Retreat from Gettysburg

Retreat from Gettysburg is the beautiful description by Kent Masterson Brown about the notorious attack of the Federal Army by Lee in Gettysburg for three days in July 1863. Surprisingly, Lee was unsuccessful and retreated to Virginia. Considerable debate had occurred on the reasons for the success of Meade and the loss of Lee. Many wonder why Meade failed to follow up with his success at Gettysburg and allowed Lee to escape with basic first aid. The heavy rains that stared on July 4 had been cited as one possible reason for this. Brown had tried to present the reasons behind the invasion of Gettysburg in the north by Lee, the action of the three days and the details of the retreat and the logistical problems Lee and his army overcame before they returned to the Confederacy. It could be stated that Brown had definitely succeeded in his effort to bring out the details of an intriguing and famous incident in the Civil War.

The author points out that Lee intended the attack on Gettysburg by Lee only as a major foraging action but it turned out to be a huge battle. In spite of the appalling losses, particularly in the ranks of the officers of the Northern Virginia Army, Lee succeeded in retreating safely and in replenishing adequate amount of food stores and supplies to see the army through the winter. However, there is considerable speculation about the lack of enough number of shoes in the army of Lee amid rumors that the shoes brought about the attack in the first place.

Brown takes us through a riveting journey of escape and pursuit across mountains and swollen streams to the banks of the Potomac and beyond. Lee managed to maneuver not only his damaged army but ensured the safe movement of huge numbers of horses and livestock, along with vast quantities of supplied ‘purchased’ in Pennsylvania. Brown describes how the retreat was able to bring back more than 60,000 cattle, sheep and hogs, 20,000 horses, 6,000 wagons full of hay, grain and flour and significant quantities of iron bars, steel sheets and coal, along with thousands of minor items.

The Federal Army made a hot pursuit of the fleeing force of Lee and reclaimed some portion of the captured supplies. The rearguard of the Confederate Army of Lee was stopped with its back to the river. Still, the forces of Lee managed to escape through a pontoon bridge, in spite of constant attacks. When the major portion of the army had retreated through the bridge, the bridge was cut adrift. A good number of soldiers got stuck on the other side but some of their colleagues rescued them by row boats. The Army of the Northern Virginia safely made it to back to home with a first aid kit.

The entire presentation of the actual happenings during the 3 day battle and the ensuing retreat by Brown is an experience of enjoyable reading. The author had included several quotations and anecdotes from actual participants to add to the reality of the trials and tribulations of the army of Lee in retreat. War first aid The chapters on the crossing of South Mountain and on the final stages of retreat are powerful and absorbing. Brown vividly brings out the life out there by the army of Lee in retreat and enthralls the readers with his engrossing style of writing. The only negative aspect in the entire book is the maps that are in muddled in monochrome. Color maps would have enhanced the appeal of the book. Otherwise, the enchanting book by Brown ranks among the best books on Civil War.