Sometimes books just go together well, doing in tandem what each individually is incapable of alone. This definitely applies to the three books I’ll be discussing today. Bradley Gottfried’s books The Maps of Gettysburg and Brigades of Gettysburg obviously can be used together. Throw in Larry Tagg’s The Generals of Gettysburg and you have a nice beginner’s triumvirate of Gettysburg knowledge at your fingertips. I’ll spend some time briefly discussing each below and then give you some ideas of how to use them together.
I came up with this idea on my own while working on a freelance Gettysburg project, but I know I saw a similar Civil War blog post within the last several months. I meant to mention that blogger as well but I cannot find it now. If you are that Civil War blogger or if you know who the blogger is, let me know so I can credit them in this space.
Larry Tagg’s The Generals of Gettysburg is a valuable starting point to explore the various leaders who commanded elements of the armies at Gettysburg. Tagg breaks each army down and covers all leaders from army commanders down to the brigade level. Despite the title, the author does give the same attention to colonels as he does to other brigade leaders. If more than one leader commanded an organization, Tagg typically includes the events for a given unit under that leader as well, though he goes into less detail. I was a little concerned with the lack of notes in the book, as well as the typos scattered throughout. Despite these shortcomings, however, I find the book to be a useful starting point for studying the battle of Gettysburg in some detail.
Brigades of Gettysburg is Bradley Gottfried’s first book we’ll cover today. Gottfried goes into great detail for each brigade, Union and Confederate, on the field of battle. Each unit gets several pages and covers movements and actions down to the regimental level. In addition, the battle is not discussed in a vacuum. Gottfried gives readers information on each regiment, covering the history of each unit including earlier performances in battle and how each regiment could be expected to perform going into Gettysburg. Many readers make the mistake that brigades were homogeneous organizations, especially if the regiments are from the same state. While this might be true to some extent in some organizations (see Sickles’ Excelsior Brigade from New York, for instance), for the vast majority it was not. Some regiments had seen combat at First Bull Run, others had been called up in the late summer of 1862, and still others had seen no combat whatsoever. Many times these units of varying quality and experience would be brigaded together. Brigades of Gettysburg does discuss the commanders of each unit to some extent, but not to the level of detail of Tagg’s book. The fact that the book does cover even units which saw little or no participation in the fighting makes it a very useful one for wargamers.
The first thing I found myself thinking (and the reason this blog entry came about) while reading Brigades of Gettysburg was, “I wish there were more maps!” Lucky for me, I had just received Gottfried’s newer work, The Maps of Gettysburg. This book basically covers in map form what Brigades of Gettysburg did with text. Gottfried does what so many publishers and authors seem incapable of. He puts the maps not only NEAR the corresponding text; he places the maps on the page facing that text. This makes it easy for a reader to easily comprehend at a glance what is going on. The maps are beautiful and cover the battle in the level of detail I prefer. Gottfried covers the entire Gettysburg Campaign from the beginning to end, a nice change of pace from books focusing solely on July 1-3. For this reason, the scale of each map varies considerably. Obviously those maps representing tactical situations are going to be more “zoomed in” than those which display troop locations for a given day early or late in the campaign. The book looks like it would make a nice companion to tote along on a visit to the battlefield. I would only recommend against it if you are a collector like me and want to keep the book in pristine condition. Ted Savas also has hinted several times that future battles will be covered this way, including Chickamauga.
I know by now you are probably wondering how I read these three together. My idea is to read these in tandem, utilizing a desk or table with plenty of room. I realize I’m not alone here, I’ve heard of several other people using this method with this set of three books. Keep The Maps of Gettysburg open to your right or left. It will be supplementing your reading of the other two books. I started by reading The Generals of Gettysburg from Army of the Potomac commander George G. Meade and followed until I had gone through the entries for I Corps commander John Reynolds and First Division commander James Wadsworth, finally reaching Iron Brigade commander Solomon Meredith. This is where the reading in tandem starts. After reading the Meredith entry, which gave me a good overview of what the Iron Brigade did, I then read the Iron Brigade’s entry in Brigades of Gettysburg. While reading, I flipped through The Maps of Gettysburg, showing me on detailed maps where the regiments was located during the fighting. This method worked surprisingly well, and I suggest if you own all three you should do the same. If you own one or two, buy the others you need and give it a try. Gettysburg is unique in that this many books exist to pair up.
Bradley Gottfried. The Maps of Gettysburg: The Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 – July 13, 1863. Savas Beatie (June 2007). 384 pp., XX maps, notes, index. ISBN: 978-1932714302 $34.99 (Hardcover w/DJ).
Bradley Gottfried. Brigades of Gettysburg: The Union and Confederate Brigades at the Battle of Gettysburg. Da Capo Press (December 24, 2002). 704 pp., XX maps, notes, index. ISBN: 978-0306811753 $50.00 (Hardcover w/DJ).
Larry Tagg. The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders Of America’s Greatest Battle. Da Capo Press (June 17, 2003). 384 pp., XX maps, index. ISBN: 978-0306812422 $19.00 (Paperback).
Let me know if you’ve used other books in a somewhat similar way. I’d love to hear about them!
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