I love sharing the knowledge I’ve gained over the years from reading, and reading about, top Civil War books. I’ve also always found the list format to be an easy way for readers to take in some of this knowledge. With these things in mind, we will be doing a series of lists for major battles during the Civil War here at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog. This post is one in a series of Top 10 Gettysburg Books blog entries by a group of Civil War bloggers.
I want to add a little disclaimer before I start. This list is the educated opinion of Brett Schulte alone, and in no way should it be construed as the final word on the subject. If you believe this list is totally wrong or if you believe I’m an idiot for forgetting to add this or that book, let me know! I hope new readers can go to this page in the future and by reading my Top 10 Civil War Books on the Campaign and Battle of Gettysburg list, those of the other Civil War bloggers in this event, AND the comments will be able to get a good idea of what types of books on Gettysburg might be for them.
Top 10 Civil War Books on the Campaign and Battle of Gettysburg
1. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command by Edwin B. Coddington
Despite Gettysburg Campaign studies in recent years from Stephen Sears and Noah Andre Trudeau, I still think the very best look at the Gettysburg Campaign is Edwin B. Coddington’s classic The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. Some have criticized Coddington for his tendency to favor the Federals and to denigrate Confederate First Corps commander James Longstreet, but his overall look at Gettysburg has not yet been eclipsed.
2. John Bachelder Papers (3 Volumes + 7 Maps) by John B. Bachelder
John Bachelder, an artist at the time of the battle, became obsessed with writing a history of Gettysburg. He corresponded with thousands of veterans of the fight, and these collected writings form the three volume Bachelder papers. Morningside has put together a fine version of this collection, which is readily available to the public for the first time.
3. Gettysburg—The Second Day by Harry W. Pfanz
Harry Pfanz has also written books on the first day’s fighting and that which occurred on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill on July 1-3. I have selected his book on the July 2 struggle from Round Top to Cemetery Ridge as the best of his detailed tactical studies of the battle of Gettysburg. All of these books are loaded with detailed maps and tactical discussions. Curiously, Pfanz never did day three, though there may be a good reason for this. For Day 3, you might wish to check out Jeffry Wert’s book Gettysburg, Day Three.
4. Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg by John W. Busey and David G. Martin
This is absolutely the most detailed order of battle study I’ve ever seen. Busey and Martin break down each army and come up with exact numbers for each and every unit in the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia. Using known numbers of regiments in each corps, they came up with plausible numbers for those regiments for which exact Present for Duty numbers were not known. The result is a wargamer’s and researcher’s dream and an indispensable reference work on the battle.
5. Pickett’s Charge–The Last Attack at Gettysburg by Earl J. Hess
Hess’ book is a detailed tactical look at, and to me the best book on Pickett’s Charge, topping George Stewart’s classic look at the July 3 fight for the Union center. Hess gives the point of view of both sides, moving back and forth and producing a wonderfully researched look at this climactic moment of the most famous battle of the war.
6. Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign by Kent Masterson Brown
Amazingly, Brown’s book, first published in 2005, was the first book-length account of the retreat from Gettysburg. I say amazingly given the extreme saturation of the market with regards to Gettysburg books. As the subtitle mentions, Brown looks at the retreat with a great deal of time and energy spent on logistics. He believes Lee did not necessarily need a battle to happen to make the campaign a success. Instead, says Brown, the Southern commander simply wanted to live off of Northern land for awhile to give Virginia a break. Brown’s book has a decidedly Confederate focus. For a detailed and balanced look at the fighting during the retreat, I recommend One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863.
7. Gettysburg: A Journey in Time by William A. Frassanito
Longtime readers of Civil War books will recognize the name of William A. Frassanito. The author is famous for his books on Civil War photography. Frassanito takes famous photographs of Civil War battles (Antietam, Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign) and attempts to take a modern day photograph from the same spot and in the same direction. Frassanito’s detective work has led to many interesting discoveries about the photographs taken at Gettysburg shortly of the battle. Perhaps his most famous discovery is that of the sharpshooter who wasn’t in the Devil’s Den area. I highly recommend all of Frassanito’s books to anyone who is unfamiliar with this unique way to (literally) look at history.
8. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
I debated on whether or not to include The Killer Angels because (gasp!) I haven’t actually read the book. I am a fan of fiction, and I’m a student of the Civil War, but I have never been interested in the two when combined. With that said, I felt I needed to include this one simply because of the amazing popularity and almost universal acclaim it has received, especially in the years after the movie Gettysburg, based on the novel, was released in 1993.
9. Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg by Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi
Wittenberg and Petruzzi have written what I believe to be the best book yet on Stuart’s adventures in Pennsylvania. The authors and fellow bloggers tapped a large number of previously unused primary sources for the book. The result is a detailed look at Stuart’s Ride which does not get caught up in the blame game so prevalent in secondary sources. It also covers in great tactical detail the cavalry engagements which resulted from the ride. If you can only afford one book on the subject, this one is it.
10. Gettysburg July 1 by David Martin
I went back and forth on whether to include this title in my Top 10 Gettysburg Books list, but in the end the positives outweighed the negatives. Martin’s book to me is a better representation of the July 1 fighting at Gettysburg than Harry Pfanz’ similarly titled book. I wanted to include a book on the first day’s fighting, so this by default was it. Martin’s book, especially the first edition, suffered from numerous typos and errors of fact, so much so that the book has been panned in many circles. Get the latest edition of the book that you can (the Amazon link above leads to the paperback version), and you will not be disappointed with this one.
I cannot end a discussion of the Top 10 Civil War Books on the Campaign and Battle of Gettysburg without mentioning Gettysburg Magazine, the only magazine I am aware of which focuses solely on one campaign. If you are deeply interested in the Gettysburg Campaign, I highly recommend you subscribe to Gettysburg Magazine. I finally did so last year after resisting for far too long, and I haven’t regretted it.
As I mentioned earlier in this blog entry, I am not the only person giving my list of the Top 10 Gettysburg books. Check the space below and the permanent Top 10 Gettysburg Books page I’ve set up to see what books other Civil War bloggers chose and how those lists compare to mine. I also hope to have a combined list very soon which will rank the books on a ten points for a first place vote to one point for a 10th place vote basis.
Links to Other Top 10 Gettysburg Books Lists
- Ethan Rafuse of Civil Warriors: Live as of June 30, 2009!
- Mark Grimsley of Civil Warriors: Live as of July 1, 2009!
- Eric Wittenberg of Rantings of a Civil War Historian: Live as of July 1, 2009!
- Drew Wagenhoffer of Civil War Books and Authors: Live as of July 1, 2009!
- John Hoptak of The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry/Civil War Musings: Live as of July 1, 2009
- Harry Smeltzer of Bull Runnings: Live as of July 2, 2009!
- Craig Swain of To the Sound of the Guns: Live as of July 2, 2009!
- Nick Kurtz of Battlefield Wanderings: Live as of July 2, 2009!
- Chris Wehner of Blog 4 History: Live as of July 2, 2009!
- Rea Andrew Redd of Civil War Librarian: Live as of July 5, 2009!
- Elektratig’s The Road to the Road to Gettysburg: Top 10 Books on the Period Leading to War
Check out Brett’s list of the Top 10 Civil War Blogs!
Check out Brett’s Civil War Books!
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