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The Beginning of the Never Ending End: August 1914

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“An event of great agony is bearable only in the belief that it will bring about a better world. When it does not, as in the aftermath of another vast calamity in 1914-18, disillusion is deep and moves on to self-doubt and self-disgust.” Barbara Tuchman

On August 1st 1914 the armies of Europe were mobilizing for war. The last feeble efforts at diplomacy were failing as leaders, and diplomats sought a way out of the situation that their policies had brought about. They had allowed the military instrument to drive policy, rather than for policy to dictate how the military should be employed as an instrument of national strategy. As such they became prisoners to their military mobilization plans, all of which depended on speed in order to gain advantage over their adversaries.

The nations and militaries of Europe were devoted to the “cult of the offensive” by which they would crush their enemy’s armies in a quick campaign. In Germany there was the modified Schlieffen Plan that was about to be executed by the army commanded by Von Molkte the younger in which Germany would violate the neutrality of Belgium in order to invade France, risking war with England in the process. In France, the offense was also the rule of the day, Plan 17 dictated an advance to recapture the Alsace and drive into the heart of Germany. Russia had “Plan 19” nicknamed by some “the Russian Steamroller,” while Austria-Hungary, the chief protagonist of the War dithered with plans to attack Serbia and defend against Russia, which her military commander Conrad von Hotzendorf neither shared with his German allies, or the politicians leading his country to war.

The numbers of troops were massive, the Germans mobilizing nearly four million troops in less than two weeks, the Austrians three point three million, the French over three million and the Russians nearly five million. Serbia, Belgium and Great Britain were mobilizing as well, but the numbers of soldiers that they mobilized were a fraction the size of the major land powers. Soon other nations would become involved, the Ottoman Empire on the side of Austria and Germany, Italy on the side of England and France. Bulgaria and Romania would become involved as well as far away Japan, which saw the opportunity to expand its empire and influence at the expense of Germany.

No leaders had planned for a long war; they did not believe such a war could last. “One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”

But they were wrong and in the opening weeks and months of the war, every army lost massive numbers of troops ensuring that victory would not come quickly or cheaply. Between August and December 1914 the Germans had sustained about 800,000 casualties, the French about the same, the Austrians close to a million, the Russians at least 500,000 and the tiny British expeditionary force took about 87,000 casualties of the 110,000 troops deployed to France.

The war dragged on until November 1918. An armistice was signed; a peace treaty made, territory divided but the war never really ended, and in a way continues today in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe. The “War to end all War” really never ended, it continues today in some many places. It really was a war without end.

Of course in August 1914 the leaders of Europe gambled everything on a roll of the dice. The decisions that they made were made deliberately and with forethought, but the logic of those leaders was fatally flawed, and the implications of their flawed decision making process are still haunting us today. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the politicians, pundits and preachers, that “Trinity of Evil” that find glory and profit in war have learned anything. Like Conrad von Hotzendorf many leaders today believe that “the essence of politics lies in the use of the means called “war.” As Barbara Tuchman said “Learning from experience is a faculty almost never practiced”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Our Army Would be Invincible if…” The Problem of Senior Leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia Part Two, The Third Corps

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This is the second part of an article that I posted yesterday which is part of my Gettysburg series. This focuses on the Third Corps commanded by Lieutenant General A.P. Hill. The link to the first article is here: http://padresteve.com/2014/07/28/our-army-would-be-invincible-if-the-problem-of-senior-leadership-in-the-army-of-northern-virginia-june-1863-part-one-first-and-second-corps/

The newly created Third Corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was thought to be in good hands. Hill had commanded his large; six brigade “Light Division” with distinction, though having serious conflicts with both Longstreet and Jackson. At Antietam Hill’s hard marching from Harpers Ferry had saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction. Hill was a graduate of West Point who had served in the topographic engineers most of his U.S. Army career. He had an earned reputation as a brilliant division commander, and despite his clashes with Longstreet and Hill Lee recommended him to take command of Third Corps who sang his praise to Jefferson Davis “the best soldier of his grade with me.” [1] Hill was a “nervous wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation on his shoulders and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress.” [2] Hill detested Jackson, who he referred to as “that old Presbyterian fool” [3] and his poor relations with Jackson’s confidants at Second Corps ensured that Ewell took Second Corps. Lee appointed Hill to command Third Corps of which “half of the troops had been with him all along” [4] in the Light Division. Lee liked Hill’s aggressiveness and command instincts, something that he hoped would translate into success at the corps level, and promoted him over the head of D.H. Hill and Lafayette McLaws who were both senior to him. Regarding the promotion of Hill and Ewell Lee wrote to Davis:

“I wish to take advantage of every circumstance to inspire and encourage…the officers and men to believe that their labors are appreciated, and that when vacancies occur that they will receive the advantages of promotion….I do not know where to get better men than those I have named.” [5]

But the decision to promote the Ewell and Hill, both Virginians stirred some dissent among those that believed that Lee was “favoring Virginians over officers from other states. The promotion of A.P. Hill, as previous noted was “made over the head of two Major Generals more senior than Hill- North Carolinian D.H. Hill and Georgian Lafayette McLaws.” [6]

Hill’s corps, like those of Longstreet and Ewell was composed of three divisions, and even more so than Ewell his division suffered a want of senior leaders who had served at the grade they were now expected to serve.

The most stable division in Third Corps was Richard Anderson’s, transferred from First Corps. Under Longstreet the division and its commander had served well. Lee considered Anderson a “capable officer”…and had marked him for future higher command.” [7] Anderson was noted for his modesty and unselfishness, “his easy going ways, combined with his competence and professionalism made him one of the most well liked officers in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [8] However, there was an incalculable thrown into the equation. Hill had not yet established his methods of operation as a corps commander, and Anderson, used to “Longstreet’s methodical insistence that everything be just so before he would venture into action” contrasted with Hill’s “tendency to leap before he looked.” [9]

Anderson’s division was composed of five brigades commanded by a mixed lot of commanders, none of whom were professionals.

Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox was a no-nonsense graduate of West Point; he served in the Mexican War and taught tactics for five years at West Point. He had served with distinction as a brigade commander, but Wilcox was disgruntled, he “is restless, sore, and disposed to go to another Confederate army where he will have a chance.” [10] Wilcox had been passed over for promotion to Major General in favor of George Pickett and requested transfer from Lee’s army, which was refused for lack of qualified leaders. At Chancellorsville the delaying action of his brigade at Salem’s Church had helped save the army.

Brigadier General William Mahone was a graduate of VMI and was superintendent of the new Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad when the war Virginia seceded from the Union and served with reasonable effectiveness before Gettysburg. As a brigadier “he is not lacking in diligence, but he is not without special distinction.” [11] He fought competently at Chancellorsville and by Gettysburg had established himself as a “competent and experienced brigade leader.” [12]

Brigadier General Ransom Wright had no military training or experience prior to the war, but was a successful lawyer and by Gettysburg he “was considered a well-tested combat veteran.” [13] He had Unionist sentiments, was a no-nonsense individual and though he had no military was named colonel of the 3rd Georgia in 1861 and became a brigade commander during the Seven Days.

Brigadier General Carnot Posey was a highly successful plantation planter and lawyer who had served as a “lieutenant under Col. Jefferson Davis, and suffered a slight wound at the Battle of Buena Vista” [14] in the Mexican War, after which he returned home as was appointed as a United States District Attorney by President Buchanan. Posey commanded the 16th Mississippi and was promoted to brigade command prior to Chancellorsville where he gave a strong performance under fire.

Colonel David Lang commanded the Florida Brigade the smallest in the army. Just twenty-five years old, the graduate of the Georgia Military Institute inherited brigade command when Brigadier General Edward Perry came down with typhoid fever after Chancellorsville. He had only fought in three battles, two as a captain “and he had never led a brigade in combat.” [15]

Hill’s old Light Division was divided into two divisions. Major General William Dorsey Pender commanded the old Light Division which now consisted of four rather than six brigades. Pender was only 29 years old, the “youngest of that rank in the army.” [16] Pender was “only seven years out of West Point” [17] and was deeply loyal to Powell Hill and a partisan of the Light Division. However, he had risen “on first rate ability, steadfast ambition and a headlong personal leadership in battle which gave a driving force to his brigade” [18] which he considered “the best brigade of the best division” [19] in the army. Lee praised him as “a most gallant officer” and was deeply sensitive about keeping Pender with the troops that found him so inspiring noting “I fear the effect upon men of passing him over in favour of another not so identified with them.” [20] Pender was an “intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty.” [21]

Pender’s four veteran brigades were commanded by three experienced officers and one new to brigade command.

Colonel Abner Perrin from South Carolina was the least experienced. He was a successful lawyer who had served as a lieutenant in the Regular army in Mexico, served as a company commander in the 14th South Carolina which he took command of after Fredericksburg. He led the regiment at Chancellorsville and took command of the brigade when the brigade commander was wounded. Despite his inexperience he remained in command of the veteran South Carolina brigade, “whose leadership had been decimated” and had “devolved to lieutenant colonels, majors and captains.” [22]

Brigadier General James Lane was an academic. He graduated second in his class at VMI in 1854 and received a degree in science from the University of Virginia three years later. He returned to VMI as an assistant professor then became a professor of natural philosophy at the North Carolina Military Institute. [23] He was commissioned as a major in the 1st North Carolina and took command of it in September 1861 and promoted to brigade command after Antietam. Lane proved himself an able commander at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, at the latter his brigade led Jackson’s assault against the Union right, suffering 909 casualties and had the misfortune of when one of his units mortally wounded Jackson on the night of May 2nd 1863. Despite this “he and his men could be counted on to do the right thing when the bullets started to fly.” [24]

Brigadier General Edward Thomas was a plantation owner from Georgia who had served as a lieutenant in the Mexican War. Offered a commission in the Regular army he turned it down and returned home. He became colonel of the 35th Georgia Infantry in October 1861 and led it as part of Pettigrew’s brigade and after Pettigrew was wounded at Seven Pines the brigade was shifted to Joseph Anderson’s brigade of the Light Division, assuming command of that brigade when Anderson was wounded at Frayser’s Farm. He commanded it in the thick of the fighting at Second Manassas and at Fredericksburg helped stop Meade’s advance with a fierce counterattack, and commanded it again at Chancellorsville. Thomas could always be counted on to deliver “a solid, if unspectacular performance.” [25]

Brigadier General Alfred Scales was new to brigade command. A “forty-five year old humorless politician” [26] who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives with no military experience Scales enlisted as a private when North Carolina seceded. He was elected to a captaincy in Pender’s regiment and when Pender was transferred Scales succeeded him in command of the 13th North Carolina. He commanded that regiment on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days, served as acting commander of the brigade when Pender was wounded at Fredericksburg and distinguished himself with the 13th at Chancellorsville. Scales service with Pender’s brigade “had been one of consistent stout service.” [27] When Pender was promoted to division command “it was a forgone conclusion that his replacement in brigade command would be Scales.” [28] He had served with the brigade, was known to its soldiers and though inexperienced as a brigade commander he “and the brigade were one, for he had shared its fortunes, was proud of it, and was confident of victory as he led it to Gettysburg.” [29]

Hill’s remaining division was commanded by the newly minted Major General Harry Heth. It was composed of the two remaining brigades of the Light Division and two brigades recently joined to the army for the offensive.

Harry Heth was a graduate of West Point who has a “high reputation personally and professionally” [30] in the army, despite finishing 38th in a 45 member class at West Point. Lee had a high regard for Heth and considered him a friend and somewhat a protégé, however his regard “cannot be based on any substantive achievements by Heth, whose antebellum career and war experience had been similarly unremarkable.” [31] Heth was an example of a “soundly trained soldier of perennial promise. Always seemingly on the verge of becoming truly outstanding” but “never lived up to the army’s expectations.” [32] Heth became a brigade commander in Hill’s division prior to Chancellorsville after having served in Western Virginia and in the West. Hill was new to command of a newly formed division and had the weakest collection of brigade commanders in the army at Gettysburg.

Newest to the division was Johnston Pettigrew whose North Carolina brigade was one of the largest in the army. This was one of the new brigades provided to Lee by Davis, Pettigrew was a renaissance man, and was a graduate of the University of North Carolina he was “proficient in French, German, Italian and Spanish, with a reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.” [33] Pettigrew had spent a good amount of time abroad on diplomatic service before returning to his law practice in Charleston. He had “even spent time as a volunteer aid with the French and Italian forces against the Austrians in 1859.” [34] Elected to the state legislature in 1856 he “sensed the oncoming of hostilities and was named colonel of the 1st Regiment of Rifles, a Charleston militia outfit.” [35] Pettigrew was “one of those natural leaders of a privileged background who, without military ambitions, had been advanced on the application of native intelligence and contagious courage.” [36]

Brigadier General Joseph Davis, the nephew of President Jefferson Davis commanded a newly raised Mississippi brigade. Davis owed his appointment to his relationship with the President. He was “entirely without combat experience.[37] Most of the war he had spent on his uncle’s staff in Richmond and in his new appointment he was not with officers of any experience as “No one serving on Joe Davis’s staff showed strong signs of having the background, experience, and ability that might help the brigadier meet his responsibilities.” [38] Likewise the nine field officers assigned to his regiments were similarly ill-equipped.

Heth did have the experienced mixed Alabama-Tennessee brigade of Brigadier General James Archer. Despite its experience and “fine reputation” [39] the brigade was seriously understrength after seeing heavy combat at Chancellorsville. The brigade commander Archer was a graduate of the University of Maryland who practiced law before entering the Regular army as a Captain during the Mexican War where he was breveted for gallantry at the Battle of Chapultapec. He left the army after the war and then returned to it in 1855. He commanded the 5th Texas Regiment and took command of a Tennessee brigade at Seven Pines. Initially Archer was not well liked by any of his commands, the Texans considered him a tyrant and he was “very non-communicative, the bearing and extreme reserve of the old army officer made him, for a time, one of the most hated of men.” [40]After being joined to the Light Division Archer transformed his reputation among his men and had “won the hearts of his men by his wonderful judgment and conduct on the field.” [41]

The last brigade of Heth’s division was the small Virginia brigade of the “plodding, uninspiring” [42] Colonel John Brockenbrough. Brockenbrough was an 1850 graduate of VMI and “entered service as colonel of the 40th [Virginia Infantry] in May 1861.” [43] The brigade when it had been commanded by Charles Field had been considered one of the best in the army. Brockenbrough took command of it in 1862 when Field was wounded and “had never managed the brigade well, especially at Fredericksburg, and Lee returned him to regimental command.” [44] He reassumed the command of the brigade after Chancellorsville when Heth was promoted. Like Archer’s brigade it was “sadly reduced in numbers” and in morale…” [45]

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would go into the Gettysburg Campaign with two new and untried corps commanders. Of nine infantry division commanders three were new to command and another who had never commanded a division in combat. Of the infantry brigade commanders First Corps was in the best shape with ten of eleven assigned commanders having experience in command at that level, and most were of sound reputation. Second Corps was worse off, with six of thirteen assigned brigade commanders new to command, and two of the experienced brigade commanders were not competent to command at that level. Third Corps had nine of its thirteen commanders who had experience as brigade commanders; however, one of them, Brockenbrough was of little value despite being experienced.

