Thursday, May 7, 2009


By Don Ernsberger

Xlibris Corp. $34.99, 646 pages, illus.


The most celebrated aspect of the Battle of Gettysburg, and one of the most recognizable events of the entire Civil War, is the grand assault that occurred July 3, 1863, known as “Pickett’s Charge.”

This culminating confrontation took its name from Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, who commanded one of the three Confederate infantry divisions that courageously marched across open fields into a deadly firestorm. While Pickett gained great fame that day, history has neglected the commanders of the other two divisions.

As a longtime student of Pickett’s Charge, Don Ernsberger decided to rectify this oversight. “Also for Glory Muster: The Story of the Pettigrew Trimble Charge at Gettysburg,” relates why Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew and Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble and the units they led are deserving of as much renown as Pickett.

The “Also for Glory” portion of the title is a corollary to Kathy Georg Harrison’s “Nothing But Glory” that was devoted exclusively to Pickett’s division at Gettysburg. “Muster” refers to an appended list of unit rosters of Pettigrew and Trimble’s divisions that participated in the Battle of Gettysburg and commemorates those who took part in the assault July 3 - of which they comprised more than half of the entire force.

An earlier version of Mr. Ernsberger’s book did not contain the muster section. The rosters are inclusive down to company level, and identify unit casualties by date during the campaign, which Civil War researchers will find beneficial.

The historical coverage of Pickett’s Charge evolved over time into a contest for recognition among states represented in the battle, particularly between Virginia and North Carolina, whose units provided most of the troops for the assault.

Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama soldiers also played a significant role. Pickett’s brigades, all Virginians, have garnered considerable attention and the lion’s share of the acclaim. Mr. Ernsberger’s book, however, moves the spotlight off of the Virginians and places it squarely on the troops from the other four states.

Army of Northern Virginia commander Gen. Robert E. Lee planned to assault the Union lines on the third and last day of combat at Gettysburg as a follow-up to his previous attacks. The strength of his army was dwindling from heavy casualties suffered July 1 and 2. Still he was able to muster more than 12,000 men in an attempt to gain an important victory in enemy territory.

These three divisions moving in battle formation across a mile-wide field, with banners waving as on parade, caused observers on both sides to marvel at the grandeur of the sight. At the same time, all understood that a great many of these brave men would fail to return once the battle was joined.

After identifying each brigade and regiment in Pettigrew and Trimble’s divisions, the author supplies a brief history of each unit and describes their participation in the fighting on the first day at Gettysburg. Many of these regiments sustained heavy casualties while fighting to the west of the town, thereby reducing their effectiveness upon going into combat July 3. Lee’s other divisions bore the brunt of action July 2.

The bulk of the narrative, however, is reserved for the bloody encounter Mr. Ernsberger labels the Pettigrew Trimble Charge. He provides details of how the soldiers prepared for the onslaught, the waiting period while Lee’s artillery conducted an earthshaking bombardment of the Union lines, and the momentous advance across undulating acres of fertile farmland.

Once these regiments came into range, a mass of Union artillery opened up and tore gaping holes in their ranks. Thousands of Union muskets soon proliferated the carnage. The reader learns from eyewitness accounts how individuals and entire units reacted to the wholesale slaughter.

Particular attention is devoted to the key location on the battlefield, the Emmitsburg Road, with sturdy fences on either side that served as difficult hurdles. It is here, a relatively short distance from the main target up a slope to a stone wall, that Pettigrew and Trimble’s officers and men had to decide whether to risk almost certain death or lie down for protection in the sunken road.

The author provides a penetrating description of the equally hazardous attempt on the part of the Confederate survivors to extricate themselves from the deadly field of fire. Many, especially the wounded, were caught in a merciless crossfire that deprived them of an opportunity to escape alive or prevent capture.

The less than half of those who were fortunate to make it back to their lines were still faced with the unwelcome necessity to retreat from Gettysburg. Lee had to formulate a plan to withdraw his defeated army over a long distance to the Potomac River and the safety of Virginia. Maj. Gen. George G. Meade and his Union Army had other ideas, however, and the contest between these two mighty forces continued during the next 10 days.

While the reader will find the story of the lesser-known elements of Pickett’s Charge compelling, textual editing and organizational issues could be a distraction.

This is particularly true for those who wish to correlate the narrative text with the unit rosters. Roster page numbers are not provided in the Table of Contents, and the unit sequence in the order of battle and the muster portion do not coincide. Also, there are insufficient maps to guide the reader. Finally, the absence from the story of Col. John M. Brockenbrough’s brigade of Trimble’s division is left unexplained.

Despite these flaws, Mr. Ernsberger’s account of the Pettigrew Trimble Charge at Gettysburg is a much needed and gratefully acknowledged addition to our understanding of one of the key battles of the Civil War. The three years that the author devoted to researching this project was time well spent.

• Thomas J. Ryan of Bethany Beach, Del., is past president of the Central Delaware Civil War Round Table.

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