Gettysburg Religion

Steve Longenecker’s new book, Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North, just came across my desk today.  Fordham University Press did a really nice job with the dust jacket and it comes with endorsements from Ed Ayers, Ruth Doan, and Steve Woodworth.

I have been waiting for someone to write a religious history of Gettysburg and I know Steve has been working on this project for several years.  I smell a speaking gig at the new Seminary Ridge Museum.

Here is a taste from the jacket blurb.

In the borderland between freedom and slavery, Gettysburg remains among the most legendary Civil War landmarks. A century and a half after the great battle, Cemetery Hill, the Seminary and its ridge, and the Peach Orchard remain powerful memories for their embodiment of the small-town North and their ability to touch themes vital to nineteenth-century religion. During this period, three patterns became particularly prominent: refinement, diversity, and war. In Gettysburg Religion, author Steve Longenecker explores the religious history of antebellum and Civil War era Gettysburg, shedding light on the remarkable diversity of American religion and the intricate ways it interacted with the broader culture. Longenecker argues that Gettysburg religion revealed much about larger American society and about how trends in the Border North mirrored national developments. In many ways, Gettysburg and its surrounding Border North religion belonged to the future and signaled a coming pattern for modern America.

JFK at Gettsyburg

It has been a very full week for history buffs.  This week we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I thus found Diana Loski’s piece at The Gettysburg Experience particularly relevant reading on this Saturday morning.  She describes John Kennedy’s visit to Gettysburg in March 1963.  Here is a taste:

…Since Caroline was not as interested as her parents; and, in the days before seat belts and car seats were required, she grew restless during the drive. She was soon relegated to ride in the other car. The President and First Lady drove on, with their guide, down Seminary Ridge, and disembarked at the North Carolina Memorial near the site where many Confederates stepped off for Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863. The monument was one of Sheads’ favorites, and JFK took a moment to read the inscription on the block behind Gutzon Borglum’s magnificent sculpture. He commented to his guide that he hadn’t known that one in four of all who fell at Gettysburg was a North Carolinian.

The First Couple took a few moments to gaze across the mile-wide field of Pickett’s Charge, then returned to the convertible to continue on their tour. They also got out to take a closer look at the Virginia Memorial, also on Seminary Ridge, and took a long look at the statue of Robert E. Lee atop Traveller – on the spot where the general watched the famous charge at Gettysburg.

The Kennedys drove to Little Round Top, through Devil’s Den, and stopped at the Wheatfield – where the Irish Brigade had fought. Sheads showed the President where his ancestor’s regiment, the 28th Massachusetts, had placed their monument at the Stony Hill area. On the monument are the words “Faugh a Ballaugh!” the motto of the famed Irish Brigade. Sheads had recently learned the meaning of the Gaelic phrase and, ever the teacher, he asked the President if he knew the meaning of the words. “Sure I do,” Kennedy replied. “It means ‘Clear the Way’.” It is not known if Colonel Sheads told the President, but fighting against the Irish Brigade in the area was a Confederate colonel from South Carolina with the same surname. He was John Doby Kennedy from South Carolina, a colonel in General Kershaw’s brigade at Gettysburg. He survived the war, and, like the President, made a name for himself in politics.

A Battlefield Guide Reflects on the 150th Anniversary Celebration at Gettysburg

Garry Adelman is an author, licensed battlefield guide, and Director of History Education at the Civil War Trust.  It sounds like he was pretty busy last week commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  He reflects on the experience at Civil War Memory.  Here is a taste:

I thought that the July 3rd Commemorative March would be cool and had hoped that it would include the requisite 12,000 people. It did. The NPS estimates that some 15,000 were on Seminary Ridge with even more on Cemetery Ridge. As the March started, I was atop the Pennsylvania Memorial with about 100 others. I narrated what happened historically as it was happening in front of us. This was wildly cool. I have told the story of Pickett’s Charge countless times and have done my best to paint the picture, to bring it to life. Obviously, seeing that many people crossing that field was exceedingly instructive.  I was struck at the impossibility of capturing the March with my cameras. It was simply too big.  Even from atop Gettysburg’s largest monument, I could not see the whole thing and I found no single place where I could. I have not seen a single photo, even panoramic, that encapsulates the breadth. It was also incredible how small the individual people were as they crossed. The mob looked large but the individuals were much smaller than I had expected.

As the March continued, I moved toward the Angle to the occasional cannon blast and Rebel Yell. As the “troops” arrived, they stretched from the Bryan farm to the U.S. Regulars Monument. Again, hard to take in, harder to explain. You simply had to be there. The “opposing” forces remained separated as a bugler played Taps. Then another. As the next one started, I started shooting a video as I walked, hand on heart, southward, capturing the last seven buglers. I am not aware that anyone else walked along for this many, let alone shot a video of it.  The personal meaning bestowed by the successive performances as some 30,000 people stood in silence caught me completely off guard. It was awesome, and for perhaps the first time, I am using this word literally. Check out the video here, if you care to.

