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The Largest Cavalry Battle in North America: The Battle Of Brandy Station

Cav Fight at Brandy Station

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I continue my rest so I can read and relax. 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,


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.


[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


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John Reynolds Gives Battle: Gettysburg Day One


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is another section of my text on the Battle of Gettysburg dealing with General John Reynold’s and his decision to give battle as the cavalrymen of John Buford fought a delaying action against the Confederate forces of A.P. Hill and Harry Heth. 

I hope that you enjoy.


Padre Steve+

On the night of June 30th Reynolds was awash in reports, some of them conflicting and even though he was without Meade’s course of action for the next day “concluded that Lee’s army was close by and in force.” [1] He spent the night at his headquarters “studying the military situation with Howard and keeping in touch with army headquarters.” [2] Howard noted Reynolds anxiety and “received the impression that Reynolds was depressed.” [3] After Howard’s departure Reynolds took the opportunity to get a few hours of fitful sleep before arising again at 4 a.m. on July 1st.

When morning came, Reynolds was awakened by his aide Major William Riddle with Meade’s order to “advance the First and Eleventh Corps to Gettysburg.” [4] Reynolds studied the order and though he expected no battle that morning, expecting “only moving up to be in supporting distance to Buford” [5] took the prudent and reasonable precautions that his Confederate opponents A.P. Hill and Harry Heth refused to take as they prepared to move on Gettysburg.

His troops were in fine spirits that morning even though it had been busy. After a breakfast of hardtack, pork and coffee the troops moved out. An officer of the Iron Brigade noted that the soldiers of that brigade were “all in the highest spirits” while Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes of the “placed the fifes and drums at the head of the Sixth Wisconsin and ordered the colors unfurled” as the proud veterans marched forward into the sound of the raging battle to the tune of “The Campbell’s are Coming.” [6]

Though Reynolds was not expecting a fight he organized his march in a manner that ensured if one did happen that he was fully prepared. The precautionary measures that he took were those that any prudent commander having knowledge that strong enemy forces were nearby would take. Reynolds certainly took to heart the words of Napoleon who said “A General should say to himself many times a day: If the hostile army were to make its appearance in front, on my right, or on my left, what should I do?”[7]

This was a question that A.P. Hill and Harry Heth seemed not to consider on that warm and muggy July morning when Heth was committing Lee’s army to battle on his own authority. Reynolds was also about to commit the Army of the Potomac to battle, but unlike Heth who had no authority to do so, Reynolds “had at least been delegated the authority for making such a decision” [8] by his army commander George Meade. Though Meade was unaware of what was transpiring in the hills beyond Gettysburg he implicitly trusted the judgement of Reynolds, and Meade been with the advanced elements of Reynold’s wing he too “probably would have endorsed any decision he made.” [9]

Reynolds placed himself with the lead division, that of Wadsworth, and “directed Doubleday to bring up the other divisions and guns of the First Corps and had ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps up from Emmitsburg.” [10] Reynold’s also understood the urgency of the situation and “wanted all the fighting troops to be up front, so he instructed Howard not to intermingle his supply wagons with his infantry. Similar instructions had been given to Abner Doubleday; to ensure that the First Corps wagons would wait until the Eleventh Corps foot soldiers had passed.” [11]

Instead operating in the normal fashion of rotating units on the march, Reynolds opted to save time. Since Wadsworth’s First Division was further advanced than his other First Corps divisions, Reynolds instructed it to move out first with Cutler’s brigade in the lead followed by the Iron Brigade under Brigadier General Solomon Meredith. In doing so Reynolds countermanded the order of the acting corps commander Doubleday who had ordered Wadsworth’s division to allow the other divisions of First Corps to pass his before advancing. Reynolds told Wadsworth that Doubleday’s order “was a mistake and that I should move on directly.” [12]

He went forward with Wadsworth’s division and gave Doubleday his orders for the coming engagement. Doubleday later recalled that when Reynolds arrived to discuss the situation that Reynolds:

“read to me the various dispatches he had received from Meade and Buford, and told me that he should go at once forward with the leading division – that of Wadsworth – to aid the cavalry. He then instructed me to draw in my pickets, assemble the artillery and the remainder of the corps and join him as soon as possible. Having given me these orders, he rode off at the head of the column, and I never saw him again.” [13]

Reynolds ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps to follow First Corps and according to Doubleday directed an aid of Howard to have Howard “bring his corps forward at once and form them on Cemetery Hill as a reserve.” [14]Howard received the order and since his troops were ready to move out “no time was lost in setting them in motion.” [15] While some writers believe that Reynolds directed Oliver Howard to prepare Cemetery Hill as a fallback position [16] there is more evidence that points to Howard selecting the that commanding hill himself. [17] Regardless of which is correct the result was that both Reynolds and Howard recognized the importance of the position and took action to secure it.

Likewise Reynolds ordered Sickles’ III Corps to come up from Emmitsburg where that corps had bivouacked the previous night. [18] Sickles had heard the guns in the distance that morning and sent his senior aide, Major Henry Tremain to find Reynolds. Reynolds told Tremain “Tell General Sickles I think he had better come up” but the order left Sickles in a quandary. He recalled “he spend an anxious hour deciding what to do” [19] for he had “been ordered by Meade to hold his position at Emmitsburg” [20] and Sickles sent another rider to Reynolds and awaited the response of his wing commander instead of immediately advancing to battle on 1 July and it would not be until after 3 P.M. that he would send his lead division to Gettysburg.

According to Doubleday Reynolds’s intention was “to fight the enemy as soon as I could meet him.” [21] Reynolds rode forward with some of his staff into the town as the infantry of the First Corps and the Eleventh Corps moved advanced. As they rode through the town Reynolds and his party were met by “a fleeing, badly frightened civilian, who gasped out the news that the cavalry was in a fight.” [22] When he came to the Lutheran Seminary he came across Buford. It was a defining moment of the Civil War, a moment that shaped the battle to come. It has been recounted many times and immortalized on screen in the movie Gettysburg, a time “when the entire battle would come down to a matter of minutes getting one place to another.” [23]

As the rough and tumble Kentuckian, Buford, and Reynolds, the dashing Pennsylvanian, discussed the situation they had to know that odd that they were facing. With close to 32,000 rebels from the four divisions of Hill’s and Ewell’s corps closing in from the west and the north and with only about 18,000 men of First Corps, Eleventh Corps and Buford’s cavalry division to meet them, the odds were not in his favor, but unlike other battles that the army of the Potomac faced, this time the army and its commanders were determined not to lose the battle and not to retreat and for the first time John Reynolds “led the advance” and for the first time in the war “might have some say about fighting.” [24]

Reynolds and Buford committed their eighteen thousand men against Lee’s thirty-two thousand in a meeting engagement that develop into a battle that would decide the outcome of Lee’s invasion. Likewise it was a battle for the very existence of the Union. Abner Doubleday noted the incontestable and eternal significance of the encounter to which Buford and Reynolds were committing the Army of the Potomac on July 1st 1863:

“The two armies about to contest on the perilous ridges of Gettysburg the possession of the Northern States, and the ultimate triumph of freedom or slavery….” [25]

Even though they understood that they were outmanned and outgunned by the advancing Confederates, both Buford and Reynolds knew that this was where the battle must be waged. It was here on this spot, for the ground gave them an advantage that they would not have elsewhere; but only if they could hold on long enough for the rest of the army to arrive. As Alan Nolan wrote: “this Pennsylvania ground – was defensible, and behind it, through the town, loomed Cemetery Hill, another natural point of defense if the battle at Seminary Ridge went against the Federals.” [26]


