01 October 2008

Gettysburg: the graphic novel

Gettysburg: the graphic novel
by C.M. Butzer (1/5 stars)
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Collins (December 23, 2008)

Gettysburg: the graphic novel gives a very brief account of the battles that took place, and then dedicates the rest of the book to the building of the National Cemetery and the speeches by Edward Everett and President Lincoln at the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Presented in graphic novel style, this book could have been a wonderful illustration of these most decisive days of the United States' Civil War. Instead, it appeared as a odd piece of "feel-good" propaganda, giving the idea of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as setting in motion a whole chain of civil rights movements. Apparently the author did not research the Emancipation Proclamation very much; Lincoln freed the slaves in the Southern states (states he had no jurisdiction over at that time) and did nothing for the slaves in the Northern states that were still in the Union. It's interesting to note that at the time of the war, there were more "Free Blacks" (as they were called) in the Southern states than they were in the Northern states.

And, with such a focus on slavery, a child that reads this novel is going to come away with the untruth (that is still being taught in our schools) that slavery was the cause of this war. States Rights were the issue, not slavery. But, Butzer is very specific in letting the reader know that the "repulsive institution of American slavery" is the direct cause of the war.

In addition, Gettysburg: the graphic novel is grossly biased in favor of the Union side, to the point still referring to the Confederacy as "Rebels"! Is this a contemporary account? Or an educated historical rendering? Or, perhaps neither. Butzer also misrepresents, hopefully accidentally, General Lee's orders to forage for food by illustrating it with looting. Anyone who has studied General Lee and his armies knows that he did not allow looting and that provisions were paid for, granted it was in Confederate money, but that is still not the looting that was illustrated.

Gettysburg: the graphic novel is also, unfortunately for a book supposedly drawing on "primary sources", cursed with historical inaccuracies. For example, the gatehouse to Evergreen Cemetery is shown as being built as part of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. That gatehouse was built in the 1850's and was standing when the battles were taking place. Perhaps he meant to show that it was being fixed from the damage? So it's just an error by negligence and not an outright falsehood then?

Sadly, the bibliography was not included in the ARC, because I would like to have seen the sources Mr. Butzer used that listed Lincoln's African-American Valet, William Johnson, as his "friend" (as well as on several other points). I think this was another case of the author attempting to color the reader's view of Lincoln.

Overall, this was a poorly written book and while it not might fool a reader who has previously studied up on the subject, it should not be given the chance to fool readers who don't have prior knowledge. Giving this to our children to read is placing prejudice and inaccuracy in their hands in the guise of truth and I adamantly advise against it.

Thanks to Harper Collins for the Advanced Readers Copy.



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