Discovering Gettysburg: An Unconventional Introduction to the Greatest Little Town in America and the Monumental Battle that Made It Famous

Discovering Gettysburg: An Unconventional Introduction to the Greatest Little Town in America and the Monumental Battle that Made It Famous


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Does any other single word in any language invoke so much passion and angst, enthusiasm and sadness, as do those ten letters? But what IS Gettysburg, exactly? I am almost embarrassed to say I discovered the answer to that question—or at least approached an answer—only late in life.

Of course, Gettysburg is a small charming city nestled in south-central Pennsylvania, but in so many ways it beggars description. For about half the year its streets are mainly empty, its businesses quiet, the weather cold and blustery. For the other months, however, the place literally teems with hundreds of thousands of visitors, bustling streets and shops, and more than a handful of unique larger-than-life characters whose fan base spans the globe.

And then there is the battle—the event—of the Civil War. The battle that raged there during the first days of July 1863 at the price of more than 50,000 casualties decided much (just how much depending upon who you believe) and forever stamped that place with its passion and angst and enthusiasm and its lingering, forever sadness. Its monuments and guns and plaques tell the story of the colossal clash of arms and societies, just as its National Cemetery bears silent witness to at least part of the cost of that bloody event.

And somehow this “greatest little town in America,” this mammoth battle, its influential characters (living and dead), its deep meaning and profound influence on our society largely escaped me for nearly six decades. That ended a couple years ago when I finally paid a visit. My journey from the uninitiated to the fully converted only took a short time, but I felt compelled to pen my experiences as they unfolded. And so you hold in your hands Discovering Gettysburg: An Unconventional Introduction to the Greatest Little Town in America and the Monumental Battle that Made It Famous.

In it, you will visit with me a host of famous and off-the-beaten-path places on the battlefield, explore the historic town of Gettysburg as it is today, chat with some of the town’s fascinating “resources,” and follow along, as I did, with some of the most engaging storytelling I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. And nowhere inside will you be bothered with footnotes or stumble your way through academic mumbo jumbo. Thankfully, my friend and award-winning cartoonist Tim Hartman agreed to provide the magnificent maps and outstanding caricatures that grace this book.

Discovering Gettysburg is, I fully admit, rather unconventional. But so is the place, the event, and the experience of that hallowed ground.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611213539
Publisher: Savas Beatie
Publication date: 06/27/2017
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Stephen Coleman has spent most of his adult life as a professor of theater at the University of Pittsburgh. A specialist in Shakespeare, acting, directing, and stage combat, he taught for more than 30 years and practiced his craft on stage and screen, including roles in Silence of the Lambs, where he had the pleasure of being literally defaced by the epicurean Hannibal Lecter and in the PBS Series The War That Made America, where as the ill-fated General Braddock he was shot from the back of a horse. It was only after he retired that he discovered a new interest: The Civil War, and especially, Gettysburg.

Tim Hartman is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has been professionally acting, singing, writing, cartooning, and storytelling since 1982. Though known primarily for his work on the stage, including nearly 300 plays and musicals, including appearances on Broadway in “A Tale of Two Cities” and the Tony nominated “Finian’s Rainbow,” Tim’s favorite job is performing his own brand of stand-up comedy storytelling for children and family audiences. He is also an award-winning political cartoonist and illustrator whose work has appeared widely in newspapers.

Read an Excerpt


Why Gettysburg? The Civil War in 1863

May 1863.

Once again, victorious Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia have handed the Union cause another major defeat at Chancellorsville. And that's a good place to start understanding how Gettysburg came about.

Considered by many to be Lee's tactical masterpiece, the Chancellorsville campaign began in late April and would not end until May 6, when the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker retreated after being repeatedly attacked and outgeneraled.

"Fighting Joe" Hooker was but one of the many Union generals who suffered at the hands of Lee. The last Union debacle occurred at Fredericksburg the previous December, where Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside (notable for his prominent sideburns) led the Army of the Potomac to a bloody defeat with his series of headlong attacks against an impregnable Rebel position. The final straw for President Abraham Lincoln arrived a few weeks later in January when Burnside's army bogged down in the the winter mud in yet another failed effort to get at Lee's Virginia army. Burnside was out.

In his ongoing search for a general who could win against Lee, Lincoln decided on Joe Hooker, a bachelor with a penchant for the ladies and a host of vices — swearing, gambling, and alcohol among them. (While "hooker" is much older than our general's taste for the companionship of females of questionable character, the term is still frequently associated with his name.) The origin of his appellation "Fighting Joe" was the result of a bad pick-up by a typesetter of a newspaper reporter's dispatch that read: "Fighting — Joe Hooker ..." The Northern press, naturally enough, seized upon the nickname "Fighting Joe" and ran with it. It is said Hooker disliked it, though that seems doubtful. General Lee — a man not widely known for his sense of humor — took a malicious delight in referring to his opponent as "Mr. F. J. Hooker."

