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Looking back at Gettysburg: Writer Tom Desjardin discusses the legacy of the Civil War conflict

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(Read caption) Tom Desjardin is the author of 'These Honored Dead.'

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A century and a half ago this month, the Battle of Gettysburg lasted for three days. Then the armies of North and South promptly skipped town. Generations of Civil War historians would follow their paths to victory and surrender at Appomattox. But what about Gettysburg itself, then a tiny southern Pennsylvania town just above the Maryland border?

The residents of Gettysburg faced battles of their own: to cope with thousands of dead and injured men, to rebuild their shattered community, to find hope and resilience amid so much carnage. No other town ravaged by a Civil War battle faced quite the same struggles. "A town of 2,400 ends up being invaded by 170,000 combatants who leave 8,000 dead and 22,000 wounded and all this destruction," said Tom Desjardin, historian for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Desjardin explored the legacy of the battle in his 2004 book "These Honored Dead: How The Story Of Gettysburg Shaped American Memory." I asked him to describe the Gettysburg of 1863, the scars of the battle, and the long march toward recovery.

Q: What was Gettysburg like? What kinds of people lived there?

A: Like many American towns of that time, it was a farming community. It was also known for carriage-making and for being a crossroads on the road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and from Harrisburg to Baltimore and Washington.


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