Category Archives: Gettysburg

The Tragedy of Friends Divided By War: Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis Armistead on Cemetery Ridge


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been rating but continuing to work on my Civil War and Gettysburg texts this weekend, and because of that I am retiring to an older post about the relationships of close friends in war. In this case, friends who had served together for many years who ended up fighting each other at Gettysburg. The story is tragic, because none of them hated each other, or held any animosity towards each other, but instead had followed what they believed to be their duty, some in the continued service of the Union, and others to that of their home states. Even so the bonds of friendship were never severed. Of course, unless you have served with people in war and in the military it it hard to comprehend such a fate. Even now, I know men that I consider friends, men who now hold very different political and social beliefs than me, and if God forbid there was ever another civil war, we would be on opposite sides, but they would still be friends, and I would grieve the fact that we would be fighting. 

I do plan on reworking this section of my Gettysburg text again, adding to it and further exploring the dynamics of the relationships at play in this story. But for now, since I have been working on other things, this will have to do.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The bonds of friendship forged by soldiers are some of deepest and long lasting that are formed anywhere.  For American military professionals those bonds are formed in the small rather closed society that is the regular United States military. They are formed in war and peace, and are marked by years of deployments, isolated duty and combat. They are part of a culture that is often quite different than that of civilian society. That is the case now as it was in 1860.

When the Southern States seceded from the Union men who had spent much of their adult lives serving together discovered had to say goodbye and prepare to fight each other. Most did so with a heavy heart even though many had strong convictions about the rightness of their region’s cause. Those who left the army to serve the Confederate states were often torn by doubt and questions of where their loyalty lay. Robert E. Lee was a good example of the conflict that many Southern officers faced. “The Southern professional officer in 1861 was confronted with a cruel choice symbolized by Lee’s anguished pacing at Arlington. On one hand, the Southern officer’s political allegiances drew him to the Confederacy; on the other his professional responsibility drew him to the Union.” [1] They wrestled with their oath of office and the costs of perhaps having to face their dearest friends on future battlefields. Lee’s letter to his sister Ann Marshall, who remained a supporter of the Union, after he resigned from the army he had served for 32 years reflects that anguish, torn between his loyalties Lee wrote “With all my devotion to the Union, and the dear feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.” [2] He added: “I know you will blame me…but you must think as kindly of me as you can, and believe that I have endeavored to do what I think right.” [3]

They were different from the mass levies of civilian volunteers who rallied to the flags of the Union and Confederacy in 1861. The volunteers, most of whom did not have the deep and abiding friendships of the professionals were often motivated by ideological, sectional or religious hatred of the other and went to war with great aplomb. However, the professionals for the most part went to war against former comrades with heavy heart, “old army colleagues found themselves wrenched from the normal course of their lives when their states joined the Confederacy.” [4]

The American Civil War has many such tales. Porter Alexander wrote of his final words with his superior James B. McPherson, who later went on to be a highly successful corps commander under Grant and Sherman before being killed outside Atlanta in 1864. McPherson desired that Alexander remain in California as an Engineering officer and warned him about the nature of the coming war and gave him his counsel as a friend:

“Now this is not going to be any 90 day or six months affair as some of the politicians are predicting. Both sides are in deadly earnest & it is long & desperate & fought to the bitter end. ..God only knows what may happen to you individually, but for your cause there can be but one possible result. It must be lost….” [5]

Alexander wrote: “Nothing could exceed the kindness & real affection with which McPherson urged these views on me…. His earnest talk impressed me deeply & made me realize that a crisis in my life was at hand. But I felt helpless to avert it or even to debate the question what I should do. I could not controvert one of McPhersons’ statements or arguments; I could only answer this: “Mac, My people are going to war, & and for their liberty. If I don’t come & bear my part they will believe me a coward…” [6]

One of the most remembered is that of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Armistead. It was key story line in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels was immortalized in the movie Gettysburg which is based on Shaara’s novel.


                                                                            Major General Winfield Scott Hancock USA

Hancock was from Pennsylvania. He was a career soldier and Infantry officer, a graduate of West Point Class of 1844. He served in Mexico and held numerous positions. In 1861 he was stationed in California as a Quartermaster under the command of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Albert Sidney Johnston with the Sixth Infantry Regiment. One of his fellow officers was Captain Lewis Armistead, a twice widowed Virginian who also served as a commander of the New San Diego Garrison under Johnston’s command, and Richard Garnett commanding a company at Fort Yuma. Hancock and his wife Almira became fast friends with the widowed Virginian.

Armistead was a nephew of the officer who defended Fort McHenry from the British in the War of 1812. Armistead had academic and personal difficulties at West Point and “was bounced out, not once but twice.” [7] His troubles included an altercation with Jubal Early in which he broke a plate over Early’s head.  Between his academic difficulties and the fight with Early he resigned from the Academy. However, his father helped him obtain a commission as an Infantry officer in 1839. Armistead’s career from that point on was similar to many other officers of his day. He served with distinction in Mexico, the Great Plains, Kansas, Utah and California.

As the war clouds built and various southern states seceded from the Union numerous officers from the South were torn between their oath, their friendships and their deep loyalty to their home states and families. In the end most Southern officers resigned their commissions, many with mixed feelings and quite often sadness. A large minority, some “40 to 50 per cent of Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held on to their posts and remained faithful to the Union.” [8] The most prominent of these men were General Winfield Scott and Major General George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Likewise Union Brigadier General John Buford’s family in Kentucky supported the Confederacy.

For those southern officers who remained loyal to the Union to was often at a great personal cost. Thomas’s action cost him his relationship with his immediate family who deemed him to be a traitor. He and others were pilloried and demonized in the basest ways by many in the South. Some Southerners who served the Union were executed when they were captured. George Pickett, who called for his fellow Virginian Thomas’ death ordered 22 North Carolinians who he captured fighting for the Union in Kinston North Carolina to be executed. Pickett was not alone in such sentiments.


                                                                               Brigadier General Lewis Armistead CSA

However, for most it was different. As talk of secession and war heated up officers stationed on the frontier debated the issues and asked each other what they would do if war came. In California Armistead and other officers asked Hancock, who was a Democrat and not openly hostile to the South, advice on what he would do if war came. Hancock’s reply was simple. I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided” [9]

The parting came in 1861. When it was apparent that many officers would be resigning and heading home to join their state’s forces the Hancock’s hosted a going away party for their friends. Almira Hancock wrote of the party that “Hearts were filled with sadness over the surrendering of life-long ties.” [10]

Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston’s wife Eliza went to a piano and sang sentimental songs such as Mary of Argyle and the popular Irish song Kathleen Mavourneen. [11] Almira Hancock wrote “Those songs…will ever be remembered by survivors of that mournful gathering.” [12]

“Mavourneen, Mavourneen, my sad tears are falling, 

to think that from Erin and thee I must part!

It may be for years, and it may be forever, 

Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?

The parting was especially emotional for Armistead who had been a friend of the Hancock’s for 17 years. They had helped in following the death of both of his wives and children. He was tearful. He put his arm on his friend’s shoulder as he said: “Hancock, good-by; you can never know what this has cost me, and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worse.” [13] As he departed Armistead gave a wrapped Bible and Prayer book to Almira Hancock, in case of his death, inscribed were the words “Trust in God and fear nothing.” [14]

Armistead led his brigade during the Peninsula campaign and battles around Richmond and his brigade was decimated in Lee’s failed assault on prepared Federal positions at Malvern Hill. Armistead did not endear himself to many of the volunteer officers who served in the Confederate ranks. One of his Colonels resigned over Armistead’s supposedly harsh treatment to which Armistead replied: “I have felt obliged to speak to him as one military man would to another and as I have passed nearly all my life in camps my manner may not be understood or appreciated by one who has been all his life a civilian.” [15] Armistead’s words can easily be understood by military professionals whose lives have been shaped in a different manner than their civilian counterparts.

At Gettysburg Armistead spoke his fears about the charge to his comrades. One was Brigadier General Dick Garnett, another of Armistead and Hancock’s comrades from the California days on the night of July 2nd. Garnett’s career had paralleled that Armistead, the same age Garnett struggled at West Point in his third year “he failed and withdrew. Taking the same courses again during the next term, he finished fourteenth among his new classmates, then graduated in 1841 standing 29th of fifty-two graduates.” [16]

Armistead and Garnett served together in the Sixth Infantry for most of their careers. They were promoted at similar times, a pattern of promotion that continued into their Confederate service. The next afternoon, the two friends who had served together so long and whose careers were so similar led their brigades of Pickett’s Division across the valley between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge against their friend and comrade Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps which was defending Cemetery Ridge.

Garnett had to lead his brigade on horseback, having been injured during the army’s march to Gettysburg. During the engagement Garnett was killed just before reaching the Union lines and Hancock gravely wounded. Armistead, lead the remnants of his decimated brigade to the Stone Wall, near the Copse of Trees. He rallied his troops fearing that some were faltering calling out: “Come on boys, give them the cold steel! Who will follow me?” [17]

His troops breached the Union line and his black hat atop his sword led his troops forward. He reached the now unmanned artillery of Cushing’s battery and called to his remaining men “The day is ours men, come and turn this artillery on them.” [18] It was then that he met more Federal troops who unleashed a volley of musket fire that cut down many of the survivors. Armistead was wounded in the right arm and shoulder and fell near one of the Union artillery pieces, a point now known as “The High Water Mark” of the Confederacy.


As Armistead lay wounded he was approached by Major Bingham of Hancock’s staff. Bingham, a Mason noticed that Armistead was making a Masonic sign of distress. When Bingham told Armistead of Hancock’s injury Armistead was grieved and told Bingham to “Say to General Hancock for me that I have done him, and you all, an injury, which I shall always regret.” [19]

The meaning of those words is debated, especially by Southerners who cherish the myth of the Lost Cause. However, based on Armistead’s conduct and behavior in the time before he left California, it is not unreasonable to assume that as he lay dying he truly regretted what he had done. Armistead died from infections caused by his wounds which were initially not thought to be life threatening. A Union surgeon described him as: “seriously wounded, completely exhausted, and seemingly broken-spirited.” [20]

Garnett’s body was never found and was probably buried in a mass grave with other Confederate soldiers and was likely taken after the war to his native Virginia “together with thousands of unidentified bodies from Gettysburg, for burial in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.[21] Armistead was buried by a member of the 107th Ohio near the XI Corps field hospital. About a month later a physician from Philadelphia tracked down the soldier and “dug up the “Rough box” containing the body and embalmed poor Armistead’s remains for sale to grieving family members.” [22] Armistead’s family buried the remains in Old Saint Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore.

Robert Krick wrote: “Death on adjacent bits of blood soaked ground in Adams County, Pennsylvania, yielded a final common thread, that of indignity: Lewis Armistead’s corpse wound up a hostage to petty human greed, while Dick Garnett’s entirely disappeared.” [23]

Hancock’s injuries were severe, but he recovered. He would go on to continued fame and be one of the most admired and respected leaders of the Army during and after the war. He was gracious as a victor and spoke out against reprisals committed against Southerners after the war.

In 1880 Hancock was the Democratic nominee for President. He lost a close election to James Garfield, losing the popular vote by fewer than 40,000 votes. It was an era of great political corruption and Hancock was one of the few major public figures viewed favorably for his integrity. Even his political opponents respected him for his integrity and honesty. Former President Rutherford B Hayes said:

“if when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.” [24]

A few years after his death Republican General Francis A Walker, lamenting the great corruption of the time said:

“Although I did not vote for General Hancock, I am strongly disposed to believe that one of the best things the nation has lost in recent years has been the example and the influence of that chivalric, stately, and splendid gentleman in the White House. Perhaps much which both parties now recognize as having been unfortunate and mischievous during the past thirteen years would have been avoided had General Hancock been elected.” [25]

The story of Hancock, Armistead and Garnett is one that reminds us of the depth of friendships that many military professionals develop and cherish. It is also a story that reminds us of how hardened ideologues can divide a nation to the point of civil war. It is a story that should give pause to any political or spiritual leader that incites people to war against their neighbor and uses their ideology to slander, demean or even enslave and brutalize their political opponents.

