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 Posted: Thu Sep 8th, 2005 03:26 pm
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MAubrecht
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This was on the old board and I wanted to repost for new members.

Hello all. I just published my latest review of Tom Carhart's book entitled "Lost Triumph: Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg and Why It Failed" for The Free Lance-Star: Town & Country (Fredericksburg, VA). I wanted to share it with you as I see there are some serious CW readers here. I am currently working on the next one for Michael Ballard's "U.S. Grant; The Making of a General 1861-1863" that will run this weekend. I will post after it goes to press.

Next up is "To Make Men Free" by R. Croker. Thanks and Enjoy.

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Lost Triumph: Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg and Why It Failed by Tom Carhart Ph.D.
By Michael Aubrecht, FLS Town & Country
Date published: 8/13/2005 CIVIL WAR
Also online at: http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2005/082005/08132005/121201

My own obsession with Civil War history began in 1978 when, at the age of 6, my parents took me on a trip to the national military park at Gettysburg, Pa. It was my first introduction to the War Between the States, and as our weekend progressed, the tales of these brave men and their three-day battle captivated me as nothing had before. What had started off as a simple family vacation changed my life forever, as Gettysburg left a remarkable impression that remains to this very day.

Over the years, I have read stacks of books on the subject. Unfortunately, very few have provided any original insight. Most have presented the same events over and over, while drawing identical conclusions. As a result, the explanation for the North's victory and the South's defeat has become rather commonplace. The two reasons that are most widely accepted as determining the outcome of the battle are the Union's tactical advantage (due to the occupation of the high ground) and the absence of J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry on the first day of fighting. Although these facts provide both logical and believable answers, other questions still remain.

Most prominent is the mysterious rationale behind the desperate and disastrous charge by Pickett on the third day that resulted in massive Confederate casualties and the subsequent retreat of all Southern forces. For years, many historians (including me) have reluctantly accepted the notion that Robert E. Lee was the unfortunate victim of multiple circumstances that were beyond his control. Others have accused the general of sporting a sense of invincibility that ultimately played into the hands of his more cautious adversary, George Meade.

Inevitably, one must ask oneself how a commander as brilliant as Lee could tactically blunder in such an epic manner. After all, the very logic of ordering an attack as doomed as Pickett's Charge is mind-boggling when judged against his previous victories. Simply stated, it doesn't make sense.

This is a query that has sparked debate for generations. Some historians over the years have attempted to hypothesize, but few have ever presented their alternative theories in such a complete manner as Tom Carhart, author of "Lost Triumph: Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg and Why It Failed." A most original and thought-provoking work, "Lost Triumph" presents a refreshing study of the Battle of Gettysburg that will leave many seasoned historians re-evaluating their own convictions.

A West Point grad himself (Class of 1966) and an infantry combat veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts for service in Vietnam, Carhart is a very credible subject-matter expert. He is the author of several military histories and holds a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. His work on "Lost Triumph" is further validated in the book's foreword, which is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson.

With meticulous attention to detail, Carhart spends the first few chapters of his book constructing a solid foundation for his assumption. This includes personal biographies of the battle's main participants, a thorough and unbiased synopsis of the cause of the Civil War and, most importantly, an unparalleled presentation of the 1800s curriculum taught at West Point, which provided the majority of Civil War commanders with their "playbook." A summary of all previous battles leading up to Gettysburg is also outlined in order to emphasize the relative success of the Confederacy up to that point.

One of the many interesting character profiles in "Lost Triumph" is a recollection of the distinguished, but rarely discussed, service record of a young Union commander named George Armstrong Custer. Often remembered solely for his tragic defeat at the Little Big Horn, Custer's performance during the Civil War was quite impressive. Carhart also provides equally compelling portraits of the supreme commander, Lee, and his subordinate J.E.B. Stuart. By clearly defining these individuals, Carhart helps the reader to understand what made each of them special. He then shows how they were trained to execute the intellectual art of war.

Complete with maps of Napoleon at Austerlitz, Frederick the Great at Leuthen and Hannibal at Cannae, Carhart's book provides a marvelous tutorial on the art of warfare as presented to West Point officers. In essence, Carhart teaches the readers what Lee was taught, thus opening up their minds for his own conclusion that the Confederate commander had actually intended a more diverse plan that, if executed correctly, could have won the day--and perhaps the war.

Carhart's conclusion, based on the principles and tactics that Lee would have most certainly called upon, presents another strategy that includes a crucial rear assault by Stuart's cavalry. When combined with the frontal assault of Pickett's infantry, it would most likely have cut the Union lines in half. Only in the final hours of the battle was the attack reversed through the daring actions of Custer and his men.

The author then goes on to outline a very convincing series of events that, when added to our current knowledge base, leave little doubt that Lee was not guilty of poor planning. Rather, he was unable to launch the simultaneous assault he so desired, resulting in the ill-fated debacle that wiped out Pickett's troops, including Gen. Lewis Armistead.

In an e-mail interview with me, Carhart explained what inspired "Lost Triumph" and what separates it from previous studies on the Battle of Gettysburg.

"If I were to say anything additional about the book," he said, "it would be that I have spent most of my life confused about Lee's one 'bad day' on 3 July at Gettysburg. But I have always believed, and my research has confirmed, that Lee simply didn't have any 'bad days.'" He added: "Instead, he had formulated a plan for 3 July that, had it been carried out, would have resulted in one of the greatest battlefield triumphs in recorded history. It was truly brilliant, but the brilliance was all Lee's--I did no more than stumble over it and finally expose it to the light of day."

I, for one, am grateful for Carhart's "stumbling," which has not only renewed my own interest in the Battle of Gettysburg, but has also provided me with a better understanding of that fateful day of July 3, 1863, when the balance of power in the Civil War shifted on the sacrifice of more than 5,000 men.

For more information on "Lost Triumph," visit the author's Web site at tomcarhart.net.

MICHAEL AUBRECHT of Spotsylvania County is the author of "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" and "Christian Cavalier: The Spiritual Legacy of J.E.B. Stuart." Visit his Web site at angelfire.com/ny5/pinstripepress.

Last edited on Thu Sep 8th, 2005 03:27 pm by MAubrecht

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