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Editors’ Choice

June 2024
2min read

The Battle of Gettysburg has, of course, generated a tremendous literature over the years. James Wensyel recommends Edwin B. Coddington’s The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 924 pages), a lucid, cleanly told chronicle that has become something of a classic since its publication in 1984. Those who wish to take a closer look at the action—and to read military history admirably recounted right down to the company level—can look at Harry Pfanz’s fine, big studies of the second day’s fighting. The first, published in 1988, deals with the Confederate attempt to break the Union left ( Gettysburg—The Second Day , University of North Carolina Press, 601 pages); the second examines the series of assaults that failed to carry the other end of the line, with dire consequences for the Rebels ( Gettysburg-Gulp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill , University of North Carolina Press, 507 pages). Among the sharp little glimpses that Pfanz’s narrative affords us is the Pennsylvania general Thomas Kane’s recollection of the final, brave, unsupported charge of the 3d North Carolina on his works atop Gulp’s Hill. As the fighting became hand to hand, a dog ran from the Confederate ranks and “came in among the Boys in Blue as if he supposed they were what in better days they might have been, merely the men of another noisy hose or engine company. … At first—some of my men said, he barked in valorous glee; but I myself first saw him on three legs between our own and the Men in Gray on the ground as though looking for a dead master, or seeking on which side he might find an explanation of the Tragedy he witnessed, intelligible to his canine apprehension. He licked someone’s hand, they said, after he was perfectly riddled.”

If you’re driving to Gettysburg, you could hardly better prepare for your visit than by listening to George Guidall’s quietly passionate reading of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1974 novel The Killer Angels (Recorded Books, 10 cassettes, 14.25 hours). The story—told largely through the viewpoints of Robert E. Lee and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the young colonel stuck with the unenviable task of holding the extreme left flank of the Union line against anything Lee can throw at it—is both good literature and good history.

Andrew Ward found an excellent profile of Seattle before its 1889 fire in Seattle in the 1880s , by David Buerge (The Historical Society of Seattle and King County, 115 pages). Seattle Access (HarperCollins, 254 pages), part of a series of travel guides to cities, is sensibly organized, easily portable, written in a lively and authoritative tone, and—best of all- doesn’t give history the short shrift most popular guidebooks do.

Anyone wishing to follow the river journey Anthony Brandt describes in this issue would do well to consult Canoeing the Delaware River , by Gary Letcher (Rutgers University Press, 244 pages). In a mile-by-mile exposition, the author reads the waters, lists camping services, and delves into the history to be found along this wild and scenic waterway. Photographs and good, detailed maps complete this compact but thoroughly informative package.

No one has written about Lafayette County, Mississippi, the subject of this issue’s “History Happened Here,” better than William Faulkner did in his novels and stories. The Library of America has published a number of the novels in two handsome volumes ( Novels 1930-1935 , 1,034 pages, and Novels 1936-1940 , 1,117 pages). “Light in August,” in Novels 1930-1935 , is about a man who goes insane not knowing if he’s black or white, and makes a powerful introduction to Faulkner’s work. For biography, nothing has surpassed Joseph Blotner’s 1974 Faulkner: A Biography , now available in one volume (Vintage, 778 pages). For a study of both the man and the town that made him, try Joel Williamson’s new William Faulkner and Southern History (Oxford University Press, 542 pages).

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