I was a bit skeptical when asked to review this book… sometimes I suffer from “Gettysburg fatigue” and wonder if another study is really necessary. When I learned that this is Part One of a two-volume work, I was even more curious. How could there be enough information available to fill one book, much less two? It turns out that I was very pleasantly surprised. Scott Mingus and Eric Wittenberg are excellent, noted historians and writers. I have always enjoyed their work and this volume certainly did not disappoint.
The authors have crafted the book in a very interesting way. Each chapter covers the action of one day. Although most readers already know the outcome of the campaign, the reader is pulled back in time and becomes lost in the narrative. What will happen next? It is somewhat reminiscent of Gordon Rhea’s treatment, To the North Anna River, which has the same kind of feel and is one of my favorite books.
Mingus and Wittenberg have dug deeply into primary resources, and through lively prose have crafted a very engaging work. Letters and diaries of soldiers, officials, and ordinary citizens are used to good effect. Newspapers also are cited. You can feel the confusion, the fear, and the misinformation that people were dealing with. Stories passed around of Confederates stealing property and sending captured Blacks south into slavery. Events would prove that while this was sometimes accurate, it was not always. Many Southern soldiers treated civilians with kindness and respect. The book says “The coming days would be trying for the perplexed politicians,” but also for the common people. Each day brought more uncertainty and fear. One chapter ends with, “Each sunrise brought the Army of Northern Virginia that much closer to their doorstep.” This is compelling writing.
A letter from Union Secretary of State William H. Seward demonstrates the lack of clarity as to Lee’s intentions. In mid-June he wrote “Lee has moved westward from Fredericksburg… but the object of Lee’s strategy is not developed.” As part of Lee’s army moved into Pennsylvania, would the remainder follow, or go elsewhere? Confederate Cavalry effectively shielded Lee’s operation, leaving the Union Army’s commanders very confused. When and how should the Federal Army move in response? Was Washington the goal? Baltimore, Philadelphia? The best Hooker could seem to do was to keep between the Confederates and these cities and watch developments. There were several large engagements along the way, and many smaller ones. Brandy Station and Second Winchester are treated in detail, but many other skirmishes are also mentioned. Each day the Confederates inched closer, and nerves were on edge.
The authors have been very generous in the use of maps, including 31 high-quality ones by Edward Alexander. These are important to understanding the movement of the armies, and are much appreciated. A lack of good maps can really make it difficult to follow a narrative, and Alexander’s are of high quality. While several other appendices will probably be included in the second volume, there is one contained here that is quite helpful. The itineraries of the armies are listed day-by-day. Readers and future researchers will find this very handy.
In closing, I would like to quote Dr. Jennifer Murray from the book’s Foreword, when she states that the authors have created “a masterful overview of the Gettysburg Campaign that skillfully demonstrates that, yes, we do need another book on Gettysburg.” I certainly agree. This reader thoroughly enjoyed this book and looks forward to the second volume. Highly recommended.
If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg. Vol. 1: June 3-21, 1863
By Scott L. Mingus Sr. and Eric J. Wittenberg
Savas Beatie 2022 $34.95 hardcover
Reviewed by Doug Crenshaw