The blood of the approximately 50,000 soldiers that were killed or wounded during the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg is ample reminder of the tragedy of war, especially war that forces the dearest of friends to fight and even kill one another.

Notes 

[1] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.212

[2] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.188

[3] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 pp.230-231

[4] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.33

[5] 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.24

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

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.379

[8] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[9] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.33

[10] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[11] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[12] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[13] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[14] Krick, Robert K. The Parallel Lives of Two Virginia Soldiers Armistead and Garnett in The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond edited by Gary Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1994 p.112

[15] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.244

 

[16] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.101

[17] Stewart, George R. Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3rd 1863 Houghton Mifflin Company Boston 1959 pp.216-217

[18] Hess, Earl J. Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.262

[19] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge pp.254-255

[20] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge pp.254

[21] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[22] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[23] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[24] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.319

[25] Stone, Irving They Also Ran Doubleday, New York 1943 and 1981 pg. 188

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Military

This Fiery Line: Freeman McGilvery at Plum Run


Artillery at the Trostle Farm

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today another excursion into my archives dealing with the Battle of Gettysburg as I muse about my Independence Day article. I hope you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The disaster that engulfed Sickles’ III Corps now threatened the Federal center. Meade and Hancock rushed reinforcements in the form of V Corps and much of II Corps. The tip of the Sickle’s salient at Sherfy’s Peach Orchard manned by Graham’s brigade of David Birney’s division was overwhelmed and retreated in disorder. Once “the angle had been breached, the lines connecting to it on the east and north were doomed.” [1] This exposed the left of Humphery’s division and it too was forced to retreat under heavy pressure sustaining heavy casualties. The final collapse of Humphrey’s division a large gap opened in the Federal lines between the elements of V Corps fighting along Devil’s Den and Little Round Top and II Corps along the central portion of Cemetery Ridge.

When Meade realized the seriousness of the situation he gave Sickles’ free reign to call for reinforcements from Harry Hunt’s Artillery Reserve as III Corps had only batteries organic to it. Those five batteries were in the think of the fighting providing invaluable support to Sickles’ hard pressed and outnumbered corps. Firing canister they cut swaths of death and destruction through the massed ranks of wildly cheering Confederates of Kershaw and Semmes and Barkdale’s brigades of McLaws’ division.

The Confederates believed that they had cut the Union line in half and advanced through the Peach Orchard and across the Wheat Field toward Cemetery Ridge.


Among the artillery called into action was the First Volunteer Brigade under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery. McGilvery, a Maine native was a former sea captain who had organized and commanded the 6th Maine Battery at the beginning of the war. He commanded it with distinction in a number of engagements. Promoted to Major in early 1863 he assumed command of the Brigade and fought at Chancellorsville and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in June as the Army of the Potomac pursued Lee’s Army.

McGilvery rode into the maelstrom of the retreating III Corps soldiers and broken guns. His horse was hit four times but he remained unwounded despite “exposing himself to enemy missiles on all parts of the field from Cemetery Ridge to the Peach Orchard.” [2] He noted that there was no infantry anywhere that could plug the gap and acted instantly on his own authority to make a decision that likely saved the Union line. In the confusion of III Corps disintegration three of his batteries had withdrawn leaving Captain John Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts battery alone at the Trostle farm telling them they must “hold at all hazards.” [3] Bigelow later explained that McGilvery said that “for 4 or 500 yards in my rear there were no Union troops.” He was then instructed by McGilvery “For heavens [sic] sake hold that line…until he could get some other batteries in position…” [4] In another account Bigelow recorded “Captain Bigelow…there is not an infantryman back of you along the whole line which Sickles moved out; you must remain where you are and hold your position at all hazards, and sacrifice your battery if need be, until at least I can find some batteries to put in position and cover you.” [5]

The order could have been considered suicidal; the 21st Mississippi was nearly upon them and they were but one battery and barely one hundred troops. Bigelow did not hesitate to obey; he brought his guns into line at the Trostle house “facing one section slightly to the southwest and the other two sections directly into the path of the oncoming Confederates.” [6]


Bigelow’s artillerymen fought like demons he described the effect of his fire on Kershaw’s South Carolinians “the Battery immediately enfiladed them with a rapid fire of canister, which tore through their ranks and sprinkled the field with their dead and wound, until they disappeared in the woods on our left, apparently a mob.” [7] They poured a merciless stream of fire into the advancing Confederates until “they had exhausted their supply of canister and the enemy began to close in on his flanks.” [8] A German born gunner noted “we mowed them down like grass, but they were thick and rushed up.” [9] A hand to hand fight ensued among the guns but the Massachusetts men escaped losing 28 of its 104 men engaged,[10] the brave commander Bigelow was wounded and nearly captured but one of his men helped him to the rear.


Their sacrifice was not in vain. They bought McGilvery an additional 30 minutes to set up a line of guns along Plum Run. Hunt praised the battery “As the battery had sacrificed itself for the safety of the line, its work is specially noticed as typical of the service that artillery is not infrequently called to render, and did render in other instances at Gettysburg besides this one.”[11]

Barksdale’s brigade did not pause and continued in their relentless advance towards Cemetery Ridge, sweeping Union stragglers up as they moved forward led by their irrepressible Colonel. Before them was McGilvery’s new line, hastily cobbled together from any batteries and guns that he could find. Initially composed of 13-15 guns of four different batteries he was joined by two more batteries giving him about 25 guns in all. Subjected to intense Confederate artillery fire and infantry attacks his guns held on even as their numbers were reduced until only six guns remained operational. “Expertly directed by McGilvery a few stouthearted artillerymen continued to blaze away and keep the low bushes in front of them clear of lurking sharpshooters. Although they had no infantry supports, they somehow managed to create the illusion that the woods to their rear were filled with them, and they closed the breach until the Union high command could bring up reinforcements.” [12]

The reinforcements came in the form of Colonel George Willard’s “Harper’s Ferry” Brigade which was looking for revenge and redemption. This unit hit Barksdale’s now disorganized force which had reached its cumulating point hard. Willard was killed and Barksdale mortally wounded and captured in the violent clash which spelled the end of one of the greatest threats to the Union line of the entire battle. Philip Tucker in his book Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 refers to Barksdale’s charge as the real “high water mark of the Confederacy.”

Plum Run Line

However it was McGilvery who recognized the emergency confronting the line and on his own took responsibility to rectify the situation. He courageously risked “his career in assuming authority beyond his rank” [13] and without his quick action, courage under fire and expert direction of his guns Barksdale’s men might have completed the breakthrough that could have won the battle for General Lee despite all of the mistakes committed by his senior leaders that day.


The action of McGilvery was another example of an officer who had the trust of his superiors who did the right thing at the right time. It is an example of an officer used the principles of what we today call Mission Command to decisively impact a battle. McGilvery rose higher in the Federal service and was promoted to Colonel and command of the artillery of X Corps. He was slightly wounded in a finger at the battle of Deep Bottom in August 1864. The wound did not heal properly so surgeon’s decided to amputate the finger. However they administered a lethal dose of chloroform anesthesia and he died on September 9th, the Union losing one its finest artillerymen. He was buried in his native Maine and the State legislature designated the first Saturday in September as Colonel Freeman McGilvery Day in 2001.

Notes

[1] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.368

[2] Coco, Gregory A A Concise Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg Colecraft Industries, Orrtanna PA 1998 p.31

[3] Hunt, Henry I Proceeded to Cemetery Hill in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Bradford, Ned editor, Meridian Books, New York 1956 p.378

[4] Guelzo, Allen C Gettysburg, The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.314

[5] Ibid. Trudeau p.385

[6] Ibid.

[7] Bigelow, The Peach Orchard, 54; History of the Fifth, 638 retrieved from WE SAVED THE LINE FROM BEING BROKEN: Freeman McGilvery, John Bigelow, Charles Reed and the Battle of Gettysburg by Eric Campbell http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/gett/gettysburg_seminars/5/essay4.htm#52

[8] Coddington, Edwin. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command Touchstone Books, New York 1960 p.416

[9] Ibid. Guelzo pp.314-315

[10] Ibid Hunt p.379

[11] Ibid. Hunt. P.379

[12] Ibid. Coddington p.417.

[13] Ibid. Coddington.

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Military

The Forgotten Hero of Seminary Ridge: Abner Doubleday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am re-posting a number of articles to run this Independence Day weekend so I can work on the article that I place on posting July 4th. These are articles from my Gettysburg text that deal with events of July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. They have all appeared on this site before in different forms, but the Battle of Gettysburg still matters, what was done there on the behalf of freedom cannot be allowed to be forgotten. 

Have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Doubleday Takes Command

As the initial Confederate attacks were driven back by the actions of Reynolds, Doubleday and their subordinate commanders, Harry Heth’s battered brigades fell back and regrouped to prepare for another assault. As Heth reorganized his division he was bolstered by the arrival Major General Dorsey Pender’s Division powerful division.

With John Reynolds dead and Oliver Howard moving his Eleventh Corps into position on Cemetery Hill and to the north of Gettysburg, Major General Abner Doubleday had assumed command of First Corps on McPherson and Seminary Ridge and successfully parried Heth’s initial attacks, in the process shattering the brigades of James Archer and Joseph Davis.

Major General Abner Doubleday, United States Army

Doubleday was an experienced soldier but did not enjoy a stellar reputation in the Army of the Potomac, despite the fact that he was the senior division commander in First Corps. Doubleday came from a prominent New York family; his grandfather had fought in the American Revolution and had fought at Bunker Hill. His father served four years in Congress. By the time he was admitted to West Point Doubleday had worked for two years as a civil engineer. Doubleday graduated 24th in a class of 52 in the West Point Class of 1842 along with future Gettysburg commanders “Longstreet, McLaws, Richard Anderson and John Newton.” [1] After his graduation he served a rather uneventful career as an artillery officer, including service in Mexico and on the frontier. Shortly before the war he was transferred to South Carolina where he was second in command at Fort Sumter when the Confederates opened fire on the fort and began the Civil War.

Doubleday was definitely an unusual character by the standards of the ante-bellum army officer corps. The “mustachioed, barrel-chested Doubleday considered himself a thoroughly modern man, unencumbered by the cheap affections of honor and chivalry with which so many officers bedecked themselves.” [2] He had few real friends in the army. He was a rather vocal abolitionist “which endeared him to few of the army’s socially conservative generals” [3] and he allowed his political opinions to infringe on his relationships with other officers. In the days before the war at Fort Sumter “he relished being hissed in the streets as a “Black Republican” when his official duties took him over the water to downtown Charleston.” [4]

Doubleday fired the first shot on the Union side at Fort Sumter, and with the expansion of the army to meet the rebellion he “expected that his anti-slavery credentials would guarantee a rise to the top of Lincoln’s army.” [5] However, he was to be disappointed. While promotion came to him it was not to the top of the army. Doubleday had the “reputation of being a cautious, deliberate plodder,” [6] and the artillery commander of First Corps, the somewhat curmudgeonly but honest, Colonel Charles Wainwright noted “Doubleday knows enough, but he is entirely impractical, and so slow at getting an idea through his head.” [7] Likewise, the new army commander George Meade had formed an unfavorable opinion of Doubleday’s leadership ability, when both served as division commanders in First Corps. Meade considered Doubleday “slow and pedantic.” [8]

Doubleday was somewhat portly and his physical appearance did little to inspire his soldiers or officers, and some of his troops nicknamed him “Old Forty-Eight Hours” for his deliberate, even slothful style.” [9] His promotion in the wartime army was rather typical for a career officer. He was “promoted to Brigadier General in February 1862 and commanded a brigade at Second Bull Run and a division at South Mountain and in later battles.” [10] As a brigade commander his best work was at Brawner’s Farm on the eve of Second Manassas, where Doubleday on his own initiative threw “two of his regiments into line to bolster Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s brigade against a larger Confederate force…together the fought a superior force to a standstill.” [11] He was promoted to Major General in November 1862 and received command of the First Division Third Division of First Corps. At Antietam Doubleday led the division “into the carnage of the Cornfield and West Woods, and one colonel described him as a “gallant officer…remarkable cool and at the very front of battle.” [12] He led the division again at Fredericksburg, but the division saw little action. After the reorganization of the army following Fredericksburg he was given command of Third Division of First Corps at Chancellorsville, but again saw no action.

At Gettysburg Doubleday went into battle “stiff and pompous, still wearing his laurels as an “old Sumter hero” [13] and complaining about the Henry Slocum to command Twelfth Corps, even though he was senior to Slocum. That being said, Doubleday’s actions in the wake of Reynolds’s death demonstrated that he was capable of quick thinking and leadership from the front and in the next few hours Doubleday “had his best command hours of the war.” [14]

A Brief Lull

After the initial repulse of the Heth’s division, Doubleday continued to organize his defenses. He could see Heth’s division reforming its lines on Herr’s Ridge and Pender’s division as it arrived and deployed to Heth’s left. Doubleday had no directions from Reynolds as to that General’s defensive plan but be believed was that the ridges could be a redoubt and his instinct was “to hold on to the position until ordered to leave it,” an officer of the 149th Pennsylvania heard Doubleday say that “all he could do was fight until he got sufficient information to form his own plan.” [15] Doubleday wrote in his after action report, “to fall back without orders from the commanding general might have inflicted lasting disgrace upon the corps, and as general Reynolds, who was high in the confidence of General Meade, had formed his lines to resist the entrance of the enemy into Gettysburg, I naturally supposed that it was the intention to defend the place.” [16] Wadsworth’s division, bloodied but unbeaten remained in place in McPherson’s woods and across the Cashtown Road where Cutler’s brigade had fought the Confederates to a standstill at the Railroad Cut. During the lull these brigades had their ammunition replenished by his recently arrived ammunition trains.

To counter the Confederate move to his right he deployed his own small Third Division under the acting command of Brigadier General Thomas Rowley. He placed Rowley’s brigade to the left of the Iron Brigade to extend the line to the south and the brigade of Colonel Roy Stone to occupy the area around the McPherson House and Barn which had been left open when Cutler’s brigade advanced to the railroad cut.

When the Second Division under the command of Brigadier General John Cleveland Robinson arrived Doubleday placed it in reserve around the Lutheran Seminary where they and some of John Buford’s dismounted troopers began to set up a hasty “barricade of fence rails and fieldstone on the seminary’s west side.” [17] Doubleday and Wadsworth deployed every artillery piece of that the Corps had available to support their infantry, sometimes over the objections of the Corps artillery commander Colonel Charles Wainwright. Wainwright “had no confidence in Doubleday, and felt that he would be a weak reed to lean upon,[18] and on his own initiative deployed most of his batteries on Seminary Ridge where he believed that they could affect the battle but not be torn to pieces by Confederate artillery or shredded by close range musket fire. Despite the “pleas from infantry officers along the rise, Wainwright would send guns forward only under peremptory orders to do so.” [19] Wainwright was hesitant to risk his guns in exposed positions along McPherson’s Ridge and deployed most of his available artillery near the seminary in good defensive positions and stationed his limbers not far off so in the event of a retreat that he might have the opportunity to save his guns.

About Two o’clock Major General Oliver Howard, commander of the Eleventh Corps who was now the senior officer on the field made his way to seminary ridge where he met with Doubleday. Howard had already been working to support First Corps by ordering Schurz, who was now in acting command of Eleventh Corps to move north of the town to connect with Doubleday’s flank and securing Cemetery Hill as a natural redoubt and fallback position. While little is known what was said between the two commanders it is certain that Howard notified Doubleday of the locations of his corps headquarters and that of his divisions. Howard asked Doubleday “to continue his work of protecting the left of the Union position, while he would take care of the right…..Before leaving, Howard, repeated the instructions he had given Wadsworth, to hold the position as long as he could and then retire.” [20] Doubleday asked Howard for reinforcements, but there were none available, the best that either man could hope was that Henry Slocum’s Twelfth Corps, now about five miles distant could arrive soon. “If Slocum could make Gettysburg in the next hour and a half, Howard could post the 12th Corps on the right flank of his own corps and firm up the defensive arc that now stretched north and west of Gettysburg.” [21] However, despite the repeated requests of Howard, Slocum never came and did not advance toward Gettysburg until about three-thirty in the afternoon. Howard’s aid Captain Daniel Hall who delivered the messages and briefed Slocum on the situation at Gettysburg later stated that Slocum’s “conduct on that occasion was anything but honorable, soldierly, or patriotic.” [22]

With his troops under heavy artillery fire and Heth and Pender’s divisions advancing, a new threat emerged from the north. Messengers from Gamble’s cavalry scouts of Buford’s division to the north of town reported the arrival of Ewell’s Second Corps. To meet the threat Doubleday was obliged to send Robinson’s division north to occupy the extension of Seminary Ridge known as Oak Ridge. His lead brigade was under the command of Brigadier General Henry Baxter, and it advanced to the end of the ridge near the Mummasburg Road where it was joined by Brigadier General Gabriel Paul’s brigade.

Unlike the relatively small brigades of Third Division whose command structures were disrupted by Reynold’s death and Doubleday’s acting command of the corps, these brigades were comparatively large and powerful units and very well led. Their commander, Robinson “an old regular whose flowing beard lent him the look of a biblical prophet, had seen considerable fighting but was yet to be tested as a division commander.” [23] During this battle he more than met the test of an effective division commander. As the advance regiments of the division moved into position on Oak Ridge and the Mummasburg road they were greeted by a few of Gamble’s cavalrymen who told them “You stand alone between the Rebel army and your homes. Fight like hell!” [24] Upon their arrival Robinson refused the line in order to connect to the advance elements of Eleventh Corps which were arriving to the north of Gettysburg.

Enter Second Corps

On June 30th Rodes’ division marched about twenty miles and bivouacked at Heidlersburg where he met with his corps commander Ewell, fellow division commander Jubal Early and Isaac Trimble who was accompanying Second Corps where they puzzled over Lee’s orders as to the movement of Second Corps the following day, which indicated that Ewell should march to Gettysburg or Cashtown “as circumstances may dictate.” [25] Neither Rodes nor Early gave favorable opinions of the order and Ewell asked the rhetorical question “Why can’t a commanding General have someone on his staff who can write an intelligible order?” [26]

Ewell assumed that Cashtown was the desired junction of the army ordered his to march from on the morning of July 1st 1863 toward Cashtown to join with Hill’s corps. His choice of routes was good as it gave him the opportunity to turn south towards Gettysburg “as circumstances” dictated in compliance with Lee’s rather vague order of the day before.[27]

Rodes’s division was at Middletown (modern Biglerville) when Ewell received A.P. Hill’s message that he was moving on Gettysburg between eight and nine in the morning. Ewell immediately directed Rodes onto the “Middletown-Gettysburg road and instructed Early to march directly toward Gettysburg on the Heidlersburg road.” [28] As he did so he sent a note to Lee informing him of the situation and about noon he received Lee’s response that Lee “did not want a general engagement brought on till the rest of the army came up.” [29] But by the time Ewell received that instruction events were beginning to spiral out of control on his front just as they had on Harry Heth not long before.

Although Ewell was closer to Rodes than Hill was to Heth at the beginning of the battle, Rodes like Heth was also operating somewhat independently as Ewell “preferred to ride near the tail of his column in his buggy.” [30] Like Heth when confronted with the opportunity for battle, he ignored the instruction “to avoid a general engagement, if practicable.” [31] The operation was Rodes’ first as a Major General and he like his fellow division commanders, Jubal Early and Allegheny Johnston, the young and aggressive Rodes was operating independently “as Ewell preferred” until the corps was reunited in the evening. [32] During the early part of the march to Gettysburg he had performed well but July 1st 1863 “would never be remembered as a great day for Robert Rodes.” [33] As he moved his division south he, like Ewell was unaware that a battle was developing to their front and both were surprised when they heard the sound of artillery about four miles north of the town. Rodes later wrote that “to my surprise, the presence of the enemy there in force was announced by the sound of a sharp cannonade, and instant preparations for battle were made.” [34]

Rodes deployed his infantry brigades and “posted Lt.Col. Thomas H. Carter’s battalion of artillery along the nose of the ridge, where it opened with “fine effect” on the Union line stretched across McPherson’s Ridge.” [35] As Rodes set about deploying his troops for his assault on Oak Ridge, Ewell could see Robinson’s division moving up to Oak Ridge and the Mummasburg road facing his troops. He also observed the advance of the two divisions of Eleventh Corps which Carl Schurz was moving into position north of the town. Seeing the developments to his front and right Ewell considered Lee’s order obsolete and noted that “it was already too late to avoid an engagement without abandoning the position already taken up…and I determined to push the attack vigorously.” [36] Likewise he sent an aide to contact Jubal Early and enjoin that General to move to battle.

Robert Rodes was new to commanding a division. The big, blond and charismatic Rodes was one of the most popular leaders in the Army of Northern Virginia. Rodes had a great ability to inspire his subordinates. This was in large part due to his handsome physical appearance which made him look “as if he had stepped from the pages of Beowulf” [37] but also due to his “bluff personality featuring “blunt speech” and a tincture of “blarney.” [38]

Rodes graduated at the age of 19 from the Virginia Military Institute and remained at the school as an assistant professor for three years. He left VMI when Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson received the full professorship he desired and became a successful civil engineer working with railroads in Alabama. He had just been appointed a full professor at VMI as the war was declared. [39]

His career had been remarkable. Rodes was “tough, disciplined and courageous; he was one of those unusual soldiers who quickly grew into each new assignment.” [40] In just two years he had “risen from captaining a company of “Warrior Guards” in Alabama in 1861 to earning the equivalent of a battlefield promotion to major general for the fight he made at Chancellorsville.” [41] As a brigadier he had shown remarkable leadership on the battlefield and off, taking care of the needs of his soldiers and worked to have “at least one company per regiment to drill on a field gun and to keep up that training from time to time, so that his men could service a cannon in a crisis.” [42]

With the coming of war Rodes abandoned his academic endeavors returned to his recent home of Alabama where he was appointed Colonel of the 5th Alabama regiment of infantry. Early in the war Rodes distinguished himself as the commander of that regiment and later as brigade commander of Ewell’s former brigade, a promotion that Ewell recommended. His brigade was one of the spearheads of Jackson’s attack on Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville, where he “was a brilliant presence on the field, exhorting his men with mustache flying. Jackson personally congratulated him on his gallant performance.” [43] He took acting command of Major General D. H. Hill’s former division during that battle and handled that unit well. Following Chancellorsville, Rodes was recommended for promotion to Major General and permanent command the division by Stonewall Jackson. The act was one of Jackson’s last acts before his untimely death from pneumonia while recovering from his wounds sustained at Chancellorsville. With his appointment Rodes became the first non-West Point graduate to command a division in the Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Rodes’s division was the largest in the army with five brigades and approximately 8,000 soldiers present at Gettysburg, almost as many as the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac. His brigade commanders were a mixed bag, ranging from the excellent to the incompetent. Among the former he had George Doles, Stephen Ramseur and Junius Daniel. 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” [44] 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. It would be a mistake that would come to haunt him.

However, Rodes was fortunate to have Brigadier Generals Stephen Ramseur and George Doles in command of two of his brigades. Both had led their units well at Chancellorsville under Rodes direction, and would fight well in Gettysburg and subsequent actions. [45] Brigadier General Junius Daniel, though an experienced West Point graduate with a solid record was new to the Army of Northern Virginia, unfamiliar with his commander, while and his brigade was untested in combat.

