From Civil War specialist Trudeau (Like Men of War, 1998, etc.), a superb rendering of a signal episode in American history.
Trudeau makes no apology for adding another to the huge pile of Gettysburg books; nor should he, for this is the first one-volume treatment of the whole battle—Jeffry Wert’s Gettysburg (2001) covered only Day Three—to appear in nearly 35 years. It’s well worth the wait. The narrative begins with a measured consideration of the strategy involved in Lee’s invasion of the North and an assessment of some of the key players at Gettysburg, many of whom had met just weeks before at the battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Though it offers no real surprises, Trudeau’s account of actual combat is extraordinarily good, from the first shots on Seminary Hill to Lee’s retreat along Fairfield Road. The author capably captures the strange aspects of a fight waged on one hand with the most modern artillery and on the other with antiquated muzzle-loading musketry, all wielded by a mixture of huge formations and “small groups of soldiers [who] were setting their minds to the practical problems of killing one another.” Trudeau also does a fine job of portraying individual actors, remarking on such matters as Joshua Chamberlain’s political ambitions and Richard Ewell’s extraordinary bravery as glimpsed through the smoke of battle. He dismisses a few legends in passing, notably the old chestnut that Robert E. Lee apologized to his soldiers for the debacle of Pickett’s Charge. “While such recollections may have been helpful in the postwar climate of factional healing,” Trudeau remarks, “and while they may have promoted adulation of Lee, they must be docketed alongside Gettysburg’s other myths. . . . Unfortunate though the events of this day were, and however much it pained him to see his men suffer, he had no cause for self-recrimination.”
Worthy of being shelved alongside Bruce Catton and Shelby Steele, this belongs in every Civil War buff’s collection.