An early review for the Emerging Civil War Series lauded us for starting with the battle of Fredericksburg rather than a more-obvious “big battle” like Gettysburg or Antietam. Those can be perilous waters, of course, because those two battles in particular get a lot of attention from hordes of devoted fans. A lot of publishers dip their toes in those water first, too, because those devoted hordes can be commercially exploited pretty easily.
We knew we had to go to Gettysburg eventually, of course, for all sorts of reasons, but the reasons most important to us were not the reasons most people would consider.
Yes, any book with “Gettysburg” on the title will sell. And, editorially, there’d be a huge gap in the series if we didn’t cover the battle.
But what made Gettysburg so important to us is that we all had personal connections to the battlefield. For that reason, we didn’t want to just exploit Gettysburg because it might be lucrative to do so—we’ve seen too many other publishers do that with cheap, cheesy, inaccurate material. We wanted to do Gettysburg right.
A lot of people can trace their Civil War roots to Gettysburg: a visit there as a kid sparked an interest. It’s one of the battlefield’s most important powers. That was certainly true for Dan Davis, who did a lot of battlefielding as a kid with his dad. They tromped around Brandy Station most often, but Gettysburg was that magical place for Dan just as it is for a lot of Civil War kids.
Kris had a similar experience. His father went to a Corvette show in nearby Carlisle, PA, and took Kris with him. As a reward for good behavior, the two went to the Gettysburg battlefield. Kris was hooked—so much so that Gettysburg became an obsession. It triggered his lifelong commitment to military history, and he eventually took and passed the guide test.
For me, I already had a little magic in my life every day because I grew up in Hershey, PA. My childhood literally smelled of chocolate, which added a touch of the surreal to daily life. In school, we took fields trips to Gettysburg, which was down the road an hour or so as the bus flies. The monuments and cannons were just one more surreal landscape that I kind of took as a matter of course. So, in this special way, Gettysburg was very much wrapped up in my childhood.
Dan and Kris and I each had favorite stories and favorite parts of the field, and we knew we also had to pay attention to certain “Gettysburg greatest hits,” so it quickly became apparent that we had a lot of ground to cover—too much for a single volume. Previous books in the ECW series kept the action confined to a single volume, though, so splitting things up would be a departure from our format.
Our initial reaction was to break the story into three books, one for each day. In that configuration, though, Day Two looked like a mammoth amount of material, not only because of the scope and scale of the attacks but also because they covered some of the battlefield’s most iconic spots, which would require a lot of interpretation and tour notes. That led to the decision to break Day Two into two books. Our Gettysburg treatment, then, would cover four books, with plans for an eventual book on the retreat and another on the campaign itself.
We liked this decision, too, in the context of Day One, which usually gets overlooked in favor of the excitement on the south end of the field on Day Two or the high-drama of Pickett’s Charge on Day Three. Giving Day One its own book would give it the special attention it rightly deserves.
In the movie Gettysburg. the Day One action is best exemplified by Sam Elliot’s gravel-voiced portrayal of John Buford. For the title of our book, we turned to Buford, who warned his men they would have to “fight like the devil” to hold on to the good ground they’d staked out.
We found some great stories to concentrate on in our appendices, allowing us to give attention to several of “Gettysburg greatest hits.” It might be my favorite overall collection of appendices because of the topics we covered and the authors who pitched in:
- Appendix A: “Where Was Jeb Stuart?” by Eric J. Wittenberg
- Appendix B: “Shoes or No Shoes?” by Matt Atkinson
- Appendix C: “The Most Second-Guessed Decision of the War” by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White
- Appendix D: “Reynolds Reconsidered” by Kristopher D. White
- Appendix E: “The Harvest of Death” by John F. Cummings III
- Appendix F: “Amos Humiston and the Children of the Battlefield” by Meg Thompson
- Appendix G: “Pipe Creek” by Ryan Quint
- Appendix H: “The Peace Light Memorial” by Dan Welch
Humiston, the soldier eventually identified by the photo in his pocket of his three children, came from a hometown just a couple short miles down the road from my own, so his story is one that’s long been of interest to me. I had intended to write that piece myself, but Meg was working on Aftermath of Battle at the time and so was already deeply immersed in stories of post-battle body disposal, so we asked her if she wanted to give it a try.
Humiston was a member of the 154th New York Infantry. Historian Mark Dunkelman has done some outstanding regimental-level history around the experience of the 154th. He’s also the creative genius behind the well-known battlefield mural depicting the 154th fight at Kuhn’s brickyard along Coster Avenue. Mark was gracious enough to write a foreword for our book—the first book in the series that featured a foreword. We’d later go back and retro-fit other books with forewords, but Mark’s was the first. We were thrilled to have his help, and we made sure to highlight his work on the mural as an evocative way to tell the 154th’s story.
Dan Welch, then working at the Gettysburg Foundation, stepped up to help us with an appendix on the Peace Light Memorial. Dan provided a useful set of eyes on the manuscript, too, at a time we really needed a little extra help.
We hope that our deliberate approach to Day One set the right tone for the way we intended to handle Gettysburg overall. While there will always be voices among the hordes of devoted Gettysburg fans who will delight in nit-picking and fault-finding, we knew, because of our own personal connections to the battlefield, we’d be our own hardest critics. We were happy to do the story justice.
Fight Like the Devil: The First Day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863
by Chris Mackowski, Kristopher D. White, and Daniel T. Davis
Savas Beatie, 2015
Click here to read more about the book, including a book description, reviews, and author bios.
Click here for the audiobook, read by Joseph A. Williams.