Edward G. Longacre: Unsung Hero of Gettysburg. The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg

Edward G. Longacre
Ed. Potomac Books Inc
pp. 316

The author of this interesting essay, Edward G. Longacre (born December 22, 1946) worked extensively as a historian at theUS Department of Defense materializing his research activities in several volumes on the American Civil War; he has won several awards and among his books are the following: Fitz Lee: A Military Biography of Major General Fitzhugh Lee, CSA (Bison Books, 2010), The Sharpshooters: A History of the Ninth New Jersey Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War (Potomac Books, 2017), e The Cavalry at Gettysburg (University of Nebraska Press, 1986).

In this accurate biography Longacre draws an articulated portrait of General David McMurtrie Gregg (April 10, 1833 - August 7, 1916) one of the most able and successful commanders of the Civil War but also one of the lesser known generals of whom, in many reconstructions, it is almost lost track. The intent of the book is, therefore, commendable: to recover the life and deeds of a general who has always operated in ways very distant from those of his other peers driven by the search for general applause, limelight and glory.

Graduated in 1885 a West Point, where he will meet several fellow soldiers who would later become important and apical presences in the context of military operations, as a second lieutenant in a regiment of dragoons David McMurtrie Gregg had his baptism of fire in a difficult battle in which his unit was greatly outnumbered in front of the redskins; but it is above all in the context of the Civil War that the captain and later colonel of cavalry David McMurtrie Gregg expressed all his leadership and strategy skills. Among the battlefields in which he was engaged together with his cavalrymen are those of Chancellorsville, Bristoe, Overland and Petersburg, but his name remains linked to the various phases of the battle of Gettysburg (July 1863) and to the reorganization and command of the corps of cavalryArmy of the Potomac. The action which is remembered and which occupies an important part of the book signed by Edward G. Longacre is that of July 3, 1863 when in Gettysburg, together with General George Armstrong Custer's unit, he managed to counter the attack of the Confederates commanded by General James Ewell Brown Stuart in the right flank and rear of the Union Army.

The judgment of historians on the actions and on the way to interpret the command role of General David McMurtrie Gregg are almost unanimous in underlining his composure, theunderstatement and the ability to combine analysis with action based on solid knowledge and experience developed over many years of service, even if some have criticized the last moment, when the general decided to leave the army : “On January 25, 1865, three weeks after returning from his vacation, General Gregg sat down at his portable desk in his headquarters tent and wrote a letter to Army Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas: 'having served over three years continuously as field commander of the Army of the Potomac cavalry', he wrote, 'at this point I deem it imperative to be present at home in order to give my personal attention to pressing private duties and business, therefore I can no longer defer the request to get my leave from the service” (p. 236). In fact, the last months of 1864 seem to have left an unconstructive feeling in the general's mind: “as the eminent military historian Russel F. Weigley has noted, David McMurtrie Gregg retired 'when circumstances deprived cavalry of the spectacular qualities so often evidenced in other periods and other areas of warfare'” (p.213).

In reporting and commenting on this and other important passages in the general's life, Edward G. Longacre knows how to maintain a commendable balance in his biographical writing, also quoting and making explicit those who saw in General David McMurtrie Gregg a not exactly brilliant figure. However, in the pages of this full-bodied volume, albeit in the background, there remains a decisive global appreciation for this figure of soldier who emerges as an exemplary figure of a person who has dedicated all of himself to army service.

To get a broader view of the generals who led the troops of theUnion you can consult the book Lincoln's Generals, edited by Gabor S. Boritt (Bison Books, 2010).

Andrea Castiello d'Antonio