FIERCE PATRIOT: THE TANGLED LIVES OF WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN by Robert L. O’Connell

 

(The Shermanesque  Stance!)

According to Robert L. O’Connell in his new book AMERICAN PATRIOT: THE TANGLED LIVES OF WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN, the life of the Civil War hero should not be portrayed in the traditional fashion by preparing a chronological narrative because its results would be too cumbersome.  Instead, the author has produced a fascinating book that consists of three parts that add up to a biography, but is organized in a rather confusing manner.  What the author has written is a “pseudo-biography” that covers Sherman’s life in excellent detail with a great deal of analysis.  I understand that historians are always looking for a fresh approach toward their subjects that have been dealt with previously, but at times they should not try and reinvent the wheel.  Again, let me reiterate, I enjoyed the book and took away a great deal, but at times I would have hoped the material in the last section of the narrative could have been included in the lengthy first section to form greater coherence.

O’Connell begins by arguing that Sherman’s life brings with it an enormous amount of documentary material stemming from his own writing, an extensive oral record of his statements, and the voluminous material produced by the Civil War.  The author concludes that it is almost impossible to produce a definitive one volume biography of Sherman.  In addition, the difficulty is enhanced because of the many myths associated with Sherman from the accusation of being a war criminal, a racist, and a very class conscious individual who supported the business classes.  The author concludes that there is evidence for each of these myths, but there is also material that disproves them, particularly when we apply twenty-first century standards to nineteenth century figures.  For O’Connell, Sherman falls into a category below Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR as individuals who were responsible for furthering American growth and making transcontinental consolidation possible, and the author’s resulting effort accurately proves that point.

In preparing the book O’Connell has decided to portray three story lines.  The first, “if Jefferson was the architect of continental expansion, Sherman would become his general contractor.” (xviii)  By the time Sherman retired from the army in 1884, he “had become virtually a human embodiment of Manifest destiny.  Florida, California, reclaiming the Confederacy, winning the west.” (xix)  Second, the co-evolution of the army of the west and Sherman as its commander as he taught legions of men “the most valued of military skills: the ability to adapt,” and the ability to adjust on the fly after much trial and error.  Thirdly, Sherman created a model “of how to grab and hold on to fame in America, one that still works today.” (xx)  For O’Connell, Sherman’s life boils down to a three ring circus, each fascinating, but they must be dealt with separately or components of his life become too distracting.  As a result he sticks to a section describing Sherman as a military strategist, another as a general, and he concludes with a section of Sherman as a human being after retirement.  My problem is that these sections continuously overlap and there are parts of the book that the reader is told that what he is writing about will become much clearer later.  I admire O’Connell’s effort, but John F. Marszalek’s SHERMAN: A SOLDIER’S PASSION FOR ORDER did an admirable job of creating what O’Connell discounts.

O’Connell begins by lecturing the reader on the concept of military strategy and concludes that Sherman’s ultimate career goal was national consolidation of the central bond of the North American continent and Manifest Destiny.  He further concludes that he never wanted to be in total command during his military career, as it was difficult enough being in charge of strategy.  These conclusions are well supported in the first two-thirds of the book that make up section one.  O’Connell is on firm ground with his theme and goes on to support his argument as he takes the reader through Sherman’s career at West Point, the Second Seminole War of 1835-1842, a stint at on the Sullivan Islands across the harbor from Charleston, South Carolina, as a recruiting officer in the Pittsburgh region, a stationing in California, and investigating corruption in New Orleans.  What should be apparent is that the most important activity of this time period was the Mexican War, which Sherman missed out on, while others from his graduating class at West Point began to earn their reputations.  As a strategist what was most important for Sherman at this juncture of his life was his discovery of the importance of the Mississippi which fit his world view as he would describe the region as the “spinal column of America.”  Sherman’s love for geography and topography was born at this time and along with a photographic memory for detail.  This would allow him to remember almost every aspect from each area that he transverses in his career fostering the development of a data base that in part explains his success as a strategist during the Civil War.