In the spring of 1863, Hooker led an army of some 130,000 men against Lee's roughly 60,000 strong. (Much of Lee's First Corps under James Longstreet was away in southeastern Virginia, leaving Lee to operate solely on the defensive.) When Hooker stole a wide march around the Confederate left flank, Lee boldly divided his army to meet him. He left a small part at Fredericksburg to watch Federals hovering there and marched westward to confront the bulk of Hooker's command in the tangles of the Wilderness around Chancellorsville Inn, a crossroads with little more than the brick mansion.

Lee seized the initiative and sent Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's corps marching around Hooker's exposed right flank. Jackson attacked and crushed Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard's XI Corps in a bold surprise attack, but was accidentally wounded by his own men on the evening of his greatest triumph. During ferocious fighting the next day, Hooker was knocked temporarily senseless by a cannonball that smashed into the porch upon which he was standing. When Federals broke through at Fredericksburg and marched against Lee's rear, the Southern general split his army yet again and turned to meet the new threat at Salem Church. The heavy fighting killed and wounded thousands across the sprawling front. With his confidence shattered, Hooker — even though a large portion of his army had yet to fire a shot — withdrew across the Rappahannock River, giving Lee what many consider to this day to have been his most spectacular victory.

Lee's victory at Chancellorsville, however, was costly for the South. At the height of his greatest success, Stonewall Jackson was wounded by friendly fire. His arm was amputated (and buried on a farm near the battlefield), and it appeared as though he would make a full recovery. Pneumonia set in, however, and he died just one week later. When he learned of Jackson's wounds, Lee lamented, "Jackson has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right." Stonewall's death was an irreparable loss to the Confederate cause.

Late May 1863. Lee has reorganized his army from two corps into three, and reinforcements have swelled his ranks. Despite the loss of Stonewall, he decides for the second time to invade Union territory. The first thrust north, undertaken after Second Manassas in September 1862, ended in the bloodbath in Maryland known in the North as Antietam and in the South as Sharpsburg. (It was the general practice for the Union to name battles after a geographic feature — usually a river — near where the battle was fought, while the Confederates named battles after communities closest to the fighting. Thus the Union battles of First and Second Bull Run (a stream) are the same as theConfederacy's First and Second Manassas (a community). Occasionally, however, the warring sides settled on the same name — like Gettysburg.)

By mid-1863, the South is seriously feeling the strain of the war. A long war it is not equipped to fight and win. As far as Lee is concerned, only a battlefield triumph on Northern soil will quickly bring it to a close. This time around Lee's goal is to move through Maryland and into Pennsylvania, where he hopes to threaten its capital Harrisburg, as well as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and perhaps even Washington itself. Lee expects one or two more major victories — especially on Northern soil — to finally swing European support behind the Confederacy.

Strategically, he hopes to draw the Army of the Potomac into a tiring pursuit and turn and defeat it piece-by-piece on favorable terrain of his choosing. Despite a steady string of Union victories in the Western Theater (that area of the country between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River), enthusiasm for the conflict is waning in the North. The numerous defeats at the hands of Lee's army and growing casualty lists are exhausting Lincoln's people. Lee's confident troops believe they can whip the Army of the Potomac anywhere they meet it. Even without a major battle, the invasion will give the Confederates access to the lush and prosperous Pennsylvania farms while relieving the pressure on hard-pressed Virginia, which has known firsthand two long years of war.

Hooker, meanwhile, remains in command of the army. He does his best to keep it between Lee and Washington, DC and Baltimore. If either of those cities is successfully attacked, the results would be disastrous. The first clash of the campaign arrives early — even before Lee's army steps northward — in the form of a large cavalry engagement at Brandy Station, Virginia, on June 9. Union troopers under Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton surprise their Confederate counterparts under Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart, the storied Confederate cavalier. The clash is the largest cavalry battle of the war, though of course no one knew that at the time. According to noted Civil War cavalry historian Eric Wittenberg, "Pleasonton had been charged with catching Stuart, and destroying the Confederate cavalry as an effective force. He failed to achieve his objective." However, the battle is a coming-of-age event for the Union troopers, who discover something within them that day that remains until Appomattox. At the end of the battle, Union forces withdraw back across the Rappahannock River and rejoin their main force en route to Manassas Junction. Lee's move north is delayed by at least a full day.

Ewell's corps leads the way west into the Shenandoah Valley and then north. Up near the Potomac River, Ewell strikes like lightning at the Second Battle of Winchester (June 13-15), clearing the path for the invasion to proceed across the Potomac River, into and through Maryland, and into Pennsylvania. Some whisper that it is as if Stonewall Jackson is still leading the corps.

