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Decisions at Gettysburg

The Nineteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Campaign

Matt Spruill

Publication Year: 2011

The Campaign and Battle of Gettysburg have inspired scrutiny from virtually every angle. Standing out amid the voluminous scholarship, this book is not merely one more narrative history of the events that transpired before, during, and after those three momentous July days in southern Pennsylvania. Rather, it focuses on and analyzes nineteen critical decisions by Union and Confederate commanders that determined the particular ways in which those events unfolded.

Matt Spruill, a retired U.S. Army colonel who studied and taught at the U. S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, contends that, among the many decisions made during any military campaign, a limited number—strategic, operational, tactical, organizational—make the difference, with subsequent decisions and circumstances proceeding from those defining moments. At Gettysburg, he contends, had any of the nineteen decisions he identifies not been made and/or another decision made in its stead, all sorts of events from those decision points on would have been different and the campaign and battle as we know it today would appear differently. The battle might have lasted two days or four days instead of three. The orientation of opposing forces might have been different. The battle could well have occurred away from Gettysburg rather than around the town. Whether Lee would have emerged the victor and Meade the vanquished remains an open question, but whatever the outcome, it was the particular decision-making delineated here that shaped the campaign that went into the history books.

Along with his insightful analysis of the nineteen decisions, Spruill includes a valuable appendix that takes the battlefield visitor to the actual locations where the decisions were made or executed. This guide features excerpts from primary documents that further illuminate the ways in which the commanders saw situations on the ground and made their decisions accordingly.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, COpyright Page

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

My close association with the Battle of Gettysburg and the National Military Park began in 1985, when I was a student at the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and I became a frequent visitor to the battlefield and studied the events in the first three days of July 1863 with great interest. ...

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pp. 1-4

In the last summer months of 1862, the Confederacy was riding the crest of a wave that had the potential of fulfilling the dream of independence. West of the Appalachian Mountains, General Braxton Bragg led his Army of the Mississippi north from Chattanooga through middle Tennessee into Kentucky. ...

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1. Before the Battle

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pp. 5-24

In 1863 General Robert E. Lee was faced with a major decision as to what would be his course of action for the campaign season. Essentially, he had four options. He could remain on the defense in Virginia, conduct tactical offensive operations against the Army of the Potomac in Virginia, ...

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2. Wednesday, July 1, 1863

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pp. 25-48

Lee began redeploying his army away from Fredericksburg, Virginia, on June 3 and concentrating near Culpepper. One week later he sent Ewell’s Corps into the Shenandoah Valley, and the rest of his army followed shortly thereafter. Winchester was captured on June 14, and the next day the lead units of the army crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. ...

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3. Thursday, July 2, 1863

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pp. 49-78

The fighting on July 1 was over by late afternoon and the limited window of opportunity to attack Cemetery Hill closed, but units continued to march toward Gettysburg and move into position. Before sunset, which was at 7:41 p.m., Rodes’s Division and Early’s Division took up positions in and to the east of Gettysburg. ...

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4. Friday, July 3, 1863, and Afterward

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pp. 79-90

One of Lee’s objectives in moving his army out of Virginia was to fight and defeat the Army of the Potomac on Northern territory. In the last days of June, he began concentrating his army for the decisive battle he sought. However, with Stuart out of contact and unable to communicate with him, ...

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pp. 91-96

Lee issued orders to his army on the afternoon of July 4, Saturday, for the retreat from Gettysburg. Hill’s Corps moved first, followed by Longstreet’s and then Ewell’s, which was the rear guard. The corps were to march on the Fairfield-Hagerstown Road through Monterey Pass in South Mountain, on to Hagerstown, and then Williamsport, ...

Appendix I. A Battlefield Guide to the Critical Decisions at Gettysburg

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pp. 97-136

Appendix II. Union Order of Battle

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pp. 137-154

Appendix III. Confederate Order of Battle

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pp. 155-168


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pp. 169-182


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pp. 183-190


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pp. 191-198

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337886
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337459

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011