Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review-The Colors of Courage, Gettysburg's Forgotten History, by Mararet S. Creighton

Gettysburg’s Forgotten History
Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle
by Margaret S. Creighton
Basic Books
July 4, 2006
$17.50, 360 pp.

Synopsis from Basic Books (The Perseus Books Group)

In the summer of 1863, as Union and Confederate armies converged on southern Pennsylvania, the town of Gettysburg found itself thrust onto the center stage of war. The three days of fighting that ensued decisively turned the tide of the Civil War. In The Colors of Courage, Margaret Creighton narrates the tale of this crucial battle from the viewpoint of three unsung groups--women, immigrants, and African Americans--and reveals how wide the conflict's dimensions were. A historian with a superb flair for storytelling, Creighton draws on memoirs, letters, diaries, and newspapers to bring to life the individuals at the heart of her narrative. The Colors of Courage is a stunningly fluid work of original history-one that redefines the Civil War's most remarkable battle.~Basic Books, Perseus Book Group

Link to Book TV, C-Span2

Speech by Margaret Creighton, from Gettysburg College,First Aired January 29, 2006

My Review

The visit to Gettysburg a couple of summers ago as part of a graduate work in American History was an astonishing tour and recap of the course I was enrolled. This was my second visit to Gettysburg, although the content and experience was quite different from my trip there as an eight year old. At that time it appeared to me that we were visiting a lot of open fields, quite boring in fact. However, I was delighted when my siblings and I climbed climbing on top of a cannon.  I think I still have that picture. How different my second visit was. My professor, was passionate about the The Civil War, we were required to read Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson prior to the trip.  After the visit I took back a much different opinion of Gettysburg, my perspective and focus was no longer a child’s point of view, but an older, perhaps wiser, student and avid historian walking the hallowed grounds.  I couldn’t get enough of the history surrounding this small hamlet that was the epicenter of such violence and death.

While visiting the bookstore on site, I purchased Margaret Creighton’s book, The Colors of Courage.  I couldn’t pass this up. It was the title that immediately got my attention. I knew so little about her claim of “the forgotten history,” the invisible people she wrote about, the immigrant soldiers, African Americans and women. 

The Battle of Gettysburg took place over three days and considered by most to be the turning point of the war.  Creighton’s remarkably engaging narrative taken from letters, diaries, military records, primary and secondary sources creates a picture walk of history that took place during the days leading up to the battle, during and the weeks and months that followed.  I am thrilled to be able to take advantage of her extensive bibliography and notes included at the end.

We know the Battle of Gettysburg was a horrific bloody barbarous battle between the North and South. These two sides, two distinct armies met during the first days of July 1863 in the midst of a small rural town, that until then had no military significance. This book reveals what went on while the battles were being waged. Where were the residents?  What happened to the residents? What happened to their homes, fields and farms, that became the center of massive devastation and misery?  All African Americans, some who lived on the land of engagement known as Pickett’s Charge had to flee or hide so that they would not be taken as contraband by the Southern Soldiers. Their status of freeborn was irrelevant to Lee’s army.  African women and men often hid rather than run as monetary and other options impaired their ability to escape.  However, they remained very much an integral part of the scene, as they assisted with cooking and helped the white women of Gettysburg cook for soldiers on all sides.  Homes still occupied were in direct line of bullets pinging and canon discharges, the deafening explosions a constant accompaniment. 

I could go on, but would rather you experience the lives of those everyday people who lived in Gettysburg. Colors of Courage should be read by all Americans and anyone interested in a better understanding the impact of this war had on all people.  It is a powerful book that begs reflection as we face the xenophobia, racial & gender prejudice of the past that endured through this major battle yet still lingers today. With new material, Margaret Creighton has uncovered and added clarity to the stories of ordinary citizens and soldiers who were very much a part of the Battle of Gettysburg.  This is a phenomenal book that brings their clouded and overlooked past to life. My copy of the book is teeming with sticky tabs to note important passages. This is one intriguing history book that I call irresistible.

Margaret S. Creighton is a professor of history at Bates College in Maine.  She has written Rites and Passages: The Experience of American Whaling and is contributed and co-editor of  Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920.

Disclosure: I purchased this book in Gettysburg.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].


rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds great! Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

wisteria said...

Jill...I hope you will get time to read it. Such an incredible addition to the volumes of history about Gettysburg.

The Bookworm said...

It sounds like an interesting trip. Being on historical grounds facsinates me. Colors of Courage sounds like a worthwhile and informative read.

dujyt said...

Outstanding review and you've definitely put the book on my TBR pile. I especially like how you point out that awareness of the perspectives of lesser-known players in this war helps to deepen our views of similar racial/gender issues playing out in conflicts today. Thanks for your review.