As I wrote my Civil War history book, the battle of Gettysburg consumed one chapter. The documents I used were: a letter from Confederate General George Pickett to his wife after the battle; and the official battle report of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. I also read, about three years ago, part of a book titled Last Chance for Victory. This is written by two historians from Texas, who concentrated on the Confederate strategy and battle execution.
When I read this (well, part of this), I didn’t yet have my documents decided upon. I mainly read it to get an overview of the battle, about which I had known nothing, and to see what references the authors used, figuring it would be from among those references that I would select the source documents. That worked well, and I did get a fair number of suggestions for source documents.
Now, having finished the book, and having recently finished reading a different book, I decided to return to LCFV and finish it. I’m in the midst of it, having finished almost 400 pages, with another 200 or so to go.
I will eventually write a full review if it. But what I wanted to do with this post is talk about historical interpretation. As I’m reading LCFV, and not being a military tactics person, knowing relatively little about military strategy, and not being a military historian, I’m much dependent on what those more knowledgeable than me say. But, yesterday, I went to the Amazon listing for LCFV, and read through the 70-odd reviews, as well as the 50 or so comments on the reviews. I got an eyeful.
Many said the book was great, and it was about time an honest book had been written from the Southern perspective. Others, including some who appeared to be professional military historians, as well as guides at the Gettysburg National Military Park, took issue with LCFV, saying it whitewashed Lee’s mistakes in planning the battle, and in leading his subordinates on the execution. Wow. So many opinions, so little time to digest them.
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Perhaps I’ll have to read more about Gettysburg (I have another book in-house). But I have no intention about becoming an expert on this battle, or any other battle. I want to know what happened. I want to direct my readers to some original source documents, and maybe spur them on to research in other source documents, and to draw conclusions for themselves.
I realize that isn’t going to happen a whole lot. People are content to read history books, where the author(s) mainly quotes snippets from the sources, tells the reader what he’s concluded, and suggests the reader does the same. I don’t want to do that with my books. I want to help the reader get an introduction to the many (thousands) of source documents, and hope they dig a little deeper into whatever part of the Civil War interests them.
That’s as much as I can hope for.