Until I joined a reenactment group about 6 years ago, I’d never had any interest in the Civil War since its most popular focus is white men shooting each other. Now, this isn’t to say that the experiences of the white, male soldiers consumed by the jaws of war aren’t important, it just means I don’t particularly care what Gen. So-&-So did at noon on July 2nd, 1863. And unfortunately, at least at Gettysburg, ninety-nine percent of the focus is what white men did in seventy-two hours.
Since visiting the Shriver House and getting a window into civilian life during the 1860s, I’ve been on a quest to uncover as many books as possible about the not-white-guy side of the Civil War. My husband actually discovered The Colors of Courage, and Creighton does an excellent job at digging up all the history that’s gotten buried under generals and battle decisions. Her book covers the extreme racism & racial consequences faced by both the resident African Americans and German immigrants, as well as the double standard facing white women when war came home to roost.
Her book, like all good history, explores not just the isolated three days, but the societal norms, practices, and overarching culture of the pre-Civil War years that led not just to the war, but to the collective thoughts and traditions that create the choices people made, and why they felt the way they did. She also goes beyond the war itself to reach out through Reconstruction and into the modern era to bring a sense of understanding as to how we got here. In these adjective times, this book felt, if not exactly like a balm or an answer, then at least a bit like a roadmap that says “ah, that’s where the wrong turn went.”
While packed full of the history everyone should have known about, but that got pushed under the rug, the most interesting thing to me was seeing how Gettysburg’s African American community was not only fairly robust until around WWII, but that the battlefield was actively visited as a site of education and enjoyment by the black community for many years. I can tell you as a frequent visitor that that’s certainly not the case now, and Creighton’s accessible prose blatantly spells out why.
While this books is very Gettysburg-centric, Creighton’s ability to link the events there to not just other parts of the war, but to both the past and present state of the USA’s affairs made this book a definite win for me, and an interesting read for anyone who likes 19th Century non-fiction.