Why do we need another book on Gettysburg? First, this book by Hugh Bicheno is part of the excellent Cassell Field of battle series, which is marked by high-quality maps, data and writing. Second, the historiography of the Battle of Gettysburg has become so entrenched in popular mythology that this examination by a foreign observer serves to put the battle in a different light. Bicheno admits that his book is primarily a synthesis of earlier works by Coddington and Pfanz, but nobody really expects original research on this heavily documented subject. The main value of this book are the excellent color maps, two very detailed orders of battle and the author's insight into what occurred. Readers may not agree with everything that Bicheno asserts (I did not), but his views do stimulate new thinking about the classic battle of the American Civil War.
Gettysburg consists of fifteen chapters, beginning with the pre-battle movements into Pennsylvania. There are three chapters on the first day fighting, eight on the second day, and three on the third day. Each chapter includes a full-page color map that depicts the primary action described in that chapter - an excellent methodology. In fact, the maps are the heart and soul of this work. On the negative side, the maps lack a scale, a chronology or exact enumeration of all units depicted, so it can be difficult to relate events on one map to events on another. On the plus side, the maps are simple but accurate and Bicheno has included a number of maps on the wheat field and the peach orchard - actions usually neglected in other accounts. Finally, Bicheno ends his narrative with a concluding chapter, a bibliography and four appendices. The photographs in this volume are decent but not particularly original (oddly, there is not a single photo of the modern battlefield).
Bicheno sees his task as correcting the inherent "Lost Cause" bias that claims that Lee lost this battle due a variety of unfortunate circumstances. Instead, Bicheno asserts that Meade and the Union army WON the battle, despite the best efforts of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. The author also seeks to break the narrative of Gettysburg out of the conventional Buford-Longstreet-Chamberlain-Pickett-Armistead perspective that became entrenched by Michael Shaara's popular The Killer Angels (which completely ignored events on Culp's Hill), Bicheno is particularly persuasive when arguing which events were later considered important and why. For example, Chamberlain's defense of Little Round Top has been mythologized into one of the decisive events of the battle, but Bicheno asks why similar events like the bayonet charge of the 1st Minnesota, the stand of the 17th Maine at Plum Run or Greene's defense of Culp's Hill shouldn't be regarded in the same light. Indeed, why single out Chamberlain's 20th Maine for praise when the rest of Vincent's brigade fought just as hard for the other side of Little Round Top? In an example from the Confederate side, why does Pickett's division attract all the attention when the assault of Pettigrew's division accomplished more? Bicheno does cover all the standard episodes of the battle, but he puts them in perspective. Certainly anyone interested in Gettysburg should consider the amazing attack of Barksdale's Louisiana brigade at the Peach Orchard, just as much as Buford's or Chamberlain's actions.
One aspect of the book that will either intrigue or enrage readers is Bicheno's tendency to depict all the major characters as more or less flawed individuals (sometimes based on innuendo). In these pages, Lincoln appears as a devious politician, A P Hill has gonorrhea, Longstreet is a second-rate general who thinks he knows best, Chamberlain is a self-promoter (along with Sickles and Jubal Early), Rebel General Johnson pounds his men with a walking stick, Hancock claims credit for other officer's deeds and Lee is a listless commander, veering between apathy and bloodlust. Personally, I believe Bicheno goes too far in his interpretations, particularly in regard to his evident loathing of Lincoln. While Bicheno does bring a few obscure heroes to light - such as the Union Colonel Philippe de Trobriand on Cemetery Hill - there is too much negativism in these interpretations.
Overall, Gettysburg is a good account of the classic battle, particularly in the way that it sheds light on aspects of the fighting that are ignored in popular accounts. When you read Bicheno's account, particularly of the second day's fighting, you will see that actions on various sectors influenced each other and were not merely individual episodes. Bicheno concludes that, "it was no accident that Union reserves appeared at the right place time and again," and by linking the various sectors together in his narrative he is able to demonstrate General Meade's accomplishment in shuffling troops from one sector to another.