First, Cullen is the first reviewer to reflect on Guelzo’s work as a military historian. As some of you know, Guelzo made his bones as an intellectual and religious historian before he turned toward writing trade books about the Civil War.
Second, Cullen defends Guelzo’s literary style in light of David Blight’s recent criticism in The New York Times.
Here is a taste of Cullen’s review:
Guelzo delivers the goods you expect with a book like this: an overview that sets the stage, a blow-by-blow account of the fighting, thumbnail sketches of the principals, counterfactual assessments of the might-have-beens. We get lots of active verbs: regiments and brigades don’t simply attack; they “lunge,” “bang”or “slap” each other. In his recent review of the book in the New York Times, David Blight criticized Guelzo for this, invoking the great John Keegan’s complaint about a “’Zap-Blatt-Banzai-Gott im Himmel-Bayonet in the Guts’ style of military history.” I take the point. But overall I have to say that Guelzo’s approach animates his narrative without really trivializing his subject. Indeed, Guelzo uses numbers to suggest the gravity of the three-day battle, noting that in the most conservative estimate, the damage the Army of Northern Virginia was the equivalent of two sinkings of the Titanic, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888 and two Pearl Harbors — and two and a half times the losses taken by Allied armies in Normandy from D-Day through August of 1944. Union losses were comparable.