I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War ever since I read a book on it in fourth grade (mostly a picture book.) In the last several years by readings on this topic have fallen off a cliff and looking at my reading notes it has been more than four years since I last read a book on the topic. Sitting around the house are probably a dozen unread books on the war and so last week I picked up Gettysburg: Day Three by Jeffry D. Wert. I just loved the book.
There is a huge body of work covering the Battle of Gettysburg, from generalists such as Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton to Edwin B. Coddington’s excellent The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, and I have read about a dozen of them include the previously listed authors as well as a number of others. Included are the first two books on the battle by Harry W. Pfanz, but oddly enough not his third book which deals with the same topics as Wert’s book.
In Gettysburg: Day Three, I liked how he laid out the huge battlefield in small sections, laying out the terrain, the Corp and division commanders and then their field officers, all in small thumbnail descriptions. He broke out the individual sections of each area of the conflict and made it easy to follow the flow of combat. He goes to pains to talk about many of the artillery units and officers, and not just lump them into a general group. There are a number of features that helped bring out the battle for me that I had either missed previously or simply had not been covered in previous books. Before going further it has been years since I last read a book on this topic so I could have simply missed these items. Among the pieces of information learned was: Brigadier General Henry Hunt, the head of the Union artillery, had a secret supply wagon train of 60 wagons that his superiors did not know about, with only the quartermaster Rufus Inglas in the know among top brass. I did not realize that Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s wound was from a nail. Was it fired from one of the artillery pieces that Confederate Major General Alexander Porter had following the troops during the charge? (Looking elsewhere it was from his saddle.) Speaking of Hancock, the one minor issue I had with the book is that he seems to have a smaller role than his reputation appears to have earned. But that is just a minor quibble. I had not realized that there was as chief of artillery for the confederacy, an officer named was a Brigadier man named William N. Pendleton or that colonel Alexander Porter was not General James Longstreet’s chief of artillery, but second in command. I later looked in a couple of other books that I had read on the topic and found that Pendleton was mentioned a number of times, but his impact was so minor it never registered.
The roles of George Meade and Robert E. Lee and their strengths and weaknesses during the battle are well examined as well as covering the limited role that the mounted arm or each army had during the third day. I believe that this book has reignited my interest in this topic and expect I will be reading more on it in the future, possibly starting with another of Wert’s books.