Gettysburg – The Last Invasion
By Allen C. Guelzo
Gettysburg – The Last Invasion (GLI) is an attempt by the author to take a fresh look at an often written about, studied and discussed battle; Gettysburg. Through numerous publications the general audience has come to learn and accept several events as truth, but Allen Guelzo attempts, and does a very good job, at disproving these beliefs.
In an easy to read 482 page book, the reader obtains a fresh look at the famous battle and the participants. Quoting numerous eye witness testimonies and Congressional inquiries, we see a new and well rounded picture of Gettysburg appear. Famous battles such as Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill, The Angle and The First Day are all examined anew from a fresh perspective. Doing so brings to light numerous points of new thoughts.
Examples of such are The First Day, in which Howard and his XI Corps are widely blamed for the collapse of the Union army. However, it is arisen that it was Howard, in charge of the Ist and XIth Corp after Reynolds death, who chose Cemetery Hill as the ‘final stand’ for the Union and in doing so ensured all artillery from both Corps were placed upon the ridge along with a full brigade of the XI Corps. It also comes to light that A.P. Hill could have swept the Ist Corps if he had committed more than half of his Corps instead of holding them in reserve.
Another example is that of Little Round Top, in which it is argued that Colonel Chamberlain ‘saved’ the Union from being flanked when he charged Colonel Oates 15th Alabama after they unsuccessfully charged his lines four times. Little Round Top is examined and it is made clear that even if the hill had fallen it would have been of little use as the top was so narrow that even Hazlett had to point two guns west, and two south-west and leave the caissons at the bottom of the hill forcing the ammunition to be stacked beside the guns as there was no room for the artillery to run back otherwise. Indeed a greater danger to the Union was Longstreet’s attack through the ‘wheat field’ and ‘peach orchard’ which broke the lines at least three times resulting in Confederate forces flanking the Union and only being repulsed by last minutes heroics.
Of greater interest is how much political infighting there was on both sides on the lines, but most notably in the Union. It appears that commanders were divided into two classes, “McClellanites” and “Non-McClellanites” and each was treated accordingly by Meade, who was a strong “McClellanite”. It is due to this fighting that when Sickles (a non-McClellanite) asked Meade to come and inspect the ground he had be assigned beside the II Corps, which was a depression with no more than 100 yards of visibility, that Meade responded “I don’t care what you do with your corps, position them as you please” and thus Sickles moved his corps forward. But the Confederate army did not escape either, with numerous cases of lethargy on brigade, division, and corps commanders being given, the worst being Longstreet and even Lee himself.
Each small point of battle that is discussed is accompanied with a well drawn map (70 in all) to clarify and aide the reader in understanding. There are also several pages of photographs that I, personally, have never seen before. All in all this is a wonderful book with new and alternative facts that make the reader question what they have been told and read over the years. Well worth the cover price it is a valuable collection to any library.
Some of us are busy doing things; some of us are busy complaining - Debasish Mridha