Witness to Gettysburg

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In May of 1863, with the Civil War in its third year, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, fresh from his victory over the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville, Virginia, planned a bold strike north into Pennsylvania. The Union forces, however, commanded by Joseph Hooker and privy to certain Confederate intelligence, were also heading north.

Lee’s army regrouped at Gettysburg, a convenient crossroads, before progressing further into Pennyslvania. When Union troops, now commanded by Major General George C. Meade, also probed Gettysburg, the stage was set for confrontation. The battle raged for the first three days in July; at first Lee’s forces pushed the Federals back to a line of small hills called Cemetery Ridge, but that, in turn, gave Union troops the advantage. Finally, led by George Pickett, the Confederates charged into the heart of the Union forces and were repulsed. Lee retreated to Virginia, but Meade did not press the attack; it was enough that the North had been saved. Out of perhaps 175,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, 23,000 Federals and 20,000 Confederates lost their lives.

The story is told through numerous personal accounts, edited for historical accuracy and tied together by Richard Wheeler’s commentary. Throughout, the reader tastes the personal nature of mass warfare, the heroism of those who fell, the thrill and horror of the battle. The result is a gripping narrative which traces the course of two great armies to their inevitable clash.