Friday, February 10, 2012

Gettysburg Sources: The First Day (2)

In this post I want to briefly mention a couple older sources that must be considered worthy ancestors of the works of Pfanz and Martin cited in my earlier post on this subject. First, is the following, with a rather prodigious, full-on Victorian title.

Vanderslice, John Mitchell. Gettysburg, Then and Now, the Field of American Valor: Where and How the Regiments Fought, and the Troops They Encountered ; an Account of the Battle, Giving Movements, Positions, and Losses of the Commands Engaged. New York: G.W. Dillingham Co, 1899.
Now, this is not a work on the first day, but it belongs here because Vanderslice, a Civil War veteran, Medal of Honor winner, and director of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, made one of the first (if not the first) attempts to delineate the various engagements that made up the battle, and lay out the statistics related to each, particularly with respect to the casualties. This pioneering effort is not without its problems, but it was a beginning. For more on this fascinating, sometimes puzzling and difficult to digest work, I recommend reading Dr. David G. Martin’s Introduction to the work in the Morningside reprint edition of 1983.

Vanderslice’s work has continued to influence the historians of the first day and of course the battle as a whole.

This is apparent in the fine work of Dr. Warren W. Hassler, which is very much a product of the centennial era, that is to say before the grand narrative of American history fell prey to the revisionist narrative of the Civil Rights/Vietnam War era.

Hassler, Warren W. Crisis at the Crossroads: The First Day at Gettysburg. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1970.

Hassler’s work is of interest here chiefly because it is the first of the first day works, and it continued the development of the delineation begun by Vanderslice and the refinement of Vanderslice’s work on strengths and casualties. To one used to working with the numbers, the result is somewhat disappointing. Hassler was more interested in telling the story of the epic battle of the first day, and his attention to the numbers was primarily to reinforce the picture of the high intensity of the fighting with its attendant large casualties on both sides. Nonetheless, the work is worthwhile, despite its being superseded by subsequent works that in some instances focused on the first day’s experience of individual brigades.

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