Had the army had more time to exercise the new commanders before going into action Lee might have had a better result, but as he told Hood “this army would be invincible if….” As we know, if is the biggest two letter word in the English language, and these men, as Barbara Tuchman noted would be “made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[2] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.22

[3] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.22

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.434

 

[5] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[6] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.290

[7] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.86

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.306

[9] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg pp.86-87

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[11] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.48

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.315

[13] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.317

[14] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.319

[15] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.322

[16] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[17] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[18] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[19] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.45

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[21] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[22] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.331

[23] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.332-333

[24] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.334

[25] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.337

[26] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[27] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[28] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[29] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.306

[30] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[31] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.96

[32] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[33] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[34] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.129

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[36] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.78

[37] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.553

[38] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.101

[39] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[40] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.349

[41] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.350

[42] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

[43] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.118

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[45] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

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“Our Army Would be Invincible if…” The Problem of Senior Leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia June 1863 Part One First and Second Corps

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This is another installment of my Gettysburg campaign series and the first of four segments on the problems faced by Robert E. Lee as he attempted to find experienced and competent senior leaders to fill Corps, Division and Brigade command positions. I had planned this to be a single entry, but it has kind of taken on a life of its own…such is the life of a historian…. Anyway, I should be publishing the second part on A.P. Hill’s Third Corps and Stuart’s Cavalry division  tomorrow or Wednesday. Likewise, I will be expanding the second about Ewell’s Second Corps leadership and then doing a similar series on the problems of leadership in the Army of the Potomac, which undoubtedly take on a life of its own too…

An issue faced by armies that are forced to expand to meet the demands of war is the promotion and selection of competent leaders at all levels of command. It has been an issue throughout American military history including during our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The expansion of forces, the creation of new units and operational demands to employ those units sometimes result in officers being promoted, selected to command, being given field command or critical senior staff positions when in normal times they would not. To be fair, some do rise to the occasion and perform in an exemplary manner. Others do not. Those leaders that do not are quite often weeded out over the course of time but often not before their lack of experience, or incompetence proves disastrous on the battlefield. As Barbara Tuchman so eloquently put it:

“When the moment of live ammunition approaches, the moment to which all his professional training has been directed, when the lives of the men under him, the issue of the combat, even the fate of a campaign may depend upon his decision at a given moment, what happens inside the heart and vitals of a commander? Some are made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.” [1]

Stonewall Jackson was dead and with his death after the Pyrrhic victory at Chancellorsville General Robert E. Lee was faced with the necessity of reorganizing his army. Jackson’s loss was disastrous for Lee, for he lost the one man who understood him and his method of command more than anyone, someone for whom he had a deep and abiding affection. Months before Jackson’s death Lee said of him “Such an executive officer the sun has never shown on, I have but to show him my design, and I know that it if it can be done it will be done.” [2] After Jackson’s loss Lee said “I had such implicit confidence in Jackson’s skill and energy that I never troubled myself to give him detailed instructions. The most general suggestions were all that he needed.” [3] Lee met the loss with “resignation and deep perplexity,” his words displayed that sense of loss, as well as his sense of faith and trust in God’s providence “I know not how to replace him. God’s will be done. I trust He will raise someone up in his place…” [4]

In addition to the loss of Jackson, a major part of Lee’s problem was organizational. In 1862 Lee inherited an army that was a “hodgepodge of forces” [5] which was organized in an “unwieldy divisional command system, where green commanders out of necessity were given considerable independence.” [6] That organization was tested and found wanting during the Seven Days campaign where on numerous occasions division commanders failed to coordinate their actions with those of adjacent divisions or failed to effectively control their own troops during movement to contact or combat.

Shortly after the Seven Days Lee reorganized the army, working with the material that he had. He divided the army into two corps, under Jackson and James Longstreet, each composed of four divisions consisting of about 30,000 troops apiece. While both commanders were technically equals, it was Jackson to whom Lee relied on for the most daring tasks, and whom he truly considered his closest confidant and his “executive officer.”

The organization worked well at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, although Longstreet’s corps was detached from the army at the time of the latter, and with the loss of Jackson on the first night of that battle neither A.P. Hill nor J.E.B. Stuart effectively commanded Second Corps during the remainder of the battle.

Longstreet and Jackson served to balance each other and each enjoyed the trust of Lee. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda calls them the:

“yin and yang of subordinates. Jackson was superb at guessing from a few words exactly what Lee wanted done, and setting out to do it immediately without argument or further instructions; Longstreet was as good a soldier, but he was an instinctive contrarian and stubbornly insisted on making Lee think twice, and to separate what was possible from what was not.” [7]

Both men had been instrumental to Lee’s battlefield success and both played indispensable roles in Lee’s ability to command the army.

Likewise, the sheer size of Lee’s formations posed problems both in moment and combat, as Lee noted “Some of our divisions exceed the army Genl Scott entered Mexico with, & our brigades are larger than divisions”…that created stupendous headaches in “causing orders & req[uisitions] to be obeyed.” [8] Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis on May 20th “I have for the past year felt that the corps of the army were too large for one commander. Nothing prevented my proposing to you to reduce their size and increase their number but my inability to recommend commanders.” [9]

In the hands of Longstreet and Jackson these massive corps were in the good hands of leaders who could effectively handle them, “but in anyone else’s hands, a corps the size of Jackson’s or Longstreet’s might prove so big as to become clumsy, or even worse, might call for a degree of micromanagement that Lee and his diminutive staff might not be able to deliver.” [10] Thus Lee did not try to replace Jackson; he wrote to Davis the reasons for creating a new corps:

“Each corps contains in fighting condition about 30,000 men. These are more than one man can handle & keep under his eye in battle….They are always beyond the range and vision & frequently beyond his reach. The loss of Jackson from the command of one half of the army seems to me a good opportunity to remedy this evil.” [11]

Instead of appointing one man to command Second Corps, Lee reorganized the army and created two corps from it, stripping a division of Longstreet to join the new Third Corps and dividing the large “Light” Division of A.P. Hill, which under Hill’s “intelligent administration probably is the best in the army” [12] into two divisions.

The problem for Lee was just who to place in command of the new corps and divisions that he was creating. Lee was deeply aware of this problem, and wrote to John Bell Hood that the army would be “invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. There never were such men in an Army before. The will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. But there is the difficulty-proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” [13] Lee sought the best commanders possible for his army, but the lack of depth in the ranks of season, experienced commanders, as well as the need to placate political leaders made some choices necessary evils.

The First Corps, under Longstreet remained relatively intact, but now less the division of Major General Richard Anderson, which was transferred to the new Third Corps. The First Corps now had three divisions instead of four, those of Major General Lafayette McLaws, Major General John Bell Hood and Major General George Pickett. McLaws and Hood were both experienced division commanders who worked well under Longstreet.

McLaws had served in the old army. An 1842 graduate of West Point McLaws served in the infantry and was resigned from the army in 1861 to take command of a Georgia regiment.   McLaws was “a capable soldier without flair, who steady performance never produced a high moment. His reliability and dogged tenacity rubbed off on his men, however, and made them as hard to dislodge as any in the army.” [14] Porter Alexander noted that in the defense “McLaws was about the best in the army…being very painstaking about details, & having an eye for good ground.” [15] But there was a drawback, for all of his solidness and fortitude “he lacked a military imagination,” and was “best when told exactly what to do and closely supervised by superiors.” [16]His division was typical of many in First Corps, “outstanding on defense and led by a competent soldier, they were thoroughly dependable. With the reliance of old pro’s, they did what they were told, stood up under heavy casualties, and produced tremendous firepower.” [17]

McLaws was fortunate to have solid brigade commanders, three of whom had served with him from the beginning, so the lack of familiarity so common in the divisions of Second and Third Corps was not an issue. Interestingly none were professional soldiers.

Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw was a lawyer and politician he had served in Mexico with the Palmetto Regiment and volunteered for service as South Carolina succeeded and he was at Fort Sumter. As commander of the 2nd South Carolina and as a brigade commander he distinguished himself during the Seven Days, Antietam and Fredericksburg He displayed an almost natural ability for “quick and rational decisions, and he never endangered his men rashly. McLaws had complete faith in him and his brigade…” [18]

Brigadier General Paul Semmes was a banker and plantation owner from Georgia and the brother of the Confederacy’s most famous naval commander, Raphael Semmes, who commanded the Raider C.S.S. Alabama. Semmes “was well known in Georgia as a man both of military tastes & accomplishments before the war & though of no military education he was one of the first generals created.” [19] He commanded the 2nd Georgia Regiment and by 1862 was in command of McLaws’ old brigade which he led with distinction during the Seven Days, Antietam and Chancellorsville. By Gettysburg he “had proved himself a worthy and capable brigadier” [20] and Porter Alexander wrote “and it is due to say that there was never a braver or a better.” [21]

Brigadier General William Barksdale was a Mississippi lawyer, newspaper editor and politician who had served in Mexico as a quartermaster, but who “frequently appeared at the front during heavy fighting, often coatless and carrying a large sword.” [22] He was one of the few generals who had been “violently pro-slavery and secessionist” [23] and as a Congressman had been involved in the altercation when Representative Preston Brooks nearly killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. At the outbreak of the war Barksdale volunteered for service and took command of a brigade at Malvern Hill and at Antietam and Fredericksburg was in the thick of the fight. He had a strong bond with his soldiers.

Brigadier General William Wofford was the newest of McLaws’ brigade commanders. Wofford was a Georgia newspaper owner and lawyer who had done a great deal of fighting in the Mexican War where he commanded a company despite having no military education. He was considered a man of “high morale bearing…of the strictest sobriety, and, indeed of irreproachable moral character.” [24] Demonstrating the tensions of the day Wofford was a “staunch Unionist Democrat” who “opposed secession and voted against it at the Georgia secession convention.” [25] Wofford volunteered for service and was “elected colonel of the first Georgia regiment to volunteer for the war.” [26] That being said Wofford “was a decided Union man from first to last during the whole war” and saw “with exceptional prescience…the certain fatality” of secession, but once the deed was done, he closed ranks…” [27] Wofford served well as a regimental commander and acting brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg and was promoted to the brigadier general and command of a brigade just before Chancellorsville.

Major General John Bell Hood was an 1853 graduate of West Point and had served as a cavalry officer under Lee’s command in Texas. He gained a stellar reputation as a leader and fighter and when his home state of Kentucky did not secede he attached himself to his adopted state of Texas. He began the war as a lieutenant but by 1862 was a Brigadier General commanding the only Texas brigade in the east. He took command of a division following the Seven Days and during the next year built a “combat record unequalled by any in the army at his level.” [28] And the “reputation gained as commander of the Texas Brigade and as a division commander made him both a valuable general officer and a celebrity who transcended his peers.” [29]

Hood’s brigade commanders were as solid as group as any in the army:

Brigadier General Evander Law was a graduate of the South Carolina Military (the Citadel) and a professor in various military colleges and schools before the war. He served admirably as a regiment and brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, and Antietam and was promoted to brigadier general in October 1862 just prior to Fredericksburg. After Chancellorsville he was the senior brigadier in Hood’s division. He had “military training, youth, dash ability and familiarity with his men- a formidable package in combat.” [30]

Brigadier General George “Tige” Anderson was a Georgian who had served in Mexico as a lieutenant of Georgia cavalry and in 1865 was commissioned as a captain in the Regular cavalry, but resigned after three years. He had no formal military training but was considered a capable officer. He was present at most of the major battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia but in most cases his brigade had not been heavily engaged and had “little chance to distinguish himself” but he was loved by his soldiers. One wrote that he “stands up for us like a father” while another wrote “He is always at his post.” [31]

Hood’s old Texas Brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Jerome Robertson. At the age of forty-eight he had served with Sam Houston in the Texas War for Independence and later took time off to serve fighting Indians. He practiced medicine in Texas and in 1861 was a pro-secession delegate to the Texas secession convention. He was commissioned as a Captain and promoted to Colonel of the 5th Texas just prior to the Seven Days and led that unit to fame. He was promoted after Antietam to command the Texas Brigade. Away from most of the action at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he would have his first combat experience as a brigade commander at Gettysburg.

Brigadier General Henry Benning was a lawyer and Georgia Supreme Court justice. While not having any military training or experience he was “known to all as a man of the highest integrity, and he was compared in character to that earlier champion of the South, John Calhoun. He was one of the most industrious and capable men in the Confederacy.” [32] Unlike other Confederate political leaders he favored a strong central government for the new South. He was considered a prime candidate for a cabinet post but had already decided to serve in the new army and helped organize the 17th Georgia Infantry. As a regiment commander and acting brigade commander at Antietam, his brigade had held off Burnside’s corps at the Burnside Bridge and became known as “Old Rock” [33]and was a “proven commander” who “provided strong leadership and bolstered the confidence of the men under him.” [34]

Major General George Pickett had commanded his division for some time, but Pickett “had never led his division in combat.” [35] Likewise the brigades of his division had not fought together in a major engagement and the division was new to fighting as a part of First Corps. The campaign would also be Pickett’s first offensive campaign as a division commander. Pickett was an 1846 graduate of West Point who though well liked “showed evidence of a meager intellect and aversion to hard work.” [36] However he distinguished himself by his gallantry at Chapultapec in the Mexican War where taking the colors from the wounded Longstreet and “carried them over the wall[37] gaining fame around the country for the exploit. Pickett was a protégé of Longstreet who “had been instrumental in Pickett’s appointment to divisional command.” [38] Pickett was “untried at his new rank, but had been an excellent brigade leader and with Longstreet’s full support was apt to direct with wisdom his larger force.” [39]

Pickett’s division only had three of his five brigades at Gettysburg. Two were commanded by old Regular officer’s Richard Garnett and Lewis Armistead, and the third by James Kemper.

Brigadier General James Kemper was the only non-professional soldier of the three brigade commanders. Kemper had been a captain of volunteers in the Mexican War, but that war ended before he could see action. He was a politician who had served twice as Virginia’s Speaker of the House and “was another of those civilian leaders who, accustomed to authority, translated their gifts to command in the field.” [40] During his time as a legislator Kemper had served as “chairman of the Military Affairs Committee in the years before the Civil War, and insisted on a high level of military preparedness.” [41] Kemper served as commander of the 7th Virginia Regiment and was promoted to brigadier general after Seven Pines and commanded the brigade at Second Manassas and Antietam. He was “very determined and was respected by brother officers for solid qualities and sound judgment.” [42]

Brigadier Richard Garnett came to his command and to Gettysburg under a cloud. He was a West Point graduate, class of 1841who strong Unionist, but who had resigned his commission in the Regular Army because he “felt it an imperative duty to sacrifice everything in support of his native state in her time of trial.” [43] Garnett had run afoul of Jackson while commanding the Stonewall Brigade and during the Valley campaign had been relieved of command and arrested by Jackson for ordering a retreat without Jackson’s permission. Garnett had been “humiliated by accusations of cowardice” [44] and demanded a court-martial which never was held as Lee transferred him away from Jackson to Pickett’s division. Gettysburg offered him “his first real opportunity with Pickett’s division to clear his honor as a gentleman and a soldier.” [45]

Pickett’s last brigade was commanded by an old Regular, and longtime friend and comrade of Garnett, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead. He was expelled from West Point and later was commissioned directly into the infantry in 1839. He fought in the Mexican War where he received two brevet promotions for gallantry and was wounded at Chapultapec. Like Garnett Armistead resigned his commission in 1861 to serve in the Confederate army where he took command of the 57th Virginia Infantry and shortly thereafter was promoted to Brigadier General. He held brigade command and served Provost Marshal during Lee’s 1862 invasion of Maryland. He had seen little action since Second Manassas, but was known for “his toughness, sound judgment and great personal courage.” [46]

To command what was left of Second Corps Lee promoted Major General Richard Ewell to Lieutenant General. Ewell had been an effective and dependable division commander under Jackson but had been wounded at Groveton where he was severely wounded and lost a leg, which meant the “absence for long months of the most generous, best disciplined, and in many soldierly qualities, the ablest of Jackson’s subordinates.” [47] However, Ewell, though serving long with Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley had served “only briefly under Lee” [48] before being wounded at Groveton. The result was that neither fully knew or understood each other. Lee knew Ewell’s excellent reputation among the soldiers of Second Corps and “may have heard rumors that on his deathbed Jackson expressed a preference for Ewell as his successor.” [49] Ewell was a modest man and “had maintained a reputation for solid competence.” [50] Freeman wrote:

