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The Enduring Legacy of Gettysburg

The furious fighting in and about a bustling crossroads village in Pennsylvania for three days in July 1863 is Homeric in its scope. Every patch of hallowed ground on the battlefield of Gettysburg is mythological in its proportions.

Witness the baptism in blood along the slopes of Little Round Top, amidst the boulders of Devil’s Den and along the base of Culp’s Hill.

Witness the commanders whose fates rose or fell on chaotic charges and countercharges across fields, through orchards and along ridges—Pickett, Armistead, Hancock, Warren and Chamberlain, to name a few.

Carte de visite by H.R. Parker of Sherburne, N.Y. Al & Claudia Niemiec collection.
Carte de visite by H.R. Parker of Sherburne, N.Y. Al & Claudia Niemiec collection.

In the wake of the battle, Gettysburg became part of our lexicon. Veterans fleshed out the various military, political and cultural threads of the great narrative in newspapers, magazines and books. The generations that followed have kept their memory alive. Today, movies and other media continue to feed the insatiable appetite for the Gettysburg story through various lenses.

The lens through which MI examines Gettysburg in this issue is representative portraits and stories of the 51,000 soldiers who were wounded, killed or captured. Accounts of their experiences reveal the inhumanity of war and the selfless sacrifices of the flower of a generation with two distinctive visions of America. In his introduction to the Gettysburg feature, noted Abraham Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer observes that the president “had doubtless seen the photographs of the casualties himself—of the ‘brave men, living and dead, who struggled here,’ for such pictures both tormented him and inspirited his message of renewal.”

Holzer refers to the poignant images of battlefield dead lined up in long rows like so many planks. Here, we have a similar opportunity. To look upon the faces of these citizen soldiers and consider the facts of their service deepen our appreciation and understanding of the epic struggle at Gettysburg. Moreover, these photographic relics remind us of the fragility of life, and the irrepressible urge to stand strong for our beliefs.

I have long believed that the history of the Civil War is the stories of its soldiers. That truth is self-evident in the faces of the men pictured in this issue. Their story is our story, and they will continue to be told for generations to come—and inspire a message of renewal.

Ronald S. Coddington
Editor & Publisher

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