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Newt Gingrich Rewrites History

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has stepped out of the political arena and into the realm of historical fiction.

Gingrich visited The Early Show to discuss the new book "Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War," which he co-authored with William Forstchen and Albert Hanser.

He explained that in the novel, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee wins the battle of Gettysburg, which history books say was actually won by Northern troops — bringing victory to the Union and a final end to the bloody Civil War.

Gingrich says he and his co-authors are planning for "Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War" to be the first book of a planned trilogy of alternative history.

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

June 28, 1863, 8:00 PM
Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

The shadows of twilight deepened across the orchards and wheat fields of the Cumberland Valley. The day had been hot, the air heavy with damp heat; now the first stirring of a cooling breeze came down from out of the hills. Fireflies danced through the branches of apple, peach, and cherry trees; crickets sang; and as he rode through the rows of the orchard he breathed the rich evening air of summer, feeling a moment of peace.

He looked up at the moon riding in the eastern sky, nearly full, glowing with an orange warmth, the cold light of the stars beginning to fill the heavens.

As he approached the knoll, the orchard gave way to pasture, the fence dividing the two fields broken down, the split rails so laboriously cut and laid in place gone, except for a few upright posts. He had spoken more than once about this, to not touch the property of these people, but after a hard day's march such fences were easy to burn, and the pasture ahead was dotted with glowing fires. An entire winter of a farmer's labor to fence this field gone now in a single night.

He reined in, not wanting to venture closer to where the troops were camped. Shadows moved about the flickering lights, the scent of wood smoke drifting on the cool breeze mingled with all the other scents of the army ...horses, men, food cooking, grease, sweat soaked wool uniforms, oiled leather, latrines, the heavy mix both repugnant and comforting, the smells that had been his life for over thirty years.

Songs floated on the wind. A boy, Irish from the sound of him, was singing "He's Gone Away." He listened for a moment, feeling a cool shiver,"…But he's coming back, if he goes ten thousand miles."

The boy finished. The song had struck a nerve. More than one of the men coughed to hide the tears; there was a forced laugh, then another song; it sounded like "The Girl I Left Behind Me," but the lyrics were not familiar. He suddenly caught one of the stanzas. It was not the traditional song; it was one of the new verses that soldiers always enjoyed making up.

He listened for a moment, and in the shadows he allowed himself to smile. It wasn't as obscene as some and no worse than some of the songs he had sung when a cadet at the Point so many years ago.

He thought of Thomas Jackson. Thomas would have ridden straight into the camp and scattered them, then delivered a stern sermon about such sinful practices, urging the men to pray instead.

Thomas, how I miss you.

The voices around the nearest campfire stilled. Some of the men turned, were looking his way; he heard the whispers.

"Marse Robert. It's him, I tell you. It's General Lee."

He caught a glimpse of an officer stepping away from the fire, coming toward him.

No. Not now.

He lifted his reins; just the slightest nudge and Traveler turned, breaking into a slow canter, and he rode into the shadows. Tracing the edge of the pasture, he followed the broken line of the fence for another fifty yards, the ground rising ahead, climbing to a wood-lot. At a corner of the field was a towering oak, gnarled, ancient, a remnant of the great forest that had once covered this land, spared by a farmer long ago, perhaps as a reminder of what the land had once been.

No one was about, and he stopped beneath its vast, spreading branches. Atop the knoll the Cumberland Valley spread out before him, a vast arc of farmsteads, villages, and his army, the Army of Northern Virginia. Ten thousand campfires glowed, spreading up and down the length of the valley, great blazing circles of light. Where the more restless had gathered, there was singing and laughing.

He remembered the night before the Battle of Sharpsburg last fall, the way the Union campfires had glowed on the far side of Antietam Creek and the surrounding hills. As he'd ridden to inspect their lines, he had commented to Jackson on the vastness of the Union host descending upon them.

"Won't be as many of their fires tomorrow night," Thomas had replied coldly.

"Thomas is dead." He whispered the words softly, a simple statement of fact that carried so much weight, perhaps the very outcome of the war.

