When it comes to Gettysburg, there is no doubt that it is the Civil War’s most famous battle. With that fame comes legions of authors who pour out a staggering amount of material covering the campaign in the summer of 1863. As books continue to hit shelves, it can be a daunting task for readers to decide which books are worth reading, or if the books being published even add anything new to the already mountainous pile of material.
One of the newest sources on the battle comes in a different format than most people may be used to; instead of a straight narrative, Top Ten at Gettysburg offers readers a quick approach to the battle and its many facets.
Featuring the work of eight different authors, Top Ten at Gettysburg’s concept, as described in the preface, is to copy the familiar setup of the Late Show with its former host David Letterman. The eight individual authors give a kaleidoscopic overview of the campaign, breaking the book down into four sections: The Battle, the Battlefield, The Battle Participants, and Post Battle, with 33 lists between them.
As readers go through the lists, the authors also make clear that the lists “are not necessarily listed in order of importance” (vi). So, for example, in the first list, “Top 10 Infantry Actions at Gettysburg,” the #1 fight between the 24th Michigan and 26th North Carolina is not deemed more significant than the #10 entry, Pickett’s Charge.
Readers who have pored through the John Bachelder Papers or been to Gettysburg more times than they count won’t find much they haven’t already seen elsewhere within the covers of Top Ten, but the authors do a great job also introducing topics outside of purview of the bayonets and bugles approach to military history. A great list, for example, introduces readers to 10 specific monuments and their stories, giving some context to the seemingly endless marble obelisks and unit markers.
Top Ten at Gettysburg isn’t the first book you buy about Gettysburg; rather it’s the book you get once having gone through the staples of Gettysburg historiography and looking for different interpretations on now-familiar events. In that lens, the authors have succeeded in their objective to give their readers a multitude of different ways to think about the battle and campaign. It’s a neat book that if, next time you’re at the bookstore debating which of the new five titles about July, 1863 to get, think about putting the others back and keeping this one in hand.
Top Ten at Gettysburg, edited by Jay Jorgensen, with articles from Richard Bellamy, Jay Jorgensen, Lawrence Korczyk, Michael Rupert, William Schuber, Ralph Siegel, and James Woods
History Attic Books, 2017