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The Long Road to Gettysburg – A Book for Young People by Jim Murphy

Posted By on March 13, 2013

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An interesting book on the Battle of Gettysburg, written for young people, is The Long Road to Gettysburg, by Jim Murphy, published by Scholastic in 1992.  The book is based on two diaries, one  John Dooley, a Confederate soldier, who after the war entered a Jesuit order, and the other by Thomas Francis Galway, a Sergeant in the 8th Ohio Infantry.  The book is filled with photographs and other illustrations – most original to the period.  The book follow these two individuals through the events leading up to the battle and then departs on an analysis of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address before telling what happened to the two diarists in the years after the war.

Most Civil War and Lincoln books that are for young people, ages 12-18, are written without the direct use of original source material such as diaries, so this book is a exception.  Author Murphy’s approach to the subject is welcomed by educators and historians who believe that young people should be exposed to historical analysis as early as possible rather than being spoon-fed history as is done in so many school texts, and this book is very helpful in that regard.

The one major fault in this book are the maps of the Gettysburg campaign and the three days of the battle.  These maps, according the credits page, were drawn by Jeanyee Wong.  The first map, which appears on page 16 is reproduced here (in part, below) to illustrate the problem.  In the text, Murphy states, as Lee’s reason for invading Pennsylvania:

Lee had no intention of going after Washington.  He planned to threaten Philadelphia and Baltimore instead, and cut Washington off from the rest of the country…. Lee wanted to choose the battlefield, one perfect suited to his army’s style of fighting….

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What is missed here is that Harrisburg, a major railroad center and known as the “Crossroads of the Union,” was near where Lee chose to enter Pennsylvania, and by attacking in the area of the Northern Central Railroad, south of Harrisburg, he could cut off a major supply route to the South and to Baltimore.  Neither the railroad nor Harrisburg appears on the map. By simply moving the map window up one inch and to the right one inch, the cities of Harrisburg and Philadelphia could have been shown.  What is shown at the bottom of the map is nearly irrelevant to the subject of the book (the border between Virginia and North Carolina) as what is shown to the left edge of the map (mountains).  Suggested corrections are added in red.

Likewise, the second map, which appears on page 31, has the same problems:  Harrisburg and Philadelphia are missing, no railroads, and the irrelevant border between Virginia and North Carolina.

In the maps of the close-up views of the battle – days one through three – the railroad is shown through Gettysburg, but is labeled “unfinished.”

There are a few quotes from the diary of Dooley which are of interest to a Pennsylvanian.  One described the countryside as “lush and unscarred by cannon fire.”

The wheat fields are every where nearly ripe for harvesting, and all around plenty appears to bless the fertile land. (page, 23).

A final comment can be made about the subject of many of the pictures – dead bodies on the battlefield, of people and animals.  At least 17 pictures are included which show such horrors of war – some photographs – and one in which the facial features of the victim are identifiable.  Some critics might consider this gratuitous.  It should be left up to parents and teachers to decide if the book is appropriate with such a preponderance of pictures of the dead; the age and maturity of the reader should be considered.  While there is no age-appropriate-level specified on the book, the publisher provides materials almost exclusively for the K-12 educational market.

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This is the 79th post on this blog on the subject of the Battle of Gettysburg.


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