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Civil War America: Pickett's Charge in History and Memory by Carol Reardon | eBay

In "Binding the Wounds of War," Reardon recounts the story of a small battlefield reunion between survivors of Pickett's Division and members of the Philadelphia Brigade. Noting that the former enemies praised each other's courage and shook hands at the Angle, Reardon exaggerates the ingenuousness of these gestures when she concludes that "Virginian and Pennsylvanian parted close friends" p.

Reardon acknowledges in chapter five, "Monuments to Memory," that not all northern veterans were as willing as the Philadelphians to extend a hand of friendship to the South. Still, she persuasively argues, in commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the charge in , many Union regiments paid so much attention to the defeat of Pickett and his men that the northerners essentially accepted the heroism of the Confederates as an undisputed fact.

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Preoccupied during the s with how posterity would recall their own actions, Reardon writes, northern veterans "rediscovered a serious interest in the tactical details of the Union defense" p. Confederates, too, were interested in the details of the fighting, battling within their ranks about which regiments had earned glory on the field. In chapters six and seven, Reardon examines the impassioned efforts of North Carolinians to set the historical record straight about their valiant participation in Pickett's Charge.

The Tar Heels faced an impossible task, however, since southerners by the late nineteenth century regarded Pickett's Virginians as representative of "all truly faithful Confederate soldiers" and northerners had even begun "to embrace Virginia's heroes as their own" p.

In the end, Reardon concludes, Virginia stood victorious. Reardon's final chapter covers the Blue-Gray Reunion held at Gettysburg in Contending that by this date memory had thoroughly won out over historical accuracy, Reardon laments the fact that in popular opinion Virginia alone received credit for the glorious defeat that was Pickett's Charge. As for public perceptions of the larger conflict, Reardon readily accepts the proposition that sectional strife had been completely buried by , concurring with the observation of one attendee that "the celebration 'forged the last link in the reunion of the North and the South, and wiped out the last remnant of bitterness and hostile feeling'" p.

In her epilogue, Reardon ruefully observes that at Gettysburg today "the memory of Pickett's Charge is up for sale" p. A tour of latter-day souvenir stands unsurprisingly verifies Reardon's general thesis: images of Virginians are available everywhere, but few North Carolinians are to be found. The T-shirt wars confirm that Pickett won out over Pettigrew. The question of Pickett versus Pettigrew is an old one, asked most pointedly in a polemic published by North Carolinian William R.

Bond in His Pickett or Pettigrew? Indeed, she has looked at so many newspaper accounts, battle narratives, and unit histories that future historians will be in her debt for gathering together in one volume so much information about how Americans viewed Pickett's Charge between and Despite Reardon's determined effort to track down and cite obscure primary sources, however, she gives short shrift to relevant secondary sources, particularly those dealing with the popular legacy of Gettysburg and the Civil War.

Reardon does not refer, for example, to the fine essays written by John S. Patterson [1] and Edward Tabor Linenthal [2] on the history and significance of the Gettysburg battlefield. Nor does she take advantage of recent literature on national reconciliation that has focused on issues of gender and race.

In addition, Reardon tends to be insufficiently critical of the sources she does use.

Perhaps this reticence stems from her belief that historians can never know what happened in the past because individual recollections of it are not reliable. The selectivity of the soldiers' memories had made this impossible" p. Reardon has chosen not to sift through the conflicting testimony about Pickett's Charge to come up with a plausible scenario for the events of July 3, , based on a preponderance of the historical evidence. This decision sets up an odd dynamic in the book: Reardon's recurring discussions of the historical disputes among battle veterans and other observers are enervated by her reluctance to share her own conclusions about the battle with the reader.

Reardon does not consider the likelihood that the historian actually knows more about the contours of the battle than the participants, albeit from a different perspective. Given the wide interpretive lens a historian has at his or her disposal, surely differentiating between credible first-hand reporting and mere bravado, between sincerity and bombast, is not impossible.

NOOK Book. If, as many have argued, the Civil War is the most crucial moment in our national life and Gettysburg its turning point, then the climax of the climax, the central moment of our history, must be Pickett's Charge. But as Carol Reardon notes, the Civil War saw many other daring assaults and stout defenses. As this innovative study reveals, by examining the events of 3 July through the selective and evocative lens of 'memory' we can learn much about why Pickett's Charge endures so strongly in the American imagination.

