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Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears

Gettysburg (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Stephen W. Sears

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7561219,552 (4.31)16
Drawing on years of research, Sears focuses on the big picture, capturing the entire essence of the momentous three-day struggle while offering fresh insights that will surprise even the best-versed Civil War buffs, from Robert E. Lee's decision to bring the war north, to Joshua L. Chamberlain's brilliant defense of Little Round Top, to George Pickett's fateful charge.… (more)
Authors:Stephen W. Sears
Info:Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Collections:Middle East (inactive)

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Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears (2002)


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The best single volume history of Gettysburg out there! ( )
  Dave068 | Apr 16, 2018 |
The best single volume history of Gettysburg out there! ( )
  Dave068 | Apr 16, 2018 |
This book was well worth my time even before the first shots were fired. This book starts months earlier, at a meeting between Lee and Davis deciding upon the movement North in the first place. Then you follow the Confederates as they head North, shielded from view by the Blue Ridge Mountains. What a revelation to learn that if the Confederates controlled the gaps in the Blue Ridge, then the Feds wouldn't know the Army was moving or where it was headed. Then the Army of the Potomac gingerly heads North, not knowing where the Confederates are, but trying to keep between them and Washington; while the Confederates eat their way through the storehouses of Pennsylvania farmers, with no idea whatsoever that the Federals have even crossed the Potomac. I'd often heard that the battle started because the Confederates were looking for a rumored stockpile of shoes. Now I finally get the significance of the search for shoes, because now I understand how hard it was for the Armies to actually find each other. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around how the actions of Heth and Reynolds committed the Armies to battle; I guess at some point, if enough men become involved, then the enterprise becomes too big to fail. This book, though, is exactly what I want in a historical narrative: enough detail so that you have time to think about the action, but not so much that the main points become obscured.

I'm listening to the book on CD and even without maps I think I have a pretty good picture of what is going on, although Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge sound awfully alike. The brutality of war is horrifying. It's pretty exciting when a hole in the line gets plugged in the nick of time, until you think about how it was plugged with humans. Why did we think it was a good idea to resolve disagreements by blowing each other's bodies to pieces?


Update, now that I've finished: Wow. I have visited Gettysburg at least three times and never understood it. Now I see why. It's not just one battle. It's not just three battles. For example, the most important action on Day 3, of course, is Pickett's charge; but there are also battles on the flanks and in the rear. After reading this book, I have a feeling for the complexity of the battlespace. I also have a feeling for the movement of armies across Maryland and Pennsylvania; the use and mis-use of cavalry; the limits of military intelligence; and the experience of soldiers on both the offense and defense, winning and losing.

This book tells the whole story, from when Lee first proposed the invasion to when he re-crossed the river back into Virginia. And this book breaks each day into its battles. And this book explains the action from the perspective of both the soldiers and the leaders, for both the Federals and the Confederates. And it's all perfectly clear, and also alive and personal.

The book shows the differences between the command styles of Meade and Lee; the roles of individual leaders during battle and in preparation for battle; and the disconnect between Lincoln's perception and facts on the ground. This book lowered my opinion of Lincoln a little bit; in his disappointment over Meade's "failure" to destroy the rebels, he seemed not to understand that this battle was fought by actual human beings, who were exhausted, and marching until their shoes literally fell apart, and whose best leaders had been killed or taken out of action. My opinion of Lee was already not very high, but this book led me to wonder whether he was just the big idea guy, who needed a Stonewall Jackson to "make it so".


Final comment, re the audio edition: Ed Sala was great. When people are dying, he is somber; when people are idiots, he's disparaging. He really makes the story come alive. ( )
  read.to.live | Mar 23, 2015 |
I have long been a Civil War buff, although unlike many of this ilk I have zero interest in re-enactments and actually a rather limited interest in the battles themselves, from a military standpoint. Rather, I am far more taken by the political dimension of the war for our national history and how its legacy defined the America that we live in today. Still, an understanding of the critical battles is essential to comprehending the war, even if you are willing to eschew the tactical details that so fascinate the military historian. My interest in the war – and its battles – has been reawakened by the sesquicentennial of this seminal conflict, and I have not only returned to reading about the Civil War but also began visiting its battlefields: Manassas, Fredericksburg, Antietam, even Fort Macon in NC. I hope to visit Gettysburg this year for its own sesquicentennial, and in preparation I picked up the highly acclaimed Stephen Sears book, entitled simply Gettysburg.
I have attempted Sears before, most recently with his landmark Landscape Turned Red about Antietam, which I abandoned about forty percent into it, not because he is a bad writer but only because I found the narrative too pregnant with military minutiae for my taste. Somehow, my instincts communicated that this would be different with Gettysburg, and my instincts were correct. Not that military nuts-and-bolts in great detail don’t dominate here, because they do, but for me Gettysburg rises well above that to capture the personalities of the generals and their lieutenants and even the average soldier clad in blue or butternut, as well as the state of the armies, the lay of the land and the greater themes of the war – on and off the battlefield – that are of paramount interest for me.
Like other works by Sears, there is far more informational detail here than I would care to learn, especially as it relates to preparation for the battle, yet this time it seems to click with the non-military historian – myself – in a way that vividly highlights these components as they fit into the grander scale of the event. This time, I found the characters and events so well animated and integrated that I did not lose interest as we moved forward, even with an avalanche of minutiae, and I came to feel – much like, I suspect, the average soldier on either side – the tension build toward the crescendo of battle, although certainly my armchair was far safer than their killing fields.
Some have called Sears the Bruce Catton of today and characterized Gettysburg as the best one-volume treatment of the battle. I think it earns these superlatives and more. Of all the authors and books on the Civil War that I have read, this is the one that most brought the distant Robert E. Lee to life for me, and made me feel what it must have been like to serve with or against Stuart, Longstreet, Sickles, Hancock, Chamberlain, Custer and many more. A magnificent book on a multiplicity of levels, if you ever wanted to read one book on Gettysburg, read this one! ( )
  Garp83 | Apr 7, 2013 |
A really thorough and quite readable account of the battle. Made me want to read more of Sears' work. ( )
  chriskrycho | Mar 30, 2013 |
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For Sally, in loving memory
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Captain Samuel Fiske, 14th Connecticut, soldier-correspondent for a New England newspaper, seated himself in the shade of an oak tree on a Pennsylvania hilltop and prepared "to task my descriptive powers" to report the fighting he expected would open at any moment.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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