Preview: Hessler, Motts, Stanley – “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg”

1 06 2015

51mkgt+rutL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Two weeks ago I received a couple of new releases from Savas Beatie. Both are Gettysburg books, and both are visually stunning. I took the books along with me to a seminar I attended, tested them out on a couple of folks whose opinions I respect, and elicited enthusiastic “thumbs up reactions.” Both books will be getting the Interview treatment from Bull Runnings, and as they both have multiple authors it will take a little time to put those together. To tide you over I’ll give you the lowdown preview-wise.

Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History, by Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides James A. Hessler and Wayne E. Motts, with cartography by Steven A. Stanley, is another attractive, hard cover book on heavy, glossy paper. It’s beautifully laid out and includes nice, sharp modern photographs and colorful graphics. It also has the appearance of a home run, and a real, National League home run at that, not one of those watered down, 43-year-old-fat-guy-who-can’t-field American League dingers.

Jim Hessler has proven himself a more than capable narrator with Sickles at Gettysburg, and Wayne Motts, C. E. O. of the National Civil War Museum, perhaps knows as much about Pickett’s Charge as anyone who wasn’t there for the event (to call his command of the organizations and men involved encyclopedic is too generous to encyclopedias.) This volume has Stanley maps and illustrations and sidebars aplenty. The “distressed” format of some of the pages can be a little distracting, but overall the layout is quite handsome. The work is end noted, with orders of battle, bibliography, and index. It’s broken up into four separate tours: Confederate Battle Line; Pettigrew-Trimble Charge; Pickett’s Charge; and Union Battle Line. A total of 268 pages, and a must have for planning your next foray onto the Day 3 field. Hopefully a soft-cover or e-reader version will become available, as durability in the field is questionable.





Preview: Brenneman, Boardman, Dowling – “The Gettysburg Cyclorama”

27 05 2015

613FOyqKbBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Two weeks ago I received a couple of new releases from Savas Beatie. Both are Gettysburg books, and both are visually stunning. I took the books along with me to a seminar I attended, tested them out on a couple of folks whose opinions I respect, and elicited enthusiastic “thumbs up reactions.” Both books will be getting the Interview treatment from Bull Runnings, and as they both have multiple authors it will take a little time to put those together. To tide you over I’ll give you the lowdown preview-wise.

The Gettysburg Cyclorama: The Turning Point of the Civil War on Canvas, by Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides Chris Brenneman and Sue Boardman, with photography by Bill Dowling, is one gorgeous book with a cool concept. The first 73 of these oversize, glossy pages draw on Sue Boardman’s extensive research to describe cycloramas in general, their history in this country, and the tale of Paul Philippoteaux’s work depicting the three day Battle of Gettysburg in 3-D. No stone is left unturned.

Then the really interesting part: a tour of the battlefield and cyclorama, in which the painting is broken down into nine “views,” with multiple tour stops in each view, color details of the painting for those stops, and period and modern color photos of corresponding battlefield scenes and individuals. It sounds wacky, but it works! My only complaint is that the oversize hardback format may not hold up out on the field. But then, you may want to leave this on the coffee table for friends to ponder. OK, maybe you’ll need two – or maybe the publisher will put out a paperback edition at some point.

A similar preview on that other book is coming soon…





Victory at Bull Run – What Was McDowell’s Game Plan?

24 05 2015

51PK6Qew8sL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_John Hennessy is working on a new edition of his seminal tactical study, The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence, July 18-21, 1861. I’ve corresponded with the author enough to learn that this will be one of the rare updated editions that owners of the original will consider a “must have.” Mr. Hennessy discussed the new book somewhat in a recent interview with Civil War Talk Radio, which you can listen to here.

During this interview, you’ll hear the author discuss one of the great mysteries of the campaign – what exactly was Irvin McDowell’s vision of victory for his army (which ex post facto became known as The Army of Northeastern Virginia)? Many authors/historians have made the assumption – and it can only be an assumption – that McDowell envisioned a swift flank attack which would overwhelm his opponent and result in a set-piece victory, rolling up and decisively defeating Beauregard in a classic clash of arms.

The definition of victory here is not just semantics. It is critical in assessing McDowell’s plans and actions, and in determining why they failed.

I believe victory in McDowell’s mind was something other than what almost all chroniclers and critics of the campaign have assumed. I won’t tell you what to think, but will make a suggestion that may help you think for yourself: the answer can perhaps be found in what McDowell wrote before the battle and in what he did during it. In order to discern that, I think you must cast aside assumptions of what he must have intended and take him at his word – and actions. If you do that, then the inexplicables of the campaign may become more explicable. What appears to be a complex plan (given the traditional assumption of intent) may become less so.

Read McDowell’s plans. Look at what he did. Does that jive with your assumptions regarding his intent? To use a sports analogy, would you as a reporter rely on a head football coach’s post-defeat comments about his game plan when you have the actual game plan and video to look at? Especially when the game plan and video don’t support those comments?

Post-defeat comments: “We really wanted to establish the running game, but that didn’t work out.” Game plan: we must exploit the opponent’s secondary. Game film: first three possessions each consisted of three incomplete down-field passes and a punt.

Get it?





