The Emerging Civil War Series has covered many key battles in the Civil War, but now the series is tackling the most significant—and well-known—battle between the two American armies. Fight Like the Devil: The First Day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863 by Chris Mackowski, Daniel T. Davis, and Kristopher White, details the first day of the largest battle of the war in both a compelling and accurate manner.
The battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1-3, 1863 in southern Pennsylvania. Known as the bloodiest battle in the war—more than 51,000 men fell as casualties—Gettysburg provided a pivotal victory for Union forces following a heavy defeat at Chancellorsville, Virginia, just two months prior. With 12 books already in publication in the ECW series, White stated that the series waited to chronicle Gettysburg for reasons revolving around research and timing.
“With Gettysburg being so well known we did not want to rush full-bore into the project,” White said. “We also did not want the series book to be buried with the volumes that came out on the battle in 2013. We look to produce well-written, well-researched books for the series, and with Gettysburg being Gettysburg, we wanted to do it right.”
Gettysburg is the most written about battle in American military history. But White credits the ECW series with bringing new light onto overlooked aspects of the famous campaign. “Any time you write about Gettysburg there are challenges,” White said. “Everyone has heard about the battle even if they know nothing more than the name of the battle itself.”
However, ECW writers had to find a new way to tell an old story. “First and foremost there has been so much written on the subject you really have to find a new angle, or a new piece of research that has not been presented,” White said. “The ECW series is breaking down the battle into five books. This way we can treat each day of the battle, and then the campaign, in a fitting way. Readers will be able to pick and choose what aspect of the battle they want to learn about by volume, while many other tour books pack all of the battle into one book, making it unwieldy in the field, or overkill for the average reader/visitor.”
Fight Like the Devil will be able to stand out from the numerous other books written about the battle of Gettysburg, according to Mackowski. “At this point, everyone is into the weeds of Gettysburg,” Mackowski said. “There really is no overall good, readable, accessible, ‘general audience’ way into the battle. This book will provide that.”
While Fight Like the Devil covers only the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, the writing process of the book was more complicated than retelling the genesis of one battle, according to White. “Writing about the first day is not just writing about the first day,” White said. “With this volume setting up the Gettysburg series, you have to set up the entire Gettysburg campaign, including the maneuvering of the armies north, the backstory of the war to that point, etc.”
The later days of the battle contain the blood, death, and victory Americans associate Gettysburg with, but that does not mean July 1, 1863, does not have compelling and vital information.
“The first day has some great stories and sets up the Union victory, but it’s not a sexy as day two which includes Little Round Top and the Wheatfield,” White said. “The third day was made famous by one of Lee’s greatest blunders—Pickett’s Charge. So setting up the whole battle, while not getting drawn away from the story on the fighting on that field itself, is a challenge.”
Through his own research, Mackowski was able to draw some new insight into the way history views Gettysburg. “I think the conclusions that we came to in the book are a little different from the conclusions that most people come to,” Mackowski said. “People often look at [Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis] Howard and say ‘He’s a big screw up.’ In fact, at Gettysburg, he plays it pretty safe as a result of what happened to him at Chancellorsville. It’s not the debacle that everyone thinks it was, even though it’s easy to see it that way.”
The first day is also known for what White, Mackowski, and Davis all call “the most second-guessed decision of the war”: Confederate general Richard Ewell’s decision not to attack a Union position on Cemetery Hill. Arm-chair historians love to suggest that Ewell’s predecessor, the late “Stonewall” Jackson, would have attacked the hill, but the trio of historians say the evidence supports Ewell’s decision.
White, a former licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg, is currently exploring the first day’s battle in greater detail in a series now running on the blog, “The Curmudgeon, The Eccentric, and the ‘Norse God’: How Three Men Impacted the Battle of Gettysburg.”
Fight Like the Devil is the first in a four-part series of books by White, Davis, and Mackowski. Books two and three will cover the second day of the battle in a pair of volumes—one that focuses on the north end of the field and one that focuses on the south end. “The second day at Gettysburg is really a series of small battles, so breaking them up into two volumes will make it easier to explore them,” White says. The fourth book will cover the final day of the battle and the Confederate retreat back to Virginia.
A companion volume to the series, The Last Road North: A Guide to the Gettysburg Campaign by Dan Welch, will look at the campaign as a whole. Last Road North is slated for release this fall, with the other Mackowski/White/Davis books to follow in 2016.