Mike's Reviews > Cain at Gettysburg

Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters
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Mar 30, 12

bookshelves: acw
Read from March 21 to 30, 2012

Much like Shaara’s "The Killer Angels", Peters’ "Cain at Gettysburg" is a fictional account of the battle of Gettysburg. But while there are similarities between the two books, they are definitely not the same. While there are several scenes in Cain at Gettysburg that are very reminiscent of "The Killer Angels", utilizing similar dialogue, one can only assume these are actual quotes from the participants that were used by both authors. Shaara’s narrative concentrated on Chamberlain’s 20th Maine and James Longstreet. Longstreet is also central to Peters’ book, but the fight at Little Round Top happens off camera and Chamberlain’s name is never mentioned. George Meade serves to represent the Federals here. Unlike Shaara, Peters spends much time looking at the common soldier, specifically the men of the 26th North Carolina and 26th Wisconsin. The reader sees that Gettysburg was a battle between soldiers as much as between generals. Peters also attempts to resurrect the reputation of Meade, who was the first union general to beat the Army of Northern Virginia, but because of political attacks by Dan Sickles and a relatively early death, he is usually lumped with the earlier commanders of the Army of the Potomac and is criticized for allowing Lee to escape rather than being lauded for beating him in the first place. Peters also attempts to do some justice for the Federal 11th Corps, nicknamed the “Flying Dutchmen” after Chancellorsville. The Corps, made up primarily of German immigrants, was smashed by Jackson’s flank attack and although some of the regiments put up a stout defense, they are remembered for running rather than fighting. There retreat on the first day of Gettysburg seemed to add to their poor reputation, but their fighting retreat allowed the army to establish defensive positions on Cemetery Ridge, without which the entire army would have been forced to retreat.

If the book has a flaw, I believe it is the author continually hitting the reader over the head with the idea that Longstreet knew best. If only Lee had listened to Longstreet’s numerous entreaties to move around the flank, all would have been well. Obviously this is a fictionalized account and no one knows exactly what conversations transpired between Lee and Longstreet but there is little evidence that Longstreet pressed his point as often as the author has made it appear.
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