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The Gettysburg Campaign : A Study in Command…

The Gettysburg Campaign : A Study in Command

by Edwin B. Coddington

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384643,253 (4.2)21
The Battle of Gettyburg remains one of the most controversial military actions in America's history, and one of the most studied. Professor Coddington's is an analysis not only of the battle proper, but of the actions of both Union and Confederate armies for the six months prior to the battle and the factors affecting General Meade's decision not to pursue the retreating Confederate forces. This book contends that Gettyburg was a crucial Union victory, primarily because of the effective leadership of Union forces--not, as has often been said, only because the North was the beneficiary of Lee's mistakes.… (more)

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As other reviewers have noted, this is the single best "Bible" of the battle of Gettysburg. It is heavily documented and is well-written. Its focus is upon the command and control successes and failures of the campaign. He also addresses the many controversies and legends that Gettysburg spawned. It begins with the battles of Frederiksburg and Chancellorville and the reasons for the Lee's decision to move into Pennsylvania. One can easily get lost among all the names of commanders and units. I highly recommend that one have a detailed map of the battlefield (e.g., the Civil War Atlas by McPheason) and use markers to move units around. Even if you don't, you'll get a clear picture of the general issues faced by the commanders of the opposing armies. I read this book in preparation for my second visiit to Gettysburg. As I toured the battlefield snippets of Coddington's narrative would come back to me, vastly enriching the experience.
1 vote KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
This is an excellent book. It is a good narrative history combined with insightful analysis. The author focuses on the command structures of the Federal and Confederate armies and how they functioned. A good example is his discussion of the artillery command structure of the two armies. The Union army had one general in overall command of all of the artillery. The Confederate army had the same position on the official roster but that officer did not have the same authority the actual command of the batteries was done at the division level. After the cannonade preceding Pickett's charge there were only a handful of guns on the Confederate side with enough ammunition to support the infantry. The Union artillery commander recognized the cannonade as a prelude to a charge. He had conserved ammunition which was then used to good effect on the Confederates. The author describes and analyzes the action of the battle at this level all through the book.
Coddington uses a vast array primary sources woven together skilfully to tell the story of the battle. The the words and actions of those who lived through the battle are given center stage. This gives the narration of events the moment to moment immediacy experienced by the men involved in the action.
The extensive use of primary sources and the 200 pages of footnotes show the depth and extent of the author's research. The footnotes are not just citations to sources. They add details and facts to the narration which make them an integral part of the book. A good example of the author's research is his discussion of the number of men in each army. He starts with the numbers from the War Office Study of 1886 which showed a significant advantage for the Union forces. Many authors stop there, accepting those figures without question. Coddington looks at several other factors and concludes that the armies were about equal size at the time of the battle. This type of work gave me confidence that he did his best to provide an accurate portrayal of the battle.
The author starts the book at the point the armies started to move north. When Lee started North Hooker wanted to attack Richmond. This started an argument with Halleck that led to Hooker's resignation. On June 28 George Meade found himself in command of the army. Coddington shows that Meade functioned as a more than competent general in his description of his actions. He gathered his forces and kept his army between Lee and Washington. During the battles Meade was regularly on his horse patrolling the lines and moving units to the point of attack.
Coddington spends more time on Meade's command activities than most other authors. In the three day battle it was Meade who had the interior lines and was able to move troops to the point of Lee's attacks. Lee had difficulty getting his troops to coordinate their actions according to his orders. There has always been some controversy about whether or not Meade wanted to retreat after the first day of the battle. Coddington shows that Daniel Butterfield who had been Hooker's Chief of Staff and continued with Meade manufactured this idea long after the war was over. Lincoln always felt that Meade should have been more aggressive in his pursuit of Lee after the battle. The author looks at the relevant factors and shows that given what the Union army had been through any massive coordinated effort on their part was not realistic.
Throughout the war there were several occasions that seemed to provide opportunities for the decisive battle that would destroy the enemy army. The author of How The North Won The War points out that this was never a real possibility. The military technology greatly increased the defensive power of the armies in the Civil War. The only army that was ever wiped out was the army defending Vicksburg which allowed itself to get surrounded and then surrendered after a lengthy siege. The strategy that won the war was Grant's massive raids that destroyed the ability of the South to continue the war.
This was an excellent book. I enjoyed it and learned a lot. It is good history and good literature. Being good history it takes a bit of work to read but it is well worth it. ( )
2 vote wildbill | Apr 27, 2011 |
Not only the best USCW study of the Gettysburg campaign but also the best USCW campaign study. It is a pity no one took this format and did the Overland or Atlanta campaigns. ( )
  agingcow2345 | Dec 10, 2010 |
The best book on the battle of Gettysburg that I have read. And it has the advantage of telling the story of the entire campaign, including the political dimension. ( )
  RobertP | Jul 2, 2010 |
This has to be the most detailed and researched book on Gettysburg. He gives both sides of the story. He does evaluate the actions of the different generals but always provides the reasoning behind his opinions. He compliments where due the actions of both Confederate and Union general's actions. He supports and defends Meade's actions.
The only want the book leaves is the ending which doesn't pursue the action as Lee returns to Virginia.
  dhughes | Mar 7, 2009 |
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The month of April, 1863, marked in the pages of history the midway point of the Civil War in the United Stated, but to the people of the North and the South living at that time it had a different meaning.
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