Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, Allen C. Guelzo

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, Allen C. Guelzo

This is a very highly regarded account of the Gettysburg campaign, tracing events from the start of the war to the decision to invade the north for the second time, the Confederate advance and the desperate Union attempts to catch up with Lee's army, the battle itself and the slow paced pursuit that followed.

The narrative is based around the activities of the corps commanders on both sides. These were the men whose decisions shaped the battle, starting with the early clashes that ensured that a battle would be fought around Gettysburg, and ending with the controversy over Longstreet's role in the failure of Pickett's Charge.

The focus of the book is on the individual experience of battle, from the chaos of the march to battle to the nature of the fighting itself. The narrative also follows this pattern, and Guelzo has a very good feel for what each officer knew at any time, how that influenced their decisions, and how long it took for news of their actions to reach Lee or Meade. This also makes it clear how quickly plans could unravel, especially on the Union side where many units division heading towards one part of the battle could be diverted to deal with a crisis elsewhere.

There are plenty of excellent small scale maps, showing individual parts of the battlefield. I would have liked to see more overview maps, making it clear where individual fights took place within the wider context of the battle, but this is only a minor quibble.

It's interesting to see a different view of Meade from the one in the last book on the topic I read (Searching for George Gordon Meade), where he gets a generally good press. Here he does OK, but is sometimes portrayed as rather too passive. This is perhaps a little unfair given the situation he found himself in, fighting one of the crucial battles of the Civil War only days after taking command of a badly divided Army of Potomac. However Lee probably emerges from this account in a worse state, often being surprising invisible.

Overall this is the most compelling account of Gettysburg I've yet read, providing a clear narrative of the battle, as well as giving a good feel of the nature of the fighting and the life of the soldiers on both sides. 

Part 1: The March Up
1 - People who will not give in
2 - There were never such men in an army before
3 - This Campaign is going to end this show
4 - A perfectly surplus body of men
5 - Victory will inevitably attend our arms
6 - A goggle-eyed old snapping turtle
7 - A universal panic prevails
8 - You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own

Part 2: The First Day
9 - The devil's to pay
10 - You stand alone, between the Rebel Army and your homes!
11 - The dutch run and leave us to fight
12 - Go in, South Carolina!
13 - If the enemy is there tomorrow, we must attack him

Part 3: The Second Day
14 - One of the bigger bubbles of the scum
15 - You are to hold this ground at all costs
16 - I have never been in a hotter place
17 - The supreme moment of the war had come
18 - Remember Harper's Ferry!
19 - We are the Louisiana Tigers!
20 - Let us have no more retreats

Part 4: The Third Day
21 - The general plan of attack was unchanged
22 - Are you going to do your duty today?
23 - The shadow of a cloud across a sunny field
24 - As clear a defeat as our army ever met with
25 - There is bad faith somewhere
26 - To Sweep & plunder the battle grounds

Author: Allen C. Guelzo
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 656
Publisher: Vintage Civil War Library
Year: 2013

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