Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Little Round Top A Detailed Tour Guide by Garry E. Adelman

Gettysburg is arguably the most-visited Civil War battlefield in the United States. Therefore, there are a lot of books written about it and one subsection of those books are battlefield guides—books that take all or part of the conflict and help the reader/tourist understand the fighting on a more detailed level.

If you visit Gettysburg regularly—and I do—then at a certain point you want books that will take you to a certain section of the battle and walk you through the action step by step. “Little Round Top” is one of these books, and it's definitely highly recommended.

Adelman looks at the fighting on Little Round Top from a chronological perspective, rather than by walking across the top of the hill that sits at the eye of the so-called fishhook formation created by General Meade to defend at Gettysburg. Therefore, while a person walking along with the book may be a bit flummoxed by why they start at one end of the hill, move to the other, and then back again, (especially if it's ninety plus degrees and they have a hernia) the logic becomes clear as you read the text.

Fighting in a Civil War battle is never clean and neat, with a row of fighting moving left to right. It's a chaotic mess occurring—at least hopefully if you're the attacking party—several places at once. In the case of the fighting at Little Round Top, there's a need to get the perspective of General Warren first. Adelman helps you get into the mindset of those there at the time by telling you what Warren saw from the same spot that you are standing on.

From there, it's a bit of a walk to get over to the scene of the fighting made famous by the movie Gettysburg, namely Chamberlain's 20th Maine. Adelman walks you through the fighting by that famous regiment as well as its neighboring units, who actions were no less heroic—they just didn't get the top billing when the cameras rolled.

In this general area, there's a bit of nice commentary on the changing nature of the battlefield park. Sometimes we tend to think that the park comes into place whole, protecting things as they looked and nothing about it needs to be changed. Well, that's completely untrue. After all, there weren't neat paved roads, fences decay over time, and of course there's the constant threat of vandalism. Adelman helps the user of this guide understand the changing face of Little Round Top, winding it seamlessly into the narrative of the battle itself.

While the majority of the fighting did occur near Chamberlain's men, Adelman makes sure we know about the other troops involved that day. While their fighting was not quite as intense, other troops plugged the gap in the Union Line, preventing the Confederates from enacting their planned flanking maneuver. Warren grabbed troops from wherever he could, and by the end of the day (and the end of the walking tour), troops from New York and Pennsylvania manned the hill and kept the Confederates at bay, even doing a bit of late-day charging to make sure the position held the night.

The last stop on the tour is the location of an old amusement park on the battlefield. I wish I were kidding. Thankfully, we'd never stop to such crass commercialism today. Of course not.

As is appropriate for a work this detailed, Adelman gets into smaller work, such as the sweeping of the lower hill or the placement of little-known batteries of artillery. He also laces the work with pictures both old and modern to help the reader make sure they are in the right place. (Very key for a few of the harder-to-access locations.) There's also a set of visual challenges, though I did not attempt them.

Even though this is a small tour guide, Adelman notates all of his sources and references, just like a more formal work, should the tourist wish to delve into the material further. It's a nice extra touch that makes this such a well-constructed book.

One word of warning should you use this book—since it is nearly 10 years old now and the Park Service is working on redoing the battlefield, you may have a bit of trouble locating some of the tour stops. My friend—who's been to Gettysburg more times than I have and that's saying something—ran into a bit of trouble here and there. Also, when you go may play a large part in how adventurous you choose to be. I got mauled in briers and gave up trying to get across the face of the hill for location 7A.

With plenty of maps for each part of the tour and just enough description to aid the reader-viewer without bogging down into minutia, “Little Round Top” is a great book for veteran Gettysburg visitors to pick up and use on their next trip to the hallowed ground my friend refers to as the promised land.

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