Reynolds vs. Heth July 1st

When John Buford saw Reynolds infantry advancing as the Confederates increased the pressure on his outnumbered cavalry, he remarked to a staff member “now we can hold this place.” [27] Buford was not mistaken, when Reynolds rode up to the scene of the battle on Seminary Ridge he greeted Buford, who was in the cupola of the seminary. He called out “What’s the matter John?” to which Buford replied “The devil’s to pay” before he came down to discuss the tactical situation with Reynolds. [28] Buford explained the situation noting that “I have come upon some regiments of infantry…they are in the woods…and I am unable to dislodge them.” [29]

Reynolds needed no other convincing. He asked Buford if he could hold and quickly sent off a number of messages. One officer wrote: “The Genl ordered Genl Buford to hold the enemy in check as long as possible, to keep them from getting into town and at the same time sent orders to Genl Sickles…& Genl Howard to come as fast as possible.” [30]Additionally, Reynolds sent a message to Meade stating: “The enemy are advancing in strong force. I fear they will get to the heights beyond the own before I can. I will fight them inch by inch, and if driven into the town, I will barricade the streets and hold them back as long as possible.” [31] He directed Major Weld of his staff to take it to Meade with all haste as Weld recalled: “with the greatest speed I could, no matter if I killed my horse.” [32] When Meade received the report he was concerned, but with great confidence in Reynolds’s ability he remarked “Good!…That is just like Reynolds; he will hold on to the bitter end.” [33]

After dictating his instructions and sending off his messengers, Reynolds then did what no senior Confederate commander did during the entirety of the battle, he rode back and took personal charge of the movements of his troops to hurry them forward. Unlike Heth who so badly misjudged the tactical situation, he had taken note of the ground and recognized from Buford’s reports that “the Confederates were marching only on that single road and thus would not be able to push their forces to the front any faster than Reynolds could reach the battlefield with his First Corps divisions.”[34] It was a key observation on his part which again allowed him to make appropriate decisions as to how he shaped the battle.


Reynolds leadership at this point might be considered reckless by the standards of our day when senior commanders control battles from miles away with the help of real time intelligence and reporting, including live video feeds, or even the standards of the Second World War. But then in the Civil War a commander in combat could only really control the actions of troops that he could see and because of the time that it took to get messages to subordinate commanders, and the real possibility that verbal orders could be badly misinterpreted in the heat of battle.

Reynolds exercised command directing infantry formations into battle and assisting his artillery battery commanders in the placement of their guns. This was far different than the way that most senior Confederate leaders, including Lee, Longstreet, Hill and Ewell directed their units during the battle of Gettysburg. But such action such action was in keeping with Reynolds’s character, especially in the defense of his home state. Reynolds’ philosophy of command regarding volunteer troops was that they “were better led than driven” [35] and as such he led from the front and Abner Doubleday noted that Reynolds was “inflamed by at seeing the devastation of his native state, was most desirous of getting at the enemy as soon as possible.” [36]

iron brigade forward

“For God’s Sake Forward!” McPherson’s Ridge

John Reynolds recognized that time was of the essence if his forces were to hold the ground west of the town selected a shortcut around the town for First Corps. Those forces were directed across the fields near the Condori farm toward the back side of Seminary Ridge, with Reynolds’ staff helping to remove fences to speed the advance. [37] It was not an easy advance as the troops had to move across the farm fields at an oblique and have to “double-quick for a mile and a quarter in the thick humidity just to reach the seminary.” [38]One member of the corps recalled “I never saw men more willing to fight than they were at Gettysburg.” [39]

Recognizing that “after two full hours of fighting, Buford’s troopers”fighting on McPherson’s Ridge, were “at the limits of their endurance,”Reynolds ordered Wadsworth’s brigades “to bolster the cavalry and oppose the rebel infantry coming at them.” [40]

As troops arrived Reynolds directed them into position. He directed the artillery of Captain James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery to McPherson’s Ridge instructing Hall “I desire you to damage their artillery to the greatest possible extent, and to keep their fire from our infantry until they are deployed….” [41]

The leading infantry of First Corps was Major General James Wadsworth’s understrength division containing just two brigades, just over 3000 soldiers, its losses from Chancellorsville not being made good and as the result of the loss of regiments discharged because their enlistments had expired. [42] Wadsworth was not a professional soldier, but like many generals on both sides was a political general who despite his lack of military experience was a natural leader of men. Wadsworth was “a vigorous white-haired old man who had been a well-to-do gentleman farmer in New York State before the war” [43] and he “had interrupted his service in the war to run for and lose his state’s governorship the preceding fall.” [44] He ran against the anti-war, anti-administration and frequently pro-Southern Copperhead Horatio Seymour, but he did not leave the army in order return to the state to mount a personal campaign “on the ground that it did not befit a soldier.” [45]

“What the gray haired general lacked in experience and skill, he compensated with a fighting spirit.” [46] Oliver Howard of Eleventh Corps said that Wadsworth was “always generous and a natural soldier” [47]and while Wadsworth was no professional but he performed admirably on July 1st 1863. Wadsworth was beloved by his men because he demonstrated true concern and care for their living conditions and training and on that morning Wadsworth was commanding his division leading it into action with “an old Revolutionary War saber in his hand.” [48] The gallant Wadsworth would be mortally wounded ten months later leading a division of Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps in the opening engagements of the Wilderness. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted in his diary when Wadsworth died that Wadsworth “should, by right and fair-dealing, have been at this moment Governor of New York…No purer or single-minded patriot than Wadsworth has shown himself in this war. He left home and comforts and wealth to fight the battles of the Union.” [49]

With their gallant commander at their head the division may not have had much in force in the way of numbers, but the units of the division were “good ones,”composed of hardened combat veterans that went into battle with an eye to victory. In the van was Brigadier General Zylander Cutler’s brigade of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, the “celebrated Bucktails.” [50] When they were mustered into service the soldiers of the 13th Pennsylvania had adopted a “bucktail” attached to their service caps as a distinctive insignia, a practice that spread to other regiments of the brigade and for which the brigade became known throughout the army.

Cutler had spent much of his early life in Maine working in a number of fields and businesses. He made a fortune several times and lost it, first when his mill burned down, but he rebuilt his businesses and diversified and “as a leading businessman, Cutler was elected to the Maine senate, college trusteeships and a railroad directorship, but he was financially ruined by the panic of 1866 and moved to Milwaukee to start his career over again.” [51] The tough-minded Cutler had some previous military experience fighting Indians as a member of the Maine militia and was made Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin. Cutler was described by one of his soldiers as “being as “rugged as a wolf” and was “a tenacious fighter, a trait that endeared him to the tough-minded Gibbon.” [52] After Antietam Gibbon recommended Cutler for promotion to Brigadier General and command of the Iron Brigade, but Cutler had been wounded at the bloody Battle of Brawner’s Farm and Solomon Meredith gained a promotion and command of that celebrated brigade. However, in on November 29th 1862 having recuperated from his wounds Cutler was promoted to brigadier general and received command of his Bucktails in March of 1863. The brigade saw only minor action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg would be the fierce brigadier’s first chance since being wounded to command in combat.

This fine brigade was followed by Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s “Iron Brigade” composed of westerners in their distinctive black “Jefferson Davis” or “Hardie” hats. The brigade had been initially commanded by Major General John Gibbon, now commanding a division in Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps. Gibbon turned the brigade into one of the finest in the army. At the Battle of Turner’s Gap on South Mountain during the Antietam campaign, the brigade earned its name.

