July 2003

Jack D. Crispin, Jr.

nonfiction

Hallowed Ground by James M. McPherson

James M. McPherson’s Hallowed Ground adds another book to the stack of this great Civil War historian and author. His credentials are unquestionable, his knowledge boundless, his authority unsurpassed. To heap praise on this work is expected and easy, but to criticize? To question or refute the most miniscule datum, technique or opinion of this national treasure? Who am I to offer anything negative on this work or man? Me, a mere amateur Civil War student? What gives me the right? Well... I’m Jessa’s father.

Gettysburg. A small town in Pennsylvania, known best for the historic Civil War battle ground that envelopes it. Thanks to a plenitude of other books, movies and high school history classes, the name is at least passingly familiar to those with only a dim interest in the American past. But to those of us struck by the mystery and power of that great struggle, Gettysburg stands central to the story and the understanding.

Hallowed Ground is a guided tour, by car and foot, of the landscape, the vents, the myths and the lives entwined there. McPherson sifts through his wealth of knowledge of the time and place to present an unique approach to the story. I would not recommend this as a first book on the subject. The minutiae, side stories and opinions on long-standing questions hides the full picture at times. But for those who know the story, or think they know the story, this work fills in details, contests long held beliefs and adds humanity to this great battle.

Ride along as we travel with McPherson down highways and country lanes, through the town and across pastures, climb hills and fences (and even tear a few down!). From the size, strengths and weaknesses of the mighty battling legions, to glimpses of individuals; the soldier who fired the first shot, the only civilian who died; he unfolds the reality. At times it is like taking a trip with your father who won’t stop and ask directions; his details and explanations often lead away from the battle and we must backtrack, but it also adds to the understanding and beauty.

To enjoy the book most, I recommend two things. First, if you haven’t already, read a good book on the Civil War itself and then one on the Gettysburg battle. And then second, take this book, get in your car, drive to Gettysburg, read and follow through its pages and the pages of history.

Hallowed Ground by James M. McPherson
Crown Publishers
ISBN: 0609610236
144 Pages