Civil War Times Reviews: Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg

By Ethan S. Rafuse
4/26/2017 • Civil War Times Magazine

Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, July 2-3, 1863

Eric J. Wittenberg, Savas Beatie

Although the outcome of the Gettysburg Campaign, like all major land operations, ultimately rested on the weary shoulders of the infantry, Union and Confederate cavalry played an unquestionably important role in shaping its course. Add to this the success of cavalrymen throughout history in cultivating an aura of dash and romance around their specialty, and it is not surprising that the past 150 years have seen a number of works that focus on cavalry operations in the summer of 1863. Some of the best have come from the pen of Eric J. Wittenberg, one of whose first books provided what’s widely recognized as the standard study of the oft-overlooked fight for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge on July 2 and the much better-known engagement on July 3, in which Federal cavalry led by David M. Gregg achieved victory in a hard-fought battle at what is now known as East Cavalry Field.

This welcome revised edition of the book came about in part because Wittenberg uncovered additional primary source material, but also due to the 2005 appearance of a controversial work by Tom Carhart, offering what Wittenberg considers a problematic interpretation of the role Jeb Stuart’s cavalry was supposed to play in Robert E. Lee’s “real plan” for July 3.

This significantly revised edition of Protecting the Flank retains the clear account of events, skill at connecting minor tactical actions to larger contexts, readability and compelling analysis that made the original an important contribution to literature on Gettysburg and the leaders whose decisions shaped the cavalry actions east of the town. It also offers more than enough new material to be of value to those who have read the earlier edition.

The most significant section of new material is the appendix in which Wittenberg (with more delicacy of language than he has employed elsewhere) directly takes on Carhart’s arguments. His view is skillfully, thoroughly—and persuasively— argued. In addition, all those readers who enjoy visiting battlefields will especially appreciate the effectively updated tour guide to the sites where the actions that Wittenberg describes took place.

 

Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.

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