134 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pulitzer Prize stuff
Such predictions are risky, but it's hard to imagine that Guelzo's book won't be the definitive treatment of the Gettysburg battle for years to come. I've lived in Gettysburg for nearly thirty years, and I've read my share of books on the battle. But I've never come across one that is as detailed without being tiresome as this one, largely due to Guelzo's talents as a...
Published 7 months ago by Kerry Walters
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some new interesting details but maps are poor
No book about Gettysburg can be completely original but there are some interesting slants here. The author does a nice job of linking the political divisions within the Army of the Potomac with the poor coordination and performance of the Federal generals. For instance, Meade, the newly appointed commanding general of the Federal army, was hardly enthusiastic about the...
Published 5 months ago by Star Trek Guru
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134 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pulitzer Prize stuff,
This review is from: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Hardcover)Such predictions are risky, but it's hard to imagine that Guelzo's book won't be the definitive treatment of the Gettysburg battle for years to come. I've lived in Gettysburg for nearly thirty years, and I've read my share of books on the battle. But I've never come across one that is as detailed without being tiresome as this one, largely due to Guelzo's talents as a stylist. Even for one more interested (as I am) in the social than in the military history of the Civil War, this study is riveting. A first rate effort.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some new interesting details but maps are poor,
This review is from: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Hardcover)No book about Gettysburg can be completely original but there are some interesting slants here. The author does a nice job of linking the political divisions within the Army of the Potomac with the poor coordination and performance of the Federal generals. For instance, Meade, the newly appointed commanding general of the Federal army, was hardly enthusiastic about the selection of Gettysburg as the decisive battleground. Much of his discomfort stemmed from the fact that Reynolds, a political rival, had committed his corps to the battle at the outset as the first Federal infantry corps on the scene. Meade had actually contemplated a withdrawal after the first day even though the Union held much of the high ground. The author dispels some myths about the effectiveness of civil war muskets versus the bayonet which actually did more damage. As for the Confederates, the author does not spare his criticism of Lee which is refreshing. Although Lee had lost his best battlefield general, Stonewall Jackson, prior to Gettysburg, he never adjusted his custom of giving broad and discretionary orders to his corps commanders even though they were hardly Jackson to put it mildly. Although there are quibbles about the writing style, the major deficiency of the book concerns the maps. The maps often do not coordinate with the battle time line being described and they are not detailed sufficiently. It is very frustrating to be reading about battles being fought with the landmarks but the maps are not in the correct scale to show what is being described. With the ability to generate very accurate maps with computer graphics, it is baffling that the maps in the book do not appear to take advantage of new technology.
In light of this book, I have reread the excellent Sears' account of approximately 10 years ago. If you have not read either book, go with Sears first. His writing style is much easier to follow and the maps are far better.
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Account of the Great Battle,
This review is from: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Hardcover)Allen Guelzo has a fine writing style and does an excellent presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg.
In reading the book, you quickly understand what an unsettled mess of a thing this was. As Wellington described Waterloo as a "close run thing", Guelzo shows us that Gettysburg was no different.
The author carefully covers the three days of the battle with a descriptive narrative that leaves the reader not only excited but begging for more. There are numerous instances of relevant stories of commanders and commoners engaged in this great killing field that puts the human element into what was otherwise the great movements of massive numbers of troops.
It is of interest that while Meade wanted to concentrate in a defensive position along Pipe Creek, Robert E. Lee did not want to start an engagement until his entire army was in place. None of this happened as a result of John Reynolds, who pushed his corps into the fight and Harry Heth, marching into the cavalry screen of the Union Army.
Every historian has his take on events and I was in agreement with many of the author's opinions, but not all of them. Early in the book, he praises Oliver O. Howard in his first day of the battle. Howard was barely six weeks away from his flank being in the air at Chancellorsville and watched hopelessly as Jackson rolled it up. His performance was a little better at Gettysburg but not much. What started off as a Confederate bungle on the first day nearly resulted in a complete rout of the existing Union army. Hancock was sent to salvage the situation. Just one of the many questions of the "what ifs" of Gettysburg.
Meade, I think, was given rough treatment by the author. While certainly without the class of someone like "Hancock the Superb" as described by Little Mac, and more like an angry snapping turtle, he was thrown into the role as the commander of the Army and within five days had suffered as many killed and wounded as Hooker had in five months.
And, Lincoln being desperate for winning commanders, kept making changes in an effort to find one while all the time screaming for Washington to be protected. Frankly, I would not have wanted Meade's responsibilities. Add to that, he was a McClellan man, as the author points out, and there were numerous pro Abolition generals that were at odds with McClellan and his followers, thus the internal tension of the Union generals.
On the second day, he has to contend with the stupidity of General Dan Sickles, who was not only a cad, but a cutthroat politician, whose venture out onto higher ground resulted in many Union dead. Finally, after defeating Lee on the third day, he was lambasted by Lincoln because he did not bag the Confederate army. Guelzo points out in the book that such a concept was not a real one, and the war went on for almost two more years.
There is much ado about Meade wanting to retreat at the end of the second day. That is old news, and is covered by Shelby Foote in The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian copyright of 1963, so nothing new here. As Shelby points out, Meade had telegraphed Washington that he would stay where he was, but called a council of war among his senior officers, about a dozen of them crowded in one room of a widow's farmhouse, to sound them out. He hoped they would cast their votes to leave, but they did not, and so a third day of this human slaughter would happen, and the result is history.
I have since the review added this comment on the Confederate army and would like to state the following. It has always been said that North Carolina (my home state) was a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit. Hotheads in South Carolina started this mess and when Virginia finally fell to the forces of secession, the dye was cast for North Carolina. Lee, Lee, Lee. That is all a Southern boy heard about growing up. The sad truth is that if LEE had stayed true to his country and not his state, and led the command of the Union armies that was handed to him on a platter, this war would have been over in less than a year. That did not happen and for four long years the South was decimated in a war that it took more than 100 years to recover from. Even the great George Pickett, who was looking for glory at Gettysburg and was later stationed in North Carolina was brutal to the people of the state and insisted on hanging many NC natives who simply were not enthused about the war. Pickett should have been shot as a war criminal. As a result of the war, 77 Confederate generals were killed in battle, which took care of much of the problem of treason. A good many of the survivors of the war died in ruin and poverty, so for me, there is no glory in Gettysburg. I wish it had never happened and this whole concept of civil war had been nipped as it was during the presidency of Andrew Jackson.
While I enjoyed the book, I, like others am puzzled at the lack of a bibliography, and I found some errors in the maps included with the book.
At the end of the day, it is a great read, but I think no better than Gettysburg by Stephen Sears. It is a good book, but by no means the definitive work on Gettysburg.
106 of 130 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sickles & Butterfield on Gettysburg,
This review is from: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Hardcover)For General Meade victory at Gettysburg did not bring accolades. Daniel Sickles, Daniel Butterfield, Abner Doubleday initiated a campaign of rumors and outright lies to discredit him. Their major supporter was the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War. Wasting time and smearing Meade were the major results of this campaign. Sickles made a preemptive strike to deflect questions about advancing his Corps on the second day. Meade's removal or replacement of Butterfield and Doubleday caused them to seek revenge. The JCCCW wanted a good Republican and strong abolitionist commanding the Army of the Potomac. George Gordon Meade a professional solider that did not understand and refused to participate in politics was an easy target. Even with these advantages, they were unable to land any telling blows. They did manage to muddy the waters by creating a number of stories questioning Meade's conduct. Most historians discount the stories and the records do not support them.
150 years later, Allen C. Guelzo accepts the Sickles, Butterfield account as gospel. This book is an account of the Gettysburg Campaign that the anti-Meade faction would love. Every discredited story from Mine Run to the Staff Meeting is here. The idea that Meade was dragged kicking and screaming into battle is the heart of the book.
