On Friday, I posted about a debate that we’ve been having within the management group of Ironclad Publishing. It prompted an e-mail exchange with Drew Wagenhoffer, who correctly identified the campaign that I described but went out of my way not to describe. That e-mail exchange, in turn, pointed out the inherent conflict between Gettysburg scholarship and the rest of the Civil War.
It never ceases to amaze me how many Gettysburg books have been written, and how deeply the Gettysburg craze goes. There are, for instance, multiple (at least six that I can think of off the top of my head) books that address nothing but the impact of the battle on the civilians of Gettysburg, as if that particular town was the only one so effected throughout the course of the war. Mark Nesbitt seems tomake a living writing books about, and advancing, Gettysburg ghost lore, having published half a dozen books just on that particular topic alone. There is a magazine devoted completely to the Battle of Gettysburg that has so far published something like 36 issues that delves into minutae like no other magazine I’ve seen. The depths of Gettysburg have been plumbed so deeply, in fact, that we’re left with utter garbage like Carhart’s book as the only “new” insights into the battle. Given that Carhart’s book is fiction masquerading as truth, that’s a pretty pathetic statement indeed.
The percentage of Civil War devoted to the Battle of Gettysburg seems to run close to 50%. This means that there are only a relatively small percentage of books devoted to the other 10,000 or so battles and skirmishes that took place during the Civil War. This means that there are still plenty of fascinating actions that deserve a detailed treatment but have been completely overlooked by history for whatever reasons. There are, likewise, other large and extremely important battles that have not received the sort of detailed examination that they deserve. Chickamauga and Shiloh are two that come to mind immediately. Chickamauga, in particular, deserves a good microtactical examination, but it has not received one. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s that the battle is not perceived as being decisive. Perhaps it’s because Braxton Bragg is such a thoroughly dislikeable fellow. Perhaps it’s that William S. Rosecrans, the Federal commander disgraced himself and trashed an otherwise admirable career by fleeing the battlefield in the midst of battle. Perhaps it’s the perception that books on the Western Theater of the war will not sell. Perhaps, most of all, it’s that neither Robert E. Lee nor Stonewall Jackson nor Ulysses S. Grant were there. Whatever the reason, Chickamauga has been treated as a red-headed stepchild by many in the Civil War community, but it was one of the most tactically interesting and strategically significant actions of the Civil War.
Another example comes to mind. There was, perhaps, no more important or significant campaign of the war than the Petersburg Campaign. Filled with hard, intense fighting interspersed among long periods of seeming inactivity, it was the Petersburg Campaign that ultimately broke the back of the Confederacy and finally hastened the end of the Civil War in the Eastern Theater. It involved both Lee and Grant, and the armies that seem to spark the most interest, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac. However, other than Noah Andre Trudeau’s book The Last Citadel, I am unaware of there being any other comprehensive study of the campaign. given that this campaign lasted eight months, I find that remarkable.
Personally, I’ve always been drawn to the obscure. The more obscure, the better. Things like Pickett’s Charge hold less than no interest to me. I couldn’t possibly care less about Pickett’s Charge, and if I never heard of it again, I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed. Although Gettysburg has traditionally been my first love, I’ve reached the point where I find the Battle of Chancellorsville more interesting. I’m much more interested in obscure actions such as the Wilson-Kautz Raid, or Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid, or Sterling Price’s 1864 Missouri Raid.
It seems to me that there ought to be a happy medium, and that there ought to be a way to level the playing field a bit and to ensure that some of these other actions also get the attention that they deserve. It’s long overdue, but I’m also not holding my breath. The book business is already hurting, and the odds of publishers taking chances on things that are worthy but which may not have the commercial appeal of a Gettysburg book instead of yet another ridiculous and fictional version of Lee’s “real” plan for the Battle of Gettysburg are, sadly, not good.Scridb filter