Sunday, June 29, 2008

A New Volume in the Gettysburg Library

One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg
and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia
July 4-14, 1863

By Eric J. Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi and Michael F. Nugent

Gettysburg. Say it and one is immediately reminded of the cataclysmic three day battle between the Army of the Potomac, commanded by George Meade, and the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E. Lee. Three days, July 1-3, 1863, that changed American History forever. Thousands of books and articles have been written about the battle which took place in the tiny hamlet of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I dare say you could fill an entire room in a library with nothing about books devoted to this one battle alone.

But what happened after the battle? Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg, and Meade’s failure to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia before it crossed the Potomac River to the safety of Virginia is sometimes given the briefest of mentions, but more often is treated as a single chapter, or epilogue in a work covering the battle or the whole of the Gettysburg Campaign. Books devoted entirely to the retreat itself can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Eric J. Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi and Michael F. Nugent have successfully corrected this omission from the historical library with their book, “One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863.” Drawing on a wealth of first hand accounts: letters & diaries, many of which until now have remained unpublished for 145 years, as well as contemporary newspaper articles and previously published primary and secondary sources, the trio of authors have written a dynamic and engaging volume, that is easily read and hard to put down.

During its retreat the Army of Northern Virginia clashed in nearly two dozen skirmishes & major engagements with the Army of the Potomac, including fighting at Granite Hill, Monterey Pass, Hagerstown, Williamsport, Funkstown, Boonsboro and Falling Waters. There was so much fighting going on between the opposing forces that Privet L. T. Dickinson of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry to described the ten day retreat as “one continuous fight.”

The book covers in detail the movements of the armies; however the first chapter is devoted entirely to Imboden’s “Wagon Train of the Wounded,” which I found compelling to read.

Mead has often been accused of letting Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia slip from his grasp at the moment when he had the ability to crush them in the palm of his hand. After the titanic three day struggle on the fields of Gettysburg, was Meade derelict in not following up on his victory? Did he move too slowly or too cautiously? Could Meade have done more? Or was the blue-clad Army of the Potomac as used up as their brothers clad in butternut and gray? From the title of their book alone, the authors dispel nearly 145 years of finger pointing, and accusations and in their conclusion they give a fair and balanced view of exactly who, if any one, was at fault.

Included at the end of the book are two driving tours: The Retreat from Gettysburg and The Wagon Train of the Wounded, both contain GPS coordinates and detailed driving directions so the reader can follow in the footsteps of history. Of course, if you want the full experience, I’d encourage you to don a wool uniform, strap on a backpack, pick up your rifle and walk the routes in the ninety degree heat of July. If you chose to do so I’ll wave at you from the comfort of my air conditioned car as I drive by.

Are there too many books about the Gettysburg Campaign? In a word, yes. Is there still anything left unwritten about the campaign & battle? Absolutely, and this book is but one example. It is a must have for any student of the Civil War, and especially for a student of the Gettysburg Campaign.

1 comment:

Theodore P. Savas said...

Hi Jim

Thanks for taking the time to read this important new book and write such a thoughtful review.

One Continuous Fight is an amazing work, as readers around the country are just beginning to discover. How could others have bypassed such fertile ground for so many decades?

And regarding the tours: Someone just called our office to thank us for the GPS coordinates and route information. He drove it with his son after picking up a copy at a Gettysburg shop.

Best Regards,

Theodore P. Savas
Savas Beatie LLC
989 Governor Drive, Suite 102
El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
916.941.6896 (Voice)
916-941.6895 (Fax)

Join us online for some publishing blogspeak at and