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"Best Book on Pickett's Charge?" Topic

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Trajanus13 Nov 2017 5:14 a.m. PST

Over the years there have been quite a few books on this and currently from the big outlets there are at least ten available.

While I don't normally go for "part battle" titles, I fancy getting one on this subject. Not that I don't know anything about it but like a lot of other people, the event itself interests me.

Now obviously a fair comment might only be based on reading more than one book and there's no doubt a law of diminishing returns, so comments will be taken at face value. You don't need to have read a bunch of them !

Indeed, it might just be you like the author – on that basis I'm personally leaning toward Hess at the moment. Anyhow I'd appreciate a view from the TMP Crew. Even if its stuff like "awful" "way too basic" "poor on first hand sources" (I know there's a Porter Alexander book somewhere, so that may be high on the first hand stuff)etc etc.

Thanks in advance.

GamesPoet Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2017 5:45 a.m. PST

"These Honored Dead" by Thomas Desjardin, although it only has a chapter or two on Pickett's Charge, with the information provided regarding it and other myths, this relatively short book is well worth the read.

KSmyth13 Nov 2017 6:08 a.m. PST

George Stewart's book is a classic and walks through all the maneuvers on the battlefield. I found it a fascinating read.

N0tt0N13 Nov 2017 8:35 a.m. PST

"I'd think it would better be a very short book if you planned on finishing it." – Gen Pickett's recommendation

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2017 9:29 a.m. PST

Carol Reardon's book,


Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Nov 2017 12:51 p.m. PST

Dennis Pfanz has a book on the Third Day at Gettysburg that's pretty good

KSmyth13 Nov 2017 2:23 p.m. PST

Reardon's book is interesting, but thematic and focuses chiefly on the North Carolina troops.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2017 3:35 p.m. PST

George Stewart's book remains the best study of Pickett's Charge. At least one later book on the attack claims to have 'corrected' Stewart's mistakes, but completely fails to add anything new.

ChrisBrantley13 Nov 2017 4:33 p.m. PST

Not a book, but an excellent article by John Michael Priest, worth reading at: link

Cleburne186314 Nov 2017 3:24 a.m. PST

None of the Pfanz books cover Pickett's Charge.

Trajanus14 Nov 2017 5:58 a.m. PST

Not a book, but an excellent article by John Michael Priest, worth reading at: link

Didn't JMP do a book on the Charge too?

Trajanus14 Nov 2017 6:07 a.m. PST

Oh! Sorry answering my own question. Yes he did.

"Into the Fight: Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg"

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP14 Nov 2017 8:24 a.m. PST

Having read JMP's article linked by ChrisBrantley, IIRC, that in the book he did that same calculation of the shrinking front of the charge.

The problem is that Lee had the three divisions angle together
during the advance, twice, with the express purpose of reducing the front, focusing the force on a narrower front. From the accounts, the divisions did those angling to center.

The calculation that artillery generally did 10% of all casualties is obviously off…from his numbers. Another thing he doesn't mention is that the Union artillery fired on the right flank of the Confederate advance which would have done generally greater damage. There are two great studies of this such as "Guns of Gettysburg."

The article does list on the right all the books on Pickett's Charge, but I think the statement that one should read Stewart's book to see how interpretations have changed since his book is a bit disingenuous.

Baranovich14 Nov 2017 10:14 a.m. PST

By far (it's not even close!) the single MOST valuable book I have ever read on the Battle of Gettysburg is "Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg" by Troy D. Harman.


You MUST own this book. MUST. Forget all the mainstream historians that have rehashed Pickett's Charge and tried to bring something "new" to the perspective when they repeatedly fail at it. There are a lot of authors and researchers who have been excellent at breaking down and tracking the movements of every unit and distilling every action and side-action. And yet they still ignore and miss the fundamental contradictions that exist in the classic narrative overall.

Harding was a park guide at Gettysburg and wrote this book based on the actual papers and after-battle reports of the generals themselves.

This book is like a lightning bolt that shoots right through the myth and blows it up into tiny bits.

