66 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2003
I did not buy this book, a friend who is crazed about anything related to the Civil War subtlety recommend it by putting it in my hand saying really, "you will like it". Unconvinced that I would be interested in a Civil War battle of anything by Newt Gingrich for that matter, I took it home. This book takes hold of you unmercifully, and in my case reluctantly, and does not let go. The character development is remarkable. You will fret over every agonizing decision and cringe at every gory, and I do mean gory, detail. Three cheers for Gingrich and William Forstchen on their alternative history, I'm convinced - they can tell a great story.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2003
In 1853, Robert E. Lee understood that drastic measures were needed to bring the Civil War to a conclusion favorable to the Confederacy. Although the Army of Northern Virginia was blessed with often brilliant generalship, Lee knew that the Union's ability to endlessly churn out soldiers and war materiel meant that even with mediocre leadership the North would eventually grind down the Confederate forces by sheer force of numbers. Lee could win only by destroying the Union's will to fight, and this would not be done by fighting a strategically defensive war strictly on Southern soil. These considerations led to Lee's fateful decision to invade the North.
We all know how that venture ended. Lee, in an uncharacteristic tactical lapse, decided to stand and fight against a well-supplied, entrenched Union force that occupied superior defensive ground south of Gettysburg. Under the circumstances it should not have required brilliant Union leadership to successfully repulse Lee's attacks, but Lee's efforts to take Little Round Top on Day 2 came within a hair's breadth of succeeding. Had Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain failed in his now-famous last-ditch defense of the Union left, the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg might have been very different.
'Gettysburg' takes the "what if" scenario a step farther. What if Lee, instead of making the bullheaded decision to stand and fight at Gettysburg, had withdrawn after the chaos of Day 1 to mount a flank attack designed to draw the Army of the Potomoc to him on ground that gave the rebels all the advantages? Such a strategy seems more consistent with Lee's reputation for audacity and creativity, and co-authors Newt Gingrich and William Fortschen play out the premise in fascinating detail.
The authors obviously know their Civil War. The Union and Confederate officers are brought to life and act in accordance with their historical reputations, although Lee, with his sustained air of careworn courtliness comes off as something of a one-note caricature. The picture painted of life in both armies, the weaponry, tactics, the protocol, traditions and habits, are true to life and full of interesting bits of trivia.
The political leaders are less well-rendered and seem one-dimensional. One gets little understanding of the interpersonal dynamics of Lincoln's Cabinet. While the politics of the war were not the focus of the book, it would have been enlightening to spend a little more time on this part of the picture.
It's interesting to see the new roles that Gingrich and Fortschen built into their story for well-known officers at Gettysburg. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top, is found unsuccessfully defending the Union right against as flanking maneuver by Confederate forces, a role he played successfully in the real battle. Gen. Dan Sickles, who impetuously advanced his division at the real battle thus imperiling the entire Union line, revives his reputation here by unsuccesfully pressing Gen. Meade to allow him to advance forward to investigate some mysterious Confederate troop movements. In the book, had Meade only allowed him to go, Sickles would have discovered the Confederate flanking maneuver soon enough to thwart it.
I got the book as a gift and initially thought it was an historical novel that followed the actual battle faithfully. While at first I was disapppointed to find that it branched off from true history, I nevertheless quickly became engrossed with the this sharply-written novel and it was interesting enough to finish in just three sessions.
47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2003
I am a lifelong Marylander and raised in the midst of tons of Civil War history. Gettysburg, especially, has always fascinated me. In addition, I am a huge fan of author William Forstchen. Even with both of those points, I was unprepared for just how fantastic this book truly is.
The book begins with detail worthy of a true history book, but done in such a well-written way that you are soon with both armies as they prepare for their epic conflict.
You can see the fields filled with soldiers in both blue and gray, hear the roar of the cannons and almost smell the smoke. The people and places are described so well that they almost jump off the page.
The battle begins just as it really did. For those of us who love history (and alternate history), it draws us in beautifully. But then events begin to change. There comes a moment when history, as we know it, is altered.
Now it is up to the soldiers themselves -- officers and enlisted men as drawn believably by the authors -- to act as they would have done. What will Lee, the master tactician do now? How will Meade react, so new to command?
I can't tell you and I'd love to, but I won't spoil one page of this book. Just know this: Buy the book. You won't regret it. (As an aside, I almost never bother with these online reviews. I like the book so much, I just had to.)
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2003
There are many reasons for reading this book. Although an historical novel, it reads like a mystery thriller. I found myself reading as fast as I could to find out the ending. Another reason is, although a novel, the historical accuracies are many. I became much more familiar with the localized geography of the Gettysburg towns, rivers, bridges, hills, and valleys. There are also the breathtaking accounts of charges and maneuvers and skirmishes, not to mention details of military life during battle. I felt, at times, that I was right there and could smell the sickening odor of decaying and singed human and horse flesh, could actually see myself in hand-to-hand combat or running forward with hundreds of other Union soldiers (I'm a Yankee) in a line stretching 1/4 mile over crests and down gullies, through streams and parched, dusty fields, jumping over fallen comrades, and feeling the absolute knowledge that as I ran toward the Rebel fortifications, there was no place to hide and the only thing preventing a shard of lead slamming into me and ripping me apart was mere chance.
