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The Campaign and Battle of Gettysburg have inspired scrutiny from virtually every angle. Standing out amid the voluminous scholarship, this book is not merely one more narrative history of the events that transpired before, during, and after those three momentous July days in southern Pennsylvania. Rather, it focuses on and analyzes nineteen critical decisions by Union and Confederate commanders that determined the particular ways in which those events unfolded.
Matt Spruill contends that, among the many decisions made during any military campaign, a limited number-strategic, operational, tactical, organizational-make the difference, with subsequent decisions and circumstances proceeding from those defining moments. At Gettysburg, he contends, had any of the nineteen decisions he identifies not been made and/or another decision made in its stead, all sorts of events from those decision points on would have been different and the campaign and battle as we know it today would appear differently.
Along with his insightful analysis of the nineteen decisions, Spruill includes a valuable appendix that takes the battlefield visitor to the actual locations where the decisions were made or executed. This guide features excerpts from primary documents that further illuminate the ways in which the commanders saw situations on the ground and made their decisions accordingly.
1 Before the Battle 5
2 Wednesday, July 1, 1863 25
3 Thursday, July 2, 1863 49
4 Friday, July 3, 1863, and Afterward 79
Appendix I A Battlefield Guide to the Critical Decisions at Gettysburg 97
Appendix II Union Order of Battle 137
Appendix III Confederate Order of Battle 155
Posted July 13, 2011
Decisions at Gettysburg: The Nineteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Campaign, Matt Spruill, University of Tennessee Press, 200 pp., 21 photographs, 10 maps, 3 charts, 3 appendices, notes, bibliography, index, paperback, $24.95.
Matt Spruill has the credentials weigh in on the command and control issues of the Gettysburg Campaign. He has been a student of Jay Luvass and Harold Nelson at the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle and then faculty member there. He was for a time a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide. The 19 critical decisions were chosen based on his military background, his close reading of the primary sources as a participant and instructor of the U.S. Army's staff tours of the battlefield, and his association with the battlefield's licensed guides. His "criterion for a critical decision is that, after the decision was made, it shaped not only the events
immediately following it but also the conduct of the campaign or the battle from that point on." [xii]
The strenghts of Spruill's work is the arguments for each decision are incisive, convincing, and clear. The reader should come to Spruill's work with a basic background knowledge of the battle. Decisions at Gettysburg is not overview of the battle. There is no day-by-day or hour-by-hour account of the fighting. Readers need to have at least one guided tour of the entire battlefield or have read Trudeau's or Sears comprehensive works on the battle. General readers who have delved into Coddington's and Pfanz's books are prepared to read Decisions at Gettysburg.
For each decision, Spruill describes the options available to the commander and of the decision then taken. Then he covers the impact of the decision on the succeeding events and on the the campaign. Fortunately Spruill does not judge decisions as being right or wrong. He is more concerned with how the decision set conditions for a response or another decision. Spruill is color blind in regard to the uniform the decision maker wears. There is no anti-Ewell, anti-Sickles, or pro-Lee or pro-Meade content in the book.
As with any list, what decisions are left off or unnecessarily included. CWL doesn't see any of Spruill's decisions being left off such a list. Several that should have been included though were Lincoln's decision to replace Hooker with Meade, Lee's decision not to pull Ewell's corps from the east side of Gettysburg on the morning of July 2, Hunt's decision to silence Federal artillery on Cemetery immediately before the Pickett/Pettigrew/Trimble assault on July 3. Spruill's does give a slight nod to McGilvery's construction of a line of artillery east of the Trostle Farmstead during the late afternoon of July 2. Those would be on CWL's list of critical decisions that defined the Gettysburg Campaign.
As an appendix, Spruill does supply a 40 page battlefield touring guide to the 19 decisions. In CWL's copy, there is now no page that does not have underlining, notes, questions and exclamation marks on it. Most likely, Spruill's Decisions at Gettysburg will be seen in December and January on many best of 2011 lists.
Nineteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Gettysburg Campaign
Before the Battle
1. Lee's decision to take the Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania,
2. Lee's reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia during late May
3. Hooker's reorganization of the Army of the Potomac's artillery in late May
4. Lee's ambiguous orders to Stuart th