Wednesday, August 09, 2006

CWL --- Walking Gettysburg's Battlefield: Culp's Hill

Culp's Hill at Gettysburg: "The Mountain Trembled", Archer, John M., Thomas Publications, 2002, 144 pp., paperbound, notes, index, $12.95

Among the least visited and walked areas of Gettysburg battlefield is Culp's Hill. This portion of the battlefield has an equal amount of fighting, heroism, drama, and human interest as Little Round Top or The Copse of Trees. Probably there are two reasons for the lack of popular interest in Culp's Hill. The first is that tourists can't climb over the rocks (Devil's Den) and there is no grand vista (Little Round Top). The second is that the story is difficult to tell, read and visualize. The switchback roads, the steep slopes, the monuments scattered about in the woods all hinder the imagination that tries to understand which unit did what and where. The compass spins through all four quadrants when you drive the Culp's Hill roads.

John Archer's guide is a great help for any student of the battle and probably is on the bookshelf of every licensed battlefield guide. An Adams County resident, Archer has spent hours upon hours on the Culp's Hill battlefield; this fact becomes obvious from his precise directions for driving and walking the tour. Accompanying the tour, is a very fine presentation of the troop movements, assaults and retreats. The clarity of Archer's organization of the material is consistent throughout the book. Keeping an eye on the battle's clock, Archer helps the reader keep moving forward with the troops.

His use of the veteran's words to describe the ground is exceptional and is often accompanied by both period and contemporary photographs. Archer selects the most descriptive accounts of combat and these occur frequently in the text. A quick look through the text shows that the words of soldiers are used on nearly two-thirds of the 144 pages of the book. In the three page
'Aftermath' discussion, Archer uses three soldiers' view of Union and Confederate burial.

Value is added to the book by a discussion of how this portion of the battlefield became a park. The installation of the roads and the loss of McAllister's mill pond are clearly explained; they are discussed as factors in interpreting the present day park. The maps are adequate for the tour but this reader wishes that one small- scale map covering the area bounded by East Cemetry Hill, the Daniel Lady farmstead, Wolf's and Power's Hills, and the McAllister Mill would have been included. Having a McElfresh watercolor map of the area aids in the reading of the book; the farmsteads and lanes, the original fences, crops and woodlots shown on this map guided the understanding of Archer's maps. A discussion of the 1863 farmsteads, their owners, tenant families, and damage claims would have been appropriate and enhanced both Introduction and the Aftermath. Citations in the text are found at the end of the monograph. Lacking is an order of battle but the index does list all the Federal and Confederate regiments. Listings of officiers' names give rank. Only a brigade commander commanders are designated as such. Other officers' commands, such as regimental, division, artillery, are not noted.

No comments: