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Tucker's plausible thesis is that Brig.-Gen. William Barksdale's charge on July 2 was potentially more significant than the much better known one under Pickett the next day, which never had a realistic chance of success. The average person with some awareness of the Civil War associates July 2 with Little Round Top, to which Tucker pays little attention - this may be the only book about the second day of Gettysburg which doesn't mention Col. Joshua Chamberlain, and some readers may find the author's perspective too much from the Confederate side. He does mention the other famous Union action that day, Maj.-Gen. Dan Sickles' advance without orders to the peach orchard. It was Barksdale's brigade that proceeded to cut through Sickles' corps and almost reached Cemetery Ridge - although without infantry support it's not clear what it could have accomplished there. While Tucker's tale is told largely from the Confederate viewpoint, it is not a mythological one. He is unsparing in criticism of almost the whole rebel high command, from Gen. Robert E. Lee on down. Much of this fascinating history will be unfamiliar to the average reader. For example, Barksdale's charge was finally stopped by a Union counter-charge of a brigade which had surrendered at Harper's Ferry and was out to redeem itself, led by Col. George Willard under orders from Maj.-Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock. Both Willard and Barksdale were killed in this climactic encounter. In an equally interesting sidebar, one of Barksdale's regiments, led by Col. Benjamin Humphreys (later an unreconstructed governor of Mississippi), separated from the rest of the brigade and did great damage on its own. It was driven off by a charge from Willard's reserve regiment, the Garibaldi Guards of New York. They were almost entirely immigrants under a Prussian commander, Maj. Hugo Hildebrandt. Such are the extraordinary true stories that come to life in a good detailed study, like this one, of Civil War history.
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Phillip Tucker's book "Barksdale's Charge" contains lots of interesting details about this famous attack drawn from primary sources. But, sadly, he also relies on and even quotes at length from other authors' published works on Gettysburg, including Sears, Coddington, and Trudeau. The book has two enormous flaws: first, its purple prose is so awful and repetitive as to make one wince. All the Mississippi soldiers are brave, intrepid lads--aggressive but humble, and excellent shots, a standard description he uses over and over again. Barksdale is a classic hero, even when acting as a bully boy fistfighter in support of Preston Brooks's caning of Charles Sumner on the floor of the United States Senate. . The real flaw in the book is its premise: that Barksdale's four regiments could have split the Army of the Potomac in two on July 2 , accomplishing more with a single (and soon dangerously depleted) brigade than what the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge of the following day was unable to accomplish with more than two divisions. His secondary premise, that the Barksdale charge has been relegated to secondary consideration because of the Virginian cabal's post-war highjacking of Confederate history to favor Pickett's men, is also just downright silly. He goes so far as to fault LaSalle Corbell Pickett's fanciful post war writings as being a culprit in the Virginians' hijacking of the glory that should have gone to Barksdale.
Barksdale's charge is one of the most brilliant and successful attacks of the Civil War, but Tucker's treatment of it is both belabored and ridiculously overstated.
It's a very interesting subject, poorly handled. The author takes frequent breaks to go into side issues that destroy the momentum of the narrative. When on the major topic (the charge) the author will repeat what he considers to be an important point two or three times on the same page. He also beats certain words and phrases to death by the number of times he uses them. The book would have been a better read if tightly edited.
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I have two fundamental objections to this book, and they are of such a magnitude that they do not just make for a bad book, but a harmful book. They are: The depiction of the battle is fundamentally flawed; The book is ill-written and lacks organization.
Let's go to the first. The book depicts the entire battle as a continuous charge made by the Confederates. Referring to Barksdale's three regiments and his other regiment led by Humphries that became separated during the attack, "neither commander of their respective wings wasted time by halting or re-organizing their sweat-stained troops under the blazing July sun, before hurling their troops onwards." (153). This, and statements like it, are repeated throughout the description of the attack. The Confederates attack was "based on the concept of dashing forward over the open fields of fire at a sprint ..." (129). The book makes no mention of any halts in the attack. The precept is that the attacks were delivered in one continuous series of "powerful blows" delivered as the Confederates "continued to load and fire on the run".
A simple calculation can put to rest the author's contention that the Confederates never stopped to reorganize. The attack started at 4:00 PM. The apex of the attack was reached at about 7:00 PM. The total distance covered was one mile, perhaps a few hundred yards more. So, generously, the net speed of advance was between 1/3rd to 1/2 miles per hour. Troops at the walk covered 3-4 miles per hour. Troops at the double-quick could cover 6 miles per hour, troops at the sprint perhaps 8 miles per hour for a short duration. So, that works out to about 15 minutes of movement and 2 ¾ hours of fighting in a firing line, but mostly standing, resting, and reorganizing.Read more ›