Thursday, January 22, 2009

On the Bloodstained Field by Gregory A. Coco

The Battle of Gettysburg is almost a cottage industry in and of itself, amongst a larger industry of putting out as many Civil War books as the reading publish will purchase. (At last count, this was more titles than dollar bills in the national debt.) It is particularly notable for being a battle that contains little dramatic stories that get collected into books like, "On the Bloodstained Field," a collection of "130 Human Interest Stories" as stated on its cover.

This is not to say that other battles lack human interest. A lot of more modern books on the war try to capture the feeling of the common solider, with varying results. It's just that Gettysburg, because of its name recognition, tends to draw more memories out of the woodwork, leading to a plethora of books in the style of this one.

If you are a fan of anecdotes, then this is a book you'll love. Short, sweet, and grouped into the different phases of the battle, each story tells a small part of the battle from those who experienced it, or at least their best memory of what happened. I admit that I am skeptical of a lot of the book's stories, simply because so many of them are memories from long after the war was over. Time heals all wounds and embellishes all good stories, just anyone who ever hears any of mind. (Coco does provide a source for all the stories--it's not like I'm saying he's made them up. I am simply of the opinion that tales recounted over the fireplace in 1893 need to be looked at carefully.)

This is a very typical example of the material within, called "The Twelfth Battle":

"Just before the Battle of Gettsyburg, Sergeant Edward B. Rollins of Company A, 15th Massachusetts Infantry, sent a card to his wife with the name of eleven battles he had fought, beautifully inscribed upon it. He left space for inscribing one more name, and wrote to her that after he had fought in his twelfth battle, he would come home.
"He was killed at Gettysburg on July 2 -- his twelfth battle."

Not unlike a Twilight Zone episode, no?

Some of the stories, such as Hampton's duel or John Burns' wounds, are things I've read before. Others are light fare like a man who shoots in the air to "scare" the enemy. While the topic is deadly serious and the tales are often poinent, the reading depth is light. It's a nice break from deeper, scholarly accounts and a fun read for those looking for another way to witness the battle or material to tell the kids on vacation.

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