Civil War Book Review: Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863

Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863
by Scott L. Mingus Sr.

A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph 1862-1863 by Jeffry D. Wert

Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Savas Beatie (March 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611210720
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611210729

This review is for the Savas Beatie edition of this book.

Histories of the Gettysburg Campaign dismiss The Pennsylvanian response with no more than a page. The hapless state militia breaks at the first rumor of an attack, dropping all government issued equipment in their haste to run away.  The Army of Northern Virginia’s veterans make jokes about the militia’s lack of performance while reequipping themselves at U.S. Government expense.  Somehow, the local militia manages to burn the critical bridge over the Susquehanna River stopping the Army of Northern Virginia from capturing the state capitol.  This piece of almost mindless good luck saves the Lincoln administration from a major embarrassment and contributes to the South’s defeat.  During the Battle of Gettysburg, only one man, John Burns, stepped forward to fight for his home.

The question is how do you turn 120 odd words into book of over 300 pages?  More important, can you make that book a marketable product that people will want to buy?  First, any book that is part of The Discovering Civil War America Series, merits consideration.  This outstanding series of histories on the Civil War are informative, fun to read and inexpensive.  This is a Gettysburg book and any Civil War person will automatically look at a book on Gettysburg.  The opening paragraph is only half in jest.  I have read a few books on Gettysburg but never read much more than a page on this operation.  You might stop in York to look at the tablets saying Early took the town in 1863.  Maybe you stop in some of the small towns on the way to the park from York.  However very few of us know much about this area and we really want to get on the battlefield.

Scott Mingus Sr. makes an important addition to the story of Gettysburg by filling a void that we were unaware of by replacing our comfortable assumptions with a detailed study of the action from June 26 to 30, 1863.  This is a rich layered story with unexpected complications.  The first 90 pages set the stage as the author starts the invasion of 1863.  While some of this is familiar territory, the focus moves us toward Pennsylvania and the state’s building response.  The balance of the book moves us from Gettysburg on June 26 to the Susquehanna River and back to Gettysburg on July 1.

This is a complex story.  Jubal Early has overall control of the Confederate forces.  He orders John B. Gordon to capture the bridge, giving him Elijah White’s cavalry to help.  However, they have conflicting orders and priorities that cause delays and steal time from what should be an all out drive.  The Copperheads in the area add a layer of complexity and divided loyalties.  At the same time, they are jubilant but cautious worried that the Confederates will not stay.  Copperhead or Unionist the residents need to protect their property from the Rebels.  Horses, mules, chickens, hams, milk, honey, butter, clothing, tools an endless list of items disappear.  One of the richest parts of the story is the efforts of the farmers and businessmen to protect valuables during the invasion.  Towns in Early’s path must make hard decisions.  How do they react to the invasion?  Do they want to see their town turned into a battleground?  Will the Rebels burn the town and sack the banks?  How much tribute will be levied and how will they pay?  York’s answers to these questions created problems and generated questions about the leader’s actions for years.  Then we have to consider the militia.  Again, reality is not the simple story we are accustomed to hearing.  The militia is a combination of young and old, black and white, convalescing soldiers and discharged men that saw service earlier in the war.  Some are brave and make an effort to fight.  Some provide valuable service as scouts and guides.  Many have not had a week of training or loaded their rifle until they get into battle.  The fights are very well done.  We understand the tactical situation, what is at stake for both sides even as the author walks us through a series of small actions.  There are about six major skirmishes and the small battle at Wrightsville where the militia faces veterans.  Needless to say, things do not go well for the militia but they make a real effort and they suffer for it.  A major item is the bridge.  The author’s description of the bridge and the economic life of the area is vivid powerful and compelling.  He breathes life into historical facts recreating the area’s turnpikes, railroads, cannels, factories and farms.  We understand how these items feed into and depend on a covered wooden bridge over a mile long.  The bridge is not static but a central character that is as important as any.  The burning of the bridge and the impact on the towns is a very good read and one that you will want to do in one sitting.

Driving tours!  This book has six of them, with detailed directions and pictures.  These add a great deal of value and another dimension to our knowledge.  With book in hand, you will be able to stand where the story took place, making that magical connection to history that moves us from facts to fun.

A 30 page Epilogue tells us about the people after 1863, converting names into people with a life after the event.  An excellent series of original maps by cartographer Steven Stanley complement period maps placing us in the story.  Well-placed illustrations show us the people and places involved.  The original Ironclad edition has received the full Savas Beatie work up.  New material, maps and editing make this a new book, well worth having.  A larger page, smaller margins and a standard print format cut the 600+ pages almost in half without any loss of material.

This is an excellent book on an unknown subject.  The author writes well, telling the story in an informative but entertaining way.

I asked two questions earlier: “how do you turn 120 odd words into book of over 300 pages?” and “can you make that book a marketable product that people will want to buy?”  My answer is Yes, Scott Mingus Sr. can turn my 120 odd words into a very readable 300+ page book.  Yes, this is a marketable product that Civil War fans will want to buy.


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