Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wittenberg, Petruzzi, Nugent: "One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia"

[ One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi, & Michael F. Nugent (Savas Beatie, 2008). Cloth, illustrations, photos, 18 maps, notes, 2 driving tours, OB, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 371/543 ISBN: 978-1-93271-443-2 $34.95 ]

One Continuous Fight is the second full length study of the retreat from Gettysburg to appear within the last three years. Kent Masterson Brown's Retreat From Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign (UNC Press, 2005) is an exceptional logistical treatise and an underrated military history of the retreat itself, largely from the Confederate viewpoint. That said, the work of Wittenberg, Petruzzi and Nugent in One Continuous Fight should dispel most reasonable queries questioning the need for another retreat study.

While Brown addressed most campaign issues from a Confederate perspective, Wittenberg et al. concentrate their efforts on the Union pursuit of Lee's retreating army. However, the primary focus on the Federal cavalry movements and fighting does not neglect appropriate levels of coverage and analysis of the Confederate conduct of the retreat. John D. Imboden's superb performance escorting and defending the massive wagon trains, and Jeb Stuart's covering of the retreat overall, are Confederate military achievements outlined and justly lauded by the authors.

Over twenty battles, engagements, and skirmishes are described in the text, a comprehensive collection to be sure. Of the book's 18 maps, most depict troop movements and positions during the above clashes. Drawn mostly at brigade scale or above, they are in line with the typical degree of detail found in the battle narrative. While the number of maps is certainly greater than the amount typical found in Civil War studies, a few more were needed. For instance, readers would have benefited from a map of the dispositions of the opposing forces at Falling Waters on July 14.

The analysis presented in the conclusion utilizes a measured approach, notable for its clarity and fairness. The main point of contention examined was the question of whether Meade could have done more. The authors' point by point arguments addressing this issue (both favorable and critical of the general) are beyond the scope of this review, but the writers are generally satisfied with Meade's performance. It would be easy to decry the initially timid infantry pursuit, but I welcome their refusal to engage in strident criticisms based on omniscient hindsight. That said, I am not fully convinced of their dismissal of the Union option to directly pursue the Confederate army as a violation of the directive to remain between the enemy and Washington. The deepest cuts are reserved for Alfred Pleasonton, the acting commander of the Federal cavalry corps during the campaign. The general's abdication of overall corps direction, his dispersal of forces, and his poor decision to hold back one of his three divisions, all contributed to several lost opportunities to inflict greater physical harm to Lee's army (or at least slow the Army of Northern Virginia's retreat enough to allow the Federal infantry a better shot at catching the enemy at a disadvantage).

Excepting a number of obvious typos (and instances of phrase and paragraph repeats) that should have been caught pre-publication, the overall presentation leaves little cause for complaint. The full cloth boards are nice. The supplementary materials presented in One Continuous Fight are particularly valuable. Even though I've had no opportunity to try them out for myself, I have no doubts that battlefield trampers will delight in the driving tours [one follows the retreat route and the other the wagon train of wounded]. Both offer detailed directions and commentary, and each is supported by numerous photographs and GPS coordinates for every stage. The OBs in Appendix C also go the extra mile by including the units of the Department of the Susquehanna, the Middle Department, and French's Harpers Ferry Command [only Benjamin Kelley's command from the Cumberland area is missing].

All serious students of the Gettysburg campaign will want to read One Continuous Fight. Battle descriptions are well researched and clearly written, and the supporting analysis is both evenhanded and based on realistic assessments of the military possibilities. This contribution to the Gettysburg literature is abundantly worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. Drew,

    Thank you for reminding me that I need to go back and read Brown's book too. I smell a Back-to-Back books series of posts coming on with these two...



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