Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New: The Summer Thunder of Saint Barbara' s Artillerymen

Summer Thunder: A Battlefield Guide To The Artillery At Gettysburg, Matt Spruill, University of Tennessee Press, 338 pp., 60 b/w photographs, 74 maps, 5 appendices, 2010, $29.95.

Matt Spruill, author of four Civil War battlefield guides, brings his teaching experience at the U.S. Army General Command and Staff College and the U.S. Army War College to bear upon the Gettysburg battlefield. His 2011 Decisions at Gettysburg: The Nineteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Campaign may be among this year's best books on the Battle of Gettysburg.

Summer Thunder is one of a kind. Students of the Battle of Gettysburg are well served by Bradley Gottfried's The Artillery of Gettysburg and Spruill's book is also valued resource for is visitors to the national military park. Summer Thunder uniqueness lies in a 'boots on the ground' approach. Many guide books take the user on a two hour tour with July 2 and July 3 cover in one stop. Spruill's tour is thorough with 35 stops many of which have three and even four segments once the user get out of the car. July 1, July 2, and July 3 engagements are distinct on the tour.

The armies’ deployment of artillery from one position to another, from one day to the next is carefully described. Matt Spruill, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former Gettysburg Battlefield Licensed Guide, offers readers succinct segments of the artillerists' and infantry commanders' reports found in the Offical Records and in their postwar writings. The tactical thinking of of the cannoneers is revealed and their voices are clear and precise in Summer Thunder.

Spruill has chosen 35 locations with complete with driving instructions, recent photographs, and uncluttered maps that depict the battlefield as it was in 1863. The artillery positions are marked and includes the number of guns in action with each battery. The passages from primary sources reveal the participants understandings of the event.

Gregory Coco's A Concise Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg is among the best short consideration of the topic. Spruill's is quite similar regarding the various artillery pieces and ammunition used by both armies. What makes Summer Thunder distinctive is the constant attention Spruill to the distance in yards between the tour stop and the distant targets and the ability of some pieces to reach further than others.

For frequent visitors to the battlefield or those who attend the anniversary battle walks hosted by the National Park Service, Summer Thunder is so descriptive that the mind's eye can visual from the text the view Spruill describes. Well illustrated with portraits of the commanders and present day views of the terrain, the book's text is supported by appropriate visuals.

Several but not all the maps have topographic lines. Thankfully, the farm buildings, those still standing and those lost to time, are on the maps. Small disappointments in Summer Thunder include the omission of the Pennsylvania Reserves assault and capture of Houck's Ridge and the clearing of the Wheatfield after the Grand Assault. Also, the cavalry battles of July 3 are not covered. The July 2 artillery duel between the Federals East Cemetery Hill, McKnight's Knoll and Culp's Hill and the Confederates on Benner's Hill is addressed in an appendix.

Summer Thunder is of value for all who read at least one Gettysburg book in a year, who travel there anytime, who reenact Civil War artillery, who take the Licensed Battlefield Guide Examine or those who members of the Order of Saint Barbara, a military honor society of the field artillery and the air defense units of the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps. Saint Barbara's Day is December 4.

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