Book Review: “The Bullets Flew Like Hail”: Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, from McPherson’s Ridge to Culp’s Hill


by James L. McLean Jr.

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2023. Pp. xx, 220. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1611216672

Cutler's Brigade at Gettysburg

First published in 1987, this third edition of James McLean Jr.’s classic account of the men from New York, Pennsylvania, and Indiana who fought in Lysander Cutler's brigade at Gettysburg draws on a wealth of primary sources, and is liberally seasoned with quotations from participants, allowing their words to tell us what they saw and felt.

McLean chronicles the history of this famous brigade from its origins, follows its deployment to Pennsylvania in July 1863, and its march to the "hallowed ground" at Gettysburg. He give us a critical look at the brigade's actions and the experiences of the ordinary soldiers who comprised it. There are little profiles of many of the men and their roles during the brigade's fighting on July 1, 1863.

While the book is primarily concerned with the role of the 76th, 95th, and 147th New York Volunteers, the 14th New York State Militia (usually known as the 14th Brooklyn or the 84th New York), the 56th Pennsylvania, and the 7th Indiana, Mclean pays careful attention to the Confederate side – the brigades of James Archer, Joseph Davis, Alfred Iverson, Junius Daniels, and Alfred Scales – that Cutler’s brigade fought with, which adds considerable perspective, creating a more complete picture of what happened that day.

Cutler’s brigade distinguished itself during at critical moment in the Battle of Gettysburg, sustaining over a thousand casualties, and McLean shows how its desperate fighting that morning helped save the essential high ground upon which the battle would be “fought—and won”—over the next two days.

McLean touches on some controversy. He argues that “if Cutler’s men had not been thrown forward in such a hasty and hazardous manner in assisting Hall’s Battery with holding the line” that morning, the story of the Battle of Gettysburg would have been different”. Cutler’s tenacious resistance, together with the appearance of the celebrated Iron Brigade, prevented the Confederate progress long enough for other Union troops to reach the field. He also offers a credible explanation as to why the Iron Brigade's 6th Wisconsin claimed to have single-handedly captured Joe Davis’s Confederate brigade in the railroad cut, an honor also claimed by the 14th Brooklyn and the 95th New York, noting that by war's end the Iron Brigade had won the war of words, depriving Cutler’s Brigade from recognition for their role in the day's fighting.

This new edition includes revisions to the original text, additional footnotes, and corrections.

Shortcomings are few, a credit to the authors thoroughness, and do not detract from this fine history, one which will help the novice in a plain, straight forward style, yet is very thorough, and a valuable resource for scholars and students on the battle of Gettysburg

This reviewer highly recommends this work.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include When Hell Came To Sharpsburg, Lost Causes, Six Miles From Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", James Montgomery: Abolitionist Warrior, Cedar Mountain to Antietam, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Count the Dead, All Roads Led To Gettysburg, Unhappy Catastrophes, The Heart of Hell, The Whartons' War, Gettysburg’s Southern Front , Civil War Monuments and Memorials, The Tale Untwisted, The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, The Civilian War, The Carnage was Fearful, The Civil Wars of Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I, Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, and Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1.



Note: "The Bullets Flew Like Hail" is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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