In the course of finishing the library project yesterday, I found something that I didn’t know that I had. My first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, was published in 1998. It won the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as the best new work interpreting the Battle of Gettysburg of 1998. The book has been out of print for four or five years now, and copies of the original edition have become quite rare. New copies of it sell for over $100, which amazes me. It’s a softcover book of about 140 pages, and it retailed for $12.95.
I have a new edition of the book coming out in just a few weeks. The new edition is being indexed as I write this. It’s fully revised, with a lot of new material being added. I’m excited about the new edition, but the original occupies a special place in my heart as my first book.
When I finished up the library project last night, I found a brand new copy of the 1998 edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions that I didn’t know that I had. It’s been years since I had one to sell, simply because it’s long out of print. It’s too close to the release date of the new edition, so I’m not going to try to sell it.
Instead, I’ve decided that I will give it away to one of you. We’re going to have a little contest. If you want it, leave me a comment that explains the reasons why you should be the one to get it. I will select the winner two weeks from today, and will announce the winner here on this blog. Have at it, and have fun!Scridb filter
For a couple of years now, I’ve been trying to get a handle on my library. It needed to be completely rearranged, and I needed a good place to put oversized books. Susan came up with a brilliant idea for how to accommodate that need. We got rid of the huge particle board computer desk, and replaced it with the Elfa shelving system from The Container Store. There are now three shelves of oversized books above the new desk, and I have a new desk and place for our old iMac computer.
So, here’s some library porn for you. Every book that you see in these photos is a book on the American Civil War.
Fortunately, after the reorganization, I have about a bookcase and a half left of empty space, so that there is still room left to grow.
I didn’t photograph them, but there are also three bookcases of other history books in the room, ranging from basic military history to presidential biographies, and pretty much everything in between. I also have a bookcase of nothing but books about the Revolutionary War in our bedroom next to my nightstand. And then there are Susan’s books…..
We like books.Scridb filter
Like every author who has had more than one work published, I have favorites among my various books. There are just certain projects for which I have a certain fondness, for whatever reason. In the case of Trevilian Station, it was my first campaign study, and the book was the first detailed tactical treatment of an important campaign. It was groundbreaking work, and that book was long been one of my favorites as a result.
Another of my favorites is also the source of a great deal of frustration for me. In 2003, my book The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863 was published by Brassey’s. To my displeasure, Brassey’s allowed it to go out of print, and when they refused to print a new edition of it, the rights to the book reverted to me. This is one of my very favorites of my work, as it covers a range of material never covered in real depth before, since, or anywhere else. There are several cavalry actions detailed in this volume that had never received a detailed treatment previously, and I’ve long been proud of it.
The problem is that I cannot find a publisher that would be willing to take a shot with it and bring it back into print. Hence, I face a variety of options:
1. Self-publish it as a print-on-demand book as originally published.
2. Self-publish it as a print-on-demand book as a completely revised edition with new maps.
3. Self-publish in Kindle/Nook format only (thanks to old friend John Geracimos for that suggestion).
4. Continue to look for a new publisher for it.
There are pluses and minuses to each. POD is fine, but I’ve always had questions about the quality of the books so published. I don’t have the cash or warehouse space at the moment to print a large quantity of them in order to have inventory on hand, so that’s not really an option for me. Publishers are hesitant to bring out a new edition of something that has already been published, and Ted Savas, of Savas-Beatie, who is already working on new editions of two of my prior books, has already passed on this one because he doesn’t think there’s a good market for a new edition.
It pains me to see this book out of print. I would really like to see it back in print, but I have limited options. What do you–my readers–think I should do? Please give me your opinions, as I value them. Thank you.Scridb filter
My friend and co-author J. D. Petruzzi and master cartographer Steve Stanley (who is doing the maps for my White Sulphur Springs book) have come out with an extremely useful little volume titled The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook: Facts, Photos, and Artwork for Readers of All Ages, June 9 – July 14, 1863 that was just published by Savas-Beatie. I can’t say enough good things about this book.
