Gettysburg, America’s Bloodiest Battle

July 2, 2013

Maybe you’ve been to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to tour the battlefield and visitor’s center. Maybe you’ve even gone to one of the annual battle anniversaries, where men and women with Civil War-era clothes and weaponry reenact the battle details with great verve. Lasting three days in 1863, from July 1-3, Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil, with up to 10,000 Union and Confederate troops dead and another 30,000 wounded. But surprisingly, this tremendous battle was a purely unplanned accident that grew out of a desperate need for soldiers’ shoes!

Gettysburg-Reenactment

Image: Battle of Gettysburg Reenactors at “the Wall”. Image source: Breitbart.com

Visiting the Gettysburg National Military Park

Having witnessed the activities of scores of reenactors who visited the park during the years I lived near the town, I know that people invest themselves very deeply in the Civil War in general, and in the Gettysburg battle in particular. You don’t have to be an extreme fan to appreciate the silence of the rolling battlefield landscape. Imagining the July heat, the stench of sweat, horse, wool clothing and blood, the cries of pain and death, is easy to do when you’re standing there on that “consecrated ground” as Lincoln said in his famous Gettysburg Address after the battle.

Park officials and enthusiasts always commemorate the battle days in Gettysburg, as is happening this week, and it’s a great event for those who can attend in person. When you want to actually (or mentally) place yourself in specific skirmishes in the battle on specific points on the field, you will need a guide. You can hire a guide to ride with your group and interpret the tour for you. That kind of activity is excellent, but is pricey and requires advance planning.

But if you haven’t visited the battlefield, this sesquicentennial anniversary year is a good time to make a virtual trip, if not a real one. (There are over 12,000 reenactors, with 300 foreign reenactors from 16 different countries, and tens of thousands of visitors anticipated for this year’s 150th anniversary reenactment!)

Starting with these guide and history books below is a great beginning to what could be a life-long interest.

The Best of Guides

To fully understand the Gettysburg Campaign and its significance as the pivotal point in the American Civil War, you need to learn from experts. Fortunately, GPO has publications from the two best sources: the US Army Center of Military History and the National Park Service.

The Gettysburg Campaign: June–July 1863 and Gettysburg National Military Park Handbook

   Gettysburg-Campaign-from-GPOThird in “The U.S. Army Campaigns of the Civil War” series  of campaign brochures from the U.S. Army Center of Military History that commemorate our national sacrifices during the American Civil War, The Gettysburg Campaign: June–July 1863 describes the turning point in the “Battle Between the States.” Authors Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler examine the military operations and strategies along with the somewhat accidental circumstances that culminated in the pivotal and devastating three-day Battle of Gettysburg. With many maps and illustrations, this helps provide some back story and military strategy, as it goes into the various skirmishes leading up to the battle starting back in June and up to the battle itself.

As General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army said,

“It had not been intended to fight a general battle at such a distance from our base, unless attacked by the enemy, but finding ourselves unexpectedly confronted by the Federal Army, it became a matter of difficulty to withdraw through the mountains with our large trains. . . . A battle thus became in a measure unavoidable (Campaign, p. 31).”

Gettysburg-National-Park-Handbook

The National Park Service’s publication, Gettysburg National Military Park Handbook, delves into the history of the battleground itself, that “consecrated ground” and provides a detailed guide of all the amenities of the park along with the on-field maneuvers and results, as well as insight into the personalities and anecdotes that such an epic event always generates. It also covers post-battle events, such as the establishment of a cemetery at Gettysburg and the genesis of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as well as reproductions of 12 battle paintings by F. D. Briscoe. It’s like having a National Park ranger pointing out key aspects and giving you insights about this important national landmark.

Hooker out, Black Hats in

Through both of these excellent publications, you can come to know a bit about the personnel of the Gettysburg Campaign, such as the story of the last-minute, last-ditch replacement of General Hooker as Commander of the Federal Army of the Potomac by General George G. Meade. Commander of the U.S. Army General Halleck replaced Hooker at his own demand, and Hooker left his command in a great hurry. Meade arrived at Gettysburg knowing little of the status of his troops and even less about Lee’s troops. You can also read all the details of General Daniel Sickles’ unauthorized movements from Cemetery Hill.

Michigan-soldier-iron-brigade-Civil-WarDon’t forget to study the awe-inspiring story of the Iron Brigade, also known as the Black Hat Brigade. Some Confederates called them “them Black Hat Fellers” because of the black Hardee hats they wore that were different from the standard-issue Union blue kepi hats. Made up of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiments, the 19th Indiana, and the 24th Michigan, the Iron Brigade was famous for its fierceness on the field. The Iron Brigade made a tremendous impact during the Gettysburg Campaign, and they suffered dire casualties as a result. Their bravery in fighting on Herbst’s Woodlot and against the 26th North Carolina had a strong effect on the outcome of the Gettysburg Campaign.

Image: Gochy Charles. Company F, 24th Michigan (Iron Brigade). Image Source: WaterfordHistory.org

How can I obtain these Gettysburg publications?

The more you read about these and other stories of the battle, the more easily you can get drawn in to the story of all the human bravery, pathos and drama that was part of the Gettysburg Campaign and the American Civil War. Immerse yourself in the history of The Gettysburg Campaign: June–July 1863 and familiarize yourself with the park through the Gettysburg National Military Park Handbook. You’re likely to be endlessly fascinated.

Federal Depository Librarians: You can find the records for these titles in the CGP.

About the author(s): Our co-bloggers include: guest blogger Jennifer K. Davis from GPO’s Library Services & Content Management Division that supports the Federal Depository Libraries Program (FDLP) and Government Book Talk Editor, Michele Bartram, GPO Promotions & Ecommerce Manager.


History Was Made at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park

March 26, 2013

Guest blogger Jennifer K. Davis from GPO’s Library Services & Content Management Division that supports the Federal Depository Libraries Program (FDLP) writes about the Women’s Rights National Historical Park brochure in honor of National Women’s History Month. (Originally posted in the FDLP Community site on March 25, 2013.)

March is National Women’s History Month, and I am writing this posting on International Women’s Day. If I had the twelve hours–round trip– to hit the road, I’d head for the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, and celebrate how far we have come as a nation.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

It would definitely be a work-related trip. The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) printed Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s most famous– and in her estimation, her best– speech in 1915. She delivered her address, Solitude of Self, before the Committee on the Judiciary on January 18, 1892. She argued why the law needs to treat women as equal citizens under the law and she argued for women to get the vote via a law that would eventually became the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Image: Susan B. Anthony (left) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (right). Source: The Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership.

Sadly, it took forty-two years after Stanton and fellow suffragist Susan B. Anthony first drafted the 19th amendment in 1872 and long after their deaths for the amendment to finally be ratified and made law in 1920. Since Stanton’s house is part of the park, it’s here that you can discover a very human portion of United States history and feel a renewed sense of the privilege that all United States citizens have to vote.

Not only can you learn about Stanton at the park, you can also get a wider view of the earliest stages of the women’s rights movement in the United States. Four historical properties and a visitor’s center make up the park. You can visit the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls where the leaders of the women’s rights movement held the First Women’s Rights Convention in August 1848. Stanton’s home is open from spring through fall. You can tour the house she referred to as “the Center of the Rebellion” where she raised her large family while networking with other women on women’s rights reforms.

Another one of the four park properties, the M’Clintock House in nearby Waterloo, was the home of Mary Ann and Thomas M’Clintock.

MClintocksMrs. M’Clintock held the planning session for the First Women’s Rights Convention and drafted the Declaration of Sentiments at their home as well. (As an added bonus, the M’Clintocks were Quakers and their house was a stop on the Underground Railroad–so you can find out more about Quakers and belatedly celebrate African-American History Month while there.)

While in Waterloo, you can walk by the Hunt House, where Jane and Richard Hunt hosted Lucretia Mott and held an assembly for her where the attendees announced the plan for the First Women’s Right’s Convention. Although you can’t tour the Hunt House now as it is too fragile, the National Park Service (NPS) is making plans to restore it in the future. Visiting these locations brings home the exciting sense of purpose and activity of the American women’s rights movement of the late 1800s.

Information about all of these sites, as well as slideshows of the historical houses, the text of Stanton’s address, historical factoids, and photos of the major architects of the women’s rights movement and their supporters, are available at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park brochure online. Even if, like me, you can’t get to upstate New York to see these sites in person, you can (almost) feel like you’ve been there once you’ve given the park Web site a thorough visit.

It’s worth the time it takes to make the trip, whether actual or virtual. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come as a nation in the advancement of personal rights, and how much all of society (men and women) have done to push our mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters forward. Having that perspective is one of the many advantages of learning about the park.

Continue your self-education by reading the park brochure at your local Federal depository library. You can find it either via the title’s PURL (Permanent URL) or through the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) record that GPO cataloged for the Federal depository libraries in the March 2013 record load.

How can I access this publication, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park web brochure?

[Note from M. Bartram:] You can also purchase print publications and eBooks from GPO’s U.S. Government Online Bookstore related to the topics discussed in this article:


The Untold Story Behind the Engineering of Washington DC

January 24, 2013

Watching the many tourists visiting my hometown of Washington, DC this week for the Presidential Inauguration and enjoying the wonders of our beautiful neo-classical architecture in our monuments, buildings and museums, I was inspired to write this post on this intriguing new book by Washington, D.C. and architectural historian Pamela Scott entitled Capital Engineers: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Development of Washington, D.C. 1790-2004.

Capital Engineers: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Development of Washington, D.C. 1790-2004. ISBN-9780160795572Although best known for its “water resources and environmental work and its construction of facilities on military bases,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers played a pivotal role in the design and construction of our Nation’s capital: Washington, D.C.  Not only did Army Engineers fill the role of one of three commissioners who ran the city, they were instrumental in constructing a new and rapidly growing city on donated land, including literally creating land out of swampy terrain on the banks of the Potomac River where today National Airport, majestic monuments and sprawling public spaces can be found.

The purpose of this large, beautifully presented book is to bring to the public’s awareness the depth of involvement of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the design, development, construction, and maintenance of our Nation’s capital by effectively chronicling its history and showcasing rare images, maps, and drawings of the Corps’ work.  In the preface we learn that many of these images were in poor condition and not accessible to the public before, but the advent of digital photography and scanning has made these available to stunning impact in this high-quality publication.

The book is broken into 6 sections covering periods from 1790 to 2004:

  1. The Grand Design, 1790-1800. During this period our first President George Washington hires French engineer Peter Charles L’Enfant (who had served with him in the Continental Army) to create a grand vision to lay out the city on the land donated for the purpose from Maryland and Virginia. In addition to creating the original plan for the capital city of this new nation that was reminiscent of Paris, L’Enfant also proposed the founding of the permanent Corps of Engineers to “play a key role in the development of the country’s public as well as military infrastructure.”
  2. The Antebellum City, 1800-1865, is a period where The Smithsonian Institution is built along with the start of the Capitol, and infrastructure begins to be laid.
  3. The Victorian City, 1865-1890, marks the building of the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress.
  4. The Progressive City, 1890-1915 delivers the Government Printing Office, The Lincoln Memorial, Rock Creek Park, and Potomac River bridges.
  5. The Expanding City, 1915-1950, is the period during two world wars, and noted is the building of the Pentagon among other Federal buildings and growing infrastructure.
  6. Metropolis, 1950-2004 is the final stage covered, when the city turns into a metropolis, and requires expanded infrastructure to support this.

However, the most fascinating part of the book is the many anecdotes sprinkled throughout, giving the reader a feel for the many strong personalities involved in building the beautiful city we have today and the many controversies that surfaced throughout the over two centuries since its founding.

For example, this year’s Inaugural Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) organized the 2013 Inauguration ceremony around a theme commemorating the completion of the Capitol Dome 150 years prior on December 2, 1863, two years ahead of President Lincoln’s second inauguration on March 4, 1865.  Said Senator Schumer on Monday as he kicked off the second inauguration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden:

When Abraham Lincoln took office [in 1861], two years earlier the dome above us was a half-built eyesore… Conventional wisdom was that it should be left unfinished until the war ended, given the travails and financial needs of the times. But to President Lincoln the half finished dome symbolized the half divided nation. Lincoln said, ‘If people see the Capitol going on it is a sign we intend the union shall go on.’ And so, despite the conflict which engulfed the nation, and surrounded the city, the dome continued to rise.”

Unfinished Capitol dome at Lincoln;s first inaugural

Image: First Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861, beneath the unfinished Capitol dome. Source: Library of Congress

To continue Lincoln’s vision to complete the construction in spite of the Civil War, the Corps continued work on the ambitious and tricky Capitol Dome, with the book showing rare photos and drawings of the work being done, including the planned design and engineering behind this magnificent structure.

Capitol-dome-cross-section

Image: Cross-section drawing by Thomas Ustick Walter for the dome of the United States Capitol building, circa, 1859. Source: Library of Congress.