Cavalry skirmishes throughout the middle days of June keep the Federals from discovering Lee's large movement north; the cavalry are the eyes and ears of any army, and Stuart's troopers kept the passes in Rebel hands and Hooker's troopers at bay. As a result, Lee's forces begin crossing the Potomac on June 15, and enter Pennsylvania on June 22. Hooker has no idea.

Shortly after Confederate troops begin crossing the river, Lee approves Jeb Stuart's plan to cut behind Hooker's army, ride around it as circumstances dictate, and create as much distraction and damage as possible while threatening Washington, DC. Lee's orders are vague — an object of deep controversy ever since. The one thing he insists upon is that Stuart shield Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell's Second Corps once it is deep into Pennsylvania and meet up with it there. As we will see, Stuart's raid removes him from the Army of Northern Virginia for a full week, during which the Battle of Gettysburg commences without him. Lee will enter Pennsylvania and fight nearly all of the battle without his "eyes and ears."

Meantime, Hill's Third Corps follows Ewell, with James Longstreet's Corps bringing up the rear. Against all prevailing military theory of the day, Lee has again divided his forces by sending off Stuart and letting Ewell operate well away from his other two corps. His plan calls for a pincer-like movement toward the Susquehanna Valley. Meanwhile, Hooker — still trying to figure out what Lee is up to — proceeds cautiously north in an effort to locate the Virginia army while shielding Washington and Baltimore.

Ewell Progresses — But Where is Stuart?

By June 28, Ewell's Corps is just north of Carlisle — not far from Harrisburg. One of his divisions under Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early (whom Lee calls his "bad old man") has arrived in the York-Dover area. Rebel cavalry operating with Early passes through Gettysburg on the 26th, as does a 2,000- man infantry brigade under Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon. Historian Scott L. Mingus, Sr. sets the stage:

One of Early's main goals was York, Pennsylvania. It was a significant town back then, with lots of industry, and of historic significance for the North — did you know the Articles of Confederation were crafted there in the 1770s? It was also an important railhead. On the morning of June 26th, Early's Confederate forces brush aside the Union 26th PA Emergency Infantry, a militia unit, around Knoxlyn Ridge, and proceed to occupy Gettysburg. An urban myth suggested that Early's mission to Gettysburg was 'solely' (pun intended) to capture shoes for his barefoot troops. He's not looking for shoes. In fact, there were no shoe factories in Gettysburg, and Early, on that same day, had captured Union boxcars filled with 2,000 Springfield rifled muskets, and possibly even, some shoes; they also took shoes from the captured PA militiamen. Then, on the 27th, Early marches away to the east to prepare his march on York and possibly onto Harrisburg.

Stuart, meanwhile, captures a large train of Union supply wagons in the Rockville, Maryland, area. Instead of burning the heavy slow wagons he rides with them as a present for General Lee. The lumbering vehicles slow the cavalier's progress north. Hooker's army is now moving north and is between Stuart and the Confederate main body, even as pursuing Union cavalry are on his tail. Stuart, the "eyes and ears" of the Virginia army, is cut off from the Virginia army.

Lee, along with Hill's Corps and Longstreet's Corps, meanwhile, have reached Chambersburg. They have not heard from Stuart in a long while, and have no firm idea where Hooker's army is or what it is up to. Lee has some cavalry on hand, but without Stuart, upon whom he has come to rely, he is operating blind.

Late in the evening of the 28th, Henry Thomas Harrison, one of Longstreet's spies and a cloak and dagger sort of fellow, informs Old Pete (Longstreet) that the Army of the Potomac is no longer in Virginia as supposed, but has crossed the river, marched past Frederick, Maryland, and is just below the Pennsylvania border. There is more news: Hooker is no longer in command.

The news stuns Lee. Famous for improvisation, he now alters his plans once more, moving east with Hill's Corps. He sends word to Ewell to turn south, and orders Longstreet to follow Hill along the Chambersburg Pike through the South Mountain range toward Cashtown — a mere eight miles from Gettysburg.

Harrison's shocking news was the result of Hooker's impulsive request to be relieved of command. It is doubtful he really thought Lincoln would grant his "wish," but the president did just that, swapping Hooker on June 28 with V Corps leader Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade. Changing commanders in the middle of a campaign — and on Northern soil, no less! — is a momentous decision. The first shots of Gettysburg are just three days away. When he heard the news, Lee is reported to have remarked, "Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it."

