32. Books and movies

The basic 4:

The best of the rest:

One of the more unique texts that delves into the raw numbers of the supplies and logistics of this campaign is:

In addition, this text provides a completely unique analysis of the battle from the perspective of Lee’s overall plan:

Author / Historian Scott Mingus Sr has written extensively about the days leading up to the 1 JULY clash and the movement of MG Early’s troops towards York PA.

ALT Hx fiction:


Foremost among the movies that have been made about Gettysburg (surprisingly few actually) is the film adaptation of Michael Shaara’s novel KILLER ANGELS. It must rank among the best (most faithful to the book) films ever produced.

In addition, there are multiple other on-line sites discussed in Section 33.


Perhaps the best known fictionalized account of this epic clash of armies was the book Killer Angels by Michael Shaara published in 1974. It was released as a movie in 1993 simply entitled Gettysburg. IMHO, the book and the movie follow the historical record extremely well. Unlike many war movies, it was actually shot in the Gettysburg area, although for various reasons little was staged on the actual battlefield. In addition to the all-star cast, it employed hundreds of Civil War re-enactors assembled for the major battle scenes.

Except for the Day 1 encounter with BG Buford’s cavalry and the epic stand of the 20th Maine Regiment, the majority of the story is told from the perspective of the leadership of the ANV. Unlike many fictionalized accounts of historical events, Shaara chose to concentrate on the senior leadership to tell the story. He uses some minor characters — albeit real not invented – to convey portions of the storyline. It is hard to know just how accurately he was able to capture the character and personalities of these senior CSA players, but Shaara attempts at least to portray them as humans with weaknesses and flaws.

He makes use of two characters: the actor turned spy, Harrison and the British Cold Stream Guards COL Fremantle. Both were actual not invented but Shaara uses them to convey information vital to the storyline. In his introductory scenes, Harrison provides information as to the movements of Union troops in lieu of MG Stuart whose absence is repeatedly lamented by GEN Lee. Later in the story, he and LTG Longstreet engage in a conversation that allows Shaara to relate Longstreet’s reluctance over sending MG Pickett’s division into battle. It depicts a major internal conflict between Longstreet’s personal feelings and his sense of duty. Various conversations involving Fremantle serve a similar purpose in revealing personality traits of the various major characters and the overall concern that without the intervention of the British forces – particularly the Royal Navy to break the Union blockade — the CSA might indeed lose the war.  

IMHO, Shaara did a masterful job of both summarizing an actual historical event in a very readable way, but also in conveying the personalities and concerns of these military leaders as they order men to die for a cause that they believed in but sometimes doubted whether it was following the proper course.

My personal style is completely focused on a narrative retelling of events as they unfolded. Relating the same story line in the form of quotes and conversations is above and beyond my abilities. I commend those authors who are able to do so.



Henry Harrison


Another route to a CSA victory?

In his book GETTYSBURG: An Alternate History, Peter Tsouras presents an interesting scenario. It is something of a compromise between Lee’s Day 2 left flank attack and Longstreet’s proposal to move to the south. Rather than attack up the Emmittsburg Road, Lee allows Longstreet to swing south of Big Round Top and attack up the Taneytown Road into the Union rear.

To see how that plays out you’ll need to read the book!

I am a bit baffled by this author’s writing style. Rather than write as a novel — with quoted conversations to carry the story-line — he uses a narrative style a la CODDINGTON or SEARS. He blends in a tremendous amount of actual historical facts such as the order of battle and names and bios of participants. Yet the overall trend is indeed ALT Hx with a rather unique scenario (see above). He even goes so far as to create fake footnote citations. IOW, this book is an odd blend of historical fact and fiction and it is sometimes hard to separate the two.

DEC 7, 2021

In the 1880s, the ATLANTIC MONTHLY magazine published a series of first person articles from Civil War veterans. Four of those articles pertain to the Battle of Gettysburg. They are summarized below.

Battles and Leaders: Ned Bradford

BG Henry Hunt, the Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac, offers his personal observations and insights of the Battle of Gettysburg over three chapters of this book.