A couple of years ago, J.D. and Steve brought out their extraordinary guidebook to the Gettysburg battlefield that covers the battle in great detail and which also covers some really offbeat and off the beaten path aspects of the battle. However, some things had to be left out in the interest of space, and the new volume serves as a perfect companion to the Guide.
The new volume–softcover and small, for easy use on the battlefield–is precisely what the title suggests. It’s a very useful tool for anyone interested in visiting the battlefield. It includes lots of useful and interesting tidbits, such as a listing of all 64 winners of the Medal of Honor for the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as a brief description of why each individual was awarded the Medal. It discusses weather conditions during the battle. It includes lots of fascinating factoids about the battle, and it includes a series of quotes by participants that give the reader something to deeply ponder while on the battlefield. There is also a gallery of photos and capsule biographies of some of the more important but less known personalities of the battle, such as Lt. Col. Benjamin F. Carter of the 4th Texas Infantry, who was mortally wounded during the fighting for Little Round Top on July 2, 1863 and was then buried in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The last part of the book is a reading list for those interested in further reading and learning about the events of July 1-3, 1863.
The most important portions of the book are the extremely detailed order of battle and the descriptions of the three days of the battle itself. Written so that even a Civil War novice will understand them, these chapters provide an excellent overview of the battle. They, alone, are worth the purchase price.
The book is done in full color. There are lots of excellent photographs by Steve Stanley, and Steve’s maps are printed in full color. There is no cartographer in the business better or more talented than Steve Stanley, and his maps are presented here in their glory. The layout of the book is handsome and Savas-Beatie spared no expense in using Baxter paper to publish this volume. At only $18.95, this book is a real bargain.
I highly recommend The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook for anyone with an interest in the Gettysburg Campaign. Everyone–from novice to expert–will learn something new here. It should be required reading.Scridb filter
Last fall, I was asked to be a talking head in a documentary film on the July 6, 1863 Battle of Hagerstown, a critical moment during the retreat from Gettysburg. Whomever controlled Hagerstown controlled the direct route to Williamsport, Maryland and the Potomac River crossings needed by Robert E. Lee. In a nasty fight, the Confederates defeated Judson Kilpatrick, and Ulric Dahlgren suffered the wound that cost him a leg in the process.
Here’s the trailer for the film:
The film is about to premiere on the anniversary of the battle. Here’s the press release:
CITY OF HAGERSTOWN AND CVB INVITES YOU TO PREMIERE OF NEW DOCUMENTARY
July 6: New Documentary to Premiere About Battle of Hagerstown
(Hagerstown, MD) — On July 6, the City of Hagerstown and the Hagerstown-Washington County CVB will host a premiere showing of the newly completed documentary about the July 6, 1863 cavalry battle that took place on the streets of downtown Hagerstown.
Entitled “Valor in the Streets: The Battle of Hagerstown”, the premiere will take place at 7:00 pm at the Bridge of Life Center, 14 South Potomac Street.
Hosted by national television news personality Kelly Wright, the 30-minute documentary uses staged footage, historic photos and art, computer mapping and interviews with noted historians to relate the human interest stories that occurred during one of the largest urban cavalry battles of the Civil War, emphasizing the interaction between the soldiers of both sides and the local residents.
Tickets are $5 each and can be reserved by contacting the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 301-791-3246 extension 10, in person at the Visitor Center (located just off Public Square), or by email at email@example.com.
If not sold out in advance, tickets will be available at the door. The premiere showing is expected to sell out.
The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is sponsoring the premiere venue and the reception afterwards at the Bridge of Life Center.
This project was made possible through grants from the Hagerstown Trust Division of The Columbia Bank, the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the W.A. Hazel Construction Company.
The documentary was produced by Steven R. Bockmiller.
Washington County is home to five National Parks, eight State Parks, more than thirty museums, a minor league baseball team, a world-class professional symphony orchestra, more than twenty-one historic stone arch bridges, and is ranked first in Maryland for retail opportunities. For more information, see: www.marylandmemories.com.