“In part, the appointment of Dick Ewell was made because of sentimental association with the name Jackson, and in part because of admiration for his unique, picturesque, and wholly lovable personality. Of his ability to lead a corps nothing was known. Ewell had never handled more than a division and he had served with Lee directly for less than a month.” [51]

In sending the recommendation on to Richmond Lee termed Ewell “an honest, brave soldier, who has always done his duty well.” [52] It was not a resounding recommendation, but then Lee barely knew Ewell. Lee wrote after the war that he recommended Ewell “with full knowledge of “his faults as a military leader- his quick alternations from elation to despondency[,] his want of decision &c.” [53] Many questions hovered around the appointment of Ewell including how the loss of his leg, his recent marriage, newness to corps command and unfamiliarity with Lee’s style of command would have on him. Had Lee known that the humble Ewell had reservations of his own about assuming command of a corps and going back to battle after the traumatic amputation of his leg, he had written “I don’t feel up to a separate command” and he had “no desire to see the carnage and shocking sights of another field of battle.” [54]

Ewell’s reorganized Second Corps now consisted of his former division, commanded since Antietam by Major General Jubal Early. Early was an unusual character. He was a West Point graduate who had served in the Seminole wars, left the army and became a highly successful lawyer. He served in the Mexican war as a Major with Virginia volunteers and returned to civilian life. He was “notoriously a bachelor and at heart a lonely man.” Unlike many Confederate officers he had “no powerful family connections, and by a somewhat bitter tongue and rasping wit” isolated himself from his peers.[55] He was a Whig and opposed succession, volunteering for service only after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion. Called the “my old bad man” by Lee, who “appreciated Early’s talents as a soldier and displayed personal fondness for his cantankerous and profane Lieutenant …who only Stonewall Jackson received more difficult assignments from Lee.” [56] He was affectionately known as “Old Jube” or “Jubilee” by his soldiers he is the most influential of Ewell’s commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [57]

The corps also contains the former division of Stonewall Jackson under the command of Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson, an old regular with a solid record of service. However, Johnson had spent a year recovering from a serious wound and took command of the division after Chancellorsville. He was an outsider to the division, “with no real experience above the brigade level” and he was “unfamiliar with the qualities and limitations of his four new brigadiers.” [58] The former division of D.H. Hill was now under the command of Robert Rodes, a VMI graduate and professor who had never served in the Regular Army and only had briefly commanded a division before his appointment to command. Rodes was a solid officer who in time became an excellent division commander, but at Gettysburg he was still new and untried. In the summer of 1863 Rodes was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s brightest stars…because of his effective, up-front style of combat leadership.” [59]

The brigade level commanders in the corps were another matter. Early’s division included standouts such as Brigadier General John Gordon and Harry Hays, which was balanced out by the weakness of Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith and the inexperience of Colonel Isaac Avery, who commanded the brigade of Robert Hoke who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

In Johnson’s division the situation was more unsettled, as Johnson and all of his brigade commanders were new to their commands. Johnson’s division had Brigadier General George “Maryland” Steuart, a tough old regular cavalry officer who was new to command of a troubled brigade whose commander had just been relieved, Brigadier General John Marshall Jones who also was a former regular, but who had a well-known problem with alcohol, who had never held a field command, like his division commander he was new to the division. Brigadier General James Walker commanded the “Stonewall” Brigade. Walker replaced the brigade commander, Paxton who had been killed at Chancellorsville. He had commanded the 13th Virginia in Ewell’s division and served as acting commander of different brigades during the Seven Days, Antietam and Fredericksburg and had a solid record of success. He had just been promoted to Brigadier General and was new to both the Stonewall Brigade and the division whose officers initially resisted the appointment of an outsider but soon warmed up to their new commander. Colonel Jesse Williams had just taken command of the brigade of Brigadier General Francis Nichols who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

Rodes division was the largest in the army with five brigades present at Gettysburg. His brigade commanders were a mixed bag ranging from the excellent Brigadier General George Doles and Stephen Ramseur, Brigadier General Junius Daniel, a former regular who had much brigade command time but little combat experience, despite the lack of combat experience Daniel was well respected and “had the essential qualities of a true soldier and successful officer, brave, vigilant, honest…gifted as an organizer and disciplinarian, skilled in handling troops.” [60] However, Rodes was saddled with two commanders of dubious quality, Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, who was hated by his men and Colonel Edward O’Neal, a leading secessionist politician “who had absolutely no military experience before the war” [61] and who had been ineffective as an acting brigade commander when he took over for Rodes at Chancellorsville, however, Lee was forced to leave O’Neal at the head of his brigade for lack of other senior leaders over Rodes objections.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Tuchman, Barbara The Guns of August Ballantine Books, New York 1962 Amazon Kindle edition location 2946

[2] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.128

[3] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.30

[4] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.524

[5] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.30

[6] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.110

[7] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.527

[8] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 pp.20-21

[9] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993

[10] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.20-21

[11] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.289

[12] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.35

[13] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.12

[14] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition pp.208-209

[15] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.170

[16] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.209

[17] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.176

[18] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.214

[19] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.80

[20] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.217

[21] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.80

[22] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.217-218

[23] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.217

[24] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.296

[25] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.221

[26] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.297

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.296-297

[28] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.224

[29] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.161

[30] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.228

[31] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.230

[32] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.234

[33] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.430

[34] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.235

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.12

[36] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.237

[37] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.45

[38] Wert, Jeffery D. Gettysburg Day Three A Touchstone Book, New York 2001 p.110

[39] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.385

[40] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.268

[41] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.241

[42] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.269

[43] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.269

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.379

[45] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.270

[46] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.244

[47] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.322

[48] Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.47

[49] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.47

[50] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.130

[51] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.322

[52] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.48

[53] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p..49

[54] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.23

[55] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.33

[56] Gallagher, Gary W. Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy; Frank L Klement Lecture, Alternate Views of the Sectional Conflict Marquette University Press Marquette WI 2003 p.11

[57] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.256

[58] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.269-270

[59] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p. 284

[60] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.292

[61] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.299

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Strategy and Policy: Lee’s Offensive Gettysburg Campaign -The Worst of Both Worlds

A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. It must look at the ends, ways and means of achieving national strategic objectives as well as the risk entailed in each course of action. It has to involve both the political leadership and military commanders. Clausewitz said: “the supreme, most far reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.” [1]

“Wars are not free flowing events, sufficient unto themselves as objects for study and understanding. Instead they are entirely the product of their contexts.” [2] Thus it is imperative that both political and military leaders understand for what purpose they embark on a war or begin a campaign. Even in the recent American experience we can recount time after time where American political leaders of both the Republican and Democrat parties, as well as military leaders and planners have failed to grasp the central truth of was Clausewitz wrote about the nature of war.

davis and cabinet

British political and military theorist Colin S. Gray writes: “Choice of strategy can determine whether or not policy goals will be attainable. And that choice must provide the most vital contexts for tactical behavior. Once policy objectives have been chosen, strategy is the function that delivers victory.” [3] In our recent wars and in the American Civil War this maxim has been born out time and time again.

Thus, the Gettysburg campaign has to be looked at in the context of Grand Strategy and what was necessary for both sides to achieve their goals. For the Confederacy this was independence and in the context of the Gettysburg campaign the key question is whether it should have been made at all. While Lee is regarded as a masterful commander by many, the myth created by the Lost Cause school of history, in which the failure of Confederate war aims cannot be ascribed to Lee, keeps many people from asking the hard questions of strategy, and how Lee as commander failed to understand what was best for his country.

The key consideration, as Alan T. Nolan observes “must be whether a general’s actions helped or hurt the cause of his government in view of that government’s grand strategy. In short, the appropriate inquiry is to ask whether a general’s actions related positively or negatively to the war objectives and national policy of his government.” [4] The question was one of following a strategy of the defensive as Washington had done in the Revolutionary War, or a strategy of the offense culminating in a climactic battle that would decide the outcome of the war.

A defensive strategy was seen by British observers early in the war as the most feasibly for achieving Southern military and political goals in relationship to attaining independence. In the Revolution, Washington remained on the “grand strategic defensive” and “lost many battles and retreated many times, but they kept their forces in the field to avoid being ultimately defeated, and they won because the British decided that the struggle was either too hopeless or too burdensome to pursue.” [5] They had no doubt that this was the best policy for the Confederate government and military to achieve their strategic end.

The terrain of Virginia, particularly the number of east-west running rivers, the swamps that lay to the east of Richmond and the nearly impassible Wilderness to its north made any Union offensive a costly proposition. Clausewitz noted that terrain has “a decisive influence on the engagement, both as to its course and to its planning and exploitation….Their principle effect lies in the realm of tactics, but the outcome is a matter of strategy” [6]

This naturally advantageous terrain gave the advantage to Lee on the defense, but Lee seemed to never fully appreciate the strategic strength that the nature of the terrain, especially that of the Wilderness offered him. J.F.C. Fuller noted that “the Wilderness had been his staunchest ally. It was not only a natural fortress protecting Richmond, but a spider’s web to any army advancing from the north. Lee never fully realized this, for if he had done so his strategy would have been based upon maneuvering his enemy again and again into this entanglement and defeating him.” [7]

However, the strategic defensive was not that of Robert E. Lee. Lee’s view throughout the war, even as late as the siege of Petersburg was that of the offensive and climactic battle: “If we can defeat or drive the armies of the enemy from the field, we shall have peace. Our efforts and energies should be devoted to that object.” [8]

In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the post Chancellorsville euphoria.

In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter. If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [9] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [10]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [11] in their upper leadership, between those like Lee who advocated for the offensive and those like Davis who advocated a defensive strategy. The military relationship between Lee and Davis “represented a continuous compromise between the president’s undeclared policy of outlasting the enemy and the general’s purpose of winning by breaking the enemy’s will to continue their effort at subjugation.” [12]

Davis, though he was Commander-in-Chief wavered between the two strategic ideas throughout the first years of the war, something that was worse than coming to no decision at all. Lee’s latest biographer Michael Korda makes the point that: “The danger that the Confederacy might unravel from west to east, whatever happened between the Rappahannock and the Potomac, was Grant’s central strategic idea, and should have been the overriding concern of the Confederate government; but Lee’s position as the South’s most respected and admired military figure, the high drama of his rapid marches and his victories against much larger armies had a profound effect on southern military strategy.” [13] Instead it was not, and a fog of confused policies confounded Confederate war efforts.

Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.” [14] From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, “but in the post-Chancellorsville aura of invincibility, anything seemed possible.” [15]

However, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [16] Fuller wrote that Lee “was so obsessed by the idea of threatening Washington in order to relieve Northern Virginia, that throughout his generalship he never saw the war as a whole.” [17] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Likewise, despite the success of his defensive battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Lee was not encouraged. Those victories had elated the Confederacy and caused great concern in the North. But Lee was depressed after each. Lee told Harry Heth after Chancellorsville: “Our people were wild with delight- I, on the contrary, was more depressed than after Fredericksburg; our loss was severe, and again we had not gained an inch of ground, and the enemy could not be pursued…” [18]

Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [19]

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [20] Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [21] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [22]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [23] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [24] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [25] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [26]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” [27]

In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…[28] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [29]

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. Lee believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [30] Russell Weigley wrote that “In truth, Lee seems to have been less than fully responsive to the problems of the West, partly out of Virginia parochialism- he always regarded his sword as serving his first state of Virginia-and partly in adherence to his military philosophy,” [31] that of the offensive. Lee was not willing to sacrifice Virginia for the west, and “tenaciously fought every suggestion that the Army of Northern Virginia be denuded to reinforce the west, and his influence over Davis guaranteed, at least until the fall of 1863, that the defense of Virginia would always be able to outweigh the demands for help from the Confederate forces in the West.” [32]

Instead of sending troops west, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. Lee proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [33] and he sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful. He received two relatively untested brigades from Hill; those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis instead two of Pickett’s veteran brigades. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.” [34]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.” [35] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [36] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down other very real threats in the West.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [37] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [38]

Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it. Unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [39] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [40] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [41]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. The fact was that those that “though there was a strong peace party in the North, they did not realize that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had settled once and for all the question of foreign intervention, and second that to invade the North would consolidate the Federals instead of dividing them.” [42]

In the meeting with the cabinet, Postmaster-General Reagan, agreed with General Beauregard and warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [43] Reagan was decidedly against Lee’s offensive. He “saw everything wrong with Lee’s plan and everything right with the plan it had superseded. Grant was the main threat to the survival of the Confederacy, and it was Grant at whom the main blow must be aimed and struck.” [44] But “Lee’s opinion carried so much weight that Davis felt compelled to concur” [45] with Lee and voted with the remaining cabinet members to allow the offensive.

Stephens the fire breathing Vice President “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [46] However, he was kept in the dark as to Lee’s plans until after Lee had crossed the Potomac.

Likewise, Lee, the consummate defender of Virginia was determined to at least for a season remove the war from his beloved state. He believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations.

While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan noted that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.” [47] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [48]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Lee wanted, and believed that he would have his entire army to conduct his offensive. However, Davis did not understand or conceive that Lee’s offensive scheme was a “change in the existing policy, a shift from the defense to the offense. To Davis, Lee’s invasion was merely a necessary expedient in the policy of static, scattered defensiveness.” [49]

Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and “had not the slightest intention of reducing a single garrison to support Lee’s offensive.” [50] Davis insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third in the doomed effort to break the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. As a result Lee was without a significant portion of his army when he moved north. Lee did not learn “until he had crossed the Potomac that four of his best brigades, the equivalent of a division, were to be uselessly employed away from the army.” [51]

Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.

The conflict between those who believed in the offensive like Lee, and those that advocated a strategic defensive strategy resulted in indecision, which resulted in a policy that brought about “the worst of both worlds.” [52] The fact that Lee got permission to invade but was denied significant numbers of experienced troops as well as support from other departments meant that “what Lee designed as a total stroke from a concentration of its armed strength, was reduced to a desperate, unsupported gamble of one man with one army-and not all of that.” [53] Knowing this, Lee still chose to continue his offensive, something that along with his “own awareness of factors that argued against it.” [54]

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and “counterproductive in terms of the Confederacy’s “objects of war.” [55]

Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [56] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like at Fredericksburg, he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [57] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [58]

What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. As Russell Weigley noted “for a belligerent with the limited manpower resources of the Confederacy, General Lee’s dedication to an offensive strategy was at best questionable.” [59] The offensive was a long shot for victory at best, and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go north exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [60] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [61] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [62]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [63] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander.

Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. Lee also understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

In light of all of these factors one has to ask a question that is applicable as much today as it was to Lee. Since the object of a campaign is to be able to connect national strategy to the operational and tactical objectives of any campaign, in other words the connection of the campaign to grand-strategy objectives of a nation. In the case of the Confederacy it was to achieve independence, and as Clausewitz so keenly noted that “the political object, which was the original motive, must become an essential factor in the equation.” [64] The Gettysburg campaign, “Lee’s most audacious act, is the apogee of his grand strategy of the offensive.” But the question that has to be asked is “whether Lee should have been there at all.” [65] The same question should be asked by any political or military leader before embarking on a war or campaign within the war.

