Silent Sentinels, A Reference Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg, by George W. Newton, El Dorado Hills: Savas Beatie LLC, 2017, A Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table review by Emil L. Posey,
In the US Army, Field Artillery is known as the “King of Battle” since, as the saying goes, it lends dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl. Another theory around the US Army Field Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma is that field artillery has this moniker because the Infantry is known as the “Queen of Battle”, and the artillery’s role is “to put the balls where the Queen wants them”. Crude, but more accurate. The mission of field artillery is to “destroy, defeat, or disrupt the enemy with integrated fires to enable maneuver commanders to dominate in unified land operations” – in other words, to rain shot and shell on the enemy. Gettysburg was a prime example of how this mission was managed and accomplished during the Civil War.
The overarching purpose of Silent Sentinels is to facilitate a visit to the Gettysburg battlefield. In that sense, it is a travel guide but more so; Newton provides a wealth of visual, technical, and performance data on the various types of artillery and ammunition used in the battle and, thereby, helps the visitor understand the decisive role artillery played on both sides.
The book gets off to a fast start with the Foreward, in which Bradley Gottfried warms us up with an excellent thumbnail comparative assessment of Union and Confederate artillery at Gettysburg. He speaks to the famous charge on Day 3 as an example of the lethality field artillery properly employed had achieved by the time of the Civil War.
Newton picks it up well from there. After a brief Introduction that includes suggestions on how to use this book while touring the battlefield, he provides an overview of the campaign leading up to the battle, the battle itself, and its aftermath. He introduces us to some of the key players in the battle, including some revolving around artillery. While he uses some good maps to aid his narrative (including a detailed map showing both sides’ battery locations on Day 3), he doesn’t go into much detail concerning the how and why – the tactics and the thought behind them – of employment by either side during the battle. He goes on to provide extensive data on types of Civil War artillery pieces and ammunition, and even characteristics of artillery horses, and talks (again, all to briefly) on artillery organization on both sides during the war and loading and firing procedures. Throughout, his discussion is supported by terrific schematics, diagrams, and charts.
Newton then talks about the guns on the battlefield today, with extensive background on sources and how they came to be there, before walking us through a suggested tour of the battlefield. His tour description makes up somewhat for the lack of employment detail in previous parts by pointing us to personalities and circumstances at each of his recommended stops, often with quotes from period reports, letters and journals – some really fascinating first-person material. He ends the main body of the book with a trivia chapter full of delightful insights and details.
The appendices are treasure to most military history enthusiasts: a detailed artillery order of battle (OB) for both sides (including commanders, number and types of gun, unit strengths, and casualties), a breakdown of each side’s batteries by state (including commander, armament, and higher unit of assignment), and biographical sketches and official reports from a selection of artillery commanders on each side. The reports are most helpful in catching up on some of the how and why of employment. Finally, he provides a brief glossary.
This book is a valuable resource even if you aren’t going to the battlefield, and I recommend it highly. It is an easy, quick read. More importantly, it is a book that you will return to again and again as a reference on artillery used at Gettysburg. Enjoy!
Your reviewer is Emil L. Posey, former Vice President of the TVCWRT, now continuing to support by being part of the Stage Crew. His work history spans almost 45 years of military and civilian service to our country. He retired from NASA/George C. Marshall Space Flight Center on December 27, 2014. He has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Hood College, Frederick, Maryland; is a former president of the Huntsville chapter of the National Contract Management Association, and is a life member of the Special Forces Association. He is also a member of Elks Lodge 1648 (Huntsville, AL) and the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society. He is a dedicated bibliophile, and is a (very) armchair political analyst and military enthusiast.