Gettysburg: The Story Of The Battle With Maps, by the Editors of Stackpole Books
If you enjoy looking at maps and getting a sense of the Battle of Gettysburg with a strong focus on possibility and the visual representation of the friction of war, this is definitely a worthwhile book. Of course, I am no stranger to reading books about the Battle of Gettysburg , and this book definitely delivers a compelling picture of the tension and sense of possibility that existed in the Battle of Gettysburg, and how the initial timing of the battle influenced the course of the rest of the battle in subtle ways. There is a lot to like about this book–to be sure, it is a short guide and does not include as much text as many other books would include, but all the same it is the sort of book that can greatly help a student of the Battle of Gettysburg get a sense of the importance of both timing and terrain in the course of the battle as a whole, and that is a lesson that would be greatly useful to many readers of military history and one that is likely to be appreciated.
The contents of this book are immensely straightforward, as might be expected. A foreword includes the legend for how the map is organized before the authors give a prelude to the book that includes the context of the Chancellorsville campaign and its outcome as well as the state of the war in the West at the time and the factors that led to the encounter battle at Gettysburg. Throughout the book the authors comment that Lee seemed not to take as much direct control as he might have been expected to, and as a result many subordinates were simply not at their best. There are chapters for all three days of the battle, and a significant amount of space is shown dealing with the cohesion of various units as well as the possibilities and goals for each of the armies and the behavior of various generals, ending up about 150 pages total including the bibliography and acknowledgments. Overall, this is not a book that will be too taxing to a student of military history who looks at this book as an aid to a study of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the authors even manage to include a great deal of detail about the importance of cavalry and artillery.
As a whole, this short book is an excellent guide to the battle if one wants to get a sense of the topography involved. One gets a sense of the importance of terrain, and how some generals–Sickles comes off particularly poorly here–were lured by an incomplete understanding of terrain in order to seek high ground that was not supported by other units. The importance of beats and timing as well as seizing momentum is covered here to a great degree, and there is much in this book that offers insight to those who wish to understand why battles work the way that they do. The authors take a critical tone at many of the generals for their behavior, showing how petulance and a lack of creativity as well as some off days on the part of many officers led to the battle that developed. While few of the readers of this book would ever apply the topographical insights that this book demonstrates, this is the sort of book that will at least make many readers more aware of the importance of terrain and timing in the way that battles work, which will at least make the audience of this book more savvy readers of military history and better armchair generals, which is itself a worthwhile achievement.
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