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Gettysburg: Day Three

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Gettysburg: Day Three , By Jeffry D. Wert. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. Pg. 448.) ISBN: 0-6848-5914-9.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - November 23, 2001

The Battle of Gettysburg began on July 1, 1863. When the battle started, the Confederates had about 25,000 on hand, whilst the Union forces could muster only about 19,000 men. By the time the battle had concluded on the July 3rd, the Union forces had swelled to about 86,000 men, and the Confederate forces mustered a total of about 75,000. When the battle was over, a combined total of over 50,000 had been killed, wounded, or captured. The Battle of Gettysburg represented one of the bloodiest days in American History. As the battle concluded, the Union forces, weary and greatly thinned, left the battle field victorious. Had the Confederates forces won this battle, the entire course of the civil war could have been altered. In Gettysburg, Day Three, Jeffry D. Wert chronicles, in exacting detail, the entirety of the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a battle which was to change the course of a war.

The Battle of Gettysburg took place in and around the town Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Gettysburg was situated amidst rolling hills, a land where forests were interwoven with fertile farmsteads. The battle started absurdly enough, when Confederate troops, bent on liberating some shoes and other supplies from Gettysburg, tangled with the Union cavalry. In short order, the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee was engaged in battle against the Army of the Potomac under the command of the Union General, George G. Meade. Gettysburg was strategically located at the intersection of several roads, including Chambersburg Pike, Harrisburg Road, and Baltimore Road. Both sides knew that whoever held Gettysburg, would be the gatekeeper of these roads, roads which led right to the heart of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

Wert is a respected Civil War historian, and a high-school teacher, who has written several books on the Civil War. He offers an in-depth and balanced look at the commanders involved in the numerous engagements that made up the Battle of Gettysburg, the seven-hour battle for Culp's Hill, Pickett's Charge, and the numerous skirmishes fought that day. He not only describes the battles in detail, but also describes the planning and preparations that went into the execution of engagements. Throughout, he examines the battle from the viewpoint of those that led the battle as well as from the viewpoint of the common soldier who bore the brunt of the fighting. As they are introduced, Wert scrutinizes the numerous commanders who took to the battlefield that dreadful day. Many of the officers that Wert discusses are men who, historically speaking, are often overlooked in favor of more well known men, such as General James Longstreet, General George Armstrong Custer, General George Mead, General Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and General George E. Pickett. He details the various roles that they played, both in the planning of the day's events and how they performed under fire. Wert also analyzes the various successes, and failures, of each commander, and how their actions affected the outcome of the overall battle. Additionally, he examines the impact of various military armaments used that day, such as the effectiveness of the artillery when used against the calvary, and the weapons used by the infantry forces.

In writing this book, Wert consulted as many contemporary, first person sources as possible. And, when possible, he allowed the men who participated in the battles to tell their own story, in their own words. He does this by including numerous excerpts from their letters and diary entries. His resources included diaries, letters, and military records, and numerous accounts of the battle written during and shortly after the battle ended.

Gettysburg, Day Three is a phenomenal, riveting narrative of the most horrific battle ever fought on American soil. Wert brings the men who prosecuted, and fought in the battle, to life. He also provides some background information on the Civil War, in general, and the events that led up the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as a basic overview of the first two days of the battle. He also explores the aftermath of the battle and the laurels and the incriminations that the various commanders faced for their actions during the battle. Wert also offers his own views on the battle and its aftermath, and the numerous men whose actions he feels where misinterpreted or under appreciated. For example, Wert feels that General Meade has not been given as much credit as was deserved for the Union victory, and he lucidly explains why he feels this is the case. While this book provides an excellent overview of the details surrounding the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, readers who are unfamiliar with the American Civil War may find the book a bit off-putting because it presupposes a basic familiarity with the war. If you are not familiar with American Civil War, I highly recommend that you read a general survey on the war, before reading Gettysburg, Day Three. There is a plethora of excellent books on the Civil War, one that I'd recommend is James M. McPherson's, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. This book offers a comprehensive introduction to the American Civil War. By becoming acquainted with the war, before reading Gettysburg, Day Three, you will gain a deeper appreciation of the scope of Wert's work and you will better understand the importance of the battle and its aftermath.

Gettysburg, Day Three is well written and well researched. It is so detailed that you come away from the book feeling as if you had, at least vicariously, been at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. As an omnipotent witness to the day's events, you are able to flirt from engagement to engagement, to mingle with the troops, and to eavesdrop on the strategy sessions of the commanders. Historically accurate this book will be appreciated by those interested in American History, the Civil War, and Military History. It will also be of interested to individuals simply looking for an enthralling, fast-paced tale of valor, military action, and one which all too clearly illustrates the carnage that can occur on the field of battle.

Related Reviews:

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The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War, this compelling history chronicles the battle that took place on September 17, 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland. This day remains the single most deadly days in American history, and the outcome of the battle was to change the course of the Civil War.

A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States, by Timothy J. Henderson.
An in-depth and fascinating analysis of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, the events leading up to it, and its long-term repercussions. The book is written primarily from a Mexican viewpoint.

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