We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Understanding Battles: Multiple Sources
13 March 2011, 16:49
Filed under: Gettysburg, Tours, Understanding Battles

I remember when I was a teenager, going to the library and they would have various activities to keep kids busy. One time, we were sitting, listening to someone give a talk when suddenly someone burst into the room, ran to the front, shot a squirt gun at the speaker and ran out. Then, they had us recount what we thought happened. Of course, everyone saw something slightly different, remembering different details, or even inventing new ones. As more people contributed, people’s stories also changed somewhat, to meet the group consensus. It was a great lesson in understanding perspectives.

History is no different than that crime scene witness exercise. Every witness has a different story and it’s by reviewing all of the perspectives that you have an opportunity to understand what really happened.

When I was last in Normandy, I was thinking about this. Touring with Allan, Dale and Paul, especially when visiting the German cemetery at La Cambe, you definitely realize that the common perspective we have doesn’t usually include anything about the German soldier’s experience.

I had never realized that when studying the American Civil War just how blessed we are to be able to see many perspectives. When you stand on Little Round Top near General Warren’s statue, you can look out and see where the Confederates were spotted advancing toward the high ground. If you’re lucky, Tom Desjardin, who wrote Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign will be around to tell a humorous story that varies marketly from Warren’s account of seeing the sun glint off Confederate bayonets. Reading the accounts of a variety of officers and men who were present, you can weigh what each man wrote, evaluating the accounts based on where the author was at the time, what information he’d have been privy to at the time, when the account was writing, what motives the author had (like Warren wanting to make himself look brilliant instead of stubborn and foolish) and a variety of other factors. Oh, and that’s just the primary sources….

If you read Eric Wittenburg’s or David Powell’s blogs, you get to see a lot of evaluations of sources. Recently, Eric wrote about the four cannons firing at Brinkerhoff’s Ridge at the start of Stuart’s visit to the East Cavalry Field that provides a good example of this kind of evaluation. Dave performs a similar task at Chickamauga in this post.

In much of my reading and touring of the Normandy battlefields, while we sometimes are able to discuss a variety of Allied accounts of the action, the Germans often have no voice. So, I picked up a few new books written from the German perspective. When I’m back in Normandy in the fall, I might see if any of our three intrepid guides has been able to put together a “German Highlights Tour” or maybe I’ll ask if they have a day where we could get together and discuss that, to add it to their separate repertoires.

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[…] info@mindbites.com posted about this interesting story. Here is a small section of the postAs more people contributed, people’s stories also changed somewhat, to meet the group consensus. It was a great lesson in understanding perspectives. History is no different than that crime scene witness exercise. … […]

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