by Timothy Lane
These two books are by Thomas R. Flagel (the first is co-written by Ken Allers, Jr.). These reviews appeared in slightly different forms in issues 213 and 217 of my science fiction fanzine, FOSFAX.
The first covers various aspects of the battle of Gettysburg in the form of top-10 lists, such as the top 10 events prior to the battle, the top 10 results of the battle, and the top 10 books about the battle. (This would no doubt have changed by now given the abundance of books about Gettysburg. I had all but #3 of the top 6 books listed.) Battlefield visitors might appreciate the top 10 monuments, but would no doubt see them all on a full tour anyway.
Some of this is good analytical material. The authors evaluate the top 10 reasons for the outcome each day. For example, #9 on the first day is “The Union Turtle: Henry W. Slocum” (which shows that they like to use a humorous style on occasion).
They list the generals who did best and worst in the battle; not surprisingly, the first list only has a pair of Confederates, both brigade commanders (Barksdale #4 and Kershaw #8), with the top 3 being Hancock, Greene, and Meade in order. The second list is slightly more even, with 7 Confederates and 3 Yankees. The 3 worst are Stuart, Sickles, and Lee; the other two Union officers are Rowley and Barlow, two first-day disasters (note that Slocum isn’t listed despite his poor first-day performance).
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war, so naturally there’s a set of lists on the subject of casualties. These include the causes of death (including disease, #7 at 700), the corps suffering the heaviest total casualties, and the states suffering the worst as a percentage of those engaged. (Minnesota was the unsurprising #1 at 59.3%, followed closely by Tennessee at 56.1%; no other state exceeded 50%, but Florida, North Carolina, and New Hampshire all exceeded 40% ).
One interesting list among these is the top 10 bloodiest fields, though I wonder about the accuracy of the last few. Pickett’s charge was naturally #1, but the bloody nature of the fighting on the Union left on the second day is shown by the listings of the Wheatfield (#2), the area leading up to Emmitsburg Road south of Pickett’s charge (#3), the Peach Orchard and Trostle Farm (#5), and for that matter the Devil’s Den (#9) and Little Round Top (#10). Culp’s Hill came in #4, with the remaining areas from the first day’s bloodbath between the Union I and Confederate III Corps.
The book also lists the top 10 controversies and what-ifs (#3 is what would’ve happened if Stonewall Jackson had been there). Interestingly, the first is the question of just how significant the battle really was, particularly what was happening simultaneously at Vicksburg. Militarily, it really wasn’t all that crucial, and the campaign as a whole wasn’t a total failure for Lee; it merely ended a raid into Yankee territory that Lee never intended to occupy permanently (and he hauled a large train of plundered supplies back to Virginia with him). But they argue that it played a major role in demoralizing the Confederacy, which seems reasonable. Readers might also appreciate the top 10 myths about the battle (including the famous story about Abner Doubleday inventing baseball at #10).
The second book was a new edition of a 2003 book, and very similar to the Gettysburg volume: a series of top 10 lists from causes of the war to ways to become involved in commemorating it. These are grouped into antebellum, politics (including similarities between Lincoln and Davis and differences between the two constitutions), military life (including such minutiae as food, personal gear, and medical supplies), the home front (including songs), retrospectives (a catch-all group that includes firsts, significant battles, best and worst commanders, bloodiest battles, deadliest prisons, military blunders, and heroines), and pursuing the war. I’ve only seen one of the top 10 films (Glory at #7), but have visited 7 of the best 10 battlefield sites.
For those who are curious, he lists Jackson as the top commander with Sherman second, followed by Lee, Grant, Longstreet, Stuart, Thomas, Sheridan, Cleburne, and Forrest. The worst (also in order) are Bragg, McClellan, Burnside, Polk, Van Dorn, Fremont, Banks, Hood, Butler, and Joe Johnston. These two lists help explain why the Confederates did so much better in the east than in the west, and also show that Flagel heavily mixes opinion and fact. • (1758 views)