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Historian Carol Reardon will appear at Sacred Trust book signing in Gettysburg, Pa.

June 21, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Carol Reardon is an American military historian, with strong interests in the Civil War and Vietnam eras.
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GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- — There has been nothing like it before or since in American history — father against son, brother against brother, a horrible strife that divided families as well as states.

The Civil War changed America profoundly, “leaving us a different people in everything,” said a New York Times editorial.

It also was the stuff of legend.

Generals became larger than life, battle stories grew to mythical proportions and the Civil War captured the national imagination.

A century and a half after the last shots were fired, the battle between North and South remains in the American consciousness.

School children take field trips to battlefield sites, re-enactors follow the footsteps of their ancestors and historians become archaeologists, digging and uncovering every aspect of the war and the people who fought it.

Carol Reardon is one of those historians. More specifically, she’s an American military historian, with strong interests in the Civil War and Vietnam eras.

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Reardon, the George Winfree professor of American history at Penn State University, University Park, has an impressive resume. In addition to teaching at one of the top schools in the country, she’s an author, a visiting professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point and, on two occasions, a Gen. Harold K. Johnson visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College. She has served for nearly 15 years on the Board of Visitors of the Marine Corps University and is past president of the Society for Military History.

Not bad for a woman who, when she entered the profession in the 1980s, was a bit of a Lone Ranger.

“It would have been very easy to pick me out of the crowd at my first few meetings of the Society for Military History,” she said. “At that time, only a few women participated actively in society activities.”

But things change, she added.

Today, Reardon has become a respected historian among her peers.

“I certainly have not been ignored, based on gender or any other factor,” she said. 

Reardon will be sharing her expertise when she appears with other historians and authors at the Sacred Trust Talks and book signing event during the 150th Commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Held annually, the program is a casual take on a lecture series. This year’s focus is on topics relevant to 1863. Reardon will be appearing on Saturday, July 6, at 2:30 p.m. and will discuss “The Aftermath of the Battle: The Families of Gettysburg’s Union Dead versus the U.S. Pension Bureau.”

The event is free and open to the public and will take place at an outdoor tented area at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.

In addition to the talk, Reardon will be signing several of her books, including “Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory” and “A Field Guide to Gettysburg,” which she co-authored.

Reardon’s interest in military history began at an early age, the Gettysburg resident said.

“My father was a World War II veteran who became very active in the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) while I was growing up. My grade school and high school years included our family’s participation in a great number of public service activities at our VFW post,” she noted, “where I met veterans from both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. I grew up respecting their service and intrigued by their individual stories.  Nonetheless, my greatest interests centered on a conflict in which none of these veterans served.  The Civil War Centennial captured my imagination while I was in grade school and that became my first and greatest interest.”

Despite her love affair with history, initially, she said, she didn’t plan to make it her professional calling.

Instead, it became a hobby.

“In time, I received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Allegheny College and began a graduate program in ecology,” Reardon said. “One morning in grad school, though, I experienced a real ‘moment of clarity’ and I knew for certain that I wanted to transform my hobby — military history — into my career.”

While Reardon started out doing research and writing in the Civil War era, she eventually extended her expertise into the 20th century.

“The Vietnam era came later,” she said, “partly because it was the war of my youth and I felt a personal connection to it; but also from a commitment I made to the history professor who helped me switch from biology to history. He made me promise him that I would not become a ‘one-war wonder,’ that I would expand my interests in the Civil War to embrace the wider field of military history.”

As a person who has dissected the Civil War, Reardon said she understands why so many people are drawn to visit Gettysburg.

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