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Title pageAbout the Book

Young, Jesse Bowman.

The Battle of Gettysburg; a Comprehensive Narrative, by Jesse Bowman Young, an Officer in the Campaign; with Maps, Plans and Illustrations.


New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1913.



In 1913, a year before his death at the age of sixty-nine, Jesse Bowman Young published his most popular and best received work, The Battle of Gettysburg: A Comprehensive Narrative. As a teenaged soldier, Young had been involved in many of the most important engagements of the American Civil War, from Fort Donelson and Shiloh in the west, to Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville in Virginia. By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, he was serving on the staff of General Daniel E. Sickles as a lieutenant commanding a divisional provost marshal's unit. In this role, he took part in many of the historic actions on the second day of the battle, including the fight in the Peach Orchard. Following the war and his graduation from Dickinson College in 1868, Young took up a post for several years as a circuit minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Adams County and thereby became even more familiar with the Pennsylvania battleground and its environs. He also knew many of the local men of the Battlefield Memorial Association who were beginning to create what was to become a "national battlefield." In his later years, Young had given a lecture - "Echoes from Round Top" - and in 1894 had published his war memoirs, titled What a Boy Saw in the Army. Additionally, he had taken the time to explore Confederate records and remembrances. Eminently qualified among the surviving participants, equipped with most of the released statistics and the memoirs of the leading soldiers, and mindful of the coming semi-centennial of the great battle, the retired pastor and editor set out to chronicle the campaign with a "fresh eye."

Young divides his work into three large sections. In the first, which he calls "Preliminary Survey," he discusses the motives for and the results of the invasion. Young sees the effort as more political than strategic. Although the invasion did stave off a Union advance on Richmond, the main motives, Young contends, were to bring the war to the North, stir up opposition to the conflict across the Union, and win foreign recognition for the Confederacy. All these efforts failed and were ultimately counter-productive, since the North rallied, the Army of the Potomac proved itself in battle, and the Confederacy became engulfed in an exclusively defensive battle from then on. Other chapters in this section note the main contribution to the Union effort that July from Pennsylvania generals and units, including commanding officer George Meade, defending their home state. He also highlights the numerous New York regiments and their leaders who, with the Pennsylvanians, made by far the heaviest concentration of troops engaged on the Union side. Perhaps the most valuable chapter for the uninitiated in this first part of the book is Young's thoughtful outline of the entire battle from start to finish.

The middle portion of the book provides the detailed narrative of the battle. Young covers important developments like the absence of Stuart's cavalry from direct contact with Lee, the removal of Hooker from command and his replacement with Meade, and the role spies played in the early days of the invasion. He also notes in an aside that the battle may very well have been fought at Cashtown rather than Gettysburg. He posits that Lee would probably have been victorious there, his forces being on better ground, and adds that this would have been a most unfortunate location in any case - that a pivotal struggle to save the Union would have been named for the "Almighty Dollar." Much of the narrative is taken up then with the examination of the actions and reputations of the generals involved. He defends Buford for his actions on the first day, and credits Sickles with blunting Longstreet's attack and saving the Union line on the second. Army of Northern Virginia leaders receive less defense; Ewell missed an opportunity that surely would not have eluded "Stonewall" Jackson, and Lee's frontal attack on the final day went as Lee planned it and was doomed from the start. He declines to enter into a lengthy debate over whether Meade failed by not pursuing the enemy after the battle, concluding that probably "prudence was best."

The final section, called "The Opposing Armies - En Masse And In Detail," demonstrates some of the great value of Young's account. Throughout the book Young gives brief biographies of the officers he names, following their progress during the war and following it. Maps and illustrations of the main areas of battle further illuminate the story. This third section of the book is dedicated to a series of appendices, ranging from a detailed and complete set of biographies of the West Point graduates of both sides - 936 were participants and one fifth were killed - to complete rosters of the Armies of the Potomac and of Northern Virginia engaged, with losses by unit, including the names of fallen officers. There is a list of states involved and the number of men contributed as well as a valuable day-by-day itinerary of the movements of the Army of the Potomac between June 25 and July 2.

Jesse Bowman Young's comprehensive treatment of the Battle of Gettysburg in this work, along with his own 1894 memoirs, provide a useful set of perspectives on the Civil War at a time when many of its younger veterans, now in old age, were continuing to reflect on the great adventure of their youth. Young, by 1913, was a well-respected and well-known retired clergyman and editor in the Methodist Episcopal Church with forty years of service behind him. As with many of his comrades and his surviving contemporaries, the eventful years of the great civil struggle never ceased to influence his life and his activities. His narrative of the three most famous and dangerous days of his life is valuable not only for its completeness and treasure house of detail, but also for its glimpse into the mind of one reflecting in old age on the memories of youth and battle.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.


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