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Turning the Tide at Gettysburg: How Maine Saved the Union

Jerry Desmond, Down East Books

Many years ago I was assigned to guide a small group of army officers from the United States and Great Britain over the Gettysburg battlefield. One of the U.S. officers was from Maine. My training as a National Park Service interpreter/historian had taught me to make personal connections whenever possible, and I planned to draw attention to Maine’s role in the battle as it presented itself. As we traveled the field over two days, it became apparent to all of us that though soldiers serving in Maine regiments and batteries composed only 4.3 percent of the 93,000-man Army of the Potomac, fate and circumstances had positioned them at nearly every critical place on the battlefield. Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, Pickett’s Charge, the I Corps’ last stand on Seminary Ridge: At each of these spots and more, a Maine regiment or artillery battery, or a Maine-born soldier, played a crucial role in the action.

Maine’s distinguished role in the battle is the subject of Jerry Desmond’s Turning the Tide at Gettysburg: How Maine Saved the Union. While one might quibble with the subtitle—although the author points out it is not meant to disparage the fighting qualities of the rest of the Army of the Potomac— Desmond’s relatively short read is interesting whether you are from the Pine Tree State or not. The book is organized chronologically, following each day of the battle, and an appendix containing a driving tour of Maine monuments adds detailed and helpful directions and information.

The story of each Maine regiment and battery that participated in the battle is explored, as well as those of the three regiments—the 5th and 6th Maine, and the 10th Maine Battalion—that were present but not engaged. In addition to narrating the battle action each unit participated in, Desmond includes profiles of prominent Maine–born soldiers, such as XI Corps commander Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard and the efficient Assistant Adj. Gen. Seth Williams, and also lesser-known personalities, like Thomas Sherman Bugbee of the 10th Maine Battalion, who after the war moved to Texas, became a cattleman and once drove 1,100 head of cattle—a la Lonesome Dove—from Texas to Idaho. For those who imagine that the 20th Maine and courageous Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain were the only distinguished soldiers from Maine at Gettysburg, Desmond’s book will be a revelation.

The text is accompanied by numerous photographs and maps that are clearly done and helpful in placing the highlighted Maine regiment or battery within the context of the larger battle. Desmond did not intend this volume to be the definitive study of Maine at Gettysburg, but it is more than a superficial treatment. He has provided a highly readable narrative that can appeal to both a Gettysburg novice and someone well read on the battle.


Originally published in the December 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.