July Second at Gettysburg Pt.3: Confederate Deployments

LongstreetJ_main

Lieutenant General James Longstreet C.S.A.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the third of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

But Sickles’ deployment of his Corps had a number of lasting effects, “for all of Dan Sickles’ many faults,, he was correct on one point: the primary Confederate attack would occur on his front…” and “by moving forward into the Peach Orchard, he occupied one of the Key objectives of the Confederate attack plan.” [1] In fact, Longstreet had done “exactly what Sickles had thought he would do – wheeled around and come in from the South.” [2]

Lee and Longstreet the morning had been spent disagreeing on a plan to crush Meade’s army. Though Lee’s army was operating on exterior lines with his corps having no way to effectively coordinate their actions, Lee still desired to attack. Complicating matters was the fact that Lee was still lacking Stuart’s Cavalry with which to do a proper reconnaissance of the Federal positions. Likewise, Longstreet’s First Corps did not have Pickett’s Infantry division, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division when Lee insisted that Longstreet and his First Corps make a frontal attack on the Union left. Longstreet, as he had the night prior and earlier in the morning demurred, and tried to convince Lee of moving the army to the south and turning the Union flank the south of the Round Tops. Lee rejected Longstreet’s argument sand Longstreet reportedly told Hood “The General is a little nervous this morning; he wishes me to attack; I do not wish to do so without Pickett. I never like to go into battle with one boot off.” [3]

Part of the conflict was that Lee did not believe that Longstreet proposed move could succeed without the assistance of Stuart’s cavalry, while Longstreet did not believe that his First Corps had the combat necessary combat power to successfully complete the mission without Pickett’s division. Lee would hear no more of Longstreet’s objections and ordered the attack, and Lee in his after action report noted, “Longstreet was directed to place the divisions of McLaws and Hood on the right of Hill, partially enveloping the enemy’s left, which he was to drive in.” [4] Instead of leaping into action, Longstreet “allowed his disagreement with Lee’s decision to affect his conduct. One the commanding general determined to assail the enemy, duty required Longstreet to comply with the vigor and thoroughness that had previously characterized his generalship.” [5] This he did not do, he sought further delay, and though he could not force Lee to wait until Pickett arrived he did ask and get permission “to wait until Hood’s division was completed by the arrival of Law’s brigade.” [6] This unit arrived about forty-five minutes later and Longstreet finally began to move his divisions to their starting positions.

mclaws

Major General Lafayette McLaws C.S.A.

Leading the advance division was Major General Lafayette McLaws. 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.” [7] He had put together as solid of a record as a division commander and led the division for almost two years. During his time in command his exceptional care for the welfare of his men had endeared him to them. He and his division were excellent in the defense, and McLaws was very deliberate “but his attention to his men made him and his division a reliable command.” [8]

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.” [9] 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.” [10] McLaws’ solid division was typical of many of the units in Longstreet’s 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.” [11]

The two divisions began their march which “soon became a comedy of errors such as one might expect of inexperienced commanders and raw militia, but not of Lee’s War Horse” and his veteran troops.” [12] In part this was due to a lack of well trained staff officers to help guide the movements and ensure that the divisions reached their assigned position on the battlefield with a minimum of friction. Longstreet, who was still upset about Lee overriding his course of action, Longstreet “chose this moment to be more than punctilious in complying with army protocol. Since Lee had ordered Johnson to lead and guide the head of the column, which was McLaws’ division, Longstreet decided to regard him as Lee’s special representative who during the march possessed greater authority over these troops than he.” [13] Longstreet’s decision was questionable at best, for he ceded command of an approach to contact to a relatively inexperienced engineering officer who had no experience leading large numbers of troops and dropped back, accompanying Hood’s division.