(The Union siege of Vicksburg, July, 1863)

It is O’Connell’s discussion of the Civil War that is the strongest part of the book.  O’Connell does pepper this section with details concerning his upbringing, his relationship with the Ewing family, his marriage and raising a family all of which are important enough, but detail later in the book clarifies a great deal of what is discussed here.  In a sense the Civil War saved Sherman’s career.  By the early 1850s Sherman leaves the army and tries his hand in the private sector.  His father-in-law, Thomas Ewing, a cabinet officer, politician, and wealthy individual wanted him to take over  a Salt Mine he owned near his home in Lancaster, Ohio which became part of a tug of war between the Ewing family and his wife Ellen, and what Sherman wanted to do with his life.  The Ewing-Sherman relationship at times dominates the narrative as Sherman tries to be his own man and continually win over his wife.  The period preceding the Civil War was probably the worst period for Sherman.  His career as a New York banker ended with the crash of 1857.  He returned to California as a banker but due to the economy the venture was a failure.  He finally gives into Thomas Ewing’s urging and runs one of the the family businesses in Leavenworth, Ka.  It became increasingly clear to Sherman the only arena that he felt comfortable in was the military and after the election of Lincoln he rejoins the army and with secession his career is saved.

The author spends a prodigious amount of time discussing the major battles that Sherman was involved in.  The reader witnesses how Sherman trains and develops the army of the west and making it into one of the best fighting forces in American history by the end of the war.  We witness how Sherman cultivated his soldiers to believe in him and how he developed his command.  The knowledge of American geography is applied and we see his strategy unfold.  O’Connell delves into the egos of the period, be it Sherman, Henry Halleck, Simon Cameron, Edwin Stanton, Ulysses S. Grant and others and the personality conflicts that were readily apparent.  Sherman’s logistical genius greatly assisted Grant in Tennessee resulting in the Sherman-Grant relationship that was based on mutual trust.  Sherman was content to being Grant’s “wing man” or second in command and the relationship flourished.  Sherman suffered from depression and Grant tended to imbibe a bit too much as Sherman described their relationship, “he stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk, now sir we stand by each other always.” (95)

For Sherman the battle of Shiloh in April, 1862 was a major turning point.  Shiloh was a success because Sherman was able to blunt the south’s effort to recover the initiative in the Mississippi Valley and opened the way for a rendering of the military balance in the west and securing Sherman’s reputation.  The theme of securing the Mississippi so crucial to Sherman’s thinking is explored in the run up to and final battle at Vicksburg a year later, culminating in a union victory in July, 1863.  Sherman’s audacious strategy was key and as 1864 approached Sherman was aware of the south’s tenacity so he convinced Grant that the best way to defeat the south was “to attack southern morale and its relationship to crushing the rebellion….Both understood the psychological effect of their blue-clad armies barging across the landscape, taking what they wanted, and wrecking anything that looked Confederate,” (132) they would engage the Confederate field armies and destroy them, killing rebels, and getting into their heads.  Grant would be the battering ram in the East, and Sherman would employ his mastery of operations and strategy as he marched toward Atlanta.  O’Connell’s discussion of the march to the sea is excellent.  We are placed inside Sherman’s mind as well as the Confederates he fought.  The detail is exquisite and is one of the major highlights of the book.  The burning of Atlanta, the seizure of Savannah, and the march into South Carolina for revenge against the heart of the enemy as it burns Columbia rather than Charleston and the move into North Carolina where Sherman softens his approach are all described.  The success was based on foraging and living off the land as well as engineering genius, but as with other topics there is greater detail about the “bummers” (foragers) in a later part of the book.  The author concludes this section of the book with a discussion of Sherman’s post war role in implementing the transcontinental rail road, a goal that he had set earlier in his career and fit right in with his belief of continental expansion.