Brigadier General George Doles commanded a brigade. Doles was not a professional soldier but a former Georgia militia where he commanded a company, “the Baldwin Blues,” one of the oldest and best-trained military units in the state.” [46] As a Colonel he “had shown fiber and vigor” [47] as commander of the 4th Georgia regiment which he commanded at South Mountain and Antietam. Doles was promoted to Brigadier General after Antietam, and commanded the brigade at Chancellorsville. At Chancellorsville his brigade was part of Jackson’s attack against the Federal XI Corps and in the thick the action throughout the battle. Doles was noted for his leadership and valor. By Gettysburg he had a reputation for “being among the Southern army’s most daring, hard fighting brigadiers.” [48]

Stephen Ramseur was the youngest General in the Army of Northern Virginia, he had graduated from West Point in 1861, immediately resigned to join the Confederate cause and within seven months he would be a Brigadier General. He was elected captain of the Ellis Light Artillery of Raleigh North Carolina, and became colonel of the 49th Alabama in 1862. He led the regiment “with distinction during the Seven Days.” [49] While leading his troops at Malvern Hill he was severely wounded. Ramseur was noted for “being a fighter and for his skill in handling troops in battle.” [50]

The young Colonel was promoted to Brigadier General in November 1862 following the Battle of Antietam. He led a North Carolina brigade with great daring at Chancellorsville where he was wounded in the shin by a shell fragment. Along with his division commander Robert Rodes, the still injured Ramseur was “one of the brightest lights in Lee’s army as it approached the field at Gettysburg.” [51]

Junius Daniel was an 1851 graduate of West Point who served seven years before resigning to run his family plantation in 1858. When war came he Daniel volunteered for service and was appointed commander of the 14th North Carolina. He had much brigade command time but little combat experience, as his brigade had been posted in North Carolina and the Virginia Tidewater, thus, not sharing in the Army of Northern Virginia’s year of glory and slaughter. “Daniel’s brigade joined Rodes division in Virginia as a result of the army’s reorganization after Chancellorsville and in time for it to take part in the invasion of Pennsylvania.” [52] Despite his lack of combat experience Junius 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.” [53] At Gettysburg he “proved himself a valiant soldier and capable leader….” [54]

This left Rodes with two brigades under questionable leadership, and both would cause him immense grief on the morning of July 1st 1863.

One North Carolina brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Alfred Iverson. Iverson who was considered a “reliable secession enthusiast” was appointed to command the North Carolina troops whose political steadiness and loyalty was questioned by Richmond. [55] Because of this Iverson became “embroiled in bitter turmoil with his North Carolinians.” [56] Iverson had served in the Mexican War and in the army of the 1850s. However, he owed his appointments in both the U.S. Army and that of the Confederacy to political patronage, his father being a prominent U.S. Senator.

Though Iverson was from Georgia he helped raise the 20th North Carolina regiment of infantry and became its first Colonel. However he was constantly at war with his officers and his regiment never bonded with him. As a regimental commander he did see a fair amount of action but his leadership was always a question mark. After he took command of the brigade Iverson “sent an aide to the camp of his former regiment to arrest all twenty-six of its officers.” [57] Those officers responded in kind and “retained a powerful bevy of counsel including…Colonel William Bynum who would later become a member of the Supreme Court.” [58] Iverson then refused promotions to any officer who had opposed him. One of the aggrieved officers of the 20th North Carolina “wrote an outraged letter home insisting that resistance to Iverson was every reasonable man’s duty and asserting that he would oppose him again “with great pleasure” if the occasion offered.” [59] In his previous action at Chancellorsville Iverson “had not distinguished himself.” [60] After Chancellorsville he had “been stigmatized for his conspicuous absence at the height of the fighting.” [61]

Rodes’s old brigade was in the worst hands all. Due to the lack of qualified officers it was commanded at Gettysburg by its senior regimental commander Colonel Edward A. O’Neal. O’Neal was another political animal, who unlike Iverson had no prior military training and nothing he had done before the war “had prepared him for command at any level.” [62] As an Alabama lawyer O’Neal was however well connected politically which gained him rapid rank and seniority over other officers, this eventually led to his command of the 26th Alabama which was a part of Rodes brigade. Rodes had reservations about O’Neal’s ability to command the brigade and recommended two other officers, John Gordon and John T. Morgan who instead were assigned to command other brigades. [63] The Confederate War Department in Richmond forwarded a commission to Lee for O’Neal to be promoted to Brigadier General before Gettysburg, but Lee, who had serious reservations about O’Neal’s capabilities blocked the promotion. [64]

The Confederate Disaster at Oak Ridge

The arrival of Rodes’s division as on the field in the van of the Confederate Second Corps was decisive in turning the tide of the battle toward the Confederates that afternoon. When Rodes arrived with Ewell, the Federal First Corps was facing west against Heth and Pender’s divisions and its line only extended about a quarter mile north of the Railroad Cut.

The Union First Corps and Buford’s cavalry division had fought Heth’s poorly coordinated and led attacks to a standstill, but when Rodes arrived he found “a golden opportunity spread before him.” [65] From his position at Oak Ridge he saw the opportunity to take the Federal troops opposing Hill in the flank though his position did not “provide him as comprehensive view as he thought.” [66] His desire was to advance south along Oak Ridge using it to screen his movements in order to execute an attack on the Federal right flank. But before he could do this “the First Corps Generals had made preparations to oppose him.” [67] Robinson’s two brigades under Baxter and Paul deployed and “hurried in line stone and wood fences approximately at right angles to Rodes proper line of advance.” [68] Rodes could see the deployment but the fences obscured the exact positions of Robinson’s troops from him. Seeing the advance of the First Corps units as well as the emergence of Schurz’s troops from Eleventh Corps advancing out of the town the aggressive Confederate commander decided to launch an immediate attack.

Carter’s artillery, which had deployed in the open and was had “opened an enfilading fire all along the line to the Fairfield road” [69] now drew the fire of Captain Hubert Dilger’s Battery I First Ohio Artillery from Howard’s XI Corps which had just arrived near Oak Ridge. Dilger commanded one of the best artillery units in the army. He was a German immigrant and professional artilleryman who had served in the Grand Duke of Baden’s Horse Artillery. He came to the United States at beginning of the war at the invitation of a distant uncle, to “practice the war-making he had only previously rehearsed.” [70] Dilger was “blunt and a bit arrogant…loved by his men but not by his superiors.” At Chancellorsville he and his battery had helped save the Federal right “when it used a leapfrogging technique to keep the victorious Confederate infantry at bay.” [71] At Gettysburg Dilger again displayed his talent.

Upon its arrival Dilger’s battery opened “a storm of counter-battery fire” [72] on Carter’s battalion as well as the infantry brigade of O’Neal which was near it. The effect of Dilger’s fire on Carter’s artillery disrupted its operation and was successful in blowing up several caissons and guns causing significant numbers of casualties among the men. [73] Seeing the carnage to one battery that he had not placed, Carter “accosted Rodes and asked, “General, what fool put that battery up yonder?” Only to realize after an “awkward pause and a queer expression on the face of all Rodes’ staffers that Rodes himself had placed it there.” [74] In response, the chastised division commander replied “You had better take it away, Carter.” [75] Throughout the rest of the engagement Dilger’s battery would make itself known, shattering Confederate infantry assaults and damaging Southern artillery batteries.

The young division commander was overconfident as he ordered the attack. Thinking he had an adequate grasp of the situation he did not order a reconnaissance before launching the attack, nor did the commanders of the brigades spearheading the attack put out skirmishers, the normal precaution when advancing in the face of the enemy. [76] Rodes deployed his troops over the rough ground of the ridge as quickly as he could and dashed off a note to Jubal Early stating “I can burst through the enemy in an hour.” [77] He was to be badly mistaken, and “like Heth in the south, he paid in disproportionate blood for the ready aggressiveness which in the past had been the hallmark of the army’s greatest victories, but now seemed mere rashness and the hallmark of defeat.” [78]

Rodes deployed George Doles’ excellent brigade to guard his left against the advancing Eleventh Corps units until Early’s division could arrive, something he expected momentarily. Doles and his brigade conducted this task admirably until the arrival of Jubal Early’s division, which enabled it to join the attack on Eleventh Corps divisions north of the town. Initially the movement of the brigade opened a potentially dangerous gap between Doles brigade and O’Neal’s brigade to its right, but this could not be exploited by the Federals. To hold this gap between Doles and O’Neal Rodes pulled one regiment, the 5th Alabama from O’Neal.

To make his main attack Rodes initially deployed his division on a one brigade front as they arrived on the battlefield in line-of-march. As the leading elements of the division neared the Federal positions Rodes, made what appeared to be a simple change of plan to “attack on a two brigade front, sending in O’Neal’s and Iverson’s men simultaneously, then following up with Daniel’s brigade in echelon on the right.” [79] Ramseur’s brigade was held in close reserve. In theory it was a sound plan, but everything is more complicated when bullets start flying. The execution of this change in plan was “bungled right at the start.” [80] None of “the three brigade commanders was sure what the signal for the advance would be” [81] and since Rodes had made no reconnaissance, and none of the brigades put out skirmishers the direction of the attack was faulty, units were mingled and a gap developed between O’Neal and Iverson. [82] The attack “though vigorous, was a disaster” [83] and the plan floundered due to the stout resistance of Robinson’s troops and the “nicely matched incompetence of O’Neal and Iverson” [84] neither of who advanced with their assaulting troops.

O’Neal’s brigade became disoriented and “went in with only three regiments and at an angle different from that indicated by Rodes. Instead of leading his troops in the attack O’Neal remained in the rear with the Fifth Alabama, a reserve regiment,” [85] the regiment Rodes had left behind to guard the gap between O’Neal and Doles’s brigades. The last regiment, the Third Alabama had been aligned on the flank of Doles’s brigade and since Rodes had moved it “evidently concluded…that it was no longer his to direct.” [86] When Rodes discovered this he had to send a staff officer to ensure that the regiment was properly attached to Daniel’s brigade. That regiment was thus left out of the initial advance. The attack stalled almost immediately when O’Neal’s three attacking regiments were fired upon by Union troops of Robinson’s division who had been hidden by a wall which had obscured them from Rodes’s view.

Striking O’Neal’s advancing troops at the oblique, Robinson’s battle hardened Union troops slaughtered the unsuspecting Confederates. Though they were outnumbered the Union men were solid veterans from Baxter’s brigade who were aided by Dilger’s artillery which delivered “effective canister fire at O’Neal’s brigade.” [87] The combined fire of Baxter’s troops as well as Dilger’s artillery “killed or wounded about half of the advancing men with a series of point blank volleys pumped directly into their flank.” [88] O’Neal’s decision to remain back with his reserve regiment rather than “going forward to direct the advancing regiments” [89] caused further problems because there was no officer on the spot to direct the action of the three regiments.

Rodes noted in his after action report that O’Neal’s three attacking regiments “moved with alacrity (but not in accordance with my orders as to direction)” and that when he ordered the 5th Alabama up to support “I found Colonel O’Neal, instead of personally superintending the movements of his brigade, had chosen to remain with his reserve regiment. The result was that the whole brigade was repulsed quickly and with loss….” [90] As O’Neal’s troops fell back in confusion they exposed Iverson’s brigades flank to the Federal fire.

As Rodes’s continued bad luck would have it, Iverson, like O’Neal on his right did not advance simultaneously with O’Neal or on the same axis, but instead waited to see O’Neal’s advance. [91] When it advanced, the brigade “about 1,450 strong, kept on under artillery fire through the open field “as evenly as if on parade.” Then its alignment became faulty, and without Iverson on hand to correct it, the brigade with strange fatality began to bear left toward the stone wall…” [92] As a result the brigade drifted right it’s exposed left was subject to attack from Baxter’s and Paul’s brigades of Robinson’s division still hidden behind the stone wall.