Gettysburg vs. Gettysburg

Jesse Smith, writing at The Smart Set, discusses the historic tensions between the town of Gettysburg and Gettysburg National Military Park.  Smith respects the attempts to keep the battlefield “sacred ground,” but also enjoys the kitsch of the town.  She writes: “any town with a Victorian photography studio, Civil War wax museum, multiple ghost tours, a fireworks superstore, and the General Pickett’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet is a town worth exploring.”

Indeed it is.  While I can fully understand the need to restore the battlefield to its original 1863 state, Gettysburg also provides a wonderful laboratory for exploring the relationship between historical memory and consumerism.  Whenever I give a tour of the battlefield I take my students to General Pickett’s Buffet for lunch and offer them a short lecture (usually in the parking lot) of how it is hard to separate commercialism from these so-called “sacred sites.”

The best book on these issues is Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine.

Here is a taste of Smith’s excellent piece:

Gettysburg the Park has been trying to kick the kitsch factor of Gettysburg the town long before it developed a new master plan in 1999. In 1959, Kenneth and Thelma Dick opened a children’s amusement park named Fantasyland Storybook Park one mile south of Gettysburg’s downtown and close to the site of General Meade’s headquarters. Fantasyland offered attractions based on fairy tales, plus puppet theaters, live animal shows, and Indian “attacks.” The site boasted that presidents’ children and grandchildren made repeated visits; it described itself as “truly a ‘must’ for discerning families.”

The Park Service disagreed. It would decide what discerning families truly must see and experience at Gettysburg. In 1974, it bought Fantasyland but allowed the Dicks to continue operating the site. Fantasyland finally closed in 1980. The Park Service also allowed the Dicks to stay in the house they owned there. Thelma did until last year, when she died at 93 . Then the Park Service demolished the house. 

Cullen Reviews Guelzo, "Gettysburg: The Last Invasion"

This is the best review I have seen of Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion to date.  It made me want to order a copy of the book and read it.  I liked Jim Cullen’s review for two reasons.

First, Cullen is the first reviewer to reflect on Guelzo’s work as a military historian.  As some of you know, Guelzo made his bones as an intellectual and religious historian before he turned toward writing trade books about the Civil War.

Second, Cullen defends Guelzo’s literary style in light of David Blight’s recent criticism in The New York Times.

Here is a taste of Cullen’s review:

Guelzo delivers the goods you expect with a book like this: an overview that sets the stage, a blow-by-blow account of the fighting, thumbnail sketches of the principals, counterfactual assessments of the might-have-beens. We get lots of active verbs: regiments and brigades don’t simply attack; they “lunge,” “bang”or “slap” each other. In his recent review of the book in the New York Times, David Blight criticized Guelzo for this, invoking the great John Keegan’s complaint about a “’Zap-Blatt-Banzai-Gott im Himmel-Bayonet in the Guts’ style of military history.” I take the point. But overall I have to say that Guelzo’s approach animates his narrative without really trivializing his subject. Indeed, Guelzo uses numbers to suggest the gravity of the three-day battle, noting that in the most conservative estimate, the damage the Army of Northern Virginia was the equivalent of two sinkings of the Titanic, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888 and two Pearl Harbors — and two and a half times the losses taken by Allied armies in Normandy from D-Day through August of 1944. Union losses were comparable. 

Seminary Ridge Museum Now Open

Have you visited the Seminary Ridge Museum yet?  If you are in Gettysburg or planning a trip there soon I strongly encourage you to check it out. (It is located on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary).

I hope to make my visit once the crowds die down a bit, but I have heard good things about it so far from director Barbara Franco (who I worked with when she was the head of the Pennsylvania Historical and Musuem Commission) and two of the its early interns–Katie Garland and Josh Adams (both students of mine at Messiah College).  See our earlier posts here and here.

Here is a taste of a nice write-up on the museum’s opening from Religion News Service:

Today, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Schmucker Hall, located on the campus of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, reopens as a museum reflecting on the epic battle, the costly war and the complex role of faith. 
Seminary Ridge Museum will take visitors into the minds of those who fought and explore their conflicting ideas of freedom.
Some 750,000 soldiers died during the Civil War and many of them carried and quoted from the Bible. But they read it in divergent ways that still reverberate in a polarized America.
“People have found it comfortable to find a way to think about the Civil War in terms of valor and heroism,” said Barbara Franco, executive director of the museum. “We want to really look at these other parts of it—causes, consequences—and leave people thinking there’s more to this than just the simple answers.”

Black at Gettysburg

What was it like to be an African American at Gettysburg in 1863?  As Kevin Levin points out, many of them, like Abraham and Elizabeth Brian, were not present during the battle.  The Brians and their family fled the town when they heard that Lee and his army were approaching.

Read Levin’s essay about Gettysburg’s African Americans at the History News Network.  Here is a taste:

Four months later Abraham Lincoln paid a visit to Gettysburg to dedicate a new cemetery for those Union soldiers, who “gave the last full measure.” His brief address called on Americans to see the war through to its end in the name of a “new birth of freedom.” By then a number of black residents from Gettysburg and the surrounding region had returned and like others struggled to put the pieces of their lives back together and return to some sense of normalcy. Others chose not to return at the risk of what might happen if Confederates chose to push north again. An unknown number never returned to the area. The feint echoes of their voices should serve as a warning to those of us who in the early afternoon of July 3 will gaze out on the undulating fields between Cemetery and Seminary Ridge with a child’s imagination of what might have been. We would do well to remember that the ebb and flow of the two armies leading to and from Gettysburg rippled through the surrounding countryside. For the unknown number of African Americans rounded up by the Confederate army, who called Gettysburg and the surrounding region home, Union victory mattered little. For them a new birth of freedom would have to wait just a little longer. 