Over the years, soldiers, journalists, veterans, politicians, orators, artists, poets, and educators, Northerners and Southerners alike, shaped, revised, and even sacrificed the 'history' of the charge to create 'memories' that met ever-shifting needs and deeply felt values.

Pickett's Charge: War Department

Reardon shows that the story told today of Pickett's Charge is really an amalgam of history and memory. The evolution of that mix, she concludes, tells us much about how we come to understand our nation's past. Easley of the 14th Virginia finally admitted he had not seen very much of his regiment's most famous assault.

He had become "so engrossed with his part of a fight" that he recalled "very little else. He feared that despite the efforts of conscientious historians "to weave a symmetrical whole from such disconnected threads," they really preserved only a few bits of any military action, even one so dramatic as the great charge at Gettysburg on July 3, A battlefield, according to military historian S. Marshall, is indeed "the lonesomest place which men share together.

Moreover, such personal recollections are very selective. No soldier recalls every action he takes or every observation he makes in battle, argues historian Richard Holmes, because "the process of memory tends to emphasize the peaks and troughs of experience at the expense of the great grey level plain. Only the most exceptional events, even on this momentous day in American military history, were likely to leave lasting marks in the soldiers' memories. What did the survivors of that day tell us? Immediate postbattle musings offer glimpses of the horrific clash of arms.

Collectively, however, they represent only a set of remarkable moments. These fragments of memory, as historian C. Vann Woodward has asserted, provide "the twilight zone between living memory and written history" that becomes the "breeding ground of mythology. What do those fragments tell us about what happened between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 3, ? They tell us many important things, and not all of them are obvious to the best scholars. Historians often miss one particularly important point about that day: thousands of soldiers marched away from Gettysburg with no lasting memory at all of the great charge of July 3.


  1. Pickett's Charge in History and Memory | Carol Reardon | University of North Carolina Press.
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Samuel A. Firebaugh of the 10th Virginia recalled his own tough fight on Culp's Hill early that same morning as "the hardest contested battle of the war, lasting 6 hours" but dismissed the assault that afternoon with "Hill attacked on the right. Moses B. Lakeman of the 3rd Maine, after a hard fight at the Peach Orchard on July 2, summed up the next day with a few unspectacular observations: "Went to support of Second corps; no casualties.

Rained at night.

Pickett’s Charge, July 3 and Beyond, Omnibus E-book

Enemy completely repulsed in our front all day. Commanding brigade. More interesting, of course, are the memories of soldiers who did participate in the event. Honest soldiers, such as Sergeant Easley, realized that they just did not see enough of the fighting on July 3 to explain very much about it. As a Pennsylvania soldier suggested, "None but the actors of the field can tell the story" of a battle, and even then, "each one can tell of his own knowledge but an infinitisimal part. First, both the linear formations the armies used and the sheer numbers of soldiers involved in the fight on each side that day limited each combatant's field of vision.

One of Davis's Mississippians best described the problem to his general a few years later: "I was very much like the French Soldier of whom you sometimes told us, who never saw anything while the battle was going on except the rump of his fat file leader. The physical conformation of the July 3 battlefield was-and still is-deceiving.

Pickett's Charge in History and Memory

Then, as now, trees, patches of underbrush, and rock outcroppings dotted the fields and slopes. The front of Webb's brigade stretched only several hundred yards, yet one man of the 72nd Pennsylvania later wrote that "those of us who were with the rest of the brigade knew nothing of the Sixty-Ninth [Pennsylvania], except as we heard their cheers and the crack of their rifles" because they were "partly concealed from view by the clump of trees. A low finger of ground jutting westward from the area around the Angle and the clump of trees toward the Emmitsburg Road, a subtly significant terrain feature largely unnoticed in and seldom noted today, effectively cut the battlefield in two.

This subtle ripple cut the lines of sight along the lines of command responsibility: Pettigrew and Trimble fought Hays north of it, Pickett fought Gibbon south of it. Only a few soldiers saw much of both clashes. Smoke and the sheer number of horses and men on the field also made it difficult for any single individual to see much that day. Reardon shows that the story told today of Pickett's Charge is really an amalgam of history and memory.

The evolution of that mix, she concludes, tells us much about how we come to understand our nation's past.

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Binding the Wounds of War. Monuments to Memory. Disconnected Threads.