They Met at Gettysburg lives up to its billing as a step by step account of the battle from the beginning of Jun 1863 when Lee starts seriously planning the invasion of the North to mid July 1863 when the battered Army of Northern Virginia crsosses the Potomac back into the Confederacy. I give it 3 Stars but any serious student of the Civil War should have this on the shelf. And anyone beginning a study of Gettysburg will find it a good outline from which to begin. But it is a book, written by a general, about the generals on both sides. Also some of the book involves logistics and movements of the forces, very dry.
What makes the book a permanent Civil War shelf acquisition is the original sources and seamless melding of the tactical, strategic and political movements going on. You peer into Lincoln's thinking on conduct of the war as well as many of the generals as they meet on the battlefield. Many original sources are cited and quoted, which I like. It was also a surprisingly fast and easy read, yet thorough in covering all the major players and movements, battles, etc. Some battles were revealed I was not aware of.
Gen Stackpole knows his stuff but does adhere to the conventional assessment that Meade was simply lucky (fate) while Lee was unlucky. The author is not shy in assessing motives of many of the players, I would keep an open mind as there are different interpretations.
Some accounts are priceless. Lincoln's letter to Meade after the battle and the failure to attack Lee while in retreat is excellent and shows how clearly Lincoln understood military strategy. While there is not a lot of troop level accounts of the battle, there are a few passages that bring home the terrible cost of war.
Gen Imboden was charged by Lee with getting the wounded and the supply trains back to Virginia. His account of the Confederate wagontrain in the retreat from Gettysburg: After dark I set out from Cashtown to gain the
head of the column during the night. My orders had
been peremptory that there should be no halt for any
cause whatever. If an accident should happen to any
vehicle, it was immediately to be put out of the road
and abandoned. The column moved rapidly, considering
the rough roads and the darkness, and from
almost every wagon for many miles issued heart-
rending wails of agony. For four hours I hurried forward
on my way to the front, and in all that time I
was never out of hearing of the groans and cries of
the wounded and dying. Scarcely one in a hundred
had received adequate surgical aid, owing to the demands
on the hard-working surgeons from still worse
cases that had to be left behind. Many of the wounded
in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six
hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and
hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still
oozing wounds. Very few of the wagons had even a
layer of straw in them, and all were without springs.
The road was rough and rocky from the heavy washings
of the preceding day. The jolting was enough
to have killed strong men, if long exposed to it. From
nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by
whip and shout, came such cries and shrieks as
“O God! Why can’t I die?”
“My God! will no one have mercy and kill me?”
“Stop! Oh! for God’s sake, stop just for one minute;
take me out and leave me to die on the roadside.”