After that bloody battle George McClellan exclaimed “They must be made of Iron!” and Hooker replied, “By the Eternal, they are iron! If you had seen them at Bull Run as I did, you would know them to be iron.”[53] In the fierce battle at South Mountain the brigade had lost over a quarter of its strength, but had gained a share of immortality among the ranks of the United States Army. “The Western soldiers immediately seized on this as their title, and the reputation of the brigade and its new name were soon broadcast around Federal campfires.” [54] The regiments of the brigade rivalled many Regular Army units in effectiveness and discipline and “the black hats became their trademark.” [55] Often committed to the fiercest battles the brigade had been decimated, but now along with the Bucktails it advanced up down Seminary Ridge and up the back side of McPherson’s Ridge. A member of an artillery battery who saw the Bucktails and the Iron Brigade advance recalled:

“No one…will ever again see those two brigades of Wadsworth’s Division – Cutler’s and the Iron Brigade – file by as they did that morning. The little creek made a depression in the road, with a gentle ascent on either side, so that from our point of view the column, as it came down the slope and up the other, had the effect of huge blue billows of men topped with a spray of shining steel, and the whole spectacle was calculated to give nerve to a man who never had one before.” [56]

Reynolds directed Cutler’s Bucktails to proceed north of the Cashtown Pike and then “called the Iron Brigade into action on the south side” [57]leading the hearty Westerners himself. Reynolds directed then Wadsworth to take change of the action on the north side of the road while he looked after the left. [58] When Reynolds made that decision he made another. He ordered the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade into reserve, leaving the Iron Brigade a regiment short but giving him the advantage of having a ready reserve which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [59]

At about 10:30 the 2nd Wisconsin advanced into the woods Reynolds urged them forward: “Forward men, for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods….” [60] As he looked around toward the seminary to see the progress of reinforcements, Reynolds was struck in the back of the neck by a bullet and fell dead. “Had it come a short time earlier, Reynolds’s death might have thrown the I Corps into fatal confusion.” [61] But Doubleday, who command now fell was up to the task on that sultry July morning.


Cutler’s brigade moved north and engaged Davis’ men near the railroad cut. Here the Cutler’s line was “hardly formed when it was struck by Davis’s Confederate brigade on its front and right flank.” [62] His troops were heavily outnumbered by the advancing Confederates and Davis’ troops initially had the upper hand. In a savage fight they inflicted massive casualties on Cutler’s regiments which outnumbered and being flanked were ordered to withdraw by Wadsworth in order to save them, with the exception of one regiment, the 147th New York nicknamed the Ploughboys which “did not get the order” [63] and though isolated held its ground, “with the support of a fresh six-gun battery whose gunners simply refused to quit.” [64]This was the 2nd Maine Battery under the command of Captain James Hall. Though caught in a cross fire of Rebel artillery and assailed by skirmishers Hall’s artillerymen gamely continued the fight withdrawing by sections, “fighting a close canister range and suffering severely.” [65] The New Yorkers and Hall’s battery battled the Mississippians and the “Ploughboys fell “like autumn leaves; the air was full of lead.” [66]


The inexperienced Davis and his green troops were buoyed by this “gratifying local success” [67] and attempted to exploit it. At this point the Confederates were fatigued by the long march and the fighting and the troops of the 2ndMississippi and 55th North Carolina “were all jumbled together without regiment or company.” [68] Davis attempted to use the unfinished railroad cut “as cover for getting on the enemy’s flank without exposure.” [69]It was a decision that Davis lived to regret. As his troops his units crowed into it, the two regiments of Cutler’s brigade south of the turnpike, the 14th Brooklyn and the 95th New York turned to meet them and were joined by the reserve regiment of the Iron Brigade, the 6nd Wisconsin under Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes. Dawes ordered an immediate advance and called out to Major Edward Pye of the 95th “Let’s go for them Major.” The 6th Wisconsin and the New Yorkers took the Confederates in the flank with enfilade fire, “it was like shooting fish in a barrel.” [70] Dawes’ men slaughtered many of those unfortunate soldiers, and the battle soon became a hand to hand struggle as North Carolinians and Mississippians struggled with the Wisconsin men and New Yorkers.


The melee in and around the cut did not last long:

“for the Confederates were unable to resist their attackers….From the brow of the cut Dawes shouted down to the Confederates below him: “Where is the colonel of this regiment?” A Confederate field officer heard him and replied, “Who are you?” Dawes answered, “I command this regiment. Surrender or I will fire.” [71] Dawes’s men took over 200 prisoners, [72] and the battle flag of the 2ndMississippi. [73]

The charge had last but minutes yet had shattered Joe Davis’s brigade. Davis was wholly unprepared for this reverse and signaled his forces to pull back convinced that “a heavy force was…moving rapidly to our right.” [74] However, the cost to the 6th Wisconsin was great, “Dawes estimated that 160 men of the 6th fell, not including the brigade guard, whose casualties he did not know.” [75]

Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s Iron Brigade, which had been brought forward by Doubleday hit Archer’s brigade in the front in the woods on McPherson’s Ridge. Meredith was an unmarried North Carolina Quaker who had moved to Indiana in 1840 owning little more than the clothes that he was wearing. He became a farmer but found politics more to his liking and was elected as a county sheriff and to the state legislature. When the war came he was serving as the Clerk of Wayne County. Meredith, like so many volunteer officers on both sides owed much of his advancement in the army to his political connections. In Meredith’s case this was to Meredith’s friend Governor Oliver Morton. Critics of Meredith decried his appointment as Colonel of the 19thIndiana as “a damnable swindle.” [76] Yet Meredith commanded the regiment effectively and received command of the brigade in November 1862. John Gibbon, the regular officer who initially commanded the brigade was critical of Meredith’s appointment but the soldiers appreciated their kind, six-foot seven-inch tall commander who they affectionately knew as “Long Sol.”But despite the carping of his political enemies and the opposition of Gibbon, Meredith like so many others like him who, “extroverted and ambitious by nature, accustomed to asserting themselves, these men did the best that they could, for themselves and their responsibilities, and they somehow sufficed” [77] though they had no formal military training or experience.

As the Iron Brigade advanced toward McPherson’s Ridge and engaged the enemy, Doubleday “urged the men…to hold it all hazards.” Doubleday later wrote that the troops of the brigade, “full of enthusiasm and the memory of their past achievements they said to me proudly, “If we can’t hold it, where will you find men who can?” [78]

Animated by the leadership of Reynolds and now Doubleday they “rushed to the charge, struck successive heavy blows, outflanked and turned the enemy’s right, captured General Archer and a large portion of his brigade, and pursued the remainder across Willoughby Run.”[79] The effect was dramatic as the Iron Brigade overwhelmed Archer’s brigade, whose soldiers now realized they were facing “the first team.” Members of the Iron Brigade recalling the voices of Confederate soldiers exclaiming “Here are those damned black-hat fellers again…’Taint no militia-that’s the Army of the Potomac.” [80] As they attempted to withdraw they piled up at a fence near Willoughby Run and were hit in the flank by “a Michigan regiment that had worked its way around through the woods to the south.” [81] Archer’s Confederates were unable to resist the assault of the Iron Brigade, “Some fled; others threw down their arms and trembling asked where they should go, while others simply dropped their rifles and ducked through the Union formations to the Union rear.”[82]

As for their commander, Archer the ignominy only got worse. “A muscular Irish private in the 2nd Wisconsin ran forward and seized General Archer bodily and made a prisoner of him.” [83] Coddington wrote: “It was a bad moment for the Army of Northern Virginia, and Archer gained the unenviable distinction of being the first of its general officers to be captured after Lee took command.” [84] Doubleday, who knew Archer from the old army, wrote of meeting Archer after that very angry general after had been taken prisoner and roughed up by the aforementioned Private Maloney. Doubleday greeted his old comrade saying: “Archer! I’m glad to see you,” and reached out his hand to greet his friend, to which Archer replied “Well, I’m not glad to see you by a damn sight” and refused to shake Doubleday’s hand. [85]

With the Archer’s brigade whipped and Davis’s in flight Solomon Meredith pulled back the brigade and “was reforming his lines when a shell exploded near him.” [86] Meredith’s horse was killed and fell on him and the tall general was struck in the head by a shell fragment which fractured his skull and rendered him hors d ’combat for the rest of the battle.