The final third of the book is broken down into two parts.  The first explores Sherman’s soldiers and their relationship to him.  O’Connell describes the intricacies of the army of the west and its conduct during the Civil War.  We learn what fighting was like at Shiloh and Vicksburg.  We learn what it was like marching 120 miles on the way to Atlanta, and fighting an insurgency through the eyes of the participants.  Shiloh is explained through the vision of a seventeen year old drummer boy, and the life of a “bummer” is explored through their own eyes as they faced the difficulty of locating food for an entire army.  The author also explains the role of the new technology developed during the war and how it affected Sherman’s strategy and how his soldiers adapted to it.  Basically, this section is a history of the army of the west from its inception, training, skill set and application in battle, all information that could have been integrated more effectively in the first section of the book.

(Statue of William T. Sherman, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, located at 59th Street and 5th Avenue entrance to Central Park, NYC)

O’Connell brings his narrative to a close by describing the difficulties that marrying into the Ewing family presented.  His wife Ellen’s constant pressure to have Sherman convert to Catholicism irked the general and made him feel as if there was a papist plot against him.  Ellen’s need to spend meant that throughout their marriage there was always pressure on Sherman to make a great deal of money.  The competition between the legacy of Thomas Ewing and Sherman’s career path is a key component as to what drove Sherman a good part of his life, when finally after the Civil War he could feel that he was finally the dominant figure in the eyes of his wife.  O’Connell weaves in at least two of the affairs that Sherman was involved in during his marriage, but concludes the thirty year bond between Ellen and her husband always remained strong.  The author closes with a discussion of Sherman’s “rock star” career after the Civil War and how the public fed his need for approval.  There are components in the book that border on “psychohistory,” but the author’s conclusions in that area are a bit flimsy.  Overall the book is quite interesting and if one can deal with its organizational flaws it is well worth reading.

IN THE HANDS OF PROVIDENCE: JOSHUA L. CHAMBERLAIN & THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by Alice Rains Trulock

(statue of Joshua L. Chamberlain at Gettysburg Battlefield)

Recently my daughter earned a position a position at Bowdoin College and when I visited the campus I was struck by the statue of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, an individual who I was familiar with but had not read much about.  A week before visiting the Bowdoin campus my wife and I celebrated our anniversary traveling up and down the Maine coast, and for those who know me, they could predict I would find a few books, and in this case they were two biographies of Chamberlain, one of which was Alice  Rains Trulock’s IN THE HANDS OF PROVIDENCE: JOSHUA L. CHAMBERLAIN AND THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, the subject of this review.   I knew in advance that Chamberlain’s life story was remarkable, and perhaps, the book should have been titled, “The Professor turned General.”  In any case students of the Civil War should become familiar with his exploits; a hero at Gettysburg, a hero during the run up to the siege of Petersburg, a hero at the final battle of the war that led to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox; achieving the rank of major-general, and having his horse shot out from under him six times.  His amazing career also included a professorship and presidency of Bowdoin College, and a four term governorship of the state of Maine.  There is no question that Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain deserves a full length biography depicting his many exploits and accomplishments, but I must ask, has Alice Rains Trulock done Chamberlain’s life justice?  Trulock has written a comprehensive biography, but it lacks the incisive analysis that a major work of historical biography calls for.  Trulock spends two-thirds of the book detailing Chamberlain’s role in the Civil War and the remaining third on his pre and post-war career.  I wonder whether the book is an improvement over Willard M. Wallace’s biography, SOUL OF THE LION, written over thirty years earlier.

To Trulock’s credit she mines the documents carefully and does an exceptional job integrating Chamberlain’s own writings throughout the narrative.  Her discussion of the attack and eventual siege of Petersburg and Chamberlain’s role in planning and carrying out orders is perhaps the author’s best section of the book, surpassing her very solid description of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Her blend of  the course of the many battles she describes, as well as her human interest approach provides the reader with the feel that they were riding along side Chamberlain as he was constantly under fire and repeatedly wounded.  The major drawback to the narrative is the paucity of analysis, something that is not expected from a work of this type.  Her approach is as a reporter and less so a historian.  Her observations of Chamberlain’s bravery and the respect that the troops had for him is well and good, but beyond this and intricate details of a myriad of battles, I expected further discussion of the whys and wherefores of decision making and the historical significance of what transpired.