Preview: Mackowski, White, & Davis – “Fight Like the Devil”

21 05 2015

51aBL53hU8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_New in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series is Fight Like the Devil: The First Day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, by Chris Mackowski, Kristopher D. White, and Daniel T. Davis. Gettysburg nuts fall into one of three categories, typically: Day 1 guys; Day 2 guys; and Day 3 guys. If I fall into one of those categories (though I don’t consider myself a Gettysburg nut, or a more seriously afflicted Frassanidiot), it would have to be Day 1. And to prove it, I joined along with a couple hundred other folks a few weeks ago for an all day walking tour of the Day 1 battlefield. It would have been nice to have this little book along for the ride. It weighs in at 116 pages of text through the epilogue, with another eight (8!) appendices by such luminaries as Matt Atkinson, Dan Welch, and Eric Wittenberg. Nine maps and dozens of modern photos are sprinkled in. And this one’s not without some controversy. I have long wondered at the basis for John Reynolds’s now sterling reputation, given his performance up to July 1, 1863, and it appears Kris White thinks along the same lines for the same reasons in his appendix on the general. And John Cummings weighs in on the location of the famous Gardner “Harvest of Death” photos (I do believe that one has to be either all right or all wrong in these cases.) Other appendices look at Dick Ewell’s decision, J. E. B. Stuart’s ride, shoes, and Pipe Creek. Check it out.





Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours: Iron Brigade

19 05 2015

This past weekend I attended the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours event, On the Trail of Those Damn Black Hats: Weekend with Lance Herdegen & The Iron Brigade. I did so as the guest of friend and facilitator Ted Alexander, in return for coverage of the event on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Hopefully you are all followers and were kept up to date of all the happenings – if not, just subscribe using the links over to the right. But I’ll give a recap here.

Friday featured presentations at seminar HQ the Hampton Inn by Lance Herdegen (see an interview with him here) on The Iron Brigade at Gainesville; Tom Clemens (see an interview with him here) on the Black Hats’ Memories of Antietam; and Dan Welch (with the Gettysburg Foundation) on Beyond the Sobriquet: The Men of the Iron Brigade. After a break for dinner, the evening concluded with Lance and “Forward! Forward! Charge! Align on the Colors!”: The Unfinished Railroad Cut at Gettysburg.

Bright and early Saturday the 40 or so attendees boarded a bus bound for South Mountain (where we stopped on the National Road at Mt. Tabor and Bolivar Roads where Lance described the brigade’s move on Turner’s Gap.) Then it was on to Antietam, and discussions at the Visitor’s Center and the Miller Farm. Finally we arrived at Gettysburg, and after lunch at the Dobbin House Lance held court near the Reynolds Wounding marker and covered the brigade’s actions in Herbst Woods and the Railroad Cut. Of course, time in the bus was spent talking about the brigade’s actions on other parts of the field, and Lance unleashed a small portion of his vast knowledge of the men and events of the Iron Brigade as well.

I decided to stay over Saturday night for a slate of talks on Sunday morning, and I’m glad I did. Lance kicked off with a more complete history of the Iron Brigade (by the way, Lance is one of the most upbeat, happy guys I’ve ever seen on tour, and it wasn’t just this time – a hail fellow well met); fellow Save Historic Antietam Foundation board member and founder of the National Civil War Medical Museum Dr. Gordon Dammann gave a delightful presentation on Civil War Medicine Hollywood Style: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly; and Gettysburg Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides President Joseph Mieczkowski concluded the formal talks with a really interesting talk on Rufus Dawes & the 6th Wisconsin at Gettysburg and Beyond. Joe is apparently a “thread puller” like me and shared some fascinating tidbits.

The seminar and tour were well-organized. Raffles and auctions held Friday and Sunday raised about $500 for battlefield preservation, which will go toward purchasing available land at Antietam (see Civil War Trust info here.) And to top it off, I got to spend some time with a couple of fellows whom I had not seen in ten years, friends from prior battlefield stomps.

Next up for Civil War Seminars & Tours is The End of the War: Richmond, Petersburg, & Appomattox, July 22-26 (see brochure here.) Speakers feature Ed Bearss (see interview here) and friend and blogger Jimmy Price (see interview here), among others (like Bud Robertson, Richard Sommers, R. E. L. Krick, John Coski, Chris Calkins, the list goes on.) Sounds like a great event – register soon if you agree!





Blogging (and Tweeting and Facebooking) From the Field

11 05 2015

This coming Friday and Saturday I will be attending a Weekend with Lance Herdegen & the Iron Brigade, as a guest of Ted Alexander and the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours. I’ll be covering the event on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not too handy with the mobile WordPress app, so I’ll lug along my computer and make one or two posts on Friday or Saturday. To keep up live, subscribe to my Twitter feed or follow Bull Runnings on Facebook. Both links are over to the right. Should be fun!

For an interview with Lance Herdegen, see here.





Preview – Alexander, “Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg”

6 05 2015

51At1BPGMzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Breakthrough at Petersburg has a special interest for me, because my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, a private in the 205th PA Infantry/9th Corps, was wounded there (see here.) So when I received Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg, March 25 – April 2, 1865, by Edward S. Alexander, I was pretty excited to see how the action was described. This is an entry in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series, and exhibits those features with which we have become accustomed: Hal Jesperson maps (7 of them); 129 pages of text taking the reader from the beginning of the siege through the fall of Petersburg; plentiful period and current photographs; orders of battle; field fortifications definitions; and an appendix on Pamplin Historical Park. Nice and compact. However, this study suffers from what afflicts most studies of the Breakthrough: it stops with 6th Corps and does not continue to the right to cover 9th Corps. Is this some sort of conspiracy? Does it have anything to do with the fact that 9th Corps operations took place outside the current boundaries of Pamplin Park? I have my foil hat ready for the investigation…








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