“The Devil’s to Pay” John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour by Eric J. Wittenberg

Gettysburg – one of the key battles in the Civil War that turned the tide in favor of the Union. It also is an excellent example of the use of cavalry. General Buford expertly led Union cavalry on the first day of the battle. Eric J Wittenberg chronicles the actions of Buford and his men as they delayed Confederate forces in his book “The Devil’s to Pay” John Buford at Gettysburg.

Wittenberg brings his traditional skills of excellent writing and thorough research to this book. I consider the book a “page turner” because Wittenberg’s writing is casual and easy to follow. He sprinkles in plenty of maps to keep the reader apprised of the tactical situation.

As with most descriptions of the Gettysburg Campaign, Wittenberg gives an excellent summary of the Union and Confederate movements prior to the battle. For obvious reasons, he gives particular attention to Buford and his division. Wittenberg also gives good biographies of the main actors in the fighting—giving particular attention to Buford and his brigade commanders Colonels William Gamble and Thomas Devin.

As I have mentioned in previous reviews, Wittenberg is an expert in Civil War cavalry. He has written many articles and books on cavalry tactics and operations. This knowledge is on full display in the book with his analysis and understanding of Buford’s tactics to delay the Confederate infantry. Wittenberg frequently references Civil War cavalry manuals and how Buford’s actions were textbook. Buford deployed his men with maximum effect.

Not only is the narrative and analysis of Buford’s actions great, Wittenberg’s appendixes are just as strong. He includes appendixes on the myth of the use of Spencer rifles by Buford’s men in the battle; the nature of Buford’s defense (defense in depth or covering force). Finally, Wittenberg includes a walking and driving tour of Buford at Gettysburg—something I will definitely take on my next trip to Gettysburg!

The book would be an awesome addition to the library of any Civil War enthusiast.

 

Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions: Farnsworth's Charge, South Cavalry Field, and the Battle of Fairfield, July 3, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg

I recently read another book from one of my favorite Civil War authors, Eric Wittenberg.  His latest book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, is a revised edition that he originally wrote in 1998.   He updated the book because of new research, interpretations, and conclusions of the cavalry actions.

Wittenberg is my favorite writer not only because he writes about some of the less studied and written areas of the Civil War, but he does it with excellent prose.

Here is a synopsis of the book from the publisher:

Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions examines in great detail three of the campaign’s central cavalry episodes. The first is the heroic but doomed legendary charge of Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth’s cavalry brigade against Confederate infantry and artillery. The attack was launched on July 3 after the repulse of Pickett’s Charge, and the high cost included the life of General Farnsworth. The second examines Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt’s tenacious fight on South Cavalry Field, including a fresh look at the opportunity to roll up the Army of Northern Virginia’s flank on the afternoon of July 3. Finally, Wittenberg studies the short but especially brutal cavalry fight at Fairfield, Pennsylvania. The strategic Confederate victory kept the Hagerstown Road open for Lee’s retreat back to Virginia, nearly destroyed the 6th U. S. Cavalry, and resulted in the award of two Medals of Honor.

This book focuses on the three battles and the “could have beens” of those battles.  For instance, if Farnsworth and Merritt’s charges were coordinated with infantry support, the Union could have rolled up the Confederate right flank and routed them.  Or, if the Sixth U.S. Cavalry was reinforced and its commander deployed his men in a stronger position, the Union could have denied the retreating Confederate Army an easy exit out of Pennsylvania.

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