Eric Wittenberg has weighed in today on the overall quality (or lack thereof) of Tom Carhart’s new book on Gettysburg. Anything with the subtitle “Lee’s Real Plan” has little chance of making my short list. I have no reason to suspect that such negative reviews are off track. And I am the first to admit that it is quite disturbing to see a preface by James McPherson. That said, Carhart’s book, like so many others on Gettysburg raises the interesting question of motive. There are no doubt many first-rate studies of the battle, including books by Pfanz, Hess, Wert, Sears, Trudeau, etc. However, there is an element in many Gettysburg books that assume some great mystery to be solved. Speculation about the crucial moment[s] of the battle or imagining the conditions that could have brought about Confederate victory animate the pages of many books. Gettysburg is reduced to a mystery in Faulknerian terms just waiting to be solved. I suspect that much of this is due to that lingering assumption that the battle constituted the decisive turning point (whatever that actually means) of the war. Assuming that it is the crucial moment of the war, one then becomes seduced by the project of discovering the crucial moment of the battle.
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