Notes

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von. On WarIndexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.88

 

[2] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.3

[3] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.54

[4] Nolan, Alan T. Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General in Major Problems in American Military History: Documents and Essays Edited by Chambers, John Whiteclay II and Piehler, G. Kurt Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.175

[5] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.9

[6] Clausewitz, Carl von. On WarIndexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.348

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.192

[8] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.5

[9] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME

[10] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101

[11] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629

[12] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 pp.20-21

[13] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 pp.524-525

[14] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.34

[15] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[16] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525

[17] Ibid. Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.193

[18] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.339

[19] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5

[20] Ibid. Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.193

[21] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.429

[22] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429

[23] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525

[24] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241

[25] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656

[26] Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.5

[28] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[29] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.

[30] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430

[31] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.114-115

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction p.340

[33] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528

[34] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[37] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6

[38] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[39] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[40] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[41] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[42] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.222

[43] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[44] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[45] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[46] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[47] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburgin the First Day at Gettysburg p.2

[48] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[49] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.27

[50] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.27

[51] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.36

[52] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.118

[53] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.28

[54] Ibid. Nolan Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General p.176

[55] Ibid. Nolan Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General in Major Problems p.176

[56] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134

[57] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.120

[58] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415

[59] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.118

[60] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[61] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[62] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[63] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4

[64] Ibid. Clausewitz On War pp.80-81

[65] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.10

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Churches that Ignore: The Mega-Church and the Least, the Lost and the Lonely

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“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

Back when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital I was astounded to hear my pastor make a comment which I think was one of the most heartless that I have ever heard said from a pulpit.  The church was a large and trendy Evangelical-Charismatic Church which I had attended throughout seminary and had ordained my in October 1991.  The Pastor was recounting an incident where one of our members had been critically ill in hospital and had not been visited by him.  After the parishioner was released from hospital he asked the pastor: “How sick do I have to be for you to visit me in the hospital?”  The pastor told us his response: “Sir, you don’t want to be that sick.”

The congregation laughed at the pastor’s story and he went on to talk about how he and other senior pastors should not be doing that kind of work because it “distracted them from bigger Kingdom tasks.”  You see according to the pastor the care of sick parishioners did not contribute to the “growth” of the church and thus was a “distraction and better left to others.”

The comment struck a raw nerve now that I was dealing with the suffering and death every day of people who had been abandoned by the churches and pastors.  I lost all respect for him as a man and pastor during that sermon.  My philosophy of religion professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Yandall Woodfin said: “You have not done Christian theology until you have dealt with suffering and death.”

Unfortunately my old pastor, and many more like had stopped doing Christian theology in order to be an “Apostle” and CEO.  He was “growing” the church and managing programs, but had for the most part stopped caring as in being a pastoral care giver.

Now this pastor is not alone and nor is the issue of the lack of care confined to Evangelical or Charismatic churches. The trend has has found its way across the denominational spectrum.  Sometimes this is by design as is the case of the Mega-churches.

Pastors of mega-churches are for all practical purposes CEOs of large organizations and have a multiplicity of specialized staff, but often which do little for pastoral care. Having attended a number of these churches, and worked for a prominent television evangelist I can sadly report seeing this first hand many times.

Sometimes this problem it is by default in cases such as the Roman Catholic Church.  In that church the ever worsening shortage of Priests is forcing the closure of smaller parishes and the increase of large parishes with a corresponding decrease in what Priests can do for their people.   Even very good Priests cannot keep pace with the demand of both Sacramental needs as well as pastoral care.

No matter if it is by design or default the result is similar.  The least, the lost and the lonely those “lambs” that Jesus talks about who need care and feeding are shunted aside.  In one case, that of the Catholic Church it is primarily a lack of Priests, Deacons and Sisters to provide this care, although sadly there are Catholic priests who do not see themselves as care givers.

The “by design” issue is more far more troubling as the focus of the church is growth, sustaining numbers, programs and buildings.  This requires that pastors spend their time with members who can supply the vast financial need that those plans require.  I have seen this in numerous congregations across the spectrum, which sometimes as was the case at a church that I attended in Florida results in a financial meltdown and collapse of the congregation, many of whom gave up and went elsewhere when the extent of the scandal became known.  Likewise the ripple effects that this caused in the denomination were like a Tsunami, it was disastrous and the church is still in recovery mode.  Going back to my pastor back when I was in residency I got the feeling that had he been the shepherd in the Parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15) that he would have let it go as hunting for it might have distracted him from the others.

When I was in seminary there were quite a number of my fellow students who chafed about having to take courses on pastoral care.  I remember friends and fellow students complaining that what they needed were more “practical courses” such as “church growth, evangelism and Sunday School program management.”  Courses dealing with Pastoral Care were seen as a bother and distraction.  Not to mention academic courses such as Systematic Theology, Philosophy of Religion and Church History which offer timeless lessons for pastors.  One friend talked about his Master of Divinity only having a “shelf-life of 5 years” because what he learned would be outdated.

Well in a way he was right.  His focus was on classes that dealt with programs and methods of church growth, programs and management.   From that perspective his degree would rapidly be obsolescent as soon as the next trend in church growth came along and everyone jettisoned the last method in favor of the new.

With the ubiquity of the Mega-church which unlike the Leisure Suit is not going away anytime soon.  The rise of the “Superstar” Pastors such as Bill Hybels, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren and the proliferation of massive “Ministry Media” conglomerates and stand-alone television ministries are actually dangerous to the vitality and health of the Christian Church in the United States.  They propagate methods which have the sole intent of getting people into church or giving to a ministry and keeping them there, doctrine, worship, sacraments or ordinances, and pastoral care of the least, lost and lonely be damned.  The methods are pragmatic and impersonal.   Numbers and crowds define expertise, credibility and worth. The bigger the church the better the church, it’s that simple.

Unlike others who pick these ministers apart for their theology or business practices my problem with what is happening is what happens to regular people in these large and often very impersonal churches.  It is easy for people to get lost, forgotten and when they are going through difficulty abandoned when the church stops making a conscious effort to do real pastoral care and focus purely on the programs which lend to growth.  Often the substitute for pastoral care is found in the home cell group, or care group or whatever cute name a church can pin on a meeting at a member’s house.
The home groups or cell groups have a noble intention.  They attempt to build community in an otherwise very impersonal organization.  There are some really good things that can come out of healthy home groups as well as long lasting friendships.  We have a couple from our time in San Antonio that is still a very real part of our lives, they showed us genuine love and care and we remain friends.  Of course this couple had an advantage over most home group leaders; he was a clinical social worker by trade who was heading off to seminary.

Most home groups are not that fortunate.  There are unhealthy groups which are led by people who are poorly trained and equipped to deal with broken people.  The good group leaders recognize their limitations and try to get help for those who are really hurting.  Others who do not know their limitations end up abusing these dear lambs of God. Often this is because sick, depressed or lonely people take too much time, are too needy, or that their problems don’t match up with their church theology.

My wife and I know this from personal experience as my wife suffered from a number of ailments throughout seminary and we were going through tremendous health and financial difficulties and in some places we felt cast aside and like we did not matter.  We were fortunate that some people did care and we did make it through, however it was not something that I would ever want to repeat.  I have heard similar stories from hundreds of people that I have come across in my life and work over the years.

I don’t care what you call it, but any church which has multiple services of several thousand or a major service of close to 20,000 as occurs at Osteen’s Lakewood Church is no longer focused on caring for people but sustaining their growth and market share.

I remember reading Charisma Magazine back in the mid-1990s when I still read it regularly about a church in North Dallas that has a period of incredible church growth in which it grew from 1,200 members to well over 7,000.  In the article the pastor touted the church programs which drew people to the church.  What the dirty little secret which was not mentioned was that two exits south of this church a Mega-church of some 10,000 members imploded when the Pastor, one Bob Tilton got caught doing some pretty bad stuff.  This church despite its claims of great programs simple picked up about 6,000 of these people because they were close by and a similar type of church.

All of this is dangerous as to its impact on people.  One only has to look at the latest Barna Polls about what is going on in churches to see that these large churches are alienating people even as they grow.  People come, but others either burn out trying to keep pace with the manic pace of programs proliferated by these churches or they get lost in the crowd and forgotten.  I meet a least a person every day who is a displaced Christian, often hurt, lonely and broken, not only by what they have experienced in life, but by the cold emptiness that they feel when a church surrounded by thousands of people who don’t even know their name.

Some churches do recognize that people have issues that need to be addressed and have in-house Christian counseling programs or refer members to Christian counseling services.   I think that there certainly is a place for clinically trained therapists in the life of a church; however this is not really pastoral care, even when they use “Biblical” methods.   In a sense it is the outsourcing by pastors of one of the most vital missions entrusted to a church, the pastoral care of the flock of God to others, in a sense, “hirelings.”  Again my issue is not with the therapists or Christian counselors, but rather pastors who refuse to do pastoral care as part of their ministry.

Ultimately it is people that are important, even those who are not rich, powerful and who have problems that don’t fit nicely into theological boxes or paradigms promoted by church growth experts. It is high time that churches start reclaiming one of the most vital missions given by Jesus to his Disciples, to care for the least, the lost and the lonely.
The onus for this falls on pastors who cannot simply outsource one of their primary missions as given by Jesus himself to others.  If pastors do not set the example of being caring pastoral care givers, it will not matter that they are supposedly “empowering” laypeople to do ministry.  Instead it sends another more ominous message, that if it is not important for the pastor, why should it be important to me?

Every member of the church at some time goes through a crisis when their faith, family, health or vocation.  Sometimes these are not isolated events but rather prolonged periods of anguish, as what Saint John of the Cross described as “the Dark Night of the Soul” where it seems that God has even abandoned the person.  Unfortunately people in this situation are often abandoned by their church as things fail to improve.  Despairing they become the lost sheep whose shepherd has abandoned.  This is the hardest time for pastoral care, the times where we as pastors are called to stand with someone as Mary the Mother of Jesus did at the Cross, just simply being there though nothing else can be done.

Now do I understand that the demands of running a large church can be sometimes become such that pastors have difficulty making time for pastoral care?

Of course I understand this, at the same time pastors, even those who function primarily as pastor-teacher/CEOs still have the responsibility of caring for people, not simply administering programs and preaching.  Pastors need to set the example of care for people, real people, the regular people who populate their pews, by their books and give to their ministry, even if it is only in small ways, not just the super-givers or the wealthy and powerful.

James’s “right strawy epistle” (Martin Luther’s words) has much to say about favoring the rich and powerful and neglecting the poor and seemingly insignificant people hanging about the peanut galleries of their large “Worship Centers.”  Even if the pastor has limited time he or she must be about the flock, or they will forget what the needs of the flock really are and instead of the People of God, the lambs who Jesus says to care for they will simply be the consumers of a religious message who we have to keep coming back to keep the operation going.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, leadership, Pastoral Care

“A Glittering Forrest of Bayonets” Pickett’s Charge

picketss-charge

“Danger is part of the friction of war. Without an accurate conception of danger we cannot understand war. That is why I have dealt with it here.” Carl Von Clausewitz [1]

When commanders send their troops into battle to execute the plans of their staff, they cannot forget that as Clausewitz noted that War is the province of danger and that:

“In the dreadful presence of suffering and danger, emotion can easily overwhelm intellectual conviction, and in the psychological fog it is so hard to form clear and complete insights that changes in view become more understandable and excusable….No degree of calm can provide enough protection: new impressions are too powerful, too vivid, and always assault the emotions as well as the intellect.” [2]

To re-engage our understanding of this issue is important, especially in the application of Mission Command where as General Martin Dempsey noted that “Understanding equips decision makers at all levels with the insight and foresight to make effective decisions, to manage the associated risks, and to consider second and subsequent order effects.” [3] The current and recent wars fought by the United States and its NATO and coalition allies have shielded many military professionals from this aspect of war, but it is still present and we should not ignore it. As noted in the 2006 edition of the Armed Forces Officer:

“The same technology that yields unparalleled success on the battlefield can also detach the warrior from the traditional ethos of the profession by insulating him or her from many of the human realities of war.” [4]

“The nature of the warrior leader is driven by the requirements of combat” [5]and courage, both “courage in the face of the danger, and the courage to accept responsibility” [6] are of paramount importance. In an era where the numbers of soldiers that actually experience combat or served in true combat conditions where the element of danger is ever present is shrinking, we can at least gain part of that understanding through the study of history, campaigns and battles and by actually walking the battlefields, and considering the effects of terrain, weather, exhaustion and the imagining danger faced in confronting an enemy on the field of battle. As such the Battle of Gettysburg and the climactic event of Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd is a good place to reimagine the element of danger.

Porter Alexander’s artillery had begun it’s bombardment at 1:07 p.m. and as it did and the Union artillery commenced a deliberate counter-fire the Confederate infantry behind Seminary Ridge began to take a beating. Unlike the Confederate barrage which had mainly sailed over the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge causing few causalities, “a large proportion” of the Union “long shots landed squarely in the ranks of the gray soldiers drawn up to await the order to advance.” [7] Estimates vary but the waiting Confederates lost between 300-500 killed and wounded, the most affected was Kemper’s brigade of Pickett’s division which lost about 250 men, or 15% of its strength. [8] Other units lost significant numbers, with those inflicted on Pettigrew’s brigades further depleting their already sparse numbers.

Composed of Pickett’s fresh division from First Corps, Heth’s battered division now under Pettigrew which had already taken close to 40% casualties. Of the two brigades of Pender’s division now commanded by Trimble, Lane’s which was fresh but Scales brigade, now under command of Colonel William Lowrence had suffered greatly on July 1st; its “casualty rate was 63% and it had lost its commander and no fewer than fifty-five field and company grade officers.” [9] And now, these battered the units began to take casualties from well directed Federal fire. George Stewart wrote: “In most armies, such a battered unit would have been sent to the rear for reorganization, but here it was being selected for a climactic attack!” [10]

“The Confederate losses mounted at an alarming rate. The psychological impact of artillery casualties was great, for the big guns not only killed but mangled bodies, tore them apart, or disintegrated them.” [11] A survivor wrote his wife days later: “If the crash of worlds and all things combustible had been coming in collision with each other, it could not have surpassed it seemingly. To me it was like the “Magazine of Vengeance” blown up.” [12] A soldier of Kemper’s brigade recalled “The atmosphere was rent and broken by the rust and crash of projectiles…The sun, but a few minutes before so brilliant, was now darkened. Through this smoky darkness came the missiles of death…the scene beggars description…Many a fellow thought his time had come…Great big, stout hearted men prayed, loudly too….” [13] Colonel Joseph Mayo of the 3rd Virginia regiment was heavily hit, one of its survivors wrote “when the line rose up to charge…it appeared that as many were left dead and wounded as got up.” [14]

On the opposite ridge Union forces were experiencing the same kind of intense artillery fire. But these effects were minimized due to the prevalent overshooting of the Confederate artillery as well as the poor quality of ammunition. This resulted in few infantry casualties with the worst damage being taken by a few batteries of artillery at the angle. Soldiers behind the lines took the worst beating, but “the routing of these non-combatants was of no military significance,” [15] This did create some problems for the Federals as Meade was forced to abandon their headquarters and the Artillery Reserve was forced to relocate “a little over a half mile to the rear.” [16] The effects of this on operations were minimal as Brigadier General Robert Tyler commanding the Artillery Reserve “posted couriers at the abandoned position, should Hunt want to get in touch with him.” [17]

Despite the fusillade Meade maintained his humor and as some members of his staff tried to find cover on the far side of the little farmhouse quipped:

“Gentlemen, are you trying to find a safe place?…You remind me of the man who drove the oxen team which took ammunition for the heavy guns to the field at Palo Alto. Finding himself in range, he tipped up his cart and hid behind it. Just then General Taylor came along and shouted “You damned fool, don’t you know you are no safer there than anywhere else?” The driver responded, “I don’t suppose I am general, but it kind of feels so.” [18]

Despite the unparalleled bombardment, the likes which not had been seen on the American continent, the Confederate artillery had little actual effect on the charge. The Prussian observer travelling with Lee’s headquarters “dismissed the barrage as a Pulververschwindung,”…a waste of powder. [19] The Federal infantry remained in place and ready to meet the assault, Hunt replaced his damaged batteries and even more importantly Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery’s massive battery was lying undetected where it could deliver devastating enfilade fire as were Rittenhouse’s batteries on Little Round Top and Osborne’s on Cemetery Hill. These guns, unaffected by the Confederate bombardment were poised to wreak destruction on the men of the three Confederate divisions.

