Vanity Fair profiles The eXile: "Gutsy...visceral...serious journalism...abusive, defamatory...poignant...paranoid...and right!"
MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
eXile Classic / The War Nerd / May 30, 2010
By Gary Brecher


When the fourth of July rolls around, you’re supposed to think of, I don’t know, the Constitution and backyard cookouts like in old Chevy ads—but for me, it’s really Gettysburg we’re celebrating. Greatest battle in American history.

But the battle, for me and millions of other war-nerd kids growing up on stories of Little Round Top, the fish-hook line, and what Ewell coulda shoulda woulda done at Cemetery Hill. My grandfather from my mom’s side, the more hardcore side of the family, used to mutter about “that man” who lost the war for us, “us” being the Confederacy, but he’d never say a name, so I grew up with this real downer of a notion that there was some kind of traitor in the ranks so plain evil you couldn’t say his name, like the bad wizard in those Potter movies.

Grandpa was wrong, I can say that now; Lee still could and should have won at Gettysburg by keeping to the rule he’d used, the same one most effective American commanders have used, from Bunker Hill to New Orleans: stay on the offense strategically but take the defensive tactically, rely on firepower and protected positions, don’t trade casualties with the enemy. In other words, no Pickett’s Charge. Bleed’em and leave’em, make Meade follow you up a ridge somewhere a few miles down the road and blast him when those poor boys in blue come walking up the slope. They say Lee had the runs, but to me the runs would make you retreat. What he ended up doing was more like malaria, some fever: “Why don’t y’all take a walk about a mile through the cannonballs and see if you can occupy that heavily-fortified position up the slope, boys?” They had a BBQ, all right. Free grapeshot for everybody. Not the smart way to use outnumbered elite troops. If you were going to do Pickett’s charge at all, the way would be—God, I’m going to get letters for this—to empty out the South’s lunatic asylums and put grey body paint on the loonies, make them the first three ranks, have them advance at bayonet point and absorb some of the grape.

Of course once you start down that road, you know, the possibilities are endless. Like, why not the old “human shield” technique? Lee had occupied a lot of Union land by that time, held the town—why not have a 3rd of July town outing, as in “You Yankee ladies git out thar in fronta us and tell your boyfriends in blue not to shoot at y’all so we can survive till we’re in bayonetin’ range.”

The reason they didn’t do that is simple: they didn’t play by those rules. This ain’t Liberia or Chechnya, and thank god for that. You know how many civilians were killed in the whole battle of Gettysburg? One. I dare anybody from any other country anywhere, any time, to find me a battle with over 50,000 military casualties—and one civvies died. One! It’s incredible. People don’t realize how amazing that is. Those were supermen, there’s no other explanation. You read their letters and they write in complete sentences, they even have great handwriting, even the paragraphs work.

I can’t honestly imagine fighting that way. Read too much about modern guerrilla war, I guess, but the only commanders I really understand down in my bones are Sherman, Quantrill and Forrest. Totally different species.

Sherman wasn’t even that good at classic battle-management like Lee or Jackson. Wasn’t his thing. What he did was strategic bombing, Curtis Le May before there was an air force. Bombing at ground level. Le May would’ve understood Sherman, and so would the Mongols. Nkunda would instantly understand Forrest. And Quantrill—he’s the universal language, everybody in the rest of the filthy world would get him.


