Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gettysburg: Top Ten

The battle of Gettysburg began 146 years ago today. Indeed, if I was around at the time, and if I had the ability to watch the events unfold from the safety of my back porch at my Carlisle Street residence while composing this post on the morning of July 1, I would be able to see General A.P. Hill's men advancing from the west, down the Chambersburg Pike. Off to my right, I'd be able to see Rodes's Division advancing toward Federal First Corps troops under General John Robinson on Oak Ridge. A small warehouse stood where my building is located today; a warehouse, no doubt, soon to become filled with wounded and dying men, many from the Eleventh Corps as they retreated along Carlisle Street on their way to Cemetery Hill.


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In recognition of Gettysburg's 146th Anniversary, Brett Schulte at TOCWOC (The Order of the Civil War Obsessively Compulsed) has orchestrated a cross-blog posting of all of our favorite books on the campaign and battle. Several months ago, Brett asked me and many of our fellow Civil War bloggers to participate. I agreed, not then realizing how truly difficult such an undertaking would be. The number of books pertaining to the three-day battle are legion. I sat down a few days ago and listed those works, which I believed to be the best for a wide audience, from the most ardent Civil War scholar and enthusiast to those simply wanting to learn why Gettysburg was of such consequence in American history. That list soon contained more than twenty titles. Narrowing that list down to the top ten was very difficult and, I must say, I am still having trouble with which ones to include. Selecting the top ten titles was difficult enough; ranking them from 1-10 was proving to be even more difficult, so I decided not to. And so, in no particular order, here are my top ten books on Gettysburg.
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My selections begin where I began, with a small 8.5" x 11" book entitled Gettysburg Sketches by Frederic Ray, which was first published in 1963 and has been reprinted many times since. This was my first "book" on the battle of Gettysburg, and I remember paging through it countless times as a kid. . .It is an excellent book for youngsters, a stepping-stone of sorts for further study.


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From here, we'll move on to another book that I first read when I was very young, entitled Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. I remember how, from start to finish, this book kept me rivetted and, although published in 1959, it is still one of, if not the best work on Pickett's Charge, or "The Lee-Longstreet-Pettigrew-Trimble-Pickett-Armistead-Garnett-Kemper-Marshall-Fry-Brockenbrough" Attack, or whatever it is referred to as today. ;)

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Next up is the standard, or mainstay work on Gettysburg by Edwin Coddington. No real explanation necessary.

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There are many overview books on the campaign and battle and picking from among them was tough, but I settled upon Sears's work as a good narrative, suitable for both the casual reader and the more serious student of the war.

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Even more so than the strategies and tactics of the Civil War, I enjoy reading about the lives of the individuals that orchestrated the strategies and carried out the tactics. It is no surprise, then, that my list of top Gettysburg books contains The Generals of Gettysburg, by Larry Tagg.

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Thomas Desjardin's These Honored Dead: How The Story of Gettysburg Shaped American Memory is a truly fascinating book, and well worth inclusion in this top ten.

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And, of course, so is Gettysburg: A Journey in Time, by William Frassanito, which was also one of the very first books I read on the battle.

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For the best account of a single day's action at Gettysburg, I have to go with Harry Pfanz's landmark Gettysburg: The Second Day, just an excellent all-around book.

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For helping me to finally make sense of the action in the Wheatfield/Stony Top area, I have to include Jay Jorgensen's Gettysburg's Bloody Wheatfield. Not only is the story told well, but the maps in this work are of great value.

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Finally, and if I do have the liberty, I am going to include the set of three Gary Gallagher-edited works that each focus on a particular day of the battle.

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Again, selecting the top ten was more difficult than I thought it would be. If permitted, let me include several "honorable mentions:" One Continous Fight, by Eric Wittenberg, J.D. Petruzzi, and Mike Nugent, The Gettysburg Gospel, by Gabor Borritt, Lincoln at Gettysburg, by Gary Wills, A Strange and Blighted Land, by Gregory Coco, Beneath A Northern Sky, by Stephen Woodworth, and Gettysburg: A Walk Through Hallowed Ground, by James McPherson.

5 comments:

Brett Schulte (TOCWOC - A Civil War Blog) said...

I've got three of yours in my Top 10 as well. It's been fun seeing what books everyone has chosen. I'm keeping my spreadsheet updated as everyone posts. It'll be fun to see which books got the most love. I've got a link up to your picks at the permanent site. Thanks for participating!

Chris Evans said...

Thanks for posting your top ten list. I have all ten of the books that you have in your main list. I also love the comic book style book by Frederic Ray that you have at the top of your list.
Thanks again,
Chris

Anonymous said...

I've been using Dejardin's book and his chapter on John Bachelder to prepare for my Aftermath program. (I'm taking a little bit longer view than my fellow rangers and looking at the retreat, the dead, the wounded and the hospitals, the town, and the evolution of the national military park.) Anyway, its a great book.

John C. Nicholas

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I hit the mouse too soon. Of course its a book! I meant a great book!

John C. Nicholas

Gary Dombrowski said...

Hey, I have three out of the ten, although I have checked out and read a few others from the library.
When I was a kid my cousin had another Fredic Ray comic type book called Drummer boy of Gettysburg (if I remember the title correctly). I believe the main "character" was a Confederate drummer. I've never been able to locate a copy of this. ~Gary