He begins in describing Lee’s movement across the Potomac and Hooker’s reaction. Apparently Hooker and Halleck had an exchange wherein Hooker suggested that without Lee to defend, he could quickly move to take the Confederate capitol at Richmond. Halleck was more concerned about Lee‘s army and ordered him to shift north. This began a series of proposals and moves that resulted in Hooker being relieved of his command. [pg 354-57]

[Throughout these chapters, Hunt offered insights into movements of Lee’s forces that he could not have been privy to contemporaneously. He obviously obtained access to official documents or reports from the Confederate archives in order to incorporate these into his narrative. Even though they were not his firsthand at the time, they only serve to enhance his description and our understanding of the events in question.]

Hunt introduces a scenario that I had not read of before. He says that Lee petitioned President Davis to shift LTG Beauregard’s army to Culpeper VA so as to appear to threaten WASHDC [1]. In that exchange, they also mentioned concerns that Lee’s movement north had left Richmond all but undefended. Had Lincoln so ordered, he could likely have shifted troops away from WASH DC and placed a credible threat against Richmond. Nothing seems to have been decided definitely and events at Gettysburg progressed too quickly for Beauregard to become involved. [pg 356-7]

Over the first few days in his new command, Meade seemed most preoccupied with the alignment of troops that Hooker had left him. He was quite concerned that they were spread too widely and thinly. When the reports from Harrisburg filtered in stating that Ewell’s Corps had probed their way but then withdrew, Meade knew that Lee had to begin moving south not farther north nor east. Meade’s preference was to meet him at Pipe Creek. The preliminary order – known as the Pipe Creek Circular – had been distributed to all the corps commanders. However, Hunt interjects that this concentration of Union forces was all but undone when Meade ordered Reynolds to support Buford’s ambush plan.

After providing a blow-by-blow description of the series of engagements on Day 1, Hunt offers two observations. The first concerned JEB Stuart’s rather liberal interpretation of Lee’s orders that took him far to the east and then necessitated a loop to the north (via Carlisle) to avoid the rapidly advancing Union force. He then goes on to speculate that had LTG (Stonewall) Jackson and not Ewell been on that field that day, the outcome of Day 1 might have looked quite different with Rebel troops advancing on Culp’s Hill and possibly even East Cemetery Ridge.

Even late into the afternoon of 1 July, Meade was still undecided as to his best move. Should he support Reynolds or order the consolidation of his forces at Pipe Creek? He entrusted the decision to LTG Hancock by dispatching him to Gettysburg to assess the situation and terrain and make a recommendation. All things considered, Meade was leaning towards Pipe Creek as his best move. Hooker had had the infantry divest themselves of their logistical wagon trains to speed their movement. Those supplies were now concentrated at Westminster and Hagerstown. Pipe Creek would be closer to both ensuring his ability to both protect them from any sweeping attack by Lee as well as providing a vastly shortened line of supply. Troops at Gettysburg would be difficult to resupply if the engagement became prolonged.   

Being an artilleryist, Hunt provides a detailed description of what would evolve into the 3 mile long Union defensive line. [pg 370-71]. He then describes a discussion about having 6th Corps launch a preemptive attack against Ewell’s forces nearest Culp’s Hill but BG Warren (Chief Engineer) advised that the ground that would need to be crossed just south of that hill and Rock Creek were unsuitable for a massed infantry attack and would better be utilized as a buffer to protect that flank. Next [pg 374], he speculates that Lee would have been better served to trust the Day 2 flank attack to Anderson’s Division which had not been involved on Day 1 and had many more men that Longstreet’s two available divisions. Doing so would likely have seen the attack start in the morning rather than the longer time that it took Longstreet to maneuver into place. Remembering that Sickles did not move his Corps forward until early afternoon, the outcome of Day 2 could have been much different with an initial Anderson attack!

Hunt also echoes the concern of Sickles that the knoll holding the peach orchard was a perfect artillery platform. Hunt relates [pg 374-75] that he had accompanied Sickles to the Peach Orchard and agreed that it was a much better artillery position than Little Round Top’s rocky ridge. He also notes that he cautioned that the distance from Hancock’s left flank was of concern if only Sickles small 2-division Corps were to try to occupy it and advised that more troops would be needed to hold it successfully. [Was this hindsight? Or a true interaction?] It might have been possible to shift 5th Corps to aid the 3rd in holding that line but too much time elapsed before Meade was made aware of this as an option to allow it to occur before Longstreet struck. As it turned out, it would be COL Strong Vincent’s Brigade of the 5th that would occupy and hold LTR saving the Union left flank.

