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Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 14, 2013
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*Starred Review* Few battles provoke debate like Gettysburg, whose bibliography exceeds 6,000 items. One more won’t settle the what-ifs, but Guelzo’s entry identifies key controversies, trenchantly advocates its interpretations, and rests on a sensible foundation, the confusion of a Civil War battle. A noisome cacophony opaque with smoke, the Gettysburg battlefield allowed officers and soldiers only fragmentary glimpses of the action, limiting their situational awareness to their immediate surroundings. Wary, moreover, of postwar memoirists’ tendencies to justify themselves or fault others, Guelzo constructs his Gettysburg as much as possible from contemporaneous sources like orders, reports, and letters. His result reads like the battle might have been experienced, as an episodic series of terrifying minibattles directed by colonels and fought by regiments, whose clashes guided the outcome more than anything done by the respective army commanders on the scene. Rather dismissive of Union general Meade, Guelzo derogates Confederate general Lee less for his decisions at Gettysburg than for failing to strategically arrange a defensive battle and falling into the offensive one that developed. A political historian of the Civil War (Lincoln and Douglas, 2008), Guelzo demonstrates versatile historical skill in this superior treatment of Gettysburg. --Gilbert Taylor
New York Times Bestseller
"What is there left to say about Gettysburg? In Allen Guelzo's deft, scholarly hands, plenty. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is fresh, fascinating, and compellingly provocative. It is a marvelous book that deserves to be read and savored. And it deserves to be on the bookshelf of all Civil War buffs."
—Jay Winik, author of April 1865
“[W]onderful . . . a deeper understanding of the invasion . . . Guelzo’s book is an extremely timely reminder that the American experiment has not been, as the Founders asserted, a 'self-evident truth' but in fact a highly debatable proposition that needed to be proved, not just in July 1863 at Gettysburg but on many days and in many places since.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Graphic and emotionally affecting . . . an extraordinarily detailed and realistic account.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Despite all that has been written about the battle of Gettysburg, Allen Guelzo provides new information and insights in this stirring account. Unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom, he praises General O. O. Howard, maintains that General George Meade did indeed contemplate retreat on July 2 but was persuaded otherwise by subordinates, and criticizes Meade for missed opportunities in the pursuit after the battle. Readers will find much to think about in this book.”
—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom
“In this consistently riveting book, Allen Guelzo makes us feel that we are hearing the epic story of the Civil War's most famous battle for the first time. In unsentimental but always graceful prose, he delivers a panoramic yet astonishingly intimate account that interweaves the drama of battle with original—and often provocative—insights into the ways in which topography, weaponry, and the politics and personalities of its protagonists shaped events. This is, simply, the best book about Gettysburg that has yet been written. It is hard, if not impossible, to imagine that there will ever be a better one.”
—Fergus M. Bordewich, author of America’s Great Debate
“An extraordinary work of thorough scholarship combined with a lifetime of judgment about historic events. If you need a clear, direct introduction to the greatest battle on American soil this is a wonderful book. If you have read fifty books on Gettysburg but are looking for new insights and new facts that illuminate things you had never considered this is the book. Everyone interested in the decisive moment in Freedom's struggle should read Guelzo’s simply extraordinary book.”
—Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and coauthor of Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War
“[A] rich, original work . . . [Guelzo’s] expansive, rolling storytelling . . . makes this book so engrossing and sets [it] apart from the many others.”
—Ernest Ferguson, The Washington Post
“This is the finest single-volume account available . . . there is a timeless quality to Gettysburg that makes it special.”
—Martin Walker, The Wilson Quarterly
“Stirring . . . robust, memorable reading that will appeal to Civil War buffs, professional historians and general readers alike.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Few battles provoke debate like Gettysburg, whose bibliography exceeds 6,000 items. One more won’t settle the what-ifs, but Guelzo’s entry identifies key controversies, trenchantly advocates its interpretations, and rests on a sensible foundation, the confusion of a Civil War battle . . . [Gettysburg: The Last Invasion] reads like the battle might have been experienced . . . Guelzo demonstrates versatile historical skill in this superior treatment of Gettysburg.”
—Booklist, starred review
“Graceful . . . [Guelzo] gets up close and personal with soldiers and officers, providing a previously unseen level of intimacy with those who strategized and fought the battle . . . This exacting account of ‘the last invasion’ may well go down as the last word on the subject.”
“[Gettysburg] deserves to be included among the finest campaign studies of our generation. It earns this distinction with smart and vivid writing, innovative organization, and insightful analysis that manages to synthesize the Gettysburg story in a way that will appeal to the literate novice and the seasoned Civil War history reader alike.”
—The Civil War Monitor
“[A] stylish, comprehensive, and entertaining narrative . . . [Guelzo’s] account is not a typical tick-tock of troop movements; the pages are soaked in rich language and vivid character studies . . . Guelzo knows the power of the telling detail . . . At its core, Guelzo’s book explains some of the romanticism that hangs over the Civil War. Its soldiers appeal to us because they were ordinary people in extraordinary times; they fought with an appealing ‘amateurism of spirit and an innocence of intent,’ as Guelzo puts it. But tragically, those same qualities ensured a bloody outcome, no matter who emerged the victor.”
—MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History
“Wonderfully readable . . . [Gettysburg] marries scholarly rigor to a sense of narrative that rivals that of a novel.”
—The Daily Beast
“Much ink has been spilled over the Battle of Gettysburg. Readers might think there is little left to say and no fresh way of saying it, but Guelzo . . . proves such skeptics wrong with his riveting account of both the events leading up to the battle and the battle itself . . . Guelzo has composed a narrative that is detailed and compelling on a human level but easy to follow on an operational and tactical one . . . A triumph of source use and presentation, engaging enough for the general reader but rigorous enough for the scholar.”
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Top Customer Reviews
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 perspective 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 Virginians 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 found 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 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(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 estimable 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.
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.
I enjoyed the descriptions of detailed military action interspersed with educational passages on such things as why a unit's colors were so important and how the wounded were handled. Sharp character sketches and judgments abound on many of the officers that led the troops into harm's way during the first days of July, 1863. And the political context of the battle, both North and South, is nicely laid out.
A fine effort by a distinguished history professor, Dr. Allen Guelzo--one who knows this battlefield.