Friday, December 08, 2006

CWL --- Walking Gettysburg's Battlefield: Hancock and the Union Center on July 2nd

The Battle Between the Farm Lanes: Hancock Saves the Union Center, Gettysburg July 2nd 1863, David Schultz and David Wieck, Forward by Jeffery Wert
301 pages, paperbound, endnotes, bibliography, index, Ironclad Press, 2006.

Paying close attention to the physical terrain of the battlefield, Schultz and Wieck offer an important re-visitation to familar material regarding the 'close run thing' of the Union center between 5:00 and 7:00pm on July 2nd 1863. A great amount of detail is offered and succesfully puts into context the charge of the 1st Minnesota, which in popular treatments of the battle, is second only to the 20th Maine's heroics on Little Round Top.

The authors make clear that the glory the 1st Minnesota gained during the charge was with the aid of the 111th New York infantry, commanded by Colonel Clinton MacDougall and the 4th U.S. Artillery, Battery C, commanded by Lt. Evan Thomas. The flanks of the 1st Minnesota were aided by artillery on the right, and on the left by a infantry charge immediately before the Minnesotans effort. The 111th New York was one of the three regiments that was unfairly lableled as the 'Harper's Ferry Cowards' stemming from an unfortunate command decision during the Sharpsburg Campaign of 1862.

The personality and presence of Winfield S. Hancock is a recurring theme in every chapter. He is the single most decisive element in the preservation of the Federal center along Cemetery Ridge. Lacking from the discussion is a description of Hancock's staff, which in this micro-history, would have been enlightening and enjoyable. This reader finished the the book thinking that Hancock was unaccompanied by couriers, advisors, and aides as he rode between the farmslanes during the afternoon of July 2nd.

Yet, there are some difficulties with this book. The size of the type font must be 18 point or larger. Initially I thought the publisher had sent me the Large Print edition for the visually impaired. There was a period of adjustment for my eyes to accommodate such large text. Also, some printer/publisher proofreading needed to be done before setting this book between its covers. The pages listed for the maps in the table of contents does not match with the actual page locations of the maps in the book. Also, the maps do not have the farmsteads labled which is a curious thing for a book that has the word 'farmlanes' in its title. Only one map, Tour Stop # 5, has a farm building labled. The maps have on them only the modern park roads and not the 1863 farmlanes. Furthermore, it would have been convienent for the reader if the publisher put a few maps in the first section of the book that describes the 1863 fighting. All the maps are in the second section of the book that describes the modern driving and walking tour.

In addition, the portaits of officers do not have their units in the captions. Lacking is a picture of Colonel William J. Colville (1st Minnesota) though it is located in the Library of Congress. At times the writing style doesn't carry the narrative consistenly forward. A favorite expression of the authors is 'by the time . . .' but there is very few statements of time in the book. Of course, given the fact that the book covers about two hours of fighting, the reader does not expect a minute by minute account, but an estimation of the range time, such as the phrase '. . .about 3:30pm . . .' or ' . . . probably sometime between 4:00pm and 4:30pm . . .' would have helped.

From the bibliography is missing Richard Moe's highly regarded 'The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers.' Missing from the book are appendices at the end of the book; especially helpful would have been an Union and Confederate order of battle of those units on the field at the Union center. There is an appendix which offers an essay on measuring the ground on which the fight occurred; the appendix is located in the middle of the book, between the narrative and the tour.

Though mechanically the book has its flaws, overall the discussion it offers is enlightening and clearly presented.

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