Book Review: The Colors Of Courage

The Colors Of Courage:  Gettysburg’s Forgotten History:  Immigrants, Women, And African-Americans In The Civil War’s Defining Battle, by Margaret S. Creighton

My own long-standing concern about the way that social histories telling the stories of supposedly subaltern groups notwithstanding, this book does tell an interesting and worthwhile set of stories that is seldom told.  As a native of Pennsylvania, and someone who has read about and visited many sites connected with the Civil War, including Gettysburg, I am very familiar with the military history of the place.   In most of the books one reads, though, there is a focus on military and political history to the exclusion of the experience of civilians or the long-term recovery after the destructiveness of battle [1].  And, when it comes to Gettysburg and its tale of bravery and heroism, there are some people who simply fall short when it comes to being remembered.  I have read a great deal about the Battle of Gettysburg, and most of what I have read comments on the German soldiers of the Union XI corps of being quick to flee just as they had at Chancelorsville, largely ignored any discussion of civilians caught in the middle, and completely ignored a discussion of the local black community and the special dangers faced by Southern kidnappers praised today for their courage in battle.

In terms of its contents, this book has a lot to offer, being about 230 pages or so and taking a largely chronological as well as topical division in terms of how the Battle of Gettysburg has been remembered in a particularly narrow and incomplete way.  After various introductory material, including a chronology of the Gettysburg campaign, the author begins the first part of the book with a discussion of the lay of the land, and Gettysburg citizens’ lack of awareness that they would be in the midst of a terrible battle.  After that the author discusses the experiences of German-American soldiers at Chancellorsville and how the shame of that battle led them to desire redemption.  The author then moves to the disbelief among civilians in Gettysburg that their homes would be a battlefield in the face of the rebel invasion.  After this the author discusses the desolation faced by many blacks at the threat of being kidnapped and sent to slavery by rebel soldiers.  The second part of the book looks at the course of the battle itself, with chapters on the experience of the Germans on the first day of the battle, where they were again hit on the flank and driven back, on the dangers faced by women dealing with soldiers on both sides, and on the experience faced by black refugees from the battle as well as those who encountered enemy troops.  After this, the author moves her focus to a discussion of the aftermath of battle, looking at the experience of a few of the German-Americans, including a prisoner who died in Belle Isle, a general who hid out in a “pigsty,” and the Christian warrior who led the XI core, Oliver Howard in a moving chapter about the tricky nature of honor for immigrants and virtuous Christians.  After this come chapters that deal with the tricky nature of women and remembrance as well as the way that black people had to make a living on hallowed ground that largely forgot their stories and their experiences and even the fact that they existed as part of Gettysburg or part of the war’s meanings.  The author then ends with a short conclusion that discusses various historical trends.

Ultimately, there are a few factors that lead me to be more favorable to this book than I would be to many books of its kind that I have read elsewhere.  For one, I am a sufferer of PTSD myself, and have been for all of my life, and so the lingering traumas of the past are something that is always before my own eyes and in the horrors of my nightmares.  For another, I happen to know a great deal about the military aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg, enough that it is fairly natural to want to know the forgotten stories of the battle and its surroundings.  That is the area where this book excels particularly.  The author has done a great deal of research and tells compelling stories that have not frequently been told about the context of the Battle of Gettysburg and its long aftermath.  Surely, we ought to remember the experience of people who do not often come to mind as a way of better understanding the larger context of battles and the way that the effects of warfare linger long after the shooting stops, and that there are moral grounds to battle and not mere bravery.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: The Colors Of Courage

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Gettysburg: The Story Of The Battle With Maps | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Gettysburg: You Are There | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts | Edge Induced Cohesion

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