Alternate History Book Review: Gettysburg (Gingrich and Forstchen)

Cover of "Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civi...

Cover of Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War

If any of you have watched the 1990’s film ‘Gettysburg‘ you may remember the part where (on the evening of 1 July 1863) General Longstreet tries to persuade General Lee to break off the direct assault at Gettysburg and instead try to get round the Union flank.  Lee of course says something to the effect of ‘the enemy is there General and that’s where I’m going to attack’.   The result of Lee’s belief that the Army of Northern Virginia could do anything is well documented enough for me to skip over it here.  Could it all have gone differently?  Alternate history writers have produced a range of responses – some good, others pretty mediocre.

This book (a collaboration between Newt Gingrich and William Fortschen) is probably one of the best.  As with all the best alternate history writing it looks at the courses of action actually open to the participants at the time.  Gingrich and Fortschen know their stuff – the characters of the main protagonists are well developed, as are those of individual soldiers.  What I especially liked about this book was how well the point of departure was handled.  In reality of course the Union reserve artillery didn’t make it on to the field until the second day – here we have their commander Henry Hunt pushing several batteries forward in time to completely shatter the Confederate attempt to take the cemetery on the afternoon of 1 July.  This, in conjunction with Ewell‘s failure to take Culp’s Hill. leaves Lee more susceptible to Longstreet’s counter-proposal than he was in reality.

At this point the authors show their skill – Lee was by nature a gambler and they paint his reaction to Longstreet’s proposal quite credibly.  Lee rejects Longstreet’s plan as too cautious and, to put it mildly, widens its scope.  The stage is set for a campaign of manoevre, one which allows Lee’s troops to do what they do best – outmarch and outsmart  the opposition.  Any further detail would give the game away – so I’m going to close by giving this book a full five stars and say that it’s the first of a trilogy, the remainder of which I’ll review in due course.

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