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The Stand of the U.S. Army at Gettysburg. By Jeffrey C. Hall. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-253-34258-9. Maps. Charts. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliographical essay. Indexes. Pp. xxviii, 415. $49.95.
This book is an account of the July 1863 battle of Gettysburg at the tactical level of war and follows in the wake of two major works by Noah Andre Trudeau (Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage) and Stephen Sears (Gettysburg). While the Trudeau and Sears books will attract a general readership, The Stand of the U.S. Army at Gettysburg will attract Gettysburg buffs interested in detailed accounts of firefights down to the regimental level. The book contains five chapters, eight appendixes, and an excellent bibliographical essay that summarizes traditional and recent battle scholarship. The appendixes include a superb order-of-battle and an essay on the limitations of Civil War small arms.
The author, Jeffrey C. Hall, a biologist at Brandeis University and Civil War enthusiast, is a self-admitted Unionist and states the book is intended to be a "straightforward account of the Gettysburg campaign," a guide to the battlefield, and a synthesis of the ideas of many Gettysburg scholars. The author's thesis is that aggressive Federal combat leadership won the battle as opposed to the traditional view that the Union won passively, taking advantage of Confederate army commanders' errors in tactics and leadership. To support his theme the author has produced a well-researched chronology of the battle with commentary that contains analysis of battle controversies, discussions of "what-if" scenarios, and analogies to other wars, all supported by 171 topographical maps, 113 order-of-battle diagrams and detailed notes. A serious reader will be able to negotiate this maze of minutiae and understand the flow of the battle and how the limitations of nineteenth century small arms and artillery affected Civil War engagements. Unfortunately, the general reader may get lost in the maze.
The most intriguing aspect of this book is the author's attempt to provide fresh and balanced analysis to lingering battle controversies. For instance, he contends that Confederate cavalry leader Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart's failure to provide critical operational intelligence to General Lee prior to the battle was not negligence and that it "did not approach dereliction." The author also concludes that Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell's decision not to continue evening attacks on the Federals on Cemetery Hill on July 1st "was eminently reasonable." Most interestingly, the author views 2 July as the turning point of the entire battle in favor of the Union Army. He also regards Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles's unauthorized movement of his Infantry Corps well forward of the intended line-of-battle to eventually be to the Federal advantage because it forced Maj. Gen. George G. Meade to conduct an active defensive fight—the results of which increased the fighting confidence of the Army of the Potomac and bolstered their performance for the rest of the battle. The author also views the fight at Culp's Hill as the occasion where the Confederates came as close to winning the entire battle as any other part of the battlefield. The failure of Pickett's Charge on 3 July is attributed [End Page 257] to Lee for failing to marshal enough forces for the assault or a follow-up. Federal forces achieved a double-envelopment of the attacking Confederate divisions at the point of attack because Longstreet delayed in sending proper support forces and this was a "significant mistake."
The basic scholarship of this work is sound, but it suffers from the use of some poorly chosen analogies from ancient and modern warfare. The refreshing aspect about the research for this book is that the author tapped into the battlefield knowledge of the Licensed Battlefield Guides at Gettysburg National Military Park. The success that Mr. Hall achieves in proving his basic theme can be attributed, in part, to the collective interpretative themes developed over the years by...