I haven’t done one of these in a while. But I have to stop and do it for this one. Have to.
This has been my summer read.
Yes, I know it has a limited audience – history lovers, civil war buffs, etc. Yes I know that means a limited readability for many and that what I find thrilling and soul-nourishing (because I am a history nut and a civil war aficionado, so sue me) will be not so much for others. I know that.
But I have to rate this one through the roof. I do.
I read Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion over the past two months, mostly in the cool of the morning or evening on my patio on weekends. It’s been my Sabbath read (the irony of that is not lost on me).
I have been reading about Gettysburg for four decades; I’ve played, replayed and replayed again the battle and campaign on a tactical and strategic level during my previous us life as a gamer, and when the movie Gettysburg was released in 1993 and ended up showing here in Boise in what is now the Overland Park Cinemas (prior to Edwards coming to town in 1997), I was first in line. Watching Gettysburg on the big screen was a religious experience for me. It was.
All of that to say, when I saw Guelzo’s book, I nearly did the fly-by on it. I mean, what more could there be to see or to learn? But the book was so pretty (this is not one to read in iPad or Kindle format, I’m telling you, you’ve got to hold the hard copy in your hands). So, this being the 150’th anniversary of the three day struggle in July of 1863, I thought it might be worth revisiting those fields.
Worth it? Guelzo held me, spellbound. Maybe it’s just because it’s been too long since I’ve read a Civil War book. Maybe it’s because Guelzo is a marvelous and careful story teller. I would say it was more of the latter.
It says something when you know how this story ends, you know how each of those days ebbed and flowed, you know what happened at that climactic charge on the third day, but Guelzo rivets you anyway.
Take the third day as a case in point.
Pickett’s Charge has always seemed anti-climactic in retrospect, a foregone conclusion. So once Guelzo had finished narrating the events of the second day, I expected a let down. But instead it gripped me like a cliffhanger and I could not put it down until I had finished it.
Lewis Armistead was not interested in bogging down into a slugging match around the trees. Directly ahead he saw the ruined guns of Cushing’s battery, and behind them Alexander Webb’s last reserve regiment of the Philadelphia brigade, the “Fire Zouaves” of the 72nd Pennsylvania, and beyond them…nothing. Nothing but the provost guard and the dead horses and overturned wagons in the Taneytown Road, nothing but daylight and victory and the destruction of the Army of the Potomac and the end of the war and independence and peace, and so he lowered his sword and called, This day is ours, men, come turn this artillery on them. And for a moment, the balances shivered and teetered, unsure which future world to bless.
I did not expect this read to make me tingly. I didn’t expect his epilogue journeying through Lincoln’s speech on November 19 of that year to make me teary.
Do yourself a favor.
Read this book.