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|Posted: Sat Nov 4th, 2006 02:28 pm||
|PLENTY OF BLAME TO GO AROUND: JEB STUART'S CONTROVERSIAL RIDE TO GETTYSBURG
by Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi
Review by Michael Aubrecht, FLS Town&Country, 11/4/07 Civil War
Perhaps no other event recorded in the biography of America is as highly contested as the Civil War. Even today, military historians, enthusiasts and preservationists continue to disagree over the causes and effects of the conflict. This has inevitably left many of the united divided, for generation after generation. In some ways, you could say that the "war of public opinion" never ended, and it continues to rage on to this very day.
One of the more inexhaustible arguments stemming from the War Between the States involves Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and his untimely arrival at the Battle of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. The quarrel, both then and now, revolves around the absence of his cavalry on the first day of fighting and the devastating results that followed.
In the days preceding the battle, Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stuart were not aware of each other's locations. The enemy blocked the horseman's direct route to the Confederate army, which was blindly advancing into Pennsylvania without the benefit of his service. For a 19th-century cavalryman, there was perhaps no greater sin.
For decades, military historians have speculated that Stuart's presence might have helped to prevent the fight in Adams County altogether. Some experts have proposed that the Confederate cavalry's invaluable reconnaissance, if done properly, would have enabled the Army of Northern Virginia to meet the Union army on ground of its own choosing. This might, or might not, have dramatically changed the outcome of the battle. Hindsight remains 20-20.
The dilemma over judging Stuart's performance provided the foundation for cavalry historians Eric Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi's latest offering, "Plenty of Blame to go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg." Noted individually for their expertise in the study and interpretation of both Union and Confederate cavalries, Wittenberg and Petruzzi have joined forces for one of the most detailed and comprehensive narratives ever written about Stuart's ride to Pennsylvania in June and July of 1863.
As an attorney in Ohio, Wittenberg is renowned for his meticulous research and unbiased analysis. His first book, "Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions," won the prestigious 1998 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award. Since then, he has published a library of work, specializing in the history of horse soldiers.
J. David Petruzzi is an insurance broker from Pennsylvania, who is also a noted American Civil War cavalry historian and author. His studies have appeared in the pages of Blue & Gray Magazine and The Gettysburg Magazine.
Both men are currently working on a three-volume study of the Union and Confederate cavalries in the Gettysburg Campaign that is slated to be published by Savas Beatie LLC.
As expected with historians of this caliber, "Plenty of Blame to go Around" is a monumental piece of writing and one of the most complete studies that this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of reading. Taking into account all of the previous works that have been published on this subject, it is immediately apparent that these authors have truly labored to present what I like to refer to as a "total package."
In fact, this is one of those rare instances when a book is able to satisfy even the most inquisitive reader. It is a delicate balance of education and entertainment that makes any history book worthwhile, and I doubt that anyone will be left feeling anything but fulfilled.
Beginning with a well-written foreword by historian and author Mark Grimsley, the story of the "Southern Knight" opens with a comprehensive hourly account of the events encompassing Stuart's mission. These include sporadic and unplanned engagements, which are complemented by multiple firsthand accounts from soldiers and civilians on both sides.
Immediately, readers are reminded of the misery and hardship that were unavoidable while on campaign and the overwhelming adversity that was faced by the Southern horsemen. Equal emphasis is devoted to the Federal cavalry and its own challenges while dealing with an invading army.
"Plenty of Blame" goes on to present a very fair and balanced account of the whirlwind of controversy that started just days after the defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Included in this seemingly infinite paper trail are myriad action reports, field orders and multiple dissertations by Stuart's critics and defenders, as well as the cavalier's own explanation of the event.
Various interpretations from other books published on the subject are quoted throughout, and the authors offer their own conclusions as well, without forcing their theories on the reader.
One of the most interesting and original sections of this book is included in Appendix D, which features "A Driving Tour of Jeb Stuart's Ride to Gettysburg," complete with tour stops, directions and photographs. The authors actually went so far as to retrace Stuart's steps, and have shared their findings with readers who are inclined to do the same. It is a wonderful addition to any historical study, and I wish that more historians would follow this example.
In addition, both men are to be applauded for their conscious decision to embrace the participants often forgotten in studies of cavalry operations: the horses. It is easy to forget sometimes that for every trooper there was a mount that suffered along with its rider and required just as much care and attention along the way. This inclusion helps to put Stuart's ride in perspective and gives the reader a thorough understanding of what was required during the day-to-day operations of a Confederate cavalryman and his horse.
Above all, the supreme narrative of this work can be found in the extensive battle accounts leading up to Stuart's arrival in Gettysburg. In an interview conducted by Savas Beatie, Petruzzi was asked what it took to assemble such a detailed study. He said: "We collected many of the sources together and separately over the past 15 years or so. We employ a full-time researcher, and much of our own research is conducted at libraries, repositories, the National Archives and Library of Congress, and also the private collections of descendants and individuals."
His co-author added: "Like J.D., I was surprised by a lot of the material that surfaced during our research. Period newspapers proved to be an absolute treasure trove of great material, and we were both surprised that nobody had ever made effective use of these sources before we did."
When they had completed the book, both authors admitted, they had gained a stronger appreciation for the tribulations of Stuart's ride, its prominence in the battle and the available body of literature regarding the entire episode. They concluded: "If we cause just one person to reconsider his or her opinion in light of what we've done here, then we will have accomplished what we set out to do. Ultimately, we set out to challenge the reader, and we can only hope that we have managed to do so."
I believe that both Wittenberg and Petruzzi have accomplished their goal and left this one-time Stuart biographer with a newfound perspective on both the man and his mission. Anything but biased, "Plenty of Blame to go Around" presents a wealth of information and allows readers to judge for themselves. For more on this book, Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi, visit stuartsride.com.
MICHAEL AUBRECHT is a Civil War author and historian who lives in Spotsylvania County. For more information, visit his Web site at pinstripepress.net. Send e-mail to his attention to gwoolf@freelance star.com