My historical novel Without Warning: The Saga of Gettysburg, A Reluctant Union Hero, and the Men He Inspired, was published in June 2020. I’m excited that it has received strong reviews on Amazon, BookBub, Goodreads, and Kirkus Reviews. One of the strengths of Without Warning is its historical accuracy. That is why it took twelve years to research and write. My goal in writing Without Warning was to write the Union version of Michael Shaara’s powerful and moving The Killer Angels. Shaara’s novel is beautifully written and is my favorite historical novel of the Battle of Gettysburg.
The strength of The Killer Angels is that it is compelling human drama, focusing on the officers and soldiers who fought the battle and the harsh challenges and fears they faced. The weakness of Shaara’s novel is that most readers, including me, believed I was reading history. But after reading A Killer Angels Companion, by D. Scott Hartwig, I learned that Shaara took considerable liberties and licenses with his characters and their actions. Scott Hartwig was Gettysburg’s National Park Service supervisory historian for twenty years.
My goal in writing Without Warning was to write an engaging historical novel based upon the historical facts. Put simply, I didn’t want Scott Hartwig to have to write A Without Warning Companion pointing out its historical inaccuracies.
I’m currently writing Without Warning’s sequel, called Fractured Pursuit. It’s the Union army’s pursuit of the enemy from 4-14 July 1863. Fractured Pursuit starts, however, on 28 June 1863, focusing on the Union cavalry actions from June 28 through July 3. Starting on July 4, Fractured Pursuit combines both the Union cavalry and infantry actions.
In the beginning chapters of Fractured Pursuit, readers will be introduced to Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, Maj. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, First Lt. Alexander Pennington, Captain Peter Weber, Captain James Kidd, and First Lt. Samuel Harris. The early chapters will cover Custer assuming command of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade in Frederick and riding to Littlestown, the Battle of Hanover on June 30, the Cavalry Skirmish on July 2, and the Battle of East Cavalry Field.
Resolving Inaccuracies in Primary & Secondary Sources on 29 June 1863:
One of the challenges I’ve been researching for the past two weeks is this: Custer took command of Michigan Cavalry Brigade on June 29. When did he first meet the First Cavalry Regiment, Seventh Cavalry Regiment, and Battery M? There are two versions that are at vast odds with each other.
On June 29, Custer rode from Frederick with two buglers and a tattered waif to Abbottstown to assume command of the First, Seventh, and Battery M, which were already at Abbottstown. So the first time Custer meets the First, Seventh, and Battery M is the evening of June 29.
Jay Monaghan, Custer: The Life of General George Armstrong Custer, page 134
“Custer’s new brigade had already gone ahead and was encamped forty-five miles away. Muddy as the roads were, Custer made a night ride to assume command. On arrival he concealed his embarrassment by being abrupt.”
James Kidd, One of Custer’s Wolverines, page 45.
“Custer joined the 7th Michigan at Abbottstown late in the afternoon on 29 June.”
Terry’s Comment – the problem with Kidd’s account is that Kidd is a member of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry and the Sixth Michigan never saw Custer nor the First and Seventh Regiments on June 29. Kidd first saw Custer and the First and Seventh Regiments on June 30.
Gregory Urwin, Custer Victorious, page 65
“Custer did not reach his brigade headquarters at Abbottstown, a few miles north of Hanover, until well after the sun had gone down. He found only two of his regiments present there, the 1st and 7th, and Battery M.”
Gregory Urwin, Custer Victorious, page 64
“Lieutenant Harris spotted Custer riding ahead of two buglers and a tattered waif. Custer paused long enough to ask, ‘where the Michigan Brigade of Cavalry was?’”
Thom Hatch, Clashes of Cavalry: The Civil War Careers of George Armstrong Custer and Jeb Stuart, page, 111
“Custer rode out before dawn on June 29 to take command of his brigade, which was encamped forty-five miles away at Abbottstown, a few miles north of Hanover.”
Second Version of Custer’s Account
On the morning of June 29, Custer took command of the First and Seventh and battery M just outside Frederick at the Richfield Estates and then Custer late morning departed Richfield and led them to Littlestown.
