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Fight Like the Devil: The First Day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863

The first day of the Battle of Gettysburg is sometimes overlooked by students of the battle, dismissed as a mere prelude to the more significant combat taking place on 2d and 3d July, 1863. Many casual students of the battle recall the first day for the “missed opportunity” when the Confederate Army failed to seize Culps and Cemetery Hills at the end of the day. This failure permitted the Federal Army to rally on this commanding ground, then fortify and reinforce the terrain to anchor their defensive line for the next two days of battle.

The authors argue that the first day’s fight deserves greater attention from the Civil War students, and have written a provocative if brief history and driving-tour guide to assist visitors better understand the significance of the fighting north and west of Gettysburg town.

Part of the successful Emerging Civil War series, this book is the first of at least three that Savas Beatie will publish on the Battle of Gettysburg. The authors are all former or current National Park historians and together have published over a dozen books on Civil War topics.

After a short review of the Confederate invasion and the Federal countermoves, the narrative chronologically reviews the first day’s events, completing each episode with a ‘Stop;’ generally a statue or battlefield marker. These dismount points are provided with GPS coordinates, and the text orients the reader to the ground, as an aid in better understanding the importance of the terrain to the event.

The authors contradict two of the ‘myths’ of the Battle of Gettysburg, devoting space in the main narrative and in more detailed appendices:  That Gettysburg contained large supplies of shoes, and that Stonewall Jackson could have and would have seized the high ground south of Gettysburg, had he been spared to command his troops that day.

For me those appendixes, and several others written by noted experts such as Eric Wittenberg, are the most interesting parts of the book. One appendix re-considers the ability of Federal General John Reynolds (who was killed during the first day’s battle and is often given credit for choosing Gettysburg as a battleground). Another explains the significance of General George Meade’s “Pipe Creek” memorandum, and still another explains just what happened in the course of General Stuart’s ride around the Federal Army and why Stuart’s absence disabled General Lee’s campaign plan.

The authors pack a great deal of information into this small book. The maps are very well done and will add considerably to understanding unit movements. It is a good beginner’s guide to the battle.

 

Reviewed by David Lady

That Furious Struggle: Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy, May 1-4, 1863

Chancellorsville is a classic in the study not only of the Civil War and military history in general, but also of leadership, risk-taking, and military tactics.

The First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) on July 21, 1861, had shown that indeed there would be large-scale, open war between north and south.  The Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) had shown that the war would be long, hard-fought, and bloody.  And as the 1863 campaign season got underway, with major battles already having been fought in all theaters, the war appeared to stretch indefinitely into the future.

Thus the armies of Robert E. Lee the Army of Northern Virginia, and Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker the Army of the Potomac faced each other in April-May, 1863, across the Rappahannock River in a thickly-wooded region known as “the Wilderness” west of Fredericksburg.  The Army of the Potomac was the Union’s premier maneuver force in the Eastern Theater.  Steeped in the theories of Antoine-Henri Jomini (as were all that had attended West Point before the war), Union leadership looked to the east (principally Virginia) as the critical theater of war.  Several times the Army of the Potomac had sought decisive victory in major set-piece battles.  And despite not yet having achieved victory, Major General Hooker intended to have another go at it.  As with his predecessors, he was confident of victory (and admittedly, his, was a good plan of maneuver), yet he was just as unsuccessful as they had been.  What makes this battle particularly interesting was that General Lee had absented a major portion of his force (First Corps, under Lieutenant General James B. Longstreet) south to Suffolk, Virginia and nearby parts of North Carolina to forage for food and supplies for the Army of Northern Virginia.  Thus General Lee and a reduced Army of Northern Virginia faced a reinvigorated AoP and, making great use of Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, had to execute some truly brilliant tactics to once again defeat it.

Mackowski and White capture the battle with a concise, yet reasonably detailed description of the engagements, supporting movements, and the key personalities, including an excellent description of the wounding of Jackson.  The writing is generally crisp and effective, and is supported by maps of sufficient detail to allow the reader to understand the action.  There are a large number of photos and diagrams from the time, as well as more current photos of the terrain that will facilitate touring the battlefield, although some of these are dark with resultant loss of detail.  The book includes five appendices on related topics, a detailed order of battle for both sides down to regimental and battery level, and a suggested reading list for further study.

All in all, this is a good primer on the campaign.  But it is more than that.  The book’s strength is its battlefield tour guide.  Interwoven into the text, it will facilitate the planning of personal and professional tours of all or parts of the battle area, particularly for families with elementary through high school children who want to walk and see the ground over the course of a two or three-day weekend, perhaps with evening readings as a review of the coming day’s tour.  The Chancellorsville battlefield is a beautiful piece of ground and would make for a great family outing.  Mackowski’s and White’s book would provide an ideal supplement.

 

Review by Emil Posey

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