You have lost your left arm, but I have lost my right. That is what he had sent as a message upon hearing of Jackson's wounding last month at Chancellorsville. And then he had died. How I miss that right arm tonight, he thought sadly. If Jackson were here, I would know without a moment's doubt how to react. But all had changed now.

Where was the Union's Army of the Potomac camped tonight? This morning he had thought they were a hundred miles off, still down in northern Virginia and around Washington. An hour ago he had learned the truth.

The Dutchman, his trusted commander of First Corps, Gen. James "Pete" Longstreet, had come to him with a spy. He had never liked spies, though they were as much a part of war as any soldier and at times far more important than having an extra division on the field. The spy was an actor Pete had hired on his own.

That in itself said something, that his second in command had spent a fair sum of money to send an actor across the fields, villages, and towns of Maryland and Pennsylvania in search of the Army of the Potomac. That was a job Jeb Stuart and his cavalry were supposed to perform, not someone who strutted upon the stage.

The Army of the Potomac was coming north. It was not in Washington; it was coming north and moving fast. By tomorrow night its campfires would be lit not thirty miles from here.

Stuart had failed him. Reports should have been flooding in, detailing the movement of every division in the Union army. There had not been a single word. For that matter he couldn't even tell for sure where Stuart was at this moment. There was the other side of the coin as well. If Stuart had failed to report in, he had most likely failed as well in his other task of screening the movement of this army. He had to assume that the Army of the Potomac might indeed know where he was, how his forces were spread out all the way from the Maryland border to Harrisburg ... and just how vulnerable he was.

I should have known three days back that those people were on the march and following, he thought bitterly. Not tonight, not like this, from a spy slipping through the lines to whisper his report, declaiming his lines as if I were part of a breathless audience hanging on every word.

The anger began to flare. "Damn!"

He knew that if those who followed him had heard that single word it would have sent a shock through the entire army. "The Old Man was so angry he swore," they'd whisper. Staff would have stood stock still in stunned silence; generals noted for their command of Anglo Saxon would have been rooted in place.

They make me too much a statue of marble, he thought. I have already become a legend to them. Legends can create victory. Convince your men that they can win, convince the enemy they cannot win, and the battle is half decided before the first shot is fired.

He dismounted, loosely holding Traveler's reins so that his old companion lowered his head to crop the rich clover of the pasture. He sat down under the oak tree, a mild groan escaping him as he settled back, resting his head against the rough bark, and he let the reins go.

They're coming North. That means a fight soon, maybe as early as two days from now, definitely within a week. It is, after all, what I wanted, but not quite yet. And not here, not on the Union army's terms.

A shower of sparks swirled up from the nearest campfire as another rail was tossed onto the flames, another song started, "Lorena."

He listened, humming absently.

"The years creep slowly by, Lorena,
"The snow is on the grass again.

His wife, Mary, loved that one; so had his daughter Annie, the memory of her stabbing his heart.

'Tis dust to dust beneath the sod;
"But there, up there, 'tis heart to heart."

Dear Annie, to think of her thus, returning to dust. His youngest daughter dead at twenty three the winter before. She had gone off to North Carolina to marry, and now she was gone forever.

Only last week a major from a North Carolina regiment had come to his tent, nervous, respectful. He had been home recovering from wounds and just wanted to say that Annie was buried in the churchyard of his village, that the grave was well tended, fresh flowers placed upon it by the local women. The officer had actually choked back tears as he spoke, then saluted as he retired. He thanked the major, closed his tent flap, and silently wept, a rare luxury, to be alone for a few minutes to cry for a lost child before others came, looking for orders, for advice, looking for a commander who could not be seen to weep.

He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the letter he had been writing to his wife, Mary, until yet again command had interfered, Longstreet arriving with his spy. Though it was dark, he knew the letter by heart already, having labored over it, trying to find just the right tone to still her fears.