(General Joshua L. Chamberlain during the Civil War)

Trulock’s political observations are more interesting than her military ones.  Her discussion of the Election of 1864 that saw President Lincoln defeat General George McClellan was astute.  Arguing that it “was one of the most important victories of the war” for union forces, it belied the myth of McClellan’s popularity with the troops as Lincoln garnered a 3-1 advantage among the military. (221)  The author also does a credible job as she portrays the important commanders during the war.  In particular, her description of the self-serving Philip Sheridan, by providing examples of his egotistical nature is well put.  I also enjoyed her discussion of the soldiers and the cross they had to bear.  Her short biography of Sgt. Patrick DeLacey and his interaction with Chamberlain is poignant and reflects the raw courage of the men who fought for the union.

Aside from matters relating to the Civil War the reader is exposed to Chamberlain’s early years in Brewer, ME, his staunch moralism, and his early years at Bowdoin.  After the war the narrative concentrates on Chamberlain’s presidency of Bowdoin, his governorship, military reunions, business ventures, his health, and family issues.  An example of the analysis that may be missing is seen with the ruckus over the mandatory military drilling that Chamberlain called for at Bowdoin.  When students opposed the order and rebelled, he suspended the entire student body as his solution for the “drill rebellion.”  Trulock could have related this episode to Chamberlain’s own suspension from college when he thought his stand was a matter of honor to defend his beliefs, but she does not.  Further, she does not really address why Chamberlain was able to be such a success in the military arts with little combat training.  Perhaps it was the discipline he forged during his earlier life.

Overall, despite its flaws, Trulock’s biography is comprehensive and is a useful addition to any Civil War library.  There are areas that should have been addressed, perhaps greater clarity of the “fog of war,” but to her credit she does address his depression, physical issues related to the war (he was wounded “by shot and shell” six times), and alludes to a probable case of PTSD from his wartime experiences.  One wonders how he accomplished so much as he had to deal with so many personal issues.  It reaffirms that Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a worthy subject, and those with an interest in the topics that encompass his life might want to pursue Trulock’s biography.