William T. Sherman: A Crazier And Cooler Curtis Le May

But those weren’t the men who fought at Gettysburg. The fight at Gettysburg was the cleanest, finest fight ever in the world. That’s why I grew up just staring for like hours in hot afternoons in my room at those paintings. You know the Gettysburg paintings I mean? If you do, you probably know them the way I did before I started looking up stuff for this article: you know the paintings by heart but don’t much know or care who made them. As a kid I bet I could’ve drawn a decent replica of my favorite, the one with rebs and Yankees fighting hand-to-hand along a rail fence. I remember how the guy who painted it imagined the moment when the first line absorbs and infantry charge, the perfect way the main body of the attack is already sweeping past with the stars and bars high, but some of the Fed defenders have survived and a fraction of the Rebel attackers has to stop to deal with them, mop up. Every single hand-to-hand combat is so perfect. I remember there’s one doomed Union soldier fighting with his fists, rifle and bayonet gone, holding off a reb who’s trying to brain him with a gun butt. Another is skewering a confederate who’s just jumped to the top of the fence—I always liked that one, the idea of one tiny little success in a doomed fight; how would you feel if you just killed your first reb and looked around and realized your line had crumpled, the way so many Union lines did under attack in the first years of the war, and you were only going to get a few seconds to enjoy your win before you were shot or bayoneted or if you were lucky, sent down to Andersonville to die slow, starved to death by your own ex-comrades, who’d been turned into snarling stray dogs by starvation? That’d be a weird feeling, like being one of the few good soldiers in the Italian army, a kind of lonely, strategically insignificant bravery. (There were brave Italian units, by the way—a lot of them in WWI, and even a few in WW II, like the Alpini and Bersaglieri, the ones who fought the Brits in Eritrea for example).

You could spend all day in those paintings. All the matchups, bayonet on rifle butt on fist on pistol on cannon, all the ways you could die and kill in the finest battle in history. There were other battles I liked the paintings of, like Custer’s Last Stand, but you get a little older and the teacher makes you read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and you can’t be as thrilled at how cool Custer looks with his hat off, drawing a bead with that long revolver in the middle of a pile of dead pincushion horse soldiers. Custer was on the wrong side, the way the teacher told it. I know better than that now too, of course; there ain’t no better side in a war of extermination, and both sides in the Indian Wars knew damn well that’s what was going on. One was just a lot bigger and better-armed, and there was only one way it could end.

And other battles too, like Jackson at New Orleans, there’s always some nagging social-studies thing to pick at, “What about the slaves?” to bring you down. But not Gettysburg. The more you know about it, the finer, cleaner, more goddamn magnificent it was. One civilian killed, by accident at that, while she was working in the kitchen, a stray bullet. Just the two finest armies in the world—Europeans still don’t understand that either of those armies could have marched unstoppable from Liverpool to Moscow, a red-white-n-blue knife through moldy Euro-butter. (I’m not saying they coulda GOT to Liverpool, because the Royal Navy was the only military force that really did have a chance of stopping them.)

As a kid I never knew where those paintings came from. No, that’s wrong. I knew exactly where they came from: from those Bruce Catton books I soaked up instead of doing my homework or “going out and playing.” I was always getting that: “It’s a beautiful day, don’t just sit around reading!” Well it wasn’t a beautiful day, it was hot, for one thing. And I wasn’t reading. I was looking at those paintings.


Parents caught creating a future war-nerd

How did anybody ever get dumb enough to think that a few splatters on a canvas in a museum is art when you’ve got the paintings of Gettysburg to live up to? Hell, maybe that’s why art dissolved into dumb frat pranks like the abstract shit: because they couldn’t live up to the Gettysburg paintings, just like we aren’t fit to shine the busted brogans of the men who fought at Little Round Top, so we get all ironic and shit, because we can’t live up to them.

You look at these battle paintings and you see the artists were so into the story, what was actually going on, they didn’t worry about their fucking “style” or blurring everything up so the cool critics would think they were edgy. They painted as well as they could, so you could get a clear picture of what was happening. When people stopped doing that and started painting blurry and bad on purpose, that was when things went to Hell.

In the battle paintings you’re just there, on the field; you’re not thinking about the damn artist and his little ideas. You’re there, fighting for your life as the rebel flag sweeps by (just to spite my grandpa, I always imagined myself as a Union guy). And that’s where it really gets painful, a guy like me at Gettysburg. Oh, I’d hold the line, it wouldn’t be anything as simple as turning tail. But just imagine it, pushing the glasses up on my pig nose with the fat-sweat running down, dying of thirst—Pennsylvania in July—big belly bouncing along going “Ow ow ow” with the blisters on my flat feet.

Actually you don’t have to use your imagination. Just take a close slo-mo look on your DVD player when you rent that movie Gettysburg from 1993. Look at the extras from the reenactment societies, especially the rebs who break through the rail fence to storm Buford’s skirmish line, and you’ll see bellies wobbling out of their long johns like mine would. I don’t mean to make fun of anybody here except maybe myself; we’re fat because that’s how our lives are, and they were thin because they marched all day on next to nothing. But it still adds up to we’re gross and weak, and not fit to call ourselves their descendants. Like people like to say, it is what it is, and it ain’t pretty.

