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"The Gettysburg Gospel" a review,
This review is from: The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows (Hardcover)
Gabor Boritt's "The Gettysburg Gospel" is a stunning achievement. It is a superb history of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address by a professional historian and masterful storyteller after a lifetime of exhaustive research. Boritt is at the top of his game.
The first chapter places the reader in the horror of Gettysburg immediately after the battle. Hundreds of books have been written about the Civil War and the battle of Gettysburg, but Boritt chooses the less well known "After Battle" to introduce us to this nightmare of time and place. No battlefield glory here. The hot July stench of rotting human and animal flesh that pervaded the town and for miles around; the anguish of soldiers' wives, fathers, and mothers opening grave after grave, searching for their loved ones; and the sadness of nurses and doctors caring for men, dying in agonizing pain, treated with hopelessly inadequate resources and nineteenth-century medicine are brought home with stark reality. Boritt notes that one exhausted nurse (Emily Souder, in a letter home) admitted that after an emotionally overwhelming day of work, she buried her head in her pillows so as to block out the cries of dying men, heard clearly through her bedroom window. Agony and despair were aplenty.
Lincoln came to Gettysburg to redirect America's vision toward the stars, to give ultimate meaning to suffering and dying. And Boritt tells the story remarkably well. His description of the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemetery and the delivery of Lincoln's address is meticulously researched, thoroughly referenced, and carefully reasoned. No wild claims here. The historian guides us through the myriad of assertions and differing remembrances so as to provide us a thoughtful account of Lincoln and his work at Gettysburg. Boritt's historical research will become the benchmark for all others. Exceptional.
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was a superb piece of writing, much akin to political poetry. But with the end of the cemetery dedication, the history of the Address is only half told, and Boritt moves on skillfully to document how we the people recreated Lincoln's Address - in ways that the president probably never envisioned or intended. It seems that, for one reason or another, we need heroes and, in a sense, create them over and over again. In the decades after the Civil War, the martyred president achieved god-like status and his pronouncements became sacred words uttered from on high. Perhaps we needed a Lincoln myth in order to nation-build following the Civil War when "these united States" became "the United States." Perhaps we needed a hero to bind up the nation's wounds, to reconstruct North and South into one people. And perhaps there was a darker side. Perhaps nation and Lincoln myth were what held the vision of white America as it ignored the issue of race and failed to live out its "All men are created equal" creed for the next one hundred years. Boritt lays this all before us, gives us the history, the facts, and allows us to make our own judgments. Outstanding.
"The Gettysburg Gospel" is now the standard against which all other histories of the Gettysburg Address will be judged. This book should be read by every American.