Meade — who is as surprised at his elevation to command as Hooker is at being fired — moves his large army north hoping to bring the Confederates to battle just north of Taneytown, Maryland. ("Tawney" town is named after Raphael Taney, a recipient of one of the first land grants in the area. Roger Brooke Taney, one of his descendants, served as the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, and is best known for delivering the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case.) Meade briefly establishes his headquarters here as part of his "Pipe Creek Plan," which calls for the Union army to engage the Confederates in this area along a defensive line running from just south of Taneytown through Middleburg and extending to Manchester, Maryland, along a snake-like curve that flattens as it heads east.

Meade's plan calls for three Union infantry corps under Generals John Reynolds, Henry W. Slocum, and John Sedgwick, all under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, to be in position to confront the Army of Northern Virginia as it turns south to attack Baltimore. (Hancock, one of the finest generals in the entire Union army, picked up the sobriquet "Hancock the Superb" after the Battle of Williamsburg during the Peninsula Campaign outside Richmond, when Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan wrote to his wife, "Hancock was superb today." The appellation stuck with him throughout the war.)

Lee as we have seen, is not cooperating with Meade's plan. Instead, he is concentrating his scattered army east of the South Mountain Range in southern Pennsylvania. In developing his plan, however, Meade is moving large elements of his army into positions in Maryland just a handful of miles below Gettysburg.

Every military campaign turns on small things, and Gettysburg is loaded with "what ifs." Just south of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border is the Union Mills Homestead Park. Located on Big Pipe Creek and the Baltimore Pike, this historic and beautiful home was owned by the Shriver Family of northern Maryland. Elements of Jeb Stuart's cavalry pass through early on the morning of June 30. General Stuart breakfasts there with the Southern sympathizers of the family just across the road from the main house and mill, but leaves early in his exhausting effort to locate Ewell's infantry corps near Harrisburg. Just four hours later, Brig. Gen. James Barnes, in command of the 1st Division of the Union's V Corps, arrives at the home and sets up his headquarters in the main house. He spends the night there with some of his officers sleeping on the porch, and departs early on July 1 on his way up to Gettysburg.

The Shriver family built the magnificent home and commercial gristmill in 1797. The property is now run by the Union Mills Homestead Foundation, with Jane Sewell as its executive director. During the summer season it is open to visitors and provides guided tours of both the house and the mill. The beautifully preserved main house, mill, and property along Big Pipe Creek are worth a visit.

As Confederate forces under Hill and Longstreet tramp eastward toward Cashtown, Meade, one of the ablest of the Union's generals, concludes a battle will soon be upon them. He sends a cavalry screening force under Brig. Gen. John Buford to Gettysburg to determine Lee's location — what is Lee up to and where does he intend to fight? Ewell and Early, meanwhile, have met up in Heidlersburg and been recalled south with orders to concentrate on Gettysburg or Cashtown, as circumstances dictate. Stuart can't find Ewell, who is now moving in a different direction because of Lee's altered plan. By the evening of June 30, as Confederate forces gather west and north of Gettysburg, a solitary Union cavalry brigade arrives to determine the enemy's intentions.

Gettysburg is a major logistics hub in this portion of the state. The thriving community is fed by ten roads and a railroad, includes a host of businesses, a college, and more. It is a thriving and prosperous community. Unbeknownst to its citizens, it will soon become the site of the largest battle ever fought in America.


Excerpted from "Discovering Gettysburg"
by .
Copyright © 2017 W. Stephen Coleman and Tim Hartman.
Excerpted by permission of Savas Beatie LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface vii

Introduction ix

Chapter 1 Why Gettysburg?: The Civil War in 1863 1

Chapter 2 Cashtown-the Jumping-off Point for the Army of Northern Virginia 17

Chapter 3 A First Look at the Town and the Gettysburg National Military Park 23

Chapter 4 Day One: An Accidental Engagement Evolves into a Confederate Victory 49

Chapter 5 The Armies Head-to-Head, Day Two-The Biggest and the Bloodiest, and My Second Personal Encounter with History 85

Chapter 6 The Climax of the Clash, Day Three-Lee's Plan and Disaster, and My Final Personal Encounter with History 153

Chapter 7 After the Battle and the Gettysburg Address 199

Chapter 8 The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, and the Eisenhower National Historic Site 215

Chapter 9 The Greatest Little Town in America 227

Chapter 10 The Creators of living History and the Phenomenon of Reenactors and Reenactments 245

Appendix: An Interview with the New Superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park 254

Afterword 259

Select Bibliography 261

Index 265


List of Maps

The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July, 1863 9

Gettysburg, 1863 15

Gettysburg Present Day 29

Gettysburg National Military Park 39

Overview: Day One, 1863 50

Overview: Day Two, 1863 87

Overview: Day Three, 1863 155

East Cavalry Battlefield 189

The Retreat from Gettysburg 202

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