1-3 July 2023, we have arrived at the 160th anniversary.
I have written these essays purely for my own enjoyment as a way to codify my understanding of this major turning point in American History and I now share them as a way of engaging others in this multi-layered story. In some of the earlier essays there may be errors or omissions that are due to my lack of knowledge at the time. I have tried to edit these out, but some may persist. Your comments are welcome.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed composing them.
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My interest / fascination / passion for the Battle of Gettysburg began in a strange way. A decade or so ago, I was standing in the check-out line of a grocery store and I spotted TIME-LIFE book about Gettysburg. On a whim I tossed it in the basket – which is something that I hardly ever do.
I will say that it wasn’t the best written nor most informative summary of this event that I have read, but it planted a seed. Years later, I read the Michael Shaara novel KILLER ANGELS and I was hooked. He imparted a passion into the main characters that was hard to repress. Next came the movie GETTYSBURG, based on that book. I have not read many books that have been turned into movies but this movie is about as faithful to the source novel as it could be. That’s one reason the movie is over three hours long. The challenge for both Shaara and the movie’s directors and actors is that they were re-creating actual events by real people not simply some fictional concoction. To my mind the casting of the various lead characters was superb and the story gripping.
Having attained an overall appreciation of the uniqueness and enormity of his battle, I moved on to two other overview books: GETTYSBURG: The Story of the Battle with Maps by STACKPOLE BOOKS and OUR FATHERS AT GETTYSBURG by Jack Kunkel. Each of these in turn gives a more in depth depiction of this historic even.
It then became imperative that I drill deeper into the overall battle and specific portions of it. The books that I used are listed in Section 32. There are probably few other events in American history that have been so well documented and had so many millions of words written about it. I will admit that I chose these various books more or less at random and via availability rather than any fore-knowledge of their scholarly content. I do believe, however, that I chose well.
It is not my intention to provide a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow description of this epic clash of armies. Heaven knows, others have done a much better job that I ever could.
What I will attempt is two-fold: to describe key points in the battle as history recorded it and to offer some Alternative History possibilities as to how things may have turned out differently.
In what I refer to as my late night musings, I would lull myself to sleep by recounting a portion of the battle. This would shore up my understanding and highlight areas where my knowledge was lacking. But an important aspect of these musings was to question how and why certain actions were taken. These prompted me to probe deeper into the motivations of the battle and particularly the decisions and actions of Generals Lee and Meade.
My understanding of just HOW there came to be such an epic battle is recounted in the first sections of this website.
By asking questions and probing for answers, I also developed a series of ALTERNATIVE HISTORY essays which probe the WHATIFs of this classic clash of titans. These ALT Hx possibilities are presented in the second major section of this website.
In these essays I address the major issues as to whether Lee ever had a chance of victory and what actions may have allowed such a victory to come about. [See Section 20 for a discussion of how Alt Hx can play a role in one’s understanding of real events.]
What I was wont to do was to try to place myself in the mind of one of the protagonists. What did he know at that moment? What did he see? What did he feel? What was the thought process that led to the decision or action that we know took place? How might our history be different if another path was chosen? I have also linked events at Gettysburg to prior campaigns – particularly Marye’s Heights and Hazel Grove. There may be other such links that I am not yet aware of.
Finally, I became aware of the trilogy of Alternative History novels by Newt Gingrich and his co-writers. These explore many of the same alternate events that my musings had uncovered, but took them to a far greater depth. They prompted me to try my own hand at fictionalized descriptions of events that could have been. These are but feeble attempts to describe a battle scenario that leads to the Union forces capturing Bobby Lee near Cashtown. (see Section 34).
I am a very visual learner. “A picture is worth a 1000 words.” I have taken the liberty to borrow / steal / plagiarize(?) many maps and illustrations from key sources. I use them as a means to best understand the complex battle. Most of the colorized maps come from GETTYSBURG published by Stakepole Books. Others are from Sear’s tome and Kunkel’s OUR FATHERS at GETTYSBURG.
Since writing most of the above, I have discovered that there are numerous postings on YOUTUBE that explore various aspects of this battle to great depth. They are too numerous and diverse to list, but can be found rather easily.