Just try imagining yourself advancing in formation with these rail-skinny real men either side. Not Hollywood thin, cocaine thin, but sleeping outdoors on weevil-biscuit rations for years thin, working all day on the farm from the time you could walk thin, men who meant every goddamn word, to the death, more serious than any grandpa you ever had and probably funnier too, when they had a second by the campfire, nineteen going on sixty.

And you know what breaks my heart? I can’t even find that painting on google now. I did a Google Image search for “Gettysburg painting” and most of them seem to be captures from the Gettysburg cyclorama, which sounds great but none of the close-ups are exactly the painting I used to have in the Civil War books I had. It seems to be gone. I don’t believe in much but I do believe in Google. If it doesn’t show up in the first ten pages of a Google Image search, it’s as gone as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And I couldn’t find my painting in those ten pages. And to me, maybe I’m superstitious, but to me that’s a real bad omen.

This “War Nerd” was first published July 7, 2009.

Read more: , , , Gary Brecher, eXile Classic, The War Nerd

Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.

Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.

Twitter twerps can follow us at


Add your own

  • 1. Fedor Emelianenko  |  May 30th, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Yeahhhhhhh Brecher! Welcome back, don’t be such a stranger

  • 2. V  |  May 30th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Bah, a rerun. I want new stuff!

  • 3. JoJoJo  |  May 30th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Can’t Ames just adopt Dolan already? Make sure to feed him thrice daily and change the pine shavings off the floor when appropriate. Enough with the teasing already. What the fuck happened?

  • 4. President Brown  |  May 30th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    No Pickett’s Charge? Lee ran out of supplies so he needed to get rid of 5 to 10 thousand hungry mouths. So he went all in as the poker players say, and lost. Pickett’s charge saved the Army of North Virginia.

    The real question was what purpose if any the Southern invasion of the North had.

  • 5. Diet Coke  |  May 30th, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    There is an example of an amazing abstract war painting: the battle of Verdun as depicted by Felix Vallotton:

  • 6. Dr. Luny  |  May 30th, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Oh Gary, with so much violence in the world, where have you gone? Did you finally empty that revolver you’ve been keeping in your desk into your co-workers? Did you fly off to some obscure African mess-of-a-country to fulfill your dream of being a warlord? Did your years of data-entry work finally give you chronic carpel tunnel? Where are you when we need you?

  • 7. tim  |  May 30th, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    new material sorely needed

  • 8. Lee  |  May 30th, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    War Nerd? On MY Exiled? It’s more likely than you think.

  • 9. Hon Kee Mufo  |  May 30th, 2010 at 7:53 pm


  • 10. steve dekorte  |  May 31st, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Are these the ones?

  • 11. Mudhead  |  May 31st, 2010 at 9:58 am

    The painting(s) Brecher is referring to appeared in an issue of Life Magazine celebrating the centennial of the civil war. it was a three page foldout of action all across the Union lines, on the first day of the battle, I believe. It really was a fine illustration, done with great detail to the individual dramas of the fight. I, too, looked at that painting for many years, until I lost the magazine.

    The Union and Confederacy could have marched through Europe to Moscow? Perhaps; I believe it was Meade who said: “Give me Confederate infantry and Union artillery and I’ll beat anyone in the world.” But immediately after the war the Prussians were putting on clinics in central Europe, with some serious firepower at the disposal, using lessons they had learned from he Union campaign.

  • 12. Chris  |  May 31st, 2010 at 10:38 am

    you people should have a bit more dignity, and stop slobbering over war nerds knob all the time. good, yes. but c’mon.

  • 13. chugs  |  May 31st, 2010 at 1:16 pm


    Alotta second guessing and heroworshipping to stain and glory that massacre might of have

  • 14. Artem  |  May 31st, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    I wrote an email to Brecher a few days ago, but his email is inactive. Last time he published anything was ages ago. I don’t think he’s still with the exiledonline.

