Book Review: Unsung Hero of Gettysburg

Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg

By Edward G. Longacre

University of Nebraska Press, Potomac Books, 2021, $34.95 hardcover

Reviewed by Doug Crenshaw

“I have seen no officer whom I would prefer to have with me…. In battle he is cool, tenacious, brave and judicious.” This is high praise indeed, especially when one considers its source– Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, one of the ablest and most famous generals to serve in the Army of the Potomac. In this study, veteran author Edward G. Longacre takes an in-depth, much needed look at the life of David Gregg.

One of the major themes of the book is how quiet and self-effacing Gregg was. Longacre takes the reader through his youth, to his serving at posts all along the West Coast prior to the Civil War. Gregg was a humble man, devoted to his country, his family and his men. When the war began, he was not the self-promoting or political type, and it chafed him at times to see other officers with those skills get ahead. Truth tends to win out in the end, and so it was for this modest general. Longacre spends some time discussing the Gettysburg campaign and battle. Brandy Station is handled in detail, Aldie is mentioned, and of course Gettysburg itself receives a robust treatment.

Gregg’s men arrived on the field at Gettysburg on July 2, and were posted to the far right, protecting the Federal flank. Late that day they repulsed elements of the 2nd Va. and held the right. On the fateful next day, July 3, Gregg ignored two of cavalry commander Alfred Pleasonton’s orders, moving his troops to a spot Gregg deemed key, and asking George Custer’s troops to stay, rather than ride way per Pleasonton’s orders. As it was, both of these actions probably saved the Federal rear, as Gregg and Custer combined to drive back Stuart’s attacks.

Longacre tracks the cavalry actions in the fall of 1863, including Gregg’s delay of Ewell at Bristoe Station, which set the stage for a defeat of A. P. Hill. He not only lavishes praise on his subject, but also points out shortcomings along the way. His treatment is fair. By May 1864 Gregg was serving under Sheridan, and once again witnessed a commander with connections rise above him. Gregg saw action at Yellow Tavern, Haw’s Shop, Trevilian Station, First and Second Deep Bottom, St. Mary’s (Samaria) Church and in many actions at Petersburg. In late 1864 he finally received a brevet promotion to major general. In January 1865 Gregg resigned from the army, but Longacre states the reason is unclear. Like so many other things in Gregg’s life, this was a private decision.

If you are interested in a high-level view of the cavalry operations of the Army of the Potomac, this would be a good place to start. The title, however, can be a bit misleading. The Gettysburg story is told in about ten pages, out of a total of 260. While the author makes his case about the important role Gregg played in that battle, the book has a much larger scope.

The book is solidly researched and well crafted, and if you will excuse the pun, I enjoyed the ride. If you are interested in cavalry operations, you likely will enjoy it, too.

2 Responses to Book Review: Unsung Hero of Gettysburg

  1. If you put “Gettysburg” in a book title. it will sell 10,000 more copies

  2. It would have been nice to get further clarification on why Gregg left the army when he did, but I suppose it was never recorded for posterity. Gregg attended reunions after the war and I’m surprised he was never asked by a reporter. Apparently, Gregg did have regrets and tried to re-enter the post-war army in one of the cavalry regiments, but the position went to his cousin John Irvin Gregg, so the story goes.

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