Ten Good books on Gettysburg

Top ten?  What do I look like, J.D. Power and Associates?

Seriously though, most, if not all of us, will mention Coddington or Pfanz or Catton or maybe even Tucker.  But beyond those standard works, we all have aspects we find most interesting, and particular references that support our tastes. My “Gettysburg palate” tends to favor five areas – the advance to Gettysburg, the first day, use of artillery during the battle, the retreat from Gettysburg, and of course, the markers & monuments.  So I wouldn’t call this list a “Top Ten” but rather a ten books I recommend on my favorite sub-topics.  Books I’ve found useful.  That said, here’s my list of favorites:

1.  Here Come the Rebels, by Wilbur S. Nye.  – Somewhat dated in terms of source material and style, Nye’s work stands up well.  He covers the Confederate advance into Maryland and Pennsylvania a bit more than the Federal operations. In the college years,  this was my first introduction to the battles of Brandy Station, Second Winchester, and the Loudoun Valley cavalry actions.

1. 1A.   Roads to Gettysburg, by John W. Schildt.  –  Schildt’s work offers a counterbalance to Nye’s.  The intent, not always met,  was to offer an account for each Corps, for each day of their march north from the Rappahannock.  His narrative style takes some getting used to.   It is common for him to stop in mid-steam and open what we’d call a sidebar of sorts.  But these are mostly to lend more weight to the larger point, or to relate the location to the reader should they wish to visit themselves.  The book pre-dates the GPS and the road infrastructure has changed since first published, still Schildt offers a handy reference for those on the roads to Gettysburg.

2.  Plenty of Blame to Go Around, by Eric Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi.  – The two previously mentioned works cover General J.E.B. Stuart’s movements in parts, but not to the depth that a student of cavalry would be satisfied with.  Wittenberg and Petruzzi resolve that gap, in my opinion.  The authors take on a subject that far too many historians, in my opinion, had oversimplified or ignored.  They directly confront many of the old beliefs regarding Stuart’s ride and in doing so breath life back into the debate!  I particularly like style of presenting the material, accounts, and details first, then offering conclusions.

3.  Gettysburg: July 1, by David G. Martin.  – I could mention at least three other works here for the first day’s fighting, but I think Martin covers the topic in more detail and with better maps.   Martin’s approach takes the reader through brigades and regiments, linking their activities into the larger flow of the battle.  And if the account of the day’s fighting is not enough, the appendices are equally outstanding.  Every student of the battle should at least read the topographical and meteorological notes found there.

4. Devil’s Den: A History and a Guide, by Garry E. Adelman and Timothy H. Smith.   – Somewhat a shift from the more traditional histories listed above, this work is one part tour guide but also one part battle history and one part park history.  The authors tell the story of the famous rock outcropping literally from the cooling of the earth through all but the most recent park renovations.  This includes about fifty pages on the battle in this specific section of the field.  The tour section alone is worth the price of the book.

5.  The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, edited by Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson.  – I include this partly as nostalgia.  My trusty “trail veteran” copy has seen quite a bit of the field, since purchased in 1991.   One feature I like with this reference is the maps – which include terrain elevations lines.  The intended audience is the military professional.  As such, it is not exactly a “cover to cover” read, but rather one for the field.  My kind of book!

6.  Crossroads of the Conflict, by Donald W. McLaughlin.  – Perhaps the longest reach here.  I consider this work a diamond in the rough.  I don’t wish to knock a publisher, but the content deserves a better presentation.  I’ve discussed the book at length before, so to summarize this is the best resource for anyone interested in the markers, monuments, and tablets at Gettysburg.   If you overlook the presentation, the content is outstanding.

7. Silent Sentinels, by George Newton.  – Newton packages both a tactical manual and a technical history into one.  And then adds a bit of “park history” explaining how the guns and replicas came to Gettysburg as lasting memorials.  The book is an essential desk reference for anyone studying the artillery at Gettysburg.

8.  Small Arms at Gettysburg, by Joseph Bilby.  – I like technical details.  And I also like Bilby’s way of getting those details across.  Perhaps the strongest section of the book, in my view, is the discussion of the cavalry vs. infantry fighting of the first day.  But a close second is the discussion of “Buck and Ball.”

9.  Gettysburg Now and Then, by William Frassanitto (or any of several similar works by Frassanitto).   – Ok, less technical, but every bit as interesting.  Frassanitto’s analysis of the old photographs is simply eye opening.  When you see the old period photos matched to the same scenes today, the only thing you are lacking is the wizzing of bullets over your head!

10.   Retreat from Gettysburg, by Kent Masterson Brown.  – Brown’s work cuts new ground in two ways.  First we finally learn Pickett’s Charge was not the end of the campaign.  Second, there were many more considerations for the Confederate retreat than just getting soldiers across the Potomac.  If you follow Brown’s logic, Lee actually “won” Gettysburg to a degree by securing enough supplies to support the Army of Northern Virginia through the end of 1863.  Certainly a unique way to look at things.  Regardless of how one receives that supposition, Brown’s study of logistics during the campaign is the best handling of such that any has produced.

Of course, I must mention One Continuous Fight, by Eric Wittenberg, J. D. Petruzzi and Michael Nugent with reference to the Gettysburg retreat.   The ONLY reason that I didn’t place it in the ten listed is because of the author’s work on Stuart’s ride is mentioned earlier.  (No double dipping.)  What Brown did for the logistical and operational aspects of the retreat, Wittenberg, Petruzzi, and Nugent do for the tactical aspects.  The two books complement each other well, and sit side by side on my bookshelf.

And, if it seems like I have a favorite Gettysburg author, then so be it.  I’ve only had The Complete Gettysburg Guide for about two weeks now.  And another eagerly anticipated addition is Scott Mingus’ Flames Beyond Gettysburg, which is due in any day now.  Quite possibly if I do this same list again next year, Mingus’ book and Petruzzi’s latest, will be in the top ten.

A hearty thanks to Brett for dreaming up this “blog surge” and hosting it.  The perminent link for the collective lists is on TOCWOC for those who’d like to compare the opinions of us bloggers.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

8 thoughts on “Ten Good books on Gettysburg

  1. Craig,

    A good list! I had three of those you picked. Like the others, I’ve added a permanent link to your list at the “home page” for this event, and I Tweeted your list as well. Thanks for being a part of this (what looks to be) highly successful experiment.

    1. You are right Brett… During the edit phase while cutting down numbers, I messed up the numbering! If I had to remove one, I’d say Frassanitto’s.

  2. Great list! I have Six out of the Ten on your list. Glad to see that you mentioned Nye’s book as it is really good and sometimes overlooked. Also I am a big fan of the Devil’s Den book and have loved reading it over and over. Great photographs and information.

  3. Craig,

    Thank you so much for the listings and the mentions! I’m honored more than I can say. And I hope you like The Complete Gettysburg Guide and have many chances to take it out onto the field.

    With appreciation,

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