GIANT IN THE SHADOWS: THE LIFE OF ROBERT T. LINCOLN by Jason Emerson

I decided to read Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln by Jason Emerson for the simple reason that I was curious what it would have been like to be the son of the “Great Emancipator.” Mr. Emerson did not let me down. The reader is presented with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln through the eyes of his only surviving son and a wonderful and detailed narrative history of the Lincoln family from the 1840s through the 1920s. Emerson has written what I would describe as a “comfortable” book where the reader is invited into the mindset of Robert Lincoln. We see the many crises that “young” Lincoln suffered, the politics of the period, the expansion of the American economy and his role in it, in addition to his personal issues relating to both of his parents. We learn that Abraham Lincoln was an overindulgent parent in spite of the fact that Robert was mostly raised by his mother Mary since his father spent a great deal of time traveling the judicial circuit before pursuing a political career. The material that is presented on Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, the death of their children, and the political background is written in an engaging style and is concisely presented though many of the details are not new.
What are new are the details of Robert’s relationship with his mother. Emerson drawing in part on his previous work on Mary Todd Lincoln provides an intricate description of his mother’s mental health following the assassination of his father. The emotional collapse, debts, and wrenching familial details eventually forced Robert to have his mother committed. From 1865-1875 his mother’s mental state dominated a significant amount of time and Robert grew mortified by his mother’s behavior. Robert was deeply concerned about his family’s historical legacy throughout his life so dealing with a mother who was probably bipolar was a challenge. Robert went so far as having his mother followed by Pinkerton detectives as she continued to spend inordinate amounts of money on clothing, furniture, and spiritualists. Eventually Robert consulted his father’s friends for advice and all agreed she should be institutionalized. The reader is witness to this entire episode which focuses in part on the state of mental health treatment in the United States at the time. After a short stay, under pressure from Mary and fearing publicity Robert approves of his mother’s release and he comes to terms in dealing with his her sickness as best he can.
Robert Lincoln emerges as a remarkable man. One can hardly imagine what it must have been like to bury two brothers, a father and mother, and witness three presidential assassinations. In addition, Robert Lincoln was not a well man who probably suffered from Bright’s Disease in addition to experiencing repeated bouts of depression. Despite these obstacles Robert Lincoln became an exceptional corporate lawyer, a wise business man who amassed a fortune, ambassador to England, was appointed Secretary of War, served as the CEO of The Pullman Palace Car Company, among his many achievements to the point that he was seriously thought of as a presidential candidate in the 1880s. Emerson takes the reader through all of these aspects of Robert’s life and pulls no punches in evaluating his subject. The key dichotomy is how the son differed from his father and Emerson concludes that despite the son’s anti-labor (Pullman Strike) and pro-business stances he was not that different in outlook from his father.
A key theme that is followed throughout the book is Robert Lincoln’s concern for his father’s place in history. Robert refused to allow historians, except for John G. Nicolay and John Hay, his father’s former secretaries during the Civil War access to presidential papers and other documents until twenty one years after his death. He reasoned that there was too much information that could impact people in a negative way that were still alive. There was nothing too small for Robert Lincoln to become involved with if it related to his father. Whether it was the creation of monuments, paintings, museums and documents Robert was the prime decision maker. Robert Lincoln lived a remarkable life that Jason Emerson captures very nicely. I am certain this book will become the standard treatment of its subject for years to come and though it may be an esoteric subject for some, it is lively and well worth the time to read.

 

LINCOLN’S MEN by Daniel Mark Epstein

The book jacket for Daniel Mark Epstein’s LINCOLN’S MEN states that the author explores the role of three remarkable young men who served as Abraham Lincoln’s “private secretaries” during the Civil War. The narrative however does more by delving into the relationship between John Nicolay, William Stoddard, John Hay and the sixteenth president. The reader is invited into the inner workings of the White House, how the war was conducted, the great issues of the day, and the social system that evolved in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. We are presented with three distinctly different men whose diverse strengths ranged from backgrounds as diverse in printing, a poetry, and journalism. The three “private secretaries” offered Lincoln companionship, advice, a sounding board for his ideas, in addition to carrying out intelligence missions and other important functions for the president. Part of Lincoln’s genius was his ability to recognize talent in others and then employ that talent for the benefit of the nation as was the case with all three of these gentlemen. Epstein prepares an integrated biography of all three, but more importantly the reader gains a window into Lincoln’s marriage and its effect on policy, his thought process, and the human emotion engendered by the savagery of war. Epstein mines the important diaries and other primary materials that are important in writing history and fills in a neglected aspect in exploring the conduct of the Civil War.

IMPEACHED: THE TRIAL OF ANDREW JOHNSON AND THE FIGHT FOR LINCOLN’S LEGACY by David O. Stewart

David O. Stewart has written a well researched book dealing with the attempt to remove Andrew Johnson from the presidency after the Civil War. The author goes through excruciating detail describing the conflict between Radical Republicans and Democrats following the war between the states. The author explores the great personalities involved, ie; Thaddeus Stevens, Andrew Johnson, Ben Wade, U.S. Grant etc. Currently, we are in an age of extreme political partisanship that does not compare to the Reconstruction period the author discusses. Further, the book rebuffs many of the myths associated with the impeachment process in targeting Johnson for being too lenient on the south as the United States attempted to reunite. The pervasiveness of bribery and corruption during the process is shocking and the author offers a number of important documents in an attached appendix. The book is well worth reading for those interested in the post-Civil War politics or those who are drawn to the sinister nature of men whose beliefs are so strong they will stoop to any convoluted argument to achieve their goals.

