Reviewed by Brian Swartz
With her first book, author Carolyn Ivanoff has set the Gettysburg experiences of the 17th Connecticut Infantry Regiment against the backdrop of campaign and battle, to the reader’s benefit and education.
A historian and a retired high school administrator, Ivanoff drew her research heavily from the voluminous regimental archives collected by Pvt. William Warren, who intended to write a 17th Connecticut history. He kept a diary during the war, and comrades shared their diaries and extensively corresponded with him after the war.
Warren died in 1918 without writing the regimental history. Spanning “sprawling volumes” (X), his collection included extensive Gettysburg-related accounts and some 200 photographs with an accompanying photographic index. With too much overall material available, Ivanoff focused on Gettysburg, to the enjoyment of the serious historian and Gettysburg buff alike.
The book flows chronologically, beginning with the 17th’s creation and its connection to Fairfield County in southwestern Connecticut. Ivanoff quickly introduces pertinent people (including Warren) and skillfully organizes biographical snippets and historical facts as she follows the regiment into the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, XI Corps.
The link is vital to the story as Oliver Otis Howard takes over XI Corps and disastrously neglects its flanks at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. The 17th Connecticut makes a brief, bloody stand before joining the skedaddle, and here Ivanoff introduces the first eyewitness accounts (often italicized) that provide compelling reading.
Eleventh Corps soon heads for Gettysburg as Ivanoff introduces more personages, from 17th Connecticut personnel to Brig. Gen. Francis Barlow, contemptuous of the 1st Division he now commands. With Col. William Noble wounded at Chancellorsville, Lt. Col. Douglas Fowler temporarily takes over the 17th — and he soon draws Barlow’s ire.
Through the three chapters devoted to the regiment’s July 1 battle outside Gettysburg and subsequent retreat through the town, Ivanoff lets the 17th’s survivors tell what happened. She weaves their accounts, the immediate topography, and structural landmarks together so the reader understands what is happening where and when. The insertions of specific Phil Laino maps help clarify unit positions and movements wherever the 17th Connecticut fights.
In similar fashion the book unfolds the regiment’s involvement in helping repel the July 2 nighttime Confederate assault on Cemetery Hill, “various experiences during the third day” (161), and advance into and through Gettysburg on July 4. Through the 17th Connecticut’s voices, the reader accompanies the survivors reoccupying Barlow’s Knoll and finding mangled comrades dead on the field or suffering in makeshift hospitals.
Exploring the battle’s aftermath, the last chapter shifts through the 17th Connecticut’s dead and missing and the sometimes fruitless searches made for them by relatives and friends. An epilogue examines “Monuments and Memory,” and Ivanoff ends her book with six appendices, the last one titled “William Warren’s Photographic Index of the Regiment.”
We Fought At Gettysburg details the 17th Connecticut’s role in the battle and the big picture, from Chancellorsville and the march to Gettysburg to the commanders and units participating in the various actions involving the regiment from July 1-4, 1863. There is much historical information to glean from the pages. Gettysburg Publishing placed photos and captions within the appropriate chapters. The book is well illustrated, the captions tightly written.
Ivanoff disconcertingly repeats certain survivors’ memoirs in a few places; at times readers may feel they have lost their place and dropped back some pages. With its hardcover and physical heft, the book appears a daunting read. Yet the story moves easily along, like well-shod Connecticut soldiers tramping along a macadamized road.