When the Confederates got within fifty yards of Baxter’s troops they were overwhelmed by a fierce resistance from the concealed Federal troops. The commander of the 83rd New York, the Swiss born lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Moesch, shouted: “Up men, and fire.” Moesch rode behind his line cheering his men on, but they needed no urging. In the words of one of one, “The men are no longer human, they are demons; a curse from the living here, a moan from the dying there. ‘Give them —- shouts one.’ See them run’ roars another.” [93] The well concealed veterans of Baxter regiments slaughtered them as they had O’Neal’s men just minutes before. “One regiment went down in such a neat row that when its survivors waves shirt tails, or any piece of cloth remotely white, Iverson thought that the whole regiment of live men were surrendering.” [94] As the Confederate attack collapsed some “of the regiments in Robinson’s division changed front again, charged, and captured nearly all the men who were left unhurt in three of Iverson’s regiments.” [95] Official Confederate reports list only 308 missing but that number differs from the Union reports, Robinson reporting 1000 prisoners and three flags and Baxter’s brigade nearly 400. [96] As Robinson’s troops smashed the brigades of O’Neal and Iverson, they were joined by the remnants of Cutler’s brigade which changed its face from west to north to deliver more devastating fire into the Confederates.

Iverson was badly shaken by the slaughter and “went to pieces and became unfit for further command,” [97] after being just close enough to the action to observe it. He panicked and notified Rodes that one of his regiments had surrendered in masse though Iverson later retracted that in claim in his official report where he noted “when I found afterward that 500 of my men were left lying dead and wounded on a line as straight as a dress parade, I exonerated …the survivors.” [98] His brigade had lost over two-thirds of its strength in those few minutes, one regiment the 23rd North Carolina lost 89 percent of those it took into battle, and at the end of the day would “count but 34 men in its ranks.” [99] Iverson’s conduct during the battle was highly criticized by fellow officers after it. Accused of cowardice, drunkenness and hiding during the action he was relieved of his command upon the army’s return to Virginia “for misconduct at Gettysburg” [100] and sent back to Georgia. Some complained after the war that Iverson was helped by politicians once he returned to Richmond and instead of facing trial “got off scot free & and had brigade of reserves given to him in Georgia.” [101]

With the center of his attacking forces crushed the brigades of Junius Daniels and Stephen Ramseur entered the fray to the right of Iverson’s smashed brigade. These capable officers achieved a link up with the battered brigades of Harry Heth at the Railroad cut after Daniel’s brigade had fought a fierce battle with Culter’s and Stone’s brigades in the area [102] and allowed the Confederates of A.P. Hill and Dick Ewell’s Corps to form a unified front from which they were able to resume their attack in even greater numbers against the battered remnants of First Corps.

To the east Doles’s brigade advanced with Jubal Early’s division smashed the outnumbered and badly spread out divisions of Oliver Howard’s Eleventh Corps. The timely arrival of that division coupled with the skillful work of Daniel and Ramseur saved Rodes from even more misfortune on that first day of battle, but Rodes’ plan “to burst through the enemy” with his division had evaporated. [103] By the end of the day his division had lost nearly 3000 of the 8000 that it had begun the afternoon.

The battle at Oak Ridge was a series of tactical debacles within a day of what appeared to be a “Confederate strategic bonanza.” [104] Despite the mistakes Rodes never lost his own self-control. He recovered from each mistake and continued to lead his division. He “kept his men on the ridge driving forward until with Hill, and on the flats left joined Early’s right to form a continuous line into Gettysburg.” [105] It was a hard lesson for the young Major General, but one that he learned from. Rodes continued to serve with distinction as a division commander would be killed in action while leading a counterattack by his division against Philip Sheridan’s army at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19th 1864.

Abner Doubleday’s Best Performance and Disgraceful Treatment

On the other hand Abner Doubleday proved himself as a capable commander who was able to provide effective leadership during a crisis situation. Although he is one of the most underappreciated Union commanders at Gettysburg he “ably rose to the occasion, as did divisional commanders James Wadsworth and John Robinson.” [106] Though his abilities were suspect, especially by George Meade and Colonel Wainwright, the Corps artillery commander Doubleday managed to hold off superior Confederate forces, and even inflicted a significant defeat on the divisions of Harry Heth and Robert Rodes. During the fighting against ever increasing numbers of Confederates, First Corps inflicted massive casualties on their opponents. “Seven of the ten Southern brigades incurred casualties from 35 to 50 percent, and the total for all brigades came to an estimated 6,300 officers and men, or about 40 percent of their strength.” [107] Doubleday’s troops held on long enough to support the left flank of Eleventh Corps as it was being assaulted by Early’s division.

When Winfield Scott Hancock arrived on Meade’s behest to take command at Gettysburg Oliver Howard informed him that First Corps “had given way at first contact” [108] implicitly blaming Doubleday for the collapse of the Federal line. Hancock delivered the report in a note to Meade which said “Howard says that Doubleday’s command gave way” [109] This false report fixed in Meade’s mind that his doubts about Doubleday’s ability were correct. To Doubleday’s amazement Meade then cancelled his order appointing Doubleday to command First Corps and ordered John Newton, a division commander, far junior to Doubleday in Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps to replace Doubleday. A badly disappointed Doubleday resumed command of his division. In large part Meade’s appointment of Newton over Doubleday was also political. Doubleday’s fellow abolitionist division commander in First Corps, James Wadsworth said that “Meade’s “animosity” toward Doubleday rested in a “past political difference.” [110] Doubleday, the abolitionist Republican was not acceptable to Meade, the conservative Unionist Democrat and ally of Gorge McClellan. The fact that Newton “was not regarded as daring or brilliant” [111] and was regarded by many as a “pet” of Meade, did not matter. Meade’s volcanic temper and temptation to allow politics to cloud his military judgement meant that “Newton was the only other major general he could trust politically.” [112] When Doubleday formally protested to Meade he was dismissed from Army of the Potomac.

He left the Army of the Potomac never held a field command during the war, however, he was brevetted in the Regular Army to both brigadier and major general. Doubleday served in administrative capacities in Washington D.C. until the end of the war and testified against Meade during the politically charged hearings of the Committee on the conduct of the War. Doubleday remained bitter toward Meade and he “was never reconciled to Meade’s relieving him as acting commander of First Corps in Favor of Maj. Gene. John Newton, who was his junior in rank and the reproach that it implied.” [113] After the war Doubled reverted to his rank as a Colonel in the Regular Army and was made Colonel of the 35th U.S. Infantry in San Francisco. From 1871 until his retirement in 1873 Doubleday commanded the African American “Buffalo Soldier” 24th Infantry Regiment in Texas. He died in New York on January 25th 1893, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Among the members of the honor guard at his funeral in New York was a man named Abraham Mills who would play a major role in Doubleday’s future fame.


                                                 A Myth and Legend Greater than Gettysburg: Abner Doubleday and Baseball

Interestingly enough Doubleday, who was unappreciated as a general became linked forever to the game known as America’s national pastime and to Cooperstown New York, the home of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. As such he is probably better known to most Americans, particularly baseball fans than any Union general who fought at Gettysburg.


Like the Civil War, Baseball too is filled with myths which connect it to our culture, and one “is the myth that Abner Doubleday invented the sport one fine day in 1839 at the farmer Phinney’s pasture at Cooperstown.” [114] It was early American baseball star Albert G. Spaulding who linked the creation of baseball to the Civil War and in particular to Abner Doubleday by way of an apocryphal story of one of Doubleday’s childhood friends, years after Doubleday’s death. In 1907, Spaulding worked with Abraham G. Mills the fourth President of the National League, the same man who had served in Doubleday’s funeral honor guard to conclude that “that the first scheme for playing it, according to the best evidence obtained to date, was devised at Cooperstown New York, in 1839.” [115] But this is simply myth and the underappreciated hero of the first day of battle at Gettysburg is much better known for something that he did not do.

The ironies of history and myth are fascinating. Interestingly Mills paid homage to Doubleday noting, “in the years to come, in the view of hundreds of thousands of people who are devoted to baseball, Abner Doubleday’s fame will rest evenly, if not quite so much that he was its inventor…as upon his brilliant and distinguished career as an officer in the Federal Army.” [116]

Notes

[1] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.121

[2] Goodheart, Adam 1861: The Civil War Awakening Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 2011 p.5

[3] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.276

[4] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.5

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.30

[6] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.181

[7] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.172

[8] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.143

[9] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.25

[10] Ibid. Pfanz Harry Gettysburg: The First Day p.122

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

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

[13] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.273

[14] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.181

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.161

[16] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.206

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.162

[18] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.233

[19] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.200

[20] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.282

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.162

[22] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007 p.121

[23] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.34

[24] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.206

[25] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.148

[26] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.149

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.160

[28] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.281

[29] 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.49

[30] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.472

[31] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.564

[32] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Twop.472

[33] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.138

[34] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.35

[35] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.305 Pfanz credits Ewell for this but nearly every other source lists Rodes as having placed Carter’s artillery battalion on Oak Hill.

[36] Ibid. Pfanz, Donald Richard S. Ewell p.305

[37] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.39

[38] 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.115

[39] 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.123

[40] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.243

[41] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

[42] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.244

[43] Gwynne, Samuel C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson Scribner, a Division of Simon and Schuster New York 2014 p.537

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

[45] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.117

[46] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.287

[47] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.386

[48] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.288

[49] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.251

[50] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001

[51] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.290

[52] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.179

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

[54] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.21

[55] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.25

[56] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.53

[57] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.129

[58] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.131

[59] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.130-131

[60] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.564

[61] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.145

[62] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.120

[63] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.123

[64] Ibid. Pfanz Harry Gettysburg: The First Day p.162 Also see Krick pp.123-124 Following Gettysburg Lee continued to block O’Neal’s promotion and that officer went to extraordinary lengths to obtain a General’s commission using every political ally he had in Alabama and in Richmond. Finally Lee settled the matter before the Wilderness campaign writing that he made “more particular inquiries into his capacity to command the brigade and I cannot recommend him to the command.” Krick pp.123-124

[65] Ibid. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.472

[66] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[67] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.286

[68] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.119

[69] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.286

[70] Ibid Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.208

[71] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.59-60 Dilger was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chancellorsville in 1893, part of the citation stating that Dilger: “fought his guns until the enemy were upon him, then with one gun hauled in the road by hand he formed the rear guard and kept the enemy at bay by the rapidity of his fire and was the last man in the retreat.”

[72] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.118

[73] Ibid Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.210

[74] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[75] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.61

[76] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[77] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[78] Ibid. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.473

[79] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.197

[80] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.197

[81] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[82] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.565

[83] Ibid. Pfanz, Donald Richard S. Ewell p.305

[84] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.120

[85] Ibid. Pfanz, Donald Richard S. Ewell p.305

[86] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.124

[87] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.198

[88] Ibid. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.473

[89] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.565

[90] Ibid Luvaas The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.36

[91] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.132

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.289

[93] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.172

[94] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.134

[95] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.290

[96] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.175

[97] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.290

[98] Ibid Luvaas The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.37

[99] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.201

[100] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.173

[101] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.136

[102] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.292

[103] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.173

[104] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.138

[105] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.138

[106] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.245

[107] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.307

[108] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.294

[109] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.224

[110] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.294

[111] Ibid. Cleaves Meade of Gettysburg p.143

[112] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.224

[113] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.355

[114] Will, George F Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1990 p.294

[115] Kirsch, George B. Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime in the Civil War Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2003 p.xiii

[116] Ibid.. Kirsch Baseball in Blue and Gray p.xii

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Loose thoughts and musings

We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In a few days we as Americans will be celebrating the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As the day approaches I’ll be writing more reflections on what it means even as I intersperse some articles on the Battle of Gettysburg, a victory that helped ensure that the Union would survive and that helped to pave the way for the understanding that the Declaration must be understood in its universal sense. In a day like ours where many localities, states, and even the Federal government appear to be working to limit those rights, often based on the religious beliefs of a powerful, well-funded and militant minority of conservative Christians, this all the more important.

