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The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign

Lance J. Herdegen

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Price: $32.95
ISBN: 978-1-932714-48-7
ebook: 978-1-611210-38-5
On Sale: October 2008 SOLD OUT!


Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Price: $19.95
ISBN: 978-1-932714-83-8
ebook: 978-1-611210-38-5
On Sale: May 2010

47 b/w photos and illustrations, 10 maps, notes, biblio, index

WINNER 2008 Army Historical Foundation's Distinguished Writing Award for Operational/Battle History

Lance Herdegen’s Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign is the first book-length account of their remarkable experiences in Pennsylvania during that fateful summer of 1863.

Watch Lance Herdegen on 02.10.09 | Wisconsin in Words


      

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Reading Book Guide

Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, Lance J. Herdegen

In Those Damned Black Hats! Herdegen examines the role of the fabled Iron Brigade in the most written about battle of the American Civil War. It is the first book-length account of the unit’s remarkable experiences in Pennsylvania during that fateful summer of 1863. Winner of an American Historical Foundation Distinguish Writing Award 2008.

  1. Veteran survivors of the Iron Brigade always felt that victory at Gettysburg in July 1863 was the turning point of the Civil War and what was accomplished there was the high point of their military service. Do you agree? Was the three days of fighting at Gettysburg the turning point of the war? Why?

  2. The Iron Brigade was the only all-Western organization in the Union armies in the East. It was formed when the 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, 7th Wisconsin, and 19th Indiana infantry regiments were brigaded together in 1861. The 24th Michigan joined the unit following Antietam. How did the fact the regiments were all from frontier areas of the Old Northwest affect their morale and fighting abilities? Did it make them better material for soldiers?
  3. Certainly the arrival of General John Gibbon, a Regular Army officer, to command the brigade in 1862 and his subsequent training of his frisky Westerns played a key role in making the Wisconsin and Indiana men good soldiers. Can you name two or three other individuals who should also be credited for making the Iron Brigade an effective fighting organization?
  4. Upon seeing the arriving regiments of the Iron Brigade, the Confederates at Gettysburg called out, “It’s those damned Black Hats again! Ain’t no militia, it is the Army of the Potomac!” How did the distinctive uniform of the iron Brigade – especially its famed Model 1858 black felt dress hats – add to its reputation and effectiveness on a battle field?
  5. The role of General John Reynolds, who commanded the Union forces in the opening of the infantry fighting at Gettysburg, always receives a lot of attention. But was his decision to hold the ground northwest of town the right one? What were his alternatives? How much did his death in the early fighting influence what happened next? If he survived, would the outcome on the First Day have been different?
  6. The fighting northwest of Gettysburg is often divided into three segments—the delaying action of Buford’s Union cavalry in the morning, the Iron Brigade attack on the Herbst Woodlot and the quick and successful charge of the 6th Wisconsin on the unfinished railroad cut, and then the long defense of McPherson and Seminary Ridges in the late afternoon. Which of the three stages of the fighting do you believe was the most important in allowing the Union army to concentrate on the high ground south of Gettysburg? Was that defensive position the key to the Union victory?
  7. The story of John Burns, the 1812 veteran who apparently shouldered an old musket and went out to fight with the Iron Brigade, is one of the most compelling little stories about Gettysburg. How much of the Citizen Burns story is really believable? Why is it a story Americans like to tell about themselves and like to believe?
  8. Wounded Federal soldiers captured in Gettysburg July 1 were allowed to roam much of the town during the next two days of fighting. Why do you think that happened? How well did they get along with the occupying Confederates? Why do you think that was the case?
  9. The defense of McPherson’s Ridge and later Seminary Ridge involved some of the heaviest infantry fighting of the Civil War. Was the topography of the area a factor in the heavy casualty rates? How and why?
  10. “Where has the firmness of the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg been surpassed in history?” asked Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin. Indeed, it is a fair question. The brigade marched to Gettysburg with 1,883 men in ranks and by nightfall on July 1, only 671 men were still to be counted. The mighty Iron Brigade was no longer an effective fighting force. Was the cost in lives and organization worth it? How should the brigade be remembered for its role at Gettysburg?
  11. How and why did British war strategy lead to its own defeat against the Americans?
  12. In what ways was the fighting different between the northern, southern, and western territories?

Lance J. Herdegen

An award-winning journalist, Lance Herdegen is historical content consultant for the Civil War Museum of the Upper Middle West located at Kenosha, Wisconsin, between Milwaukee and Chicago. He is the former director for the Institute for Civil War Studies at Carroll University and previously worked for the United Press International (UPI) news service covering national politics and civil rights.

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