Who says there’s nothing new?

I’m sure many of my readers are quite familiar with a go-around I (and several of my comrades) had with a particular prominent Civil War historian a few months back – in a popular CW magazine, this historian had made statements to the effect that there was basically “nothing new” to be discovered or written about when it came to well-documented campaigns such as Gettysburg.  This historian maintained, in effect, that we should all stop writing about Gettysburg because there’s nothing left to discover, and the plethora of micro-histories of late are a waste of time.

I certainly don’t want to re-hash all that silliness… but it got me to thinking again as Eric Wittenberg, Mike Nugent and I wrapped up the manuscript of our latest book.  Our upcoming book, One Continuous Fight (on the retreat from Gettysburg) features a narrative of a skirmish that took place on July 5, 1863, just as the official retreat and pursuit was getting underway.  This skirmish featured the very first shots fired in anger as elements of Meade’s Federal army began its pursuit of Lee’s retrograde.  Very few people know of the existence of this particular skirmish, and it’s NEVER been mapped before.  Kent Brown, in his great book on the logistics of the retreat, doesn’t have a narrative of the action.

Once we fleshed out the details of the action with some very good primary sources, I hand-drew the map for it and sent it off to our cartographer for the book, Ed Coleman.  After a week or so, Ed had finalized this new map and sent it to us for review.  We were looking at a brand-new map of a previously uncharted action (at Gettysburg, no less!) so it was a real kick.  The map will, of course, appear in our book, one of 16 detailed maps.

This is the third time I’ve been fortunate enough to draw out a first-time map (the first dealt with Buford’s stand at Gettysburg on the morning of July 1, and the second was of the skirmishing that took place there during Ewell’s advance on June 26) and then had it professionally done.  The fact that this new map appears in our book for the very first time, along with a narrative of a previously unknown action, makes the three of us very proud and we hope our readers will enjoy it.  The skirmish is also featured on one of the driving tours in the back of the book, and we expect this little action to begin gaining some prominence now that folks will be reading about it.

Again, all of this is just one of constant reminders to me that there is so much more to discover, even the “done to death” Gettysburg saga.

Published in: on November 5, 2007 at 12:49 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Our most recent trip along the retreat routes is proof enough that there is plenty of “new” things to be learned about Gettysburg. Not only is our overall subject “new” in the sense that it’s probably the least studied aspect of the campaign, but as we found out there is a lot of “new” information often lurking just below the surface.

    I’m confident that with a little luck and some solid work, historians will uncover “new” things about Gettysburg for years to come. While some folks will consider these matters “side shows to the big show” and feel “micro-tactical” histories are of minimal value, I think they’re critical to a real understanding of the overall events. They tell the real story of Gettysburg, not just the “Readers Digest” verson of a 3 day battle, but of a campaign that lasted well over a month.

  2. So true, Mike. I think that’s why there’s so much anticipation for the book’s release – like “Plenty of Blame,” its companion volume, this new book will showcase the first detailed narratives of nearly two dozen fights along the retreat, and historical/civilian vignettes by the dozens that have never been compiled into one volume before.

    Plus, our book for the first time features a very detailed discussion of Meade’s decision-making, and all of the factors (within and without his control) that figured into it. All as objective as we could make it.

    J.D.


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