Michael A. Dreese, Foreword by Frederick K. Wentz
208pp, 2005, softcover, $35.00
Image courtesy of heroesbehindthelines.com
The “Old Dorm” of Seminary Ridge, part of the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary, is well known to have played an important part during the battle. While most Gettysburg historians know the role of the building as a hospital, the details of the building are a bit more sparse to the regular visitor of the Gettysburg battlefield. In his work, Michael Dreese gives more information on the building and the seminary itself before, during and after the battle and his narrative is haunting.
Michael A. Dreese is the vice president of the Susquehanna Civil War Round Table and is the leading historian for the 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers. His other works include The 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers at Gettysburg and An Imperishable Fame: The Civil War Experience of George Fisher McFarland. His work on both McFarland and the 151st Pennsylvania has given a clearer view of what happened to the “School Teacher” Regiment.
Due to his study on the 151st Pennsylvania and George McFarland, it is only fitting that Dreese would write a book on the Seminary Ridge Hospital since McFarland was the last soldier to leave Gettysburg after spending some time at the Seminary Ridge Hospital. Dreese opens his work not with the battle, but years before with the formation of the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary. What may be surprising to many was that the classes of the seminary during the political discourse, often discussed what was going on in politics at the time. The evolution of the seminary and the people surrounding it are proof once more that Gettysburg was more than just a battle, it was a people. This narrative also invokes the statement that there were many people not only in the seminary, but in the Union and Confederate army who had ties to this small Pennsylvanian town. The narrative throughout the first part of the book is quite tame, but once Dreese approaches the hospital and the conditions after the battle, it becomes haunting. Whether it was the pictures which aided the stories of the hospital, or the narratives of the men and women themselves, I found myself shaking every now and then. The graphic nature of this book shows that it is not for the faint of heart and as more books come out about the Battle of Gettysburg, this seems to be a common occurrence. Due to the placement of the Union army during the battle, many of the soldiers from the Army of the Potomac here were from the First Corps and many from the Confederate side, there are a few listed as died in the hospital, were from Ewell or Hill’s Corps. The stories which accompanied these men, some of which won the Medal of Honor, shows the great devotion they had to defend their country and fight for their cause. Sacrificing life and limb not only makes the reader feel closer to the battle, but humbled by their actions and their strife. Along with the soldiers were the accounts of the Ziegler family as they endured the battle doing what they could to aid the soldiers. Dreese gives a good balance between civilian and soldier accounts from both sides that it is hard not to feel something as you go through the pages of this book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Battle of Gettysburg, or anyone interested in Civil War medicine. Michael Dreese was the perfect man for this job as he tackles yet another part of the battlefield with great vigor and knowledge. For many people who drive by the building of the seminary and know nothing about it, this book clarifies what we do not know and hopefully inspires us to stop and appreciate what this place did for the soldiers during the battle.