Books battling for attention
By MARC CHARISSSE
Posted: 06/13/2010 01:00:00 AM EDT
"Of making many books there is no end," Ecclesiastes tells us, "and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
Every year about this time, a whole new bevy of Gettysburg books appears on the shelves. And every year, I pack my worn artillery haversack full of weighty tomes to take out on the battlefield.
But the weariness comes mostly when I find that despite all those new titles, there is, to quote Ecclesiastes again, "nothing new under the sun."
Mostly, I find myself packing those tried and true titles that have gotten me through the vicissitudes of Little Round Top, the chaos of the Wheatfield and the perils of Pickett's Charge. But last November, I finally found the book that could safely guide me across Gettysburg all by itself.
So out of the dozens of Gettysburg books I've perused (or at least skimmed) here's my top-10 titles for understanding the battle, the ones that deserve a second, or even a third careful reading.
1. "The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command
," by Edwin Coddington, was published more than 40 years ago, and still remains to most experts the best single-volume book on Lee's 1863 invasion. At 600 pages, plus 200 pages of notes, Coddington isn't light reading, but it's the beginning of any serious study of the Gettysburg campaign. The old Confederate controversies are all there, but a century after the battle, Coddington returns needed focus to the Union leadership that did, after all, win the battle.
2. "Gettysburg:The Second Day
," by former chief Park Service historian Harry Pfanz is easily the most beautifully written book I've read on Gettysburg. Pfanz weaves together the complex operations and the lives and experiences of the men who fought and died on this bloodiest day of the three-day battle. July 2 had the greatest number of opportunities and disasters on both sides, and Pfanz masterfully shows his reader exactly why it was the decisive day of the battle,
3. "Gettysburg Day Two: A Study in Maps
." I picked up my copy of John Imhof's 1999 collection of tactical maps in a remainder pile in downtown Gettysburg a few years ago for a few dollars. Expect to pay hundreds if you can find one for sale now. No source beats the detailed tactical evolutions depicted on Imhof's regimental-level maps. And with some showing movements as little as 20 minutes apart, you can finally visually grasp the unfolding of the second day. "Maps of Gettysburg" by Bradley Gottfried is an acceptable substitute, and it also covers the first and third days, though not in the same glorious tactical detail.
4. "Pickett's Charge
" by George Stewart is hard to follow in places if you aren't already well versed in July 3 troop movements. But as it shifts its focus back and forth between antagonists, it captures the confusion and emotional truth of war. In the end, it delivers a cohesive picture of the great charge and its heroic repulse, but the book's real power is in the haunting mental images it conjures of men in battle.
5. In "Gettysburg: A Journey in Time
," William Frassanito changed the way we look at the battlefield. His research into early battlefield photography, and discovery of many new images, tell a timeless story in words and pictures. Besides, the many then-and-now pairings are eerily fun to recreate. Frassanito's two then-and-now collections, and even his massive "Early Photography at Gettysburg" usually manage to get squeezed into my haversack as well.
6. Pfanz's "Gettysburg: Culp's Hill & Cemetery Hill
" isn't quite as wonderful as his "Second Day." But it's a solid, highly readable study of this neglected, yet unique and fascinating part of the battle.
7. "Plenty of Blame to Go Around
," by Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi is the best study of J.E.B. Stuart's famous ride around the Union army. It includes detailed descriptions of the battles of Hanover and Hunterstown, as well as an excellent driving tour. A great book.
8. "Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg
" by John Busey and David Martin is a compendium of the losses at Gettysburg, killed, wounded and captured, regiment by regiment, followed by charts and tables of comparative losses. But in its stark, typewritten pages are ultimately poignant records of the human cost of war.
9. "The Gettysburg Gospel
" by Gabor Boritt. For many years, Gary Wills' "Lincoln at Gettysburg" has been my favorite book on the November address that redefined the battle and the nation. But Boritt's work is as thoughtful and a better read. A little less erudite, perhaps, but ultimately a richer retelling of the story.
10. "The Complete Gettysburg Guide
." At last, the one book I'd take to Gettysburg if I could only take one book. It's got everything - walking tours, driving tours, battle maps, monuments and battlefield lore. In a way, Petruzzi's new book is too good, pointing out all those cool rock carvings, dinosaur fossils and other hidden battlefield stuff some of us had to spend years to find.
If you see me on the battlefield, I'll let you take a look at my copy. I'll be easy to spot - the guy dragging that old leather bag stuffed with books up the side of Little Round Top.
Marc Charisse is editor of The Evening Sun. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org