The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization whose mission is to help attract visitors to Hagerstown and Washington County. The CVB helps to create vibrant growth for the local economy by promoting, developing, and expanding the local visitor industry. Washington County is part of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area (www.heartofthecivilwar.org), and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area (http://hallowedground.org). Washington County is also part of the Quad-State Tourism Coalition, a four-state tourism group along I-81. For more information, see: www.quadstate81.com. The Hagerstown-Washington County CVB was recently awarded the Maryland Cultural Heritage Tourism Award by Governor Martin O’Malley.
Susan and I will be attending the premiere, and I will be selling books afterward. Tickets are available by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone, 301-791-3246, x 10. I hope to see some of you there!Scridb filter
After much debate, and with some very valuable information provided by old friend Dave Powell, I took the plunge and bought a Barnes & Noble Nook yesterday. I got the black and white version largely because the color version is difficult to read in bright sunlight, and I anticipate taking the thing out into the field with me from time to time. The black and white version does quite nicely in bright sunlight. The color version also costs about $70 more than the one I bought.
The debate was whether to purchase the Nook or the Amazon Kindle. My plan was to use it for the public domain books that I download from sites like Google Book Search and Internet Archive. That way, I don’t have to spend a lot of time and money printing stuff out. Instead, I can simply access what I need on the Nook and have it there with me, either in the field, or when I’m writing. In theory, it will reduce the clutter in my work area, as I won’t need the xerox copies or the actual books surrounding me while I’m writing. It will save money on toner and paper, and will also save space, as I won’t need bookshelf space for books or three-ring binders filled with print-outs. That’s the theory, anyway.
I may also use the thing for the occasional book to read on an airplane or something like that, although I really prefer a real book in those circumstances. The jury’s still out on that one.
Dave Powell is an old friend and a Civil War historian whom I really respect. I had been debating doing this for quite a while, and finally sent Dave an e-mail the other day to ask him about this, as I seemed to remember that he had a device that he uses for precisely the same purpose as what I had in mind. Dave wrote back promptly, and his input pushed me to choose the Nook over the Kindle. I will explain why.
Both devices are very similar. Both use the e-Ink technology, so the displays are virtually identical. Both have built-in Wifi, and both have built-in free 3G wireless for downloading stuff and Internet browsing. The biggest issue is with capacity. The Kindle has decent capacity, but the problem is that the capacity cannot be expanded. The Nook has a micro-SD slot, and the device’s capacity can be increased by adding a micro-SD card. It’s up to the user to decide on the size of the card the user wishes to employ.
The reason why this is important is that things downloaded in the EPUB format are typically small files, which is why Kindle advertises it can hold like 3500 books on the device. However, EPUB has a lot of issues, many of which are poor translation into the digital format, typos, etc. It’s not entirely reliable, and you can get some funky stuff. Consequently, I prefer to use PDF’s. They’re a much more accurate translation of the original book, but they’re infinitely larger files. Because of that, the ability to expand capacity with a micro-SD card is really appealing. I put an 8GB micro-SD card into the Nook today, and that greatly expanded the device’s capacity.
The downside is that the image is a bit small (both the Kindle and the Nook have screens that are six inches on the diagonal) and the PDF print comes out a bit small. However, the reading glasses that are rarely far from my reach should alleviate that problem.
The other downside is that the Kindle came first, and the Kindle format is proprietary. Consequently, a Kindle book will not work on the Nook, and vice versa. However, because the Kindle came first, a lot of publishers only do Kindle versions and not Nook versions. Fortunately, one of my publishers, Savas-Beatie, does both Nook and Kindle versions, but that’s not always the case. That’s somewhat mitigated by the fact that my primary intent for the device is to use it for stuff downloaded in PDF format anyway. However, for some people, it is definitely a consideration.
In the end, I bought the Nook due to the expandability of capacity. We also bought Susan a Kindle at the same time, so it will be interesting to compare them and to see how it plays out as both get used. And, at under $200, if a better technology comes along that is also affordable, it will be easy enough to replace the thing with the latest and greatest toy without feeling like I’m making a big sacrifice.
