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Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage

Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage

3.8 12
by Noah Andre Trudeau

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Throughout America's tumultuous war against itself, no battle was as deadly or dramatic as Gettysburg. More lives were lost there than in any other war fought on American soil.

The last three decades have seen scores of remarkable new studies focusing on important elements of this monumental campaign. Now, acclaimed historian Noah Andre Trudeau brings the most up


Throughout America's tumultuous war against itself, no battle was as deadly or dramatic as Gettysburg. More lives were lost there than in any other war fought on American soil.

The last three decades have seen scores of remarkable new studies focusing on important elements of this monumental campaign. Now, acclaimed historian Noah Andre Trudeau brings the most up-to-date research available to a brilliant, sweeping, and comprehensive history that sheds new light on virtually every aspect of the battle of Gettysburg. Deftly balancing his own narrative style with revealing firsthand accounts, including excerpts from the diaries and letters of the men on both sides of the battlefield, Trudeau brings this engrossing human tale to life.

Editorial Reviews

Every schoolchild knows (or should know) that the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg was the crucial engagement of the Civil War, the pivotal conflict in the four-year War Between the States. But as primary sources about the three-day battle continue to be discovered and assimilated, our knowledge of this momentous event steadily grows. Civil War specialist (Bloody Roads South) Noah Andre Trudeau writes about the unfolding dynamics of this bloody battlefield confrontation with care and narrative force.
Publishers Weekly
Making comprehensive and sophisticated use of a broad spectrum of archival and printed sources, NPR executive producer Trudeau (Bloody Roads South) enhances his reputation as a narrative historian of the Civil War with what is to date the best large-scale single-volume treatment of those crucial three days in July 1863, elegantly reconstructing the battle and the campaign from the perspectives of the participants. Trudeau allows them, from generals to enlisted men, to speak in their own words, creating a thoroughly absorbing story of determination on both sides and at all levels. Robert E. Lee began the campaign intending to win a battle of annihilation. July 1 inaugurated some of the hardest, and the most exacting, fighting American soldiers have ever done. The operational narratives are remarkable for their clarity, especially Trudeau's presentation of the confused fight for the Union left flank on July 2. The text is supplemented by sketch maps of unit positions and movements that are also models of clarity a particular boon to nonspecialist readers. Trudeau defensibly concludes that the wide latitude allowed subordinates at all levels of the Army of Northern Virginia worked against it at Gettysburg. Further, his emphasis on contemporary sources instead of postwar retrospection and academic analysis shows that despite nearly equal losses totaling almost 50,000 men Gettysburg failed as Lee's battle of annihilation. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
An executive producer for National Public Radio, Trudeau (Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War) opens his new book with no apologies, saying that the time is right for another comprehensive work on the Battle of Gettysburg. This book begins on May 15, 1863, and describes in minute detail the events leading up to the battle, the battle itself (often hour by hour), and Lee's retreat in the early hours of July 4. Trudeau skillfully intertwines his narrative with firsthand accounts using letters, diaries, memoirs, and after-action reports from local residents, soldiers, and officers. He offers new insights on familiar controversies such as Confederate General Ewell's role on the first day of fighting, Robert E. Lee's mood for battle, and Major General Meade's reluctance to fight. In addition, Trudeau unearths many little-known human interest stories and brings to light the trials and tribulations of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. The book includes 60 maps, a detailed roster of the opposing armies' command structure, and copious chapter notes. A monumental work, thoroughly researched and well written, this is the best recent single-volume history of the campaign. Highly recommended for Civil War enthusiasts and scholars. Robert K. Flatley, Frostburg State Univ., MD Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From Civil War specialist Trudeau (Like Men of War), a superb rendering of a signal episode in American history. Trudeau makes no apology for adding another to the huge pile of Gettysburg books; nor should he, for this is the first one-volume treatment of the whole battle--Jeffry Wert's Gettysburg covered only Day Three--to appear in nearly 35 years. It's well worth the wait. The narrative begins with a measured consideration of the strategy involved in Lee's invasion of the North and an assessment of some of the key players at Gettysburg, many of whom had met just weeks before at the battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Though it offers no real surprises, Trudeau's account of actual combat is extraordinarily good, from the first shots on Seminary Hill to Lee's retreat along Fairfield Road. The author capably captures the strange aspects of a fight waged on one hand with the most modern artillery and on the other with antiquated muzzle-loading musketry, all wielded by a mixture of huge formations and "small groups of soldiers [who] were setting their minds to the practical problems of killing one another." Trudeau also does a fine job of portraying individual actors, remarking on such matters as Joshua Chamberlain's political ambitions and Richard Ewell's extraordinary bravery as glimpsed through the smoke of battle. He dismisses a few legends in passing, notably the old chestnut that Robert E. Lee apologized to his soldiers for the debacle of Pickett's Charge. "While such recollections may have been helpful in the postwar climate of factional healing," Trudeau remarks, "and while they may have promoted adulation of Lee, they must be docketed alongsideGettysburg's other myths. . . . Unfortunate though the events of this day were, and however much it pained him to see his men suffer, he had no cause for self-recrimination." Worthy of being shelved alongside Bruce Catton and Shelby Steele, this belongs in every Civil War buff's collection.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"I wish I could get at those people...."

Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Union Army's seven infantry corps had returned to their winter encampments along the Rappahannock River's northern bank, near Fredericksburg. Their positions covered likely crossing points and protected the logistical arteries connecting them to supply sources via the Potomac River. Morale among many Federals was low. Private Theodore Garrish -- whose Fifth Corps regiment, the 20th Maine, had seen action during the battle -- deemed Hooker's performance at Chancellorsville a "fearful shock" to the army. Meanwhile, in the 7th Indiana, a First Corps regiment that had missed the combat, a lieutenant diagnosed the Army of the Potomac as being "in a comatose state." That opinion was seconded and elaborated on by Robert K. Beecham, an infantryman in the 2nd Wisconsin (First Corps), who declared, "The Chancellorsville campaign pretty thoroughly demonstrated the fact that as a general in the field at the head of an army, Gen. Joseph Hooker was no match for Gen. R.E. Lee."

Not everyone shared this pessimistic outlook, however. "The army is neither disorganized, discouraged, or dispirited," insisted a soldier in the 14th Connecticut (Second Corps). "As far as spirits are concerned, the army was never more jubilant; it thinks with Joe Hooker that 'it can take care of itself, move when it wishes to; fight when it sees fit; retreat when it deems it best.'" This determination was reflected in a letter sent by the officer commanding the 20th Maine to his six-year-old daughter: "Therehas been a big battle," explained Joshua Chamberlain, "and we had a great many men killed and wounded. We shall try it again soon, and see if we cannot make those Rebels behave better, and stop their wicked works in trying to spoil our Country, and making us all so unhappy."

A Pennsylvanian in the 102nd regiment (Sixth Corps) minced no words: "The talk about demoralization in this army is all false. The army is no more demoralized to-day than the day it first started out, although God knows it has had, through the blundering of inefficient commanders and other causes too numerous to mention, plenty of reason to be." A soldier in the Third Corps by the name of John Haley weighed the moment with the fatalistic outlook of a veteran: he was certain, he wrote, that the army was "again buoyant and ready to be led to new fields of conquest -- or defeat."

A member of the 1st United States Sharpshooters marveled at the way the men put defeat out of their thoughts and "turned their minds and hands to the duties and occupations of the present." For Wilbur Fisk, a private in the 2nd Vermont (Sixth Corps), those duties included standing guard in a position so far to the rear that "the prospect of seeing an enemy was about equal to the prospect of taking Richmond." Oliver Norton, a Fifth Corps orderly, found time between assignments to enjoy the performance of a mockingbird that was housekeeping in a nearby apple tree. "He combines in one the song of every bird I ever heard and many I haven't," Norton enthused. "One minute he's a bobolink, the next a lark or a robin, and he's never tired of singing."

The mood was far less upbeat in the camps of the Eleventh Corps, situated along the railroad connecting the army to its supply base at Aquia Landing. The May 2 Confederate flank attack had fallen squarely on the poorly positioned Eleventh, whose commander had chosen to ignore the warning signs, leaving his men to their fate. They had fought better than might have been expected, but few outside the corps gave them much credit for that.

Nearly half of the soldiers in the Eleventh Corps hailed from Germany, a circumstance that made them handy scapegoats. Sergeant Benjamin Hirst, a member of the Second Corps, expressed a not-untypical opinion when he described to his wife how "the whole 11th Army Corps, gave way almost without firing a shot, the Panic stricken runing about in hundreds and thousands." Similar contempt was voiced by Lieutenant Frank Haskell, an otherwise perceptive Second Corps officer, who noted that the "Dutchmen...ran...before they had delivered a shot." "As for this last defeat they lay it all to the Dutch. 11th Army Corps," reported a Third Corps soldier. "They runn like sheep."

All of this contumely came as a rude surprise to the Eleventh Corps soldiers themselves, who had suffered about three-fourths of the Union losses on May 2 while delaying the enemy advance until nightfall ended the combat. One of the corps' brigade commanders was visited by a delegation of soldiers bearing copies of newspapers heaping scorn on the Eleventh. The men bluntly asked "if such be the reward they may expect for the sufferings they have endured and the bravery they have displayed." A few outside the corps' German community managed to see past the filters of prejudice. One such was Robert K. Beecham, who avowed, "The fault was not in the troops, but in the generalship that could not provide against such a surprise."

