Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

by Allen C. Guelzo


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Winner of the Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History

An Economist Best Book of the Year

A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

The Battle of Gettysburg has been written about at length and thoroughly dissected in terms of strategic importance, but never before has a book taken readers so close to the experience of the individual soldier.

Two-time Lincoln Prize winner Allen C. Guelzo shows us the face, the sights and the sounds of nineteenth-century combat: the stone walls and gunpowder clouds of Pickett’s Charge; the reason that the Army of Northern Virginia could be smelled before it could be seen; the march of thousands of men from the banks of the Rappahannock in Virginia to the Pennsylvania hills. What emerges is a previously untold story of army life in the Civil War: from the personal politics roiling the Union and Confederate officer ranks, to the peculiar character of artillery units. Through such scrutiny, one of history’s epic battles is given extraordinarily vivid new life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307594082
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/14/2013
Pages: 656
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America and Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, both winners of the Lincoln Prize. Guelzo’s essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in publications ranging from the American Historical Review and Wilson Quarterly to newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Wall Street Journal.

Read an Excerpt

In the two-and-a-half decades after the battle of Gettysburg, the Union veterans who survived to tell the tale were nearly unanimous in the declaration that the key to the battle depended on holding one very important hill. The puzzle for most modern students of the battle is why, with one consent, those veterans seemed to choose the wrong hill. 

For the present generation of battlefield tourists, the most important hill on the battlefield is the cone-shaped moraine known as Little Round Top. Oddly, this was not the name by which it was known at the time of the battle. People referred to it variously as Wolf’s Hill, Sugar Loaf, or simply the “rocky hill,” and after the battle, John B. Bachelder (who set himself up almost at once as the official chronicler of Gettysburg) tried to fix the name “Weed’s Hill” to it, in honor of the most senior Union officer killed there during the battle, Stephen Weed. But Little Round Top it became, and Little Round Top it stayed, although even then it played a strictly back-seat role in the imaginations of the battle’s veterans. It was not until the 1890s when curiosity began to shift in Little Round Top’s direction, and not for another eighty years – after Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels – that Little Round Top suddenly blossomed into the key to the entire battle. From that point, and up through the Ronald Maxwell movie epic, Gettysburg, Little Round Top was transformed into “the key of the field in front beyond a doubt,” and popular historians upped the ante to the point where “they saved the Union at Little Round Top.” 

In particular, it has been Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine’s last-chance bayonet charge on Little Round Top on July 2nd which have taken most of the laurels for guaranteeing that salvation. Certainly, the stand of the 20th Maine makes for great drama in the midst of great drama. As the left-flank regiment of Col. Strong Vincent’s four-regiment brigade, Chamberlain’s 20th Maine held off at least two major rebel infantry attacks in their front that afternoon, and then, when their ammunition was virtually gone, fixed bayonets and charged downhill, surprising and scattering the rebels. It was a beau geste straight out of the story-books. The fact that Chamberlain had, only a year before, been an unheralded professor of rhetoric at Bowdon College made the charge all the more amazing: an amateur, in command of amateurs, somehow made not only the right call, but the most daring call that could have been made, and succeeded. Chamberlain’s story appealed to that deep streak of American self-reliance—that confidence in improvisation, that can-do spirit that trumps overly-intellectualized and hidebound European ways of doing things. That Chamberlain was a highly-intellectualized individual himself was beside the point.

It takes nothing away from the tenacity of the fighting – the last-minute arrivals, the desperate and sometimes hand-to-hand combat, the just-in-time swing and flow of the action – to say that the drama of Little Round Top has been allowed to run away with the reality. But looked at coldly, the real credit for defending Little Round Top belongs less to Chamberlain and the 20th Maine, and more to three others who have largely faded from attention: Gouverneur Warren, the Army of the Potomac’s chief engineer, who spotted rebel infantry swarming in the direction of the otherwise undefended hill and sent off gallopers to beg or borrow any troops they could find...Strong Vincent, who took his professional standing in his own hands, brought his brigade up to Little Round Top without authorization from his division commander, and organized its defense...and Patrick O’Rorke, who also bolted at Warren’s call and brought his 140th New York up and over the crest of Little Round Top just in time to shove an even more serious Confederate attack back down the slopes. Unhappily, O’Rorke was killed in the charge and Strong Vincent was shot through the groin and died after four days of suffering. Gouverneur Warren would outlive the battle, only to be pilloried for misconduct at Five Forks in 1865. That left Chamberlain as the best candidate for laurel-wearing. And he was not an unworthy candidate, either. He would survive three wounds in 1864 (one of them near-fatal), win the Congressional Medal of Honor, end the war as a major-general, serve four terms as governor of Maine and as president of Bowdoin. Even more important, he would publish at least seven accounts of Little Round Top, giving himself the starring role, and giving Little Round Top the starring role in the battle as the last extension of the Union Left flank. 

