Fields of Battle: Gettysburg (FIELDS OF BATTLE SERIES) Paperback – 25 Oct 2001
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This is a brand new look at the famous battle in the American Civil War
About the Author
Hugh Bicheno has had careers as an academic, an intelligence officer and a freelance kidnap and ransom negotiator. After twenty-five years in the Americas, during which time he visited most of the Independence and Civil War battlefields, he now lives in Cambridge and is devoted to writing about men at war.
Top Customer Reviews
It is an exceedingly pleasant duty, therefore, to welcome an extremely well-written over-view of what is a very complicated battle. Mr Bicheno is to be congratulated in compressing an amazing amount of detail and anecdote into 200 pages of text, and yet making the project very readable. The action on the battlefield is explained in detail but without fuss and separate chapters cover separate areas of the battlefield. The appendices must be seen to appreciate the amount of useful information there (Regimental commanders and losses at both Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, etc.). Throughout the book there are very well chosen photographs and, in addition, the computer-generated three-dimensional maps are an object lesson in clarity, each with its own explanatory key.
For anyone interested in Gettysburg or the American Civil War generally, this book cannot be recommended too highly.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Gettysburg consists of fifteen chapters, beginning with the pre-battle movements into Pennsylvania. There are three chapters on the first day fighting, eight on the second day, and three on the third day. Each chapter includes a full-page color map that depicts the primary action described in that chapter - an excellent methodology. In fact, the maps are the heart and soul of this work. On the negative side, the maps lack a scale, a chronology or exact enumeration of all units depicted, so it can be difficult to relate events on one map to events on another. On the plus side, the maps are simple but accurate and Bicheno has included a number of maps on the wheat field and the peach orchard - actions usually neglected in other accounts. Finally, Bicheno ends his narrative with a concluding chapter, a bibliography and four appendices. The photographs in this volume are decent but not particularly original (oddly, there is not a single photo of the modern battlefield).
Bicheno sees his task as correcting the inherent "Lost Cause" bias that claims that Lee lost this battle due a variety of unfortunate circumstances. Instead, Bicheno asserts that Meade and the Union army WON the battle, despite the best efforts of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. The author also seeks to break the narrative of Gettysburg out of the conventional Buford-Longstreet-Chamberlain-Pickett-Armistead perspective that became entrenched by Michael Shaara's popular The Killer Angels (which completely ignored events on Culp's Hill), Bicheno is particularly persuasive when arguing which events were later considered important and why. For example, Chamberlain's defense of Little Round Top has been mythologized into one of the decisive events of the battle, but Bicheno asks why similar events like the bayonet charge of the 1st Minnesota, the stand of the 17th Maine at Plum Run or Greene's defense of Culp's Hill shouldn't be regarded in the same light. Indeed, why single out Chamberlain's 20th Maine for praise when the rest of Vincent's brigade fought just as hard for the other side of Little Round Top? In an example from the Confederate side, why does Pickett's division attract all the attention when the assault of Pettigrew's division accomplished more? Bicheno does cover all the standard episodes of the battle, but he puts them in perspective. Certainly anyone interested in Gettysburg should consider the amazing attack of Barksdale's Louisiana brigade at the Peach Orchard, just as much as Buford's or Chamberlain's actions.
One aspect of the book that will either intrigue or enrage readers is Bicheno's tendency to depict all the major characters as more or less flawed individuals (sometimes based on innuendo). In these pages, Lincoln appears as a devious politician, A P Hill has gonorrhea, Longstreet is a second-rate general who thinks he knows best, Chamberlain is a self-promoter (along with Sickles and Jubal Early), Rebel General Johnson pounds his men with a walking stick, Hancock claims credit for other officer's deeds and Lee is a listless commander, veering between apathy and bloodlust. Personally, I believe Bicheno goes too far in his interpretations, particularly in regard to his evident loathing of Lincoln. While Bicheno does bring a few obscure heroes to light - such as the Union Colonel Philippe de Trobriand on Cemetery Hill - there is too much negativism in these interpretations.
Overall, Gettysburg is a good account of the classic battle, particularly in the way that it sheds light on aspects of the fighting that are ignored in popular accounts. When you read Bicheno's account, particularly of the second day's fighting, you will see that actions on various sectors influenced each other and were not merely individual episodes. Bicheno concludes that, "it was no accident that Union reserves appeared at the right place time and again," and by linking the various sectors together in his narrative he is able to demonstrate General Meade's accomplishment in shuffling troops from one sector to another.
Richard Holmes says 'it is a seriously good book,
by far the best thing written on the subject to date". As this
book is part of the "Fields of Battle" series and Holmes is the
series editor he cannot be regarded as impartial.
Regardless, I found the book fascinating. The theme is that the
Union won the battle rather than that the Confederates lost. He
also makes the point that Meade never received the credit due
The author expresses very forthright views on the principal players - there are no shades of grey.
Barlow and Sickles(as might be expected) have their reputations shot to pieces.
There is quite a good overall map and each chapter has a map
to enable the relevant action to be followed. There are also
photos of many of the principal players and of parts of the
battlefield. Finally the command tree of each army is set out and there are detailed casualty figures.
All in all a very good book.