Carol’s Comments

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         Hello Everyone! Welcome to another issue of Carol’s Comments. I am a volunteer at the River Park Branch. Even though I have a Bachelor’s degree in History, U.S. military history especially the Civil War never really appealed to me. The only books about the Civil War I ever enjoyed were Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and Gone with the Wind. So when the St Joseph County Public Library chose Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels as this year’s selection for its 4th annual One Book, One Michiana campaign happening from April 1 through May 11, I approached the book with some trepidation.

         In his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Shaara intricately chronicles events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg as well as the three day battle itself occurring from July 1 through July 3, 1863. This compelling book gives the reader a realistic account of Gettysburg by alternating between the viewpoints of key military figures of the Union and the Confederacy; the most notable being General Robert E Lee and Lieutenant General James Longstreet for the Confederacy and principally Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the Union Army’s  Maine  Division. This literary technique successfully reveals the humanistic side of these historical icons by exposing their fears, vulnerabilities, aspirations and doubts about the war’s purpose.

The author also includes a detailed foreword that introduces all the principal military personnel involved for both sides as well as an epilogue which discusses the fates of those men after the war. Furthermore, the novel dramatically depicts the destruction, tumult and tremendous casualties suffered by Confederate and Union troops during the pivotal Civil War battle. Despite being a rather difficult book to read at times, The Killer Angels remains the seminal work about Gettysburg.

After finishing The Killer Angels, I decided to watch Gettysburg the 1993 film adaptation so I could better understand the book’s rather complex plot. Written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, this visually spectacular movie meticulously re-creates every aspect of the Battle of Gettysburg. In fact, Maxwell’s screenplay literally duplicates the novel’s scenes and dialogue so much that the viewer feels totally immersed in the battle.

This historically accurate movie stars Tom Berenger as General James Longstreet, Jeff Daniels as Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Martin Sheen as a somewhat miscast Robert E Lee. The most notable and hauntingly convincing performance is Sam Elliott as the Union’s Major General John Buford.

Running nearly 4 ½ hours long and filmed at the original battlefield site, Gettysburg stands as a magnificent cinematic tribute to this monumental Civil War battle. Everyone should see this movie to fully understand the overwhelming sacrifices made for freedom.

Since I’m not a big Civil War enthusiast, I was very glad to learn that the library had selected Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini as the companion book to The Killer Angels.

In this well researched and very readable historical novel, the author vividly recounts the unlikely friendship between the freedwoman seamstress Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln. Through this remarkable relationship, Mrs. Keckley witnesses firsthand the Lincolns’ personal and political trials and triumphs during the Civil War years along with Mrs. Lincoln’s steady decline after her husband’s assassination. This highly entertaining book paints an exquisite portrait of Elizabeth Keckley’s extraordinary life.

Although set in a different time period,  Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker reminded me a lot of the 1979 miniseries Backstairs at the White House. I also plan to watch Steven Spielberg’s award winning film Lincoln not only for Daniel Day-Lewis’ and Sally Field’s stunning performance as Abraham and Mary Todd- Lincoln but to see Gloria Reuben’s portrayal of Elizabeth Kendrick.

If you enjoyed this book as much as I did, don’t miss author Jennifer Chiaverini’s lecture and book signing on April 29 from 5-8pm at the Main Library’s Multimedia Room. F or more information about this event and other programs and activities sponsored by the library and other local community organizations, visit the SJCPL’s web site at www.libraryforlife.org/onebook .  Thanks for reading! See you all next time.

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