Gettysburg’s 150th: A Re-enactor Weighs In

Culp’s Hill, Gettysburg, PA


What would the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg be without reenactors?  

Some of you will remember “Lewis Norman,” our soldier’s correspondent from the Civil War.  Norman has taken us through the battles of Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff, McDowell, and Chancellorsville and in the process has offered some reflections on “living history” (reenacting) as a form of public history.
Today we have a piece from Willie P. Mangum. (Not his real name). Willie is a Ph.D candidate in American history and a Confederate reenactor.  I hope you enjoy his piece on living history and race at a Culp’s Hill reenactment.  Enjoy!  –JF
I have reenacted the Civil War for over twenty-five years and cannot escape the boyish joy of material culture, hanging with friends in the woods, and playing army. At the same time I am an academic historian very aware of the hobby’s limitations in the modern historiographical landscape. Because of this bifurcation of my historical interests, reenactments like the one I participated in last weekend at Gettysburg are filled with satisfaction, anger, and uncertainty. Let me explain with one example.
On Saturday evening our small group of Confederates assaulted the fortified Union position on “Culp’s Hill.” The actual “fight” went so much better than the highly choreographed and completely dull and misleading scripted scenarios the spectators see in the open fields. Our lines went up the wooded and rocky hill in repeated waves, double-quicking through the thorny brush and just as quickly falling back before heavy Federal fire. As one line fell back, another pushed through it to the front. 
I challenged my friend to see who could make it further to the top amid the confusion. Like most Confederate soldiers at Culp’s Hill, I eventually “took a hit.” This meant that my exhausted legs faltered, I stumbled on rocks, I lost my balance, and fell to the ground in a twisted lump. At least it was several yards ahead of my friend.
We lay “wounded” just yards from the Union position. My friend and I gave ourselves over to the Yankees as prisoners and their guards corralled us with others in a huddled circle behind their lines. I wasn’t particularly trying to be in character aside from just acting defeated. I sat with my arms crossed before my knees and my head down.
Others, however, attempted to express the recently-captured experience by being loud and defiant. Maybe they were correct in their portrayal, but the efforts to protect their officer from separation or help a wounded friend was hindered by poorly performed stage drama that made me want to get away from it all.
We eventually did, but before that I witnessed an extremely unique and complicated scene. As we sat in our prisoner pile, an African-American gentleman walked into our midst and began rifling through our haversacks. (I recognized this man from other events and know him to be a high-quality living historian, but I don’t know him personally.) He took all the food and bags of tobacco he could find.  This was unusual for a number of reasons. All of our gear and possessions are considered personal property and usually a scenario involving theft is followed by a return of the “stolen” goods. But as far as I could tell, he kept everything. I liked that, probably because I didn’t wear my haversack for that scenario and thus lost no food or tobacco.
But the more intriguing aspect of this “theft” was how his actions represented the seriously inverted power dynamics present in the later years of the Civil War. This man walked among us with an air of impunity, not even stopping to acknowledge the men he pilfered. I recalled the many historical instances of newly freed black men and women who exerted personhood and independence by haughty and contemptuous treatment of former masters. I never see this at reenactments and here it was happening before me. What a thrill. 
What elevated his actions even further was the reaction of some of the prisoners who resisted this freedman with impotent epithets of outrage. This improvised moment was a rather sophisticated and fascinating look into the evolving racial realities for Confederate soldiers and black men as slavery fell apart.
While I observed this, I also cringed. In hindsight I am certain the prisoners who reacted were doing so “in character” and did not harbor any actual animosity toward an African-American reenactor (who they might well have known). But this hobby is full of people who are not shy about expressing modern opinions about race and racial politics that liberal academics like me consider uncouth, at best. While I watched the interactions, I feared that the wrong word might get aired or a genuinely insensitive sentiment might have been uncovered. I prayed that it would end before one did.
As the scenario wound down my friend and I prepared to depart the area. As I left, I saw the African-American gentleman. I had to say something about how much I appreciated his portrayal and what he had just done. I croaked out a quick “that was good, thank you” in passing. Unless I missed something, I don’t think he acknowledged me. As I slunk back over the breastworks toward our own line I wondered if he harbored the same uncertainty about me as I did toward the prisoners he had just agitated. I was, as we academics say, troubled.

More Gettysburg

If you are unable to make it to Gettysburg this week (or if you have deliberately decided to avoid the crowds), the Civil War Trust  is tweeting all the events of the Battle of Gettysburg over the next few days.  Here is a taste:

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    Soldiers await battle as the armies move into position.Learn about the opposing generals
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    US Gen. George Meade fortifies Cemetery Ridge, Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. Lee plans to strike all 3. Map: