Pickett's Charge in History and Memory

Pickett's Charge in History and Memory

Pickett's Charge in History and Memory

Pickett's Charge in History and Memory

Synopsis

As the author notes, the Civil War saw many daring assaults and stout defenses other than Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Why then, is it this maneuver--and not, for example, Richardson's Charge at Antietam or Humphrey's Assault on Fredericksburg--that looms so large in the popular imagination? This innovative study reveals why Pickett's Charge endures so strongly. 23 illustrations.

Excerpt

Lieutenant Frank A. Haskell, who probably saw and then wrote more about the last great Southern assault on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg than any other eyewitness on that field, begrudgingly admitted that even his own powers of observation had limitations. After describing to his brother in voluminous detail and colorful prose all he could recall of the stirring events of July 3, 1863, he concluded that "a full account of the battle as it was will never, can never be made. Who could sketch the changes, the constant shifting of the bloody panorama? It is not possible." He feared that the great battle's "history, just, comprehensive, complete will never be written." With resignation, he concluded that "by-and-by, out of the chaos of trash and falsehood that the news papers hold, out of the disjointed mass of reports, out of the traditions and tales that come down from the field, some eye that never saw the battle will select, and some pen will write what will be named the history."

A perceptive pessimist, Haskell understood that two powerful forces frame the way we recall past events: the objectivity of history -- the search for "truth" -- and the subjectivity of memory, which shapes perceptions of that "truth." He also realized that the tension between those two forces likely foredoomed to failure the efforts of even the most disinterested chronicler intent on recording for posterity what happened on July 3 at . . .

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