Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30

The promise of throngs at Gettysburg (and being home with two wonderful kids) prevents me from visiting the battlefield over the next few days. I'm drawn to it, anyway, and have been immersing myself in the story of the battle for the last few weeks.

Allan Guelzo's recent book has been my main source of reading this past week. Some reflections about the battle based on what that reading has made me think follow.

Guelzo's account of the armies' nature fascinates me. The two armies consisted of infantry whose training was, at best, uneven. These infantry constituted the bulk of the armies. They were accompanied by disproportionately large elements of artillery and relatively sparse cavalry (at least compared to European armies of their day). And the armies were led by officers who were relatively (again to the Europeans) blind due their small staffs and lack of maps of the terrain in which they operated.

I'm gaining new respect for Michael Shaara's novel, The Killer Angels. Shaara really engaged in some decent scholarship about the battle to make his fictionalized account of the battle feel real. Certainly that novel can be deceptively close to the truth, and it is fiction not history. But it's brilliant historical fiction.

There are meaningful intricacies about the nature of combat at that time. Brigadiers usually marched with their soldiers, and Brigadiers were the officers who seemed to have most discretion and efficacy as combat leaders in the heat of battle. The logistical needs of moving these armies were daunting. Divisions would take up miles of space along roads (and divisions made up corps, and there were three corps fighting on side and seven on the other!), simply getting them to the site of a probable battle was a triumph of planning and foresight.

Gettysburg represented a compromise of the commanding generals' preferred places for battle. Meade, certainly, was set on battling along Pipe Creek in Maryland. The decision-making of division commanders (good for the Union, bumbling for the Confederacy) is what lead to the battle being fought in Gettysburg.

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