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Letters: Battle Of Gettysburg, Great American Symphony


Now to your letters. Yesterday we reported on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The occasion drew thousands of tourists to the Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania. And our story drew plenty of your letters because of an error.

Kathy Ewing(ph), of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, is one of the many listeners who knows her Civil War history and wrote to us. She says this: I was shocked to hear your reporter promulgate the frequently misunderstood statistic about casualties in the Battle of Gettysburg. He cited 50,000 deaths in the three-day battle. If this sounds unbelievable it's because it is. She goes on: 50,000 is the estimate of casualties - dead, wounded or missing.

Ms. Ewing goes on to say that many of those men may have later died of their wounds but the number of casualties, of course, far exceeds the number of men killed in the battle. Indeed, she is correct.


CORNISH: According to this big book we have here in the NPR library called "Warfare and Armed Conflicts: Third Edition," the total number of dead from the Battle of Gettysburg reached more than 7,000. That's an estimated 3,155 Union soldiers and 3,903 Confederates.


CORNISH: Now to a different question of American history. My co-host Robert Siegel posed this question on our program yesterday: Is there a great American symphony? He asked his guest, conductor JoAnn Falletta.


Should we just concede the match here and say, you know, this is a European art form and it was mature by the time Americans started writing music for orchestra, anyway. We do lots of other wonderful music. The great American symphony is like a - as someone once said in another context - the tallest skyscraper in Topeka, Kansas.

CORNISH: That drew this letter from an American composer named Jeffrey Bishop(ph). He writes: I happened to be driving past the very same skyscraper in Topeka when he made that comment. I commute to and from the Kansas City suburb where I teach high school orchestra. He says, I wanted you to know that music educators across this country are instilling in our students the importance of our American musical heritage. It may not be the great American novel or the great American movie, but it is alive and kicking.

Granted, Mr. Bishop continues, not everyone can write like Barber or Copeland or Ellington. But there are those of us who are teaching the next generation of composers through our very own American music.


CORNISH: Mr. Bishop sent us his own "American Folk Song Symphony" to emphasize this point.


CORNISH: Well, something on this program strikes a chord or hits a sour note for you, we want to hear about it. Go to NPR.org and click on Contact Us at the bottom of the page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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