Another story from the book is that General Thomas Lincoln Casey, Chief of Engineers at the time, decided to avoid both extensive congressional debate and public criticism in the building the Library of Congress and “embarked on the Library’s decorative scheme without prior approval of Congress.”  Using the time-honored Washington tradition of masking expenditures in generalities, Casey hid the hiring of sculptors under a generic heading of “marble work” and that of fine artists under “painting” in his annual reports.  Such was the faith in his work that Congress was not fazed by this deception when it was revealed.

An interesting chapter about the Washington Monument showed the Corps identified a need to shore up the foundation in order to build the obelisk to the necessary height in accordance with ancient Egyptian proportions. Such was the respect for their findings that Congress authorized additional funds for the Corps to build a new cement foundation to provide the long-lasting support desired.

Washington-monument-base

Image:  Cement foundation under the Washington Monument in May 1880. Source:  Library of Congress

Eventually, the foundation was covered with a beautiful lawn and the entire grounds landscaped by the Corps, to the delight– and relief– of all D.C. residents, expressed by local newspaper columnist George Alfred Townsend:

“The old grounds around the Washington Monument, which the very goats disdained to frequent and truant school-boys passed through with awe… were now brought into civilization… and a sense of gratitude toward the Engineer was felt by every thoughtful visitor.”

Skeptics throughout the history of the city from Washington’s cabinet to Abraham Lincoln’s own administration, did not see the vision of the completed city that the Corps of Engineers could. In fact, shortly before President Lincoln’s First Inaugural on March 4, 1861, aide John Hay ascended to the base of the Capitol’s yet-unconstructed dome and was quoted giving a bleak portrait of the unfinished city, saying:

Why did they attempt to build a city where no city was ever intended to be reared? It will never be a capital, except only in name; never a metropolis like Rome, or London, or Paris.

Fortunately, the book shows that Corps of Engineers had a broader vision and optimism, creating a major city with stunning vistas that rival those of major capitals throughout the world. All Americans owe, as Townsend said above, “a sense of gratitude” to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for our beautiful capital city!

Capitol-at-2013-inauguration

Image: United States Capitol bedecked in red, white and blue for the Presidential Inauguration this past Monday, January 21, 2013. Note the magnificent dome with the statue of Freedom atop it, and compare it to President Lincoln’s inauguration above. Photo courtesy of MarthaStreet.com

How can I obtain a copy of Capital Engineers: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Development of Washington, D.C. 1790-2004?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a federal depository library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


All-American Ethnic Music: Reels, Polkas, Klezmer, Cajun, and More

April 18, 2011

Several years ago, I was standing in line to pay for some books at a used book sale. A man ahead of me had one of those two-wheeled folding shopping carts full of LPs. He was explaining to another person in the line that he was a musicologist and most of the records in the cart were for his colleagues. He then said that his own specialty was Jewish music of South America. It was a revelation to me that there was such a musical niche, although I don’t know why I was so surprised. After all, I’m ethnic myself – Scottish on my father’s side and Polish on my mother’s – and all of my grandparents were born overseas. I never heard much Scottish music growing up, except bagpipes, but my hometown and surrounding areas of northern New Jersey had enough Polish-American communities to support at least some Polish-language programming, including plenty of polka music, and not just “Who Stole the Kishka?”

Maybe my own ethnic roots explain my interest in Ethnic Recordings in America: A Neglected Heritage, a Library of Congress American Folklife Center gem from the Government Book Talk out-of- print horde. This pioneering effort in the field includes an introduction to recorded ethnic music beginning in the 1920s, both major labels (Victor,Columbia, and Edison) and independents (including Gaelic [Irish], Italianstyle [Italian], Panhellion [Greek], La Patrie [French-Canadian], and Macksoud [Arabic], and many more). It also traces ethnic recording history in the U.S. After the big bust of the Great Depression, ethnic records boomed again in the later 1930s through the mid-1940s before becoming marginalized by assimilation, changing tastes, and the hard economics of the recording business. Yet pockets of traditional music, whether Tex-Mex, Cajun, or Finnish, still persist, and musicians now produce CDs or mp3s instead of vinyl records. Ethnic music even attracts non-ethnic musicians, who ring new changes on Balkan, Hawaiian, and Latino melodies – maybe even more so now than was the case in 1982, when this book was published.

Ethnic Recordings in America also features essays on Irish records, the great Mexican-American singer Lydia Mendoza, and yes, “The Sajewski Story: Eighty Years of Polish Music in Chicago.” Each essay is illustrated by rare photos of record labels, sheet music, and musicians of many ethnicities. Checklists and discographies also provide reference resources for those interested in probing deeper into the music and record collections of the Library of Congress and other archives. I didn’t have any luck finding the text via the Internet, but you can find copies through various used book sites, or in a library. As for me, it’s time to get in touch with my roots – but which roots? – Alex Beaton or Frankie Yankovic? Only in America!


