Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Booknotes: Unsung Hero of Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg by Edward G. Longacre (Potomac Bks, 2021).

Wider appreciation and book coverage of the mid-war transformation of eastern theater Union cavalry into a force that could match and even better its far more celebrated mounted opponents began in earnest in the 1990s, gathered momentum around the millennium, and continues to today. An important outgrowth of this literature, which features pioneering works from Eric Wittenberg, Edward Longacre, and others, is the amount of attention paid to previously neglected mid and lower level Union cavalry generals who were responsible for much of that arm's success in the field. David Gregg certainly ranks high among those in that group, and now we have from Potomac Books a modern biography in Edward Longacre's Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg.

From the description: "Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg (1833–1917) was one of the ablest and most successful commanders of cavalry in any Civil War army. Pennsylvania-born, West Point–educated, and deeply experienced in cavalry operations prior to the conflict, his career personified that of the typical cavalry officer in the mid-nineteenth-century American army. Gregg achieved distinction on many battlefields, including those during the Peninsula, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe, Overland, and Petersburg campaigns, ultimately gaining the rank of brevet major general as leader of the Second Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac."

Just a few pages at the beginning of the book cover Gregg's pre-West Point upbringing and a handful at the end address the general's long (he lived well into the WW1 years) post-Civil War life, so the volume is clearly a military biography tightly focused on Gregg's antebellum frontier service (in New Mexico, California, and the Pacific Northwest) and Civil War career. According to Longacre, the "highlight of (Gregg's) service occurred on July 3, 1863, the climactic third day at Gettysburg, when he led his own command as well as the brigade of Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer in repulsing an attempt by thousands of Confederate cavalry under the legendary J. E. B. Stuart in attacking the right flank and rear of the Union Army while Pickett’s charge struck its front and center."

Manuscript research comprises a large section of the book's bibliography, with Gregg's correspondence and personal papers distributed among the Library of Congress and numerous Pennsylvania archives. Nine maps were commissioned for the book, and they allow the reader to follow Gregg's involvement in many campaigns and battles from the Peninsula through Petersburg.

Gregg himself was not present at the war in the East's finishing stroke, as he resigned his commission in early February 1865. According to Longacre, Gregg never satisfactorily explained his reason(s) behind leaving both the volunteer and regular army service (though I would imagine that the author explores the possibilities in the book), and doing so undoubtedly went some way toward blocking his 1868 effort to reenter the army. This "long overdue" biography should draw great interest from Gettysburg and Union cavalry students.

1 comment:

  1. Ed does great work, is a good man, and over the years has only improved as a writer and researcher. We have him under contract for three books, and are very excited about that.


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