Unlike the Federal Army which had its large pool of artillery battalions in the Artillery Reserve with which to replace batteries that had taken casualties or were running low on ammunition, and “soon the drivers of the caissons found that the heavy fire had exhausted their supply of shot and shell, and the had to go even farther to get it from the reserve train. As a result some of the guns remained mute and their gunners stood helpless during the cannonade and charge, for Alexander had no batteries in reserve to replace them.” [20] The reason for this was that the Confederates had reorganized their artillery before Chancellorsville with all batteries assigned directly to the three infantry corps leaving the army without a reserve, and because Brigadier General William Pendleton had relocated the artillery trains further to the rear without informing Alexander or Longstreet. He had also ordered the eight guns of the Richardson’s artillery away without notifying anyone, guns which Alexander was counting on to support the attack. At about 2:20 p.m. Alexander, knowing that he was running short of ammunition sent a note to Picket and Pettigrew advising them:

“General: If you are to advance at all, you must come at once or we will not be able to support you as we ought. But the enemy’s fire has not slackened and there are still 18 guns firing from the cemetery.” [21]

469px-Picketts-Charge

About twenty minutes later Alexander saw some of the guns along Cemetery Ridge begin to limber up and depart, and noticed a considerable drop off in Federal fire. Now confident that his guns had broken the Federal resistance, at 2:40 sent word to Pickett “For God’s sake come quick or my ammunition will not let me support you.” [22] However, what Alexander did not realize was that to conserve ammunition for the Confederate infantry charge Henry Hunt had ordered those batteries to withdraw and was replacing them with fresh batteries and had ordered an “immediate cessation and preparation for the assault to follow.” [23]

The message reached Pickett and Pickett immediately rode off to confer with Longstreet. Pickett gave the message to Longstreet who read it “and said nothing. Pickett said, “General, shall I advance!” Longstreet, knowing it had to be, but unwilling to give the word, turned his face away. Pickett saluted and said “I am going to move forward, sir” galloped off to his division and immediately put it in motion.” [24]

A few minutes later Longstreet rode to find Alexander. Meeting him at 2:45 and Alexander informed him of the shortage of ammunition, which upset him enough that he “seemed momentarily stunned” [25] by this news Longstreet told Alexander, “Stop Pickett immediately and replenish your ammunition.” [26] But Alexander now had to give Longstreet even worse news telling him “I explained that it would take too long, and the enemy would recover from the effect of our fire was then having, and too that we had, moreover, very little to replenish it with.” [27] Longstreet continued to ride with Alexander and again eyed the Federal positions on Cemetery Ridge with his binoculars and said I don’t want to make this attack,” pausing between sentences as if thinking aloud. “I believe it will fail- I do not know how it can succeed- I would not make it even now, but Gen. Lee has ordered it and expects it.” [28] Alexander, who as a battalion commander now in charge of First Corps artillery was uncomfortable, he later wrote:

“I had the feeling that he was on the verge of stopping the charge, & that with even slight encouragement he would do it. But that very feeling kept me from saying a word, or either assent I would not willingly take any responsibility in so grave a matter & I had almost a morbid fear of causing any loss of time. So I stood by, & looked on, in silence almost embarrassing.” [29]

While Longstreet was still speaking Pickett’s division swept out of the woods to begin the assault, Alexander knew that “the battle was lost if we stopped. Ammunition was too low to try anything else, for we had been fighting for three days. There was a chance, and it was not my part to interfere.” [30]

Despite this Pickett and many of his soldiers were confident of success, and “no officer reflected the men’s confidence better than George Pickett. There was no fatalism in him. Believing that his hour of destiny had come and expecting to take fortune at its flood, he rode down the slop like a knight in a tournament.” [31] Pickett was “an unforgettable man at first sight” [32] Pickett was exceptionally undistinguished in the West Point class of 1846, graduating last in the class, but “fought valiantly in a number of battles” [33] during the Mexican War alongside James Longstreet. Like many he officers he resigned his commission in 1861 and received a colonelcy in the new Confederate army. During the Seven Days battles he commanded a brigade, which was now commanded by Richard Garnett and was wounded at Gaines Mill. Promoted to Major General in the summer of 1862 Pickett received command of the division formerly commanded by David R. Jones. The division was sent to peripheral areas and took no part in the battles of late 1862 or Chancellorsville. Reduced from its five brigade strength due to the insistence of Jefferson Davis to leave forces to protect Richmond the division was built around the brigades of James Kemper, Lewis Armistead and Richard Garnett.

When Pickett’s division as well as those of Pettigrew and Trimble swept out of the wood to begin the attack the last chance to stop it ended. As Pickett’s brigades moved out he encouraged them shouting “Remember Old Virginia!” or to Garnett’s men “Up, men, and to your posts! Don’t forget today that you are from Old Virginia!” [34] But when Garnett asked if there were any final instructions Pickett was told “I advise you to make the best kind of time in crossing the valley; it’s a hell of an ugly looking place over yonder.” [35] Armistead called out to his soldiers, “Men, remember who you are fighting for! Your homes, your firesides, and your sweethearts! Follow Me!” [36]Armistead’s example had a major impact on his brigade, men were inspired, as one later wrote “They saw his determination, and they were resolved to follow their heroic leader until the enemy’s bullets stopped them.” [37] about 500 yards to Pickett’s left Pettigrew exhorted his men “for the honor of the good old North State, forward.” [38]

Pickett’s division “showed the full length of its long gray ranks and shining bayonets, as grand as a sight as ever a man looked on.” [39] The sight was impressive on both sides of the line, a Confederate Captain recalling the “glittering forest of bayonets” the two half mile wide formations bearing down “in superb alignment.” [40] even impressing the Federals. Colonel Philippe Regis de Trobriand, a veteran of many battles in Europe and the United States recalled “it was a splendid sight,” [41] and another recalled that the Confederate line ‘gave their line an appearance of being irresistible.” [42]

But the Federals were confident. Having withstood the Confederates for two days and having survived the artillery bombardment the Union men eagerly awaited the advancing Confederates. Directly facing the Confederate advance in the center of the Union line was the division of John Gibbon. The cry went out “Here they come! Here they come! Here comes the infantry!” [43] To the left of Gibbon Alexander Hays called to his men “Now boys look out…now you will see some fun!” [44]

The Confederates faced difficulties as they advanced, and not just from the Union artillery which now was already taking a terrible toll on the advancing Confederates. Stuck by the massed enfilade fire coming from Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top continued their steady grim advance. Carl Schurz from his vantage point on Cemetery Hill recalled:

“Through our field-glasses we could distinctly see the gaps torn in their ranks, the grass dotted with dark spots- their dead and wounded….But the brave rebels promptly filled the gaps from behind or by closing up on their colors, and unasked and unhesitatingly they continued with their onward march.” [45]

Pettigrew’s division was met by fire which enveloped them obliquely from Osborne’s 39 guns on Cemetery Hill. On the left flank a small regiment, the 8th Ohio lay in wait. Seeing an opportunity the commander Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Sawyer deployed his 160 men in a single line, took aim at Brockenbrough’s Virginia brigade some two hundred yards ahead of the Emmitsburg Road, and opened a devastating fire. “Above the boiling clouds the Union men could see a ghastly debris of guns, knapsacks, blanket rolls, severed human heads, and arms and legs and parts of bodies tossed into the air by the impact of the shot.” [46] So sudden and unexpected was this that the Confederates panicked and “fled in confusion…” to the rear where they created more chaos in Trimble’s advancing lines as one observed they “Came tearing through our ranks, which caused many men to break.” [47] The effect on Confederate morale was very important, for “the Army of Northern Virginia was not used to seeing a brigade, even a small one, go streaming off to the rear, with all its flags….Even Pickett’s men sensed that something disastrous had happened on the left….” [48]

In one fell swoop Pettigrew was minus four regiments. Brockenbrough was singularly ineffective in leading his men, he “was a nonentity who did not know how to control his recalcitrant rank and file; nor did he have the presence to impress his subordinate officers and encourage them to do his bidding.” [49] The disaster that had overtaken Brockenbrough’s brigade now threated “another important component of Lee’s plan-the protection so necessary for the left flank of the advancing line had collapsed.

Pettigrew’s division continued its advance after Brockenbrough’s brigade collapsed, but the Confederate left was already beginning to crumble. “Sawyer changed front, putting his men behind a fence, and the regiment began firing into the Confederate flank.” [50] with Davis’s brigade now taking the brunt of the storm of artillery shells from Osborne’s guns. This brigade had suffered terribly at the railroad cut on July 1st, especially in terms of field and company grade officers was virtually leaderless, and “the inexperienced Joe Davis was helpless to control them.” [51] To escape the devastating fire Davis ordered his brigade to advance at the double quick which brought them across the Emmitsburg Road ahead of the rest of the division, where they were confronted by enfilade canister fire from Woodruff’s battery to its left, as well as several regiments of Federal infantry and from the 12th New Jersey directly in their front. A New Jersey soldier recalled “We opened on them and they fell like grain before the reaper, which nearly annihilated them.” [52] Davis noted that the enemy’s fire “commanded our front and left with fatal effect.” [53] Davis saw that further continuing was hopeless and ordered his decimated brigade “to retire to the position originally held.” [54]

Pettigrew’s remain two brigades continued grimly on to the Emmitsburg Road, now completely devoid of support on their left flank. Under converging fire from Hay’s Federal troops the remaining troops of Pettigrew’s command were slaughtered. Hay’s recalled “As soon as the enemy got within range we poured into them and the cannon opened with grape and canister [, and] we mowed them down in heaps.” [55] The combination of shot, shell, canister and massed musket fire “simply erased the North Carolinian’s ranks.” [56] Pettigrew was wounded, Colonel Charles Marshall killed 50 yards from the stone wall and “only remnants of companies and regiments remained unscathed.” [57] Soon the assault of Pettigrew’s division was broken:

“Suddenly Pettigrew’s men passed the limit of human endurance and the lines broke apart and the hillside covered with men running for cover, and the Federal gunners burned the ground with shell and canister. On the field, among the dead and wounded, prostrate men could be seen holding up handkerchiefs in sign of surrender.” [58]

Trimble’s two brigades fared no better. Scales brigade, now under the command of Colonel W. Lee Lowrence “never crossed the Emmitsburg Road but instead took position along it to fire at the enemy on the hill. The soldiers from North Carolina who two days before had marched without flinching into the maw of Wainwright’s cannon on Seminary Ridge could not repeat the performance.” [59] Trimble was severely wounded in the leg and sent a message to Lane to take command of the division. The order written in the third person added a compliment to his troops: “He also directs me to say that if the troops he had the honor to command today for the first time couldn’t take that position, all hell can’t take it.” [60] Lane attempted to rally the troops for one last charge when one of his regimental commanders exploded telling him “My God, General, do you intend rushing your men into such a place unsupported, when the troops on the right are falling back?” [61] Lane looked at the broken remains of Pettigrew’s division retiring from the field and ordered a retreat. Seeing the broken remnants of the command retreating, an aide asked Trimble if the troops should be rallied. Trimble nearly faint from loss of blood replied: “No Charley the best these brave fellows can do is to get out of this,” so “let them get out of this, it’s all over.” [62] The charge was over on the Confederate left.

The concentrated Federal fire was just as effective and deadly on the Confederate right. Kemper’s brigade, on the right of Pickett’s advance was mauled by the artillery of Rittenhouse on Little Round Top, which “tracked their victims with cruel precision of marksmen in a monstrous shooting gallery” and the overs “landed their shots on Garnett’s ranks “with fearful effect.” [63]

As the Confederates advanced Pickett was forced to attempt to shift his division to the left to cover the gap between his and Pettigrew’s division. The move involved a forty-five degree oblique and the fences, which had been discounted by Lee as an obstacle which along the Emmitsburg Road “virtually stopped all forward movement as men climbed over them or crowed through the few openings.” [64] Pickett’s division’s oblique movements to join with Pettigrew’s had presented the flank of his division to McGilvery’s massed battery. The movement itself had been masterful, the execution of it under heavy fire impressive; however it meant the slaughter of his men who were without support on their right flank.

As Pickett’s division advanced into the Plum Run Valley they were met by the artillery of Freeman McGilvery, who wrote that the “execution of the fire must have been terrible, as it was over a level plain, and the effect was plain to be seen. In a few minutes, instead of a well-ordered line of battle, there were broken and confused masses, and fugitives fleeing in every direction.” [65]

Kemper’s brigade which had the furthest to go and the most complicated maneuvering to do under the massed artillery fire suffered more damage. The swale created by Plum Run was a “natural bowling alley for the projectiles fired by Rittenhouse and McGilvery.” [66] was now flanked by Federal infantry as it passed the Condori farm. The Federal troops were those of the Vermont brigade commanded by Brigadier General George Stannard. These troops were nine month volunteers recruited in the fall of 1862 and due to muster our in a few days. They were new to combat, but one of the largest brigades in the army and 13th Vermont “had performed with veteran like precision the day before” [67] leading Hancock to use them to assault the Confederate right. The Vermonters were positioned to pour fire into the Confederate flank, adding to the carnage created by the artillery, and the 13th and 16th Vermont “pivoted ninety degrees to the right and fired a succession of volleys at pistol range on the right of Pickett’s flank.” [68]

Kemper had not expected this, assuming that the Brigades of Wilcox and Perry would be providing support on the flank. As he asked a wounded officer of Garnett’s brigade if his wound was serious, the officer replied that he soon expected to be a prisoner and asked Kemper “Don’t you see those flanking columns the enemy are throwing on our right to sweep the field?” [69] Kemper was stunned but ordered his troops to rush federal guns, but “they were torn to pieces first by the artillery and then by the successive musketry of three and a half brigades of Yankee infantry.” [70] Kemper was fearfully wounded in the groin, no longer capable of command. His brigade was decimated and parts of two regiments had to refuse their line to protect the flank, and those that continued to advance had hardly any strength left with which to succeed, the Confederate left was no for all intents and purposes out of the fight.

Now that fight was left in the hands of Armistead and Garnett’s brigades, and at this moment in the battle, the survivors of those units approached the stone wall and the angle where they outnumbered the Federal defenders, one regiment of which, the 71st Pennsylvania had bolted to the rear.

The survivors of Garnett’s brigade, led by their courageous but injured commander, riding fully exposed to Federal fire on his horse crossed the Emmitsburg Road and pushed forward overwhelming the few Federals remaining at the wall. They reached the outer area of the angle “which had been abandoned by the 71st Pennsylvania” and some of his men “stood on the stones yelling triumphantly at their foes.” [71] Armistead, leap over the wall shouting to his men “Come on boys! Give them the cold steel”…and holding his saber high, still with the black hat balanced on its tip for a guidon, he stepped over the wall yelling as he did so: “Follow me!” [72]

However, their triumph was short lived; the 72nd Pennsylvania was rushed into the gap by the brigade commander Brigadier General Alexander Webb. The climax of the battle was now at hand and “the next few minutes would tell the story, and what that story would be would all depend on whether these blue-coated soldiers really meant it…. Right here there were more Confederates than Federals, and every man was firing in a wild, feverish haste, with smoke settling down thicker and thicker.” [73] The 69th Pennsylvania, an Irish regiment under Colonel Dennis O’Kane stood fast and their fire slaughtered many Confederates. Other Federal regiments poured into the fight, famous veteran regiments the 19th and 20th Massachusetts, the 7th Michigan and the remnants of the 1st Minnesota who had helped stop the final Confederate assault on July 2nd at such fearful cost.

Dick Garnett, still leading his troops “muffled in his dark overcoat, cheered his troops, waving a black hat with a silver cord” [74] when he was shot down, his frightened horse running alone off the battlefield, a symbol of the disaster which had befallen Pickett’s division. Armistead reached Cushing’s guns where he was hit by several bullets and collapsed mortally wounded. “Armistead had been the driving force behind the last effort, there was no one else on hand to take the initiative. Almost as quickly as it had come crashing in, the Rebel tide inside the outer angle ebbed back to the wall.” [75]

For a time the Confederate survivors engaged Webb’s men in a battle at the wall itself in a stubborn contest. A Federal regimental commander wrote “The opposing lines were standing as if rooted, dealing death into each other.” [76] The Federals launched a local counterattack and many Confederates elected to surrender rather than face the prospect of retiring across the battlefield that was still swept by Federal fire.

Webb had performed brilliantly in repulsing the final Confederate charge and “gained for himself an undying reputation. Faced with defeat, he accepted the challenge and held his men together through great personal exertion and a willingness to risk his life.” [77] For his efforts he was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor.

Webb, like John Buford on July 1st, Strong Vincent, Freeman McGilvery and George Sears Greene on July 2nd, was instrumental in the Union victory. Hancock said of Webb “In every battle and on every important field there is one spot to which every army [officer] would wish to be assigned- the spot upon which centers the fortunes of the field. There was but one such spot at Gettysburg and it fell to the lot of Gen’l Webb to have it and to hold it and for holding it he must receive the credit due him.” [78]

The survivors of Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble’s shattered divisions began to retreat, Lee did not yet understand that his great assault had been defeated, but Longstreet, who was in a position to observe the horror was. He was approached by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle, a British observer from the Coldstream Guards. Fremantle did not realize that the attack had been repulsed, having just seen one of Longstreet’s regiments “advancing through the woods in good order” and unwisely bubbled “I would not have missed this for anything.” [79] Longstreet replied with a sarcastic laugh “The devil you wouldn’t” barked Longstreet. “I would have liked to have missed this very much; we’ve attacked and been repulsed. Look there.” [80] Fremantle looked out and “for the first time I then had a view of the open space between the two positions, and saw it covered with Confederates slowly and sulkily returning towards us in small broken parties, under a heavy fire of artillery.” [81] Henry Owen of the 18th Virginia wrote that the retreating men “without distinction of rank, officers and privates side by side, pushed, poured and rushed in a continuous stream, throwing away guns, blankets, and haversacks as they hurried on in confusion to the rear.” [82]

It was a vision of utter defeat. Pickett, who had seen his division destroyed and had been unable to get it additional support was distraught. An aide noted that Pickett was “greatly affected and to some extent unnerved” [83] by the defeat. “He found Longstreet and poured out his heart in “terrible agony”: “General, I am ruined; my division is gone- it is destroyed.” [84] Lee had come up by now and attempted to comfort Pickett grasping his hand and telling him: “General, your men have done all that they could do, the fault is entirely my own” and instructed him that he “should place his division in the rear of this hill, and be ready to repel the advance of the enemy should they follow up their advantage.” [85] The anguished Pickett replied, “General Lee, I have no division now. Armistead is down, Garnett is down and Kemper is mortally wounded.” [86]

picketts charge1

Pickett’s charge was over, and with it the campaign that Lee had hoped would secure the independence of the Confederacy was effectively over, and the Battle of Gettysburg lost. “Lee’s plan was almost Burnside-like in its simplicity, and it produced a Fredericksburg with the roles reversed.” [87]

It was more than a military defeat, but a political one as well for with it went the slightest hope remaining of foreign intervention. As J.F.C. Fuller wrote “It began as a political move and it had ended in a political fiasco.” [88]

 

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.114

[2] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.108

[3] Dempsey, Martin Mission Command White Paper 3 April 2012 p.5 retrieved ( July 2014 from http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/concepts/white_papers/cjcs_wp_missioncommand.pdf

[4] ___________. The Armed forces OfficerU.S. Department of Defense Publication, Washington DC. January 2006 p.18

[5] Ibid. The Armed Forces Officer p.18

[6] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.101

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.548

[8] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.

[9] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.387

[10] Stewart, George R. Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3rd 1863Houghton Mifflin Company Boston 1959

[11] Hess, Earl J. Picketts Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.153

[12]Wert, Jeffery D. Gettysburg Day Three A Touchstone Book, New York 2001 p.181

[13] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.294

[14] Ibid. Wert Gettysburg Day Three p.179

[15] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge p.132

[16] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.496

[17] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.496

[18] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of GettysburgStackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.171

[19] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.163

[20] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.499

[21] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.459

[22] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.500

[23] Hunt, Henry The Third Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil Waredited by Bradford, Neil Meridian Press, New York 1989 p.374

[24] Alexander, Edwin Porter. The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting at Gettysburg, in Battles and Leaders of the Civil Waredited by Bradford, Neil Meridian Press, New York 1989 p.364

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.501

[26] Ibid. Alexander The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting at Gettysburg p.365

[27] Ibid. Alexander The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting at Gettysburg p.365

[28] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage pp.474-475

[29] Ibid. Alexander The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting at Gettysburg p.365

[30] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.261

[31] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.313

[32] Ibid. Wert Gettysburg Day Three p.109

[33] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.37

[34] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last InvasionVintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.408

[35] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.166

[36] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.167

[37] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.167

[38] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.483

[39] Ibid. Alexander The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting at Gettysburg p.365

[40] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.553

[41] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.407

[42] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.193

[43] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.193

[44] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.411

[45] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.422

[46] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.318

[47] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.423

[48] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg pp.193-194

[49] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.187

[50] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg p.193

[51] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.311

[52] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.494

[53] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.425

[54] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.494

[55] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.502

[56] Ibid. Wert Gettysburg Day Three p.216

[57] Ibid. Wert Gettysburg Day Three p.218

[58] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.318

[59] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.504

[60] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg pp.238-239

[61] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.504

[62] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.425

[63] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.555

[64] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.503

[65] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.217

[66] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.220

[67] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.515

[68] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.515

[69] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.502

[70] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.448

[71] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.505

[72] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.562

[73] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.319

[74] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.317

[75] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg p.508

[76] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.451

[77] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.528

[78] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.528

[79] Fremantle, Arthur Three Months in the Southern States, April- June 1863 William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London 1863 Amazon Kindle edition p.285

[80] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.292

[81] Ibid. Fremantle Three Months in the Southern States p.287

[82] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.456

[83] bid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.326

[84] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.428

[85] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.428

[86] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.326

[87] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.206

[88] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 pp.200-201

 

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“We had Nothing to do but to Obey the Orders” Final Confederate Preparations for Pickett’s Charge

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While James Longstreet was depressed and many Confederate commanders who had seen the carnage of attacking the entrenched Federal army on July 2nd doubted whether any assault could break the Federal line, Robert E. Lee held on to the hope that one more assault would carry the day. It had to, “the importance with which his whole strategy had invested in this battle and the stubbornness which had driven him on at Gaines’s Mill, Malvern Hill, and Antietam, impelled Lee to still try another major attack on July 3.” 1 His partial success on July 2nd also “persuaded Lee that with the proper coordination and support of artillery, it was still possible to assault and break through Meade’s front.” 2 Convinced that his men could conquer the Federal position, and encouraged by the small successes of the second day “the general plan of attack was unchanged.” 3

However the real problem was not breaking through the line, but “how to stay there and exploit the advantage once the enemy’s line was pierced.” 4 Lee’s tactical problem remained the same as it had on July 2nd, when the power of the rifled musket and massed artillery on the defense cut his assaulting troops to ribbons, even though they inflicted heavy casualties on the Federal army, especially Sickles’ badly exposed III Corps in the Wheat Field and the Peach Orchard. His problem was how to break the enemy’s line and then exploit the breakthrough in order to gain not only a victory, but destroy the Army of the Potomac as a fighting force in the process.

As we have already discussed, on the new battlefield of the Civil War where the killing power of entrenched troops on the defense had grown exponentially as compared to the Napoleonic era or even the Mexican War, of which Lee and so many commanders were veterans. As Russell Weigley noted that by the time an attacking force was able to breach a prepared defensive position, “almost invariably, by that time the attacker had lost so heavily, and his reserves were so distant, that he could not hold on against a counterattack by the defending army’s nearby reserves.” 5 And like his assaults at Gaines’s Mill, Malvern Hill and those at Gettysburg on July 2nd, the assault of July 3rd by the divisions of Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble would meet a similar bloody repulse, only Lee refused to accept it. Colonel Porter Alexander, commanding Longstreet’s corps artillery noted that “even if the attack was “entirely successful, it can be only be at a very bloody cost” 6 while Brigadier General A.R. Wright, whose brigade had actually reached Cemetery Ridge on July 2nd told Alexander “The trouble is not going in there…the problem is to stay there after you get there.” 7

With a fresh army, or perhaps a number of fresh divisions, Lee’s plan might have had a chance to succeed. But Lee had already lost heavily on July 1st and 2nd and in the process shattered the divisions of Heth, Pender, Rodes, Johnson, Hood and McLaws and suffered serious casualties to the divisions of Early and Anderson. As far as infantry he had very little left, only Pickett’s short handed division which was missing two of its five brigades, with which to mount a frontal assault that would further decimate his army and render it incapable of further offensive operations, even if he drove Meade from his positions on Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge.

But Robert E. Lee was not deterred, over the past year of action “Lee had developed extremely high expectations of his enlisted men” 8 He had seen them overcome adversity as well as defeat far larger forces, but this time the open terrain, the superiority of the Federal artillery, the excellent position that Meade’s army occupied and his own lack of fresh troops and scarcity of artillery ammunition, combined with poor staff work and bad organization would ensure that this assault would be more than they could handle. Unlike Longstreet, Lee was never in awe “of the formidable character of the Union position…and he felt sure his incomparable infantry if properly handled could take any height.” 9

But even Porter Alexander, like most in the Army, held Lee in such esteem that regardless of the situation they implicitly trusted his judgment. As the preparations were made in the morning initially “believed that it would come out right, because General Lee had planned it.” 10 As he weighed the matter more fully Alexander told Longstreet “if there is any alternative to this attack, it should be carefully considered before opening our fire, for it will take all the artillery ammunition we have left to test this one thoroughly, and if the result is unfavorable, we will have none left for another effort.” 11

Once again Lee’s lack of clarity and vagueness in his orders and the reluctance of a subordinate to carry them out hindered Lee’s plan. Lee and Longstreet “had not reached a clear understanding on the nature, extent, and direction of his offensive operations” 12 and somehow, in “the strange, undeclared conflict of wills that had begun thirty-six hours before, neither general was thinking clearly. As Longstreet would now do anything to avoid assuming responsibility for a full-scale attack, Lee would do anything to get him to move out.” 13

Pickett’s division had arrived at Marsh Creek was of Gettysburg after a long and tiring forced march from Chambersburg at about 4 p.m. on July 2nd. Lee informed Pickett that he would not be needed that day and to rest his troops, and for whatever reason they remained in that position until about 4 a.m on July 3rd. Neither Lee nor Longstreet ordered them up earlier, where they might have been in position for an earlier assault on the Federal center, an attack that might have been coordinated with Ewell’s attack on Culp’s Hill which went off about 4 a.m.

Some of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of Longstreet, who still determined to find a way to turn the Federal left flank had his staff planning throughout the night for a way to execute that attack, but Lee was remiss in not clearly communicating his intent to his subordinate, to include what he expected him to do as well as when and where he expected him to do it. These questions were not cleared up until after sunrise on July 3rd, when Lee reiterated his plans to Longstreet and A.P. Hill.

Lee decided to attack the Federal center, where Cemetery Ridge was less commanding than Cemetery Hill, or the Round Tops which had been so costly to attack on the first two days of battle. All of Pickett’s division arrived behind Seminary Ridge between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. on the morning of July 3rd. There it joined the other units assigned to the attack by Lee. Those units, apart from Pickett all came from A.P. Hill’s Third Corps, Longstreet having convinced that the badly cut up divisions of Hood and McLaws remain in place on the south end of the battlefield to protect the flank. Longstreet was of the opinion, and gained Lee’s concurrence that if those units joined the assault that the flank would be exposed to the well dug in and reinforced Federal units on and around the Round Tops, as Longstreet explained, “To have rushed forward with my two divisions, then carrying bloody noses from their terrible conflict the day before, would have been madness.” 14

The decision to leave these two divisions in place resulted in a change of plan as to where the Confederate assault would be directed. Lee initially planned for Longstreet’s corps to continue its push in the south, from the positions they had taken near Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field. In that attack Hood’s division now lead by Evander Law, would be on the extreme right, McLaws division in the center attacking from the Wheat Field and Peach Orchard and Pickett on the left, supported by some of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps. However, with the change of plan Pickett’s division was now on the left of the attack, while Heth’s division, now commanded by Johnston Pettigrew would be in the center supported by Lane’s and Scales’ brigades of Dorsey Pender’s division, now commanded by Isaac Trimble, who had taken command only that morning. The selection of Heth’s division to join the attack now “provided a focal point for the attack, since it was roughly opposite the Federal center; then, too, there was a concealed position to the right of Heth’s line that offered room enough for Pickett’s men.” 15 This necessitated a change to the intended target of the attack, which Lee now identified as the “small clump of trees” visible in the center of the Federal position.

Lee discounted the terrain as a factor, thinking that the fences that criss-crossed the open field between the two opponents was of little concern. The open ground lent itself to the “massive attack on the scale that Lee visualized” but would “expose his men to a raking fire from enemy muskets and artillery.” 16 Lee hoped to reduce this danger with an overwhelming artillery barrage, but while Longstreet opposed the attack, and other Confederate commanders such as Armistead and Garnett realized the near hopelessness of the attack but maintained a silence, William Mahone, whose brigade was part of Anderson’s division and not assigned to the attack was mortified. Mahone begged Anderson to observe the battlefield and told him his honest opinion of the coming attack: “That no troops ever formed a line of battle that could cross the plain of fire to which the attacking force would be subjected, and…that I could not believe that General Lee would insist on such an assault after he had seen the ground.” 17 But Lee was determined and Anderson refused to confront Lee, saying “in substance, that we had nothing to do but to obey the orders.” 18

Mahone was right both about the ground and the fires that the attacking Confederates would encounter. While the fences along the Emmitsburg road in Pickett’s area were not much of a factor, they were on Pettigrew’s front. The Plum Run Valley which cut across the battlefield was a wide swale which “was truly a valley of death; Union artillery placed on Little Round Top could easily fire up its shallow groove as if it were a bowling alley, and Federal infantry could easily counterattack into it.” 19 In front of Pettigrew the ground formed “a natural glacis. In short, it naturally sloped at a steeper angle, forcing the attacker to literally walk up directly into the muzzles of the defending infantrymen.” 20 Whether Lee recognized it or not the ground itself offered major obstacles that the attacking Confederates would have to negotiate under heavy artillery and musket fire.