Contrary to the reports of many of the Confederates involved, stating that they were outnumbered, some of which have achieved nearly mythic status in some accounts of the battle, the forces engaged were relatively evenly matched. [87]Clifford Dowdey says that the Iron Brigade “heavily outnumbered the one brigade they met. Archer’s….” [88] Such accounts are usually based on the reports of Heth and other confederate commanders. Heth in his after action report wrote that “Archer, encountered heavy masses in his front, and his gallant little brigade, after being almost surrounded by overwhelming forces in front and on both flanks, was forced back….” [89]

However, such was not the case. The reason for this repulse was not that the Union forces had “overwhelming forces” or “greatly superior numbers.” Instead the Archer’s brigade and the Iron Brigade were fairly evenly matched with Archer having about 1,130 men and the Iron Brigade 1,400 while Davis outnumbered Cutler nearly two to one having between 2,400 and 2,600 men in the battle to Cutler’s 1,300. [90]

Following the repulse of Archer and Davis’s brigades by Reynolds’s First Corps, Heth withdrew his badly mauled brigades back to Herr’s Ridge in order to reform them and bring up the brigades of Brockenbrough and Pettigrew before he could resume his attack. In his next assault he would also be supported by Pender’s fresh division which was now coming up.

Coddington notes that the outcome of the opening engagement came down to leadership and “the superior tactical skills of the Northern generals,”who “created a reserve force” with one regiment of the Iron Brigade which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [91] It was a “calculated risk,” for it assumed that the depleted Iron Brigade could handle Archer’s brigade effectively with only four of their five assigned regiments. [92]Again, even with the loss of Reynolds it was a case of Harry Heth being out-generaled, this time by Abner Doubleday. Heth “had not exercised the close field command by means of which Doubleday had won the brief, furious action.” [93]

death of reynolds

The Death of Reynolds

Reynolds was dead, but the series of command decisions reached by Reynolds under the pressure of a meeting engagement “where neither side held an immediate advantage” [94] were critical to the army. Likewise, because he had effectively communicated his intent to his subordinate commanders they were able to continue the fight despite his death, and his superiors and successors were able to effectively continue the battle that he had initiated. When he went into action he had “barely a third of his corps available, and confronting a force of unknown size, he had put himself at the head of his troops to lead them in a vigorous attack.” [95]

Though shaken by Reynolds’ loss, the Union troops fought on at McPherson and Seminary Ridge under the command of Doubleday until the assault of Ewell on their left and the arrival of Pender’s fresh division forced them from their positions. However Reynolds’s death was a major blow for the Federal forces for it “removed from the equation the one person with enough vision and sense of purpose to manage this battle.” [96] Despite this Reynolds, by pushing forward with his troops on McPherson’s Ridge ensured that Howard was able to secure Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, without which Gettysburg would have been lost.

The contrast between Reynolds and his opponents was marked. Hill was ten miles away from the action. Heth was too far to the rear of his troops to direct their advance when they ran into trouble and did not begin to take control until after the brigades of Davis and Archer had staggered “back up the ravine, with Davis’s temporarily wrecked.” [97] In contrast to Heth, Reynolds “hurried to the front, where he was able to inspirit the defense and throw troops into the decisive zone.” [98] At every point in the brief encounter John Reynolds showed himself superior to his opponents as he directed the battle. “Dedicated to an aggressive forward defense in the vanguard of the entire Army of the Potomac, Reynolds, at the cost of his own life had blunted the Rebel thrust and bought valuable time that permitted the balance of Meade’s army to take possession of the coveted high ground….” [99]

Though he paid for his efforts with his life but his sacrifice was not in vain. Reynolds’s tactics “gave the First Corps room for maneuver in front of Gettysburg and upset General Hill’s timetable.” [100] Harry Hunt noted: “…by his promptitude and gallantry he had determined the decisive field of the war, and he opened brilliantly a battle which required three days of hard fighting to close with a victory.” [101]


[1] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[2] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.261

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[4] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.261

[5] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[6] Nolan, Alan T. The Iron Brigade: A Military History Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1961 and 1994 pp.233-234

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims of Napoleon in Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time edited by Phillips, Thomas R Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 1985 p.410

[8] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.49

[10] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.233

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.159

[12] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[13] Doubleday, Abner Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, Bew York 1882 pp.70-71

[14] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.71

[15] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.51

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.76

[17] Green, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 70

[18] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[19] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil war General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.275

[20] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.202

[21] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[22] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[23] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[24] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.200

[25] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.68

[26] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.235

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[28] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 172

[29] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.143

[30] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.172-173

[31] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.202

[32] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.173

[33] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of GettysburStackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.154

[34] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 166

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[36] Doubleday, Abner. Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War – VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1882 p.68

[37] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.75

[38] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.145

[39] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[40] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.469

[41] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.28-29

[42] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34 Sears notes that in between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, First Division of I Corps had lost a full brigade due to the expiration of enlistments.

[43] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.270

[44] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[45] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[46] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[47] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard 5995 of 9221

[48] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[49] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.184

[50] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[51] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.16

[52] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.19

[53] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.137

[54] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.130

[55] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 54

[56] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 234

[57] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[58] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day pp.75-76

[59] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.275

[60] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[61] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.194

[62] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[63] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.272

[64] Dowdy, CliffordLee 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.96

[65] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[66] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.86

[67] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[68] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.104

[69] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[70] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.97

[71] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.112

[72] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[73] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 178

[74] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[75] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.109

[76] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.20

[77] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.173

[78] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.73

[79] Hunt, Henry. The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.277

[80] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.273

[81] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 pp.470-471

[82] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.99

[83] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.274

[84] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[85] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.470

[86] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.17

[87] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.469 Even Foote in his account of Archer’s brigade makes the comment “Staggered by the ambush and outnumbered as they were….”

[88] DowdyLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.95

[89] 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.9

[90] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[91] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[93] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[94] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 168

[95] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[96] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.171

[97] Ibid. DowdyLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[98] 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.113

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

[100] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[101] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

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A Spirit of Unbelief: Confederates Before Gettysburg

Lieutenant General A. P. Hill

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m hoping to take a few days off from writing about current events and spend a few days reposting some of my writings about the Battle of Gettysburg.


Padre Steve+

When Robert E. Lee learned of the Army of the Potomac’s presence north of the Potomac River he ordered his widely dispersed army concentrate near Cashtown and Gettysburg. It was a complicated movement that involved at least five major operations: the shift of the bulk of Ewell’s Second Corps from its planned attack on Harrisburg, the redirection of Early’s division east from its position on the Susquehanna to the west, the movement of Hill’s Third Corps from the area around Cashtown to a position east of Gettysburg, Longstreet’s First Corps north to Chambersburg and Cashtown and the cavalry brigades of Beverly Robertson, Grumble Jones and John Imboden which were to join the army in Pennsylvania. The movement “would take at least two days – the 29th and the 30th of June – and perhaps more…the complete its concentration, especially since the rains had “made the roads very muddy,” forcing “the infantry” to march off the roads….” [1]

Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps that was nearest of Lee’s major units to Cashtown and Gettysburg. Major General Harry Heth’s division led the corps and arrived at Cashtown on June 29th. His division was followed by that of Major General Dorsey Pender which arrived on the 30th. Hill ordered his last division under the command of Major General Richard Anderson to remain behind at “Fayetteville until July 1, when he would join the rest at Cashtown.” [2]

Cashtown was important as a road junction and because it “was situated at one of the few gaps in the Pennsylvania Mountains” and because one of the roads emanating from it “snaked eight miles to another community called Gettysburg.” [3] However the order to concentrate the army at Cashtown presented its own problems. First was the matter of forage. There was not enough room for all the units ordered to Cashtown to have adequate areas to forage, as:

“each division would (by the standard required of nineteenth-century armies) require a circle twelve and a half miles around its encampments to forage (for water, firewood, and feed for men and horses); one single regiment could denuded an acre of woodland just for firewood every three days.” [4]

Likewise, because of the limited road network, Cashtown was becoming a choke point which as his units closed in slowed their movement and created massive traffic problems and confusion. Hill ordered Heth’s division to take the lead and advance to Cashtown on the 29th. The units of Hill’s corps had to endure heavy rains on the 29th which slowed their march and Heth halted at Cashtown knowing that the army would concentrate there while Pender’s division moved into the area his division had vacated.

Early in the morning of June 30th Harry Heth decided to undertake a foraging expedition to Gettysburg to “search the town for army supplies (shoes especially), and to return the same day.” [5] It was the first in a series of miscalculations that brought Lee’s army into a general engagement that Lee wished to avoid and it is hard to comprehend in light of Lee’s orders not to precipitate a fight.

However, the expedition had taken a toll on the soldiers, especially in terms of shoes, clothes and equipment. The “long march over the hard macadam roads of the North had played havoc with the scraggly foot coverings of Lee’s men.” [6] After muster on the morning of June 30th Heth ordered Johnston Pettigrew’s “brigade to Gettysburg in search of supplies, especially badly needed shoes, which were badly needed by his the men of his division.” Heth, for a reason he never elaborated on decided that there must be shoes in Gettysburg. Perhaps he did not know that the town had been picked clean by John Gordon’s brigade of Jubal Early’s division just a few days before, but for whatever reason he believed this to be the case.

Hill’s Third Corps had been formed as part of the reorganization of the army following Stonewall Jackson’s death after the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hill had a stellar reputation as a division commander; his “Light Division” had distinguished itself on numerous occasions, especially at Antietam where its timely arrival after a hard forced march from Harper’s Ferry helped save Lee’s army late in the battle. At Chancellorsville Hill briefly succeeded Jackson until he too was wounded.

Hill was recommended for promotion to Lieutenant General and command of the new Third Corps by Lee on May 24th 1863. He was promoted over the heads of both Harvey Hill and Lafayette McLaws. The move displeased Longstreet who considered Lafayette McLaws “better qualified for the job.” Likewise there were others who felt that the command should have gone to Harvey Hill, now commanding the Department of North Carolina who’s “record was as good as that of Stonewall Jackson…but, not being a Virginian, he was not so well advertised.” [7]

Ambrose Powell Hill was slightly built and high strung. “Intense about everything” Hill was “one of the army’s intense disbelievers in slavery.” [8] Hill was an 1847 graduate of West Point and briefly served in Mexico but saw no combat. He spent some time in the Seminole wars but due to frequent bouts of ill-health he spent much of his career in garrison duty along the East Coast. Since he was prone to sickness he was assigned to the office of Coastal Survey, a Navy command from 1855 through 1861. Despite pleas from his superiors and his own opposition to secession and slavery, Hill resigned his commission just before Virginia’s secession.

At the outbreak of the war he “received his commission as colonel, and soon trained one of Johnston’s best regiments in the Valley.” [9] He commanded a brigade under Longstreet on the Peninsula and was promoted to Major General and command of the Light Division in May 1862, leading it with distinction, especially at Antietam where his march from Harper’s Ferry and timely arrival on the afternoon of September 17th saved the army of Northern Virginia from utter and complete destruction. He was plagued by health problems which had even delayed his graduation from West Point, health issues that would arise on the first day at Gettysburg.

Hill’s Third Corps was emblematic of the “makeshift nature of the reorganization of the whole army.” [10] It was composed of three divisions. His best and most experienced division was that of the recently promoted and hard fighting Major General Dorsey Pender. Pender’s division was built around four excellent brigades from Hill’s old “Light Division” one of which Pender had commanded before his promotion. Hill had strongly recommended Pender’s promotion during the reorganization, a proposal which was accepted by Lee. Pender, though a fierce fighter and excellent leader, found command of a division to be a heavy burden. He was “an intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty….” [11]

Hill’s second experienced division was that of Major General Richard Anderson. This division had been transferred from Longstreet’s First Corps during the reorganization. Longstreet resented losing the division to Hill, with who he had previously run afoul and this was yet another issue which failed to endear Hill to Longstreet. [12]

The unassuming Anderson had distinguished himself as a brigade and division commander in Longstreet’s corps, but in “an army of prima donnas, he was a self-effacing man, neither seeking praise for himself nor winning support by bestowing it on others.” [13] At Chancellorsville Anderson fought admirably and Lee wrote that Anderson was “distinguished for the promptness, courage and skill with which he and his division executed every order.” [14] With four seasoned brigades under excellent commanders it was a good addition to the corps, although the transition from Longstreet’s stolid and cautious style of command to Hill’s impetuous style introduced “another incalculable of the reshuffled army.” [15]

Major General Harry Heth’s division was the final infantry division assigned to Third Corps. The division was new and had was cobbled together from two brigades of Hill’s old Light Division and “the two new brigades that Jefferson Davis had forced on an already disrupted army organization.” [16] The organization of this division as well as its leadership would be problematic in the days to come, especially on June 30th and July 1st 1863. The hasty and makeshift organization under leaders who had not served together, many of who were new to command, as well as units which had not fought together spelled trouble.

Harry Heth, like Dorsey Pender was also newly promoted to his grade and the action at Gettysburg would be his first test in division command. Heth was a native Virginian. He came from a family that well connected both socially and politically. He had a social charm had “many friends and bound new acquaintances to him” readily. [17] Heth was a cousin of George Pickett. He was a West Point graduate and classmate of Hill. At West Point Heth had an undistinguished academic career and graduated last in the class of 1847. His career in the ante-bellum army was typical of many officers, he served “credibly in an 1855 fight with Sioux Indians” but his real claim to fame was in authoring the army’s marksmanship manual which was published in 1858. [18]

Major General Harry Heth

Heth’s career with the Confederate army serving in western Virginia was undistinguished but he was a protégé of Robert E. Lee who recommended him as a brigade commander to Jackson before Chancellorsville. Tradition states that of all his generals that Heth was the only one “whom Lee called by his first name.” [19] A.P. Hill when writing Lee about the choice of a successor for the Light Division noted that Heth was “a most excellent officer and gallant soldier” but in the coming campaign “my division under him, will not be half as effective as under Pender.” [20] Douglas Southall Freeman noted that Heth was “doomed to be one of those good soldiers…who consistently have bad luck.” [21]

Heth’s division was composed of two depleted brigades from the Light Division which had taken heavy casualties at Chancellorsville. One brigade, commanded by the hard fighting former regular army officer Brigadier General James Archer. Archer was from Maryland and a graduate of Princeton University who had given up a law practice to join the army. Described as a “little gamecock” who “had no sense of fear” [22] Archer had saved the Confederate line at Fredericksburg leading a desperate counterattack at Prospect Hill. The brigade was composed of four veteran regiments, but was now down to barely 1200 soldiers in the ranks by the time it arrived at Cashtown. However, the brigade which was recruited from Alabama and Tennessee was “well led and had a fine combat reputation.”

