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Observing Hancock at Gettysburg: The General's Leadership Through Eyewitness Accounts, by Paul E. Bretzger

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016. Pp. x, 246. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 0786499788.

Hancock’s Finest Hour

In what is his first book, Bretzger takes a close look at the role of Winfield Scott Hancock in the Battle of Gettysburg, certainly the general’s finest moment. He naturally opens with a short overview of the Hancock’s background, career in the ante bellum army, and his impressive service in the first two years of the Civil War which brought him a major generalcy and command of the Second Army Corps.

Bretzger then takes on Hancock’s activities at Gettysburg, devoting two chapters to July 1st, six to the 2nd, four to the 3rd. His approach is interesting, and rather unique. Bretzger draws on eyewitness accounts – often from several different participants –for particular incidents to gain as much perspective as possible as he discusses the general’s options and actions. At particularly critical moments he often pauses to analyze decisions and controversies about the events.

While Hancock’s role in stemming “Pickett’s Charge” on July 3rd is very well known, Bretzger’s analysis makes an excellent case that while the general was indispensable on all three days, his “finest hour” arguably occurred on July 2nd, when he set in motion the Union response to the devastating Confederate assault that shattered the Third Army Corps, suggesting that this was the true turning point in the battle, a matter with which a number of historians have tended to agree.

Although marred by a lack of maps, this will prove invaluable reading for anyone seriously interested in Gettysburg.

Note: Observing Hancock at Gettysburg is also available as an e-pub, ISBN 978-1-4766-2377-1.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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