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Gettysburg--The First Day by Harry W. Pfanz

Gettysburg--The First Day

by Harry W. Pfanz

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1663109,912 (4.38)7
"Though a great deal has been written about the battle of Gettysburg, much of it has focused on the events of the second and third days. With this book, the first day's fighting finally receives its due. Harry Pfanz, presents a definitive account of the events of July 1, 1863."--BOOK JACKET.



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You have to be a bit of a Civil War geek to read this book. But if you are and you do, it is worth it. It is a detailed and very readable description of the first day. It moves away from the set-piece received wisdom of the battle as shown in the (excellent) movie Gettysburg. It is fair to North and South; it is detailed; it does an acceptable job of showing the people involved, and in some cases not just the commanders. Well worth reading. ( )
  RobertP | Apr 2, 2010 |
This is not a light read, however, anyone interested in the events of Gettysburg needs to add Pfanz's works to their library.

This volume captures all the events leading up to and including all the actions on the first day. The focus on indivdual unit actions is tremendous and very thorough. Both sides find equal time devoted, with a bit more time spent with the Union armies.

Pfanz moves his narrative along with excellent and timely first hand accounts from the men who fought there. ( )
  SgtBrown | Aug 20, 2008 |
Harry Pfanz spent 10 years as a historian at the Gettysburg National Military Park. After retiring as Chief Historian of the National Park Service in 1981, he began publishing in 1987 what would be a 3-volume series on the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. The first book covered the events of the second day; it was followed by a book in 1993 on the fighting on Culp’s and Cemetery Hills over July 2nd and 3rd. . Although chronologically the first book in the series, Gettysburg: The First Day was the last published, in 2001.

Pfanz gets the two armies to the Potomac in a brief but perfectly adequate Introduction. While the first chapter concerns itself with Ewell’s raid into Pennsylvania, it’s an excellent setting for the complicated massing of both armies. From this beginning, it is an exhaustive look at the events immediately leading up to the engagement and the fighting that occurred west of Gettysburg and in the town itself after the Union’s defeat on McPherson’s Ridge and Oak Hill. Pfanz describes troop movements not only at the division and regimental level but also down to the company level, where possible. The last chapter is a thoughtful look at Ewell’s highly criticized decision not to press an attack at Cemetery Hill after the main fighting was over. The Epilogue is mostly a series of mini-essays on the post-Gettysburg careers of the most prominent commanders on both sides.

There are four Appendices; the most important is the Order of Battle for both Armies on the first day. I found this invaluable for keeping track of the often-confusing numbers of names, not only of Corps and division, but of brigade commanders as well, many of whom were critical to the leadership of the fighting. To make it more convenient to use, I scanned and printed out the Order of Battle, keeping it handy to leaf through as I read the book.

Included within the main body of the book, where appropriate, are mini-biographies of important commanders, both well-known ones such as Buford, Meade, Reynolds, A.P. Hill, Jubal Early, and Robert Rodes, but lesser luminaries as well: Jenkins, Doubleday, Archer, among many others. They are well written and bring a nice light to their actions on the field.

Especially striking in this respect is the entire chapter on Major General Oliver Howard and the history of the Eleventh Corps under his command. One of Pfanz’s aims in writing the book was to examine carefully some of the myths of Gettysburg—including that of the cowardice of the Eleventh Corps. This chapter lays an excellent background for the analysis of the fight north of Gettysburg in which the greatly outnumbered and poorly-positioned Eleventh Corps divisions which finally broke under the weight of Ewell’s Corps’ attack. Pfanz credits Howard early on in the book with the foresight to keep most of von Steinwehr’s Division back to hold Cemetery Hill in case of a union retreat. That foresight was well justified at the end of the first day’s fighting.

Also included as both personal commentary on the fighting and corroboration (or lack of it) to official accounts are many quotes from the memoirs, letters and recollections of individual officers and men of both armies. While these give a really nice perspective to the battle, they can tend to get in the way, interrupting the narrative so as to make it harder to pick up the thread of the progress of the fighting.

The most serious fault in this book is the lack of adequate maps. On the credit side, the first two maps of the general area around Gettysburg are excellent in order to place, in the overall picture, the more detailed maps of segments of the different engagements. However, there are too few maps connecting the ones that are included. The maps of the fighting north of Gettysburg are particularly inadequate; for example, given the important role that von Amsberg’s division played, it almost doesn’t appear on any map of that sector. In addition, many of the later maps are not oriented north/south but east/west, making it difficult to see how the different battle sectors interacted. Finally, the bars used to designate regiments are only numbered and do not give the state designations, creating a great deal of unnecessary work trying to identify exactly which regiments were doing what where. Without a photographic memory, it is impossible to keep track easily.

To supplement the maps in the book, I referred constantly to the relevant maps in The Maps of Gettysburg by Bradley Gottfried. Without this reference, I would have had a much harder time and have gotten much less out of Pfanz’s detailed accounts. Details are pretty useless unless you can make some sense out of them.

Overall, the book is well worth reading for its various merits described above. But a little extra work on the part of the author and editors could have made the book much more valuable than it is in its present form. ( )
  Joycepa | Jul 27, 2008 |
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