Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Fog Of Gettysburg Remains Foggy Despite New Book

First I would like to apologize to my readers for not posting in two months, the summer got away with me and I was reading other genres that did not fit into the scope of this blog. Unfortunately, this summer I did not find any stand out work in fiction or non-fiction. Though, the latest American Girl Rebecca Rubin is a highly enjoyable series that I highly recommend for all lovers of the American Girl series. I finally bowed to pressure and read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which while entertaining is not the twenty-first century answer for William Shakespeare.
But back to the American Civil War, my first true history love! In Ken Allers Jr. The Fog of Gettysburg: The Myths and Mysteries of the Battle, which advertises that the author who is an associate member of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides to Gettysburg is going to “clear up” Gettysburg legends once and for in all in this definitive account. Sadly, The Fog of Gettysburg actually raises more questions than actually answers. This raises the point, there can never (and I repeat never) be a definitive account of a single historical event. It’s impossible every person involved had their own unique perspective, that’s why historians are always uncovering “lost” evidence that redefines or changes an established view. There will always be unsolved questions that will never be answered because the principle individuals involved died shortly after the event in question, i.e. the exact location of Major General John F. Reynolds death on July 1.
Allers arranges his book in sections addressing each myth or mystery regarding their place before, during, or after the battle. For battle mysteries each day is divided into a section with all the mysteries receiving its own chapter. While Allers is undoubtedly an intelligent man, it is not easy to become a Gettysburg Licensed Tour Guide; Allers lacks some of the finesse to make The Fog of Gettysburg a compelling read. In the chapter devoted to slavery in Gettysburg Allers begins by writing about the battle experiences of Mag Palm who rented a farm from Abraham Brian who is noteworthy for being one of the few African American landowners in Adams County (Ch. 1: Gettysburg and Slavery). Then the battle begins and Allers drops Palm and Brain from his story and begins to recount the experiences of other African Americans civilians and slaves brought by Confederate soldiers. The result is a disjointed chapter that reads like “here are some random stories I found that features African American at Gettysburg.” This is the only chapter in which African Americans are featured in the book. Allers neglects to document the African Americans who were captured by the Confederates or after the battle how African American civilians just like their white neighbors cared for the wounded. Like most Gettysburg books it is a primarily white only event.
While there are some good chapters like the informative study on the truth behind Confederate spy Henry T. Harrison dispels the myth that he was an actor as was shown in the 1993 movie Gettysburg, in fact he was a member of the 12th Mississippi Infantry who received a medical discharge in late 1861( Ch. 6: Harrison). Most of the chapters are just flawed, in Allers recounting of the death of Mary Virginia “Ginnie” Wade who was the only civilian to be killed during the battle Allers continues to perpetuate the miss-spelling of Wade’s nickname calling her “Jennie” and in the footnotes calls her “Ginny” (Ch. 30: One More Needless Death). This is just history writing at its sloppiest, historians have continued to be lazy and perpetuate the miss-spelling despite the documentation we have from Wade where she spells her name as “Ginnie.” (Come on people, just visit the Jennie Wade House at Gettysburg where they have a copy of a letter written to her on the wall. It’s not that hard!) The chapter on the ghosts of Gettysburg is just a waste of space, the belief in the paranormal is often a spiritual matter and true believers will continue to believe regardless of what Allers states (Ch. 35: Ectoplasm or Imagination?).
Despite all its hype and promise The Fog of Gettysburg does not produce any startling new facts and the book is just a culling of other historians work presented in a reader friendly package. If you are a Battle of Gettysburg expert you would probably just want this book to fill add to your collection of Gettysburg titles, and for those who are new to the battle this is a good place to start but don’t let this be the only book on Gettysburg that you read.

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