Opening shots

A couple of months ago, I was asked to read a book and provide a dustjacket comment. This is pretty common. Publishers (and authors) like to have other authorities endorse their work. It helps sell books, fills space on book jackets with supportive quotes, and add to the overall graphic appeal of the jacket. I’ve done a couple of these, and am always flattered to be asked.

The timing on this particular quote was tight, and I had to really cram to read the book. I feel honor-bound to read any book I review or endorse – that’s the right way to do it.

This one was a scramble, because it was going to press soon and they needed one more quote. I read each chapter, but my effort was more akin to speed reading than anything else. I liked the book, and I provided the needed quote.


That book is now available. It’s Eric Wittenberg’s new work on John Buford at Gettysburg, “The Devil’s To Pay,” by Savas-Beatie. Once I received a printed copy, I wanted to go back and read it again, this time for pleasure. I knew there was a great book there, and one I hadn’t fully had time to enjoy the first time around.

Now I am almost finished with it, and savoring every page.

“The Devil’s To Pay” is the culmination of decades of work on Wittenberg’s part. When I first met Eric years ago, it was at Gettysburg. He was studying John Buford and the Union cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. In the years since, he has become one of the leading chroniclers of that selfsame cavalry, recording their experiences across any number of Eastern Theater battlefields. But along the way, he always returned to Gettysburg.

This book is a joy to read, distilling all that work and knowledge into a fine tactical study. Since Buford’s stand on July 1 set the table for the entire battle to come, it deserves to be brought into the limelight. Eric Wittenberg has certainly accomplished that.

So why is this blog devoting attention to an obscure action fought outside a small, south-central Pennsylvania college town?

Simple. Because aside from “Devil” being an excellent read, any Chickamauga student will recognize the parallels between Buford’s fight on July 1, and that waged by Robert Minty and John T. Wilder on September 18, 1863.

The similarities to Minty’s fight are especially striking. Minty conducted a nearly perfect textbook example of what the modern military describes as a covering force action, and did so for many hours – from 11 am to 4 pm, a stand that was in fact longer and lonelier than Buford’s combat. In doing so, Minty and Wilder foiled Braxton Bragg’s offensive plans for September 18, and also alerted William Rosecrans to the need to change his own plans for the next day. Once again, a relatively limited action between small portions of two armies dictated the course of the main battle to come.

A few weeks past, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Eric and some other friends for a battlefield stomp – this time at Chickamauga. As you might have guessed, we focused on the cavalry. We explored Reed’s and Alexander’s Bridges, as well as places like Peavine Ridge and Peeler’s Mill. I got to show off my favorite park. We saw where the Civil War Trust has purchased important land at Reed’s Bridge, allowing for greatly expanded future interpretation of this fight in years to come.

4th US cavalry at Reed's Bridge

Over the course of that weekend, Eric mentioned the idea of writing a similar study on Minty and Wilder. I have long believed that the importance of the fighting on September 18 deserves such coverage, and also know that there is more than enough material to support such a work. While I cover Sept 18 in my own new book “A Mad Irregular Battle,” I simply couldn’t include all, or tell every story. There is more to mine here, and Eric is just the man to do it.

So here’s hoping that this project comes to fruition. One of my goals has always been to expand the Civil War community’s interest and understanding of Chickamauga. I suspect that an Eric Wittenberg study on September 18 would go a long way towards accomplishing those goals.


4 Responses to “Opening shots”

  1. Rantings of a Civil War Historian » Confirming rumors…. Says:

    […] about The Devil’s to Pay: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour on his blog today. I really appreciate those very kind words, just as I really appreciated the kind words that he […]

  2. Chris Evans Says:

    Interesting post.

    Is the project that you were thinking about doing with Wittenberg on the battles of Brice’s Cross Roads and Tupelo been put on the back burner?


  3. Dave Powell Says:

    Chris, yes. Back-burner at best. Tom Parsons just wrote a very nice work on Tupelo, and it seemed smartest not to conflict.

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