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on May 29, 2000
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.
Ms Reardon won me over with her eye for the telling detail when she pointed out that the terrain prevented both Union and Confederate soldiers from a panaromic view of the battlefield.The rolling hills prevented the Union troops from seeing large parts of the charge. Meanwhile, a gentle ridge split the attacking Confederates in half. Ms Reardon ruefully notes that numerous historical accounts from both sides provide intimate details of things that were not visible from the participant's location.
Ms Reardon quotes a grizzled veteran who summed it all up when he said,"Picketts Charge has been so grossly exaggerated and misrepresented as to give some color to the oft-repeated axiom that 'history is an agreed-upon lie'."
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on November 23, 1997
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. In discussing how the public awareness and interpretation of the events from the Civil War evolved, she describes a process that applies to anything that makes CNN today. In the current climate of interest in national values, her discussion of how the image of George Pickett portrayed through his adherents--most notably, his sycophantic and energetic wife--blended with prevailing Victorian emphases on virtue to magnify his role and the significance of the event. Reardon gives important insights into the well-trodden but currently-important subject of nationalism. Most important is what she says about the process of national formation. The political process she described to find and cement points of agreement on passionately divisive issues is tragically relevant--largely, in the negative--to efforts at peacemaking in many places today, such as Bosnia, the former Soviet states, and the Middle East. Particularly germane to scholars is her insight that, to achieve any immediate political and social goal, most people will eagerly sacrifice accuracy of historical description and analysis. Orwell's dark vision in 1984 of an overarching, totalitarian regime rewriting history and punishing those who try to preserve Truth is far less a real threat than the collective effects of banal, spontaneous, individual daily activities. An extension of the process she describes to other places and times can go a long way toward understanding how in Bosnia, for example, neighbors and even family members readily denounced, turned on, and even brutally murdered one another. The same applies equally well to persistent turbulence in many other trouble spots. Despite its focus on the American Civil War, this book has universal significance and demands reading by anyone genuinely interested in the social sciences. Once finished, a thoughtful reader can expect to feel much wiser but slightly to deeply disturbed. Jim Williams--former director of oral history and lessons learned programs, U.S. Army Military History Institute/Army War College; historian for multinational peacekeeping forces in Bosnia; combat commander; Ph.D. in history and sociology.
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on January 7, 1998
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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VINE VOICEon January 30, 2000
With new books on the Civil War hitting the stands every day it's nice to see that hard nosed research with attention to detail is still alive. Carol Reardon has brought forth past memories, mirrored with a modern day look at Pickett's charge. As the book unfolds, her style of writing lends itself to a wonderful portrayal of the efforts made to fully understand what happened on 3 July 1863.
No matter what the outcome, American lives were lost during a bitter struggle at a time when brother fought against brother. This book, unlike others that try to de-bunk the stories and battle statistics, goes to the heart of the matter. Truly remarkable and most enjoyable to read!
This book is well worth reading and rates as one of the top Civil War books needed on your library shelf.
Well done!
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VINE VOICEon June 16, 2004
"Pickett's Charge In History And Memory" begins with the question as to why this charge, of all the charges of the Civil War, has captured and held the imagination of a nation for over 140 years. This is not the book in which to find the history of the battle of July 3, 1863. This book records the battle over the legacy, the memory and the place in history of that historic charge.

The tenor of this book came as a surprise to me. I had always viewed Pickett's Charge as an ill conceived, vain attack, the only redeeming virtue of which was the heroism of the Confederate troops as they marched to slaughter. I had always viewed Pickett as a goat, rather than a hero. The only excuse which I saw for Pickett was that he only carried out orders for which he was not responsible. I learned that my view is far conventional wisdom.

Carol Reardon does a good job of documenting the war over the battle from the original memories up to the most recent literature and films on the subject. She begins by pointing out that the experience of each participant was limited to the field of vision of each individual, requiring the piecing together of many individual memories in order to assemble the puzzle.

The first public reports of the battle in newspapers were so fragmented that it took weeks before a consensus was reached as to which side had won. Some early reports spoke of a glorious Confederate route of the Yankees. In time, reality sank in and reports turned into a search for a scapegoat on whom to lay the blame for Virginia's glorious failure. Pickett's Charge soon became a highpoint of Virginia's martial glory to be defended from all attackers. Suspicion soon focused on troops from other states, prominently North Carolina, and other commanders, who were said to have failed to provide needed support. This led to a rival claims that troops from North Carolina and other states had done their share and, according to some observers, actually established a high water mark surpassing that established by Pickett's troops at The Angle. I was surprised to learn that not all of the troops in the Charge were under the command of General Pickett. Even the moniker of "Pickett's Charge" came under repeated attack. Squabbles among Confederate heros led to disputes among union troops as to who deserved credit for having stopped the charge. The title of decisive action of the battle of the war was challenged by veterans of Little Round Top and other actions during the battle.
Not only was Pickett a hero of Virginia, but, as the soldier most closely identified with Richmond, his memory benefited from the historical scholarship originating in that city. His funeral attracted renewed attention to the Charge and his widow served, for many years, as a focal point for Pickett devotees.
Through the years, conflicts raged over the location of the markers which so serenely tower over the battlefield today. Commemorations at quarter century intervals renewed rivalries and animosities for a century.

