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