A Civil War battle reassessed
No battle of the American Civil War has been more studied than Gettysburg. In recent years, historians have written hefty tomes analyzing merely one day of the three-day engagement. Talented biographers have examined the lives of general officers, field officers and common soldiers in blue and gray. The question will logically be asked, "Is there a need for yet another book about Gettysburg?"As Stephen W. Sears, the award-winning author of six previous books on the war, brilliantly demonstrates, there most certainly is. His gracefully written text presents the story of Robert E. Lee's failed Pennsylvania campaign in all its complexity. Rather than debate the actions of one commander or another, or the wisdom of this or that flanking maneuver, Sears keeps his eye on the bigger picture, namely, what was at stake for both sides when Union and Confederate forces met in battle in July 1863? With more than 2,000 land engagements in the Civil War, how did Gettysburg come to be the costliest some 51,000 men were killed or wounded battle of the four-year conflict?Over the years, Sears writes, so much effort has been devoted to assigning blame for the Confederate defeat that "it is easy to lose sight of the victors." He seeks therefore to give the Union commander, General George Gordon Meade, his historiographical due. Although absolutely colorless and virtually unknown, Meade was greatly respected by his fellow general officers when he was given command of the Army of the Potomac a scant four days before the battle at Gettysburg. Despite his victory over Lee, Meade received stinging criticism for allowing the Confederates to retreat across the Potomac. Abraham Lincoln himself believed that the capture of Lee's army would have ended the war. Any serious student of the Civil War will want to keep this authoritative volume close at hand. Dr. Thomas Appleton is professor of history at Eastern Kentucky University.