    Where is he???!

  • 15. Erik Bramsen  |  May 31st, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    You know how many civilians were killed in the whole battle of Gettysburg? One. I dare anybody from any other country anywhere, any time, to find me a battle with over 50,000 military casualties—and one civvies died. One! It’s incredible. People don’t realize how amazing that is.

    Bah. Happened all the time during the 17th, 18th and 19th century. Most 17-19th century battles weren’t fought near civilians, they duked it out somewhere in the countryside and lining up the troops would take hours, plenty of time for civilians to clear out.

    They didn’t always, mind you. Sometimes you’d have civilian spectators bringing picnic baskets, cheering their team.

    Sieges were another story altogether of course, but the majority of battles were fought without any noticeable collateral damage.

  • 16. porkers-at-the-trough  |  June 1st, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    @#4, PresBrown – Lee trying to BLEED OFF a few thousand men, to save on his supply demands? An interesting concept, but I don’t think so… As Gary points out, Lee could simply have set up some defences on some good ground, lost those soldiers… but taken a bunch of Yankees with them.

    OK, Gary, ya made me do it: your analysis of Gettysburg omits THE BIGGEST “What if” of them all – not the “what EWELL coulda shoulda woulda done at Cemetery Hill” but “WHAT THE HELL was LONGSTREET doing, he was ORDERED to attack Little Roundtop PRONTO on the 2nd day, but didn’t get his troops there until late in the afternoon. As General ____ said in after-action rage & frustration, “ALL he [Longstreet] had to do was follow the horse droppings of my men” (who had made that same march hours earlier – on time – that day).
    I’ve walked that walk, from that __ Division’s bivouac to Little Roundtop, it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes, 45 tops!
    But THANK GOD Longstreet was so tardy. There are those who say “The South could NEVER have won the Civil War, the Union had too much men & industry,” but they conveniently forget that EVEN AFTER the VICTORY at G-burg, Lincoln AND EVERYONE ELSE thought he would LOSE the election of 1864… only Sherman’s insane march to Atlanta, and the Sea, saved Lincoln’s re-election… and the USA as we know it today.
    (McClellan was running on the Democrat’s “negotiate an end of war with South” platform, and until Sherman’s victories, everyone was predicting a McClellan victory.)

    Also, Gary gets Sherman’s skill as a battlefield tactician all wrong (“Sherman wasn’t even that good at classic battle-management like Lee or Jackson.”) – Sherman was a far better tactician than Grant, mainly because Sherman did not put up with political or career Generals, his lieutenants were all battle-hardened and exceptional. I’ve retraced some of Sherman’s steps in the South, and he is regarded as a juggernaut – no matter what Southern commanders did, it was never fast enough, focused enough, or forceful enough to break Sherman’s troops (although the came close several times, it was no picnic marching through Georgia cut off from resupply and reinforcements.)
    The fact that Sherman made it look easy – sieges of Atlanta AND Savanah AND… demonstrates his strategic AND tactical excellence. (Don’t forget, Sherman was garrison commander at some fort in New Orlean before the war, and loved the South.. (Sort of Like Swamp Fox Marion in Revolution in S.C., he knew his enemy better than they knew themselves.)

  • 17. anon  |  June 2nd, 2010 at 5:24 am

    Oh Gary come on, we’re waiting for the analasys of a hypothetical Turko-Israeli war.

  • 18. Jesse the Thief  |  June 3rd, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I’m more interested in hearing him talk about what a bunch of pussies South Koreans are and the latest big “fuck you” from North Korea, but at this point I think we can start taking a pool on whether it was a heart attack or stroke that finally nailed him.

  • 19. Shelby the Foote  |  June 3rd, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    There’s a very good reason Lee didn’t molest (white) civilians in Pennsylvania and Maryland when he invaded the north.

    The purpose of the invasion was to give a shot in the arm to the Copperheads/Peace Democrats. He wanted to turn wavering northerners against the war. The very last thing he wanted was a massacre that would have united the north against him.

    But I totally agree with you that the soldiers who fought on either side were a better breed of men then we have now.

    Half of the Confederate officer corps was slaughtered at the Battle of Nashville. The highest ranking Union general was killed at Gettysburg.

