Gettysburg's 'Hallowed Ground' As the 140th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg approaches, historian James McPherson tours hallowed ground with NPR's Liane Hansen.
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Gettysburg's 'Hallowed Ground'

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Gettysburg's 'Hallowed Ground'

Gettysburg's 'Hallowed Ground'

Historian McPherson Tours Battlefield on 140th Anniversary

Gettysburg's 'Hallowed Ground'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Author James McPherson stands near a railroad cut at Gettysburg. During the battle, Confederates tried to sneak through the cut, but were detected by Union forces, who moved in and trapped them. Bob Malesky, NPR hide caption

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Bob Malesky, NPR

A veteran of the Union Army shakes hands with a Confederate veteran at a Gettysburg celebration in 1913. Corbis hide caption

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The battle at Gettysburg is considered one of the Civil War's bloodiest. Katherine Parker hide caption

View a map of the battlefield.
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Katherine Parker

McPherson's book, Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg. Crown Publishers hide caption

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Crown Publishers
Available Online

Gettysburg at a Glance

Read a timeline outlining the events of the three-day battle.

Seven score years ago this week, the Army of the Potomac met the Army of Northern Virginia at a crossroads in Pennsylvania as the Civil War entered its third summer. The three-day clash between Union and Confederate forces in the market town at Gettysburg stopped Gen. Robert E. Lee's momentum and is seen now as a pivotal moment in the course of the conflict.

The hilly battlefield is one of the best-preserved and most accessible sites available to Americans who enjoy peering into their past. James McPherson, a professor of history at Princeton University, has written a new book that provides a sort of tour in print. He recently revisited Gettysburg's hallowed ground with NPR's Liane Hansen.

Figures both familiar and obscure populate a conversation that focuses on the first day of the epic struggle, including:

The dashing Confederate cavalry leader, Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart, whose failure to keep tabs on the Union Army in the days leading to the battle left Lee poorly informed about the strength of opposing forces.

Lieutenant Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, credited with firing the first shot of the battle on July 1, 1863.

Union Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, the highest-ranking officer killed at Gettysburg.

John Burns, a 72-year-old Gettysburg shoemaker who picked up a fallen soldier's rifle and joined the fray. Wounded three times, he survived to live nearly a full decade longer and is now honored by a statue on the field.

Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell, long criticized -- perhaps unfairly, McPherson believes -- for choosing not to press exhausted Union forces who had retreated to Cemetery Hill near the end of the first day of fighting.

To McPherson, Gettysburg represents "the awareness of how the present might be radically different, had it not been for what took place on the very ground where we're standing... These ghosts of events that happened 140 years ago are still present in our imagination and if our imagination is vivid enough, they're palpably present here as we stand."

Recommended Reading:

Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, by James M. McPherson (Crown Publishers, 2003)

Gettysburg : A Testing of Courage, by Noah Andre Trudeau (HarperCollins, 2002)

The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, by Edwin Coddington (Touchstone Books, 1997)

Gettysburg: The First Day (Civil War America), by Harry W. Pfanz (University of North Carolina Press, 2001)

The Killer Angels: A Novel, by Michael Shaara (Ballantine Books, 1996)

Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign June-July 1863, by Shelby Foote (Modern Library, 1994)

Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide, by Mark Grimsley and Brooks D. Simpson (Bison Books Corp, 1999)