Other veterans of Vincent’s brigade were not impressed: “Chamberlain,” complained Porter Farley of the 140th New York, “is a professional talker and I am told rather imaginative withal.” And the truth is that Chamberlain’s charge was only one of several such spoiling attacks that day, and Little Round Top was more of an outpost than the real flank of the Union line. It was the ex-professor’s considerable flair for self-promotion which vaulted him ahead of the others. 

Nor is it entirely clear that Little Round Top quite deserved the role Chamberlain attached to it. The puffing of Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine is a subset of the larger problem of glamorizing Little Round Top itself. Charles Hazlett, yet another forgotten player on the hill that day who manhandled his six 10-pounder Parrott rifles “by hand and handspike” up through the tangled trees and underbrush of the hill, warned Gouverneur Warren that Little Round Top didn’t afford much in the way of an artillery platform. The cone of the hill crested in a narrow spine which offered very little room for the deployment of artillery, and only permitted a line of fire facing west. Both Warren and Hazlett agreed that Little Round Top “was no place for efficient artillery fire—both of us knew that.” Hazlett only took the trouble to get up there because he hoped that “the sound of my guns will be encouraging to our troops and disheartening to the others.” 

Defending Little Round Top may even have endangered more than it protected the Union position at Gettysburg. The great Confederate attack on July 2nd had never been designed to seize Little Round Top in the first place; the plan laid down by both Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet was to swing a gigantic, curling blow up the Emmitsburg Road into the rear of Cemetery Hill, and brush past the “rocky hill.” When Gouverneur Warren began pulling, first Vincent’s Brigade, then O’Rorke’s regiment, then the balance of Stephen Weed’s brigade, up to Little Round Top, he was actually subtracting units which were intended to reinforce the Union line along the Emmitsburg Road, and thus made it all the easier for James Longstreet’s rebels to land the real blow of the afternoon. The Confederates who scrambled up Little Round Top were only there because they had wandered off-course during the attack, and probably would have made no difference to the overall outcome of events on July 2nd – except, of course, that they induced Union commanders like Warren to siphon-off troops which could have been used to shore-up the Emmitsburg Road. As it was, the thinly-spread Union troops along the Emmitsburg Road were crushed by Longstreet’s sledgehammer, and the Army of the Potomac was nearly brought to its knees. Had Longstreet succeeded in seizing Cemetery Hill, we would today be blaming, rather than celebrating, Warren, Chamberlain and O’Rorke for allowing themselves to be distracted by a useless piece of rocky real estate.

Because, in the end, it really was Cemetery Hill, not Little Round Top, which was the key, something the veterans of the battle attested to in the years after the war by making their pilgrimages to Cemetery Hill, not Little Round Top. Unlike the narrow spine of Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill was a broad, flat plateau, with the ideal elevation for the siting of artillery (which was, normally, 1% of the distance to the target and never greater than 7% of the distance) and plenty of back-space to accommodate limber chests, caissons, horse-teams and battery wagons. And although modern visitors to Cemetery Hill can get no idea of this because of the foliage that has grown up there since 1863, a four-negative panorama taken from Cemetery Hill in 1869 by the local Gettysburg photographers William Tipton and Robert Myers shows a dramatically uncluttered viewshed to the west, north and south. Cemetery Hill, in other words, constituted an artillerists’ dream. It was enough “to make an artilleryman grow enthusiastic,” wrote one Pennsylvania officer. “This high ground which dominated the town and the fields in all directions, save one” (to the east) gave to an artillerists’ eye “an unobstructed view of the rolling country open and accessible to the fire of our guns.” Even Confederate observers admitted that Cemetery Hill was “made, one might say, for artillery.” 

So long as the Army of the Potomac held Cemetery Hill, it had a position from which its massed artillery could decimate any infantry Robert E. Lee attempted to throw at it – in fact, did decimate it during Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd. And so long as it held Cemetery Hill, it also gripped the Baltimore Pike, the principal life-line to its railhead and supply base in Maryland. Losing Little Round Top would not have won the battle for Lee, or lost it for the Union. Cemetery Hill would have, though, which is why, after the battle, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery was created on Cemetery Hill, why the first battlefield observation tower was built on Cemetery Hill, and why the first veterans’ encampments were held on Cemetery Hill. It would take another generation to forget Cemetery Hill’s importance, and the combination of a very gifted self-advertiser and a very gifted novelist to replace it with “the rocky hill.”