The Eleventh Corps was under the overall command of Major General Oliver Otis Howard. A deeply religious man who had lost his right arm in battle in 1862, Howard had been brought in to replace the extremely popular (but in military terms notably unsuccessful) Fritz Sigel just a few months before Chancellorsville. When Howard failed to acknowledge the indignation that was coursing through the ranks of his German regiments, and carefully dodged any personal blame for his own leadership failures, the mood of some under his command darkened. "It is only the miserable setup of our Corps because of General Howard that we had to retreat in such a shameful way," swore one soldier in the 26th Wisconsin. "In time the truth will come out," promised another in the same regiment. "It was all General Howard's..."

Gettysburg. Copyright © by Noah Trudeau. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Noah Andre Trudeau is the author of Gettysburg. He has won the Civil War Round Table of New York's Fletcher Pratt Award and the Jerry Coffey Memorial Prize. A former executive producer at National Public Radio, he lives in Washington, D.C.

Noah Andre Trudeau is the author of Gettysburg. He has won the Civil War Round Table of New York's Fletcher Pratt Award and the Jerry Coffey Memorial Prize. A former executive producer at National Public Radio, he lives in Washington, D.C.

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Gettysburg 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am no Civil War historian, just an avid reader. I found this book to be very engaging. I had just returned from my first visit to Gettysburg and found the details to be a perfect companion to the trip. It really filled in details which I could directly relate to the geography I had just experienced. To see the ground and then read the details of the battle made everything come alive. A superlative job.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read many a narration of the Battle of Gettysburg, and this one comes close to being the best (it is indeed very hard to surpass the Killer Angels). Reading smoothly and effortlessly, GETTYSBURG provides an intriguing description of Lee's mindset leading into the battle, the disparities of opinion among the Confederate Generals, and the orchestra of errors and poor leadership which doomed the Army of Northern Virginia. The Union forces are not nearly so well covered as are the Confederate forces, but the detail is highly accurate (I am a Civil War historian) while not being *too* detailed (a common failing among non-fictional Civil War novels). The best element in the book is author's explanation as to Lee's decisions to move ahead with the battle even after nearly all his generals agreed it was a serious mistake, an explanation which has been made before, but never so elegantly. Fascinating and addicting, I highly recommend it to anyone, Civil War historians or the Curious of Mind alike. Enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. Great detail, best Gettysburg book I've read
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I could not put it down. My heart raced as I read the battle scenes. Very easy to keep up with. It was a joy to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gave me the feeling of being right there as a participant in the battle. I found it very difficult to put this one down, highly recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was very well written, addicting, and an interesting read. What are questionable are some of his theories which tend to go against the mainstream opinion. For example, the author explains that Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top, in fact did not give the order to charge, but that the door-like swinging motion of his men was merely the result of the terrain. That is fine and dandy, but if you notice, he gives no evidence to his claim. He says that Major Spear never heard Chamberlain's order, but he does not point to anything Spear said or wrote to help prove this. Although the book is exhaustively researched, it comes short in supporting it's more radical statements, which seemed to be it's thesis. Read it, it is worth it...If anything at all, the book will spark a higher interest in you on the highly debated struggle at Gettysburg.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, this is one of the worst pieces of history to come out on Gettysurg within recent memory. Through the grace of a smooth narrative, the author retells about every myth and misconception connected to Robert E Lee and Gettysburg. What I found especially detached from the facts were Trudeau's troubling explanations of Lee's decisions, what they were (supposedly) based on and how other generals in the Army of Northern Virginia (allegedly) viewed the commanding general's course of action AT THE TIME THESE DECISIONS WERE MADE. Indeed, the author's conclusions are so at odds with what other members of the Confederate high command have stated, that this reader is left wondering what the author REALLY knows about the subject matter. In short, I wish that the author would have bothered to read past the oft-repeated, baseless myths, and done some serious research and original thought.
Sockettuem More than 1 year ago
while an interesting and fairly easy read, Trudeau once again fails to support his more glaringly revisionist suppositions with concrete historical evidence. This book will undoubtedly entertain the average reader but the armchair Civil War scholar will recognize it's flaws. I have always admired the professional historian who can set aside his personal "politics" and view such events through the prism of the social norms of the day, without judgment. Sadly, Trudeau seems unable to acheive that degree of objectivity. No one can take away from Trudeau's obviously laudable skill as a writer, but some of his more subjective assertions should be taken cum grano salis.