The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (1): The First Day by Timothy J. Orr, illustrated by Steve Noon

Timothy Orr provides readers with an excellent introduction to the Battle of Gettysburg, focused on the opening engagements between the Army of Northern Virginian and the Army of the Potomac. In less than one hundred pages, the book covers the origins of the campaign and operational maneuvers that led to combat at the small Pennsylvania town on 1 July 1863, explains the series of engagements that developed into a full-scale battle, and concludes by discussing the array of the forces prepared to fight the following day. Orr combines operational and tactical analysis with human interest stories of individual soldiers to provide a comprehensive description of the action. The text is augmented by a variety of period photographs and excellent maps, eleven in all, that enhance the narrative beautifully. The maps are particularly well done; some give a three-dimensional representation of the battlefield which clarifies the nature of the terrain, while all of them illustrate the action well. Steve Noon’s artwork also illustrates specific events from the days fighting, bringing color and movement to Orr’s writing.

As even casual students of Gettysburg realize, 1 July 1863 began as a meeting engagement between Confederate infantry under General Henry Heth and Federal cavalry led by General John Buford. The battle grew almost organically rather than as the result of firm command and control from the armies’ leadership. Orr does an excellent job establishing the timeline of when different units arrived on the field, placing them on the field in relation to the unfolding battle and explaining what can best be described as a chaotic series of events in a clear and concise manner. He breaks down the day’s events into discrete sections from the initial cavalry skirmish, through the development of the fighting west and north of the town from McPherson’s Ridge to Oak Ridge, the arrival and subsequent withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac’s XI Corps, the confused afternoon on Seminary Ridge followed by the Union retreat though Gettysburg, the Union forces digging in on Cemetery Hill and finally the array of opposing forces at the end of the day.

As with all Osprey campaign series books, the illustrations are excellent. Photographs of key leaders, period sketches and full-color battle scenes can be found throughout the book. The battle scenes are of particular interest. Steve Noon’s work is detailed, realistic and historically accurate. He captures key moments such as the stand of the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment on Oak Ridge, the fight at McPherson’s barn and the withdrawal of XI Corps troops from Blocher’s (Barlow’s) Knoll. An interesting addition is each of these two page illustrations is accompanied by a smaller black and white sketch of the same scene, with specific points of interest numbered and explained in accompanying notes.

Doctor Timothy Orr is well qualified to write this volume. He holds a PhD from the Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn state, teaches military history at Old Dominion University, worked at Gettysburg National Military Park and blogs about the American Civil War at Tales from the Army of the Potomac. Steve Noon likewise is the right artist to illustrate this book, having provided illustrations for over 70 Osprey titles.

I highly recommend The Battle of Gettysburg 1863: The First Day both as an introduction to the battle for new students as well as a supplemental text for more experienced readers.

This book is available at Osprey Publishing.

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