By the end of Day 2, the entire area that Sickles had occupied was in the hands of the enemy; Sickles himself was critically wounded (he would lose his leg) and 3rd Corps was reduced beyond an effective military force. It seems that it was with some convenience that writing this account some 20 years after the event, Hunt’s advice to Sickles to avoid occupying the orchard knoll without additional forces was quite prophetic!

One other aspect of Hunt’s observations proved true as well. Anderson did eventually launch a supporting attack against Cemetery Ridge and although it was repulsed, Wright’s Brigade succeeded in reaching the summit. This gave impetus to Lee’s concept of a Day 3 attack by Pickett aimed at the Cemetery and Ziegler’s Grove.

Hunt begins his description of the Day 3 battle by marveling at the array of cannons Lee had amassed from the orchard up to Ziegler’s Grove. He relates cautioning his men not to expend all their ammunition in counter-battery fire in that an infantry attack was sure to follow. [Perhaps once again we see the benefit of a 20 yr period of hindsight.]

He goes on to comment that “the fire was more dangerous behind the ridge than on its crest”. This was his observation of the problem the Rebels were having with faulty fuses, but he fails to comment on that as the precise cause. [pg 386] He does state, however, that as the cannonade continued without serious effect on the Union infantry that he remembered that Lee’s Artillery Chief was once his student and he wondered how he had failed to learn his lessons well! As all men loyal to their chosen profession, he laments that the 1st Corps commander overruled his orders and had Cpt Hazard’s battery continue to fire at long-range until he was out of that ammunition and had to halt fire until the infantry came within range of canister ammunition. Hunt speculates that had Hazard conserved his exploding shells his fire, added to that those that racked Pickett’s line from both ends, would have been enough to stop Pickett before he reached the crest of the ridge.

On page 387, Hunt again introduces a (new?) unique observation. On Day 2, when Sickles advanced his corps, he created a gap of over a half mile in the Union line between his right flank (Humphrey’s division) and Hancock’s left flank. Pickett’s advance had now created almost exactly that gap in the Rebel line. He goes on to lament that no attempt was made to cut off Longstreet’s two divisions from the remainder of the army. He does admit at the same time that a counter-attack with the array of Rebel cannons still on Seminary Ridge might have proved as fatal as had Pickett’s ill-fated attack!

In closing out his experience at Gettysburg, Hunt goes on to defend Meade’s decision not to pursue Lee with the objective of the utter destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia. Such were the dispatches coming up from WASHDC. His closing statement is:

“Whatever the object of those dispatches of General Halleck, they are perfectly consistent with a determination on the part of the War Department to discredit under all circumstances the Army of the Potomac and any commander identified with it – and that was the effect in this case.”

Taking Hunt’s commentary in its entirety, it does seem as though he’d have agreed that Meade did not so much ‘win’ at Gettysburg as Lee lost it.

[1] This feint is also mentioned by Stephen Sears but seemingly events moved too quickly for it to become a reality.


Hunt’s 3 ATLANTIC MONTHLY articles are then followed by a counter-point; that of COL E. Porter Alexander who was Longstreet’s Corps Artillery Chief who was placed in over-all charge of executing the pre-attack bombardment on Day 3. He opens his commentary by describing his arrival on the morning of 2 July and noting how easily it would be to defend Seminary Ridge against a Union attack.

However, he immediately was ordered to shift his guns south to prepare to support Longstreet’s attack up the Emmittsburg Road. He did so without delay; then had to sit for hours awaiting the infantry to maneuver into position to launch that attack. He aligned 54 guns then could only watch as Sickles moved forward and arrayed his cannons against him. He lost more men and cannons than he was comfortable with before McLaws’ infantry dislodged Sickles force. He moved his guns forward to try to better support the Rebel gains but found that the fighting was too intermingled to allow for effect long-range artillery fire.