But the second brigade was more problematic. This was the Virginia brigade under the command of “the plodding, uninspiring Colonel John Brockenbrough.” [23] Brockenbrough was an “1850 of the Virginia Military Institute and a farmer,” who had “entered the Confederate service as Colonel of the 40th (Virginia) in May 1861.” [24] The brigade had once been considered one of the best in the army had deteriorated in quality following the wounding of its first commander Brigadier General Charles Field. Heth took command of it at Chancellorsville where both he and the brigade performed well. The brigade had taken very heavy casualties and now was reduced to under 1000 effectives. When Heth was promoted the lack of qualified officers left it under the command of its senior colonel, John Brockenbrough.[25] Lee did not consider Brockenbrough “suited for promotion” but “could be counted on to keep together a command sadly reduced in numbers.” [26]

Heth’s  third brigade came from Mississippi and North Carolina and was commanded by the “stuffy and ambitious” [27] Brigadier General Joe Davis.  Davis’s uncle was President Jefferson Davis. Davis served on his uncle’s staff for months during the early part of the war but had no combat experience, never leading as much as a company. [28] One author noted that Davis’s promotion to Brigadier General was  “as unadulterated an instance of nepotism as the record of the Confederacy offers.” [29] Davis’s subordinate commanders were no better; one of them, William Magruder was so incompetent that J.E.B. Stuart suggested that “he have his commission revoked.” In Magruder’s outfit only one of the nine field grade officers in his brigade had military training, and that was because he was a graduate of the Naval Academy, hardly fitting for service in the infantry. [30] This brigade was also a makeshift operation with two veteran regiments including the 11th Mississippi which had “gone through blood and fire together on the Peninsula through Antietam.” [31] After Antietam, these units were then paired with two new regiments and a new politically connected commander and sent to the backwater of North Carolina where they saw no action. The veteran regiments “mistrusted not only their commander, but the reliability of its yet untested units.” [32]

Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew

Heth’s largest brigade was new to the army. Commanded by the North Carolina academic Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew it had no combat experience. Pettigrew himself was considered a strong leader. He had been badly wounded at Seven Pines and thinking his wound mortal “he refused to permit his men to leave the ranks to carry him to the rear.” [33] He was captured but later paroled and returned to the army to command a brigade later in the year.

Hill was under the impression that Meade’s army was still miles away, having just come from meeting Lee who assured him that “the enemy are still at Middleburg,” (Maryland) “and have not yet struck their tents.” [34] With that assurance Heth decided to use June 30th to send Pettigrew’s brigade on the foraging expedition to Gettysburg. An officer present noted that Heth instructed Pettigrew “to go to Gettysburg with three of his regiments present…and a number of wagons for the purpose of collecting commissary and quartermaster stores for the use of the army.[35]

However Heth did instruct Pettigrew in no uncertain terms not to “precipitate a fight” should he encounter “organized troops” of the Army of the Potomac. [36] Heth was specific in his report that “It was told to Pettigrew that he might find in the town in possession of a home guard,…but if, contrary to expectations, he should find any organized troops capable of making resistance., or any part of the Army of the Potomac, he should not attack it.” [37]

That in mind anyone with the slightest experience in handling troops has to ask the question as to why Heth would employ “so many men on a long, tiring march, especially as without a cavalry escort he took the risk of sending them into a trap” when his “objects hardly justified” using such a large force. [38] Edwin Coddington is particularly critical of Heth in this regard.

Likewise it has to be asked why the next day in light of Lee’s standing orders not to provoke an engagement that Hill would send two divisions, two thirds of his corps on what was supposedly reconnaissance mission. Some have said that Hill would have had to move to Gettysburg on July 1st anyway due to forage needs of the army, [39] but this is not indicated in any of Hill or Heth’s reports.

As his troops neared Gettysburg Pettigrew observed the Federal cavalry of Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division as they neared the town. He received another report “indicating that drumming could be heard in the distance – which might mean infantry nearby, since generally cavalry generally used only bugles.” [40] He then prudently and in accordance with his orders not to precipitate a fight “elected to withdraw rather than risk battle with a foe of unknown size and composition.” [41] His troops began their retrograde at 11 a.m. leaving Buford’s cavalry to occupy the town at ridges. One Confederate wrote “in coming in contact with the enemy, had quite a little brush, but being under orders not to bring a general engagement fell back, followed by the enemy.” [42]

Upon returning Pettigrew told Hill and Heth that “he was sure that the force occupying Gettysburg was a part of the Army of the Potomac” but Hill and Heth discounted Pettigrew’s report. [43] “Heth did not think highly of such wariness” and “Hill agreed with Heth” [44] Hill believed that nothing was in Gettysburg “except possibly a cavalry vedette.” [45] Hill was not persuaded by Pettigrew or Pettigrew’s aide Lieutenant Louis Young who had previously served under both Hill and Pender. Young reported that the “troops that he saw were veterans rather than Home Guards.” [46] Hill reiterated to both that he did not believe “that any portion of the Army of the Potomac was up” but then according to Young Hill “expressed the hope that it was, as this was the place he wanted it to be.” [47] 

Part of the issue was related to the fact that Pettigrew, though highly intelligent, and who had been an observer of wars in Europe was not a professional soldier. Likewise, since had was new to the Army of the Northern Virginia he was an unknown to both Hill and Heth. As such they dismissed his report. In their casual dismissal of Pettigrew’s report, the West Point Graduates Hill and Heth may have manifested an often typical “distain for citizen soldiers…a professional questioning a talented amateur’s observations” [48]

Pettigrew was “aghast at Hill’s nonchalant attitude” [49] while Young was dismayed and later recalled that “a spirit of unbelief” seemed to cloud the thinking of Hill and Heth. [50] In later years Young wrote that the “blindness in part seems to have come over our commanders, who slow to believe in the presence of an organized army of the enemy, thought that there must be a mistake in the report taken back by General Pettigrew.” [51]

Since neither man believed Pettigrew’s report, Heth asked Hill “whether Hill would have any objection to taking his division to Gettysburg again to get those shoes.” Hill replied “none in the world.” [52] It was to be a fateful decision, a decision that brought about a series of events which in turn led to the greatest battle even fought on the American continent.

Lee’s biographer and apologist Douglas Southall Freeman wrote “On those four words fate hung” [53] and in “that incautious spirit, Hill launched Harry Heth’s division down the Chambersburg Pike and into battle at Gettysburg.” [54]


[1] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.128

[2] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster New York 1968 p.194

[3] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987

[4] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.128

[5] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 263

[6] Ibid. Robertson A.P. Hill p.205

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.453

[8] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.79

[9] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.109

[10] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.88

[11] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.85

[12] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[13] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[14] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.512

[15] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[16] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.87

[17] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.527

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

[19] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.96

[20] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.527

[21] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.46

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

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.55

[24] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.118

[25] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.87

[26] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.529

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.133

[28] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.533

[29] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.99

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

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

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

[33] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.136

[34] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.131

[35] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.128

[36] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.136

[37] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.129

[38] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 263

[39] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.131 This argument does have merit based on the considerations Guelzo lists but neither Hill, Heth or Lee make any mention of that need in their post battle reports.

[40] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.130

[41] 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.42

[42] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.135

[43] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command pp. 263-264

[44] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.465

[45] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.27

[46] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.42

[47] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.27

[48] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.42

[49] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.131

[50] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 264

[51] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.27

[52] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 264

[53] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p. 563

[54] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.94


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

The Road to Gettysburg: Lee is Puzzled as Meade Acts


General Robert E. Lee

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 870 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the third of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the surprises that various commanders experienced on June 28th 1863. The lessons for today are that war, any war, is the realm of chance, as such, surprises always happen. It is said that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, but some plans don’t survive that long. As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the surprises that they encountered, for that is where we come to understand history.

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

So please enjoy,


Padre Steve+

Any commander that embarks on a high risk offensive operation in enemy territory must do so with great care, especially in regard to command and control of his forces. This is especially true regarding reconnaissance. By June 28th Lee had been operating blind for well over a week, and this was in large part his own fault.

There are two reasons for this. The first of these was his decision regarding Stuart’s cavalry. The orders that Lee issued were so vague that Stuart was free to interpret them in any way that suited him. The result was that Stuart and the cavalry that Lee was counting on to screen his own army and keep tabs on the Federal army was well to the east and completely useless to Lee. Now Lee was reaping the fruit of his carelessness and overconfidence as he bemoaned his lack of contact with Stuart.

The second reason is that Lee failed to wisely employ the cavalry that he did have available, which by all means should have been enough to provide what Lee needed. After all, Lee still had three brigades of Stuart’s Cavalry Division available, but none were in a position to assist his reconnaissance needs. Some of this is Stuart’s fault, and some the fault of the commander of the forces left behind to screen Lee, but at least some of the blame for this has to be laid at the feet of Lee. Robertson’s and Jones’ brigades were still deep in Virginia guarding Snicker’s and Ashby’s Gap. Imboden’s Brigade was to the west at Hancock Maryland. Jenkins’ brigade, which was not a part of Stuart’s division, was far to the front with Ewell’s Corps.

Had Robertson followed Stuart’s orders “Lee would not have felt the want of adequate cavalry support” [1] but since Robertson had remained stationary Lee had nothing available when he needed it and made no effort to bring these units up to help.

In selecting Jones’ and Robertson’s brigades for the mission of screening Lee, Stuart made a critical mistake. Jones and Robertson both had serious deficiencies as leaders and proved that neither had Lee’s “confidence or understood his expectations…and Stuart badly misread the amount of personal connection his superior required.” [2] Jones was actually the better officer, but was junior to Robertson who failed miserably.

While Lee’s orders to Stuart allowed him to go off on his mission, Lee still had plenty of cavalry available had he employed it well. However, Lee employed it in a woeful manner and did not take the steps necessary to ensure that the commanders assigned understood his expectations. This was another critical mistake made by Lee. Alan T. Nolan wrote: “There seems to be no excuse for Lee’s finding himself at Chambersburg on the 28th without a single regiment of cavalry” [3] The tragic thing for the Confederacy was that Lee would make this same mistake in failing to communicate his intent with other subordinates throughout the campaign.

Late on the night of June 28th Lieutenant General James Longstreet “was woken by someone banging on his tent pole.” [4] It was his assistant Inspector General, Major John W. Fairfax. Fairfax had with him a man claiming to have information on the movement and location of the Army of the Potomac. The man’s name was Henry Thomas or “Harry” Harrison and he was an actor. Longstreet hired him as a “scout” or what we would now term a spy during the Suffolk campaign. Longstreet paid Harrison in U.S. dollars versus Confederate money, something that Moxey Sorrel said was worth it because he “always brought us true information.” [5]

Harrison was described as an “altogether an extraordinary character” [6] by Sorrel, and was one of those mysterious figures that occasionally show up in the context of a historical event and make it even more interesting. Very few senior Confederate commanders employed spies, “but Longstreet, with his usual care for detail, saw that his spies were well chosen and diligent.” [7] On this expedition Longstreet paid Harrison in gold and instructed him “to travel to Washington and secure any information he could obtain.” [8] He gave the spy a long leash and told him “I did not care to see him again till he could bring me information of importance.” [9]

Harrison arrived at Longstreet’s headquarters having been detained by men of Pickett’s division “dirt-stained, travel-worn, and very broken down.” [10] The spy brought Longstreet the first information about the whereabouts and situation of the Army of the Potomac that the army had since before Brandy Station.

Harrison brought news of Hooker’s relief and replacement by Meade as well as the location of the Federal army. He noted the location of John Buford’s Cavalry division as well as the location of five of the Army of the Potomac’s seven army corps, all of which were too close for comfort. Though his information was now almost two days old it was shocking. While Lee and his subordinates believed that the Army of the Potomac was still south of the Potomac, Harrison reported that “Hooker’s army had begun crossing the river three days before and was now well up into Maryland.” [11] The information was

Questioned by Longstreet about the location and activities of Stuart, Harrison could give no information, but the news that he brought was electrifying, and Longstreet immediately sent Harrison accompanied either by Sorrel or Fairfax to Lee’s headquarters.

Lee’s aide Walter Taylor noted “Great was his surprise and annoyance, therefore, when on June 28th he received information from one of the scouts to the effect that the Federal army had crossed the Potomac…” [12] Lee distrusted spies and did not employ them, but when whichever aide was present “vouchsafed for Longstreet’s confidence in him” [13] Lee “listened to Harrison’s report with “great composure and minuteness.” [14] The “contents, timing, and source of the spy’s report bothered Lee.” It was upsetting, especially since it “was brought by a person unknown to him whose word had to be taken on faith” [15] rather than from Stuart who he implicitly trusted.

However, Lee was “very reluctant to make a move without confirmation of his cavalry.” [16] Lee was skeptical of the report given by Harrison, especially because Stuart had not reported anything. He told Fairfax “I do not know what to do….I cannot hear from General Stuart, the eye of the army. What do you think of Harrison? I have no confidence in any scout, but General Longstreet thinks a good deal of Harrison.” [17]

Lee’s puzzlement at finding the federal army across the Potomac is curious. As early as June 23rd he had known of the pontoon bridge being built over the Potomac. However, Lee decision making process seemed paralyzed by the absence of Stuart. The surprise of the Union Army being concentrated so near him took away Lee’s ability to retain the initiative of a campaign of maneuver.

Because his army was so scattered he was now in danger of being hit and defeated in detail by the Federal army, “Meade, in short, might be able to do what he had planned to do to Hooker- defeat him in detail.” [18] It was a dangerous position for him to be in and he knew it. In a sense he was fortunate that on June 28th the Army of the Potomac was in the midst of changing command and thus unable to strike while his army was so vulnerable.

