James A. Hessler
Savas Beatie, 2009, 490, $32.95
Image courtesy of civilwarobession.com
When the name Dan Sickles is mentioned anywhere in Civil War writing, there is either scorn or praise from those around. He is one of the most interesting characters in all Civil War history and yet he brings a sense of modernization to the whole thing. James A. Hessler has brought a new study into the realm of Dan Sickles by looking at his actions during the Gettysburg Campaign but not without looking at what his past had brought him.
James A. Hessler is a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg National Military Park and has taught some Gettysburg related courses at the local community college, Harrisburg Area Community College and has also spoken for the Gettysburg Foundation. He has also published articles for both Gettysburg Magazine and American Civil War. He is a favorite of Civil War Roundtables and has a new book coming out soon about Pickett’s Charge which he wrote with Wayne Motts.
I am very grateful that my first real exposure to Dan Sickles was through Hessler’s book back when I first became interested in the Civil War. While researching the many other biographies on the man, I found that the older ones tended to hail him as a hero. But Hessler’s work does not demonize the man, but paints a clear picture as to what happened with this man’s life and what he did during the Battle of Gettysburg. I do not support what Dan Sickles did during the battle and I know that the debate still rages on today as to whether Sickles Salient was necessary or not. But Hessler takes us on a journey through the life of Dan Sickles opening with the most famous story about the man before the war began. It was considered the crime of the century when Sickles killed Philip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, for having an affair with his wife. The amazing connections with the War of 1812 and Dan Sickles made me feel that this country has one history instead of just periods of time defined by the war the country was fighting. Dan Sickles had breached that divide and then placed himself into the political realm of the American Civil War when he had Edwin Stanton defend him at his trial. The constant connections of Sickles and the world is truly amazing. As the narrative, which is quite excellent, moves on, there are moments when you wonder how large this man’s ego was. I’m sure he could have given George McClellan a good fight over who’s ego was larger.
For those of you wondering, I did not get the impression that Hessler was a supporter of Sickles in this book. On the contrary; I felt as though Hessler wrote an evenly supported narrative and presented the facts without any sort of spin in any of the writing. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the high command at Gettysburg or anyone interested in great reading of the Civil War. I’m sure that many Sickles biographies will come and go, but this one is going to stand throughout all of time as the answer to the age old question about the character and actions of Sickles at Gettysburg.