by Phillip Thomas Tucker
Cambridge, Ma: Da Capo Press, 2002. 342.
Map, notes, index. $30.00. ISBN:0-306-81146-4
The fight for Little Round Top is certainly one of the most written about tactical engagements in the Civil War is. The vast majority of the attention, however, has focused on the actions of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine. Much of this, as Phillip Thomas Tucker writes, is really the result of the self-serving efforts of Chamberlain himself. Tucker takes a different tack in focusing on the 15th Alabama, the Confederate regiment that almost drove the 20th Maine from its position guarding the Union left flank at Gettysburg.
The book has a number of strengths. Giving a detailed description of the 15th Alabama’s activities on that fateful July 2, it is remarkable that the unit, having marched some 25 miles in hot July weather, could then deploy and still fight a major engagement. Also welcome is coverage of the initial stages of the 15th Alabama’s attack, which included a nasty fight against the 2nd United States Sharpshooters in order to gain control of Big Round Top. Tucker makes the point that this fight cost the 15th Alabama both time and casualties, including several key officers.
Tucker then goes into a very detailed description of the action on Little Round Top. Although he spends the vast majority of the time on the 15th Alabama and the 20th Maine, Tucker gives the other players their due. It is nice to see some attention given to the 83rd Pennsylvania, 44th New York, and the 2nd U.S. Sharp-shooters, as well as the 4th and 47th Alabama. The details on the 20th Maine and its actions are also well covered.
The book does have its flaws. Like any work that seeks to be revisionist, Tucker overstates some of his arguments. Too often he relies on the post-war statements of the 15th Alabama’s commander, William C. Oates, overlooking the fact that they were written from the perspective of bitter introspection. This leads Tucker into some serious overstatements. His argument, following Oates, that the Confederates could have won by getting artillery up on Big Round Top is simply not convincing. Likewise, Tucker overstates the possibilities for the Confederates, even if that part of Little Round Top had been taken. Attacking on a long and attenuated line and without his third division, it is difficult to see how even as hard a fighter as Longstreet could have exploited success. Certainly those elements of Evander Law’s Brigade that did fight at Little Round Top would have been completely exhausted even with a successful assault. Finally, a book that is as detailed a tactical study as this requires a good many maps. Unfortunately, there is only one map, and not a very good one at that.
These flaws notwithstanding, anyone with a detailed knowledge of or interest in Gettysburg will find much to think about in this book. It is a reasonably good addition to the already endless numbers of books written about the most famous battle in the Civil War.