GETTYSBURG by Allen C. Guelzo

According to Allen C. Guelzo, as of 2004 6,193 books, articles and pamphlets have been written about the Battle of Gettysburg. Now in the 150th anniversary year of a battle that has been seared into American memory we have another prodigious volume that describes and analyzes the battle, the leading characters, as well as the soldiers who were involved in the fighting. Guelzo’s work GETTYSBURG: THE LAST INVASION may be the best one volume account since that of Bruce Catton’s appeared in 1952. In summarizing the Civil War as “large numbers of organized citizens attempting to kill one another,” he has also captured the essence of Gettysburg which he describes in particular were “conducted with an amateurism of spirit and an innocence of intent which would be touching if that same amateurism had not also contrived to make it so bloody.” (xvi) It seems that every aspect of the battle was discussed, be it, strategy before, during, and after the fighting ended, to the political and military recriminations that appeared soon after. In addition, Guelzo describes the problems that the battle created including damage to the town’s infrastructure, people’s capacity to earn a living, along with the lack of quality medical care for survivors including the issue of how thousands of corpses were to be buried.

At the outset the author puts to rest the idea that the Civil War was a modern total war. Guelzo correctly argues that technology and military strategy had progressed since the Napoleonic Wars but not to the degree that the fighting involved society in its totality. Another point raised at the outset is that Gettysburg does not really touch on the issue of emancipation because as Lincoln said many times it was a war for union. The plight of slaves is mentioned in the context of freed blacks who resided in the battle area who were seized as property by the Confederates, but not as part of the overall concept of emancipation. For Lincoln the preservation of the union was the key to the success of liberal democracy which was not possible without a Union victory. For Guelzo, “Gettysburg would be the place where the armies of the Union would receive their greatest test, and the Union its last invasion.” (xix)

The book is organized into a number of sections. First, themes are laid out in the Acknowledgements and the reader is provided with a glimpse of the arguments that Guezlo employs throughout the book. A background chapter follows and then each of the three days of battle is broken down into larger chapter groupings. The book concludes with a few chapters that discuss responsibility for events, the immense cost in lives and property, and an analysis of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The author employs diaries and letters of all the major participants, including the foot soldiers and officers that provide the reader an intimate look at their state of mind as it related to what was transpiring on the battlefield as well as the decisions that led to the fighting. The topography of the battlefield is not left out as Guelzo describes the importance of hills, ridges, and peaks, how muddy the roads were, as well as the obstacles of fenced in farms presented for the soldiers. For example the discussion of Cemetery Ridge as it related to artillery with its broad flat plateau and uncluttered view of the area provided an elevation that could block attackers from 600 yards away. (124)

Early on Guelzo asks the question of what motivated the ill led, ill equipped, and ill trained soldiers to fight. According to the author, for the most part the Union army fought to save liberal democracy from a conspiracy to replant a European style aristocracy in the United States. They fought in obedience to duty and patriotism not hatred for the Confederacy. The southern cause was not as noble since their soldiers fought for slavery. Their motivation was tied to home and country represented by sectional and personal financial interests, as one out of every three southern soldiers owned at least one slave. They assumed they were god’s aristocrats and had the utmost confidence and adulation in Robert E. Lee and would follow him anywhere.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the mini-biographies the author presents for all the major participants in the battle. The reader is privy to the intra-military rivalries that existed on both sides and the major disagreements pertaining to battle strategy. Robert E. Lee is presented as a person who sees slavery as a moral and political evil that would end sometime in the future. He also viewed the southern fire-eaters as a political cancer, but he was a slave owner who felt a strong loyalty to Virginia for personal family reasons. Perhaps the most important conclusion Guezlo comes to deals with what he terms “Lee’s invisibility” during the battle. Lee’s decision to invade the north as a vehicle to stirring up Democratic Party pressure in Congress to foster a negotiated settlement is discussed in detail as is the military planning before the battle. However, Lee was the type of commander who allowed his officers a great deal of leeway in implementing his plans. This could be seen each day and particularly on July 3, 1863 in dealing with George E. Pickett’s charge into the center of Union lines. Lee’s relationship with James Longstreet is reviewed as is Lee’s anger toward J.E.B. Stuart who Lee would later argue might have cost the Confederacy a victory through his actions.