These are reasons enough. But they are not the main reason. George Santayana once said, "Those who do not learn from history, are bound to repeat it." And this is why this book is invaluable -- for reading this type of "history" makes one contemplate the "what ifs." What if the South had defeated the Union Army at Gettysburg? Would Lee have marched on Washington forcing the Union to sue for peace? Would the South have entered into the economic and political sphere of Great Britain? (Confederate delegates were in London trying to accomplish this during the 1860's.) What if the South had won the war? Would the southern states have been able to maintain their internal status quo after part of the slave population had tasted freedom by way of the Emancipation Proclamation? Would they have directed their attention toward Mexico and become a dominant force in the central part of the Western Hemisphere?
History not only helps us to understand where we have come from, but also where we are and where we are going. Alas, this book stimulates us to ask: What if Chamberlain had stood up to Hitler at Munich? What if Truman had stopped MacArthur from approaching the Yalu and Chinese border? What if we approach Syria and Iran diplomatically with 200,000 U.S. troops in Iraq as emphasis?
Therein lies the beauty of this book.
51 of 62 people found the following review helpful
I have to admit, I was surprised and pleased when I read Gettysburg by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen. Their previous effort at alternate history, 1945, did not do very well, primarily in my opinion because that book was slapped together in haste to try to sell books based on Speaker Gingrich's name and fame.
Not so this offering. The premise is simple. On the second day of the battle, Lee does not assault the Little Round Top. Instead, taking Longstreet's advice, he sends a goodly portion of his army round to the far right flank of the Union Army, seizing its supplies and cutting it off from Washington. What follows is a hellish bloodbath which is all the more searing to the Civil War buff as one sees what happens to familiar charecters such as Chamberlain, Hood, Armestead, and others. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is nothing less than a counterfactural Killer Angels.
It is also, irritatingly, the first of a trilogy. Now we'll have to wait for the narrative of the second volume, to be named apparently Grant Comes East.
--Mark R. Whittington [...]
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2003
Add me to the list of those who were at first reluctant to dive into a book which, at first glance, seemed designed solely for the Southern apologist crowd. However, this novel is just too good to pass up for any Civil War buff. There is real tension in this book. While we know from the beginning the South will somehow prevail in this alternative history, the authors do a masterful job of leading the reader on to the climactic battle scene- this time with the Union forced into a reverse Pickett's charge against an entrenched Confederate army. The battlefield scenes are some of the best I have read. It is almost too bad that the authors could not have avoided the 'what if?' premise and just wrote a historical novel based on the true events of Gettysburg- it is that good. However, "The Killer Angels" has apparently preempted the field for future historical novels concerning the Gettysburg battle. What the authors give us in this novel is great character development, with actions taken by the various participants- Lee, Longstreet, Meade, Sickles, etc- which are remarkably true to their character. Historical novels do not get much better than this.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2003
When I first purchased the book, I was very interested in reading such a scenerio that demonstrated an outcome if Lee had fought Gettysburg differently. I must credit the authors for there attention to detail, yet the whole battle is based on the North doing everything wrong and the South executing flawlessly. I was hoping for a more honest and balanced story. I also found it interesting that all the heros of Gettysburg from the North are either killed or wounded, yet the Southern generals go untouched in such a heated battle.
I recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining read, but not as a serious "what if".
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2003
I have to admit that going into this book, I was generally not a reader of novels. I was also not aware of the "what if" nature of the book. My historical perspective of Gettysburg is that it was a Union victory, a turning point in the war, and both sides suffered devastating losses. But this book did a whole lot more than simply portray how an historic battle could have had a different result. It put a human face on war. The tragedy, the sacrifice, and the perception of moral imperative (by both sides of the conflict) are exposed in this book. History classes never evoked this much emotion. Although novelized, the reality of war is graphically portrayed. The story can be intense at times and is always gripping. For those who decry the "what if" premise, it is still interesting to note how several strategic decisions, if made differently, could have affected the outcome of this historic battle. I am not a civil war scholar, but I found the story compelling. That is the main strength of the book. Rich portrayals of three dimensional characters in life or death situations that were all too real. But if, because I am not a student of the civil war (and still thoroughly enjoyed this book) I have a "fluffy, uncritical mind", so be it. Perhaps if you are a rigid ideologue, this book is not for you. It's a novel, not a history book, and should be approached as such. Additionally, the story doesn't end here (and didn't in the actual Civil War either). Grant Comes East continues this outstanding chronicle. Don't miss it.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2003
For the most part I have read history (non-fiction), which has included numerous books concerning Battle of Gettysburg. Reading this book (alternative history) was a switch for me, but a very pleasant surprise. The book is well written, fast-paced and is well researched. The plott (or divergence from history) is plausible and there are many events in the book that are the mirror image of actual events (one example- Meade standing in front of numerous union soldiers, who are reteating from the battlefield, saying it was all his fault -versus- actual event with Lee after Pickett's charge).
I highly recommend the book for those who want to be entertained with a "what if" history scenario. Those who have a good understanding as to what actual happened during the 3 days in July 1863 at Gettysburg will take more away from this book.
Given that this is the first book in a proposed trilogy, the real challenge will be where the authors go next, since they will be further along on an alternative path in history.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2003
I have to admit I'm not an avid reader of the historical or military genres, but a friend who is a Civil War buff sent me this book and told me to read it! I was absolutely enthralled. Gingrich and Forstchen are a powerful force and their battlefield depictions are realistically and brutally, but so compellingly, delivered. The narrative grabs the attention and never lets go. The character development is outstanding. This look at alternative history is an excellent write and one I would highly recommend to anyone - history buff or not.