October 2004

Jack D. Crispin, Jr.


When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg by George Sheldon

Another book on the Civil War? For many, the one chapter spent on this subject in high school American History class was too much, but to us true believers, the limit has not yet been approached.

The main difference of George Sheldon's When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg: The Tragic Aftermath of the Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War when compared to most books on the battle of Gettysburg, is the portrayal of the civilian side of this drama, in particular the aftermath and the efforts to rebuild the town. The one thing that always amazes me is the seemingly inexhaustible supply of source material on the civil war. The number of books written by those involved, diaries, journals, and letters continues to give new insights and interpretations. This book mines the treasure of the accounts by civilians caught up in the conflict, and changes the story from dates, numbers and military analysis to a human drama. The author draws information from local politicians, home guards, merchants, housewives, ex-slaves and free blacks, to flesh out the hard facts of the military battle.

The title is a bit of a misnomer, as quite a bit of the book deals with before as well as during the battle. The value of this work lies in the stories of the citizens caught up in this whirlwind. Four days of confusion, panic and slaughter brought out the worst and the best of those it touched and here are the stories of hiding soldiers from capture, of giving or being forced to give food and aid to both armies at a time when all was in short supply, and of trying to deal with the flood of injured and dead from the battle. Gettysburg was populated with only 2,400 people, and they were left with the task of burying 7,000 soldiers and caring for the 20,000 wounded. The fields outside of the city that provided food and income were ruined, full of munitions and firearms.

Read When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg for another view of this momentous battle. Read it for the drama of every day lives caught in the midst of the horror of war. Read it because I reviewed it. But most of all, read it.

When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg: The Tragic Aftermath of the Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War by George Sheldon
Cumberland House Publishing
ISBN: 1581823436
288 Pages