Sunday, May 04, 2014

Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign

I've long heard of this book as THE book to read on Gettysburg. I went cheap for the $20 paperback since it is not offered in Kindle, out of print in hardcover, and many of the hardcovers go for over $100 and even over $200 ... large with lots of maps, leather bound, etc. After 2 years of retirement, I have a hard time peering into the future as to where I can really savor a that sort of a book, but if I run into that point, this will be high on my list! 

This one has a LOT of detail, although having read a few on Gettysburg now, it gives just a little idea of how much detail there is when the story of  Colville and the First MN at Plum Run, covered in book length in "Pale Horse at Plum Run" and the subject of many of MN "Civil War History" exhibit is covered in less than a page on 423! The key line being "Now his force of a little over 300 men tore into Wilcox right regiment and stopped it cold". This attack was directly ordered by Hancock saying "My God! Are these all the men that we have here!" The 1st MN took huge losses to buy time -- had they not, again,  the outcome of Gettysburg may have shifted. 

I loved the tidbit that I had never heard about the Federals trying to burn a bridge at Wrightsville PA, the Rebels being unable to stop the fire, but when the blaze tried to consume Wrightsville, ... on page 170 -- "When the blaze got out of control and spread to Wrightsville, to their everlasting credit. Gordon's (the Rebels) men worked feverishly and succeeded in saving the town from total ruin". 

This is in pretty stark contrast to Sherman's march to the sea which introduced the completely non-chivalrous idea of "total war" on the world -- punish the civilians as well as the military! 

On the opposing page, "On Sunday, June 28,  Ewell sent word to the clergy to hold services as usual, for no one would disturb them. Some of the churches opened, and the preachers, though nervous, prayed for their country in peril and their friends in danger;  they also prayed for the strangers that were among them". 

Yes, the South had slavery, but will the future look on abortion in much the same way as we look on slavery now? We WERE once a Christian Nation -- clearly with a huge difference relative to the point of States Rights and slavery, but at that time we DID understand that there was more to life than this vale of tears! We all knew that being a slave in this life and gaining heaven is INFINITELY better than being the most highly educated, richest, most famous and most respected human to ever walk the earth and failing to reach heaven!

That faith and soul based knowledge is of greater merit than all else in this world, and the shared understanding of the truth of that by a people is of utmost value to a nation. It is the nation that we once were -- great beyond what only a very small set of modern minds can even comprehend! 

The other big lesson of the book is to humanize / equalize Lincoln, Lee, Meade and Hooker -- as well as many others. Stuart, Ewell and Sickles stand out. Yes, the North's generals were far short of Lee, but some of that was due to constant micro-management from Washington, ridiculous short sightedness on recruitment and retention, and the rather stupid idea of using The Army of the Potomac as BOTH the defensive force for Washington/Baltimore,  AND the instrument to destroy Lee. (BOTH a floor wax and a desert topping)

The book whetted my appetite to study Lee more. It seems that as brilliant as he was, his "strength and weakness" was his dependence and willingness to grant latitude to his generals. Stonewall Jackson (killed at Chancellorsville) was a critical piece of his ability to operate because of his council and ability to correctly interpret Lee's loose orders. Lee gave orders that could be misinterpreted -- but with the faith and understanding that the flexibility would usually have positive effects. His orders to Stuart were radically misinterpreted at Gettysburg,  resulting in Lee not having the intelligence, communication and speed that his superb cavalry forces had always provided him.

It is EASY to oversimplify what happened at Gettysburg, but it is VERY complex ... the replacement of Hooker by Meade at 3AM on June 28, with the of course unknown at that point battle to commence on July 1!!  The first battle without Stonewall for Lee. Lee being on the offensive, Stuart missing, the forces essentially "blundering into each other" at Gettysburg, etc, etc. 

It is a single battle to which a person could devote their life to understanding, and still not have a clue. Perhaps after a great breakfast of fresh fish with the Savior in heaven, I can sit down with some of those guys and actually understand what happened there! 

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