I will keep you posted as to how the great experiment plays out as I proceed with my work. If anyone has a story or experience with either device to share, please feel free to weigh in.Scridb filter
For the 1001st post on this blog, I thought I would follow Prof. Glenn LaFantasie’s lead. Glenn has gone way out on a limb, and has published a list of his top 12 Civil War books of all time. For those who don’t know of Glenn and his work, he is the Richard Frockt Family Professor of Civil War History and Director of the Institute for Civil War Studies at Western Kentucky University and a good guy.
In creating his list, Glenn set certain parameters, and mine will follow the same parameters. He began:
I’ve only included books published after World War II, which means I’m leaving out a long shelf of good books issued before the second half of the 20th century, some of which still stand the test of time. Out of necessity, I’ve narrowly defined the universe from which I have picked my top dozen.
This limitation rules out any accounts by participants, as well as the works of Douglas Southall Freeman. He continued:
For example, I’ve not included any biographies on this list — an exclusion that some may find indefensible. No series or multivolume works are included here either, which means that Allan Nevins’ majestic “The Ordeal of the Union” (eight volumes), Bruce Catton’s “Centennial History of the Civil War” (three volumes), and Shelby Foote’s very popular “The Civil War” (three volumes) are not to be found below, despite the fact that they all qualify as masterpieces.
For this reason, I have ruled out all four of the excellent volumes of Gordon C. Rhea’s outstanding study of the 1864 Overland Campaign and Cap Beatie’s volumes on the Army of the Potomac.
So, with Glenn’s criteria in mind, here is my list, which, of course, is entirely subjective and represents my opinion only:
12. Edwin C. Fishel, The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War. This book is truly unique: it discovered something entirely new and unknown and then told the story in a very effective fashion. Anyone with even a passing history in the first three years of the war needs to read and understand this book. It completely changed my perspective on a lot of things and showed how good a job the Army of the Potomac did in turning up and using good intelligence to its benefit. The stories of the Colonel George Sharpe and the Bureau of Military Information were untold for far too long.
11. Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. There is, of course, a multitude of books on the Lincoln assassination. In my humble opinion, there is none that does a better job of explaining and analyzing the conspiracy.
10. Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day. This book, by the former chief historian of the Gettysburg National Military Park, is perhaps the finest micro-tactical history of a Civil War battle yet written. With exhaustive detail and fine writing, Pfanz carefully details the sledgehammer Confederate assault on the Union left at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.
9. Carol Reardon, Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory. Professor Reardon focuses on the memory of the Civil War through the microcosm of how the veterans of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg saw their experiences and shows how time distorts the accuracy of memory. This book is a must for those who study Civil War historiography.
8. Kenneth W. Noe, Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle. I’m not typically enamored of social history or of the so-called “new military history,” which incorporates social history as a major element of the narrative for the simple reason that strategy, tactics, and decision-making are what interest me, not social history. However, Ken Noe’s outstanding campaign study is perhaps the best example of the good things about the new military history that has yet been published. By carefully weaving the social history aspects into an excellent battle narrative, Ken Noe has written one of the best studies of the Civil War in Kentucky ever done.
7. John J. Pullen, Twentieth Maine: A Classic Story of Joshua Chamberlain and His Volunteer Regiment. Pullen’s classic study of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry is considered to be the prototype for the modern unit history. It, along with Alan Nolan’s excellent history of the Iron Brigade, set the standard for the rest of us to follow in documenting the history of famous units of the Civil War.
6. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom. Although it lacks in military detail, as one might expect of a one-volume narrative history of the Civil War, this book is by far the single best one-volume history of the military, political, and economics of the Civil War era yet published. It’s the book I always recommend to newbies.
5. John J. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. In my humble opinion, this is, hands-down, THE finest one-volume tactical Civil War campaign study ever written. Period.
4. Joseph L. Harsh, Taken at the Flood: Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. If John Hennessy’s study of the Second Bull Run Campaign is the best tactical study of a campaign, then Joe Harsh’s Taken at the Flood is the finest overall campaign study ever published. This book, epic in scope, covers the entire 1862 Maryland Campaign and completely recast most of the prior art by determining Robert E. Lee’s strategy for the campaign and then analyzing its execution in light of that strategy. Deeply researched and magnificently written, this book deserves a prominent place on the bookshelf of anyone claiming to have an interest in the Civil War.
