Another Gettysburg Book? What Will the Buffs Say?

GettysburgMy copy of Allen Guelzo’s new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion will arrive later this afternoon.  I will likely dive right in.  I’ve read all of Guelzo’s books and have learned a great deal.  Yesterday the Civil War Monitor published a review of the book by Will Greene. At first I stayed away not wanting my reading to be influenced, but in the end my curiosity got the best of me.  Greene highly recommends the book, which is a very good sign.

In his review, Greene cites a reference by Guelzo to the likely reception of his book among his fellow academics.

Guelzo, the Henry C. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, belongs to that class of academic historians who, Guelzo accurately notes, consider studies that deal with battles as possessing “a reputation close to pornography” (xvi). His Acknowledgments serve primarily as fair warning to his scholarly colleagues that they are unlikely to approve of this book because it dares to commit almost purely military history.

I think such a concern is misplaced unless Guelzo is referring to the academic world beyond his colleagues in Civil War/Southern studies. My guess is that many, if not most, of his academic colleagues are going to devour this book even if they don’t admit so in polite company.  And those who don’t will certainly not hold it against him. 

The question that I find much more interesting is whether the hardcore Gettysburg buffs will accept Guelzo.  Will the battlefield guides at Gettysburg take it seriously or will they brush it off in favor of the non-academic classics by Coddington, Sears, and Trudeau?  What about that small group of writers, who focus on specific moments (even hours) during the Gettysburg campaign? What will they say, along with the relatively small group of readers, who can never get enough Gettysburg minutiae? Will they accept this academic upstart into the Gettysburg community?

Book sales on Amazon topped 400 even before it hit the shelves on Tuesday.  It will be widely read by folks who have never read a book about Gettysburg or perhaps the Civil War.  Who knows, we might even see Guelzo again on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in July.  Enjoy the ride, Allen.

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20 comments… add one
  • Brad Jun 29, 2013 @ 2:30

    David Blight reviews the book in tomorrow’s New York Times,

    He is somewhat critical, particularly of Guelzo’s literary style.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2013 @ 2:31

      Read it yesterday. Thanks.

  • Brad May 21, 2013 @ 18:27

    I saw him and Linda Barnickel tonight on Vurtual Book Signing and they were both excellent. The program went longer than normal and I was sorry when it was over. Professor Guelzo has a real magnetic personality that he gets you excited about a subject. He’s a wonderful speaker. If anyone missed it, I expect it will be on You Tube soon

  • Chris Evans May 21, 2013 @ 15:25

    I’m interested in reading it.

    I have all the major works so I’m interested to see how he approaches the subject.


  • Scott Manning May 17, 2013 @ 2:29

    There was a glowing review of the book in the latest MHQ.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro May 16, 2013 @ 12:27

    ” I assume you will agree that it better characterized as a raid.”

    Fair enough. I certainly wish the best for Mr. Guelzo and his book. But the title and subtitle of the book make me think of the way the Lost Cause distorts the historical interpretation of the battle of Gettysburg and seems to ignore the war in 1864. Obviuosly, from the Union defeats at the Wilderness and Cold Harbor, and then the Confederate successes in the Shenendoah Campaign, the Rebel army in Virginia was far from defeated.

    • Kevin Levin May 16, 2013 @ 12:31

      I agree with you, but I don’t see the connection with the title. Keep in mind that titles are as much about marketing as they are about content. My copy just arrived. 🙂

  • Bryan Cheeseboro May 16, 2013 @ 12:12

    “My copy hasn’t arrived yet, but I assume he is going to draw a distinction between Maryland and Pennsylvania.”

    Maybe he will. BTW, don’t forget- the Rebel Army under Jubal Early burned the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in July, 1864.

    • Kevin Levin May 16, 2013 @ 12:14

      Yes, but I assume you will agree that it better characterized as a raid.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro May 16, 2013 @ 11:59

    I don’t understand the title of that book. I grew up down the street from the site of Fort Stevens, in Washington, DC. The battle took place July 11-12, 1864, a couple of days after the battle of Monocacy, in Frederick County, Maryland. As many as 15,000 Confederate soldiers under General Jubal Early were inside the District of Columbia and were about five miles from the White House.

    Simultaneously with this action was the Johnson-Gilmor raid, where Confederate cavalry went on a series of raids around Baltimore. General Bradley T. Johnson had intended to raid on the Rebel POW camp at Point Lookout, Maryland but this portion of the mission was not fulfilled. Up the street from Fort Stevens, I grew up seeing the small national Cemetery of the graves of the men who were killed in the battle of Fort Stevens.

