Published to mark the 140th anniversary of the battle, Stephen Sears's Gettysburg aims to synthesize the mountains of scholarship occasioned by what is generally considered the turning point of the Civil War. Dennis Drabelle
Sears offers the first definitive overview of the campaign in 35 years. John Rhodehamel
What accounts for this remarkable Union victory and catastrophic Confederate defeat? It remains one of the vexing, if not unanswerable, debates of the Civil War. Sears forcefully echoes recent scholarship, asserting that Meade ''thoroughly outgeneraled Robert E. Lee.'' Whereas Meade inspected his lines, fine-tuned his plans and developed contingencies, Lee made a long list of mistakes: his ambiguous commands, his embrace of faulty intelligence, the command structure breakdown, a flawed artillery barrage and, finally, his inability to ''manage his generals.'' Moreover, Lee is portrayed by Sears as ''not his usual self,'' as ''exasperated,'' as ''anxious and ruffled,'' descriptions that cry out for more explanation. But perhaps the ultimate answer is far less complicated -- overconfidence.
An outstanding battle study by the author of Chancellorsville, this comprehensive narrative will lend extra impact to the 140th anniversary this July of the climactic battle of the Civil War. Sears casts his net wide, beginning with Lee's meeting with Davis in May 1863, where he argued in favor of marching north, to take pressure off both Vicksburg and Confederate logistics. It ends with the battered Army of Northern Virginia re-crossing the Potomac some two months later, a near-run on both sides as Meade was finally unwilling to drive his equally battered Army of the Potomac into a desperate pursuit. In between is the balanced, clear and detailed story of how 60,000 men became casualties, and how the winning of Confederate independence on the battlefield was put forever out of reach. The author generally is spare with scapegoating, although he has little use for Union men Dan Sickles (who advanced against orders on the second day) or Oliver Howard (whose Corps broke and was routed on the first day), or Richard Ewell of the Confederacy, who decided not to take Culp's Hill on the first night, when that might have been decisive. Sears also strongly urges the view that Lee was not fully in control of his army on the march or in the battle, a view borne out in his gripping narrative of Pickett's Charge, which makes many aspects of that nightmare much clearer than they have been before. This book is not the place to start a study of the campaign, but it is absolutely indispensable for the well-versed. (June 30) Forecast: A summer display in time for the battle's 140th anniversary on July 4, 5 and 6 could draw on James McPherson's Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg (Forecasts, date TK) and Robert Clasby's illustrated Gettysburg: You Are There (Forecasts, Mar. 3), along with this book from former American Heritage editor Sears. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Civil War scholar Sears follows up Chancellorsville and other war studies with a deliberate, perceptive assessment of the battle of Gettysburg and the events leading up to it. The book's strength is the consistent and striking characterizations of the many generals and commanding officers involved in the battle. Sears cohesively takes stock of their infighting and ambitions as well as their dedication and risk taking, clearly showing how the varied personalities shaped decisions made by both armies, for better or for worse. Drawn from dispatches and diaries, colorful quotes from the officers contrast vividly with meticulous details of the battle's terrain and statistics. Sears examines several turning points during the battle's buildup and three-day duration. The resulting insights add to the excellent and dramatic narrative flow. Though similar in style and format to Noah Andre Trudeau's Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, this work is ultimately more focused on the high command and includes artwork and photographs of the battle as well as portraits of the key players. For all Civil War collections and academic libraries.-Elizabeth Morris, formerly with Otsego Dist. P.L., MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
An accomplished historian of the Civil War (Controversies and Commanders, 1999, etc.) offers a blow-by-blow account of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg and its effects on the course of the conflict. Dwight Eisenhower once recalled that at West Point he and his classmates were made to memorize the order of battle at Gettysburg hour by hour and quizzed on which unit faced which at any given moment in the combat. "If this was military history," he wrote, "I wanted no part of it." Had he had this as a text, Ike might have enjoyed the exercise a little more, for though Sears gives that information in lashings, he does so with a storyteller’s skill and a strategist’s appreciation for the changing tides of battle. He takes time getting to the first shot at Seminary Ridge, recapping the events that led to Robert E. Lee’s decision to bring his troops into northern territory (with the idea, Sears writes, of drawing the Union army away from Richmond) and that led Lee to disregard James Longstreet’s warning that the topography favored the Yankee enemy. Once at Gettysburg, however, Sears’s account is full of grapeshot and canister, blending a sometimes near-documentary account of minute portions of the battle with broader-ranging discussion of its conduct overall. This mix yields particularly satisfying results when it is applied to set pieces such as the Union defense of Little Round Top and George Pickett’s ill-fated Grand Charge, to which Sears brings sophisticated observations that well-versed students of warfare will appreciate but that may well be lost on less knowledgeable readers; among these is his account of Joshua Chamberlain’s famed right-wheel maneuver on Little Round Top and hisanalysis of Johnson Pettigrew’s arrangement of his brigades on the Confederate battle line in a compact deployment by which "colonels could keep better control of their men in the din of battle, and could reinforce the front line with their own second line rather than having to depend on some other commander for support." A fine study, detailed and challenging, that complements such popular accounts of the battle as Bruce Catton’s Glory Road and Shelby Foote’s The Stars in Their Courses.