For me it is the truth both of a concept of Liberty which must continuously be advanced or expanded, and the still imperfect embodiment of that concept in the land that it was born. The authors of the declaration wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”  Eighty-seven years later while dedicating the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg noted that the new nation was “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

Lincoln understood from the reality of war, and the statements of European leaders that the whole concept of a country being founded on a proposition like this, not race, not class, not religion, not station in life, was bound to be opposed, and was incredibly fragile. He confronted a rebellion which based itself on the belief that African Americans were less than equal, in fact subhuman and deserving of being enslaved by a superior race. Likewise, there were those in Europe who cheered the rebellion and believed that it proved that such experiments were doomed to failure, a belief that is still widely held, but more often by American elites than others.

But like it or not, the proposition that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights; a concept so imperfectly practiced by the very men who drafted it and those who followed them, still is right. That proposition was universalized as a political philosophy by Abraham Lincoln, is the basis of all hope for humanity. Tyrants, despots, dictators, terrorists, religious zealots of every sect filled with messianic visions, as well as madmen all desire to trample this proposition. Some desire to believe that those rights can simply be maintained by the power of a Constitution, but unless the people who swear to uphold that Constitution are dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal that very Constitution can be perverted and used to enslave people, as it was by the men who drafted the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Fugitive Slave Laws, and the Supreme Court decisions in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson cases ruled that African Americans were less than equal as human beings, and therefore not entitled to the same rights and liberties as were white people. It is the same constitution and laws that were used to deny citizenship and rights to Chinese immigrants until 1942, that were used by the government to interment native born Japanese American citizens in concentration camps during the Second World War, which drove Native Americans off their ancestral homelands, massacred them by the tens of millions, and placed them on reservations without any rights of American citizens until 1924; and which denied suffrage to women until 1919, and denied basic civil rights to LGBTQ people until recently; rights that in many states are still denied by state legislatures. But without equality, freedom is an illusion.

Judge Learned Hand, perhaps the best qualified man ever to not serve on the Supreme Court wrote,

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of othe men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.” 

That is why the proposition in the Declaration which was universalized by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address is still of the utmost importance. It is why it must be fought for, especially when politicians like Donald Trump and others threaten its very existence, and whose followers see it as only as Liberty for themselves and their interests. That proposition is under duress today, there are millions of followers of Trump and the demagogues who would deny Liberty to others based on race, religion, ethnicity, economic status, gender, or by them being LGBTQ. But, Liberty is a perilous thing, but once that proposition of Liberty dies in our hearts, there is nothing that can save it, no constitution, no law, no court; and those who place their trust in it the demagogues will find that they will eventually lose their Liberty as well.

In 1858 Lincoln spoke in Chicago, and in that speech he linked the common connection of all Americans share, even recent immigrants, through the Declaration. It was an era of intense anti-immigrant passions, the American Party, which sprang from the Know Nothing movement which founded upon extreme hatred of immigrants, and Roman Catholics, and violence against them, had run former President Millard Fillmore for election as at their candidate in 1856 following the collapse of the Whig Party.

In opposition to this party and movement  Lincoln proclaimed that immigrants, “cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel a part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find those old men say that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,… That is the father of all moral principle to them, and they have a right to claim it as if they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in the Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and Liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.” 

Lincoln was absolutely correct, it is that love of freedom, liberty, and equality that echoes in the Declaration, and it is still a revolutionary idea. We hold these truths to be self evident…

As a historian I cannot get away from this. Whether it is in my study of European history, particularly the Weimar Republic and the Nazi takeover, or the American Civil War, especially the times I visit the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg and talk about the Gettysburg Address with my students. The breadth of my experience, having visited Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, having watched the unadulterated adulation of crowds of Germans chanting Sieg Heil!,  having grown up in this country at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and having walked so many battlegrounds where American men have died fighting such tyranny makes me all too sensitive to why this proposition is so important.

That is why the quest for the fulfillment of that proposition is something that cannot be given up, it is in the words of Lincoln, “it is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who have fought for have thus far so nobly advanced. That it is for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead should not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” 

For me it is this proposition, the proposition mocked by the elites of Europe, the proposition that any republic founded on such a proposition was doomed to fail, this proposition that says “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal” is what Independence Day is about. That is why in my remaining service to this country I will rededicate myself to seeing that “new birth of freedom” is fulfilled for every American.

That may seem a pipe dream to some people, and even impossible to others; but it is what far too many of the men and women who served before me gave the last full measure of devotion to duty to bring to fulfillment. Learned Hand was right, if Liberty dies in our hearts, no law, no constitution, no court, can save us.

Have a great Independence Day and please remember it is not about the day off, the picnics, or displays of military might, it is about that proposition; the one that is so easy to forget, the proposition that all men are created equal.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

Vague Orders, Hubris, and the Need for Redemption: J.E.B. Stuart’s Ride at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today I am going back to the archives and re-posting an edited version of something that is part of my unpublished Gettysburg Campaign text. James Ewell Brown (J.E.B.) Stuart is legendary in American military history. A young cavalry officer from Virginia he was like a son to Robert E. Lee and was a man whose military accomplishments were matched by his unbridled vanity, which during the most critical moment in the history of the Confederacy led him to embark on an operation that left his commander in the lurch and helped doom the Confederacy. The story picks up following Stuart being surprised by Federal Cavalry at the Battle of Brandy Station in June of 1863 as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was moving north in an attempt to bring the Army of the Potomac to Battle, destroy it, and end the war. Both Stuart and Lee had much to do with the failure of this plan, but I hope that you enjoy this account.

Peace

Padre Steve+

While the embattled “Fighting Joe” Hooker slowly pursued Lee with the Army of the Potomac, a drama of major significance to the battle Robert E. Lee’s own making was beginning to engulf his operations and leave him blind to the movements of the Federal Army. It involved Lee and his Cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart and would be the first of a number of mistakes that would characterize Lee’s campaign. All of these failures dealt with Lee’s singular inability to get his commanders to understand his intent for the campaign and his inability to clearly communicate his wishes.

The necessity of subordinate commanders understanding the intent of their superior is essential to the success of any military operation. During the Gettysburg campaign Lee failed miserably to communicate his operational plan and desire to his commanders. The episode with Stuart was one of several that paint a portrait of Lee not being as good of General as the myth surrounding him.

After the surprise at Brandy Station Stuart’s troopers screened the right flank of the army as it moved north, defending the gaps in the Blue Ridge to keep Alfred Pleasanton’s Federal Cavalry Corps from interdicting the march of the Army of Northern Virginia, or discovering the location of Lee’s three infantry corps which were moving north behind the cover of the Blue Ridge.

In this Stuart was successful, but frustrated. Between June 17th and June 21st his troopers fought a series of engagements against the aggressive Federal Cavalry at Ashby’s Gap, Middleburg and Upperville in Northern Virginia. While Stuart’s troopers had held off Pleasanton’s confident troopers the “running combats were taking a toll on the Southern mounted arm, however. Stuart had already suffered several hundred casualties defending gaps and passes.” [1] Much to their dismay the Confederates noted the improvements in the Federal cavalry during these battles. Captain William Blackford, who served as an engineer on Stuart’s staff noted:

“the improvement of enemy cavalry was enormous, mainly in the heavy fire from long range carbines, and horse artillery that was a match for Stuart’s own These cavalrymen fought as if they had been taken from infantry regiments, for they knew how to fight with horses left behind.” [2]

Unlike the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia that was marching like victors into Pennsylvania and Maryland, Stuart’s Cavalry Division had little cause to rejoice. They had been surprised at Brandy Station and Stuart had been humiliated in the Southern press. The Federal cavalry under Pleasanton gave him no opportunity to redeem himself. While Pleasanton’s troopers never broke through Stuart’s screen, they had pressed him hard, and his division was “really fought out during those two weeks from June 9 until the misty morning of June 22…. Not only had Stuart’s cavalry been pressed on the defensive as never before, but also they had not been able to gain a spot of information about the enemy.” [3] Pleasanton’s troopers and proven that the days of “easy Confederate cavalry triumphs were gone,” [4] and Stuart, now “smarting over the cuts to his ego, refused to read the portents” [5] of future disaster.

Stuart had been fighting defensively the entire campaign, but desperately wanted to go on the offensive. As his troops battled at Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville, Stuart formulated a plan that he submitted to Lee. Stuart reasoned since now that “all the infantry were west of the Blue Ridge…that it would be possible to leave one or two brigades of cavalry to defend the gaps and with the remaining three to descend on the enemy and harass Hooker in any advance into Pennsylvania.” [6] For him the plan was designed for personal glory and redemption after the embarrassment at Brandy Station.

On the morning of the 22nd of June Stuart noticed that the Federal cavalry that had engaged him at Upperville the previous day was no longer present. That morning he also received an order from Lee ; an order that was the first of a series of vague, poorly written and contradictory orders that was to plague Lee throughout the campaign.

Unlike his new infantry corps commanders, Ewell and Hill, Stuart was very familiar with Robert E. Lee’s method of command, and Lee had “so much faith in Stuart’s judgment and ability to make the right moves that after indicating his wishes he gave him considerable latitude in carrying them out. His orders were more suggestions than commands….” [7] However well that may have worked for Lee in the past with Jackson and Stuart, the nature of Lee’s orders to Stuart, being conditional, needed to clearly address “the conditions upon which they are based.” [8] This Lee did not do. His order read:

“I judge the efforts of the enemy yesterday were to arrest our progress and ascertain our whereabouts. Perhaps he is satisfied. Do you know where he is and what he is doing? I fear he will steal a march on us and get across the Potomac before we are aware. If you find that he is moving northward and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland and take position on General Ewell’s right, place yourself in communication with him, guard his flank, keep him informed of the enemy’s movements and collect all the supplies you can….” [9]

James Longstreet, commander of the Confederate First Corps who Stuart was cooperating with on the northward march, added his own comments to Lee’s instructions which even further clouded the order:

General Lee has enclosed this letter for you, to be forwarded to you, provided you can be spared from my front, and provided I think that you can move across the Potomac without disclosing our plans. He speaks of your leaving via the Hopewell Gap and passing by the rear of the enemy. If you can get through by that route I think that you will be less likely to indicate what our plans are than if you should be passing to our rear. I forward the letter of instructions with these suggestions. Please advise me of the condition of affairs before you leave, and order General Hampton, whom I suppose will leave here in command, to report to me at Millwood, either by letter or in person, as may be most agreeable to him.” [10]  

But even without an order from Lee, Stuart was already planning his offensive that he believed would restore his glory. He had sent Major John Mosby with a small detachment of troops to reconnoiter behind the Union lines. Mosby reported the location of all the infantry corps of the Army of the Potomac. Mosby reported to Stuart on June 23rd that the Federal corps were stationary and “were so widely separated…that a column of cavalry could easily get between them.” [11] It was news that Stuart was delighted to hear. Mosby painted a glowing picture of how an operation using the Hopewell Gap could create havoc in the Federal rear and cause panic in Washington as he could “severe communications between Hooker and Pleasanton, destroy a “large portion” of Hooker’s transportation, and take some of the pressure off Lee by creating a diversion for the Union cavalry.” [12]

The inactivity of the Federal army reported by Mosby was exactly the news Stuart wanted to hear, and he asked Lee for permission to plunge into the Federal rear, and in his after action report wrote:

“I submitted to the commanding general the plan of leaving a brigade or so in my present front, and passing through Hopewell, or some other gap in Bull Run Mountain, attaining the enemy’s rear, and passing between his main body and Washington, to cross into Maryland and joining our army north of the Potomac.” [13]

Lee was rather cryptic in his after action report and wrote “Upon the suggestion of the former officer (General Stuart) that he could damage the enemy and delay his passage of the river by getting to his rear, he was authorized to do so.” [14] In that same report of the campaign Lee wrote:

“General Stuart was left to guard the passes of the mountains and observe the movements of the enemy, whom he was instructed to impede and harass as much as possible, should he attempt to cross the Potomac. In that event, General Stuart was directed to move into Maryland, crossing the Potomac east or west of the Blue Ridge, as, in his judgment, should be best, and take position on the right of our column as it advanced.” [15]

That night, during a heavy rainstorm Stuart’s chief of staff Major McClellan received Lee’s reply to his superior’s request. When he received it he immediately delivered to Stuart. Lee’s instruction stated:

“If General Hooker’s army remains inactive, you can leave two brigades to watch him, and withdraw with three others, but should he not appear to be moving northward, I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountains tomorrow night, cross as Shepherdstown next day, and move over to Frederickstown.

