Monday, July 10, 2017

Booknotes: Meade and Lee After Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863 by Jeffrey William Hunt (Savas Beatie, 2017).

The fighting in the eastern theater between the end of the Battle of Gettysburg and the beginning of the 1864 Overland Campaign has received increased attention of late. The Confederate retreat to the Potomac has already been addressed to abundant satisfaction by both Kent Masterson Brown and Eric Wittenberg, and Jeffrey Hunt's Meade and Lee After Gettysburg doesn't feel the need to go over that ground yet again. Instead, Hunt's book picks up the action right after Lee's army crossed the Potomac back into Virginia, tracing those military events that occurred over a two week period beginning on July 14, 1863 and ending with the Confederate reoccupation of the Rappahannock River defense line.

From the description: "Contrary to popular belief, once Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia slipped across the swollen Potomac back to Virginia the Lincoln administration pressed George Meade to cross quickly in pursuit—and he did. Rather than follow in Lee’s wake, however, Meade moved south on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains in a cat-and-mouse game to outthink his enemy and capture the strategic gaps penetrating the high wooded terrain. Doing so would trap Lee in the northern reaches of the Shenandoah Valley and potentially bring about the decisive victory that had eluded Union arms north of the Potomac."

As the Wittenberg and Brown's books demonstrated, the combatants engaged in near constant clashes of varying scale as they maneuvered across the landscape north of the Potomac over the first half of July, and Hunt finds the same case south of the river through the end of the month. "Meade and Lee After Gettysburg, the first of three volumes on the campaigns waged between the two adversaries from July 14 through the end of 1863, relies on the Official Records, regimental histories, letters, newspapers, and other sources to provide a day-by-day account of this fascinating high-stakes affair." The engagements examined in the book are Shepherdstown (July 16), Manassas Gap (July 21), Chester Gap (July 22), Wapping Heights (July 23), and Newby's Crossroads (July 24). Though total casualties were small (less than 350 on each side for the entire two weeks), the author argues in the book that the potential existed for much more momentous results.

* On a side note, if you're interested, Hunt's only previous book-length Civil War study The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch (2002) is quite good, easily the best of the two available treatments of that Texas battle.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks, Drew.

    The biggest takeaway from this book, I believe, is that it is abundantly clear once you finish reading that the Gettysburg Campaign did NOT end on July 14 with the crossing of the Potomac as essentially every precious historian has written.

    Hunt's work is fresh, original, and in that sense, ground-breaking.

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  2. I'm really pleased to see a book finally written about this period.

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    Replies
    1. I'm about 2/3 of the way through it. So far, I'm impressed.

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  3. Josh, you will like it. I hope when you read it you will leave a review and tell us what you think.

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