Seminary Ridge Historic    Preservation Foundation

 
 Preserving the Legacies of Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania               info@seminaryridge.org

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A Strange and Blighted Land – Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle”

Gregory Coco led a tour of the National Military Cemetery and Gettysburg Address site during the Foundation’s 2003 Symposium.  His presentation led to my purchase and read of this book, even though I am at the stage of life in which I am trimming rather than building my library.

     Mr. Coco is uniquely fitted to describe this “strange and blighted land.”  He knows the field through his study and detailed research of countless first person accounts – all painstakingly annotated.  He visualizes the field clearly, seeing beyond today’s well-kept natural beauty to the bloody, muddy mess of summer-fall, 1863.  He word paints the scene graphically and meticulously.

     I suspect that there is a horrible commonality to after battle sites of any war – Gettysburg, the Ardennes, Normandy, or Dien Bien Phu.  As a twice wounded decorated Vietnam combat infantryman, Coco has a perspective that enables him to depict the Gettysburg scenes after the Battle.  He has been there!

     He is the first to detail the depth and breadth of the complexities of the days and months after the Battle.  His chapter headings tell the story – Battlefield in the Aftermath; Burial of the Dead; Care of the Wounded; Prisoners of War, Stragglers and Deserters; From Battlefield to Hallowed Ground.

 The last chapter breaks new ground – Visitors, Harvest of Guns, Relic Fever, Damages and Post-Battle Claims in Adams County.  These outlines are filled with eyewitness accounts (many hitherto unpublished).  The accounts are fascinating.

     We meet a widow who came to search for her husband’s body.  She is guided to the area in which he fell.  She watches four graves re-opened in fruitless search.  She insists the fifth grave will be his.  Sadly, she was correct.  She was able to take his body home for re-burial.

     There is also the story of the Pennsylvania judge who toured the field in search of a sword.  He is dressed “to the nines” under a blistering sun.  He ignores the federal rule prohibiting removal of souvenir relics and he finds a fine sword.  Imagine his fury when he is arrested by a mere sergeant.  His political influence turns out to be useless as he works out his punishment at gunpoint.  Image this fashionably correct jurist spending three days under the hot, humid sun burying the rapidly decaying bodies of dead horses.

     Coco’s collection of eyewitness accounts will hold one’s interest.  His own summary describes the battle aftermath,

“Through (the eyes of the witnesses), the horrors of a battlefield infused everywhere by the corrupting corpses of humans and animals can be seen.”

“…if our ability to hear the cries of the thousands of wounded is limited, then at least we can know they screamed and thrashed about in agony.”

 “…The dilemma of the many prisoners of war and deserters, the guarding and clean up of the battle area, the throngs of visitors se-arching for missing relatives and souvenirs… “ all make up an interesting and colorful tableaux for us more than 130 years later.        Gregory Coco is a fascinating historian – worth our reading and reflection.  If you read him, I guarantee that you will never again see the Gettysburg battlefield as you saw it before.  This book has had that effect on me.

Carl Heim Greenwald

SRHPF Member

 

 

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Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation 
61 Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg, PA 17325
Tel. 717-338-3030    Fax:  717-334-3469

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