Stephen W. Sears
Over the years, there have been hundreds of books and articles written about Gettysburg and many have tried to recount the reasons why the Union Army defeated the Army of Northern Virginia at this small Pennsylvania town.
Some have tried to put a personal spin on the event by telling it from the participants view while others have put it into a dull and dusty recounting of the battle.
Mr. Sears effort is a very informative and entertaining effort. While he doesn’t try to tell the story as in the style of THE KILLER ANGELS neither does he relate it in a dull classroom monotone. He gives life to Lee, Longstreet, Meade, and makes it seem like you are there in the council of war.
Mr. Spears did his homework and the research into this pivotal battle shows through by his recounting of events leading to Lee deciding to go back North following his victory at Chancellorsville. He recounts how Grants action around Vicksburg triggered the 15 May conference in Richmond which in turn led to Davis approving the second invasion of the North by Lee.
The West was being nibbled away by Federal armies under Grant in Mississippi, Rosecrans in Tennessee was being held to a standoff by Confederate General Bragg, who couldn’t send much help to Pemeberton in Vicksburg. At this point, the Confederate Forces were stretched very close to the breaking point. This in turn led to political pressure being exerted on Jefferson Davis to do something to repair the events in the West.
One of the proposals was to dispatch reinforcements from the East in the form of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Pete Longstreet. Longstreet and two of his divisions had already been sent to Southeastern Virginia, Longstreet proposed that the remaining two divisions of the 1st Corps be detached and then sent west. Longstreet reasoned that by combining his command with troops from Joe Johnston’s command and that of Bragg’s they could begin a offensive in Central Tennessee against Rosecrans. Once Rosecrans was defeated, the Army of Tennessee would push on westward and erase the threat of Grant on Vicksburg.
Lee did not hold with this reasoning as he thought that come spring the Army of the Potomac would open a offensive on the Rappahannock and that he could not hold the line with only half the Army of Northern Virginia.. Should the North not move against him, Lee would take the initiative and go North, which would require all of his troops. Lee also did not think that shifting forces all across the Confederacy would be nothing but a logistical nightmare…
Mr. Sears goes on to relate the debate on the course of action needed by the Confederacy in the spring of 1863. He makes the political dueling come to life as he relates each argument for and against the course of action put forward by the Confederate High Command.
As the book goes forward, the failures and successes of the invasion are revealed and in many cases he makes the reader stop and yells at Stuart not to go for one of his famous rides around the Yankee army. He shows how the Federal Army was beginning to jell into an effective force as the Union cavalry demonstrated at Brandy Station for example.
He also goes into the political infighting in both armies- most notably in the way General Hooker was removed from command of the Army of the Potomac., and in the way that Lee ‘s orders not to bring a organized battle was disregarded by Heth when he moved into Gettysburg and engaged Buford’s Cavalry and the elements of the Union 1st and 11th Corps on the 1st of July.
As the reader turns each page the battle seems to come alive and grows as both armies converge and collide at the little town. And like a small spark is fanned into a raging fire by the wind, the Battle of Gettysburg seems to take a life of it’s own as the battle rages over the next 3 days..
Mr. Spear’s writing is concise and well thought out. It seems to pick you up and enfolds you into the events that he is writing about. You seem to be able to see the flash of the bayonets in the sunlight, the terrible crashing of the cannon, smell the acrid smoke of the battle field, and though you know the outcome, you still ache to see the mistake being made that results in the beginning of the end of the Confederate States of America.
GETTYSBURG is the second book of a series, the first being CHANCELLORSVILLE . Having read both, I suggest that you read them in order, which by doing so will give you a better picture of the 1863 campaign.
GETTYSBURG has several well detailed maps and numerous pictures illustrating it. It is comes in at 622 pages long and has an extensive bibliography of resources that the author used It is not a book that one can consume at one sitting, It is so packed with information that it demands one to read and think about the subject.
For those of us that play the BATTLEGROUND: GETTYSBURG game it is a excellent tutor on the strategy and the tactics involved in fighting the battle . The maps are especially good to orient yourself by as well as giving you insights into how to handle your opponent in a PBEM encounter.
I recommend it highly and it deserves a spot on every Civil War shelf. It rates a 4.5 stars and is the first book in the Gazette’s Library.
GETTYSBURG is published by HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY, Boston , Mass
Retail price @ $30.00
Stephen W. Sears is the author of six award winning books on the Civil War, which includes
LANDSCAPE TURNED RED: The Battle of Antietam,
TO THE GATES OF RICHMOND: The Peninsula Campaign
GEORGE B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon
CONTROVERSIES & COMMANDERS: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac
FOR COUNTRY,CAUSE, AND LEADER: The Civil War Journal of Charles B. Haydon
THE CIVIL WAR PAPERS OF GEORGE B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence 1860-
ON CAMPAIGN WITH THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC: The Civil War Journal of Theodore A. Dodge
The Chicago Tribune has called him “the finest and most provocative Civil War historian writing today,”
He is a former editor of American Heritage.
Reviewed by Lloyd H. Cole, Col. 3rd Va Cavalry Division, II Corps, Army of Northern Va,