    There were chickenhawks back then but the idea that any of them could have gotten away with what Cheney gets away with today would have been laughable.

  • 20. Shelby the Foote  |  June 3rd, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    You should actually write an article on J.E.B. Stuart. The worst calvery commander of the war. Lee almost shot him at Gettsburg for incompetance. Phillip Sheridan would bag him the next year.

  • 21. Dave Jones  |  June 7th, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Dude! Glad to see you back! I’ve been checking in for months waiting to see what the War Nerd has to say about the mad mad world.

    Tell us about the next big shabang? Where do you think the major popoff with a 50 million+ body count will start? Do you think its even possible? I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

  • 22. Myf  |  June 7th, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Is Dolan even alive? Please come back, I read the war nerd book front to back a few times, I read all of the archives on What do we have to do to get Dolan back?

  • 23. b breezer  |  June 8th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

  • 24. RecoverylessRecovery  |  June 10th, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    “Three hundred thousand Yankees
    Is stiff in southern dust
    We got three hundred thousand
    Before they conquered us.

    They died of southern fever
    And southern steel and shot
    I wish they was three million
    Instead of what we got.”


  • 25. RecoverylessRecovery  |  June 10th, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    “…J.E.B. Stuart. The worst calvery commander of the war. Lee almost shot him at Gettsburg for incompetance. Phillip Sheridan would bag him the next year”

    Uh, wrong, wrong & WRONG.

    -Stuart is a legendary figure and is considered to be one of the greatest cavalry commanders in American history. He’s had statues, high schools, two british tank models and even a town in Virginia named after him.
    -Stuart was not reprimanded or disciplined in any official way for his role in the Gettysburg campaign, although he WAS skipped for promotion. Upon his death General Lee is reported to have said that he could hardly keep from weeping at the mention of Stuart’s name and that Stuart had never given him a bad piece of information.
    -You “bag” GROCERIES. Gral. Stuart was SHOT & KILLED by an infantryman of the 5th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, then being led by Brig. Gral George A Custer.

    George A Custer in turn was BAGGED a few years later by a group of Sioux who fashioned parts of his hide into a very practical and stylish handbag for use on grocery trips.

  • 26. tigerhan  |  July 1st, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Gary come back! The warnerd community needs you.The phony ongoing wars make life uninteresting…come back, you are our only hope!

  • 27. Justin  |  July 2nd, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    What the motherfuck. Bring Dolan back or tell us what the the fuck happened to him.

  • 28. Justin  |  July 10th, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Holy fucking hell, War Nerd moved to Iraq!!!!

    John Dolan, Associate Professor
    The American University of Iraq – Sulaimani (AUI-S)

    Giving talks on the poet Byron to Iraqis… I never thought I’d see the day

  • 29. Justin  |  July 11th, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    What’s your reason for keeping Dolan’s location secret?

    He’s in Iraq…

  • 30. motorfirebox  |  July 13th, 2010 at 10:50 pm


    That is all.

  • 31. Boom  |  August 19th, 2010 at 2:14 am

    gary, or should I call you dolan, it’s not as unheard as you think. there were monstrous sized wars in India in the millenia before and after 1 AD that kept civilians absolutely out of it. if you want a western source, look up Indica by megasthenes.

  • 32. Archer Maggot  |  August 30th, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Greatest battle evar. Bah I say. You can keep your Zouaves in their harem pants, without hussars and cuirassiers it is not war, it is butchery.

  • 33. Korman643  |  April 3rd, 2011 at 6:49 am

    “There were brave Italian units, by the way—a lot of them in WWI, and even a few in WW II, like the Alpini and Bersaglieri, the ones who fought the Brits in Eritrea for example”

    One day, my dear WN, I’ll tell you the story how 100 ex Alpini, battle hardened veterans from the Russian Front, stopped one panzer division in August 1944, in the southern Alps. Little know tale – but Kesserling remembered it for the rest of his life.

  • 34. Arc  |  June 30th, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I think Brecher is searching for this painting:

Leave a Comment

(Open to all. Comments can and will be censored at whim and without warning.)


Required, hidden

Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed