Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More on National Geographic's Centennial coverage

A few days ago, I posted two entries linking some current coverage of the Civil War Sesquicentennial by National Geographic on its website and comparing that to its coverage of the Centennial in a 1961 edition of that magazine. Here is a link to part two of my previous observations- a link to the first part is within part two.

Today, I'm reviewing the coverage they provided two years after the Centennial had stared, this time from the July 1963 edition (volume 124,  number 1.)

This magazine featured two different articles on what had happened 100 years before, focusing on the popular battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

The first article is a brief review of those fights by poet Carl Sandburg, but it focuses mostly on Abraham Lincoln and  Ulysses S. Grant. It particularly focuses on Lincoln's interpretation of those victories, quoting from his famous unsent letter to George Meade about letting Lee "escape" and his Proclamation of Thanksgiving from July 15. The theme of reconciliation, so obvious in the 1961 edition, is not so clear in this article, though the last sentence hints at it when talking about how "we" honor "events that made us not a parcel of quarreling states, but a united Nation."

Following this is a much longer more in-depth article by Robert Paul Jordan entitled Gettysburg and Vicksburg: the Battle Towns Today. In this article, Jordan describes his trips to each battlefield and discussion he has with locals and with tour guides including Frederick H Tilberg and Edwin C. Bearss. Mixed in with pictures from his time as well as wartime images, Jordan's story goes back and forth, describing what he sees in the modern towns, and comparing it to what had happened on that land a century before.

Like Sandburg's piece, Jordan's article does not focus on the concept of reunion or reconciliation, despite occasional glimpses of such thoughts. It pretty much covers his observations about the areas and the people he meets, including comments from local citizens, and a few remarks about battlefield preservation. He does try to find "words" that describe each city and comes up with "All roads lead to Gettysburg" and "We have a long way to go (but had come a long way too)" for Vicksburg.

Both articles are enjoyable, and the pictures definitely add to it. I liked one picture in Jordan's article showing a souvenir table along a road - it had the US flag and Confederate Battle Flag flying from the top of the stand, and the items for sale were similar to what you might see today - bullets (30 cents each), books, small metal busts of Lincoln (I have a couple that resemble the ones on that table), a plastic flute with a Civil War logo glued to it and miniature cannons as well. It really did not look much different than such a table 50 years later does.

Jordan's article does have a picture of a re-enactment of a "Southern ball" from 1862 and though that picture does not look appropriate, it was a recreation of an actual 1862 event. A few pages later, though, is a 1860s picture showing many of the "caves" Vicksburg citizens had dug as shelter during the batter. The contrast of those two pictures - the modern colored photo of people in fancy clothes or uniforms dancing and then the gritty black and white image of rough, muddy shelters is quite impressive. I wish they had been put closer together to make their contrast more obvious, but the differences between the two are still quite stark.

Overall, this 1863 magazine did not focus on reconciliation as the main 1961 article had. Instead, the editors chose to feature the two famous battles that ended in the same month 100 years previously, and chose a good combination of articles and images to convey those towns during the war and during the time of these articles.

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