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue 3

Part 1 The March Up

Chapter 1 People who will not give in 9

Chapter 2 There were never such men in an army before 16

Chapter 3 This Campaign is going to end this show 32

Chapter 4 A perfectly surplus body of men 46

Chapter 5 Victory will inevitably attend our arms 64

Chapter 6 A goggle-eyed old snapping turtle 80

Chapter 7 A universal panic prevails 99

Chapter 8 You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own 115

Part 2 The First Day

Chapter 9 The devil's to pay 139

Chapter 10 You stand alone, between the Rebel Army and your homes! 155

Chapter 11 The dutch run and leave us to fight 177

Chapter 12 Go in, South Carolina! 198

Chapter 13 If the enemy is there to-morrow, we must attack him 212

Part 3 The Second Day

Chapter 14 One of the bigger bubbles of the scum 235

Chapter 15 You are to hold this ground at all costs 257

Chapter 16 I have never been in a hotter place 276

Chapter 17 The supreme moment of the war had come 304

Chapter 18 Remember Harper's Ferry! 322

Chapter 19 We are the Louisiana Tigers! 335

Chapter 20 Let us have no more retreats 353

Part 4 The Third Day

Chapter 21 The general plan of attack was unchanged 373

Chapter 22 Are you going to do your duty today? 388

Chapter 23 The shadow of a cloud across a sunny field 405

Chapter 24 As clear a defeat as our army ever met with 427

Chapter 25 There is bad faith somewhere 441

Chapter 26 To Sweep & plunder the battle grounds 466

Epilogue 475

Notes 483

Index 601

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Gettysburg: The Last Invasion 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr. Guelzo's book finds new ground to break on the much-trodden subject of the Battle of Gettysburg. Deftly switching from the eyewitness perspective in the form of hundreds of personal quotations and recollections to the overall command view of the actual invasion, Dr. Guelzo keeps each development in its proper context, raising new questions about both the true key points of the battle, and the intended objectives of the key leaders of both armies. Unafraid to tackle several myths and misconceptions, including the oft-repeated mis-characterization that the Civil War was 'The first modern war', Dr. Guelzo brings a new and fresh voice to the topic, doing so in a manner both eloquent and masterful. This is book will take its place in the ranks next to the works of Keegan and Holmes and represents a truly ground-breaking look at the face of American war in the 19th Century.
civiwarlibrarian More than 1 year ago
1863 in the Civil War was a year of turning points, such as the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, the battle Gettysburg, and the sieges of Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Readers may think that publishers would overwhelm the marketplace with related books, yet it is not so. No other Civil War battlefield park is visited as much as Gettysburg and this year there is only one book that takes up the challenge to comprehensively present the battle. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion meets the challenge. Written in a style that is friendly for general readers, Guelzo’s work also meets the standards of scholars. It is a remarkable achievement. At Gettysburg College, Allen C. Guelzo serves as the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era as Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program, and is the author of 11 books of Lincoln, emancipation, the Civil War and American Christendom. In Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, he sets forth the story in a clear, concise and compelling manner. From the conception of the campaign in the minds of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee and Confederate Presiden Jefferson Davis through President Lincoln’s delivery Gettysburg Address, Guelzo looks at the campaign and battle from several interesting perspectives. Those who are only familiar with Gettysburg because of a school visit or the film Gettysburg will be comfortable with Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Guelzo’s account is straightforward and does not require extensive familiarity with the battle. Those who have read Noah Trudeau’s 2002 Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage or Stephen Sears’ 2003 Gettysburg will be delighted by the amount of new information and perspectives in Guelzo’s work. One of the enjoyments of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is the constant attention Guelzo gives to individual combat soldiers, commanders, and civilians. There is rarely a paragraph that does not contain direct remarks from participants. Describing the fighting during the morning and afternoon of July 1, Guelzo offers the testimony of many soldiers and seven civilian witnesses. At the college, student Martin Colver watches an artillery barrage from a third classroom window and is interrupted by a professor leading blue coated signalmen with flags and telescopes to the cupola. The college’s president Henry L. Braugher resigns himself to the failure of students to maintain attention during his lecture and dismisses them; soon a cannonball strikes the cupola where the signalmen are. Guelzo offers new and interesting remarks regarding a variety unique circumstances. He describes the non-combat duties performed by Africans Americans in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Guelzo estimates the changing fog of war by calculating the time it takes to transmit an order from the division commander to the brigade commander, then to the regimental commander. Confederate troops’ discipline included their viewing five executions for desertion after the invaders crossed the Potomac River and enter Maryland. Looting the dead and wounded occurred during the battle. After a successful attack, enemy corpses with their trouser pockets turned out immediately appeared. While being assisted away from the