Academic journal article Military Review

Gettysburg: A Meditation on War and Values

Academic journal article Military Review

Gettysburg: A Meditation on War and Values

Article excerpt

GETTYSBURG: A Meditation on War and Values by Kent Gramm. 288 pages. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN. 1997. $14.95.

War and morality have been the subjects of countless books, but few have achieved the intensity and unique perspective of Gettysburg. With an unsubtle display of 1990s' angst and fanny-pack philosophy, Kent Gramm takes the reader on a provocative walking tour of the mind and conscience as he explores the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg and what it means to us.

Gramm, a college instructor strongly guided by the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau ("It is the province of the historian to find out, not what was, but what is"), compares the Civil War-era's moral courage with that of today. As expected, today's society comes up short.

However, Gettysburg is a book with a split personality. Gramm's analyses of the battle are the strength of this book, crisply written and refreshingly perceptive. His portrayal of people and events is smart and lively, and his efforts to view the battle as a moral barometer are certainly original.

Gramm carefully and accurately describes the importance of selected battlefield events-actions at Seminary Ridge, the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, on the Round Tops, at Culp's Hill and the magnificent folly of Pickett's Charge. Gramm praises and pans the notables who fought at Gettysburg: If you wanted a man to save your country, it would be John Buford. John Reynolds was the smartest man on the battlefield. Steadfast George Meade did not make a mistake. George Custer was a "circus rider gone mad," and Dan Sickles was a "murderous bungler." Dorsey Pender was the purest and most noble warrior of the day. Robert E. Lee was the "worst brilliant general in American history," who fought Gettysburg "needlessly and unwisely. …

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