    If these actions in July 1864 don’t constitute an invasion of the North, I don’t know what does.

    • Kevin Levin May 16, 2013 @ 12:02

      My copy hasn’t arrived yet, but I assume he is going to draw a distinction between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

  • Bruce Clary May 16, 2013 @ 8:46

    I know I’m in the minority on this, but I still find Guelzo’s Redeemer President the best single-volume treatment of Lincoln’s life; it exposes the essential thought that drove the man’s politics. It has profoundly affected the way I have understood and interpreted everything I have read and learned about our 16th president since. I haven’t found Fateful Lightning to have quite the same impact (but why should it?). Nevertheless, in that comprehensive history of the CW, Guelzo clearly demonstrates, as Kevin suggests, that he knows how to tell the macro-version of a huge story. If The Last Invasion even comes close to the quality of these other two works, it will take a prominent place among Gettysburg studies.

    • Kevin Levin May 16, 2013 @ 8:59

      Good points, Bruce. It all depends on how certain camps read the book. I am looking for a well written narrative that integrates some cogent analysis that leaves me thinking about any number of questions. I imagine others will be looking to see how he treats specific individuals or parts of the campaign. In the end, how we judge the book will depend, in large part, on how we approach the study of Gettysburg.

  • Dan May 16, 2013 @ 8:24

    >Whether utilizing his own pen in describing Richard Ewell as having a “peculiar pop-eyed >look and a bald, domelike head which gave him something of the appearance of a >nervous pigeon,” (22)

    This seems like a paraphrase of Freeman’s description of Ewell from the 1st volume of LL’s (“a strangle, unlovely bird”), but I’ll resist the temptation to go all Dmitri Rotov on it. I guess Ewell really did look like avian, so there ya go.

    • Kevin Levin May 16, 2013 @ 8:35

      That’s probably a wise decision.

  • Charles Bowery May 16, 2013 @ 2:50

    I’ll be interested in your thoughts on the book. Normally, I would not need any external motivation to grab a new book on Gettysburg, but even reading Greene’s review left me cold. He even states that in spite of the author’s beautiful prose, there is nothing new here (and the sources are secondary and published primary). So in a time when I’m having to get rid of books because of space issues in my home, I have trouble justifying this one. Maybe Kindle.

    • Kevin Levin May 16, 2013 @ 3:09

      Guelzo is a talented historian so I am much more interested to see what he does do with the sources he utilizes as opposed to those he ignores. I was also a bit surprised to read of the lack of archival material given his proximity to the NPS in Gettysburg. I run the risk of opening up the flood gates on this one, but I don’t think there is much more to learn about this campaign from digging down. It’s pretty much the only campaign study being released on this 150th anniversary, which I find surprising. In the end, I want a well told story and I am betting that Guelzo will deliver.

      • Kevin Levin May 16, 2013 @ 13:53

        Just wanted to point out that there are references in the notes to the NPS collections in Gettysburg.

    • JMRudy May 16, 2013 @ 3:11


      I had the pleasure of reading the book like one read a Sherlock Holmes tale in Doyle’s hay day, so my experience with Dr. G’s manuscript is admittedly different and much slower/more deliberate than the grand majority of readers. That said, there is plenty new in this book that I ran across while reading, but like many academic-bent books, the magic is in the analysis of what has lain in the open for so long. Guelzo is able to take the tale in directions by reinvestigating many older, well-known sources (like a nice grounding in the OR) and looking at them with fresh eyes (and a clock-face handy).

      There are some new manuscript sources here and there, but to expect a campaign-level monograph of Gettysburg to be cut entirely from unseen whole cloth is a bit unfair. Perhaps, as Kevin notes, those of us who obsess over one myopic detail on the field (for me the college and civilian experience) can dredge up tons of new primary material and make our stories out of mostly that which has never been seen, but a book from 50,000 feet *needs* to go back to the basic and well-used sources. Otherwise, we’d be panning it for not knowing its roots or being grounded in the historiography.

      • Kevin Levin May 16, 2013 @ 3:14

        That said, there is plenty new in this book that I ran across while reading, but like many academic-bent books, the magic is in the analysis of what has lain in the open for so long. Guelzo is able to take the tale in directions by reinvestigating many older, well-known sources (like a nice grounding in the OR) and looking at them with fresh eyes (and a clock-face handy).

        That is exactly what I am expecting from Guelzo. Thanks for the comment, John.

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