"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
Eighteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music! More than 1500 reviews.

Visit DWD's Reviews of Books, Audiobooks, Music and Video new sister blog: DWD's Reviews of Tech, Gadgets and Gizmos!

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Sometimes Brilliant, Sometimes Lacking and Sometimes Just Plain Wrong

Published in December of 2008 by HarperCollins

This is the 65th review of a book that is somehow connected to the Civil War that I have written. I am also a teacher of American history. I only mention this so that the reader knows that I do not come to my critiques of this book lightly.

Butzer has attempted to do something that would be tough no matter who the author is - tell the entire story of Gettysburg in just 80 pages of a graphic novel. By the entire story, I mean why the war was going on in the first place, the status of both sides when the battle started, the battle itself and dealing with the dead, the wounded and the dignitaries that came to nose around afterwards. It also includes the decision to make a special cemetery at Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address and a discussion of the famed speech, plus additional comments and a bibliography.

If I were asked to do this is two typewritten pages I would find it to be a difficult challenge, so I do appreciate the task faced by Butzer.

Butzer's treatment of the Gettysburg Address is brilliantly conceived and wonderfully demonstrates the power of the little speech to the crowd at the cemetery and the power of the speech as it has resonated down through time.

He also does a great job of talking about how difficult it was to deal with so many dead and wounded once the armies had moved on. The awful nature of Civil War surgery is shown (including a pile of amputated limbs).

 However, his focus was just wrong in so many ways and there are at least two factual errors. The battle itself gets just 9 pages out of the 80 - the little skirmish in Gettysburg itself that started the battle gets two complete pages! If you are uninformed as to the particulars of the Battle of Gettysburg, this book will do little to inform you. But, there is a great deal of, in my opinion, wasted space dedicated to Lincoln's trip to Gettysburg and the build up to the dedication ceremony. 

On pages 22 and 23 Pickett's Charge is drawn in one epic sweep, but the dimensions are wrong (the length of the charge is dramatically shrunken) and the height and angle of Cemetery Ridge is greatly exaggerated. It is a low rise, not the steep angle shown in the book. It looks like Pickett is leading a charge up the dam of a man-made lake, not up the gentle heights of Cemetery Ridge. This distinction makes Lee's decision to attack the Union line directly look like less of a calculated risk and more like a cruel suicidal attack on an impregnable position.

The Evergreen Cemetery Gatehouse
On page 38 workers are building the gatehouse to the cemetery in order to prepare for the ceremony. He also alludes to this in his notes at the end of the book. But, this gatehouse was built before the war (its cornerstone was laid in 1855 and it was used as Union General O.O. Howard's headquarters during the battle) as a part of Evergreen Cemetery, not the national cemetery. When I first visited Gettysburg, I also assumed that the gatehouse went with the National Cemetery.

So, sometimes brilliant, sometimes lacking and sometimes just plain wrong, I rate this graphic novel 3 stars out of 5.

This graphic novel can be found on Amazon.com here: Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel

Reviewed on May 17, 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment