Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link World History Group RSS feed World History Group Subscriptions Historynet Home page

MHQ Reviews: The Last Invasion of Gettysburg

By Drew Lindsay 
Originally published by MHQ magazine. Published Online: May 07, 2013 
Print Friendly
2 comments FONT +  FONT -

The Last Invasion
By Allen C. Guelzo. 688 pp.
Knopf, 2013. $35.

Reviewed by Drew Lindsay

THE CONFEDERATES ARE ON THE MARCH, advancing toward Gettysburg and destiny. Soaring spirits lead to hijinks as the men reach a stone marker signaling their arrival in Pennsylvania. An impish soldier links arms with his commanding officer and together they step across the state line, launching what they call the invasion of the United States.

This anecdote is one of hundreds of gems in Allen Guelzo's Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, a stylish, comprehensive, and entertaining narrative. His focus is the battle as a military event and the men who fought—a welcome perspective today, when the Steven Spielberg–driven fascination with Abraham Lincoln has turned the dramatic fight into merely a scene-setter for the president's landmark speech.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to MHQ magazine

Guelzo reminds us that this little Pennsylvania town is where two great armies met "in the greatest and most violent collision the North American continent had ever seen." His account is not a typical tick-tock of troop movements; the pages are soaked in rich language and vivid character studies. When the Confederates camp in the Cumberland Valley, the land at night becomes "pinpricked with a carpet of fire lights." Confederate lieutenant general James Longstreet has "pig's eyes, vigilant and inspecting." Union major general Joe Hooker is a "loud-mouthed bruiser…who projected a confidence which he did not, in the hollow core of his personality, really have."

At nearly 700 pages, the book is packed, but it's not dense. Guelzo knows the power of the telling detail. To illustrate how ill prepared the nation was for war, he plucks line items from the 1857 federal budget that in hindsight seem almost ludicrous—that Congress earmarked more for federal judges than it did for "armories, arsenals, and munitions of war," and spent more on Washington's Post Office Building than on West Point.

Interestingly, he rejects the common notion that the Civil War represents the first modern war. "It is difficult," he writes, "to understand the 'modernity' of a war fought with single-shot muzzle-loading weapons, under the direction of commanders whose chief credential was a diploma from a military engineering school."

The heart of Gettysburg is the average soldier. In his research, Guelzo leaned heavily on the diaries, memoirs, letters, speeches, and other accounts by the war's veterans. No single voice dominates—there's a cast of thousands, it seems—but the perspective makes timeworn elements of the story feel fresh.

Those who fought at Gettysburg were hardly up to the task. They were, as Guelzo notes, a bunch of volunteers "long on self-esteem and very short on experience"; their officers knew little of war and commanded with "small-town incompetence."

"What ran up the Civil War's enormous casualty lists was not expert marksmanship or highly refined weapons," he writes, "but the inability of poorly trained officers to get their poorly trained volunteers to charge forward and send the enemy flying before the bayonet, instead of standing up and blazing away for an hour or two in close-range firefights where the sheer volume of lead in the air killed enough people to be noticed."

At its core, Guelzo's book explains some of the romanticism that hangs over the Civil War. Its soldiers appeal to us because they were ordinary people in extraordinary times; they fought with an appealing "amateurism of spirit and an innocence of intent," as Guelzo puts it. But tragically, those same qualities ensured a bloody outcome, no matter who emerged the victor.

Click For More From MHQ!
Click For More From MHQ!


2 Responses to “MHQ Reviews: The Last Invasion of Gettysburg”

  1. 1
    JimmyPete says:

    Really want to read this book , but Mr. Lindsay, Spielburg's LIncoln did not deal at all with Lincoln's "Address" , also you seem to agree that only poorly trained officers have trouble getting their troops to bayonet charge a position defended with firearms, I don't know if you or the author were ever in combat but even against muzzle loaded weapons this is a difficult difficult proposition[especially it the weapons were massed behind a defensive position], against rifled weapons or breach loaded it is suicide. Still want to read the book.

  2. 2

    [...] on the subject. His study, which bagged an impressive array of awards, received glowing reviews: Military History Quarterly called it “a stylish, comprehensive, and entertaining [...]

Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Related Articles

History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet? is brought to you by World History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
World History Group

World History Group Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer!
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 World History Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy