktor Frankel's Man's Search for Meaning for insights into how individual human minds and groups work, turn isolated events into memory and history, and then have large-scale influences. Even among these, only Fussell and Reardon tie the threads together. With Pickett's Charge as a case study, Carol Reardon's project is two-fold. First she traces how a small, bloody episode in a long, bloody war quickly and irreversibly became attached to and glorified a minor figure in that episode. Second she traces how, in popular memory and myth, that episode came to codify that entire war. In carrying out these two projects, she hits at a complex array of core issues on several levels. For example, she analyzes how soldiers perceive, imbed in memory, privately recall, reprocess, and publicly retell their experiences. What she says of combat veterans applies equally to survivors of many kinds of catastrophe. She shows how the innate human desire to make sense of isolated bits of experience and, thus, achieve meaning in our lives, drives people to impose an artificial order on and attach extraneous material to experience that distorts memory and any record of an event. The elements and dynamics she describes apply equally well to any human experience and to any historical sources and topics.Read more ›
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on January 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
About 3 years ago, I read the 3 books Gary Gallagher edited that are essay collections on the battle of Gettysburg. While the books dealing with the first and second day had interesting material in them, the one on the third day had a truly interesting essay on Pickett's Charge, by a woman who's a military historian. I'm sure she's sick of hearing it, but female military historians are rather rare, so I read it with some interest. It was worth my time, definitely, and this book is an expansion of the themes presented in the essay.
Gettysburg is a controversial subject, and while there has been much ink spilled adding to the controversy, this book instead aims to dissect the controversy surrounding the denoument of the whole event: Pickett's Charge. Reardon first covers the events of the charge very briefly, then wades right in and recounts the memory and history of the event as it developed over the years. There's a whole chapter, for instance, on the efforts of the North Carolina historical societies and veterans' organizations trying to rehabilitate the reputation of Tarheels who fought during Pickett's Charge, because they were blamed (by Virginians in Pickett's division and elsewhere) for the defeat. Watching the history of an event unfold and change as the generations pass is enthralling, and Reardon tells the story skillfully, keeping the pace up nicely and showing a formidable command of publications on the Battle and Pickett's Charge itself...
All in all, a truly remarkable book and one well worth reading. A 9 is the highest rating I've given here; and I've rated 10 or 15 books now.
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