The “Emerging Civil War Series” Series: Don’t Give an Inch

When it came to writing Don’t Give an Inch, I was very excited to put pen to paper but, at the same time, I’m not going to lie: I was a little bit nervous. We decided to break up the Emerging Civil War series into smaller books when it came to Gettysburg because we knew we couldn’t tell the story of this monumental battle in two or even three books. If you take a look at the series, Chris Mackowski, Dan Davis, and I are not the only authors to tackle subjects related to Gettysburg. We have Out Flew the Sabres by Dan and Eric Wittenberg. We also have The Last Road North by Rob Orrison and Dan Welch. And now there’s even a new book by Brad and Linda Gottfried, Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg.

So, I was a little nervous to tackle Don’t Give an Inch. 

Let’s be honest: the movie Gettysburg and the Pulitzer Prize-winning book that it’s based on, The Killer Angels, has made Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the 20th Maine, and Little Round Top the center of the world for many Civil War buffs. I won’t lie, as a kid, Little Round Top and the story the 20th Maine was the axis of my Civil War world. In one of my first pictures taken on the battlefield, I look like Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, in A Christmas Story, and I’m sitting on my uncle’s lap on a cold day atop Little Round Top.

There are other pictures of me as a kid in my Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain t-shirt. We have four home videos of me running around Little Round Top leading absolutely terrible tours for my family, talking about all the ins and outs of the 20th Maine and everything that happened on the Federal left or what I perceived as the Federal left.

Then one day my family and I visited the Horse Soldier in Gettysburg. Bill Styple was there doing a book signing for his new work With a Flash of His Sword: The Story of Holman Melcher of Company K the 20th Maine. Because this was a book about the 20th Maine, I was immediately drawn in. Bill spent about an hour with his young kid talking about Little Round Top, the 20th Maine, Melcher, and the larger story of what happened there. My parents bought the book, and I immediately dove in, and from that moment forward, Bill changed my interpretation on the south end of the battlefield. In fact, he kind of crushed my Civil War world! He shattered what my perception of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is to this day: Chamberlain went from being a hero up on a pedestal to one of the greatest used car salesman in American history (a line, in fact, we use in the book). It should be noted Bill didn’t call him a used car salesman—I did.

Thus, when you’re about to tell the story of what happened on Little Round Top and you’re going to go counter to what many readers are expecting to read, it can be a little bit daunting.

Let’s add to that the fact that I don’t even love Little Round Top like I love the Wheatfield. I believe the true turning point on the south end of the battlefield is what happened in and around George Rose’s Wheatfield, including places like Stony Hill along Rose Run. The Wheatfield was the whirlpool of death, but it was something more, too: like a whirlpool, it drew in unit after unit. Elements of no fewer than six of Longstreet’s eight brigades were engaged in and around the Wheatfield. On the Union side, units from at least five different corps engaged in combat in and around the Wheatfield.

This whirlpool sapped the strength of the Confederate assault on Union left. Worse, no Confederate commander stepped up to the plate to take over what was turning into a quagmire in that Wheatfield.

Now some historians have told me they disagree with this assessment, and that’s OK. History is about interpretation, and I usually let the numbers do the talking for me. If you pick up that book, you will see how many regimental commanders became casualties there, how many regiments became entangled there, and how many men struggled there, which all diluted the strength of the Confederate assaults on places like Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard, and Cemetery Ridge. There is no doubt the Confederates carried their assault directly into the heart of the Union center, but they came up short at every turn on the Battlefield on July 2. The taste of victory was just out of their reach on most parts of the south end of that battlefield, so imagine if so many units hadn’t gotten sucked unto the whirlpool, unable to lend their strength elsewhere.

Going into this book, I knew there would be some who disagreed with our interpretation of what happened on Little Round Top. They would disagree with our interpretation of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. And, of course, they might disagree did the Wheatfield. In the face of anticipated criticism, we laid out our arguments and, again, we let the evidence do the talking.

As the project went forward, it seemed like many who read the manuscript were appreciative that we were not telling the same old Gettysburg story. We were helping to shed light on men like Gouverneur Warren, Strong Vincent, and William C. Oates and his Alabamians who assaulted Little Round Top, and that we paid a lot of attention to the titanic struggle that took place in the Wheatfield.

Another aspect that was somewhat worrisome was the Lost Cause. Many buffs think the Lost Cause is something modern historians came up with. That is certainly not the case. And it seems, especially today, that many readers feel that if you invoke the term “the Lost Cause,” you’re immediately attacking the Confederacy. In Don’t Give an Inch, we laid some of the Lost Cause arguments out in the open, and we show that it was not modern historians, or Federals, or anyone else other than the Confederates themselves using the Lost Cause against one another in their interpretation of the battle of Gettysburg. We explored the interactions between James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood, and Lafayette McLaws. It’s fascinating to see how these men interacted on July 2 and then told that story either in the days immediately following the battle or the decades thereafter, and just who blamed who for the Confederate assault and Confederate failure on July 2. I’m very proud of the way we laid the story out there. Using primary sources we allowed to participants to tell their own stories.

(And, believe me, there’s more to come in the follow-up volume, Stay and Fight It Out, when we start to explore the interactions of Richard Ewell, Jubal Early, and just about every former Stonewall Jackson staff officer as they battle in the postwar Octagon of memory. But that’s a story for another time.)

Don’t Give an Inch was truly a labor of love and a story that I wanted to tell since I was probably five or six years old. Most of my books are labor of love, but some stand out more than others, like Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front and The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson (because that book was my first).

 Don’t Give an Inch was not just a labor of love, either, but a walk down memory lane. I looked back on my many trips to Gettysburg with my family as I was growing up and with some of my best friends, some of whom or are no longer here. I wanted to really hit a home run with this book, and I think that Mackowski, Davis, and I truly did just that.

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Don’t Give an Inch: The Second Day at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863—from Little Round Top to Cemetery Ridge
by Chris Mackowski, Kristopher D. White, and Daniel T. Davis
Savas Beatie, 2016

Click here to read more about the book, including a book description, reviews, and  author bios.

Click here for ordering information.

Click here for the audiobook, read by Joseph A. Williams.

About Kristopher D White

Civil War historian.
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3 Responses to The “Emerging Civil War Series” Series: Don’t Give an Inch

  1. carsonfoardsbcglobalnet says:

    Eric Wittenberg also co-authored “One Continuous Fight”, a detailed description of the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg to the Potomac, and the pursuit by Meade. He focused on the ground operations, but the telegrams between Meade and Lincoln during the course of this are fascinating – Meade telling Lincoln why a full pursuit can’t be mustered, and a very enthusiastic Lincoln gradually realizing that it’s not going to happen…in the OR, I think. I’ve seen them online, but not sure where.

  2. John B. Sinclair says:

    Though I never bought into the idea that had the 20th Maine defense collapsed that the whole Union line would have been “rolled up,” Mr. White goes too far. Chamberlain mounted a brave and spirited defense of Little Round Top. The number of Union and Confederate veterans who embellished their accomplishments is legion. Describing Chamberlain, however, as “one of the greatest used car salesman [sp] in American history” is a gratuitous cheap shot. I will not be buying your book.

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