Jeffrey Wert, Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer:
“While the Fifth and Sixth conducted reconnaissance, the First and Seventh Michigan Cavalry remained posted beyond Frederick. It was these latter two regiments Custer met on the morning of the 29 June.” Page 84
Edward Longacre, Custer and His Wolverines, 131-132
“…the baby brigadier rode out to take control of half of his command – the 1st and 7th and Battery M – within marching distance of Frederick… Custer hastily inspected his squadrons…At noon on the 29 June, Custer led the 1st and 7th and Battery M of the Frederick area.”
Terry’s Comment – I believe Custer departed between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.
Edward Longacre, Custer: The Making of a Young General, page, 149
“By 11 p.m. both 1st and 7th regiments had crossed the Pennsylvania border, bivouacking outside the village of Littlestown.”
Terry Supports the Second Version based upon Captain Samuel Harris, Company A, Fifth Michigan Cavalry, who spoke with Custer at about 2:00 p.m. at Emmitsburg. Here is why:
- Captain Samuel Harris had been temporarily relieved of his Company A command and had been ordered to ride at the back of Fifth and Sixth regiments. The Fifth and Sixth cavalry regiments were traveling from Gettysburg to Emmitsburg on June 29. When Harris arrived at Emmitsburg, he was trailing the Fifth and Sixth by a good distance – several hundred yards – the Fifth and Sixth have already turned left off the Emmitsburg and are heading SE toward Taneytown. (I believe the Fifth and Sixth headed SE to Taneytown, scouting this area.)
- Harris witnessed Michigan Cavalry Brigade Commander Brig. Gen. Copeland (who was fired that morning) meeting with Maj. Gen. Reynolds and his First Corps arriving at Emmitsburg at 2:00 p.m., Harris overheard Copeland tell Reynolds about the enemy being near Gettysburg, where the Fifth and Sixth just came from, and Reynolds said to his men that the Rebels are near, and we must secure the town of Emmitsburg. Then Copeland rode south to Frederick to protest to Maj. Gen. Pleasonton, Cavalry Commander, that he should not have been relieved of his command by Brig. Gen. Custer.
- After this moment Custer rode up from Frederick with two burglars and a boy groom about a hundred or so yards ahead of his First and Seventh Cavalry columns. Custer stopped and asked Harris, “Where is the Michigan Brigade?” Harris doesn’t say in his memoirs how he answers Custer. He just comments on how shocked he is with Custer’s gaudy circus uniform.
- I believe that Custer is asking Harris, “Where are the Fifth and Sixth Cavalry Regiments?” I believe Harris points SE toward the Taneytown road and said the Fifth and Sixth traveled that way, scouting to the SE of Gettysburg. All primary and secondary sources agree that the Fifth and Sixth will eventually arrive at Littlestown on the morning of the 30th.
- Custer listens to Harris’s explanation and then he and his Buglers turn right from Emmitsburg and travel NE on Harney Road toward Littlestown. Custer is followed by the First and Seventh Cavalry Regiments and Battery M. By traveling NE on the Harney road, Custer and the First and Seventh regiments and Battery M never see the Fifth and Sixth traveling SE Taneytown Road, until midday on June 30 at Hanover, a few miles north of Littlestown. Then the Battle of Hanover on June 30 starts with Stuart’s Boys.
- According to Edward Longacre, Custer and the First, Seventh, and Battery M depart Richfield (located a few miles north of Frederick) around noon (between 11:00 a.m. & 12:00 p.m.) and arrive at Emmitsburg at 2:00 p.m. The math works out supporting Longacre’s account. The distance is about 21 miles and that means in three hours from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Custer and his regiments ride about 7 miles an hour. The average speed for a trot is eight miles per hour.
Questions for Readers:
- Do you agree with Version 2?
- Do you agree that Custer rode to Emmitsburg and then traveled NE on the Harney Road to Littlestown?
- Do you agree that the Fifth and Sixth Regiments arrived from Gettysburg at Emmitsburg before Custer arrived from Richfield and turned left and traveled SE on the Taneytown Road conducting their scouting mission circling SE of Gettysburg?