The controversial Gen. Longstreet keeps coming up throughout the book.
Even recent books and films continue to present the "spins" which have been twirling since the days immediately after battle. After many intervening wars, Pickett's Charge remains a subject of great controversy.

Each reader is left to formulate his own answer the original question, why have all other charges paled in comparison to Pickett's Charge in public memory and history? My answer is that it was a major attack, resulting in heavy casualties, which was a significant determinant of the outcome of the war. Its veterans and partisans engaged those of other actions on the fields of scholarship and literature. Clashes of egos as great as the clashes of arms continued to keep and even raise the Charge in public imagination.

Read this book. You will enjoy it. Then write your own review with your answer to the question.
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The third day, July 3, 1863, of the Battle of Gettysburg has become immortalized by what is commonly referred to as Pickett's Charge. After an extensive cannonade, a Southern infantry forced crossed about one mile of open ground to attach the Union position on the center of Cemetery Ridge. A small number of Confederate troops reached and briefly penetrated the Union defense. The attack was repulsed with great loss to the Confederate troops. The Battle of Gettysburg was essentially over and the Confederate Army began a long and difficult retreat the next day.
These are some of the bare-boned facts about Pickett's charge. General George Pickett, a subordinate of General Longstreet, commanded the right wing of the Confederate assault leading troops from Virginia. The left wing of the assault was under the command of Generals Pettigrew and Trimble from the Corps of Confederate General A.P. Hill. The assault force on the left included troops from North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and elsewhere in the South. There was also a small column to the right of Pickett's troops that included soldiers from Florida and Georgia.
Professor Carol Reardon's study, "Pickett's Charge in History and Memory" (1997) eloquently explores how and why the events of the third day at Gettysburg have assumed legendary, heroic status among so many Americans over the years. Professor Reardon gives only the briefest account of the battle itself and focuses instead on the many imponderables and uncertainties in the historical record. She has some important things to say about skepticism regarding the initial battlefield accounts, some of which were written many years after the event when memories had turned and faded. She has even more important things to say about how and why Pickett's charge became and remains a subject for contention and about why many people still find it a climactic moment of the Civil War and of American history.
Professor Reardon describes how Virginians and North Carolinians fought between themselves about which troops had been braver and had carried more of the brunt of the failed assault. She discusses how the Charge became legendary as the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy" and how its repulse became viewed as sealing the fate of the Confederacy. Beginning in the mid-1870s Union and Confederate Veterans met on the Gettysburg Battlefield to relive their memories of the Charge. The former enemies had reconciled and become friends. Pickett's Charge became a symbol of the valor, the heroism, and the common bond of soldiering shared by the troops on both sides. The memory of Pickett's charge helped reunite the United States. It also, unhappily, promoted a "Lost Cause", romanticized view of the Old South and tended to draw the Nation's attention away from the issues of slavery and of race relations that had precipitated the Civil War.
I found Professor Reardon's descriptions of the reunions at Gettysburg between veterans in 1877 and 1913 the most moving and interesting part of the book, as they showed clearly the symbolic character that Pickett's Charge had assumed. Pickett's Charge became an emblem of the nature of the Civil War and of the subsequent reconciliation between North and South.
Professor Reardon also devotes more attention to the Union side of the line than is sometimes accorded in studies of the Charge. Interestingly, she points out that Union veterans of the first and second days of Gettysburg -- the soldiers in Sickle's Third Corps, the defenders of Culp's and Cemetery Hills, among others, sometimes felt slighted at the attention lavished on the third day of the Battle at the expense of their contributions.
In recent years, perhaps under the influence of Scharra's novel, "The Killer Angels" the Union defense of Little Round Top under Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine have rivalled Pickett's Charge in accounts of the climactic moment of the Battle. Professor Reardon does not address this revival of interest in Little Round Top. It would be interesting to explore it in a manner analogous to her treatment of the Charge.
I think many modern accounts of the Charge tend to emphasize its futility, the highly remote chances it had of success, and the tremendous loss of life that followed in its wake. This is a more modernistic approach to the Charge than the approach based upon a shared valor and heroism that Professor Reardon discusses. The modern sensibility has affected again the way Americans view the Charge.
Professor Reardon has written a thoughtful meditation of Pickett's charge and its interpretation and reinterpretation over the years. She views her subject seriously and with reverence. She concludes her book with the words of a Gettysburg veteran writing in 1908 (p.213): "Tradition, story, history -- all will not efface the true, grand epic of Gettysburg."
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VINE VOICEon June 16, 2004
"Pickett's Charge In History And Memory" begins with the question as to why this charge, of all the charges of the Civil War, has captured and held the imagination of a nation for over 140 years. This is not the book in which to find the history of the battle of July 3, 1863. This book records the battle over the legacy, the memory and the place in history of that historic charge.

