Book Review: Gettysburg 1963: Civil Rights, Cold War Politics, and Historical Memory in America's Most Famous Small Town

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by Jill Ogline Titus

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Pres, 2021. Pp. xiv, 250+. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $27.95 paper. ISBN: 1469665344

Gettysburg’s Complex Centennial

In the summer of 1963, the 100th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg was celebrated, but there were many different ideas as to how to present its significance to the Civil War, and to connect it to the Cold War and African American civil rights. Many drew on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to consider the messages of unity, freedom – both domestically and globally, and self-determination. For many, reconciliation was but a word when injustice and inequality remained in the U.S., including Gettysburg itself. Dr. Titus, Associate Director of Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, examines how the 1963 centennial influenced political, social, and local civic changes and how the commemoration promoted improvements in the Gettysburg National Military Park, and how differing views of the battle and its meaning enabled the country to better understand its past and how the future would change in unexpected ways.

Gettysburg 1863 looks at how the slavery and the U.S. Colored Troops helped bring about Union victory, and how this influence was downgraded in the post war era, with the coming of Jim Crow, extending through – and beyond – the Centennial; ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the firing upon Fort Sumter took place in a segregated Charleston, with African Americans barred from hotels and restaurant, and left out of the observances. Titus notes that although African American leaders and many liberals urged President John F. Kennedy to press for broader participation, this event and many others commemorating the war, failed, but did help lead to greater progress later, including changes in the ways in which Gettysburg and other National Military Parks presented the war.

Titus does an extraordinary job of explaining how the different local organizations involved in the Gettysburg centennial -- the Pennsylvania Gettysburg Centennial Commission, the Adams County Civil War Centennial Commission, veterans’ descendants groups, etc. – use the events to inspire a sense of patriotism in the many visitors. She notes that the three principal storylines of these groups were:

· To promote a “States’ Rights” interpretation of the conflict;

· To relate the fallen soldiers to the need for racial justice in the 1960’s; and

· To help the U.S. efforts during the Cold War to spread democracy, capitalism, and modern technology throughout the world.

Finally, Titus, demonstrates that, ironically, many of the observances curiously connect the anti-fascist message of the 1930’s and 1940’s with the Cold War message of anti-communism into a sweeping celebration of the Confederate cause on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Titus also makes some interesting observations on how various politicians – then Vice President Lyndon Johnson, former President Dwight Eisenhower, and Alabama Governor George Wallace – chose to interpret Gettysburg in different ways. Johnson's remarks followed Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” that white pleas for Black Americans to exercise patience was wrong and needed to change, while Eisenhower – who had a rather positive record on Civil Rights – failed to address the question of American racism, to call for Americans to be self-reliant, while white segregationist Wallace used Gettysburg to defend traditional Southern beliefs in the “Lost Cause” and racial separation. Titus shows how Gettysburg was used by right-wing groups and President Donald Trump in the defense of Confederate symbols and monuments. Finally, Titus notes how 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden repeatedly spoke in an Abraham Lincoln style, portraying the United States as in a battle for the soul of the nation and had a vision of a more equal future for people of color. Like the roads that led the armies to Gettysburg in 1863, 2020 brought Gettysburg to center stage in the modern era.

Titus hits a home run with Gettysburg 1963, which is highly recommended for the buff or the serious student of memory, the battle, and the modern importance of this small town just north of the Mason-Dixon line.

 

Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Gettysburg Rebels, The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865, Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg, The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Custer: From the Civil War’s Boy General to the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg, Passing Through the Fire: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the Civil War, The Summer of ’63: Vicksburg and Tullahoma, Crosshairs on the Capital: Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army after Appomattox, Voices of the Army of the Potomac, and The Record of Murders and Outrages.

 

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Note: A volume in the UNC series “Civil War America”, Gettysburg 1963 is also available in hard back and e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

www.nymas.org and https://www.nymas2.org/

Reviewer: David Marshall   


Buy it at Amazon.com




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