firing line, mortally wounded North Carolina colonel Henry Burgwyn nearly had his vest pocket watch stolen by a South Carolina lieutenant who is helping him off the field. Overall, the author drives his narrative forward with taut observations of the soldiers. Rebels “fell all over themselves with laughter” when they discover that Pennsylvanians believe there are secret handshakes and facial expressions that will spare them the invaders’ depravations. Federals soldiers along the roads “began to straggle and brigades leaked clots of exhausted soldiers”. Federal army commander George Meade remained cordial with corps commander John Reynolds “but privately his letters curdle with envy” when Reynolds received a promotion in 1862. Wisely Guelzo does not attempt to definitively answer contentious problems. Did Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart lose the battle by “galloping off on a senseless joy-ride” as the invasion began? Did Confederate corps commander Richard Ewell lose the battle because he lacked the energy and the ruthlessness to drive the Federals off Culp’s Hill during the evening of July 1? The author puts forward his reply to these and other questions. Guelzo believes that both reason and self-interest contend for readers’ opinions on these questions. He is not argumentative; he states his case on moves on. The author takes full advantage of a pair of remarkable resources. Gettysburg is the only battle to have its own magazine. Gettysburg Magazine, founded in July 1989, has published 47 issues of new scholarship on the battle and campaign. In its 24 years, it has offered troves of recently found diaries, reports, and changing interpretations on topics such as African Americans in the Gettysburg campaign, cavalry battles surrounding the main battlefield, the gathering of military intelligence and the farmstead hospitals. Also, Gettysburg National Military Park regular presents a scholarly seminar and publishs the conference proceedings which Guelzo regularly cites. Both George Gordon Meade's and Robert E. Lee's backers may disagree with Guelzo's conclusions. He believese that Lee never had a clear grasp of the terrain and the tactics to deal with an enemy and Meade was reluctant to fight on July 1, 2, and 3. Also, the July 3 cavalry battle, Farnesworth Charge and the advance of the the Pennsylvania Reserves brigade after the Grand Assault are described as they may have been. Guelzo does provide insights into the Virginia clique in the Army of Virginia and to the Peace Democrat generals of the army of the Potomac. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is enjoyable, not only for its scholarship but also for its storytelling. “The sun soon came up, a dim blood-red disc behind the clouds on the eastern horizon” is reminiscent of the best writing in Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. Suspense is still found in the familiar story of Gettysburg. “So, rather than wait to be hunted by the Yankees . . . Lee would go hunting himself for the climatic victory he had always wanted” writes Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is indeed a remarkable achievement.
danodado More than 1 year ago
Worth the wait. I have read most Gettysburg (well alot anyway) books. they all tell the story from different views. Dr Guelzo continues with this effort. While the basic story line is well documented from previous Authors, Dr. Guelzo adds personal accounts that brings the battle alive. Thank you sir for 2 weeks of excellent reading.
SnoopFl More than 1 year ago
This must be considered the definitive book on the greatest battle that ever occurred in the Western Hemisphere. Prof. Guelzo follows the battle from the time Lee moves north out of Virginia through the dramatic retreat in the aftermath. Units are tracked through the battle as are the leaders, with a brief description of a soldiers strengths and weaknesses. The research that went into the writing of this book staggers the imagination. It is truly a masterpiece.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Straightforward in style and viewpoint, this book presents the three days of Gettysburg as well as I've read. There are minor quibbles, being from Minnesota, the Minnesota saved the day charge during day two followed by their placement in the center of the line for day three and thus meeting Pickett's charge full on is given short rift, but in battle this large any book has to pick and choose a bit. Still, the book doesn't sugar coat Lee's role nor explain Meade's in a way that most don't. That alone makes the book a worthwhile read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed learning and understanding the lower command characters i had not before known and how the attacks segued throughout the battle. Well done.
JeffMcK More than 1 year ago
Well written, and easy to read. The author takes you inside many of the better known events and characters, but also adds the lesser known details that really bring the whole story to the reader. Especially relevant with the recent anniversary of the battle.
Bubwolf More than 1 year ago
The book not only gives you details but makes you feel as if you are there. It testifies to the politics behind the civil war and the mechanics of 19th century warfare and the way of iLife of people in early America. A must read for anyone not only afficiandos of the civil war or history buffs. Give it a try you will not regret it.
jmahon10524 More than 1 year ago
A very enjoyable read. Dr. Guelzo provides very interesting perspective through the state of the art of warfare in 1863 and the political differences within the leadership of each army, both before and after the battle. He then gives a battleline view of the many critical encounters between units in the two armies. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By far the most personal, detailed view of the Soldiers and Officers who fought so valiantly at Gettsyburg. Highly recommend this to all veterans!