Like many great events in history, Pickett's Charge has fallen victim to many myths that have become entrenched as "established fact".

Even the Gburg National Park museum has it wrong. All the NPS maps have it wrong. Myth is difficult to bring down, sometimes impossible. Historians and writers will cling to myth fiercely because emotionally it's too difficult to accept a less dramatic narrative.

Of the most critical importance in understanding Pickett's Charge is one simple thing:

It was NOT, NOT, NOT an "attack on the Union center after two days of flank attacks failed". Single biggest myth of the entire battle.

ALL THREE DAYS of Gettysburg Lee's plan remained unchanged, as he himself worded it. For all three days Lee's plan was simple: to take Cemetery Hill by the concentration of his army, and make the Union position impossible to hold.

The July 2nd attack was NOT a flank attack attempt around the Round Tops. They were attacked inadvertently because Hood was deflected off to the right from their intended path with McClaws, which was to "attack up the Emmittsburg Road" (again Lee's words). If Hood and McClaws were to attack up the Emmittsburg Road, look at a map and look at the road. IT is a straight edge right to Cemetery Hill.

Hood and McClaws on July 2 and Pickett on July 3 had the exact same goal. To attack up the Emmittsburg road. The only difference was that Pickett started out further north than the July 2 attacks did. But same exact principle. Roll up the Union line towards Cemetery Hill.

In fact, the attacks of July 2 and July 3 were IDENTICAL in design, the only other difference were the troops used.

On July 3, Pickett's division was actually deployed at a nearly 45-degree angle to Cemetery Ridge, they were NOT deployed facing straight at the Union line. Why? Because their goal was NOT to "take the Union Center" on the ridge which would have been useless. They were aiming at Cemetery Hill. The wall, the famous angle, the trees, all that now-enshrined nonsense was nothing more than a point where they were supposed to PASS THROUGH on their way to Cemetery Hill as they rolled up the union line northward.

Pickett's charge had nothing to do with taking Cemetery Ridge whatsoever. It was actually an attack that was in the shape of a giant semi-circle, going south to north with Pickett, Pettigrew, and finally Trimble, all with orders to close around and capture Cemetery Hill.

Once you look at Harding's book and you see this clearly, it's like a revelation.

All those damn arrows that park maps have of the confederates marching straight eastward are wrong! YES, Pickett ended up going eastward because he got pushed and crowded in from the left and right and from fire on all sides. But his division was trying to go northward and strike the ridge at an angle to roll up Hancock northward.

The critical thing in Harding's book is that he separates out what actually ended up happening in Pickett's charge vs. what the actual ORDERS and INTENT of the charge was.

The park service in the 1870s began the myth of the Union center and the infamous "copse of trees" and the "high water mark". It had a fence put around it and park officials pushed the narrative of that spot being the goal of the confederate charge, which it never was.

Finally, a problem which somehow gets overlooked even by prominent historians, astonishingly, is the copse of trees itself. That damn copse of trees is my historical nightmare, it's the worst myth of all!

Why? Because at the time of the battle, that copse of trees would have been saplings about six or eight feet tall, and there were only about a half dozen trees! The trees there are full gown NOW – but it's 2017! In 1863 they weren't even trees yet. Lee had ordered the attacking formations to focus on what he called the only appreciable masse of trees that could be visible to all the attacker on a wide front.

Now how on EARTH could a small cluster of six-foot tall saplings on a flat ridge have been visible enough for three attacking divisions, with the smoke and haze, how could it have been the famous "guiding point" for 15,000 men focusing on one point?

NO. They were NOT focusing on the "clump of trees" on Cemetery Ridge as is so ridiculously shown in the movie where Tom Berenger again perpetuates the damn myth about those freaking trees.

There is only ONE cluster of trees that existed at the time of the battle that could have served as a focal point visible and big enough for the entire attacking force.

