Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage

Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage

by Noah Andre Trudeau


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America's Civil War raged for more than four years, but it is the three days of fighting in the Pennsylvania countryside in July 1863 that continues to fascinate, appall, and inspire new generations with its unparalleled saga of sacrifice and courage. From Chancellorsville, where General Robert E. Lee launched his high-risk campaign into the North, to the Confederates' last daring and ultimately-doomed act, forever known as Pickett's Charge, the battle of Gettysburg gave the Union army a victory that turned back the boldest and perhaps greatest chance for a Southern nation.

Now acclaimed historian Noah Andre Trudeau brings the most up-to-date research available to a brilliant, sweeping, and comprehensive history of the battle of Gettysburg that sheds fresh light on virtually every aspect of it. Deftly balancing his own narrative style with revealing firsthand accounts, Trudeau brings this engrossing human tale to life as never before.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060931865
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/27/2003
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 720
Sales rank: 480,369
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.44(d)

About 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.

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.

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Gettysburg 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 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!
estamm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is really the first book about a CW battle that I've read. It detailed nearly every skirmish of the battle, but it never seemed dry. If I had read more books on the battles, I could perhaps give a better 'comparison' review. If you want to know everything there is about this battle, this book would certainly cover it.
DocWood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a meticulously researched, in-depth study of the battle and the men who fought it. Trudeau draws not only on official documents and the activities of the general staffs, but also on the letters and diaries of common soldiers and citizens. Yes, the maps are small and hard to read, and there is a great deal of detail about troop movements. But larger maps would have made for a much bigger book, and it is impossible to discuss a battle intelligently without knowing who was where, when, and why. Trudeau's writing, in any event, makes it all come alive in a way that few other civil war historians can.
hystrybuf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent account of the 3 days of fighting at Gettysburg. Trudeau includes personal stories and official accounts of the battle which serve to make it both interesting and poignant. His writing style seems to work in concert with the rapid pace in which the events at Gettysburg unfolded. The only drawback to this book is that some of his maps are remarkably complex and difficult to read. In addition there are instances when the typeset on these maps and subsequent keys or legends is so small that it actually requires a magnifying glass --at least for anyone who already uses bifocals to read!
greeneyed_ives on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An engrossing history of a battle that many have felt has been studied to the point of exhaustion. Trudeau is especially a master of making first hand accounts of the battle come to life, as if their authors were sitting in front of the reader. The biggest drawback to the history is the author¿s long and extensive descriptions of troop movement, which become too complicated to follow without a map of which there are too few of. Overall though, I enjoyed the book which gave me a better appreciation of the sacrifice witnessed over those three days. I would recommend it to a select group of people.
rocketjk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's hard for any writer to keep a book that's this in-depth and this detailed from becoming tedious. A lot of the narrative has to do with troop movements and other such details, so at times one's eyes may begin to glaze over, especially during the chapters that take place before the battle. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating read overall. Trudeau gives us quite a bit of good information about the motivations, both military and political, of the major players in the battle, especially Generals Meade and Lee. In addition, Trudeau dips liberally into letters and diaries to give almost every section of the book a personal dimension.The descriptions of the battle itself are outstanding, both from a historical and from a narrative point of view. Although this is certainly not the first book about the Civil War I've read, I feel like I gained a whole new insight into the nature and horros of combat during this tragic conflict, and also the intriguing, and often baffling, way decisions got made all along the line.I may not be doing this book justice here, but I do recommend it highly for anyone interested in an extremely detailed account of this bloody and pivotal battle.
ksmyth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't claim to have read all of the histories of Gettysburg, but this is a good one. Trudeau tells the story well, in a single volume. My only criticism is that the maps are small and difficult to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The battle unfolded hour by hour - amazing account!
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.