During the 150th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address, visitors will pore over the peculiar topographical and geological features of the battlefield. The three-day fight still captures our imagination. Bookshelves groan under the weight of thousands of volumes written about the battle: Micro-studies of regimental actions; large-scale narratives of the campaign; examinations of the fight’s impact on the town and its residents; and numerous other explorations of the engagement and its consequences compete for the attention of Civil War enthusiasts and scholars. Gettyburg, however, is the battle that keeps on giving even today.
Not much as yet has been written on the inadequate maps that Robert E. Lee’s troops were trying to follow as they approached the fight. Culp’s Hill still takes a back seat to Little Round Top, though the confused fighting on the former was as critical to Union success as the latter. Colonel David Ireland of the 137th New York Infantry, for example, ordered his outnumbered regiment to launch a bayonet charge on Culp’s Hill that allowed additional Union regiments to arrive and save the right flank of the Army of the Potomac’s “fishhook” defensive line.
Alexander Gardner’s images of dead soldiers are frequently republished, but Mathew Brady’s artful sequence of photos focusing on the spot where Union General John Reynolds was killed is overlooked and underappreciated. No matter how often we look at Gettysburg, there’s always something more to see. We just have to adjust our focus.
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.