Rarely has the work of one historian influenced so many… students of an event as did Harry W. Pfanz- THE authority on the battle of Gettysburg. His trilogy of books resides on the shelves of all serious students of the battle- but one in particular, The Second Day, stands as a monument to battlefield study. All subsequent work on that day cites Pfanz out of reverence every bit as much as academic obligation.
Your humble author spent many a steamy Summer day… tramping those hallowed grounds with his well worn copy of Pfanz’s master work- pages smudged with precious mud, the binding broken open lovingly in every chapter. Rereading the book was no chore- for every attempt brought some new insight, followed by an anxious expedition to the field- it’s what the Pfanz did. The heroes came alive on the pages: Chamberlain, Oates, Hood, Hancock, Caldwell, Zook…. Pfanz detailed their actions so accurately, passionately, his prose reads as if he were there that pivotal day. The New York Times Review famously remarked, ” A tribute worthy of the efforts of the men who took part in what the Confederate Gen. James Longstreet called ‘the best three hours’ fighting ever done by any troops on any battle-field.’ “
Like any great writer, Pfanz left us wanting more… it is difficult not to feel selfish- we wanted more from him. Books about Gettysburg will still be written and some may even stand the test of time- but the true test of battlefield study can be fairly established- how does it compare to Harry Pfanz? Thank you Dr. Pfanz, for bringing Gettysburg to life- and giving a kid from Lancaster a lifetime passion.
I think I’ll read The Second Day again…