You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can, and cross the river east of the mountains. In either case, after crossing the river, you must move on and feel the right of Ewell’s troops, collecting information, provisions, etc.” [16]

However, Stuart does not deserve the entirety of the blame for what happened. The orders or suggestions that he received from Lee and Longstreet gave Stuart were “so badly worded that it is difficult to make sense of them.” [17] Lee implicitly trusted Stuart but he was wrong in assuming that the young officer should be able to divine his intent after Brandy Station without taking into account the effect the negative press of that battle had on his subordinate. Lee should have “established that Stuart’s most important task was to guard Ewell’s right and report on the direction of Hooker’s advance once Lee crossed the Potomac.” [18] This he did not do. Instead, Stuart was given several conflicting instructions. Lee directed that Stuart maintain contact with Ewell, screen the Blue Ridge gaps, collect information, “raiding around the rear of Hooker’s forces” [19] damaging the enemy and collecting supplies. Stuart could have done any of these tasks, but not all of them, and the smorgasbord offered by Lee played directly into Stuart’s need to redeem himself after the beating that he took in the Confederate Press after Brandy Station.

Specifically, Lee’s lack of clarity and vagueness allowed to Stuart interpret the order in a manner that benefited him. The order could easily be interpreted as getting Stuart and his men into Pennsylvania as quickly as possible to guard Ewell’s flank and discern the intentions of the enemy, which in hindsight appears to be Lee’s intent, or as permission to conduct a raid “roam in the enemy’s rear for an unpredictable period of time, raising havoc with his communications, supplies, and isolated commands” and then “seek out Ewell’s corps and use it as a place of refuge from an aroused enemy.” [20]

The fact is that as they are today that different standards apply to each course of action laid out by a commander and that orders must be clear, otherwise subordinates may interpret them in a far different manner that intended. Such vague orders can have far reaching effects, often contrary to the intent of the commander who issued them; this was the case here.

By giving Stuart the latitude to go around the Federal army Lee undercut his own preference that Stuart cross into Maryland via Shepherdstown and Frederick on June 24th. Lee had provided Stuart an opportunity for something that “Longstreet half-apologetically called “something better than the drudgery of a march around our flank.” [21] It was a critical mistake, which was then further compounded by Stuart and the movement of the Army of the Potomac.

Stung by the criticism of his conduct of the Battle of Brandy Station in the Southern press and frustrated by Pleasanton’s constant thrusts at his troopers screening Lee’s flank on the Blue Ridge Stuart interpreted the orders in the manner that appealed to Stuart’s sense of glory. He would repeat his triumph of the previous year when he rode around the Army of the Potomac. For Stuart this was a chance to regain the limelight and add to his luster. Stuart “summed up his interpretation of his orders when he said later: …it was deemed practicable to move entirely in the enemy’s rear, intercepting his communications with his base (Washington), and, inflicting damage upon his rear, to rejoin the army in Pennsylvania in time to participate in its actual conflicts.”[22]

Historians have long wondered why Lee was not more explicit in his orders to Stuart and why Stuart conducted an operation that left Lee blind and had no obvious advantages, except to allow Stuart to recover his tarnished reputation. Stephen Sears noted in his book Gettysburg that: “The very concept of Stuart’s expedition was fueled by overconfidence and misjudgment at the highest command level.” [23] In a sense the decision harkens back to the hubris of Lee and others about the superiority of his army, and Lee’s distain for the capabilities of Army of the Potomac and Federal troops in general.

In organizing his movement around the Army of the Potomac, Stuart decided to take his three best cavalry brigades with him, and leave the brigades of “Grumble” Jones and Beverly Robertson to defend gaps and screen the rear of the army. The choice was unfortunate; Robertson was unpredictable but was “senior to the dependable Jones” [24] who was considered the “best outpost officer in his command.” [25] The choice ridded Stuart of Robertson, who he did not trust in battle and Jones “whose antipathy for Stuart at least equaled Stuart’s for him.” [26] The intent was that Robertson would screen the army and follow it into Maryland, in fact Stuart gave Robertson “explicit instructions” [27] to do so, but instead “the two brigades would remain fixed, as if planted there, in an inanition of command which immobilized the men for whom Lee in Pennsylvania was anxiously watching.” [28] Longstreet had requested the industrious and dependable Hampton command the remainder of the cavalry, but Stuart disregarded his counsel and took Hampton with him.

Stuart set off with his three best brigades, Wade Hampton’s, Fitzhugh Lee’s, and Rooney Lee’s, the latter now with Rooney Lee having been wounded was under the command of Colonel John R. Chambliss. Chambliss was another former West Pointer who had retired from the old army but had responded to the call to secession.

Almost immediately after setting off Stuart and his brigades encountered a situation that should have immediately stopped movement to the Federal rear and instead brought Stuart to move back to the west of the Blue Ridge. Moving through Glasscock’s Gap Stuart’s troopers  “bumped unexpectedly into “an immense wagon train,” which happened to be the tail end of Winfield Hancock’s 2nd Corps, blocking the road in exactly the fashion Lee had described as a hindrance.” [29] Instead of going back when he had the chance Stuart elected to continue with his “plan to go around the Federal army. It was a crucial decision, for he still could have turned back without losing any more time.” [30] Even so, Stuart had to spend a day grazing his horses since he had no grain with him, delaying his advance north and east, placing him a day behind schedule. Though Stuart and his brigades made better time on the 26th, advancing twenty-five miles, he had to again stop to graze his horses at the Occoquan River. It had “taken forty-eight hours to march thirty-five miles.” [31]

Stuart continued on past the outskirts of Washington on June 27th and was again delayed when attempting to cross the Potomac at Rowser’s Ford where the “water level was two feet higher than normal.” [32] Upon crossing the river he then encountered a large Federal wagon train not far from Washington capturing over 100 wagons and 600 mules. He reveled in that feat and boasted that “he had taken more than one hundred and twenty-five best United States model wagons and splendid teams and gay caparisons,” containing “foodstuffs, oats, hay…bacon, ham, crackers and bread” but his progress was slowed by his enormous wagon train of captured supplies…” [33] He and briefly wondered “whether it might be worth “our entering Washington City” [34] before determining that the effort might be too costly.

On June 28th Stuart received word that Joe Hooker and the Army of the Potomac were across the Potomac. Likewise, Stuart “knew nothing of Lee’s position,” [35] and instead of abandoning the wagon train he sacrificed the speed and mobility of his brigades to keep it. This was a direct consequence of how badly Lee had written his order to Stuart. Now, “far from guarding Ewell’s right, he was now moving away from Ewell, with no idea where Hooker’s army might be and no communication with Lee, who frequently inquiring of his aides, “Can you tell me where General Stuart is?” [36]

On the wrong side of the federal army, encumbered by the captured wagon train, “Stuart would have to make a half circle of more than fifty miles around Gettysburg before arriving there about noon on the second day of battle with most of his troopers, his artillery, and his wagon train lumbering far behind him.” [37] On June 30th his men were engaged by Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal near cavalry division near Hanover, and “his men never fought more poorly…and General Stuart and his staff were nearly captured.” [38] By the time Stuart’s troopers arrived in Gettysburg, the once proud outfit was “exhausted and too late to be of any service.” [39] His arrival at Gettysburg was not a moment of triumph, but was humiliating. Instead of reporting to his commander with information that Lee needed, it was Lee who informed him of the position of his own army and the Army of the Potomac. Lee’s words to his much beloved subordinate were painful. He asked him “General Stuart, where have you been?” [40] Stuart seemed to wilt at his mentor’s words, and attempted to put the best face forward, and told Lee “I have brought you 125 wagons and their teams, General,” to which Lee replied “Yes, General, but they are an impediment to me now.” [41]

Stuart’s raid was disastrous for Lee. Until July 2nd, Lee was blind and had no idea where the Federal army was. He learned some when he told of the location of the Army of the Potomac by Longstreet’s scout Harrison on June 28th but even then he had no clear idea of the Federal Army’s location, strength, or intentions until the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Stuart’s ride was “an act of folly – ill-planned, badly conducted, and (until the very end) executed with an almost total disregard for anything for any interest other than the self-promotion of J.E.B. Stuart.” [42]

To be clear, a number of important military factors important to those involved in planning campaigns are clear: Deception, commander’s intent, and unity of command. Lee successfully used deception to prevent the Federals from discerning his purposes, but that initial success was compromised by his lack of clarity in communicating his intent for the campaign to Stuart, and by Stuart’s careless disregard of any other consideration but his own reputation and vanity.

Both Stuart and Lee share culpability for the failure of the Confederate campaign at the operational and tactical level. Of course they were not the only ones, Longstreet, Ewell, A.P. Hill, Harry Heth, and Jubal Early and many others had a share in the defeat, but Lee in his orders, and his protégé Stuart in trying to redeem his reputation were most culpable in the defeat at Gettysburg.

Notes

[1] Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012 p.41

[2] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 pp.319-320

[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.57

[4] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.553

[5] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.57

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

[7] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.108

[8] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.108

[9] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.321

[10] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.61

[11] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.109

[12] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.109

[13] McClellan, Henry Brainerd The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia 1885. Digital edition copyright 2011 Strait Gate Publications, Charlotte NC Location 6087

[14] Ibid. McClellan The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart location 6106

[15] Lee, Robert E. Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition location 285

[16] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.324

[17] 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.226

[18] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.540

[19] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.540

[20] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.110

[21] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.96

[22] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.555

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 p.106

[24] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63

[25] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.324

[26] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63

[29] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.96

[30] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112

[31] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.325

[32] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112

[33] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.98

[35] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.325

[36] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

[37] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

[38] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.73

[39] Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 p.227

[40] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.334

[41] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.334

[42] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.98

2 Comments

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Military

The Battle of Brandy Station

Cav Fight at Brandy Station

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I take a look back at the battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle every fought on the North American continent. This is a section of my draft Gettysburg campaign text.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Movement to attain operational reach and maneuver are two critical factors in joint operations. In the time since the American Civil War the distances that forces move to engage the enemy, or maneuver to employ fires to destroy his forces have greatly increased. Movement may be part of an existing Campaign Plan or Contingency Plan developed at Phase 0; it also may be part of a crisis action plan developed in the midst of a campaign. Lee’s movement to get to Gettysburg serves as an example of the former, however, since his forces were already in contact with the Army of the Potomac along the Rappahannock and he was reacting to what he felt was a strategic situation that could not be changed but by going on the offensive that it has the feel of a Crisis Action Plan. Within either context other factors come into play: clarity of communications and orders, security, intelligence, logistics and even more importantly the connection between operational movement and maneuver; the Center of Gravity of the enemy, and national strategy. Since we have already discussed how Lee and the national command authority of the Confederacy got to this point we will now discuss the how that decision played in the operational and tactical decisions of Lee and his commanders as the Army of Northern Virginia began the summer campaign and the corresponding actions of Joseph Hooker and the his superiors in Washington.