Guelzo reviews the McClellan-Lincoln relationship as it relates to the internal politics of the Union military and how it created a schism between pro and anti-McClellan factions. This schism greatly affected the overall conduct of the war, though to a lesser extent at Gettysburg. Guelzo’s presentation of a George Gordon Meade is extremely important to our story in a number of ways. Meade was a supporter of McClellan and eventually Lincoln would compare his inability to pursue the enemy when victory was at hand as he previously had done with McClellan after Antietam. Meade was placed in a very poor situation as he was made commander of Union forces following the firing of Joseph Hooker on June 28, 1863. Meade did not want the command and was the most surprised man in the army to receive it. Meade favored compromise to end the war and Radical Republicans in Congress saw him as a McClellan Democrat and a supporter of the man who would run against Lincoln for the presidency a year later. Because of good intelligence Meade had a pretty good idea were Lee’s army was located. However, Meade’s situation highlighted a problem for both sides, the poor communication that existed between commanders. For example Meade really did not know exactly where his own army was as the first evidence of the battle trickled in and after General John Reynolds who was in command of half the army at Gettysburg was killed Meade did not know who was in charge. In addition to poor communication Meade was unsure of how many troops were available to him. It was assumed he had about 112,000 men on July 1, but muster reports placed the figure at 95,000 because of how troop strength was determined (it included all soldiers who had non-combat missions, for Lee this was not a problem because he had 10-30,000 slaves for non-combat roles). After Day two of the battle Meade was strongly considering retreat. Though he vehemently denied the charge, why did he call for a war council that night? Most of his generals did not favor pulling back and Meade did not favor the advice he was given and said so, “Have it your way gentlemen, but Gettysburg is no place to fight a battle.” (356) By Day Three Lee had decided to soften up Union forces with a massive artillery barrage, but due to a misjudgment of the strength of Union artillery and Lee’s uncoordinated command style and poor communication when Pickett’s Charge finally occurred it was repelled and created a major Union victory. The question remains how much credit should Meade receive for a victory that seemed to fall into his lap, and why after Lee began retreating didn’t Meade pursue him? Lincoln described McClellan as having a serious “case of the slows,” a description that could also describe Meade.

For the author no detail pertaining to the battle is insignificant. I found his attention to the average foot soldier very insightful as it placed the reader in the middle of the fighting and the deprivations that each combatant had to endure. Discussions of rationing ammunition, the large amount of foraging of the area, the poor medical care, and the emotional ups and downs of battle reflect the torturous situation thousands of young men from all over the country had to endure. The author’s chapter on medical treatment of soldiers after the battle is excellent. At a time when our soldiers are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I cannot imagine the mental turmoil the survivors of Gettysburg had to cope with when the fighting was finally brought to a close.

Guelzo brings the book to a conclusion by discussing the “blame game” that took place after the battle, and for years following the Civil War. Reputations were on the line and the testimonies of witnesses during Congressional hearings changed over the years and still today historians and partisans argue the same issues. Upon completing such a detailed military history I wondered who the audience for this work would be. I concluded that the time I spent reading the book was well worth it, and though at times the military minutiae was a bit much, Guelzo’s overall approach to his topic and his writing style allows for a broad audience including the general reader and the academic. My plan was to read this book right before visiting the Gettysburg Battlefield National Park, hopefully our representatives in Congress will allow me to do so next week.