Review: “In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg: The 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade and its Famous Charge”

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BloodyRailroad TitleConsidered one of, if not the most famous units of the Army of the Potomac, the exploits of the Iron Brigade are well known. A reprint of In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg, originally published in 1990 by Morningside, will bring one of those exploits once again to the front.

Unlike some of Savas Beatie’s other publications recently, wherein older books have been updated and given new material, In the Bloody Railroad Cut is a “facsimile reprint” (xi) done to honor the original publisher. Since it is a reprint as opposed to an updated or expanded version, this new book is not for the Civil War student whose shelves are full of Iron Brigade memorabilia, but rather the second wave of scholars—the new student coming onto the field and just now getting acclimated with the tough men from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. This reproduction from Savas Beatie makes it easy to get ahold of a book that proved elusive.

In the Bloody Railroad Cut details the actions of the 6th Wisconsin. Bringing up the rear of the brigade on their march into Gettysburg, with bands playing, the Badgers missed the push into Herbst Woods and the clash with James Archer’s Confederates. Rather, waiting in reserve, the Wisconsinites deployed into a line of battle and charged towards the unfinished railroad grade, where Lysander Cutler’s brigade was being outflanked by Confederates under Joseph Davis, the Confederate president’s nephew.

The battle itself between the 6th Wisconsin and elements of Davis’ brigade is presented in minute detail; the 20 minutes of fighting is told in about 100 pages. This attention to detail will appeal to fans of micro-tactical studies that bring the reader down into the individual firing lines, especially those who wish to understand every facet of the Battle of Gettysburg. As its name implies, the focus of the battle narrative centers on the railroad cut, but readers do follow the bloodied 6th Wisconsin on their retreat through a hectic and jammed Gettysburg. Their brief fight at Culp’s Hill on the evening of July 2 is also told.

While the book’s titular fighting is explained in great detail, almost half of the book was exposition—the reader follows the Wisconsinites from enlistment to training, to Washington D.C., and on. This information is useful to an overall regiment’s or brigade’s history, but it slows the narrative in this particular book. Readers interested in the exposition of the regiment from its inception are encouraged to see another of Lance Herdegen’s excellent studies, The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter (Savas Beatie, 2012).

The book’s maps are simplistic in nature, but give enough detail so that the reader is able to follow the fighting. A stirring epilogue finishes the book as the Iron Brigade foundation comes together to remember their fallen comrades in the postwar years.

In all, this reprint allows those who missed the first publication a second chance to pick a copy up. They’d be remiss to let that opportunity slip by.

In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg: The 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade and its Famous Charge, by Lance J. Herdegen and William J.K. Beaudout
(Savas Beatie, 2015)
3-page preface to 2015 edition, 1-page foreword to original publication,
278 pages main text, 368 pages total including:
Appendix 1: Capturing a Flag
Appendix 2: The Charge
Appendix 3: The Uniform of the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, by Howard Michael Madaus
Footnotes, Bibliography, Index

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