On July 1 and 2, 1863, armies commanded by George Meade and Robert E. Lee clashed in the hilly farm country surrounding Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Badly bloodied, the outcome of the battle still uncertain, they fought on into a third day, one whose close would decide the Civil War.
Jeffry Wert, a Pennsylvania high school teacher and well-published scholar of Civil War history, offers a sweeping account of that third day of battle, one that relies heavily on letters, diaries, and other primary sources. From those combatants, we learn of the "carnival of hell" that was Pickett's Charge, when "the incessant rattle of musketry sounded like the grinding of some huge mill." We read of the heroic Union defense of Culp's Hill against equally heroic Confederate attackers, of a stirring charge of Virginia cavalry that elicited "a murmur of admiration" from opposing Michigan horsemen led by George Armstrong Custer, and of the exhaustion and terror of ordinary soldiers, one of whom mused, "What men are these we slaughter like cattle and still they come at us?"
Like the battle itself on that final day at Gettysburg, Wert's narrative unfolds with breakneck speed, and sometimes with so much detail as to yield momentary confusion as it proceeds from one butchery to the next. Still, his account is painstakingly researched and very well written, and it deserves a place on the shelf alongside the work of Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, and other popular historians of the Civil War. --Gregory McNamee [via]