Colonel Porter Alexander, who observed the Confederate infantry’s movements and who had successfully navigated the terrain not long before, wrote:

“This is just one illustration of how time may be lost in handling troops, and the need of an abundance of competent staff officers by the generals in command. Scarcely any of our generals had half of what they needed to keep a constant & close supervision on the execution of important orders. And that always ought to be done. An army is like a great machine, and in putting it into battle it is not enough for its commander to merely issue the necessary orders. He should have a staff ample to supervise the execution of each step, & to promptly report any difficulty or misunderstanding. There is no telling the value of the hours which were lost by that division that morning.” [14]

Since Longstreet, wisely wanted his movements to be out of sight of the enemy, the two divisions had to pick their way across bad ground, over stone walls, and wooden fences which had to be torn down, which combined with the miserably hot weather slowed their advance. Eventually, just passed the Black Horse Tavern the head of McLaws’ division came upon a clear piece of high ground that was in clear view of the Union signal station on Little Round Top and halted. Longstreet came riding up to find the reason for the delay and going with McLaws, he snapped “Why this won’t do,… Is there any way to avoid it?” [15]

Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw, whose brigade led the march, and who has to be considered one of the most objective officers in the controversy that continued long after the battle, recalled what happened.

“At length General McLaws ordered me to move by a flank, get under the cover of the hill and move along Marsh Creek toward the enemy, taking care to keep out of their view. In executing this order we passed the Black Horse Tavern and followed a road leading from that point to the Emmitsburg pike, until the head of the column reached a point where the road passed over the top of a hill from which our movement would be plainly visible from the Federal signal station on Little Round Top. Here we were halted by General McLaws in person, while he and General Longstreet rode forward to reconnoiter.” [16]

The countermarch became a muddled mess. The halt had snarled the divisions of Hood and McLaws, “quickest way to countermarch was simply to about face the troops, but McLaws had been assigned specifically by lee to lead the column into attack position and he felt obliged to hold that place.” [17] With McLaws insisting on maintaining his position, the whole column had to double back on itself. As such the initial halt and the subsequent countermarch further slowed the Confederate deployment as McLaws and Hood’s divisions became entangled and had to be separated. To reach their positions the Longstreet’s troops “followed a farm lane to Fairfield Road, marched north a short distance before striking a road along Willoughby Run, and angled southeast, shielded by Seminary Ridge. At Pitzer’s Schoolhouse they struck Millerstown Road, turned east, and approached the ridge’s crest,[18] where they were met by an astounding sight. Instead of finding the open ground along the Emmitsburg Road as they expected, Longstreet and McLaws discovered the high ground of the Peach Orchard full of Dan Sickles’ Third Corps infantry and artillery.

In the time it had taken for Longstreet to move his corps to its start positions, the situation on the ground had changed. While Sickles move jeopardized the Federal line, it also “disrupted Confederate Battle plans. Should the Sickles salient be attacked or outflanked?” [19] Lee had developed his plan on the assumption that First Corps would not encounter enemy opposition as they moved up the Emmitsburg Road. Years later McLaws wrote, “The view presented astonished me…” [20] “as the enemy was massed in my front and extended to my left and right as far as I could see.” [21]and to his wife he wrote about it a few days later, “On arriving at the vicinity of the Orchard, the enemy were discovered in greater force than we supposed, and two of my brigades were deployed to face the enemy, and the other two in the rear as reserve…” [22] The presence of Third Corps necessitated that Longstreet either notify Lee of the change and ask for new orders, or to adjust in the fly and redeploy his troops to meet the new situation. While informing Lee would have been the optimal course of action, Longstreet, who had been rebuffed by Lee on several occasions in the last day, and probably was in no mood to again go toe-to-toe with the general commanding, rigidly held to the attack, and chose the latter course of action.

Instead of deploying perpendicular to the Emmitsburg Road in order to roll up the flank of the Federal positions, but “for Longstreet to attack at the angle Lee had specified would expose him to enfolding fire.” [23] To meet the new situation, Longstreet and McLaws deployed parallel to the road to make a frontal attack on the salient presented by Third Corps, while Hood’s division was ordered further south in order to take Little Round Top, while McLaws wrote that he “was directed not to assault until General Hood was in position.” [24] the movement took about another hour as Hood attempted to mask the movement of his troops from Federal observers by remaining in the wood line.

Porter Alexander, whose ever-insightful observations provide an alarming commentary on the Confederate senior leadership and their preparation for the assault the Federal left: “I never remember hearing of any conference or discussions among our generals at this time as to the best formations & tactics in making our attacks, & our method on this occasion struck me as peculiar even then, & I don’t think it was the best.” [25]

Lt._Gen._John_B._Hood

Major General John Bell Hood C.S.A.

