Book Review: The Battle of Gettysburg

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by the Comte de Paris

Reprint., Digital Scanning, 1999. PP. ix, 315. Maps, append. $24.95 paper. ISBN:1-58218-065-2

The Comte de Paris’ multi-volume History of the Civil War in America was one of the first treatments of the war by a European military scholar, and is also notable because it is one of the few European treatments by someone who had first-hand experience of the conflict, Paris having spent a good chunk of 1862 at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. This gives his work a unique perspective.

In 1886 the Gettysburg chapters from History of the Civil War in America were translated and published in the United States. The Battle of Gettysburg provides a readable, generally clear treatment of the campaign and battle of Gettysburg, one with occasional flashes of considerable insight, such a defense of Longstreet in the increasingly acrimonious post-war argument the over the battle and the general’s activities on the second and third days of the battle.

Modern readers may find the style of the work rather cumbersome (“During this time, Vincent, hastening the pace of his soldiers, has reached the base of this same hill”). In keeping with nineteenth century optimism and romantic militarism, everyone is uniformly brave and gallant, and there is a definite lack of attention to technological matters. Thus, the author never once mentions that the stubborn resistance offered by Buford’s Union cavalrymen to Heth’s Confederate infantrymen on the morning of the first day was largely due to their ability to generate much greater firepower than their opponents as a result of being armed with breech loading repeating carbines. In fact, it’s worth noting that the word “rifle” does not appear in this work. On the positive side, and also very much in keeping with nineteenth century military practice, the book presents an extremely clear word-picture of the physical environment of the campaign, no mean feat.

The book, which is reproduced complete with the original maps, ought to have been accompanied by an introduction discussing its relationship to modern scholarship.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


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