This second book in Catton's three volume study of the Army of the Potomac is, in my opinion, the best of the three. The reason it is the best is that it covers in epic detail, the climactic Battle of Gettysburg in one of the best treatments in print. This book has it all-high drama and suspense, heros on both sides of the line, and an incredible sadness and feeling for the troops, so many of them left on bullet-swept fields, that you cannot get away from the inherent grief of the entire epic, something on the level of a Greek tragedy.
It's all there, along with Catton's unmatched personal anecdotes of the famous commanders who led, and died, with their troops during the three days of Gettysburg, the largest battle ever fought on the North American continent.
Colonel Cross of the 5th New Hampshire, mortally wounded in the Wheat Field, lamenting that he thought 'the boys would miss him'; Francis Barlow, critically wounded and left for dead on the first day of the fighting, and being cared for by Confederate general John B. Gordon; Confederate General Archer being captured by the Iron Brigade in the Railway Cut on the first day; 'Hancock the Superb' calmly riding his horse through the Confederate preparatory bombardment before Pickett's doomed charge; the epic fight on Little Round Top, chamberlain and the 20th Maine on the left, and Hazlett's immortal battery of the 5th US Artillery, gotten to the summit by the superhuman exertions of both man and horse; the doomed, magnificent 1st Minnesota in its successful and fatal charge on the second day. The legendary Iron Brigade sweeping forward, blunting the Confederate assault on the first day, sustaining almost 70% casualties and not whimpering over the fact; finally that unsung hero, and probably the best artilleryman the United States ever produced, Henry Jackson Hunt, who swore to his dying day that if he had his way against Pickett, no Confederate infantryman would have got across that long, deadly mile of open ground to the famed Clump of Trees.
This is the sweep, majesty, and sorrow of the greatest test the United States has ever had to endure. The men of the Army of the Potomac come alive in these pages, and it is a fitting tribute to those who saved the Republic.