3. Alan T. Nolan, Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History. Revisionist in scope, and written as a lawyer’s brief, Nolan tackled the greatest icon of the Lost Cause and made him human. This book was critical to my own thinking on Lee and provided me with the role model for one of my own books. You may not agree with everything Nolan says, and some of it may anger you, but you will come away from this book having reconsidered your own positions on Robert E. Lee. At the end of the day, no historian can hope for more.
2. Edwin B. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. Simply put, this book is the Bible for the student of the Gettysburg Campaign. Featuring excellent tactical detail as well as deep analysis, this book is mandatory reading for any student of the Gettysburg Campaign.
1. American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. This is probably the only cross-over from Glenn’s list. He has it at no. 12. For me, it was my first Civil War book, and I still find myself drawn to Bruce Catton’s perfect prose, the coolest maps ever published in any Civil War book, and its gorgeous photography. My eleven-year-old nephew asked me for a Civil War book that would be appropriate for him last month, and this is the one that I chose for him. My first Civil War book is now his first Civil War book, and I know that neither Adam nor I are alone in making that particular claim. I checked this book out of the library literally dozens of times and no other Civil War book has influenced me more than this magnificent classic did. All else pales in comparison.
For what it’s worth, that’s my list. I’d like to invite you, my readers, to make up your own list and publish it here in the comments if you like. The rules are simple: keep it civil, use the same criteria that Glenn established, and have fun.Scridb filter
The Battle of Brandy Station:
North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle
By Eric S. Wittenberg
(November 2010 Civil War News)
Illustrated, photographs, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, 271 pp., 2010, The History Press, www.historypress.net, $24.99, softcover.
The History Press continues its Civil War Sesquicentennial Series with another concise history of a major battle in the war — this time the June 9, 1863, fight at Brandy Station between the cavalry forces of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.
Veteran Civil War cavalry author Eric Wittenberg brings his considerable skills to the task of describing this important opening of the Gettysburg Campaign.
The author states that this book is not intended to be the definitive work on the battle. He notes that an upcoming work by Clark B. “Bud” Hall promises to be more comprehensive. That said, Wittenberg’s book is, in this reviewer’s opinion, superior to the 1959 Fairfax Downey account, Clash of Cavalry, which has long been the standard work.
The Battle of Brandy Station presents a compelling narrative of the events leading up to the momentous clash of June 9, along with concise mini-biographies of the leading participants.
Each side’s plans and movements are described and analyzed. The fluid and chaotic account of the fighting is handled with great ease by an author well-versed in the details of cavalry fighting.
Superb action maps by Steve Stanley add greatly to the combat narrative. Photographs and illustrations of participants, period views and modern locales are generously interspersed throughout the text.
Two appendices accompany the account — orders of battle for both Federal and Confederate forces plus a walking and driving tour of the battlefield that includes GPS coordinates. An extensive bibliography is included along with copious endnotes. Unfortunately there is no index.
Wittenberg is even-handed, covering both sides in detail and meting out praise and criticism often to the same individuals. His use of first-person accounts and a well-honed ability to describe cavalry fighting bring the thunder of thousands of hooves, the clang of steel upon steel and the crack of carbines to life for the reader.
As a work on a very important episode in the development of cavalry fighting in the Civil War, this book is highly recommended.
Reviewer: Kenneth Williams
Kenneth D. Williams is writing a book on the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers and is doing doctoral level work in American history. He has worked as a park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site.
Luckily, the second edition of the book now includes a full index, which is a significant improvement. I had understood that the first edition would have included one, and was disappointed when it didn’t. Fortunately, The History Press heard enough complaints about the lack of an index–including mine–and has now added one.
Thank you very much for the kind words, Ken. I really appreciate it.Scridb filter
This post is a month overdue, and I regret that. I’ve been struggling with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, and I have been trying to keep from typing as much as possible. I actually have been largely avoiding it, and it’s paid off, because the symptoms–quite painful and unpleasant, by the way–have abated some. The trade-off for that is that there just haven’t been any posts since September 30. Please forgive me for that.
