The Battle of Gettysburg is the pivotal moment when the Union forces repelled perhaps America's greatest commander, the brilliant Robert E. Lee, who had already thrashed a long line of Federal opponents, just as he was poised at the back door of Washington, D.C. It is the moment in which the fortunes of Lee, Lincoln, the Confederacy, and the Union hung precariously in the balance.
Conventional wisdom has held to date, almost without exception, that on the third day of the battle, Lee made one profoundly wrong decision. But how do we reconcile Lee the high-risk warrior with Lee the general who launched "Pickett's Charge", employing only a fifth of his total forces, across an open field, up a hill, against the heart of the Union defenses? Most history books have reported that Lee just had one very bad day. But there is much more to the story, which Tom Carhart addresses for the first time.
With meticulous detail and startling clarity, Carhart revisits the historic battles Lee taught at West Point and believed were the essential lessons in the art of war: the victories of Napoleon at Austerlitz, Frederick the Great at Leuthen, and Hannibal at Cannae, and reveals what they can tell us about Lee's real strategy. What Carhart finds will thrill all students of history: Lee's plan for an electrifying rear assault by Jeb Stuart that, combined with the frontal assault, could have broken the Union forces in half. Only in the final hours of the battle was the attack reversed through the daring of an unproven young general: George Armstrong Custer.
©2005 Tom Carhart; (P)2005 Tantor Media, Inc.
I will paraphrase the authors logic...Since none of the participants ever discusses what the author thinks was "Lee's Real Plan" and there is nothing in writing regarding "Lee's Real Plan" then OBVIOUSLY the plan must have existed!!! Amazing how none of the Rebel leadership ever discusses this after the war? Even more amazing when one considers all the finger pointing after the battle (and there was much). Lee was one of greatest maneuvering army commanders of all time. But, he did suffer from attack frenzy at times, and he had difficulty disciplining wayward subordinates. It was these two flaws in Lee's leadership that contributed to the Confederate failure at Gettysburg. Pickett's frontal assault on the third day WAS the plan. Lee may have considered the middle of the Union line to be weakened from supporting the flank defenses which had been attacked the previous day. The Cavalry was sent to the rear of the Federal army, but it was never counted on as a critical component of the day 3 attack. Cavalry had evolved into the scouting, screening, and raiding arm of the army, and not in an assault capacity as used in the Napoleonic wars (the author argues that Lee wanted to use it as such). The thesis looses even more credibility when one realizes that Stuart's troopers and horses were exhausted even before making it to the battlefield. Pickett's charge was a big gamble, but one could argue that Lee took an even bigger chance with his army and successfully so during the battle of Chancellorsville fought just two months prior to Gettysburg. This book spends entirely too much time covering the background of the characters, and events (a lot on Napoleon's battles), but nothing concrete to support his claims. The traditionalists of the battle got it pretty much right; Lee did have a bad day. I think the author needs to take the facts of the battle for what they are and not grasp at what is not there.
The author has some interesting ideas, and there are certainly some important questions that have never been satisfactorily answered.
However, to support his hypothesis, he must be extremely selective in the evidence he chooses, and disregard a great deal of testimony to the contrary. Granted, testimony is often inconsistent (and meant to agrandize to the speaker). Still, it was disposed of almost out of hand.
At various points, the author characterizes Longstreet as a loose cannnon, JEB Stewart as Lee's most trusted lieutenant given a secret mission, and for no obvious reason George McClellan as a simpering twit. He obviously walked the battlefield, but relies on what he saw - including the *current* level of forestation - to suggest what a mounted man, 150 years ago, may have been able to observed.
There is some plausibility to his ideas, but he hasn't helped his case by running roughshod over the evidence.
I've listened to several Civil War books including Shelby Foote's epic three volume series. This book presents a fresh perspective on Robert E. Lee and Gettysburg which complements the others admirably. Approached in a sober, scholarly way, the author makes his case very convincingly. This book is extremely interesting and well-researched. It takes the time to fill in all the necessary background information so that the conclusion makes perfect sense. The result is a much better understanding of Lee, his background and motivations, and the events which resulted in the turning point of the war.
This tied up so many loose ends about the reason for many statements, and actions that anyone knowing of Lee at Gettysburg, would have asked about that third day. I cant believe no one else had ever come up with these obvious conclusions in the past. I?ve heard about 50 books from audible this year, 46 concerning the civil war, this was in the top 2, along with Shelby Footes? narrative. Though YHIS book was much more exciting!! ty
In point of fact, Tom Carhat's perception of Lee's plan is accurate in that Lee had a plan and Stuart's failure against Custer was a great part of the reason that plan failed. That said - let historians do their job.
A Confederate victory at Gettysburg would possibly lead to European recognition? Hardly. Not only had that time passed, Carhart forgets that Vicksburg fell that same day - July 3.
To pretend that the Confederacy could have won the war had they prevailed at Gettysburg is fabtasy fiction (see Newt Gingrich ) not the work of historians of any merit. Carhart is much too glib in his projections and not at all on solid ground. He also accepts the old nonsense of the trees being the object of Picket's charge when those trees were too young and small in 1863 to be seen well from across the pike. That alone is enough to look askance at his narrative.
His premise for the book is correct. His execution, like Lee's, leaves much to be desired.
Read the cover sleeve at Borders and use your credits here for well written and non hagiographic history.
A very interesting book - even for the well-read Civil War or Gettysburg individual. While the early chapters are a familiar review of the war up to Gettysburg there are some interesting sections related to the early years of Custer as well as the Napoleon influence on military strategy of the time. Very good ending chapters- the author has an interesting view of what really might have been the overall battle design of Lee on the infamous 3rd day
I've read many books on this battle, and just when I thought I knew it all. This looks at the 3rd day a little differently, by looking at the calvary battle, and the charge of Pickets Brigades and what Lee was hoping for, but never did materialize. A very interestng Look.
Old & fat, but strong; American, Chinese, & Indian (sort of); Ph.D. in C.S.; strategy, economics & stability theory; trees & machining.
I was going to say that it’s the best book I’ve read in a year, but it’s better than that. But I’m not sure it’s the best book I’ve read in a decade either. It’s very good.
Having studied Gettysburg somewhat has an armature for more than 30 years, there is nothing in the book in the way of facts that I didn’t know. He takes the same facts and convincingly argues for a different conclusion. One that is at once simpler and more logical. It left me wondering why everyone doesn’t reach this conclusion (i.e., without help).
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