By Rick Palsgrove
The Civil War is one of the most studied wars in American history and to get a feel of the dramatic events of this war that took place from 1861-65, one is well served to visit one of its many preserved battlefields.
A new book about the war by historians James Hessler and Wayne Motts, “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History,” (published by Savas Beatie LLC) is a richly detailed and thorough 310 page book that includes 31 maps and four specific tours visitors to Gettysburg, Pa., can take to learn more about Pickett’s Charge.
Motts and Hessler will give a free presentation about their new book on Aug. 15 from 3-5 p.m. at Groveport Town Hall, 648 Main St. After the presentation, the authors will sign copies of their book, which will be available for sale at a discounted price. Proceeds from the book sale go to Motts Military Museum in Groveport. For information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (614) 836-1500.
Motts is the chief executive officer at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa., and has been a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg for nearly 30 years. Hessler is a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg and is also author of the book, “Sickles at Gettysburg.”
Pickett’s Charge, named for Confederate General George Pickett, took place on the third and final day of the battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, when Confederate troops charged the Union lines across an undulating, open field. Some Confederates reached the Union lines, but Northern soldiers repulsed the attack and won the battle.
“A lot has been written about Pickett’s Charge, but there never has been a definitive tour guide where people can walk or drive around the battlefield specifically to learn about the charge,” said Motts. “We’re not attempting to rewrite the history of Pickett’s Charge, but our intent is to offer new and more information about it, including unpublished photos, the orders of battle, and human interest stories.”
Motts said the four tours outlined in the book offer a logical approach to understanding the battle and Pickett’s Charge.
“People can use the tours to fit what they are interested in about the battle,” said Motts. “You can pinpoint spots that are of interest to you, such as where one of your relatives was during the battle.”
Motts said one of the more interesting stories in the book is of Confederate Capt. William Magruder of Maryland, who was mortally wounded at Gettysburg.
“Magruder was a West Point graduate who initially was a Union officer in 1862,” said Motts. “But he changed sides and joined the Confederates. He is one of the few soldiers who fought for both the Blue and the Gray during the war.”
Motts added that at the Aug. 15 presentation about the book at Groveport Town Hall, he will tell the stories of two men who moved to Groveport after the Civil War who participated in Pickett’s Charge as members of the Confederate Army.
When asked why the battle of Gettysburg holds a special fascination for people while the Union Army’s victory at Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, which took place a the same time, does not, Motts said, “Because Abraham Lincoln did not go to Vicksburg to give an address that ever since then every school kid has learned.”
Motts said General Ulysses Grant’s army’s capture of Vicksburg was an important strategic victory while the Union’s win at Gettysburg was an important moral victory.
“The two battles were twin disasters for the Confederacy and it was at Gettysburg where Lincoln talked about there being a ‘new birth of freedom,’” said Motts.
Motts also noted the press during the Civil War “was very eastern-centric” and often Union victories in the west were under-reported and thus generally not as well known as battles in the east.
Along those same lines, Motts said Pickett’s Charge has also captured people’s imaginations more than other notable charges during the war, such as the Confederate charge at Franklin, Tenn., in 1864 (which some historians call the Pickett’s Charge of the west); and the Union Army’s multiple valiant, but futile, frontal attacks at Fredericksburg, Va., in 1862.
“There were many charges like Pickett’s Charge during the war, some even bigger,” said Motts. “But Gettysburg is seen as a turning point in the war where a battle like Fredericksburg is not. Gettysburg has always been a focal point of the war. Just look to the 75th anniversary soldiers’ reunion at Gettysburg in 1938 where there are images of veterans of the North and South shaking hands over the wall. Not all those soldiers fought at Gettysburg, but Gettysburg became a symbol to all of them.”