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Torn Families: Death And Kinship at the Battle of Gettysburg, by Michael A. Dreese

Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2006. Pp. viii, 224. Illus., notes., biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN: 0786428244.

Torn Families is a curious and interesting work in which Gettysburg serves to illustrate the character of the Civil War as a fight of “brother against brother.”

As a result, although the treatment of Gettysburg is adequate, the battle itself is only incidental to the point of the book. Rather, Dreese, who has written extensively on Civil War and Pennsylvania history, uses the battle to focus on the complex networks of kinship that linked many of the 160,000-some soldiers, North and South, and the hundreds of thousands of civilians caught up in various ways in the historic and catastrophic encounter.  There are  eight chapters, each of which explores different aspects of familial connection among the combatants and their kinfolk: “Fathers and Sons,” “Mothers and Sons,” “Husbands, Wives, and Sweethearts,” “Union Brothers,” “Confederate Brothers,” “Twins,” and “Sibling Reunions” to end with “Homecomings.”  The “encounters” were at times very direct, with sons fighting and falling on the family lands or brother literally fighting brother, or parent seeing a son fall.  At other times the “encounter” is less direct, such as letters home, a parent or wife travelling hundreds of miles to seek a loved one among the dead or wounded, or even veterans meeting long afterwards.  In this way, Dreese gives us a very nuanced picture of the battle and the war and the people who took part in them.

Torn Families will prove rewarding reading for anyone interested in the human tragedy of war.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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