If this were only a rehash of the Sickles/Butterfield story, we could ignore the book. However, there are some excellent discussions here. The author's expiation of time keeping in 1865 and the reasons for liner tactics are excellent. An excellent writing style coupled with a confident prose will convince many this is the true story of the campaign.
The first hint of problems occurs on pages 28-29. Here the author compares Meade, Hancock, Gibbon and Cross to Sickles, Howard and Solcum. Meade and company are found wanting. Why, you ask. For the same reason the JCCCW disliked them. They were Stephen Douglas Democrats who thought southern fire-eaters and northern abolitionist the major cause of the war. I feel the author could comfortably sit next to Thaddeus Stevens grilling Meade about Gettysburg. A historical note: in WWII the congressional committee overseeing the war, stated they would not act as the JCCCW had.
This is a large book with a fair level of detail, some of it questionable. Organization of endnotes is on paragraphs and one note will contain multiple sources. The notes have a page reference at the top of the page, something more books should do. The author uncritically uses many original sources. There is a full index but no bibliography. There is a reasonable number of basic maps that are well placed.
43 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars overpowering in its reach and depth; beautifully writen,
This review is from: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Hardcover)The author is a talented and extraordinarily knowledgeable historian he is also a brilliant story teller and a master of the written word. That combination is so skillfully woven together in this book that the reader is torn between the desire never to put the book down until finished, and a constant mental tug to slow down and reflect seriously on what the author is saying; and in particular how well he connects the dots among politics, war, strategy and the individual soldier. How many times have we seen reviews that say "if you can only read one book..." This time it's true. This must be literature, history and story telling at its best.
45 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just when you thought......,
This review is from: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Hardcover)......that there surely couldn't be anything new and original to be written about Gettysburg or the Civil War this book comes out.
The stories of the experiences of leaders and individual soldiers make you feel like you almost could have been there. I don't know that I've ever read a book that better relayed to me the experience of a soldier within a battle.
The look at how politics affected the strategic decisions of leaders within a war is especially insightful and reminds us that politics is always impactful on government leaders even when it may not be the very best course of action.
It had to take a lot of work and research to put this together and the result is definitely worthy of reading even for those who thought they had read everything possible about this period in American history.
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine Book on the Battle,
This review is from: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Hardcover)As someone who has read hundreds of books on the Civil War in general and approximately three dozen on Gettysburg specifically I was a bit leery of picking up Prof. Guelzo's book fearing it would just be a rehash of the numerous other Gettysburg books available.
Yes, the author does go over certain aspects of the battle that are well known to most Civil War buffs but included are many vignettes about many of the participants that I was not aware of before. Tidbits about John Buford and O.O. Howard on the Union side and Confederates Richard Ewell and North Carolina's "Boy Colonel" Henry K. Burgwyn brought the fighting to life in a very personal way. The descriptions of the fighting are very well written although, as other have noted, the book could have used more maps. A nice collection of photos are inserted showing some of the fighting men and views of Gettysburg that are very rarely seen.
Some may still think of Coddington's epic work as "The Bible on Gettysburg" but Guelzo's ranks right up there.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another Gettysburg Book? Yes, and thank goodness!,
While the book doesn't really break much new ground insofar as the Gettysburg campaign and battle are concerned, Prof Guelzo nevertheless approaches the subject from a slightly different perceptive compared to many other historians. Thus, I was intrigued by his presentation of the Army of the Potomac's internal politics and how he demonstrated that the battles between the pro and anti McClellan camps were concurrently (and perhaps primarily) those between conservative Democrats and Abolitionists. I also enjoyed how Prof Guelzo presented the internal politics of the Army of Northern Virginia as revolving around a (perceived?) bias towards Virginian and those who were "politically correct" toward secession (that is, enthusiastically in favor of it). I also appreciated how the issue of slavery and the experience (and plight) of free blacks in the path of the invasion was a thread interwoven throughout the narrative. In addition, I thought the biographical vignettes of the major players, being both bitingly provocative and perceptive, were a particular highlight.
With regard to the battle itself, I thought the way Prof Guelzo laid out the battle in his presentation was both accurate and coherent. While the book does not go into great tactical detail there is enough there for a general survey and what is there is powerful and insightful. In addition, I founds his opinions and conclusions relative to the battle to be learned and reasonable even though I did not agree with all of them. For instance, I enjoyed the opportunity to reconsider O.O. Howard's performance on the 1st day, I appreciated how Prof Guelzo never lost sight of the fact that the object of the attack on Day 2 by the ANV was (and remained throughout) that of dispossessing the Army of the Potomac of Cemetery Hill, and I was intrigued by his Jackson/Longstreet, Chancellorsville/Gettysburg comparison.
Finally, the book is written beautifully. Some of the passages, for example those dealing with viewing the respective armies and the terrain from South Mountain, the aftermath of Pickett's Charge, and Lincoln's mind set as expressed in his Gettysburg Address, are simply stunning. I don't know that a better written book on the battle exists.
I do have some complaints. For instance, I was keenly disappointed by the lack of a bibliography, I found the maps only so-so (but I always have the great map books of Barry Gottfried and Phillip Laino close at hand), and I thought the Prof Guelzo gave some unwarranted credence to a couple of dubious sources. I also thought that his treatment of George G. Meade was a bit unfair and that his assertion that Meade was planning to retreat after the end of the fighting on Day 2 was a stretch, particularly in that his sources in support of that assertion either were biased against Meade (Slocum, Doubleday) or flexible when it came to the truth and (Butterfield and, especially, spectactularly, Pleasanton).
However, that being said, I loved this book and I feel privleged to have had the opportunity to read it. While I do not find it superior to the incomparable Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Edwin B. Coddington, I did find it to be a worthy companion to the wonderful books on the Gettysburg campaign and battle previously written by Noah Andre Trudeau and Stephen W. Sears.
I am glad I took the time to read this wonderful work.
61 of 78 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quirky Narrative,
* There is no chart of unit sizes. Companies, regiments, brigades, etc. are constantly mentioned, but the nonmilitary reader will not gain a sense of their sizes -- until there are casualties. The author generally only lists units by the number of casualties sustained so there is no good sense of the size of many of the individual encounters in the conflict.
* Naming of Southern generals does not conform to popular usage. For instance, A. P. Hill, a name that is well-known to Civil War buffs, is known as Powell Hill here. The refusal to adopt common usage is unnecessarily confusing.
* Many battle maps are sparse and lack unit designations.
* At least twice, the author inserts an italicized Biblical quotation when describing Lee's tactical planning. ("Had not God delivered the Philistines into his hands?") The quotation is not anchored so it is unclear if Lee thought this or if the author just felt the Bible verse was a clever commentary on Lee's thinking. Lack of explanation is confusing.
There is a sense that the author could not adopt a style of either a popular or an academic study so he veers back and forth between both styles in the quest for readability and in an only partly successful quest to mimic the popular Ken Burns' approach to Civil War storytelling. In the end, the book is good but could have been better.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best book on this battle,
Guelzo has an odd attitude to the course of this battle. He feels that if any Confederate force broke the Union lines anywhere, the battle and the entire war were over, even if the breakthrough happened after dark and Gen. Lee was unaware of it. These breakthroughs almost happened several times, but were always prevented by the timely arrival of fresh Union troops who shot or drove off the Confederate soldiers. To Guelzo, each such successful defense was dumb luck, not the result of competent Union generalship. The US army did win the battle, after all.
The maps are the worst I have ever seen in a military history. They are really just small diagrams. Many of the place and road names mentioned in the text are absent. I had to look at the maps in Wikipedia to follow the battle.
He did mention one fact, which I never saw anywhere else. When the Army of Northern Virginia (in which some of my North Carolina ancestors served) entered Pennsylvania, they immediately started kidnapping all the black people they saw, including children and infants, for sale in the Richmond slave market. Southern apologists still claim the war was about their freedom and resistance to an aggressive national government. Not true; the South tried to leave so they could continue their evil practice of human slavery.
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Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo (Hardcover - May 14, 2013)