“One of the fine arts of the military craft is disengaging one’s army from a guarding army without striking sparks and igniting battle.” [1] On June 3rd 1863 Robert E. Lee began to move his units west, away from Fredericksburg to begin his campaign to take the war to the North. He began his exfiltration moving Second Corps under Richard Ewell and First Corps under James Longstreet west “up the south bank of the Rappahannock to Culpepper, near which Hood and Pickett had been halted on their return from Suffolk.” [2] Rodes’ division of Second Corps followed on June 4th with Anderson and Early on June 5th. Lee left the three divisions of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps at Fredericksburg to guard against any sudden advance by Hooker’s Army of the Potomac toward Richmond. Lee instructed Hill to “do everything possible “to deceive the enemy, and keep him in ignorance of any change in the disposition of the army.” [3]

The army was tremendously confident as it marched away from the war ravaged, dreary and desolate battlefields along the Rappahannock “A Captain in the 1st Virginia averred, “Never before has the army been in such a fine condition, so well disciplined and under such complete control.” [4] Porter Alexander wrote that he felt “pride and confidence…in my splendid battalion, as it filed out of the field into the road, with every chest & and ammunition wagon filled, & and every horse in fair order, & every detail fit for a campaign.” [5] Another officer wrote to his father, “I believe there is a general feeling of gratification in the army at the prospect of active operations.” [6]

Lee’s plan was to “shift two-thirds of his army to the northwest and past Hooker’s flank, while A.P. Hill’s Third Corps remained entrenched at Fredericksburg to observe Hooker and perhaps fix him in place long enough for the army to gain several marches on the Federals.” [7] In an organizational and operational sense that Lee’s army after as major of battle as Chancellorsville “was able to embark on such an ambitious flanking march to the west and north around the right of the army of the Potomac….” [8]

However, Lee’s movement did not go unnoticed; Hooker’s aerial observers in their hot air balloons “were up and apparently spotted the movement.” [9] But Hooker was unsure what it meant. He initially suspected that “Lee intended to turn the right flank of the Union army as he had done in the Second Bull Run Campaign, either by interposing his army between Washington and the Federals or by crossing the Potomac River.” [10] Lee halted at Culpepper from which he “could either march westward over the Blue Ridge or, if Hooker moved, recontract at the Rappahannock River.” [11]

Hooker telegraphed Lincoln and Halleck on June 5th and requested permission to advance cross the river and told Lincoln that “I am of opinion that it is my duty to pitch into his rear” [12] possibly threatening Richmond. Lincoln ordered Hooker to put the matter to Halleck, with whom Hooker was on the worst possible terms. Hooker “pressed Halleck to allow him to cross the Rappahannock in force, overwhelming whatever rebel force had been left at Fredericksburg, and then lunging down the line of the Virginia Central toward an almost undefended Richmond.” [13] On the morning of June 6th Hooker ordered pontoon bridges thrown across the river and sent a division of Sedgwick’s VI Corps to conduct a reconnaissance in force against Hill.

Lincoln and Halleck immediately rejected Hooker’s request. Lincoln “saw the flaw in Hooker’s plan at once” [14] and replied in a very blunt manner: “In one word,” he wrote “I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick another.” [15] Halleck replied to Hooker shortly after Lincoln that it would “seem perilous to permit Lee’s main force to move upon the Potomac [River] while your army is attacking an intrenched position on the other side of the Rappahannock.” [16] Lincoln, demonstrating a keen regard for the actual center of gravity of the campaign, told Hooker plainly that “I think Lee’s army and not Richmond, is your objective point.” [17]

The fears of Lincoln and Halleck were well founded. In stopping at Culpepper Lee retained the option of continuing his march to the Shenandoah and the Potomac, or he could rapidly “recall his advanced columns, hammer at Hooker’s right flank, and very possibly administer another defeat even more demoralizing than the one he suffered at Chancellorsville.” [18] Hooker heeded the order and while Hooker maintained his bridgehead over the Rappahannock he made no further move against Hill’s well dug in divisions.

Meanwhile, J.E.B. Stuart and his Cavalry Corps had been at Brandy Station near Culpepper for two weeks. Culpepper in June was a paradise for the cavalry, and with nearly 10,000 troopers gathered Stuart ordered a celebration, many dignitaries were invited and on June 4th Stuart hosted a grand ball in the county courthouse. On the 5th Stuart staged a grand review of five of his brigades. Bands played as each regiment passed in review and one soldier wrote that it was “One grand magnificent pageant, inspiring enough to make even an old woman feel fightish.” [19] The review ended with a mock charge by the cavalry against the guns of the horse artillery which were firing blank rounds. According to witnesses it was a spectacular event, so realistic and grand that during the final charge that “several ladies fainted, or pretended to faint, in the grandstand which Jeb Stuart had had set up for them along one side of the field.” [20] That was followed by an outdoor ball “lit by soft moonlight and bright bonfires.” [21] Stuart gave an encore performance when Lee arrived on June 8th, minus the grand finale and afterward Lee wrote to his wife that “Stuart was in all his glory.” [22]

Hooker received word from the always vigilant John Buford, of the First Cavalry Division on the night of June 6th that “Lee’s “movable column” was located near Culpepper Court House and that it consisted of Stuart’s three brigades heavily reinforced by Robertson’s, “Grumble” Jones’s, and Jenkins’ brigades.” [23] Hooker digested the information and believed that Stuart’s intent was to raid his own rear areas to disrupt the Army of the Potomac’s logistics and communications. The next day Hooker ordered his newly appointed Cavalry Corps Commander, Major General Alfred Pleasanton to attack Stuart.

After Chancellorsville, Hooker had reorganized the Union cavalry under Pleasanton into three divisions and under three aggressive division commanders, all West Pointers, Brigadier General John Buford, Brigadier General David Gregg and Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. While Stuart conducted his second grand review for Lee Pleasanton quietly massed his cavalry “opposite Beverly Ford and Kelly’s Ford so as to cross the river in the early morning hours of June 9th and carry out Hooker’s crisp orders “to disperse and destroy” the rebel cavalry reported to be “assembled in the vicinity of Culpepper….” [24] Pleasanton’s cavalry was joined by two mixed brigades of infantry “who had the reputation of being among the best marchers and fighters in the army.” [25] One brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames consisted of five regiments drawn from XI Corps, XII Corps, and III Corps was attached to Buford’s division. The other brigade, under the command of Brigadier General David Russell was composed of seven regiments drawn from I Corps, II Corps and VI Corps. [26]

Stuart’s orders for June 9th were to “lead his cavalry division across the Rappahannock to screen the northward march of the infantry.” [27] The last thing that Stuart expected was to be surprised by the Federal cavalry which he had grown to treat with distain. Stuart who was at his headquarters “woke to the sound of fighting” [28] as Pleasanton’s divisions crossed the river and moved against the unsuspecting Confederate cavalry brigades.

The resultant action was the largest cavalry engagement of the war. Over 20,000 troopers engaged in an inconclusive see-saw battle that lasted most of the day. Though a draw “the rebels might have been swept from the field had Colonel Alfred N. Duffie, at the head of the Second Division acted aggressively and moved to the sounds of battle.” [29] The “Yankees came with a newfound grit and gave as good as they took.” [30] Porter Alexander wrote that Pleasanton’s troopers “but for bad luck in the killing of Col. Davis, leading the advance, would have probably surprised and captured most of Stuart’s artillery.” [31] Stuart had lost “over 500 men, including two colonels dead,” [32] and a brigade commander, Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee, General Lee’s son, badly wounded. While recuperating at his wife’s home a few weeks later Lee “was captured by the enemy.” [33] Stuart claimed victory as he lost fewer troops and had taken close to 500 prisoners and maintained control of the battlefield.

But even Confederate officers were critical. Lafayette McLaws of First Corps wrote “our cavalry were surprised yesterday by the enemy and had to do some desperate fighting to retrieve the day… As you will perceive from General Lee’s dispatch that the enemy were driven across the river again. All this is not true because the enemy retired at their leisure, having accomplished what I suppose what they intended.” [34] Captain Charles Blackford of Longtreet’s staff wrote: “The fight at Brandy Station can hardly be called a victory. Stuart was certainly surprised, but for the supreme gallantry of his subordinate officers and men… it would have been a day of disaster and disgrace….” The Chief of the Bureau of War in Richmond, Robert H.G. Kean wrote “Stuart is so conceited that he got careless- his officers were having a frolic…” [35] Brigadier General Wade Hampton had the never to criticize his chief in his after action report and after the war recalled “Stuart managed badly that day, but I would not say so publicly.” [36]

The Confederate press was even more damning in its criticism of Stuart papers called it “a disastrous fight,” a “needless slaughter,” [37]and the Richmond Examiner scolded Stuart in words that cut deeply into Stuart’s pride and vanity:

The more the circumstances of the late affair at Brandy Station are considered, the less pleasant do they appear. If this was an isolated case, it might be excused under the convenient head of accident or chance. But the puffed up cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia has twice, if not three times, surprised since the battles of December, and such repeated accidents can be regarded as nothing but the necessary consequences of negligence and bad management. If the war was a tournament, invented and supported for the pleasure of a few vain and weak-headed officers, these disasters might be dismissed with compassion, But the country pays dearly for the blunders which encourage the enemy to overrun and devastate the land, with a cavalry which is daily learning to despise the mounted troops of the Confederacy…” [38]

But the battle was more significant than the number of casualties inflicted or who controlled the battlefield at the end of the day. Stuart had been surprised by an aggressively led Union Cavalry force. The Union troopers fought a stubborn and fierce battle and retired in good order. Stuart did not appreciate it but the battle was a watershed, it ended the previous dominance of the Confederate Cavalry arm. It was something that in less than a years’ time would cost him his life.

Notes

[1] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 p.59

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.436

[3] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.25

[4] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.218

[5] 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.221

[6] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.219

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

[8] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.530

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.436

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.260

[11] 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.37

[12] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

[13] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.50

[14] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.260

[15] 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.223

[16] Ibid Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.26

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.50

[18] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.53

[19] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p.304

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.437

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

[22] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[26] Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012 p.7

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[28] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

[29] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.261

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p. 251

[31] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.223

[32] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[33] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[34] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.59

[35] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[36] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.60

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.57

[38] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.311-312

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Military

Reflections on PTSD and Moral Injury after a Gettysburg Staff Ride


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity which has involved a transfer, travel, and teaching, coupled with finding that I was not selected for promotion. The failure to select for promotion was less of a disappointment with not being selected, or jealousy towards those that were, but rather the feelings of betrayal I feel towards the senior leaders of the Chaplain Corps that have been part of my life since I returned from Iraq back in 2008, and my ever present battle with the effects of PTSD. Since I have written about these things many times I shall not go into depth about them today.

While I was at Gettysburg I stood beside the monument to General Gouverneur Warren on Little Round Top as I discussed Warren’s actions which were decisive in ensuring that Union forces held that edifice against the Confederate assault of July 2nd 1863. However, Warren would suffer unjustly at the hands of General Philip Sheridan at the Battle of Five Forks just days before the end of the war. The effects of combat trauma, what we would now diagnose as PTSD and moral injury at having been betrayed by the leaders of an institution that he had faithfully served in war and peace were devastating to him. After the war he wrote his wife:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” 

I fully understand what Warren felt in terms of dreams and what they call to mind time and time again nearly every night. Whenever I go to bed I pray that I will not again injure myself during a nighttime as I have numerous times, two of which sent me to the emergency room with head and facial injuries including a concussion and a broken nose. Yet even the dreams and nightmares that do not result in physical injury are often disturbing, and thankfully one of our Papillon dogs, Izzy, will do all that she can to comfort me and calm me down, and if I am awake and she senses that I am depressed or anxious she does what she can to be near me and to calm me. She is incredibly sensitive and does this with anyone not feeling well. I need to get her certified as a therapy dog as she is a special soul. 

Even so there are really very few people with whom I can talk about these things as they are foreign to the experience of most people. Guy Sager wrote in his classic book The Forgotten Soldier of his experience on returning home after the Second World War: “In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.” 

But anyway, that is where I live. I am happy, relatively content, and look forward to life. I love to teach as I did at Gettysburg over the weekend and to write, at the same time I struggle every night with sleep, and with belonging in the institution that I have served for nearly thirty-six years. After I found out about the non-selection for promotion I became quite angry, as I said, not because I wasn’t selected, but because of the feelings of betrayal that go back now some nine years. It helped for me to walk in the woods along the Potomac River on Thursday night and to walk the lines that the Union Union First Corps occupied on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg last Friday. For me there is something about walking hallowed ground which no matter what I am feeling helps to center me. It is as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Every time I walk that hallowed ground at Gettysburg I feel that presence and experience the power of that vision.

So I do wish you the best and appreciate the kind thoughts and words that many of you post on this page, in emails, and on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Until tomorrow, have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, PTSD