Do we over-hype Gettysburg?

Don’t get me wrong, I like my Gettysburg just like the next Civil War buff enthusiast er… interested party.  But as my pal Robert Moore is apt to point out, we tend to rush past a whole lot of history making our way to Gettysburg.   Case in point, Friday, yesterday, and today we see an almost obligatory flurry of blog posts about Gettysburg (heck, including mine) corresponding to the 148th anniversary of the battle.  There’s another big reenactment going on just off the battlefield.  And on the park grounds an excellent set of presentations and ranger-led programs conclude today.

Yet not much passed around about event that happened 150 years ago on these days.  Yesterday, Robert reminded us about the July 2, 1861 battle of Falling Waters.  The Falling Waters Battlefield Association conducted tours, and observed the 150th anniversary of the event.  But meanwhile at Gettysburg, the focus was on 1863.

Well except for this guy….

Yes, that is Harry Smeltzer talking about First Manassas, AND using a photo of General William T. Sherman.  Good for Harry!  Double bonus kudo points from beyond the three point line to Harry for not only mentioning, but actually displaying a photo of Uncle Billy.

Maybe I’m expecting too much, but how many people in the tent at that time do you think could name more than two battles in the Atlanta Campaign?  (one is a no brainer… Atlanta… duh!)  How many could name more than three of Sherman’s subordinate commanders?  (Wait a minute…. a pack of those guys were also at Gettysburg, sent west as part of those dispatched west in the fall of 1863.)

Yet, there were some in attendance who could recite from memory down to the regimental and battery commanders the commands from both sides at Gettysburg in July 1863.

Yes, I get it.  Gettysburg stands as one of the war’s events.  Some would argue the most important battle (but you won’t hear that from my lips).  There is much to gain in the study of Gettysburg – the battle, the contemporary effects of the battle, and even considering how the battle has been viewed by subsequent generations.  I might scoff at the notion of Gettysburg’s singular importance, but I won’t detract from the event’s importance.

How much of Gettysburg’s prominence, as we look back at the war today, is due to genuine importance of the events?  Do three days in Pennsylvania compare to seven weeks in Mississippi in 1863?  Do we put higher importance on the fields at Gettysburg over those commemorated elsewhere?  Were the western national cemeteries of lesser importance?  Or was it just impractical for President Lincoln to travel to Chattanooga (where a cemetery was established in the fall of 1863, as I recall)?

At any rate, I’m just picking at an old sore spot.  Perhaps it is better that we give Gettysburg the limelight.  Geography places the field in an easy drive from so many major cities.  Gettysburg makes for good reading.  And the battle works well on the silver screen.

But I’ll stick to my old line – The Federals won the war on April 7, 1862 at Shiloh and the Confederates lost the war on November 25, 1863 on Missionary Ridge.

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One response to “Do we over-hype Gettysburg?

  1. But hasn’t Gettysburg always been (over)hyped since the days it ended? I know that does not make it right to continue it, but something about that battle has earned it the hype as the “turning point” since almost July 3, 1863. Maybe it’s location, but Antietam was on “northern soil” (sorry Abe) too. Maybe the timeframe (3 days instead of just one) contributed as well, but Gettysburg hype is pretty much as old as the battle, it seems