My dearest wife,
I take pen in hand praying that this missive finds you well, and that the protection of our blessed Savior rest upon you.
I write to you this evening with news which we must bear calmly. As you know from my last letter our son Rooney was wounded on June 8th in the action at Brandy Station. As I assured you then his injury was not serious; neither bone nor artery was damaged. I stayed with him throughout that night before leaving to embark upon this campaign the following morning. I was just informed this day, how ever, that Rooney was taken prisoner last week. Captured in the house where he had been resting and has been sent to Fortress Monroe. Thankfully our young Robert, who was tending to him, was able to escape capture and is safely back in our lines.
My dear wife, do not be overly concerned. Though this bitter and terrible struggle has divided our country, it has not severed all bonds of friendship between old comrades nor has it stilled all sentiments of Christian charity. I am certain that friends of old on the other side, upon hearing of our son's plight, will come to his aid and insure his well being and restoration to health.
Though I can ask no specialfavors, I am certain that our beloved son will soon be listedfor exchange and returned safely to our loving embrace.
I know that your prayers are joined with mine for the protection of our son. That we pray, as well, that this campaign shall bring an ending to this bitter conflict.

He folded the letter up, looking back across the valley. No father should be asked to fight a battle into which his own sons must be sent. When first he had seen them carrying Rooney back from the fight, features pale, thigh slashed open, he had feared the worst and nearly lost his composure. And though he was certain that friends would indeed intervene to ensure Rooney's protection, nevertheless there were some who might do him harm. It was obvious that the cavalry raid to capture Rooney had been launched for no other reason than to seize his son.

So far we've managed to keep the deeper darkness at bay, he thought. In most civil wars Rooney would have been hanged, if for no other reason than to bring me pain. We've fought so far with some degree of chivalry, the memories of old comradeship tempering the fury, but for how much longer can we do that? It has to end soon. It has to end; otherwise the rift will become too deep. It has to end as well, he realized, because if not, we will surely lose.

The song "Lorena" ended; a harmonica struck up a jig; some of the men began dancing, the firelight casting cavorting shadows across the pasture.

He wished he could give them another week, better yet two weeks, of this easy campaigning, living off the rich land, fattening up, getting ready for what lay ahead, but Longstreet and his actor had changed all that.

But while he would have preferred another week, he knew, as well, that he was not up here for a leisurely march; ultimately he was here to fight, and this time to fight a battle that would end the war.

That was the plan he had laid out before President Davis a little more than a month ago. It started when Secretary of War Seddon suggested that part of Longstreet's corps be detached and sent west to relieve the besieged city of Vicksburg on the Mississippi. He had gone down to Richmond to meet with President Davis and the cabinet to present a counterproposal to win the war through a decisive victory in the East.

He tried to remember this Grant who was emerging so rapidly as the Union leader in the West and who had been so aggressive in besieging Vicksburg. So many other faces he could recall: comrades of old from Mexico; from the west plains of Texas; from the parade ground at West Point; John Reynolds, who was Commandant of Cadets at the Academy; Winfield Hancock; Fitz John Porter, his old aide decamp, all now stood against him and yet he could fondly remember their voices, their laughter, their friendship.

Many of the younger ones had been cadets at the Point when he was superintendent, a memory that burned hard when he read the casualty lists in the Northern papers and saw more than one name from those days, a boy who had come to a Sunday tea at his home, or one whom he had gently chided for a minor infraction and was now dead, in effect killed by him.

Grant, though, was someone he did not know enough to understand and therefore could not second guess; and if Grant should win at Vicksburg, he knew they'd bring him east. No, it had to end before then.

He had argued against reacting directly to Grant at Vicksburg. By the time they deployed Longstreet west, the fight might very well be over. Besides, that would leave him with less than fifty thousand men, and surely the Army of the Potomac would come swinging in again, especially if they knew that a third of his forces were gone.

No, take the war into the North. Get into the rich farmlands of Pennsylvania to feed his troops, threaten a state capital, perhaps even take it. That would bring the Army of the Potomac out into the open. We then pick the place, lure them in, and finish it.

Up here in Pennsylvania there would be no falling back; it would be a fight in the open, a chance for an Austerlitz, a Waterloo, the two great battles taught at the Point as classic examples of decisive victory. Do that and end it. Such a victory would leave Washington open for the taking, could perhaps even swing England and France to our side and end the war before winter.

Such a thing, however, required the crucial first step, another slaughtering match with the Army of the Potomac. He knew it would be no easy fight; it would mean yet more losses, ten, maybe twenty thousand men to do it, and as he contemplated that butchering he looked back to the fire, to the singing and dancing and laughing.

They believe in me.

Legend can become a trap if you believe it yourself. Napoleon had six years to contemplate that fact as he rotted on Saint Helena. Santa Anna learned it beneath the walls of Chapultepec. Might I now learn it here?

He stretched, sighing, hands resting lightly on his knees.

The men are ready ... but am I?

"Sir, we'll storm the gates of hell for you this day," one of his regimental commanders had cried as they'd charged into the inferno at Chancellorsville.

The impious words haunted him. It had not been a patriotic cry of resolve, a willingness to die for Virginia, or this nation called the Confederacy, or even in defense of home. No, it had become personal with this army; these men would fight and die for him.

He could see it in their eyes: the reverent gazes, the way men—even the officers—removed their hats, spoke with lowered voices, fell silent and stared at his approach. He looked back to the men dancing around the fire. They had seen him pass, failing silent, and when they realized he wished to be alone had reverently stood back. Even now, as they danced, more than one stood at the edge of the crowd looking in his direction.

I must be as fit as they are, and of late I have not been. That realization hit with a sharp intensity.

The death of Jackson and the decision to reorganize the army, he sensed, were the core of the problem. He had not felt comfortable with entrusting half the army to a new corps commander and instead had taken Jackson's command and split it into two new corps.

Dick Ewell, one of Jackson's veterans, out of action since losing a leg at Second Manassas, now had Second Corps. He thought, at first, that the choice was a good one. Yet of late he wondered. Sometimes when a man lost an arm, a leg, something of the old fighting spirit disappeared along with the limb. But two weeks ago Dick's first action in command of a corps at Winchester had been well fought, but far too many of the routed Union troops had been allowed to escape from what should have been a certain trap.

Ambrose Hill, a brilliant division commander, famed for his red fighting shirt and powerful presence in battle, had been given the newly created Third Corps. He had hoped for some of Jackson's mad dash with Hill, a driving spirit that could move a corps twenty five miles in a day, throw it into battle, and win.

It was not turning out that way. Hill hid it well, but some said he could barely stay in the saddle, that his temper was short, and he was given of late to periods of withdrawal and morose depression. He was sick and barely fit for the next action.

Then there was Longstreet, the third of his commanders, "Pete" Longstreet the old warhorse. Solid, reliable, but everyone knew that he could be too methodical, slow, and firm of opinion.

Pete was not for this campaign. It still touched a bit of a sore point that Pete had gone over his head, taking his case directly to the President, agreeing with Seddon's scheme to transfer his corps to Mississippi in order to relieve Vicksburg. He'd allowed the issue to pass, and since the start of the campaign Longstreet bad performed adequately but without real enthusiasm. Adequate was not good enough; he would have to be pushed.

Finally there was Stuart, the boy hero, infatuated with glory. Since the start of the war, the Union cavalry had been a minor annoyance. Brandy Station, fought only three weeks ago, indicated that times were changing, Stuart had been caught off guard. Rooney had said as much.

He wondered now if Stuart's failure to win at Brandy Station lingered and was driving Stuart to seek some new feat of daring and in the process forget what his primary mission was for this campaign, to shield the right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia as it advanced into Pennsylvania.

I have four men who are supposed to be my direct instruments of command. One is still trying to find his way after losing a leg, the second is sick, the third is bullheaded and not fully committed to this operation, and the fourth, well the fourth has simply disappeared.

"Who is truly in command here?" he whispered.

If I am in command, if my men trust me, if they place their very lives into my safekeeping, if my country places in my hands its continued existence, then I must lead with strength. This cannot be another Second Manassas or Chancellorsville, he thought bitterly.

In both actions there had been a moment, like a hazy vision, of what could lie ahead with just a few more minutes of time, luck, and determination. Both times they had come so close to a total victory, and both times the chance had slipped away, once because of darkness, the other because of Jackson's fatal wounding. And both times nearly twenty thousand of his finest young men had fallen.

