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Gettysburg: Day Three Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 26, 2001
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On July 1 and 2, 1863, armies commanded by George Meade and Robert E. Lee clashed in the hilly farm country surrounding Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Badly bloodied, the outcome of the battle still uncertain, they fought on into a third day, one whose close would decide the Civil War.
Jeffry Wert, a Pennsylvania high school teacher and well-published scholar of Civil War history, offers a sweeping account of that third day of battle, one that relies heavily on letters, diaries, and other primary sources. From those combatants, we learn of the "carnival of hell" that was Pickett's Charge, when "the incessant rattle of musketry sounded like the grinding of some huge mill." We read of the heroic Union defense of Culp's Hill against equally heroic Confederate attackers, of a stirring charge of Virginia cavalry that elicited "a murmur of admiration" from opposing Michigan horsemen led by George Armstrong Custer, and of the exhaustion and terror of ordinary soldiers, one of whom mused, "What men are these we slaughter like cattle and still they come at us?"
Like the battle itself on that final day at Gettysburg, Wert's narrative unfolds with breakneck speed, and sometimes with so much detail as to yield momentary confusion as it proceeds from one butchery to the next. Still, his account is painstakingly researched and very well written, and it deserves a place on the shelf alongside the work of Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, and other popular historians of the Civil War. --Gregory McNamee
From Library Journal
A top Civil War scholar reinvestigates the final, bloody day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Wert is largely uninspiring compared to the Pantheon of Gettysburg authors, like Pfanz and Coddington. And to justify writing a book about Gettysburg or July 3rd, topics that have been written about endlessly, there has to be some originality involved to give the narrative meaning. Wert simply does not accomplish this, except perhaps on the cavalry actions, and it isn't surprising when the book is only 300 pages long.
July 3rd's action begins near dawn on Culp's Hill. Pfanz covers this action infinitely better in his book on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill compared to Wert's book. Pfanz book has just as many interesting first hand accounts, and it's a more descriptive narrative concerning the military movements and combat on Culp's Hill.
Pickett's Charge is, of course, the highlight of the action on July 3. Wert's book has nothing groundbreaking regarding any aspect of the charge, from the action to the Confederate command chain before the offensive. That's not surprising, considering the Charge has been discussed to death. However, you'll find much more description on the action in both Sears' and Coddington's books, and those are books covering the entire campaign, not just Day Three.
The only thing that separates this Day Three study from the rest is the detail it gives to the 4 cavalry actions on July 3rd. Generally most only mention Custer's and Stuart's action southeast of the field and Kilpatrick's assault on the Confederate right. This book describes those actions in strong detail and analyzes two less significant cavalry skirmishes.
Still, for anyone who wants to read 300 pages worth of text on July 3 at Gettysburg, it would benefit you to read a more specific book on Pickett's Charge or the Culp's Hill chapters of the Pfanz book. Put simply, Wert's sum is not greater than Day Three's parts.
Granted, Wert may not be for the extreme purist ala Pfanz, but this very inexpensive work deserves a place on the shelf alongside Noah Andre Trudeau's comprehensive work, or the more recent works by James M. McPherson and Stephen Sears.
Wert gives good, solid narrative to the desperate clash on Culp's Hill, and hails the little-known George Sears Greene, the oldest General in the Union Army on the battlefield, as the unsung hero of the battle, as the failure of the Confederates to crack the right flank of the Union forces commanded by Greene at Culp's Hill (Gettysburg) seriously impacted Pickett's charge later that day.
The poignant aspects of the Culps Hill fight - the death of a scruffy little dog that charged with the Maryland Confederates against Maryland Unionist, and received a "Christian burial" from the heartbroken Union General who found him on the battlefield; the death of Wesley Culp, who was born nearby, went south to Virginia and joined the Rebels and died on his own property, and the horrible, suicidal charge of Charles Mudge's 2nd Massachusetts are part and parcel of Wert's narrative.
As a Cavalry enthusiast, I certainly have no complaints only complements for Wert's descriptive of the East Cavalry Battle, or the subsequent attempts by Merritt and Kilpatrick to get behind the battered Confederates by the Round Tops just after Pickett's charge. The reader will get a true feel of the ferocity and desperation of the Stuart-Custer fight, and of Kilpatrick's senseless order to Farnsworth to lead a mounted charge across the rocky and tree-filled landscape just south of the Round Tops.
Wert, to his credit, also writes of the little-known cavalry battle at Fairfield on the 3rd day between Merritt's Sixth U.S. Cavalry and Confederates led by "Grumble" Jones, a useless fight that resulted in a severe Union defeat (one of the captured Union cavalrymen was a Major George Cram, who was later commended by the Union Cavalry Chief Alfred Pleasanton in a document in this writer's possession).
By contrast, even the brilliant Gary Gallagher's series of essays in "The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond" doesn't even mention the cavalry fights!
Yes, the book is printed on rag paper, and yes, some of the maps described the wrong battles. For example the map depicting the fight on the South field (Round Tops)is actually the East Cavalry battle between Stuart and Custer, and vice versa. And yes, those were reasons why I gave this work a four-star review rather than the five-star which, with modifications and improvements it really deserves.
A good solid work on Gettysburg at an even better price!
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In all honesty, as uncharitable as this sounds, I'm not sure another study of the third day at...Read more