Barksdale's Charge: The True High Water Mark - This book was trying to kill me

Barksdale's Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 - Phillip Thomas Tucker

I can't. I can't do this. I've tried, God how I've tried. Close to fourteen days and I've not even made it through four chapters. This book is killing my love of reading. I can't do this. I give in, give up, give out.



Let me illustrate why this book is so completely a DNF for me.




I always give credit where credit is due and this author has one extremely great gift that I wish other writers had. Tucker can set up and describe a battlefield in a way that I can actually picture it. I have seen and walked Gettysburg battlefield twice, seen multiple documentaries of it, and I still need a map to get basically any battle movements. But I could see it all laid out as he described the landscape and the landmarks that would go down into history. The map they included solidified it, but I gave the author one star for being the first to give me a battlefield through words and not pictures.


And now for the longer section.




Okay, this is going to be long. I'll try to keep the various reasons short and to the point but I also want to explain why each of them set my teeth on edge every single time I encountered them.


1) First and (I hope) not a fault found in the physical copy were several minor instances of run together words and poor ebook conversion that at the second chapter were already becoming a rather insistent annoyance. There were times I had to stop and play guess the word or parse the word out of the runonconglomeration in the text. Nothing can break your flow of reading faster. Truthfully, I can usually overlook or simply not see most editing issues (why I have to have anything I type or write looked over by somebody) but these were so prevalent and of such an issue that even I couldn't overlook them.


2) The author's constant repetition of the same points in slightly different ways (nine times in the introduction, etc) rather then a genuine flow of various points had me ranting in the  I don't want to see your prowess in shaping the same argument in different phrases and ways. I want to see the argumentthat shaped the book.


3) The sheer emotionally of his argument. I'm glad I read O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln before this book because I believe the two illustrate the good and the bad of emotions in historical writing. O'Reilly clearly had a passion for what he was writing about and that was further illustrated when he read the audiobook. His passion made the book a joy (discounting the subject matter of course) to read, keeping your interest and making you care about the subject. He backed this passion up with facts, with set out examples and arguments, and overall wrote a very dynamic and historical book. Most starting this book would label what Tucker expresses as passion as well, but I disagree. I would argue that Tucker uses emotionalism rather then passion in his arguments. Passion, to me, implies a focused drive and a need to know and share as much about a subject as they can. For historians that often, though not always includes a need for the truth, facts, and though some might dispute it, a logical, scientific approach to their central argument and/or thesis. Emotionalism, on the the other hand, is how I label people, including historians, who get so caught up in their personal beliefs, feelings concerning the lost and/or victims, and arguments that they lose the facts, truths...basically what makes it history and not a narrative. I can understand having heroes, feeling pride and sorrow at the bravery shown by so many men who lost their lives, and even holding personal beliefs that are contrary to the norm. Those are all good things; that is how people connect with history and challenge what we think we know. But that should never get in the way of where the facts and your arguments lead you. That should never be your argument.


4) The first chapter was filled with sad allusions to Barksdale's inevitable future. The second chapter, while I think it was meant to introduce the road the Brigade took to Gettysburg, spent more time focusing on several soldiers who served in the group and had written down their remembrances and/or been written about. Let me stress, that is not in and of itself a bad thing. We need to look at history through the eyes of the common soldier as much as the Lees, Grants, and Barksdales. This issue here is they are all discussed in a clump, with little context and even different battles are talked about in the same sentence. And each time, the author makes pains to wax eloquently on each and every one's tragic fate...most before we even reach Gettysburg. If this had been done in a better context, it would have been very powerful and helpful. Instead, it grew stagnant, almost boring, and saccharine. I wanted to care about this deaths, as the author clearly did, but the way he set up the chapter they became an impediment. And I hate to feel that way. I hate that I was so glutted with emotion that I came to feel little for these men's brave deaths. That I cannot stand.


5) The author seems prone to redundancy of an argument rather then holding actual variety of evidence for his hypothesis.


6) My issue with the footnotes/research is two fold. One concerns the ebook I read specifically. It was clearly set up so that you could click on the footnote and be taken straight to the footnote section so you could see where the information came from. I don't know about other readers, but I'm a compulsive footnote user. I like to know where the author got his information and if most of it came from one source or multiple ones. That I could not do this only annoyed me further. My second issue however, is on the research in general. Part of that is that I don't know where much of this comes from, though that is not all bad as much of this seems to come from primary sources that have probably not been used often and if they were scans, I also don't have a problem with the fact that they came from the internet per say though I feel that to truly get a feel for a primary source you should at least see the physical copy once if not try to use it. I feel that the author actually did a very thorough job researching and that this was a part of his problem. If you have never researched for a historical paper, particularly from a primary source, you can have no idea the amount of interesting and amazing minutia you can find. Much of it, while you might wish to share all of it, will simply not be necessary or even should be included in the paper/book. This is a fact. The author of Johnny Tremain wrote the book because she'd researched for her Revere biography so much she had a bounty of excess information. This is one of the reasons her fictional book is so good. Tucker's book comes across as if he became so lost in his research, he couldn't distill the information down into what he needed. Again, his emotions got the way of his historical point of view. Other reviews mention a need for better editing and I agree, not just in grammar and spelling, but an editor would have helped considerably with this problem as well.


7) The author fervently argues his thesis in the introduction (using the constant repetition and redundancy mentioned above) but focuses said thesis on only one interpretation of the term 'High Water Mark' - physical distance/movement - while ignoring or derisively dismissing other quite frankly valid interpretations. One of the major ones would be 'High Water Mark' in terms of momentum of the army. Pickett's charge was really the last time the South ever truly fought on the offensive. The rest of the war was almost exclusively focused on defense and solely living the fight another day. The author's almost ridicule of not only the men of Pickett's charge but the 20th Maine's actions as well bordered on nearly offensive at times. While I agree that focus on sections of the war and people all but forgotten by most historians is very important and that there are even times that we need to revise commonly held beliefs, this is simply not accomplished by focusing your efforts on attack the belief rather then actually forming a compelling argument.




To finish this long review, this book concerns a subject that has been largely ignored, Barksdales's Charge on the second day of Gettysburg, and is, to some degree, well researched. However, all the research in the world can not help you if your presentation is less then ideal, your hypothesis is wild and largely unsubstantiated by more then derision of other theories, and you allow the minutia of your research to overwhelm the salient points of your facts. This could have been a great book; it simply wasn't.


If you'd like to read a review of the book by a history professor. His review is kinder to the book then mine is, but then he a) finished it and b) knows the source material better then I do. However, many of my problems with this book are mentioned in his concerns about the book, so obviously I'm not just seeing things. Civil War News Oct. 2013 Book Review