The tenor of this book came as a surprise to me. I had always viewed Pickett's Charge as an ill conceived, vain attack, the only redeeming virtue of which was the heroism of the Confederate troops as they marched to slaughter. I had always viewed Pickett as a goat, rather than a hero. The only excuse which I saw for Pickett was that he only carried out orders for which he was not responsible. I learned that my view is far conventional wisdom.

Carol Reardon does a good job of documenting the battle over the battle from the original memories up to the most recent literature and films on the subject. She begins by pointing out that the experience of each participant was limited to the field of vision of each individual, requiring the piecing together of many individual memories in order to assemble the puzzle.

The first public reports of the battle in newspapers were so fragmented that it took weeks before a consensus was reached as to which side had won. Some early reports spoke of a glorious Confederate route of the Yankees. In time, reality sank in and reports turned into a search for a scapegoat on whom to lay the blame for Virginia's glorious failure. Pickett's Charge soon became a highpoint of Virginia's martial glory to be defended from all attackers. Suspicion soon focused on troops from other states, prominently North Carolina, and other commanders, who were said to have failed to provide needed support. This led to a rival claims that troops from North Carolina and other states had done their share and, according to some observers, actually established a high water mark surpassing that established by Pickett's troops at The Angle. I was surprised to learn that not all of the troops in the Charge were under the command of General Pickett. Even the moniker of "Pickett's Charge" came under repeated attack. Squabbles among Confederate heros led to disputes among union troops as to who deserved credit for having stopped the charge. The title of decisive action of the battle of the war was challenged by veterans of Little Round Top and other actions during the battle.
Not only was Pickett a hero of Virginia, but, as the soldier most closely identified with Richmond, his memory benefited from the historical scholarship originating in that city. His funeral attracted renewed attention to the Charge and his widow served, for many years, as a focal point for Pickett devotees.
Through the years, conflicts raged over the location of the markers which so serenely tower over the battlefield today. Commemorations at quarter century intervals renewed rivalries and animosities for a century.

The controversial Gen. Longstreet keeps coming up throughout the book.
Even recent books and films continue to present the "spins" which have been twirling since the days immediately after battle. After many intervening wars, Pickett's Charge remains a subject of great controversy.

Each reader is left to formulate his own answer the original question, why have all other charges paled in comparison to Pickett's Charge in public memory and history? My answer is that it was a major attack, resulting in heavy casualties, which was a significant determinant of the outcome of the war. Its veterans and partisans engaged those of other actions on the fields of scholarship and literature. Clashes of egos as great as the clashes of arms continued to keep and even raise the Charge in public imagination.

Read this book. You will enjoy it. Then write your own review with your answer to the question.
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on January 13, 2009
As one who has visited the great Battlefield at Gettysburg more times that I can count and who has studied the battle since I was a teenager those many years ago, I was impressed with Ms. Rearson's take on the subject.

As the largest battle ever to take place on American soil, Gettysburg has taken on an almost mystical place in American history. As Ms. Rearson points out so very clearly, even the memories of those who took part in the battle were clouded by the memories of themselves and their comrades rather than by the actual history of the battle itself.

It has been written that the history of warfare is written by the victors, but in this case the "losers" have also contributed scores of articles, books, memoirs and diaries about the battle and its participants. Naturally, since the battle became known as the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy" there is a lot of romantic memory intertwined in their remembrances of the battle. Ms. Rearson goes into great detail to uncover them and to separate fact from fiction and history from memory.

Ms. Readon can be proud of a job well done.

Those who love American history must read this compelling book.

Michael Patterson
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on May 20, 2014
Students of history, official and amateur, will enjoy and profit from this thoughtful book. Using Pickett's Charge as an example, Prof Reardon examines how history is written and rewritten. She examines how first hand accounts can be useful, and inaccurate. She examines how highly charged events can take on a mythic quality that often belie the truth. She looks at how prejudices can subtly and not so subtly alter historic 'fact'. A rather important book.
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on November 15, 2010
Good historians/faculty/writers love their subject and want us to appreciate and understand their discipline. There is no question in my mind that Dr. Reardon loves the Civil War era and Gettysburg's place in that. A superior communicator, with wonderful detail, she describes the places (and I think she knows the Gettysburg battlefield incredibly well), the people; the time, and why this is an important part of our American story. She has "spot on" insight into military strategy and tactics. She is able to help us understand ambition and hubris; courage and dedication; fortitude and fear.

This book makes you think and is a good read!
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