From a command, control and coordination aspect there was little to be commended in Lee’s plan. The artillery support, nominally to be conducted by all the Confederate artillery from all three corps was not well coordinated and lacked an overall commander, this ensured that the “corps artillery commanders acted independently, without a firm understanding of the crucial importance of their roles.” 21 Porter Alexander, who had the heaviest responsibility only had operational control of the batteries of First Corps and a few from Third Corps, the rest of the artillery battalions remained under their respective corps artillery commanders. Additionally, the senior artilleryman present, who had no command authority, Brigadier General William Pendleton moved batteries committed to Alexander and the infantry assault without telling him, and removed the artillery trains far to the rear where the ammunition needed to sustain an attack was out of reach when needed. Additionally the batteries of Third Corps did not conserve their limited ammunition and became involved in a long battle over the Bliss farmhouse between the lines, thus limiting their ability to take part in the attack. Likewise the guns of Second Corps, some of which could have had good enfilade fire on Cemetery Hill took little part in the action.

Of the three infantry divisions allotted to the attack, only one, Pickett’s actually belonged to the corps commander leading the attack, and the two divisions from Third Corps were badly cut up from the battle on July 1st and commanded by new commanders, neither who had commanded a division, and one of who, Trimble had never worked with or even met his subordinate commanders until that morning. Additionally, the two brigades assigned from Pender’s division were units that had been heavily engaged, there were two other brigades, those of Mahone and Posey from Anderson’s division, which “yet to see see serious action” and were “just as fresh as Pickett’s division, yet they were overlooked and not even assigned a supporting role.” 22

Despite his objections to it and the challenges posed by the attack, James Longstreet earnestly worked to make it succeed. Longstreet, Pickett and Pettigrew attempted to smooth out communications to “avoid mistakes and secure proper coordination between various units.” 23 However, despite his good intentions, Longstreet made a number of mistakes which could be best described as “lapses of thought.” He failed to “explain the details of the attack to all levels of command in all units…he failed to communicate effectively with anyone outside of First Corps, even though Third Corps troops would make up more than half of the attackers.” He left the artillery plan to Alexander and failed to develop a detailed plan that would determine if the artillery bombardment had weakened the Federals enough “to justify sending in the infantry.” He also did not appreciate the weakened condition of the attached Third Corps units and more importantly seemed to give little thought to the placement of Pickett’s troops in relationship to Pettigrew. This left a 400 yard gap between the Pickett and Pettigrew’s divisions, a gap that would cause problems during the attack, as it necessitated “a significant and difficult left oblique movement by the Virginians across the valley, under artillery fire.” 24

Despite Longstreet’s lapses the fact was that Lee reviewed the plans, and troops dispositions late in the morning. Lee had gone up and down the line inspecting it, but somehow he too “did not detect the hidden flaws in the deployment of his troops and the layout of its batteries.” 25 Likewise he seemed to continue the passive role that he had maintained throughout the battle. Alexander spelled this out in a private letter noting that “The arrangement of all the troops,… must have been apparent to Gen Lee when he was going about the lines between 11 & 12, & his not interfering with it stamps of his approval.” 26

About noon the approximately 13,000 troops in the attacking divisions continued to make their individual preparations for the attack. As they did this “a great stillness came down over the field and over the two armies on their ridges…the Confederates maintaining their mile wide formation along the wooded slope and in the swale, the heat was oppressive.” 27 Pickett wrote his young fiancee “the suffering and waiting are almost unbearable.” 28

Notes

1 Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1973 p.117 

2 Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Command Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1957 pp. 198-199 

3 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.375

4 Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.117 5 Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.117

6 Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E Lee Harper Collins Books, New York 2014 p.591

7 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, New York, 1968 p.459

8 Hess, Earl J. Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.13

9 Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.457

10 Golay, Michael To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander Crown Publishers, New York 1994 p.167

11 Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command One Volume Abridgment by Stephen Sears, Scribner New York 1998 p.592

12 Ibid. Coddington Gettysburg: A Study in Command p.454

13 Dowdy, Clifford Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation originally published as Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing New York 1958 p.258 

14 Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.441

15 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.441

16 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.459

17 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.458

18 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.458

19 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.79

20 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.81

21 Wert, Jeffery D. Gettysburg Day Three A Touchstone Book, New York 2001 p.126

22 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.462

23 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.491

24 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.32

25 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.492

26 Ibid. Wert. Gettysburg Day Three p.128

27 Foote, Shelby The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 1963 p.539

28 Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.281

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“Well, We May as Well Fight it out Here” Meade Decides to Fight at Gettysburg

general-george-meade

“General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I commit one he will make haste to take advantage of it.” Robert E Lee June 28th 1863

The choosing of the place to give battle, at any level of war, but particularly at the operational level is always of the utmost importance and has been so from time immemorial. Despite advances in technology terrain and weather are major factors that a commander or staff must consider in terms of their courses of action. Knowing the terrain features as well as the infrastructure such as road networks that they are operating on allows commanders to choose courses of action which accentuate their strengths and expose their opponent’s weaknesses. To understand this is a key part of Course of Action (COA) development, Operational Art and Operational Design as well as analyzing Centers of Gravity, especially in determining decisive points.

While the commanders at Gettysburg did not use such terminology, they did understand the effects of terrain and weather, friction and the importance of occupying “good ground.” Our understanding of these concepts can help us draw from the actions of the commanders at Gettysburg lessons that we can employ today, despite the vast changes in technology and expansion of the battlefield.

As he looked at the dispositions of the Confederate army on June 30th George Gordon Meade “felt he had move his forces in such a way as to challenge the enemy advance while at the same time protecting Washington and Baltimore.” 1 To do this he decided to concentrate the Army of the Potomac along what is known as the Pipe Creek line, a line along Parr’s Ridge just behind Pipe Creek to the south of Meade’s Taneytown headquarters. As an engineer Meade recognized the The decision was made because he realized that his advance had caused Lee’s army to abandon its threatening movement toward Harrisburg and the Susquehanna and was concentrating in the general area of Cashtown, South Mountain and possibly advancing toward Gettysburg.

The Pipe Creek line offered Meade a number of advantages; “it covered his own supply line and blocked the direct route to Baltimore.” 2 The positions of his intrenched army there would be “almost impossible to storm by frontal attack” 3 as well as allow his army to concentrate quickly. By placing himself in that position Meade believed that it would force Lee to attack him on good ground of his own choosing, offer him the chance to attack should Lee divide his forces, or by allowing Lee to exhaust his forage and supplies to withdraw from Pennsylvania without giving battle. Meade’s intention at Pipe Creek was to fight the “kind of battle he was to fight at Gettysburg.” 4

However Meade’s carefully laid plan became a victim of circumstances as events progressed during the evening of June 30th and morning of July 1st. When Reynolds was told by Buford that contact had been made and the Confederates were advancing on Gettysburg he brought I Corps and XI Corps up as quickly as he could and issued orders for III Corps under Sickles to join them at Gettysburg.

About 1130 a.m. Meade received word from John Reynolds’ aide Captain Stephen Weld that Reynolds had engaged the enemy at Gettysburg and had not received Meade’s Pipe Creek circular, which jeopardized his plan. Meade, having not known that Reynolds was not acting on his latest plan had assumed that Reynolds was conducting a temporary holding action at Gettysburg, but at 1 p.m. he was given the message that “Reynolds was dead or severely wounded and that Otis Howard was in command on the field.” 5 At this point Meade wasted no time and appointed Winfield Scott Hancock to go to Gettysburg and take charge of the situation, not trusting Howard’s abilities and instructed him “If you think the ground and position there are a better one to fight under existing circumstances, you will so advise the General, and he will order his troops up.” 6 He placed John Gibbon in command of II Corps and because he was concerned that Lee might cut off the embattled I Corps and XI Corps.

It was at this point that Meade decided to abandon his Pipe Creek plan and even before getting Hancock’s report, issued orders to his Corps commanders. At about 4:30 p.m. Meade ordered Sedgwick and his VI Corps up to Taneytown and put Slocum’s XII Corps and Sykes V Corps on the road to “move up to Gettysburg at once.” 7

Throughout the afternoon Meade kept his wits and “may have restrained a natural impulse to rush to the battleground and take over control of affairs himself.” 8 After the battle some criticized Meade for this, but it was from a perspective of command, and what we now call Mission Command did the right thing. He stayed at his headquarters to better control the movements and communicate with all his forces, which he could not have done had he rushed to the front, and instead “delegated authority to a highly competent subordinate, while he himself stayed close to the center of operations at army headquarters.” 9

Had Meade done what many commanders might have done in his position, and moved to the battle he might not have been able to do the more important job of ensuring the in a moment of crisis that his subordinate commanders received his orders and moved their units where they were needed. In fact any delay of getting the Union forces to Gettysburg could have been fatal to his army and allowed Lee to gain the advantage and possibly defeat his forces in detail. Likewise if Hancock arrived and found that the position could not be held, Meade would still be in position to ensure that the Pipe Creek position could be held.

The man he appointed in his stead, Hancock was someone that was not only capable but someone that “was a man who he knew and could trust,” 10 and who despite being junior to Howard, Slocum and Sickles was able to diplomatically handle the awkwardness of the situation. After Hancock arrived on the field he took in the tactical situation and judged it “the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle that I ever saw.” 11

Howard objected to Hancock taking charge of the battlefield due to seniority, and although Howard had selected the position, demurred to Howard and said “and if it meets your approbation I will select this as the battlefield.” After Howard concurred Hancock announced “Very well, sir. I select this as the battlefield.” 12 While Howard could make the claim that he actually selected the ground of where to fight by emplacing Steinwehr’s division on the Hill as a reserve and withdrawing the battered remnants of I Corps and XI Corps to it during the afternoon, it was Hancock that “organized the all-round defense of the position.” 13 After consulting with Howard and directing Slocum’s XII Corps to occupy Culp’s Hill Hancock sent his aide Major William Mitchell to tell Meade that the position “could not well be taken.” 14 He had III Corps extend the line down Cemetery Ridge and directed his own II Corps to protect the flank in case Lee attempted to turn the Federal left. Upon Slocum’s arrival Hancock relinquished command and rode to Taneytown to personally brief Meade on the situation.

When Meade received word that from Hancock that he believed that “Gettysburg could maintain itself until dark” he dispatched a message to Hancock and Doubleday “It seems to me that we have so concentrated that a battle at Gettysburg is now forced upon us.” 15 Meade then sent a dispatch to Henry Halleck in Washington: “A.P. Hill and Ewell are certainly concentrating…Longstreet’s whereabouts I do not know. If he is not up tomorrow, I hope with the force I have concentrated to defeat Hill and Ewell; at any rate I see no other course that to hazard a general battle.” 16 He added “Circumstances during the night may alter this decision, of which I will try to advise you.” 17 Upon sending out his final orders directing all units to Gettysburg he had his headquarters strike its tents and equipment and begin to move to Gettysburg, being briefed by Hancock before he set off at 10 p.m.

Meade arrived on the field about midnight to the surreal scene of soldiers of the I Corps and XI Corps encamped on the grounds of the cemetery, many exhausted and asleep having thrown back the last Confederate attacks, and met Slocum, who had taken charge when Hancock went back to brief Meade, as well as Howard, his artillery chief Henry Hunt and chief engineer, Gouverneur Warren, Dan Sickles of III Corps his and by Hancock when that weary general arrived back from Taneytown.

Howard was anxious due to the disaster that had befallen his Corps, but Meade assured him that he was not assigning any blame. He then asked their opinions about the position. Howard declared “I am confident that we can hold this position.” He was joined by Slocum who noted “It is good for defense,” and Sickles added “It is a good place to fight from.”
Meade was satisfied with their conclusions and replied: “I am glad to hear you say so, gentlemen for it is too late to leave it.” 18

Meade then began a thorough inspection of his lines, the placement of his forces and disposition of his artillery, which he directed Hunt “to see that the artillery was properly posted.” 19 An engineer officer made a sketch of the position, and “Meade used to indicate where he wanted to post his troops” 20 and he had copies made and “sent to the corps commanders.” 21 After consulting with Slocum about the position on Culp’s Hill, and the “practicability of attacking the enemy in that quarter.” Slocum indicated that it was excellent for defense but “not favorable for attack,” 22 Warren added his “his doubts about attacking across ground that was sullied and uneven” 23 and Meade gave up the option of taking the offensive there, which he had considered to do when Sedgwick arrived with VI Corps later in the day. He and Warren also directed XII Corps to construct “breastworks and abatis” on the peaks of Culp’s Hill,” 24 a measure that would prove to be of decisive importance on the night of July 2nd and morning of July 3rd. He also moved V Corps into a reserve position behind Cemetery Hill on the Baltimore Pike, and used his command authority to replace Doubleday, who he did not feel able enough to command a Corps, who had been in acting command of I Corps since the death of Reynolds’ with Brigadier General John Newton who commanded a division in Sedgwick’s V Corps, earning himself Doubleday’s undying enmity.
About 3 a.m. still unsure of Lee’s intent Meade wrote Halleck informing him that the army “was in a strong position for the defensive” and though hoped to attack had considered all possibilities, and attempted to prepare for anything, even Lee attempting to move around his flank to interpose himself between Meade and Washington, exactly as Longstreet had recommended to Lee. If that occurred he told Halleck that he would “fall back to my supplies at Westminster….” 25 (the Pipe Creek line).

Meade made his headquarters at the Liester House behind Cemetery Ridge where he continued planning. Meade’s headquarters offered him a central position from which he could easily reach any position on the battlefield and speed communications with his commanders. The position he had taken was strong, with his Corps all occupying good ground and positions being continuously improved and reinforced as more troops arrived. To the north XII Corps occupied a very strong position on Culp’s Hill while I Corps and XI Corps occupied Cemetery Hill. II Corps now occupied the central area of Cemetery Ridge with Sickles III Corps extend that line south toward the Round Tops. V Corps was in reserve and cavalry was posted to cover each flank. Sedgwick’s VI Corps was nearing Gettysburg and expect to arrive in the afternoon after completing a 36 mile forced march from Manchester Maryland. His army occupied interior lines allowing rapid reinforcements to any threatened area. It was as strong as a position as could be imagined.

After sunrise Meade met Carl Schurz, who had so ably helped maintain XI Corps on July 1st and whose troops occupied the northern face of Cemetery Hill. Schurz observed that though Meade “looked careworn and tired, as though he had not slept the night before-probably because he hadn’t” but that “his mind was evidently absorbed by a hard problem. But this simple, cold, serious soldier with his business-like air did inspire confidence….” 26

As Schurz watched Meade survey the Federal defenses he asked how many soldiers Meade expected to have on hand. Meade told him that he expected about 95,000. 27 Meade then told Schurz: “Well, we may fight it out here just as well as anywhere else” and then rode off. 28

During the night of July 1st Meade did what Lee failed to do. Lee failed to control his units or commanders, while Meade maintained control of his units, ensured that his commanders understood his intent and replaced ones that he felt unable to do what was needed. Lee conducted no reconnaissance of any importance, the only attempt sending his staff engineer to look around Little Round Top, a task that he failed in, while Meade and his subordinates made a thorough reconnaissance of their lines and fortified them. Lee, in an almost fatalistic manner did no real contingency planning, leaving things to the elan’ of his troops and the Providence of God, but Meade planned for contingencies that Lee might attempt, even the possibility that Lee might do what Longstreet so strongly advocated.

In the end Meade did almost everything that a commander could do to ensure that his army not only was in position to succeed in the tactical and operational levels, but also through his contact with his superiors linked his operations to larger strategic considerations.

Notes

1 Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.118

2 Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York p.150

3 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 p.239

4 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.239

5 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.188

6 Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.154

7 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.159

8 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.323 9 Ibid Coddington. The Gettysburg Campaign p.323

10 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.158

11 Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life University of Indiana Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.84 

12 Foote, Shelby The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.48313 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.483

14 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.321

15 Ibid. Trudeau pp.264-265

16 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.241

17 Ibid. Trudeau p.265

18 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p. 159

19 Hunt, Henry J. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III The Tide Shifts, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, Castle Books Secaucus New Jersey p.293

20 Ibid. Huntington. p.15921 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.330

22 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.494

23 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.228 

24 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.228

25 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.464

26 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

27 An overestimate based on unit reports, which included many troops not present for duty, or able to perform their duties. He actually had about 83,000-85,000 on the field during the battle. 

28 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

 

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“If the Enemy is There Tomorrow, We Must Attack Him” Lee’s Decision to Continue his Attack and Failure to Appreciate Changing Technology

 

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One of the key issues that military leaders must face is how new and changing technology changes the shape of the battlefield and impacts operations at the tactical as well as the operational level. While some technological advances merely adjust how military organizations fight, others force military organizations to completely change the way they conduct war. Examples are found throughout history, but truly became more far reaching during the Civil War with their echoes redounding to the present day.

Those changes can include firepower, protection, mobility, communication and even the frontiers of war to what goes on underwater, in the air, in space and cyber-space. None of these advances are necessarily limited to how military professionals conduct war at any given time. In fact technological changes are often unwelcome by military professionals who have invested their professional lives and careers defending doctrinal traditions. Likewise those victimized by opponents who use new technology to their advantage sometimes accuse their opponents as being unfair, as if fairness counts in war.

The development of the rifled musket just prior to the Civil War and its widespread usage on the battlefield brought about change that most leaders were slow to appreciate, including Robert E. Lee. The fact was that the rifled musket changed war even when military tactics were still rooted in Napoleonic tactics, which were built around the weaponry commonly employed in 1800, the smoothbore flintlock musket, with an effect range of barely 100 yards and smoothbore artillery. The artillery, even when firing grapeshot and canister was superior in range, lethality and as a result dominated the offense. [1] Thus Napoleonic tactics emphasized the artillery as an assault weapon, placed in advance of the infantry, breaking up enemy formations and allowing the infantry to close with the enemy and finish him with the bayonet charge.

The advent of the rifled musket, use of percussion caps and the Minie’ ball bullet by necessity changed how war had to be fought. Rifles firing the Minie’ ball “had an effective range of at least 500 yards” [2] and the new weapons outranged both grapeshot and canister, putting artillerymen exposed to the long range rifle fire in more danger on the battlefield. Not only did they do this but they allowed the infantryman to increase his rate of fire.

Prior to this the limitations of the smoothbore flintlock musket necessitated that the infantry form in dense formations where their firepower could be concentrated. Dennis Hart Mahan was one of the first to recognize how this would change warfare and in 1847 advocated that close line and columns be “replaced by the regular infantry advancing in the loose order of skirmishers” and “take advantage of available cover and close by rushing within about 200 yards.” [3] Even so both armies, as well as their European counterparts were restrained by their continued adherence to “a body of tactical doctrine with long roots back to the 1790s,” the debate between the virtues of line and column formations. [4] The effectiveness of the new weapons was seen by American observers to the Crimean War and despite this both the Union and Confederate armies insisted on employing the old tactics in massed infantry attacks.

This was in part because many of the senior leaders had last experienced combat in the Mexican War, where both sides still used smoothbore muskets and in which frontal attacks and bayonet charges were used effectively. However, as Bruce Catton so well noted:

“the generals had been brought up wrong. The tradition they had learned was that of close order fighting in the open country, where men with bayonets bravely charged a line of men firing smoothbore muskets. That used to work well enough, because the range at which defenders could kill their assailants was very short….But the rifle came in and changed all of that. The range which charging men began to be killed was at least five times as great as it used to be, which meant about five times as many of the assailants were likely to be hit…A few men, like young Colonel Upton, sensed that new tactics were called for, but most could not quite get the idea.” [5]

Lee was one of them.

This new technology changed the battlefield, although many leaders were slow to appreciate who. “The artillery now had to fall back behind the infantry and became a support instead of an assault weapon.” [6] The new firepower available to the infantry “reduced artillery to the defense and forced cavalry to fight dismounted beside the infantry,” [7] something that had been show in its best form in John Buford’s defense of McPherson Ridge on the morning of July first. “The devastating increase in firepower doomed the open frontal assault and ushered in the entrenched battlefield.” [8]

Despite the plentiful evidence which showed that the defense now had the advantage, including his own experience at Malvern Hill and at Fredericksburg, Lee as well as his “right arm” Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were firm believers in the offense. In their vision of battle, the the close assault of infantry and the bayonet retained its Napoleonic prominence, in 1861 Jackson enunciated his tactical philosophy: “my opinion is that there should not be much firing at all. My idea is that the best mode of fighting is to reserve your fire until the enemy get- or until you get them- to close quarters. The deliver one deadly, deliberate fire- and charge [with the bayonet].” [9] In fact the more time that Lee worked with Jackson the more he became an adherent of the offense, requiring “large scale battles and large casualties” [10] in order to bring about a climactic victory that would secure Southern independence.

At Gettysburg, Lee was “counting on the fighting spirit- the élan, as it is called in the French army- of his officers and men to win the day.” [11] The war in Mexico had not prepared Lee for the advent of the rifle and its effect on the battlefield and despite the tactical preference for the bayonet, the use of that weapon proved rare in combat. Heroes Von Borcke, a Prussian who served under the command of Stuart wrote the “accounts of bayonet fights are current after every general engagement, and are frequently embodied in subsequent ‘histories,’ so called; but as my experience goes, bayonet-fights rarely occur, and exist only in the imagination.” [12] Russell Weigley noted that “bayonet and saber wounds combined accounted for only 922 of some 250,000 wounded treated in Union hospitals during the war.” [13] But as late as 1862 Jackson just before Second Manassas “urged the Light Division under attack to hold their fire and use their bayonets” while “Lee’s penchant for frontal attacks when flanking and enveloping maneuvers failed to secure the results he hoped for…suggests slowness on the part of this otherwise astute and even brilliant commander to appreciate the power of the new weaponry.” [14] However, that being said, in defense of Lee, Jackson and so many commanders of the Civil War, despite the predictions of Mahan 15 years prior, “had no precedent to guide them, for all intents and purposes this was a new weapon.” [15] However, that was before the war began and bitter experience and massive casualties had demonstrated the power of the new weapons, especially when used by troops in strong defensive positions.

At about 5 p.m. on July 1st Lieutenant General James Longstreet reached the battlefield ahead of his corps, the closest division being still six miles away from the battle. He joined Lee on Seminary Ridge and commenced to survey the battlefield for a period of about ten minutes. While the scene before him gave the appearance of Confederate victory, Longstreet thought otherwise and believed that the Federal troop’s position on Cemetery Hill and Ridge “was a strong one.” [16] However, Lee despite his initial hesitancy to engage the Federal army was now certain that he could follow up the success of the day, and if the Union forces which he had driven back to the hill were still there the next morning “he had plenty of fresh troops to move in behind them and finish them off.” [17] Lee believed, even without any true idea of where the rest of the Federal Army was that he would be able to defeat it in detail as each Union corps arrived on the field. But Lee had misjudged Meade’s response and the movement of the Army of the Potomac to Gettysburg, and instead of a part of that army, almost all of it would be in place on ground of Meade and his commanders choosing.

The actions of Lee and his “Old Warhorse” on Seminary Ridge are part of much of the myth of Gettysburg, and the cause of endless debate between Lee’s supporters and Longstreet’s detractors. After Longstreet surveyed the ground he was pleased. The battlefield appeared to be set up for what he believed was a repetition of the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, as he was under the assumption that Lee had promised to fight a defensive battle when contact was made. [18]

However, Longstreet was not aware of Lee’s though process on the march up. Lee had discussed the matter with Isaac Trimble on June 27th, before he discovered that Hooker had been relieved and was across the Potomac. Trimble recalled Lee’s words:

“Our army is in good spirits, not overly fatigued, and can be concentrated on any point in twenty-four hours or less….They will come up, probably through Frederick; broken down with hunger and hard marching, strung out on a long line and march demoralized, when they come into Pennsylvania. I shall throw an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, drive on corps back and another, and by successive repulses and surprises before they can concentrate; create a panic and virtually destroy the army.” [19]

Trimble’s account of Lee’s state of mind is consistent with how Lee had conducted his operations over the previous year, Lee’s watchword in nearly every encounter with Union forces was “we must destroy this army” and the “aim of his maneuvers was always the battle of annihilation.” [20]

The only record of the conversation between the two men is that of Longstreet, written in his memoirs after years of being blamed by Lee’s supporters for the loss at Gettysburg. Without that knowledge and still under the impression, or “delusion” as Clifford Dowdey wrote, [21] that Lee had accepted his idea of fighting defensive battles in Pennsylvania. He “said that “he didn’t like the look of things, and he urged quite vehemently that the Confederates avoid any attack on the union position at Gettysburg.” [22] Longstreet commented: to Lee: “We could not call the enemy to position better suited to our plans. All we do is have do is to file around his left and secure good ground between him and his capital.” [23] Thus Longstreet was stunned by Lee’s impatience with the suggestion noting that Lee said “If he is there tomorrow I will attack him.” [24] Longstreet and Lee debated the matter for a while and Longstreet replied to Lee’s comment: “If he is there, it will be because he is anxious that we would attack him- a good reason, in my judgment, for not doing so.” [25]

That conversation has ignited a debate that continues today, but both Lee and Longstreet had sound arguments to support their positions, but both were hamstrung by the absolute lack of intelligence as to where the rest of the Federal army was and Meade’s intentions. Longstreet’s strategic and tactical concepts regarding employing the tactical defensive in the offense “grew out of an appreciation of the advantages Civil War military technology gave to the side having strong defensive positions.” [26] But the course of action that he suggested to Lee was vague and impractical, he did not specify at any time whether he meant a strategic sweeping move to the south or a shorter tactical move around the Round Tops, and “Lee rightly dismissed it at the time. Without Stuart’s cavalry he could not agree to a movement into the unknown.” [27]

Those that believe that if only Longstreet’s advice to move around the enemy was followed that the Confederates would have won a victory are mistaken. One of the key errors that many military history buffs make is that they assume that if one strategy failed and another had been suggested that the neglected course of action would have brought about victory. This is the case with those who assume that if only had lee followed Longstreet’s advice he would have won the battle. That neglects the understanding that the enemy too has a say in one’s plan. Several other factors have to be considered in this. First Meade had already prepared at strong position at Pipe Creek on the Maryland Pennsylvania border, this position was actually a stronger defensive position than Gettysburg. Likewise it neglects to account for the fact that any such maneuver would have exposed Lee’s army’s flank as it was strung out on the march in front of a now concentrated Federal army, and it ignores the logistics of the move deep in enemy territory without knowledge of the enemy’s positions. Additionally and possibly more important neither Lee nor Longstreet “had no idea where this “magic” good ground could be found, and no way to look for it until Stuart arrived with the cavalry.” [28]

But while rejecting Longstreet’s advice to move around the enemy what other choices did Robert E. Lee have on the evening of July 1st 1863? Lee obviously and with good reason rejected maneuver as a possibility, but there were other options, as Porter Alexander and others have noted. Freeman and others have discussed the concern that Lee had with forage, and his fear that if he remained in place that with supplies low that “the Federals could easily block the mountain passes and limit the area in which the Southern army could forage.” [29] But this need did “not require his renewal of the battle on July 1 any more than days following….” [30] Alexander noted that it was possible “for the Confederates to have abandoned Seminary Ridge on the night of July 1 or on July 2: “The onus of the attack was on Meade….we could have fallen back on Cashtown & held the mountain passes… & popular sentiment would have forced Meade to take the aggressive.” [31]

It seems that Lee’s decision to attack on July 2nd was mistaken, despite his appraisal that “A battle had, became in a measure unavoidable, and that the success already gained gave hope of a favorable issue.” [32] But Lee’s assertion is very much a matter of his framing life and actions in the context a nearly fatalistic understanding of Divine Providence and God’s will, it was not in accordance with the facts on the ground. Lee remarked “as soon as I order my army into battle, I leave my army in the hands of God…” [33] Porter Alexander later wrote “Not fully appreciating the strength of the enemy’s position, and mislead by the hope that a large fraction of the Federal Army was out of reach, Lee had determined to strike….” [34]

Lee elected to attack again, and even when he had the knowledge that most of the Federal army had come up he continued with his attack, committing his troops to fight an enemy who had strong defensive positions, high ground and interior lines from which they could shift troops and artillery to endangered sectors. Lee had taken heavy casualties on July 1st, three of the four divisions committed had been severely blooded and two division commanders wounded and he still did not have his entire army in position. As night settled on July 1st the only decision Lee had not made was where to make his attack.

Lee’s decision to attack, even when knowing the full Federal army was on the field was an exercise of both bad strategy, hubris and the refusal to acknowledge how the battlefield had changed with the advent of the rifled musket. It showed that even a great commander and a man associated with military genius was not infallible, despite the myth of the Lost Cause and its icon, General Robert E. Lee.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.104

[2] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.104

[3] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.10

[4] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.38

[5] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 pp.154-155

[6] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.104

[7] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. p.xii

[8] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. p.xi

[9] Weigley, Russell F. American Strategy from its Beginnings to the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age edited by a Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 1986 p.428

[10] Weigley, Russell F. American Strategyp.426

[11] Korda, Michael Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Books, New York 2014 p.593

[12] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 1957 p.48

[13] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.428

[14] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.428

[15] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee p.48

[16] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.559

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.215

[18] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 pp.574-575

[19] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 pp.293-294

[20] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.427

[21] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.169

[22] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.360

[23] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in Americaoriginally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition loc. 5059

[24] Ibid. Longstreet From Manassas to Appomattox loc. 5059

[25] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.234

[26] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.360

[27] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.258

 

[28] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.561

[29] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.575

[30] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.24

[31] Ibid. Nolan R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg p.24

[32] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.575

[33] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee p.112

[34] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition loc. 7517

 

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The Failure to Link Grand-Strategy and Operational Objectives: Robert E. Lee and the Decision to Invade Pennsylvania 1863

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A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. However in May of 1863 the leaders of the Confederacy allowed themselves to choose the worst possible course of action for their circumstances simply because it was proposed by Robert E. Lee.

The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the euphoria after the Lee and Jackson’s victory at Chancellorsville. In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter.

If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [1] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [2]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [3] in their upper leadership. Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [4]

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Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.” [5] From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, however, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [6] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [7] Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [8] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [9]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [10] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [11] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [12] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [13]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” [14] In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…[15] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [16]

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As I have already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. He believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [17] Instead, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. He proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [18] and sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful receiving two relatively untested brigades from Hill, those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.” [19]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.” [20] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [21] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down very real threats.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [22] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [23]Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it, unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [24] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [25] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [26]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. In the meeting with the cabinet Postmaster-General Reagan, agreeing with General Beauregard warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [27] Likewise, Stephens the fire breathing Vice President “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [28]

Lee believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations. While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan notes that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.” [29] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [30]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third.

Likewise Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and counterproductive to Southern strategy. Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [31] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like a Fredericksburg he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [32] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic point level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [33]

What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. It was a long shot and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go north also exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [34] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [35] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [36]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [37] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander. Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. He understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

 

[1] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME

[2] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101

[3] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629

[4] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.34

[6] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.193

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.429

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429

[10] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525

[11] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241

[12] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656

[13] Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.5

[15] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[16] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430

[18] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528

[19] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[21] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[22] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6

[23] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[24] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[26] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[27] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[28] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[29] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.2

[30] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[31] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134

[32] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.120

[33] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415

[34] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[35] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[37] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4

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