Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen
St. Martin’s Press, 2003, 463 pp., $24.95
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Civil War fiction has gone through many different interpretations and most of them have been well received. This work on Gettysburg seemed a bit misplaced upon first reading it, however. I will admit that if I had no interest in the Civil War and wanted to simply read a quick book on the war, I would have enjoyed this one. It was action packed and fast moving and filled with deaths of people who did not truly die at Gettysburg which begs the question: why is this book subtitled a Novel of the Civil War? While Gettysburg may be an enjoyable read on the same level of The Da Vinci Code, it stands in the far reaches of respectable Civil War fiction and should not be considered anything but an alternate history novel gone terribly wrong.
Newt Gingrich is the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and has authored many books both fiction and non fiction. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Tulane University and is a professor at the National Defense University. He is also the longest serving teacher of the Joint War Fighting course for Major Generals. Dr. William R. Forstchen has authored more than thirty works of historical fiction, science fiction, young-adult works and traditional historical research. He gained his Ph.D. with a specialization in military history from Purdue University and is an Associate Professor of history at Montreat College, North Carolina.
In all honesty, the book begins fine with a general premise of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia heading towards the small borough of Gettysburg. But the book takes a turn when the fighting breaks out on July 1st and both authors begin taking turns killing people who did not truly die. The most disturbing death in all of the book to me was Brigadier General Adelbert Ames since he was the longest living officer from the North. The idea to take the Battle of Gettysburg and create an alternate history novel is something which has been done before but Gingrich and Forstchen takes things in an extreme direction. It seems as though both authors have lined up the major Union generals and begins picking them off one by one leading the Confederate army to victory. To clear the record, I do not have a problem with alternate history; in fact I think it creates another sense of historical thinking. However, to call this work a novel of the Civil War is false advertising. There are two other works in this series but I do not think I will be able to stomach such a work if they are on the same caliber as this one. On a technicality, alternate history belongs on the shelf with Science Fiction, which Forstchen has written in the past. Harry Turtledove has written Civil War alternate history before and has handled it with better grace than Gingrich and Forstchen.
I do not recommend this book at all if you want Civil War fiction. I also do not recommend any books in this series due to the careless nature of the writing style in the alternate history genre. This book stands as a testament to the Lost Cause historiography .