Gettysburg, July 1

Gettysburg, July 1

Gettysburg, July 1

Gettysburg, July 1

Synopsis

The most detailed regimental level account ever written of the critical and often overlooked first day of the Civil War's greatest battle, using primary, first-hand sources almost entirely, many of which are unpublished, and some of which have not been cited before.Gettysburg July 1 combines the most recent scholarly interpretations of the action with original analysis by the author and gives a fresh approach to the battle at the tactical level, with emphasis on the experience and competence of regimental and brigade commanders.

Excerpt

Gettysburg is without doubt the most studied battle in the history of America. Even before the fighting was over it was viewed as the most decisive battle of the Civil War, and a legion of writers have since recorded their narratives and offered their interpretations of the battle. All too often, however, historians have downplayed the fighting on the first day in favor of the more familiar scenes at Devil's Den, the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill, Culp's Hill, and Pickett's Charge. The fierce fighting on the first day at McPherson's Woods, the Railroad Cut, Oak Ridge, and Barlow's Knoll are mentioned only in passing and as a precursor to the greater conflict that followed.

The first day at Gettysburg was more than a simple prelude to the second and third days. The day's conflict involved one-quarter of Meade's army (about 22,000 men) and over one-third of Lee's army (about 27,000 men) and the proportions would be even higher if they included troops that arrived late in the day but were not actually engaged (Anderson's and Johnson's Confederate divisions and the Union III and XII Corps). By the number of troops engaged, the first day at Gettysburg alone ranks as the 23rd biggest battle of the war, according to the numbers compiled by statistician Thomas L. Livermore.

The first day at Gettysburg, then, is a major battle deserving a detailed history on its own merit. The bloody encounter of the first day was a classic battle engagement closely contested from dawn until sunset. It was filled with incidents of heroism and error, with heroes and scapegoats, every bit as much as the more famous episodes on the second and third days of the battle. The stand of the 16th Maine on Oak Ridge was as heroic as the more famous stand of the 20th Maine on Little Round Top, and Pender's charge against the I Corps line on Seminary Ridge was as brave and bloody as Pickett's Charge (and more successful). The conflict between the 26th North Carolina and the 24th Michigan of the Iron Brigade in Herbst Woods was perhaps the single bloodiest and most stubborn regimental duel of the war, and John Burns was as much a local hero as Jennie Wade.

All these stories and more are told in this narrative. Gettysburg July 1 . . .

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