And take one guess what it was? It was ZEIGLER'S GROVE. THAT is the true "clump of trees"! Why? Because the grove consisted of numerous fully-grown trees and they were on an ELEVATION. Everybody could see it from the confederate lines. Pickett was aiming for Zeigler's Grove from the south, and Pettigrew and Trimble were aiming for Ziegler's Grove from the west. Simple as that.



…and when you look at this photo, compare it to the "copse of trees" and figure out which one made more sense for an attacking force to see above the smoke and fog of battle, something for everyone to aim for!… it's obvious, and painfully so.

People visit Gettysburg and are often surprised as how far north the charge seems to extend, since all the focus and attention is given to The Angle. And with good reason. It's because Pickett was actually the southern-most part of the semi-circle.

For three days of Gettysburg Lee had stretched, exterior lines. Attacks around the flanks made no sense because they could not be supported and because it stretched the army even further apart. The ONLY attack that made sense at Gettysburg was an attack of CONCENTRATION, where you could simultaneously break the Union line at a point where it would be impossible to remain in place, and where you could at the same time bring your forces CLOSER TOGETHER. Taking Cemetery Hill would accomplish both of those things in one blow.

Lee was not stupid. He was not some impetuous gambler that recklessly threw his troops around.

I am so tired of the myths surrounding Gettysburg. I am so tired of hearing that Lee's "blood was up", and that he "thought his men were invincible", and that he "tried the flanks for two days and then in desperation tried the center on the third day".

All nonsense. All BS. Lee didn't do anything desperate at Gettysburg. He simply tried to coordinate for three days in a row a concentration of his forces that could drive the enemy from the position.

Lee's battle plans on July 3rd were the same as the previous two days: take Cemetery Hill by squeezing it from all sides. No flanks on two days and desperate center attack on the 3rd. Nope. Pure and simple.

Seriously, it is amazing how fiercely students of the Civil War and even historians resist this truth, and they do it with great energy. I believe it's because the myth tells a more compelling story and makes for better drama than the truth does.

Trajanus14 Nov 2017 10:58 a.m. PST


There are two great studies of this such as "Guns of Gettysburg."

Did you mean "The Artillery of Gettysburg" or is that the other one you refer too?

There's a good description of Union guns on Little Round Top (Hazlett's Battery) enfilading the attack and also McGilvery's Batteries near Plum Run – "By training the whole line of guns obliquely to the right, we had a raking fire through all three of these lines"

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP14 Nov 2017 11:00 a.m. PST

Hood and McClaws on July 2 and Pickett on July 3 had the exact same goal. To attack up the Emmittsburg road. The only difference was that Pickett started out further north than the July 2 attacks did. But same exact principle. Roll up the Union line towards Cemetery Hill.

In fact, the attacks of July 2 and July 3 were IDENTICAL in design, the only other difference were the troops used.

Uh, the attack up Emmittsburg Road was parallel to Cemetery Ridge. However you draw it, Picketts Charge was perpendicular to the ridge…

There is only ONE cluster of trees that existed at the time of the battle that could have served as a focal point visible and big enough for the entire attacking force.


Here is a period photo from the rear of the Union line.

Here is a map of the charge. Ziegler's Grove is north of the
of the attack.


I have a hard time believing that Ziegler's Grove was considered a 'clump' of trees, or that it was the target of the entire charge.

Trajanus14 Nov 2017 11:03 a.m. PST

BTW: If anyone's interested you can get E.P.Alexander's first hand account on Kindle for $1.19 USD or £0.99 GBP.

Got to be worth a look at that price!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP14 Nov 2017 11:07 a.m. PST

Did you mean "The Artillery of Gettysburg" or is that the other one you refer too?

Big 'T': Yes, that is the book I mean. I get it confused with an extensive CW Times article called "The Guns of Gettysburg."

Thanks for the memory jog.

Baranovich14 Nov 2017 1:12 p.m. PST

A few more key points that make Harding's book so important.

It puts into correct context the morning of July 2nd which is hugely critical.

Battles don't happen on a linear single-track vacuum. Battles like most complex events happen on parallel tracks with things happening simultaneously. And what is ordered vs. what plays out are often intermixed and made into the same thing.

