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The Journal of Military History 68.2 (2004) 609-610

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The Union Generals Speak: The Meade Hearings on the Battle of Gettysburg. Edited by Bill Hyde. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8071-2581-4. Notes. Appendix. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 428. $45.00.

From February through April 1864, the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War held a series of hearings to investigate the role of the Army of the Potomac in the Battle of Gettysburg. The committee's real motive behind these hearings was to discredit Major General George G. Meade, the army's commander, who, though the victor at Gettysburg, failed to pursue Robert E. Lee's defeated army.

A number of disgruntled officers from Meade's army were only too happy to cooperate with the committee's hidden agenda. Daniel E. Sickles, Alfred [End Page 609] Pleasonton, Daniel Butterfield, and several other generals painted a picture of Meade as a weak, indecisive commander who contributed nothing to the victory. Meade himself testified three times, and was supported by reliable generals such as Winfield Hancock, Henry J. Hunt, and Gouverneur K. Warren. In the end, the committee failed to influence Lincoln to remove Meade from army command.

In this book, author Bill Hyde, a retired insurance executive and gourmet food entrepreneur, has transcribed the committee testimony as published in 1865 in a volume not commonly found in many libraries across America. Hyde has added his own running commentary throughout the text and has provided a lengthy introduction that includes capsule biographies of the major committee members and of the many generals who testified before the committee.

According to the dust jacket, the committee hearings were "laden with ulterior motives, prejudices, faulty recollection, and outright lies." In transcribing this text and adding his commentary, Hyde "transforms it into an accessible, rewarding aid for students of the Gettysburg chapter in the Civil War."

Hyde certainly provides good biographies of the major characters, including the two most powerful committee members—Ben Wade of Ohio and Zachariah Chandler of Michigan. But he misses some important connections, such as Chandler's anger in 1861 when Meade, then stationed in Detroit, refused to take a second oath of allegiance to the United States when he and his brother officers were asked to do so as a wave of post-Fort Sumter patriotism swept across the North. Historians will also find points of contention with his analysis of Sickles's pre-Gettysburg military career.

Hyde also could have provided better insight into the testimony of most of the generals who testified. He does realize that many committee members supported Wade and Chandler in their effort to replace Meade with Joe Hooker, and shows how their questions were skewed to their point of view, in spite of the efforts of less important members to ask more impartial questions. Not once does Hyde mention in his commentary the absence of several key officers who could have provided more information, such as Fifth Corps generals George Sykes, Romeyn Ayres, and James Barnes, none of whom were called upon to appear before the committee.

In the end, those interested in Gettysburg will have to decide whether to spend the hefty $45.00 to purchase this book, which will appeal only to hard core Gettysburg buffs. The committee testimony and report, which was supplemented by additional testimony in 1865 (not included here), has been mined effectively by many historians writing on Gettysburg over the years. During the past four years, Gettysburg has been the subject of more than fifty books; Hyde's book is merely one of many among which the reader may choose.

Richard A. Sauers
Milton, Pennsylvania