Prof. Joseph L. Harsh of George Mason University passed away on September 13. After overcoming modest roots in Hagerstown, Maryland, Joe dedicated his entire life to the study of the 1862 Maryland Campaign, and wrote an absolutely brilliant strategic analysis of the first Confederate invasion of the north. He then followed it up with two excellent companion volumes that are now the cornerstone of most modern analyses of the campaign. As a young graduate student, Joe helped Jim Murfin write his classic study of the Maryland Campaign, The Gleam of Bayonets.
Unfortunately, Joe wasn’t one to take care of himself, and he lived large. Consequently, he left this world too young, leaving his life’s work unfinished. Before a series of strokes robbed him of the ability to do the sort of deep analysis that he was known for, Joe had started on the accompanying analysis of the Union side. That he won’t get to finish it is really too bad, because his Confederate studies of the campaign needed that bookending to be complete.
I have my own debt of gratitude to Joe Harsh. About twelve years ago, Dr. John Hubbell, then the director of the Kent State University Press, and an old friend of Joe’s, invited both of us to give talks at a Civil War symposium that John had organized at Kent State. Prof. Bill Blair of Penn State University was also on the program (my talk there, by the way, was the first time I ever gave a talk on Stuart’s Ride in the Gettysburg Campaign, and we all know where that led). The night before, the four of us went out to dinner and had a perfectly delightful meal that featured sparkling conversation. I was just finishing up the writing of my book on Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid of June 1864, and we started discussing my conclusions about Sheridan’s conduct of the raid.
I explained how disappointed I was with my conclusions about Sheridan, not the least of which was that Sheridan was a very mediocre general, a pathological liar and a really bad human being. We discussed my conclusions at length, and Joe suggested that I put those conclusions in writing, and that got me thinking. By the time I got home the next day after the seminar, I had my book Little Phil mapped out in my head. The book is intentionally controversial and intentionally not objective, and says so, but a lot of people just don’t get that. We stayed in touch for a while after that dinner, I specifically discussed that with Joe, who loved that idea and encouraged it. Then Joe had the first stroke, and dropped off the radar screen. However, but for my knowing Joe Harsh, that book would never have been written, and for that I will aways be grateful. I likewise will always have warm memories of Joe, who impacted my work in a very real way.
We in the Civil War community are fortunate that Joe worked among us, and that he left such an excellent legacy of great work behind. We’re even more fortunate that Joe passed the torch the way Jim Murfin passed the torch to him. Although Joe’s books are great contributions and a brilliant legacy, his greatest legacy is in the form of his protege, my friend, Prof. Tom Clemens, who is carrying on Joe’s work, just as Joe carried on Jim Murfin’s work. Joe will be missed, but I’m glad to know that his legacy is in Tom’s very capable hands. I hope he rests in peace.Scridb filter
Marc Charisse, the editor of the Hanover Evening Sun wrote an interesting editorial for yesterday’s edition of the paper, addressing the many great books on the Battle of Gettysburg that cram his bookshelves. He gave a list of what he feels are ten indispensable books on the campaign, and J.D.’s and my Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg made the list. Here’s the editorial:
Books battling for attention
By MARC CHARISSE
Posted: 06/13/2010 01:00:00 AM EDT
“Of making many books there is no end,” Ecclesiastes tells us, “and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
Every year about this time, a whole new bevy of Gettysburg books appears on the shelves. And every year, I pack my worn artillery haversack full of weighty tomes to take out on the battlefield.
But the weariness comes mostly when I find that despite all those new titles, there is, to quote Ecclesiastes again, “nothing new under the sun.”
Mostly, I find myself packing those tried and true titles that have gotten me through the vicissitudes of Little Round Top, the chaos of the Wheatfield and the perils of Pickett’s Charge. But last November, I finally found the book that could safely guide me across Gettysburg all by itself.
So out of the dozens of Gettysburg books I’ve perused (or at least skimmed) here’s my top-10 titles for understanding the battle, the ones that deserve a second, or even a third careful reading.