A Bibliophile’s Delight

October 25, 2010

It’s about time I tackled some of the riches of the Library of Congress (LC) here. The question: where to begin? I was talking to someone about Thomas Jefferson last week, so why not start with the man who sold his library to the Federal Government after the British burned the congressional library during the War of 1812, thus supplying the foundation for today’s LC? The 1989 edition of Thomas Jefferson’s Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order restored to public view a unique copy of Jefferson’s personal shelflist, and one with an unusual history. Jefferson had sent along a copy of his personal library’s catalog with the books he sold to the Government, but it has been lost. Later, he asked Nicholas P. Trist, his secretary and future grandson-in-law, to recreate the catalog and its unique arrangement. (Trist later had a controversial career as a diplomat – if I ever find a Government publication concerning him, you’ll hear all about it.) After Jefferson’s death, Trist’s manuscript vanished until 1917, when it turned up in the library of Camp Wheeler in Georgia (talk about gold in your attic!) and was donated to LC, which published it for the first time in this edition.

The Introduction explains the provenance of the manuscript as well as its unusual structure, based on the system developed by Francis Bacon in his The Advancement of Learning. As the editors point out, “To twentieth-century eyes, parts of Jefferson’s classification, may seem puzzling. It is no surprise to find categories such as Modern British History under the broad division of history, but such unexpected subjects as Agriculture, Surgery, and natural History also appear there.” According to Jefferson’s world view, “history” meant all of the known facts about the physical universe, so these topic headings, seemingly so disparate to us, made perfect sense to the 18th century mind.

Although Jefferson’s methods of library cataloging are of great interest and carefully explained by the editors, my real interest was in Jefferson’s reading habits. Lots of books under Politics, of course – most of the great Enlightenment theorists and reformers are represented, including Cesare Beccaria, that great foe of judicial torture, whom I hold in particular esteem (trivia: his grandson was Alessandro Manzoni, author of I Promessi Sposi, the greatest Italian novel of the 19th century). Speaking of literature, Jefferson owned works by such robust authors as Tobias Smollett (Roderick Random), that most unorthodox clergyman, Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey), and even the somewhat shady Restif de la Bretonne. His poetry interests leaned towards the  Greeks and Romans, but he also had a place for Americans like Philip Freneau and Phyllis “Whateley.” As with the rest of his holdings, Jefferson’s collection of literature represents quintessential Enlightenment taste.

As you can tell, browsing through this remarkable catalog is great fun, even as it sheds light on the intellectual roots of our third President. It’s available online from LC and has been reprinted by a private publisher, although without the distinctive faux marbling covers (above). You can also find it in libraries.


Country Studies

October 8, 2010

I don’t know about anyone else but, for me, a new Country Studies volume is always a welcome sight. These handsome white hardbacks with the really striking black and red cover graphics are easy on the eyes and first-rate mental nourishment for fact seekers everywhere. The latest one, on Colombia, caught my eye and made me dig around a little for some background on the rest.

The Country Studies/Area Handbooks series, to give it a more official ring, has been funded over the years by the Department of the Army and, since FY 2004, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J-5 to those in the know). Since 1988, the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress has prepared these excellent books. I haven’t been able to run down how far back in time the series extends, but it’s been around for more than 30 years – first as Area Handbooks (when the volumes had green covers) and then Country Studies.

Country Studies present “a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.” They originally were intended to focus primarily on lesser-known areas of the world or regions in which U.S. forces might be deployed, so not every nation is included. For more about the series, go here.

Like all of these books, the Colombia volume presents a concise history of the country, followed by sections on geography, population, religions, education, and social movements. Economic structure, transportation and communications, financial regulations and markets, government and politics, the military and national security – you name it, and the subject is covered, and covered well. Of particular interest are a brief section on Illegal Drugs and a historical and political overview of social violence and the development of insurgencies in modern Colombia. I can’t think of a better serious introduction to the problems and prospects of this key Latin American country than this book.

Although most of the Country Studies series done in the past 25 years or so are available online only, printed copies of Colombia, North Korea, Iran, and Cuba are still available. You also can find these and other Country Studies in libraries (WorldCat is a good search tool) and via various bricks and mortar and online used book outlets.


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