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Best-selling author and acclaimed Civil War expert Stephen W. Sears, hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “arguably the preeminent living historian of the war’s eastern theater,” crafts what will stand the test of time as the definitive history of the greatest battle ever fought on American soil. 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.
I've seen some complaints about the author's perspective or personal feelings about various leaders in the battle and campaign, but find them basically uninteresting. This was a superb and detailed account of the battle and it's consequences and aftermath. It's astonishing how many mistakes, miscues and missed opportunities there were in this battle - inlcuding the somewhat accidental initiation of general battle at a site not to Lee's liking.
Keeping it brief - I give it 4 stars as a book I would listen to again, but may not find the time for. It did keep me listening and I did not want to turn the book off - but it didn't drive me mad with the desire to continue the way some books do. I don't fault the book for this - it's tougher to pull off that kind of engagement with historical non-fiction (even though I love the genre).
Highly recommended - especially for those with interest in the battle and it's main leaders or those with a general notion of the battle looking for details.
Thanks - hope this review helps!
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
I’ve read accounts of the Gettysburg Campaign from Catton and Coddington. I’ve read Foote and Freeman and Pfanz. But no one is quite like Stephen Sears.
Catton, Foote and Freeman are gifted narrative-makers. Coddington is a conscientious historian but an indifferent writer. Pfanz’s work is so detailed—down to the movements of platoons—that all semblance of a coherent story is easily lost.
Stephen Sears manages to combine the narrator’s craft and the scholar’s care. He chronicles every march, order, command fumble or inspired decision. Yet because he seldom goes below the regimental or battery level, his narrative sweeps along effortlessly. When he mentions a particular company or battery section, it’s for the sake of a telling or poignant anecdote that just makes his narrative that much richer.
Sears also excels at gently correcting misunderstandings, whether fostered by veterans’ faulty memoirs or movie scripts. In his Chancellorsville, for example, he proves that Joe Hooker’s oft-quoted confession that he “just lost faith in Joe Hooker” couldn’t have been made to the man who claims to have heard it in the place he claims to have heard it.
Likewise, in Gettysburg the Pulitzer-Prize-winning-novel-and-epic-movie version of events on Little Round Top is set right. When Joshua Chamberlain ordered his desperate bayonet charge he thought the 15th Alabama was gathering for another assault; he couldn’t know their colonel had just decided to call retreat. That doesn’t make the charge any less heroic; Sears isn’t out to debunk. He’s showing us that the bare facts of what happened at Gettysburg don’t need airbrushing to inspire awe. So he includes Colonel Oats’ admission that even if his Alabamians had taken the hill they “couldn’t have held it for 10 minutes”. Even more helpfully, Sears reminds us that a lot of Yankees from other states had a hand in keeping Little Round Top in the Union.
Another aspect of the book of which I thoroughly approve is Sears’ defense of George Gordon Meade. Thrust into command on the morning of June 28th with no knowledge of the whereabouts of the scattered corps of the Army of the Potomac, that army was engaged in desperate battle a mere three days later. As another historian has noted, few Americans have had such terrible responsibility thrown on their shoulders so suddenly—or performed so well under the weight of that responsibility.
And, though Sears doesn’t say as much, I think his book reveales the root of Lee’s error at Gettysburg. (I know, me and a few million other Americans have discovered that root in the last 150 or so years.) Pickett said he thought the Union army had something to do with it and no doubt he was right. But I think Lee’s insistence to Longstreet that “the enemy is here and here I will strike him” has everything to do with J. E. B. Stuart’s absence. If he disengaged and swung around the Union flank, how would Lee relocate his foe without Stuart’s horsemen?
Sears brings home the magnitude of the crisis, the desperate effort of the battle, the cost in lives and suffering, the horrible job of cleaning up after the armies had passed on and, finally, the significance of Lincoln’s words—words that were mocked at the time but now (and for thinking people then) set the fighting and suffering in context. In August 1863, as the nation looked at two armies facing off in Virginia much as they had been back in June before all those casualties, those words that were desperately needed.
Since this is an audiobook, you can’t do better than the maps at Wikipedia. Look up First Day, Second Day, Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill, the cavalry fights; every section of the field is detailed. They’re all admirably clear, and though they don’t follow every attack and retreat mentioned by Sears—and sometimes disagree slightly with his narrative—they make an invaluable supplement to your listen.
At first I thought our narrator, Ed Sala, erred on the folksy side. As things proceeded I came to appreciate his approach. There are a lot of details here, a lot of confused fighting and a lot of names (places, people, roads, hills, regiments, batteries). Sala’s unhurried manner makes it all much easier to follow. And he usually gives a slight pause after an especially touching anecdote or insightful comment, giving us time to let it sink in a little.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Gettysburg the most enjoyable?
The readers casual style made combined with Mr. Sears style of prose made for an enjoyable listening experience.
What did you like best about this story?
The battle of Gettysburg was the greatest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere., and one of the most studied. The author puts together regimental histories peronal memoirs and other historical data and turns it into a beautifully written narrative which even a novice student of the american civil war will enjoy. The book encompasses the entire gettysburg campaign and is a must read for anyone who wants more than a rudimentary history of the civil war.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
Where does Gettysburg rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
This one is on par with what I have listened to so far. The reader added just the right amount of character to the reading.
Any additional comments?
I wish there were more Civil War related Audible books. I enjoy them very much and they pass the time while driving back and forth to work.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Gettysburg?
I enjoyed the historical accuracy of the read.
Have you listened to any of Ed Sala’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
I have listened to several other books read by Ed Sala and enjoy all of them. This one is good also.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?
See the actual events as they happened during the Gettysburg battle!
Any additional comments?
The only negative thing is that it is a little difficult at times to keep track of all the facts about North and South and all the names of the generals involved. It is a lot to keep track of mentally.
4 of 6 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Gettysburg the most enjoyable?
very good description on the battle, from both human and military aspects<br/>i have listen to it five or six years ago, and remember it as very interesting book, that i should listen to again, when i have deeper understanding of the civil war<br/>
3 of 5 people found this review helpful
Great treatment of the battle with lots of detail, the book itself is fantastic. However, the narrator constantly mispronounces the last names of Harry Heth and Carl Shurz, (as "heth" and "shurz", rather than the correct "heath" and "shirts"). This doesn't detract from the work of the original author, but it is grating when heard over and over again...
7 of 12 people found this review helpful
Without pictures, this audiobook is hard to grasp just by itself. I recommend taking some time to understand the overall details of what happened each day of the battle. This book will fill in all the rest!
I am very pleased with this purchase. The story was well-written with lots of details (but not too much). The reader did a nice job with the material. If you think you may like this audiobook then I'd recommend you go ahead and give it a try.
AUDIBLE 20 REVIEW SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY
I found this to be a very helpful book in explaining the Gettysburg campaign at various levels. I have read other works on Gettysburg, which were also good, but none articulated the actions and significance of General Meade as this one did. Although there are of course no maps in audiobooks, the narration was adequate to enable the listener to visualize the action on the field. I especially liked the reader.