"I will not let that happen again," and as he whispered those words he looked at the men gathered around the campfire. Some of them will die within the next week, and by God's Grace it must mean some thing this time.

This army has one more good fight in it, perhaps the best fight it will ever give. After that the numbers, the relentlessly building power of the North, will tell, no matter how valiantly we fight.

Grant struck him as the embodiment of that new power. He was faceless, remorseless like a machine, it was said, willing to grind down an opponent no matter what the cost. If they take Vicksburg and we do not counter it with a shattering victory in the East, the tide will turn. Grant and his triumphal veterans will be unleashed here or into Tennessee. The noose will tighten, England will stand back, and the Union army will be at the gates of Richmond to stay, with all of his beloved Virginia a scorched battlefield.

He lowered his head.

It is in my hands now, is it not, my Lord? he asked. The burden is mine, the path ahead is mine, and it rests now with me. That is Your Will. I ask You to give me the strength.

I will not let this opportunity, this moment, slip away. The rank and file of the army is ready; it is the top, the commanders, who are not. It is I who have been detached, delegating to others. In the next action I must be in control. The old ways of doing things when Jackson was still alive are finished, at least for this next fight. I must lead, or we shall lose this war.

The thought was startling. It was one thing to contemplate such thoughts when studying the history of others, men such as Napoleon or Caesar or even his own stepgrandfather in law, George Washington. To think such things in relationship to one's self was to him suspect. And yet, still reeling from the intelligence brought to him by Longstreet, he now knew it to be true as he sat atop the knoll in Pennsylvania. The war rested on his shoulders.

If the killing was to end, he must not waver. That, he knew, was the eternal paradox of command. To command well one had to truly love one's army; yet to command well, one had to order that army into a maelstrom of fire and death.

If they are willing to go there, he realized, I must be willing to lead them, if need be to take direct control and abandon my old practice of delegating. "To take on the aspect of a tiger," was how Shakespeare put it, Lee remembered.

Standing up, he stretched, looking back over at the nearest campfire. With his movement, the men about the fire fell silent. He mounted, taking up the slack reins, and urged Traveler to a swift canter.

As he rode past, the men came to attention and saluted. He removed his hat in acknowledgment, and a cheer echoed across the field.

"Marse Roberts!"

It was picked up, jumping from campfire to campfire, ringing in his ears as he rode back to headquarters, knowing that all things were now possible.

Marse Robertsl"

Maj. John Williamson of the Fourteenth South Carolina, Perrin's brigade, Pender's division, of the Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, raised his hand in salute as the shadowy figure trotted past the edge of their camp.

He had seen the old man numerous times, had passed within feet of him when going into action at Sharpsburg. His old college roommate, Walter Taylor, was Lee's aide de camp, and more than once John had gone to headquarters to visit and seen Lee there. Yet never had John grown used to the presence, to the thrill of it. More than one of his friends said that they were in the presence of a new Washington, a presence they would one day tell their grandchildren about. If they lived to have grandchildren.

"Coffee, sir?"

John turned. It was Sergeant Hazner, holding a tin cup, offering it.

John grinned. Real coffee. Where Hazner had gotten it, he didn't bother to ask. Chances were some shopkeeper down in Chambersburg was tonight clutching a receipt from Hazner promising "payment from the Confederacy for coffee ... ten pounds, upon the close of hostilities."

There had been strict orders against looting, so now southern Pennsylvania was blanketed with such receipts.

"And try this, sir." In Hazner's other hand was an open tin can.

John took the can, sniffed it.

"What the hell is it?"

"Milk in a can, sir. Never seen the likes of it before. Think of it. Wonder what Yankee thought of it, how many girls he's got squeezing a cow's teat with one hand, holding these little cans underneath with the other."

John laughed, poured half the can into his coffee, and offered it back. He blew on the lip of the cup and took a sip, groaning with delight.

"And real sugar in it, too."

"Hazner, what the hell did you do this time to be bribing me like this?"