1. “The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command,” by Edwin Coddington, was published more than 40 years ago, and still remains to most experts the best single-volume book on Lee’s 1863 invasion. At 600 pages, plus 200 pages of notes, Coddington isn’t light reading, but it’s the beginning of any serious study of the Gettysburg campaign. The old Confederate controversies are all there, but a century after the battle, Coddington returns needed focus to the Union leadership that did, after all, win the battle.
2. “Gettysburg: The Second Day,” by former chief Park Service historian Harry Pfanz is easily the most beautifully written book I’ve read on Gettysburg. Pfanz weaves together the complex operations and the lives and experiences of the men who fought and died on this bloodiest day of the three-day battle. July 2 had the greatest number of opportunities and disasters on both sides, and Pfanz masterfully shows his reader exactly why it was the decisive day of the battle,
3. “Gettysburg Day Two: A Study in Maps.” I picked up my copy of John Imhof’s 1999 collection of tactical maps in a remainder pile in downtown Gettysburg a few years ago for a few dollars. Expect to pay hundreds if you can find one for sale now. No source beats the detailed tactical evolutions depicted on Imhof’s regimental-level maps. And with some showing movements as little as 20 minutes apart, you can finally visually grasp the unfolding of the second day. “Maps of Gettysburg” by Bradley Gottfried is an acceptable substitute, and it also covers the first and third days, though not in the same glorious tactical detail.
4. “Pickett’s Charge” by George Stewart is hard to follow in places if you aren’t already well versed in July 3 troop movements. But as it shifts its focus back and forth between antagonists, it captures the confusion and emotional truth of war. In the end, it delivers a cohesive picture of the great charge and its heroic repulse, but the book’s real power is in the haunting mental images it conjures of men in battle.
5. In “Gettysburg: A Journey in Time,” William Frassanito changed the way we look at the battlefield. His research into early battlefield photography, and discovery of many new images, tell a timeless story in words and pictures. Besides, the many then-and-now pairings are eerily fun to recreate. Frassanito’s two then-and-now collections, and even his massive “Early Photography at Gettysburg” usually manage to get squeezed into my haversack as well.
6. Pfanz’s “Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill” isn’t quite as wonderful as his “Second Day.” But it’s a solid, highly readable study of this neglected, yet unique and fascinating part of the battle.
7. “Plenty of Blame to Go Around,” by Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi is the best study of J.E.B. Stuart’s famous ride around the Union army. It includes detailed descriptions of the battles of Hanover and Hunterstown, as well as an excellent driving tour. A great book.
8. “Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg” by John Busey and David Martin is a compendium of the losses at Gettysburg, killed, wounded and captured, regiment by regiment, followed by charts and tables of comparative losses. But in its stark, typewritten pages are ultimately poignant records of the human cost of war.
9. “The Gettysburg Gospel” by Gabor Boritt. For many years, Gary Wills’ “Lincoln at Gettysburg” has been my favorite book on the November address that redefined the battle and the nation. But Boritt’s work is as thoughtful and a better read. A little less erudite, perhaps, but ultimately a richer retelling of the story.
10. “The Complete Gettysburg Guide.” At last, the one book I’d take to Gettysburg if I could only take one book. It’s got everything – walking tours, driving tours, battle maps, monuments and battlefield lore. In a way, Petruzzi’s new book is too good, pointing out all those cool rock carvings, dinosaur fossils and other hidden battlefield stuff some of us had to spend years to find.
If you see me on the battlefield, I’ll let you take a look at my copy. I’ll be easy to spot – the guy dragging that old leather bag stuffed with books up the side of Little Round Top.
Marc Charisse is editor of The Evening Sun. E-mail: email@example.com
I’m honored to be included in such stellar company. Thanks for the kind words about our work, Marc. It’s much appreciated.
Congratulations to J.D. and Steve Stanley for the inclusion of their excellent Complete Gettysburg Guide on the list, meaning that J.D. and Harry Pfanz to appear on the list twice. That’s really an honor, J.D.Scridb filter