Eric J. Wittenberg
Savas Beatie, 2011, 240 pgs.
Image courtesy of Gettysburg150app.com
While touring the fields of Gettysburg, there are two places a regular tourist would skip over. The first is East Cavalry Battlefield. Due to the distance from the regular field of Gettysburg, there are many who just skip the area and move onto the other portions of the battle. The other place is a location where many drive through just to get to the area of Little Round Top. This area is known as South Cavalry Field and it is largely ignored to this day. Thankfully, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions by Eric J. Wittenberg, fixes that problem as being the authoritative work on this area of the field.
Eric J. Wittenberg is the winner of the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award and is a member of the Governor of Ohio’s Advisory Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Right now he is practicing law and jokes that one day he will stop practicing and get it right. He is the greatest authority on the cavalry actions at the Battle of Gettysburg along with his other major work Protecting the Flank which was about East Cavalry Battlefield and also highly recommended. It was this work on the South Cavalry Field and the Battle of Fairfield which won him the Bachelder-Coddington Award in 1998 and has now given us a Sesquicentennial Edition with many needed additions.
Not only does this work surround itself with South Cavalry Field, but it also deals with the Battle of Fairfield and Farnsworth’s Charge. The general consensus of the battlefield is that the action ended when Longstreet’s Assault cleared. Then Longstreet held his head low and Lee admitted his fault and while that it great theater, it is not what happened. Wittenberg clearly states that the actions of the cavalry south of the field had an impact on what happened during the last hours of combat. One of the best things he mentions is that the action was really one last great push in the battle. What is also put to rest is that the only action seen on the southern end of the battlefield was done on the second d ay of battle with Little Round Top and Devil’s Den. The section of the book which deals with Farnsworth’s Charge is compelling reading along with the accounts wondering if Farnsworth shot himself to avoid capture. This myth has long been in the pantheon of Gettysburg writing and now Wittenberg has put the myth to death. Compiling accounts of many Union medics and even some Confederate writers, it is clear that Farnsworth did not shoot himself since as one of the medics put it, there were no self-inflicted wounds on the man. His coverage on the Battle of Fairfield is also well needed and will be hailed by historians all around as the finality on the engagements.
Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions is highly recommended for those who are obsessed with Gettysburg. It is a great addition to any library due to the clarification he gives to the battlefield and the areas around it. His account of the Battle of Fairfield is second to none. Let us hope that this edition never goes out of print as it will be crucial for the understanding of the battlefield for generations to come. I can only speak of high praise for Wittenberg and his work on both of his books concerning the cavalry at Gettysburg. Soon, his new work on Buford at Gettysburg will be released and it is something I am greatly looking forward to reading.