Hood was never one to hesitate to attack, but when he saw the situation that faced First Corps, he objected to the attack. “For the first time in his army career Hood suggested a change of orders to his commanding general,” [26] and pleaded with Longstreet to change it. “From his own observations and those of his scouts he concluded that the attack would be futile and result in wanton wage of life.” [27] The fierce Texan “recognized that the battle order, written more than two miles away on mistaken information…did not fit existing conditions.” [28] His objections included the rocky terrain which he believed would break up his battle formations, as well as “the concave character of the enemy’s line from the north end of Cemetery Ridge to Big Round Top would expose his division to a “destructive fire in flank and rear, as well as in front” if his men attacked it obliquely.” [29]He told Longstreet that it was “unwise to attack up the Emmitsburg Road, as ordered” and requested that he be allowed to “turn Round Top and attack the enemy flank and rear.” [30]

Lafayette McLaws “believed that if Lee had known of the changed conditions that he would have called off the attack.” [31] While this might have been the case, Lee was now over two miles away on his way back to his headquarters after pushing Longstreet to force the attack. From his other decisions to force the attack on both July 2nd and 3rd McLaws’ opinion can be debated. But Longstreet had consulted with Lee and while Lee “was already fretting over the delay which had occurred,” and even if it was no longer possible to launch an attack that wheeled up the Emmitsburg Road, he certainly was not going to call the whole thing off.” [32]

Meanwhile, the debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. McLaws noted that Hood “found that the enemy were strongly posted on two rocky hills, with artillery and infantry…” [33] and he pleaded for freedom of maneuver. He believed that an attack up the rocky hills was doomed and later noted “it seemed to me that the enemy occupied a position so strong- I may say impregnable – that independently of their flank fire, they could easily repulse our attack by merely throwing or rolling stones down the mountainside as we approached.” [34]

Despite his objections to the plan Longstreet ordered Hood to attack as Lee planned and after a fourth attempt by Hood to persuade Longstreet to change the plan Longstreet told his subordinate “We must obey the orders of General Lee.” [35] In defending his decision to launch the attack despite his own misgivings after the war Longstreet wrote, “that the move to the right had been proposed the day before and rejected.” [36] However, Longstreet’s explanation, made years after the battle and in the midst of a long running dispute with Jubal Early on who was at fault for the defeat at Gettysburg, was somewhat disingenuous.

Longstreet was referring to Lee’s rejection of Longstreet’s plan for an operational movement by the army to position itself between the Army of the Potomac and Washington, in order to fight a defensive battle, not the tactical adjustment to the plan of attack that Hood proposed. Clifford Dowdy argued that, “In basing his rejection of Hood’s extemporized plan on the rejection of his own strategy, Longstreet revealed the depth of the wound to his own ego and the consequent undermining of his judgement.” [37] This is an argument that has some merit, and it seems to be born out by Longstreet’s repeated rejections and dismissals of Hood’s repeated proposals to attempt to flank the Federal left. However, in light of the arrival of John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps on the battlefield about the time of the assault it is quite possible that Hood’s division could have been completely separated from the rest of the Confederate army, surrounded and destroyed had Longstreet yielded to his subordinate’s request.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.134

[2] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.213

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg the Second Day p.112

[4] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.192

[5] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.268

[6] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.192

[7] 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

[8] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.209

[9] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: p.170

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

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

[12] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.378

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command pp.378-379

[14] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.236

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.258

[16] Kershaw, J.B. Kershaw’s Brigade 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, Secaucus NJ p.331

[17] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.259

[18] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 pp.256-257

[19] Taylor, John M.Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E. Lee and His Critics, Brassey’s Dulles Va 1999 p.148

[20] Ibid. Wert “General James Longstreet p.271

[21] Foote, Shelby The Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign June-July 1863 Modern Library, a division of Random House New York 1994 p.124

[22] Oeffinger, John C. Editor. A Soldier’s General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws, University of North Carolina Press 2009 p.196

[23] Ibid. Taylor Duty Faithfully Performed p.148

[24] Ibid. Oeffinger A Soldier’s General p.196

[25] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.238

[26] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.205

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.382

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.204

[29] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.382

[30] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.499

[31] Ibid. Taylor Duty Faithfully Performed p.148

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.254

[33] Ibid. Oeffinger A Soldier’s General p.196

[34] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.499

[35] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.126

[36] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.206

[37] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.206

 

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