He was also somewhat dismayed to find that his orders for Day 3 were exactly the opposite of defense; he was to prepare the way for his comrades to cross that one mile of open terrain. Could he so deplete the Union batteries and co-located infantry as to open a hole for Longstreet to enter? Having occupied the Peach Orchard as his primary platform, he had 75 guns to which Hill added 63 to his north. He then quotes a rather unusual dispatch that he received from LTG Longstreet:

“COLONEL: If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy or greatly demoralize him. So as to make our efforts pretty certain, I would prefer that you should not advise General Pickett to make the charge. I shall rely a great deal on your judgment to determine the matter, and shall expect you to let General Pickett know when the moment offers.”

Alexander states that he pled his case that distance and smoke would prevent him from making the assessment that Longstreet was requesting and that he could not accept the responsibility of determining if and when to attack. BG Wright was with Alexander when he read that dispatch. Wright noted that his brigade had successfully crested the ridge the day before stating that “It is not so hard to go there as it looks; the trouble is to stay there!” Alexander admits that he was not privy to the entire plan nor the array of infantry to make the attack. He could only address his small portion of the plan. He could only assume that Lee, Longstreet and Pickett had laid out a successful plan. He further laments that although Longstreet seemed to feel that he (Alexander) had overall control of the bombardment, there had been no time to coordinate anything with his counter-parts in Ewell’s Corps so far to the north.

After more than an hour of incessant exchange of fire, the Union batteries suddenly ceased responding. Alexander sent a note to Pickett: “If you are coming at all, you must come at once.” Whereupon Pickett formed his troops and marched through the artillery position and out into the open.  Alexander relates that as Pickett advanced, Longstreet rode up to him and said: “I don’t want to make this attack. I would stop it now but that General Lee ordered it and expects it to go on. I don’t see how it can succeed.”

NOV 2022 UPDATE: Having just re-watched the movie GETTYSBURG (for the 4th-5th time), I marvel at how well it is able to convey the intensity of that battle and the internal conflicts that the key personnel were under-going. Much of this is due to the masterful portrayal of the events and emotions as offered by Michael Shaara in the book KILLER ANGELS upon which the movie is based. Few movies are as true to their source book and that book as true to the actual event as these [1]. The pageantry and emotion are portrayed in a way that accurately summarizes this momentous event albeit in four and one-half hours! As with all such movies based on true events, much of the full saga must be ignored. There is no mention of MG Sickles and even GEN Meade has little more than a walk-on appearance. I have written much about my ‘concerns’ about BG Buford’s ambush plan as it fit into GEN Meade’s plan and movements. The book and movie do as good a job as humanly possible to explain his rationale, however, flawed that may have been.

Even a viewer who has only a passing knowledge of the events of those three days can come away with a better if not fuller understanding of this epic clash of titans. Shaara even managed to work in the background and reasoning for Lee’s invasion and the horrors of the return to Virginia without having all of that detract from the main event.

If I have even one criticism of his novel, it is lengthy account of the noble stand of the 20th Maine on the southern flank. While vital to the story, he spends too bit much time detailing that tiny episode in the overall battle. I suppose that it was a question of the story writing itself once he started it was difficult not to keep it going. I do find it ironic that it takes longer to relate Pickett’s Charge than the twenty minutes that it actually lasted! But both versions do a wonderful job of conveying Lee’s intent and Longstreet’s reluctance to carry out those orders. The sheer numbers of real-life Civil War re-enactors who participated in the the making of the movie is hard to fathom. None apparently were paid except for food and some expenses. One also has to wonder where the props manager found so many Civil War-era weapons (or replicas) to equip both armies! Even if the same ones were used repeatedly, there are hundreds on camera at the same moment in many scenes. Same goes for the artillery.

Hollywood has the ability to take a real-life even and dismantle it to the point of rendering it unrecognizable to those who know the history. IMHO, GETTYSBURG and the 1976 version of MIDWAY are two of the best portrayals of historical events with a Hollywood twist. Many other such movies fall miserably short at portraying historical events because they were either too complex or perhaps too ‘boring’ to sell theater tickets [1].

[1] Would that the story of my other passion The Bridge on the River Kwai have been 1/10th as accurate!

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