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296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 illus., 1 map, notes, bibl., index

Civil War America

ISBN  978-0-8078-5461-7
Published: February 2003

Pickett's Charge in History and Memory

By Carol Reardon

Awards & Distinctions

1998 Forrest C. Pogue Prize, Eisenhower Center for American Studies

1998 Philip S. Klein Prize, Pennsylvania Historical Association

If, as many have argued, the Civil War is the most crucial moment in our national life and Gettysburg its turning point, then the climax of the climax, the central moment of our history, must be Pickett's Charge. But as Carol Reardon notes, the Civil War saw many other daring assaults and stout defenses. Why, then, is it Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg--and not, for example, Richardson's Charge at Antietam or Humphreys's Assault at Fredericksburg--that looms so large in the popular imagination?

As this innovative study reveals, by examining the events of 3 July 1863 through the selective and evocative lens of 'memory' we can learn much about why Pickett's Charge endures so strongly in the American imagination. Over the years, soldiers, journalists, veterans, politicians, orators, artists, poets, and educators, Northerners and Southerners alike, shaped, revised, and even sacrificed the 'history' of the charge to create 'memories' that met ever-shifting needs and deeply felt values. Reardon shows that the story told today of Pickett's Charge is really an amalgam of history and memory. The evolution of that mix, she concludes, tells us much about how we come to understand our nation's past.

About the Author

Carol Reardon is professor of military history at Pennsylvania State University.


“This is a skillful and compelling example of the way an event whose story we think we know turns out to be as mobile as quicksilver when we try to put a finger down for certain.”
--Allen C. Guelzo, The Barnes & Noble Review

"Quite apart from its notable historical interest, Ms. Reardon's work is a splendidly lively study of the manipulation, not necessarily deliberate or malign, of public opinion."
--Atlantic Monthly

"Exceptionally lucid. . . . This fine book provides vivid evidence of just how far we will go to alchemize fantasy into fact."
--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

"A fresh look at the disastrous assault."
--New Yorker

“Well-written and meticulously researched, Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory utilizes first-rate scholarship to tell a fascinating story. It deserves the attention of scholars and should win a wide audience among general readers.”
--Civil War History

“Indispensable. . . . Eminently valuable beyond the confines of Civil War scholarship.”
--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

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