06 January 2015 by Published in: Civil War books and authors No comments yet

Layout 1Thanks to John M. Priest for the excellent review of The Devil’s to Pay: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour that appeared in the December issue of The Civil War News:

“The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour. By Eric J. Wittenberg. Photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 286 pp., 2014, Savas Beatie, www.savasbeatie.com, $32.95.

Until the publication of Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and the public release of the movie “Gettysburg,” only students of the Civil War had known anything about Brig. Gen. John Buford and his Federal cavalry division at Gettysburg.

Eric Wittenberg in “The Devil’s to Pay” has separated the real story from the popular one and has brought to life John Buford and his stalwarts who bought precious time until the Union infantry could arrive on the battlefield.

A West Point graduate, the Kentucky-born Buford had relatives who fought for the Confederacy. Ironically, a fellow classmate, Gen. Henry Heth, would open the Confederate attack on July 1 against Buford and his troopers.

Wittenberg meticulously describes the ties within the Buford family that the war tore asunder.

From there he goes into the opening shots by the cavalry on June 30 and carries the story through the end of July 2 when Buford’s division was relieved of duty.

He finishes the narrative with an analysis of Buford’s performance on the field and a detailed walking/driving tour of the cavalry positions on the field.

This book, which I could not put down, has completely changed my perspective on the role of Buford’s cavalry on July 1 and 2.

Without giving away everything I learned from this carefully crafted work, I will share a few of the generally unknown “gems” that I mined from its pages.

A.P. Hill, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia’s Third Corps, and his division commander Heth had decided the day before the battle to engage what they believed to be local militia despite orders not to bring on a general engagement.

Buford’s men, through very effective scouting as they approached Gettysburg, had gathered enough intelligence to inform Union Gen. John Reynolds of what to expect before the infantry advanced on Gettysburg.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Devin’s cavalry brigade engaged Gen. Robert Rodes’ division of Richard Ewell’s 2nd Corps before the Union 11th Corps arrived on the right of the Army of the Potomac. There is so much more to glean from this narrative that makes it worth exploring.

Wittenberg has skillfully filled a historical void in the Gettysburg story and has defined what really happened to Buford and his cavalrymen on that fateful July 1.

While historians have portrayed Buford as a visionary cavalryman, the author has cleared away the mythology surrounding him and has preserved for future generations an honest assessment of a solid, no-nonsense professional officer and the troopers who followed him.

The numerous citations from letters, memoirs and diaries, both military and civilian, make the action come alive. The flowing narrative involves readers in the heat of battle.

After reading this book, Gettysburg visitors should be able to stand before the monuments along the cavalry line and vividly remember the men they represent.

“The Devil’s to Pay” is essential reading for everyone, Civil War enthusiasts and novices, interested in the Battle of Gettysburg or Civil War cavalry.

John Michael Priest

I am humbled by Mike’s kind words and appreciate them a great deal. Please be sure to check out Mike’s latest, Stand to It and Give Them Hell: Gettysburg as the Soldiers Experienced it from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, July 2, 1863, which is quite a good book in its own right.

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