“If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg, Volume 1: June 3-21, 1863 by Scott L. Mingus, Sr., and Eric J. Wittenberg. Savas Beatie, 2022. Cloth, ISBN: 978-1611215847. $34.95.
Most entries in the Gettysburg Campaign’s extensive bibliography treat the events of July 1, 2, and 3, 1863. Historians have supplied readers with operational studies; accounts that focus on particular days or battle actions; regimental histories and biographies; and treatments of the battle’s aftermath and effects on local civilians. Until recently, however, relatively little attention has been paid to the movements of the massive United States and Confederate armies as they maneuvered into Pennsylvania that summer.
Enter “If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg, June 3-21, 1863, a fresh and useful, 400-plus page treatment of the first three weeks of the Gettysburg Campaign. Stalwart Civil War historians and longtime Savas Beatie authors Scott L. Mingus Sr., and Eric J. Wittenberg present here an engaging and comprehensive retelling of the critical period that preceded the conflict’s bloodiest encounter.
By no means strangers to the pre-Gettysburg portion of that consequential summer, Mingus and Wittenberg have individually and jointly contributed much to Gettysburg historiography, through previous works that covered (among other topics) J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, Jubal Early’s expedition, the battles of Brandy Station and Second Winchester, John Buford’s division, and the central role of York County, including the burning of the Wrightsville Bridge.
Now, in their usual, accessible style that has made both authors justly popular among Civil War aficionados, Mingus and Wittenberg have produced what is sure to become a modern classic in Gettysburg Campaign literature.
Following an apt foreword from the esteemed historian Jennifer Murray, the authors present a “Dramatis Personae” that supplies concise biographies of 39 Confederate and 41 Union army officers, elected leaders, government officials, and notable civilians. These paragraph-length introductions detail key military and biographical information, but also highlight character qualities pertinent to the causes and consequences of the Civil War, including slave ownership and abolitionism—strong suits for Mingus, given his long track record of researching and writing about African Americans in south-central Pennsylvania. While similar biographical segments have appeared in other Gettysburg-related works, this is perhaps the most complete and varied list yet.
Likewise, the volume concludes with an appendix, “The Itineraries of the Armies,” which offers a quick-reference guide to the day-to-day movements of both the Army of the Potomac (and its “Cooperating Forces”) and the Army of Northern Virginia.
The inclusion of such sections is a microcosm of the model that Mingus and Wittenberg have employed throughout the book. Many readers will view “If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania” as a reference work, picking it up piecemeal during research to understand events on specific dates, or toting it along on an excursion as they follow in the footsteps of the armies. Yet other readers will relish the narrative by reading the book cover-to-cover.
Nineteen chapters follow each date from June 3 through 21. They range in length from ranging six to 40 pages, with the average being about 22 pages. Plentiful images accompany the written text, with the spotlight being placed on 31 maps (some days, particularly those that featured battles, score several maps) by noted cartographer Edward Alexander. Subsections within each chapter clearly separate scene changes between settings and people within each day, from the aftermath of the Battle of Chancellorsville to the Confederate decision to maneuver northward; from the Union resolution to pursue through the aftermath of the battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville.
In this modern campaign study, Mingus and Wittenberg do not rely exclusively on traditional military sources such as the official and private correspondence by officers and soldiers; they also incorporate civilian accounts, newspaper reports, and government memorandums. As such, the authors exemplify the intersection of social, political, and military history in the cataclysmic events of 1863. “News, rumors, lies, and half-truths about the coming Confederate incursion continued to percolate north of the Potomac,” Mingus and Wittenberg inform their readers in recounting the daily affairs of the belligerents.
“The already nervous populace felt more defenseless than ever,” they continue. “The coming days would be trying for the perplexed politicians, but especially so for…tens of thousands of apprehensive Pennsylvanians. Each sunrise brought the Army of Northern Virginia that much closer to their doorsteps.”
Throughout the book, Mingus and Wittenberg ensure that the narrative is consistently moving forward. “The pieces were in place, and the march of the armies to their destiny was about to begin,” they write at one point. Shortly thereafter, the authors note, “Although they [soldiers] had no way of knowing it, their initial footsteps kicked off what would become one of the most important and written-about campaigns in history.”
Ending with the arrival of militiamen at Pennsylvania’s state capital, Harrisburg, Mingus and Wittenberg ensure the story is, “to be continued.” According to Savas Beatie, the sequel is slated for release in May 2023, and it will cover June 22-30, 1863, taking events up to the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg. As readers enjoy this incomparable study, they will anxiously await the arrival of its next volume.
Codie Eash serves as Director of Education and Museum Operations at Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He operates the independent Facebook blog “Codie Eash – Writer and Historian” and is a founding contributor to PennCivilWar.com.