Lee on July 2nd had ordered an early morning attack "up the Emmittsburg Road".

Remember, up the Emm. road. To take Cemetery Hill. At 8 AM.

Now that means that Lee was intending for Hood and McClaws to BYPASS the Round Tops and ignore them. Lee said later that The Round Tops were of absolutely no use to him from a strategic standpoint. Putting troops on it served no purpose to him at all! At all!

Perhaps the single most cringe-worthy moment in the movie "Gettysburg" is the infamous "protest scene" where Hood comes and begs Longstreet to attack the "big round hill to the south" instead of the "little rocky one". This scene is pure garbage because Hood's protest was NOT about being ordered to attack a f'n rocky hill. Hood was never orderd to attack "the rocky hill". The movie makes it seem like Lee was intending to suicidally attack the Round Tops head on and that Hood was telling Longstreet that he would be slaughtered. Again, makes for great drama, but it's pure garbage.

Hood's protest was that he was concerned about attacking up the Emmitsburg Road, (with Little Round Top looming off to his right), and that IF Union troops got up there that they MIGHT be able to pour enfilade fire down into his right flank as the confederates BYPASSED Little Round Top and carried on to Cemetery Hill. THAT was the protest, it had nothing to do with attacking Little Round Top.

In fact part of Lee's orders and reports even say this, that he specifically expected Hood to absorb and take necessary casualties from possible fire on The Round Tops. But again, this is what is so critical. Lee stressed the need for SPEED on July 2, he wanted his men up on Cemetery Hill early that morning so that it could be over and decided. The ONLY WAY to accomplish that was to march up that road FAST, ignore whatever might be in position up on the Round Tops(and by the way, on the morning of July 2nd when the attack was supposed to start there was absolutely no Union troops on The Round Tops), Hood needed to ignore the fire from off to his right, and go and win the battle.

On the morning of July 2, Lee's last intelligence told him that the Union line ENDED where the left flank of the II Corps was positioned. They did not know of the existence of Sickle's III Corps in the gulley.

Remember! Attack was ordered for 8 am! Didn't actually step off until 4 pm! Eight hours later!

In those intervening hours, more Union corps had arrived and Meade, like any good, logical general was funneling troops into line to complete his position. But the key thing to understand here was that the Union generals were acting logically in putting troops up on the Round Tops, it was high ground after all. It just happened to be high ground that Lee knew was useless. The occupation of it "just in time" by Vincent's brigade was purely coincidental with the fact that parts of Hood's division was deflected into the valley in front of the Round Tops and attacked the hill on its own initiative. But that was most 100% certain NOT their intended goal for July 2.

What Goveneur K. Warren saw from his position on Little Round Top were confederates moving along a course following the Emmittsburg Road at first. So naturally his first thought and instinct would be that they were intending to capture the Round Tops.

Thus begins the whole drama of "saving the left flank" from disaster, just in the the nick of time.

Um, no. The Round Tops had no part in Lee's plans and the resulting attacks on the Round Tops was the result of Sickles essentially getting in the way of Hood and McClaws and slowing and stalling their advance to Cemetery Hill.

Sickles never "endangered the whole flank of the Union army" on July 2nd, because Lee didn't consider the Round Tops to be Meade's flank!! Lee considered the left flank of Hancock's corps way up on Cemetery Ridge to be the "extreme left flank" of the Union army. THAT was where he wanted Hood and McClaws to strike! Remember, 8 am vs. 4 pm! Lee's attack was based on intelligence of the Union position on the early morning, not the afternoon!

And again, the Round Tops meant absolutely NOTHING in this whole process. NOTHING!

Not only that, but Sickles move onto higher ground actually help foil Lee's plans in another way. Lee was intending to use the peach orchard as a platform where he could deploy 50 or 60 cannon on a wide front to bombard the Union position on Cemetery Ridge and Hill to soften it for the infantry attack.

