Book Review: “Gettysburg: Kids Who Did the Impossible”

All I can think of is “What fun to do this book!” Gettysburg: Kids Who Did the Impossible is a children’s book featuring two reasonably adorable children and several other reenactors who have combined forces to tell the stories of the young people who lived in or near the town of Gettysburg. All were affected by the battle that occurred literally in their front yards. Ten-year-old Charlie McCurdy, son of a wealthy railroad president, and Seminary Ridge student Lydia Zeigler comment on the action from images taken inside the cupola of the Old Dorm at the Seminary and from the Town Square where crowds of people gathered to discuss the events.

Hugh Zeigler, Lydia’s younger brother, witnessed the first cannon shots of the battle before he can get back to his family. Eighteen-year-old Dan Skelly was out and about when he was caught between armies near the old Railroad Cut. He made it back to town in time to invite Union General O. O. Howard to join him on top of Fahnestock Brothers Dry Goods where both could see more of the battle between the Confederate infantry and General John Buford’s cavalry.

 Sisters Liberty and Julia Hollinger waited at home for their father to return. He left earlier in the morning to offer his warehouse near the depot to the Union medical corps. When Jacob Hollinger returns, his daughters volunteered immediately to gather sheets and food for the injured soldiers at the warehouse. Young teenager Albertus McCreary finagled approval from his father to go outside and see what the commotion was near their home on Washington Street. He returned in time for supper, and to join the rest of his family in the cellar as the Confederate army takes Gettysburg.

Several other young people make their way into the overall story, including Martin Luther Culler, a “student preacher” at the Seminary. Poor Mr. Culler apparently has trouble getting his congregation to pay attention to his sermons, but he shares a dinner with Confederate soldiers and their captive Yankees. The stories of Miss Anna Garlach, Tillie Pierce, the Shriver sisters, and Sadie Bushman weave together with the battle over several days. The unique perspective offered from a younger person’s point of view is certainly different from that of the adult participants. In their innocence, they want to help in any way possible and care little about the colors of uniforms. As the battle winds to its close, plenty of factual information is given to the reader. The group of children follows the action as well, meeting generals, doctors, and enlisted men along the way.

The book follows the young people from the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg to November 19, 1863. All the young people are still at Gettysburg, excited to see the president and grateful to have been a part of history. Albertus McCreary makes a point of shaking Lincoln’s hand. The book ends with a nod to the National Park Service, ancestry.com, and Fold3.

There are so many books written about the Civil War, but few are focused on a younger audience. They are mostly fiction, which has a place–but it is refreshing to see a book like this. Author Gregory Christianson, a long-time citizen of Gettysburg himself, has created a book that nicely fills a need for material suitable for children and families. The distinction between reenactors and real people is made clear throughout the book, and the “real people” are written about with accuracy and respect. The photography is superb, and the paintings (Dale Gallon) and watercolors (Tom Rooney) are a real bonus. This is a book put together with love.

The holidays are coming! This book would make an excellent gift by itself, but think what a treasure it would become if accompanied by a plan to visit a real Civil War battlefield sometime in the near future. As for my review copy, it will be waiting on the bookshelf until my grandson is old enough to go battlefielding with us.

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Gregory Christianson, Gettysburg: Kids Who Did the Impossible

Savas Beatie, 2019

144 pages

Suggested Reading for Young Adults

Suggested Reading for Adults

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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