How does a writer begin to capture the essence of something as vast as the Civil War? Immediately after the fighting stopped, the U.S. government printing office attempted to preserve all the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. After compiling 126 volumes, each one numbering well over a thousand pages of impossibly small type, they found they had documents but little more understanding of what had happened. Ever since, historians have tried to narrow their focus—to just one year, one battle in that year, one state who fought in the battle, one regiment from that state, and eventually, just one soldier from that regiment. Each choice has its limitations.
In Echoes from Gettysburg, J. Keith Jones has chosen to focus on the troops from South Carolina who fought at Gettysburg. His emphasis is on those who left behind a written record of their lasting memories, their personal impressions, and their fears. Almost 5000 South Carolinians were on the field in Gettysburg; he has collected information on some 780 of them. Their words echo through their letters to loved ones, their diary entries, the accounts they wrote for their local newspapers, the memories they shared with comrades many years later at Gettysburg reunions, and sometimes their obituaries. This collection brings readers face to face with the harsh realities of the war. It leaves them with greater understanding and more compassion for the men on both sides of the conflict.
Jones has clearly identified the sources of the documents he includes in this collection. He provides an accurate and useful index. The book also offers a few well-drawn maps and contemporary photos of some of the leading figures. A serious researcher, however, will need to follow up on each source to find the original documents, since it can be hard to tell here whether a spelling error reflects a lack of education on the part of the soldier or an editing failure during the compilation of the book. Those who write about South Carolina history--or genealogy, or about the Civil War, or about the Battle of Gettysburg--will find this book to be a necessary addition to their research efforts.
Review by Carolyn Schriber, MWSA Reviewer
South Carolina contributed two brigades of infantry, two regiments of cavalry and several artillery batteries to the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. Their veterans related accounts of heroism and fear, triumph and loss for the remainder of their lives. These are their stories. Gleaned from diaries, letters and newspaper articles written immediately after the great battle and throughout the balance of the lives of its veterans, these stories place the reader in the boots of the men who lived the experience. Included with the firsthand accounts are maps of the fields fought for by these sons of the Palmetto State and photographs of a number of the soldiers involved. Along with battle histories and the individual exploits of the brigades led by General Joseph Kershaw, General Wade Hampton and Colonel Abner Perrin are accounts of the artillery batteries from South Carolina and the improvised cavalry command assembled from scattered companies by Colonel John Logan Black, who had been left behind due to wounds from an earlier battle. Black was determined to rejoin the army as soon as he was able and caught up with General Robert E. Lee with two companies and other miscellaneous cavalrymen who had been separated from their regiments. His improvised command participated in all three days of the battle before rejoining Hampton’s Brigade . Also covered are the annual reunions where the old soldiers gathered to camp once again on the fields of Gettysburg. The veterans recount many tales of reconnecting with old comrades, memories of those who never made it home, and their reconciliation with former enemies. Every strata of the soldier experience at Gettysburg is represented from the highest general to the lowliest private. Every life is a story and provides a piece toward completing the puzzle of the human experience at Gettysburg.
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Genre(s): Nonfiction, History
Review Genre: Nonfiction—History
Number of Pages: 424