GLKR More than 1 year ago
I am glad I bought this book. It's a great read on a subject i have great interest in.
cct1 More than 1 year ago
A well researched and well written account on the immediate actions before, during, and after Gettysburg. The timeline is concise--one of the best "what happened when and where accounts" of the battle I've read. Especially interesting is the detailed description of the maneuvering of the two armies before the battle; these are glossed over in many if not most books on Gettysburg. The description of the battle itself is also superb; I gained a much better understanding of what was happening on different parts of the battlefield at different times, and a greater understanding of how the battlefield shifted from day to day. The description of what happened immediately after the battle is somewhat weaker in comparison, although the epilogue, pertaining to the Gettysburg Address, is quite good describing the physical state of the town, it's inhabitants, and the battlefield itself at the time of the address. A particular strength of this book is the numerous anecdotes of the soldiers, generals and townspeople, which helps bring a sense of what not only happened, but what it was like to be there. Another strength is the author's take on misperceptions of who was responsible for what deeds, (Joshua Chamberlain comes to mind), and how some actions of importance, such as Stuart's ride around Meade's army, may have been misinterpreted in how and why they happened, and overblown specifically in regards to the outcome of the battle. My main criticisms are twofold. The maps are extremely difficult to read on a nook or nook HD, and would gain immensely by simply being made larger. Also, when the maps are of relatively small areas of the battlefield, it can be difficult to determine where the action is taking place in the overall scheme of the entire battlefield--if maps such as these were accompanied by a map of the entire battlefield, with the area in question shaded in, it would help to quickly put what was being described into perspective geographically. My other criticism is that the author tends to be repetitive on certain subjects (i.e. that Dan Sickles wasn't perhaps the nicest human being, or ablest general), but it's a relatively minor criticism. Overall a book worthy of any serious library on Gettysburg.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Informative, easy to read and contains some new insights on the many "whys?" of the 3 day battle. His writing style is perfect for this complex subject. I particaurlly like his side discussions on important factors throughout the book, such as the effect of the musket and minnie ball inaccuracy on battle strategy. Must read!
OldWahoo More than 1 year ago
A well written narrative of the battle. Makes his points well particularly that Lee lost the battle and Meade did little to win it other than move the army to Gettysburg. Gulezo argues persuasively that the Confederate command structure completely broke down with two new corps commanders and the only experienced one sceptical of the success of Lee's aggresive battle plans. Author also makes a point which I had not considered before- the Confederate infantry was stymied by the Pennsylvania countryside with its heavily fenced landscape which slowed down the charges and wore out the attackers . Altogether a good read and a good way to reconnect with the battle at its 150th anniversary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a naturalized citizen and cannot wait to get to Gettysburg for the celebration. It is a dream come tru for me. I am also taking my grandchildren and hope this event will open their eyes to what a great country we live in.So many citizens have nothing but complaints about how things are done in the USA let them try living some where else for a week and only then will they appreciate how fortunate they are.
Anonymous 11 months ago
My class is going to Gettysburg. We are studying the Civial War right now. I personally LOVE history. Expenally the Wars.
glauver More than 1 year ago
Do we need another account about the battle of Gettysburg? When the writer is as talented and original as Allen Guelzo, the answer is yes. Guelzo is not afraid to ask tough questions. Was Civil War rifle fire as effective as conventional wisdom claims? To what extent was the Army of the Potomac crippled by pro and anti McClellan cliques among its officer corps? Was Jeb Stuart the cavalry genius military writers have claimed or was he a glory hound who flattered Robert E. Lee? Was there really friction between Lee and James Longstreet on Day Two? Did the fight at Little Round Top save the Union position or did it merely draw troops from other places where they were badly needed? That is just a partial list of the issues he addresses. Guelzo states in his conclusion that neither commander was really in control of the course of the battle. He closes with a review of Lincoln's address and its meaning in American history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author provides insights into both armies, their leaders and the men that I have not read before, even though i have many books about the campaign. A must read for those interested in this most significant event in U S history
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bleacherbum99 More than 1 year ago
If you are going to make the trip to Gettysburg or just got back, you should read this book. It's a very in-depth look of what happened and all the whys. It gets a little wordy and you can tell a history prof. wrote it. He could easily slice 100 pages out and not miss much. But it's a very complete look at the battle.
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MerlinDB More than 1 year ago
Very detailed (almost laboriously so) but accurate and informative if one is really into the War and the events of July 1-3, 1862.
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