Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg by Eric J. Wittenberg

One of my favorite Civil War historians recently published another book about the cavalry at Gettysburg (it’s actually the second edition): Eric Wittenberg’s Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, July 2 -3, 1863. The second edition includes new information from primary sources, a new introduction, a detailed walking and driving tour with GPS coordinates, and a new appendix that refutes claims that J.E.B. Stuart’s actions on the East Cavalry Field were intended to be coordinated with Pickett’s charge.

Here is a summary of the book from the publisher:

On July 3, 1863, a large-scale cavalry fight was waged on Cress Ridge four miles east of Gettysburg. There, on what is commonly referred to as East Cavalry Field, Union horsemen under Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg tangled with the vaunted Confederates riding with Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. This magnificent mounted clash, however, cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of what happened the previous day at Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, where elements of Gregg’s division pinned down the legendary infantry of the Stonewall Brigade, preventing it from participating in the fighting for Culp’s Hill that raged that evening.

Stuart arrived at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 2 after his long ride around the Army of the Potomac just in time to witness the climax of the fighting at Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, and spot good ground for mounted operations one ridge line to the east. Stuart also knew that Gregg’s troopers held the important Hanover and Low Dutch road intersection, blocking a direct route into the rear of the Union center. If Stuart could defeat Gregg’s troopers, he could dash thousands of his own men behind enemy lines and wreak havoc. The ambitious offensive thrust resulted the following day in a giant clash of horse and steel on East Cavalry Field. The combat featured artillery duels, dismounted fighting, hand-to-hand engagements, and the most magnificent mounted charge and countercharge of the entire Civil War.

Wittenberg is a unique historian in that he is able to tell a narrative of a battle in a way that keeps the reader engaged. He discusses the different tactics used by each side. For example, General Gregg used the repeating rifle to great effect when his outnumbered troops countered the charges of the Confederates.

Wittenberg’s vast knowledge of cavalry operations, equipment, and the men who fought is abundantly evident.

This knowledge is most evident when he refutes several arguments put forth by Tom Carhart in his book Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg and Why It Failed. One of the arguments that Wittenberg dismantles is the belief that Custer saved the Union Army at Gettysburg. Wittenberg uses countless examples of how Gregg’s superior placement and maneuvering saved the Union right from being flanked.

Another wonderful trait of Wittenberg is his ability to bring in individual stories amidst the battle. He describes how the actions of individuals on both sides influenced the larger battle. His examples focus on not only the generals, but the common trooper as well. For instance, Wittenberg highlights how the actions of Company H of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry and their captain helped stop the last major cavalry charge of the Confederates in the battle.

If you are fortunate to visit the battlefield during the 150th anniversary of the battle, take time to read this book and visit the less frequented East Cavalry Field.

About the author

Jeff Grim

Jeff Grim has been a reader all of his life. He has had a particular interest in military history, any war at any time. His fascination with military history has brought him to an interest in historical fiction where the history comes alive with fictitious heroes and villains. Recently, Jeff has become interested in historical mysteries set in various time periods.

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1 Comment

  • On behalf of Savas Beatie and Eric Wittenberg, thanks for the review. Glad you enjoyed the book. Copies with a bookplate signed by the author are available at savasbeatie.com

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