And Im sad to say that is quite the appropriate term to describe many who study the Civil War. In any case Carol Reardon is a cool and classy historian who knows that one of the most important phrases to say early and often in a historical lecture is We dont really know exactly what happened. By the end of Ms. Reardon's engaging presentation, I remembered why I had been so captivated studying the Civil War during my late teens/early 20s.
General George Pickett, a subordinate of General Longstreet, commanded the right wing of the Confederate assault leading troops from Virginia. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Why this incident, considered by many to be the turning point of the American Civil War, became known as Picketts Charge and not Longstreets Assault or Hancocks Stand, is the subject of Carol Reardons Picketts Charge in History and Memory . She traces the way the narrative of the assault changes from the letters and diaries of participants, through early newspaper accounts, veterans periodicals, and regimental histories, and considers how the experiences of reunions, paintings, poems, fiction, and the changing landscape and memorials of the battlefield itself affected veterans memories and public perceptions. An epilogue looks at Picketts Charge as it has been considered by historians and in popular culture since 1913.
This book is the best work I have read on the Confederate attack on the center of the Union's line on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. As Carol Reardon expertly argues, most of what we know - or think we know - about the assault known as "Pickett's Charge" is more myth than history, including the name attack itself.
Pickett's Charge in History and Memory is about the making of history.
Very good book on Pickett's charge.