"Well, sir, there is that little game tonight, and I was wondering, us not being paid in months.

John shook his head. "George, I'm as broke as you are. Besides, I don't loan out money for gambling. Bad practice; suppose you lose and then get killed in the next fight, where will I be?"

"Without coffee and good grub for starters, sir."

George stepped back to the fire, picked up his own cup, upended the rest of the canned milk into it, and then came back to join his major.

John smiled, glorying in the warmth, the sensation of real coffee, the interesting taste of canned milk.

After a year of campaigning in Virginia, this was close to paradise. Yesterday the regimental headquarters had butchered an entire hog, and not just a skinny runt. This one was a fat sow, and John had woken in the morning to the smell of fresh bacon and for dinner had downed a succulent roast lovingly cooked by Cato, the colonel's servant.

He had on new boots and trousers, yet another Hazner find, and would curl up tonight under a blanket "paid for" by the regimental quartermaster from a store in Greencastle.

The land here was rich, orderly, the fields squared off, the orchards properly pruned, the farmhouses as big as mansions, the barns as big as churches. It was a long way from the hills of Carolina and the fought over ground of Virginia.

"There's a fight coming on," Hazner ventured.

John nodded, looking over at his friend. The two had grown up together, George several years his senior and thus always looked up to as the older brother, replacing the one lost to yellow fever when John was just a boy. George was the son of the town blacksmith and had inherited his father's strength, with broad shoulders, a trim waist, and dark, powerful eyes. Being the son of a judge and the largest property holder in the valley had, of course, destined John to another path. Both had accepted that, but they had held to their friendship in spite of the differences of class. With the coming of the war, George had readily accepted that John would be an officer and he would be a sergeant. In front of the men they played their proper roles. In private moments they would let it drop, and John would still look to his friend as he once had, as an older "brother" who would make sure he got through the war alive.

"You think so?" John asked, hiding his anxiety. "I figured we'd have at least a couple of more weeks without any worries."

George nodded sagely, motioning to the darkness that now concealed Lee.

"The old man came out here to think. You go ask your friend Walter about it tomorrow, and he'll tell you that something's up. You could see it in the way the old man rode up here, and the way he left. I tell you, this picnic is about to end, and it's time to pay the bill."

John nodded, saying nothing. He could sense the eagerness in George's voice, the desire to get on with it. He sipped his coffee in silence. He was suddenly terrified.

In the times between battles he managed to keep it concealed, but when the realization came that in a day, a week, he would again hear the thunder in the distance, see the coils of dirty yellow smoke drifting on the horizon, the pace of the column quickening, his stomach knotted and blind terror tore into his soul.

He knew that George was aware of that terror, though no word had ever been directly spoken; such things no one ever spoke of, even to a trusted friend. It wasn't just the terror of what was to come, it was the terror as well of failing, of humiliating himself before his men.

Every battle was the same, the sense of dread, the conviction that fate would finally turn the card of death. Even as he contemplated the thought, he realized that his hands were trembling.

He saw George looking at him from the corner of his eye, and John laughed, trying to cover. "Coffee's strong, gives you the jitters." He downed the rest of the cup and lowered his hands.

"It's alright," George whispered. "Everyone feels that way at times."

"You don't."

"Too stupid, I guess. Shows you what your book learning got you, sir. Makes you think too much."

Think too much. He could imagine a lot of things at this moment, what it felt like to have a leg blown off by a solid shot, to get a minie ball in the guts, to have your manhood shredded by a canister.

He'd seen that, seen the myriad of wounds, the thousand different nuances of how a man could die in battle, all of it taking place under an uncaring heaven, all of it a madness that he was part of and from which there was no escape. He wondered if Lee, by deciding one way or the other how to fight the next battle, had set in motion a path that would lead to his own death.

"What the hell!" George sighed. "Better sooner than later, I say. Let's get it over with now so we can go home."

John nodded. Several men came over, one of them asking George if it really was Bobbie Lee who had just ridden by. George laughed, telling them that Lee had just shaken his hand, and John turned away, walking off into the darkness.

The foregoing is excerpted from Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from St. Martin's Press