Thursday, July 8, 2010

When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg (George Sheldon)

I happen to have the good fortune of living about 2 hours from Gettysburg; therefore, a yearly fall trip is always on our calendar. While there, we visit the usual memorials and museums. After reading this almost minute-by-minute account of the 3-day battle where so much blood was shed, I have a much better understanding of the horror that happened there.

When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg not only focuses on the battle, but also the before and after. The reader is able to create vivid pictures in the mind through diary accounts of Gettysburg residents, surgeons, and nurses. We learn that free African Americans, if captured by the Confederacy, would be marched to the South into a life of slavery. We learn about Tillie Pierce, whose diary accounts are studied thoroughly by historians today. We learn about the new practice of embalming the dead, so that soldiers could be shipped back to their loved ones for proper burial. We learn the minute details of the fascinating 50th and 75th reunions of the blue and the gray.

This book is not for the faint of heart, as the descriptions and especially the photos, are very graphic. However, When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg is not a dry textbook rendition of the battle. Sheldon takes a humanistic approach, which no textbook could ever compete with.