Benjamin Y. Dixon, Ph.D.
Thomas Publications, 144 pp., 2007, $9.95
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When first studying the Official Records for the Gettysburg Campaign, any student may seem overwhelmed by the amount of information contained in those three volumes. The main question which beginners and even some learned students have is where to begin when studying a specific area of the battlefield. Which reports and correspondence do you use to learn more about what happened at the Oak Ridge? Or Little Round Top? Thankfully, this book lends itself to that very idea guiding readers and students to the specific areas of the books which correspond to the parts of the battlefield. In this reference book, Benjamin Dixon has done a great service to Civil War students everywhere.
While Dixon gives some narrative at the beginning of each chapter and section of the battlefield, the main meat of the book comes in the cross referencing of the reports. For example, when talking about the morning actions of the First Day of combat, he sorts the reports out by the opening of battle then moves to the Iron Brigade Defeats and Captures General Archer and then moves to Reynolds Woods and Reynold’s Death. Some of these reports may appear more than once in the separation of action showing that the person involved was at numerous events in the area at hand. General Doubleday reports in both the Iron Brigade Defeats and Captures General Archer and Reynold’s Woods and Reynold’s Death. The creation of tables and events such as this gives the student and scholar of Gettysburg a great starting point to their studies. One such area of difficulty which has stunned some early Gettysburg students is that some commanders and regiments did not write reports for the campaign. Many of the German speaking officers from General Schimmelfennig’s and Coster’s Brigade did not write reports, but some of the regiments did supply their correspondence and writings. But here in this book, there is a reference to where some of the writings are in the three heavy volumes of the Official Records. Not only does Dixon work out the three days of combat, but there is some background information which is referenced in the records and there are also chapters on the aftermath, miscellaneous events and incidents and quotes from soldiers. This gives a comprehensive collection of the close to 2,100 pages of the records.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is studying the Battle of Gettysburg and is having a hard time wrangling the Official Records. While the records themselves are organized into the corps level, it does not help in the study of the sections of the battlefield. Here in this book, we get a better idea of what to look for and where to find it. Dixon should be praised for creating a great reference book that should be owned by every Gettysburg historian and student.