Harding's book articulates all of this clearly and with the most important point in mind: there never was at any time an ordered or intended "flank attack" on the Union lines during the battle. Never. Lee's orders were never about getting around the flanks. Not once. Every confederate attack, even the Culp's Hill attack was actually an attack towards Cemetery Hill in an attempt to concentrate the confederates at that point.

Remember, Civil War armies needed huge expanses of open ground to properly deploy, but especially artillery when it was used in the Napoleonic style of mass bombardment.

The Peach Orchard was one such area where Lee could properly deploy on a wide front and pound the Union lines.

So essentially Lee's July 2nd attacks failed ultimately because his divisions attacked an area that, by the time Longstreet finally stepped off, had Union troops all over the place blocking their way. Lee ordered an attack at a time none of those Union troops would have been in the way.

The whole idea of the morning of July 2nd was for Lee to take Cemetery Hill by mid-morning before any more Union corps arrived. Lee wanted to make the entire Gettysburg area position untenable for Meade. And indeed if Lee had taken Cemetery Hill on the morning of July 2nd, Meade would have had to quickly change his plans and pull together his remaining army corps and deploy into a defensive position somewhere south of Gettysburg.

It is therefore no surprise or coincidence that Meade, even before the battle had such a fall-back plan in place in the event that something disastrous happened at Gettysburg. He had pegged out a defensive line I believe down at Rock Creek, which I think was on the border between Pa. and Md.

Again folks, we have to look at this battle not as static maps that go in a linear fashion.

If you look at park service maps, you get the impression that the entire Union army was in position the night of July 1 and that when Lee started his ordered attacks on July 2 the entire fishhook was established too strongly and so Lee began his "flanking attacks". 100% false.

Myth, myth, myth.

Absolute rubbish. Lee never intended to flank anything at Gettysburg. He wanted that damn hill in the middle of the battlefield because, he, like Napoleon or any good general, would have instantly recognized it as the key to the whole Union position!

I apologize for going on about this, but Gettysburg is the one Civil War topic that gets my blood up because the battle is just so, so badly misunderstood.

And I'm not afraid to say that the Park Service has done no favors to history by perpetuating the grand drama and the myths. And the movie…well…it was an admirable job performed by the reenactors. But it's a god awful s**t pile mess of incorrect information and misinterpretation of the battle overall. Does nothing but cater to all the dramatic cliches.

mollinary14 Nov 2017 1:31 p.m. PST


This obviously means a lot to you, and I respect that, but what evidence do you have for an attack on the 2nd July being ‘ordered' for 08000am?


Desert Fox14 Nov 2017 2:52 p.m. PST

I think one of the greatest mysteries of the Battle of Gettysburg are 1) Lee's movements in the afternoon of July 2nd between ginning Longstreet his orders and prior to Longstreet's attack, and 2) what communication occurred between Lee and Longstreet during the same time period.

Trajanus14 Nov 2017 4:46 p.m. PST

Regarding Lee's intentions – from the Alexander book, or rather booklet, I just downloaded.

He states that on the morning of the 3rd, Lee told him that they were to attack Cemetery Hill and that as a result, his and Dearings guns where positioned to their left to account for that, as well as firing against the ridge in support of Pickett.

So there's kind of a two for one deal going on here!

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP15 Nov 2017 7:21 a.m. PST

Alan Guelzo's book "Gettysburg: The Last Invasion" covers the whole campaign, but he does a marvelous job sorting out Lee's intentions and the actions of his subordinates from all the myth that has grown up around the battle.

Lee's 'intention' on July 3rd was to resume Longstreet's attack from the 2nd and he issued orders to that effect. Longstreet could see that it was impossible and simply ignored the orders. Lee eventually realized Longstreet was right and had to cobble together the attack which was eventually called Pickett's Charge with the only fresh units available.

Tom D115 Nov 2017 11:34 a.m. PST

Ditto ScottWashburn re Allen Guelzo. Not only an excellent writer but a great lecturer.Catch him on C-Span or youtube.

Trajanus15 Nov 2017 1:27 p.m. PST

+1 Tom D1

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