- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

HUMAN INTEREST STORIES OF THE GETTYSBURG CAMPAIGN

By Scott L. Mingus Sr., Colecraft Industries,$9.95, 101 pages

Countless books are available on strategy and tactics regarding the Battle of Gettysburg. In comparison, fewer studies have appeared addressing activities that occurred behind the scenes. In conjunction with every battle, there are peculiar yet appealing events that are rarely noted.

In “Human Interest Stories of the Gettysburg Campaign,” Scott L. Mingus Sr. offers a collection of offbeat happenings and encounters that help fill in the blanks about how thousands of soldiers and civilians behaved during the bloodiest three days of the Civil War and why they did what they did. These pages are filled with humor, pathos, quirkiness, ingratitude and heroics.

Logically organized to cover the period of the Rebel invasion of the North, each of the three days the Union and Confederate forces engaged at Gettysburg and the harrowing retreat back to Virginia, this short book frames the proceedings in a way that encourages emotional and mental interaction.

We learn that President Lincoln reacted to reports of the invasion by calling for enlistment of an additional 100,000 troops and also that the people living on either side of the Mason-Dixon line were often unpredictable in their allegiance to the contending armies. The story of an unassuming little girl in a white dress dipping out water to passing soldiers while artillery shells were bursting overhead evokes a wince. More heart-rending is the tale of a newspaper correspondent arriving on the scene and learning that his son died in battle.

Men from the 30th Pennsylvania passed by their own homes as they marched toward Gettysburg. There is the irony of a Union general, cut off from his troops, hiding out for three days in a family’s back yard to avoid capture, thereby missing the entire battle. Some Confederate soldiers, tired of fighting, were able to desert with the aid of Gettysburg residents. Premonitions of death were not uncommon among combatants on both sides.

Animals did not fare well. Thousands of horses and mules died from exhaustion or were killed. The ravenous armies consumed all available cattle, hogs and chickens. Nevertheless, soldiers went without food for days because of logistical difficulties in getting rations to the battlefront.

The wounded were often left to die on the field during the fighting. While locals cared for many of the survivors in their own homes, a few farmers earned lasting enmity by peddling milk and bread to these unfortunates at exorbitant prices.

Rumors were an important stock in trade, as has been typical among large armies throughout history. A Union general, who should have known better, blithely reported that Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who was safely ensconced in Richmond, had arrived in Greencastle, Pa. The persistent but erroneous news that popular Gen. George McClellan had once again been placed in charge of the Army of the Potomac elicited huzzahs from the rank and file.

“Human Interest Stories” is well written except for a few instances in which the information included is anticlimactic or more than we need or want to know. Those who already are familiar with the Battle of Gettysburg, or think they are, will be pleasantly surprised to learn there is more to the story than normally meets the eye.

Thomas J. Ryan is president of the Central Delaware Civil War Round Table.

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