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  • Jake Wynn

Surviving COVID-19 with PennCivilWar - Our Reading List

Hi everyone!

As we are living in very strange times and social distancing has become the norm, we thought we'd share what we are reading now that normal life has come to a screeching halt. Stay safe out there and enjoy some good books!


Jake Wynn - 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart

With the current crisis causing lots of anxiety and stress, I found myself returning to a book that I've long loved. Adam Goodheart's 1861: The Civil War Awakening uses vignettes about people who experienced the momentous events and chaotic situations that shaped the first year of the Civil War. The storytelling is brilliant and the insights into America on the eve of implosion are keen.

But for me, this book also inspires nostalgia - this book sparked a new passion for a Civil War history. I learned about the book during my senior year at Williams Valley High School in Tower City, PA. On Tuesday afternoons in the spring of 2011, I made the hour-long trip to the offices of the Patriot-News in Mechanicsburg to participate in an editorial fellowship program. On these drives, I first listened to the incredible interviews conducted by NPR's Terry Gross on her show Fresh Air. And on April 12, 2011, she interviewed author Adam Goodheart. Their conversation sparked something in me - a passion to learn more about this crucial moment in our history.

The 2011 Davenport Fellows - I'm standing in the back row next to the "P" in Patriot-News

That night, after the editorial meeting with my fellow "Davenport Fellows," I made a quick stop at the Barnes and Noble in Mechanicsburg and picked up 1861. I was riveted by stories of the Wide Awakes, of John and Jesse Fremont, but especially about Elmer E. Ellsworth. I soon learned that my great-great-great grandfather was named Ellsworth in honor of the first Union officer to die in the conflict.

Goodheart's Fresh Air interview and the book changed the course of my historical interests. I'm thankful for them, and return to 1861 often.


Codie Eash - Death of a Nation: The Story of Lee and His Men at Gettysburg by Clifford Dowdey

On the spectrum of the Civil War’s most lionized figures, as I exit a months-long focus on books pertaining to Abraham Lincoln, I now move to the other end by centering on Robert E. Lee. In reality, I am reading or perusing several publications at once (a personality trait I am sure many fellow readers and aficionados share), each of which concentrates on some aspect of the national historiography and memory which has emanated from Lee’s presence and performance at the Battle of Gettysburg. This is all part of research pertaining to a forthcoming lecture I will be presenting at Daniel Skelly Post Grand Army of the Republic Hall, sponsored by Historic Gettysburg-Adams County on April 21, titled “‘It Is All My Fault’: Robert E. Lee’s Gettysburg Legacy”—so long as precautionary social distancing measures do not say otherwise.

I am beginning with Clifford Dowdey’s classic Death of a Nation (1958) and Glenn Tucker’s Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg (1968), then soon moving on to more recent monographs like Scott Bowden’s and Bill Ward’s Last Chance for Victory (2001) and Troy D. Harman’s Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg (2003). Additionally, I will explore historians’ analyses of Lee in the Gettysburg chapters of fuller biographies on the Confederate general and larger chronicles of the Pennsylvania Campaign itself, as well as his contemporaries’ recollections and assessments in their reports, articles, and memoirs (such as those by James Longstreet, Jubal Early, and E.P. Alexander, among others).

All of this reading comes amid examinations of archival sources, which will ideally occur at physical libraries, but for the time being will have to mostly transpire via digitized online repositories in the safety of my home office.


Rich Condon - The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War 1848 - 1861 by David M. Potter

While I'm currently perusing several books and archival documents in the Civil War genre (guilty of the trait previously mentioned by Codie), Potter's The Impending Crisis has been at the forefront of my reading list, and is a publication I've been wanting to tackle for some time. Potter's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, as foreshadowed by the title, covers key events and root causes observed by antebellum Americans in the decade prior to the Civil War as tensions boiled between north and south.

As mentioned, there are a few other books keeping my attention at this time of social distancing. They include a few newer titles - The War for the Common Soldier by Peter S. Carmichael, Private Confederacies by James Broomall, and The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution by Eric Foner - as well as an older classic - This Hallowed Ground by Bruce Catton.

With the current situation at hand, we have more time to enjoy these historical works (old and new), and should take full advantage of the literary company!


Kendrick Gibbs - Damn Dutch: Pennsylvania Germans at Gettysburg by David L. Valuska and Christian B. Keller

I'm currently not reading anything due to a lot of other added stress other than COVID-19. Anyway, I really like this book and its my favorite book that I've

read recently. If you like Gettysburg, ethnic history, or history of Pennsylvania Regiments, this is a great read that includes contributions from Martin Oefele and D. Scott Hartwig. This book combines ethnic histories from David Valuska and Martin Oefele followed by the military and tactical history from Christian Keller and Scott Hartwig. This book tops my reading suggestion list or is at least top 5 for Pennsylvania and Gettysburg studies.

I also recommend Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War Volume I and II by James Pula and Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863 by Scott Mingus.

My focus currently has been writing about the current health crisis in journal form. In times like these, primary source material written by the common man who experienced the event. This is very similar to what reinvigorated my interest in the Civil War again was the personal accounts and the experience of the common soldier. Take any opportunity to leave your words behind for others to learn from!



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