American Heritage History of the Battle of Gettysburgby Craig L. Symonds
Now, in the classic tradition of the widely praised
Gettysburg was the deadliest battle of the deadliest war in American history. More Americans fell during those thre days in July 1863 than in any other battle in any other war before or since, and its place has been lodged in the firmament of history as the defining moment of our nation's most dramatic conflict.
Now, in the classic tradition of the widely praised The American Heritage New History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton and James McPherson and American Heritage New Hitory of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose and C. L. Sulzberger, comes a beautiful, lavishly illustrated history of Gettysburg, written by acclaimed historian Craig L. Symonds. It offers a stirring narrative that captures the personalities and decisions of the generals in command and the struggles of the soldiers on both sides of the battlefield. Filled with hundreds of stunning color photographs, drawings, and maps, as well as a score of focused essays and eyewitness accounts, this is a book taht breathes new life into the battle that helped decide the fate of America.
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Taken at the Flood
(May 1-June 2, 1863)
The sequence of events that led to the Battle of Gettysburg began in May in a 300-square-mile tangle of scrub and undergrowth in Virgina just south of where the Rapidan River flows into the Rappahannock, an area known locally as the Wilderness. Since the previous spring, when Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had pulled back from his Manassas bivouac to settle in behind the protective barrier of the Rappahannock River, the Rapidan-Rappahannock line had constituted what one scholar has termed the "dare mark" of the Confederacy. Federal armies crossed that line at their peril. One the so-called Army of Virginia under Major General John Pope tried in the summer of 1862 only to scuttle back to Manassas where it was routed in the Second Battle of Bull Run. Another this one under Ambrose Burnside tried in December, assailing the heights behind Fredericksburg for most of a day before Burnside reluctantly but wisely gave up the effort. In May 1863 yet another Federal general Joseph Hooker accepted the dare.
Hooker's trespass across the dare mark was the most carefully planned and skillfully executed of the three. Holding Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in place at Fredericksburg with two of his seven army corps, Hooker led the other five on a lengthy flank march upriver. They crossed the Rappahannock twenty miles upstream, then swung south and east across the Rapidan to take up a position ten miles behind Lee's army near a small Wilderness crossroads named for the Chancellor mansionand marked on the maps as Chancellorsville.
Hooker's maneuver was little short of brilliant. Indeed, it was so effective that Hooker himself was convinced that it would compel Lee to give up his position at Fredericksburg indeed, give up the line of the Rappahannock altogether and fall back to the next logical defensive position, at the North Anna River. On May 1, Hooker halted his army in the wilderness area around the Chancellor mansion and waited for his enemy to retreat. When he received a report from his III Corps commander, Daniel Sickles, that a column of Confederate infantry was moving southwesterly across his front, Hooker accepted this as evidence that Lee was in fact retreating, and he resolved to let him go.
But Lee was not in retreat. True to his character as a commander who was willing to take long chances, Lee had dispatched his most trusted lieutenant, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, on a maneuver at least as brilliant as Hooker's, and even more daring. Leaving himself with only about 15,000 men to face Hooker's main body, Lee sent Jackson's corps on a daylong twenty-mile march, first southwest, then northwest, to find the enemy rear. The column that Sickles's men had spied moving across a gap in the tree line was part of that movement. The flanker was about to be flanked.
At approximately five o'clock in the afternoon of May 2, the soldiers of Oliver O. Howard's XI Corps were gathered about their campfires cooking dinner when Jackson's Valley veterans smashed into their unprotected flank. Howard's men did not immediately break and flee despite later such charges. Division and brigade commanders scrambled to reorient their forces to face the onslaught; a few units made heroic stands, inflicting a thousand casualties on the attackers and buying the Union army valuable time. But the attackers had both numbers and momentum. When Howard's men finally gave way, the gray and butternut-clad soldiers poured after them with Jackson driving them onward. True to his character, Jackson wanted not merely to defeat the Federal army but to annihilate it. "Press on! Press on!" he urged his subordinates. "Press the enemy until nightfall," he ordered one brigade commander.
But nightfall was the problem. Difficult as it was at any time to maneuver forces effectively in the uneven terrain and dense foliage of the Wilderness, it was impossible to do so in pitch darkness. Regardless of that, Jackson was determined to sustain his momentum, and at about nine o'clock he rode out ahead of his troops in the inky darkness hoping to discover some route by which he could cut the Yankees off from their line of retreat across the Rappahannock. Having discovered a secondary road that he thought might suit his purpose, Jackson was returning to his own lines when Confederate infantry mistook his group of mounted horsemen for Federal cavalry and opened fire. Jackson was hit three times. The wounds did not appear to be serious, but at the very least they removed Jackson's furious will from the battlefield. This fight, at least, would have to go on without him.
Hooker made good his "escape" across the Rappahannock. A bolder man might have tried a counterattack, for the Federals still had numerical superiority, but Hooker's nerve was shattered. Not only had the tactical situation become utterly unglued but he also experienced a personal brush with death the next morning when a Confederate artillery shell exploded against a column on the porch of the Chancellor mansion while he was leaning against it. Rather than attempt to recoup the situation, Hooker gave orders for the army to fall back. Once again a Federal army had crossed the dare mark and had suffered for it.
American Heritage History of the Battle of Gettysburg. Copyright © by Mark Burnell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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