The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863 in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. The battle ended in a Union victory and resulted in approximately 48,000 total casualties.
Gettysburg National Military Park preserves 3,965 acres and maintains approximately 1,328 monuments, markers, and memorials. Because the battle was fought in and around the town (home to 7,620 people and Gettysburg College), it would be impossible to preserve the entirety of the battlefield, but extensive efforts have been made to restore preserved land to its 1863 appearance. With 1-2 million visitors per year, Gettysburg is perhaps the most popular Civil War battlefield.
Battlefield tour guides are knowledgeable and well-trained. Applicants actually go through a process of written and oral exams, held every other year, before being licensed by the National Park Service. In 2008, the park built a new, $29.4 million visitor center with 20,000 square feet of exhibit space. It houses a cyclorama, galleries, temporary exhibit spaces, an archive, two theaters, a full-service restaurant, catering kitchen, classrooms, gift shop/bookstore, staff offices, and a conference room, and employs 85-105 full time employees. It’s truly impressive.
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (2013) by Allen Guelzo charts the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 to July 24, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North during the American Civil War. The campaign culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, in which approximately 48,000 Americans became casualties. In the end, the two armies settled into camps in roughly the same place they started.
The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 covers the march to Gettysburg, and the others cover each subsequent day of the battle. It’s a linear history from beginning to end, and focuses on the big picture. There’s nothing new to read about the fighting, but Guelzo draws from extensive sources to explore how the battle was fought and the politics of both armies.
Guelzo compares the Battle of Gettysburg with battles from mid-nineteenth century European conflicts to argue that the American Civil War was a decidedly pre-modern war. The high casualty rolls were not the result of outdated tactics facing modern weapons, but the result of inexperienced, amateur soldiers and officers. Instead of driving their opponents away with bayonets, they stood and blasted away at each other at close range. This poor training erased any advantage the rifle might have offered, with some estimating that only one in 500 shots actually hit their target.
Politics also played a role in how the armies fought. The Union Army was roughly divided into two camps: pro-McClellan and anti-McClellan, or moderate pro-war Democrats and radical abolitionist Republicans. Guelzo makes an interesting case that George G. Meade, who took command of the Army of the Potomac days prior to the battle, was a McClellanite who promoted his fellow partisans over their ideological opponents. Meade is usually described as non-political, so this is a fresh perspective.