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Hallowed Ground: A Walk At Gettysburg, by James M. Mc Pherson


The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson reads his new book Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg in this remarkable audio CD. When I visited Gettysburg and the National Cemetery in 2002, I started (as most people do) at the Visitor's Center and then followed the "three hour tour" around the park. There's a problem in doing this, and after listening to McPherson's reading, I learned what it was.

The battlefield driving tour generally flows chronologically, but not quite, and some of the most interesting things to be seen and learned at Gettysburg are near or at the end of the "official" tour route (Culp's Hill, Spangler's Spring, the Peach Orchard, Trostle Farm, and East Cavalry Field, etc). Since McPherson isn't limited by any immediate need to get efficiently around the battlefield, the telling of his story is totally chronological and allows him to place the significant elements into the context of what was happening on the field at the time. Listening to his account gives a more accurate, complete, and rounded knowledge of the battle and helps to explain why Gettysburg, a sleepy little farm and orchard town would become the location for the climactic battle that was the turning point in the Civil War.

McPherson begins by describing the physical setting -- how it has changed since the battle and how the site has been preserved. He outlines the reasons the Confederates marched into Pennsylvania and what they hoped to accomplish. He talks about why the Union Army had been cautious up to that point, and why Lee may have been a bit too overconfident.

He tells some of the familiar stories, the early death of General Reynolds, how General Buford's cavalry saw the danger of the approaching rebel advance brigades and held them off long enough to get enough of the Union Army into place to keep from losing the battle immediately. He also recounts the story of the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and many others. But he also tells other lesser known stories that are just as compelling and heroic -- those of Union Colonel Patrick O'Rourke and another Union regiment that held its ground on Culp's Hill to prevent being outflanked. This was similar to what the 20th Maine did at the other end of the battle (except for the climactic bayonet charge that the 20th Maine executed). He tells us who fired the very first shot at Gettysburg as well as the more familiar and sad story of the only civilian casualty.

The depth of scholarship in Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg is amazing, and this audio experience greatly enhances a visit to this historic battlefield.

Robert Schaller

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