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Why did the South lose at Gettysburg?
"Lost Triumph," by Tom Carhart, presents a refreshing study of the Battle of Gettysburg that will leave many seasoned historians re-evaluating their own convictions. By Michael Aubrecht

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Date published: 8/13/2005

LOST TRIUMPH: LEE'S REAL PLAN AT GETTYSBURG AND WHY IT FAILED, by Tom Carhart, Ph.D. Putnam Publishing Group. 288 pages. $25.95.

M Y OWN OBSESSION with Civil War history began in 1978 when, at the age of 6, my parents took me on a trip to the national military park at Gettysburg, Pa. It was my first introduction to the War Between the States, and as our weekend progressed, the tales of these brave men and their three-day battle captivated me as nothing had before. What had started off as a simple family vacation changed my life forever, as Gettysburg left a remarkable impression that remains to this very day.

Over the years, I have read stacks of books on the subject. Unfortunately, very few have provided any original insight. Most have presented the same events over and over, while drawing identical conclusions. As a result, the explanation for the North's victory and the South's defeat has become rather commonplace. The two reasons that are most widely accepted as determining the outcome of the battle are the Union's tactical advantage (due to the occupation of the high ground) and the absence of J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry on the first day of fighting. Although these facts provide both logical and believable answers, other questions still remain.

Most prominent is the mysterious rationale behind the desperate and disastrous charge by Pickett on the third day that resulted in massive Confederate casualties and the subsequent retreat of all Southern forces. For years, many historians (including me) have reluctantly accepted the notion that Robert E. Lee was the unfortunate victim of multiple circumstances that were beyond his control. Others have accused the general of sporting a sense of invincibility that ultimately played into the hands of his more cautious adversary, George Meade.

Inevitably, one must ask oneself how a commander as brilliant as Lee could tactically blunder in such an epic manner. After all, the very logic of ordering an attack as doomed as Pickett's Charge is mind-boggling when judged against his previous victories. Simply stated, it doesn't make sense.

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