Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Book Review: Gettysburg Battlefield: The Definitive Illustrated History

Book Review: Gettysburg Battlefield: The Definitive Illustrated History By: David J. Eicher Forward by: James M. McPherson

Out of the literally thousands of book that have been written on the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 1-3, 1863), this one has really stood out as one of the more informative books on the subject. Published in 2003, Gettysburg Battlefield: The Definitive Illustrated History looks at the battle with a detailed narrative of the entire campaign, beginning with the condition of the war as 1863 dawned. The reader is then taken through the Battle of Brandy Station and the Confederate movement to the north.

Featured throughout the book are three dimensional maps, created by Lee Vandevisse which gives the reader a more complete view of the battle as it took place. Also featured in this book are essays written by people such as Ted Alexander, Chief Historian at Antietam, Brian Pohanka, a Civil War preservationist who died in 2005, and Winona Peterson, a historian and archivist at Gettysburg.

A rather interesting feature of this book is the photography, making comparison of photographs taken after the battle with photos taken at the battlefield park between 1995 and 2000. For example, a photo of Matthew Brady taken at a pond near McPherson's Woods (dated July 15, 1863) is compared with a photo taken at the exact same spot on April 23, 1995. One thing that will interest the reader is the treatment of the famous Confederate Sharpshooter at Devil's Den photo which was revealed to be a hoax by Gettysburg image expert William Frassanito. Not only was the "sharpshooter" dragged there by Timothy O' Sullivan, an assistant to Alexander Gardener, to that spot, but the same dead soldier was photographed about 75 yards away, between Devil's Den and the Triangular Field. As a matter of fact, Frassanito revealed that that the same dead soldier was the subject in no fewer than six pictures! These sites are also compared with photos taken in 1997.

In another revelation of a Devil's Den photo, it was revealed that the "dead" soldiers were in face alive. These photos were taken by P. S. Weaver in November of 1863, one week prior to the Gettysburg Address, as part of a series and since all the dead soldiers were already buried, a detachment of Union troops there to provide security for the dedication ceremony was pressed into service casualties causalities”.

The book treats the battle itself with a mixture of narrative, old and recent photos, and the 3-D maps. The first time Civil War reader will note some interesting facts, like the upturned cannon that noted an army or corps headquarters, or the diamond shaped monument marking the spot where Union Major General Dan Sickles (III Corps) was wounded on Day Two. The book ends with a look at the post battle activity, the hospitals (like Camp Letterman) and the formation of the National Cemetery (with an essay by D. Scott Hartwig, the Chief Historian at Gettysburg National Military Park), and the dedication ceremony with the wide angle shots of the crowd listening to President Lincoln's speech. It is interesting to note that there were no pictures of Lincoln himself speaking, since the photographer had not enough time to set up his camera before Lincoln finished.

All in all, this book is a must for anyone interested in the Battle of Gettysburg.

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