Guelzo quoted in Washington Post column about Battle of Gettysburg

Prof. Allen Guelzo was quoted in a June 30 George Will column in the Washington Post about the legacy of the decisions made at Gettysburg.

From the Post:

Books about battles, historian Allen C. Guelzo says tartly, have “acquired among my academic peers a reputation close to pornography,” war being, in their eyes, chiefly a manifestation of American savagery. But, he says dryly, one cannot discuss the 19th century without discussing the Civil War era, whose “singular event was a war.” And one conducted, not least at Gettysburg, with an “amateurism” — a “bewildered, small-town incompetence” — that magnified its bloodiness.

The theory that it was the first “modern” or “total” war is, Guelzo acutely says, refuted by “the silent witness of places like Gettysburg, where almost all of the buildings that sat in the path of the battle are still [there]” because the technology of war was too limited to destroy them. A stray bullet killed just one civilian — Mary Virginia Wade, who picked a bad time to bake bread.

For those whom Guelzo calls the war’s “cultured despisers,” the Union cause was mere dull democracy, whereas “emancipation makes a better story for our times.” But as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, the war’s ultimate purpose was to preserve the Union in order to prove democracy’s viability. “Unless the Union was restored,” Guelzo says, “there would be no practical possibility of emancipation, since the overwhelming majority of American slaves would, in that case, end up living in a foreign country, and beyond the possible grasp of Lincoln’s best anti-slavery intentions.”


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