With the knowledge that the Federal army was near Lee acted with alacrity to concentrate his army in the Cashtown and Gettysburg area. “Within eight hours of Harrison’s report to Lee” [19] Lee had set in motion orders to all commands of his scattered army. Lee still had “no idea of the whereabouts of the enemy’s forces beyond what Longstreet’s spy had just told him- information that was already twenty-four hours old,” and he did have “any idea of how to remedy this intelligence gathering void.” [20]

Lee knew precious little other than the fact that “Hooker’s army, now under Meade, was across the mountain from him and that it was Stuart who was still in Virginia.” [21] He had learned the latter information from Captain James Power Smith who informed Lee that he had met two troopers of Stuart’s division who:

“casually told him that on the preceding day (Saturday the 27th) that they had left the main body of cavalry under Stuart in Prince William County back in northern Virginia. When Smith passed on this information, General Lee, he said, “was evidently surprised and disturbed.” [22]

Another consequence of his lack of available cavalry was that he had to leave Pickett’s division to guard the rear until Imboden’s cavalry could arrive to take up the task. Imboden’s troops had been far to the west completely away from the army when Lee discovered their location. Because of this Pickett’s division was detained to guard the army’s trains far to the rear of the march. This would be another unfortunate consequence of Stuart’s absence that would plague Lee during the battle, especially on July 2nd, when Longstreet’s corps would be without Pickett’s troops as they assaulted the Federal left.

On the afternoon of June 29th Lee met with a number of officers and his outward calm was still present. He told them “Tomorrow, gentlemen, we will not move to Harrisburg, as we expected, but will go over to Gettysburg and see what General Meade is after.” [23] When questioned by his subordinates about the relief of Hooker, and by his replacement by Lee’s former subordinate, Meade, Lee noted “General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it.” [24]

Despite his surprise Lee was still confident. He had not fully appreciated Harrison’s information. He believed that instead of concentrating for battle that “the Army of the Potomac was shaking itself into pieces that Lee could turn upon and beat one by one, with the all the odds in his favor.” [25] Likewise he was confident that Meade would be so cautious as to not seek out an engagement, or would if forced by Washington attack him on ground of his choosing.

Implicit in Lee’s orders to concentrate east of the South Mountain range near Gettysburg was “his deliberate challenge to the enemy.” [26] Rather than waiting for the Federals to come after him he would seek them out. When John Bell Hood visited Lee, Lee remarked “Ah! General, the enemy is a long time in finding us….If he does not succeed soon, we must go in search of him.” [27] In moving his army east, “he gave away his exact location….By June 29th the approach of the Confederate army was evident to the people of Gettysburg.” [28]

Meade too had recognized the importance of Gettysburg and began to move his forces toward the town even as Lee tried to concentrate his army. On the evening of June 29th Meade sent the 1st Cavalry Division under the command of Brigadier General John Buford, a seasoned Indian fighter ahead to Gettysburg. In Buford Meade had something that Lee currently was missing, an outstanding cavalry officer in the time and place that he needed one. “Buford was a supremely confident and tenacious soldier” [29] who would provide Meade with the information that he needed to enter the battle, while Lee was practically blind due to the absence of Stuart and the mishandling of the cavalry that he should have had available.

While Lee’s army was still greatly scattered and few divisions in a place that they could provide support to each other, Meade was concentrating his army. After ordering Buford to Gettysburg he stopped the advance towards the Susquehanna and “redirected the 1st, 3rd and 11th Corps north toward Emmitsburg and the Pennsylvania state line, and the 2nd, 5th, 6th and 12th Corps to the northeast toward Pipe Creek and Taneytown.” [30]

Buford arrived and survey the ground around Gettysburg. He reconnoitered all the ridges to the front as well as Cemetery Hill and Ridge and there was nothing that his trained eye missed. Noting how the Schoolhouse Ridge, Herr’s Ridge, McPherson’s Ridge and Seminary Ridge offered successive lines of good ground for defense, and that Cemetery Hill provided a rally point he thought his plan through. He realized that the Confederates would have to come up to Gettysburg along the Cashtown Pike and that even a small force such as his could delay the enemy advance.

With that in mind, Buford made his decision. He convinced himself that “he could pull off something never achieved in this war: a defense in depth by dismounted cavalry against a large force of foot soldiers with artillery support.” [31] He also took into account the approach of Ewell’s troops from the north, and deployed one of his brigades to watch it. It was a calculated risk, if the Federal infantry did not come up to support him in time, it would risk the annihilation of his division, but if successful it would ensure that Meade’s army would hold excellent defensive ground.

Buford had a keen eye for terrain and instantly recognized that the area around Gettysburg was favorable ground. He also through the hard work of his troops surmised that Hill’s Third Corps with the divisions of Heth, Anderson and Pender would approach from the west, while Ewell’s Second Corps with the divisions of Rodes, Early and Johnson would come to Gettysburg from the north and east and provided that information to Reynolds and Meade. He again proved his “reputation as an expert gather of intelligence.” As one historian observed “this was cavalry scouting and reporting at their best, a model of precision and accuracy, with fact carefully separated from rumor.” [32]

On the morning of June 30th, Buford detected the Confederate infantry of Pettigrew’s brigade to the west of the town. Buford knew that the battle was to be there and sent word back to John Reynolds, commander of I Corps:

“Have Occupied Gettysburg. Contacted large force of Reb infantry. I think they are coming this way. Expect they will be here in force in the morning.”[33]


[1] Ibid. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.184

[2] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage. p.69

[3] Nolan, Alan T. R.E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg, Gallagher, Gary W. Editor, Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 20

[4] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.542

[5] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.237

[6] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.237

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.551

[8] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.254

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.113

[10] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.237

[11] Ibid Sears. Gettysburg. p.124

[12] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.184

[13] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.255

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.113

[15] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.181

[16] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.237

[17] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.320

[18] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two pp.462-463

[19] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p. 463

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.124

[21] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.49

[22] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.48

[23] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

[24] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

[25] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.114

[26] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.133

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.114

[28] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.195

[29] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.544

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.115-116

[31] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.185

[32] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.187

[33] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.40


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From the Pages of Beowulf: Robert Rodes & His Division

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Since I am taking at group of students from the Staff College to Gettysburg this weekend I am continuing to post excepts from a chapter of my Gettysburg text.  This section deals with the entrance of the leading division of the Confederate Second Corps onto the battlefield. The focus is primarily on the Division’s commander, Major General Robert Rodes and his subordinate commanders. It deals with the disparity of leadership that led to a Confederate disaster. I hope you enjoy.


Padre Steve+

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.” [1] 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?” [2]

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.[3]

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.” [4] 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.” [5] 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 front just a few hours before.


Major General Robert Rodes, C.S.A.

Enter Second Corps

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.” [6] Like Heth when confronted with the opportunity for battle, he ignored the instruction “to avoid a general engagement, if practicable.” [7] 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. [8] 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.” [9] 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.” [10]

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.” [11] 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.” [12] Likewise he sent an aide to contact Jubal Early and enjoin that General to move to battle.

Rodes’s Division and His Commanders

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” [13] but also due to his “bluff personality featuring “blunt speech” and a tincture of “blarney.” [14]

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. [15]

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.” [16] 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.” [17] 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.” [18]

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.” [19] 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” [20] 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. [21] 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.” [22] As a Colonel he “had shown fiber and vigor” [23] 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.” [24]

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.” [25] 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.” [26]

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.” [27]

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.” [28] 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.” [29] At Gettysburg he “proved himself a valiant soldier and capable leader….” [30]

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. [31] Because of this Iverson became “embroiled in bitter turmoil with his North Carolinians.” [32] 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.” [33] 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.” [34] 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.” [35] In his previous action at Chancellorsville Iverson “had not distinguished himself.” [36] After Chancellorsville he had “been stigmatized for his conspicuous absence at the height of the fighting.” [37]

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.” [38] 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. [39] 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. [40]


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

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

[3] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.160

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

[5] 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

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

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

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

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

[10] 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

[11] 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.

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

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

[14] 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

[15] 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

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

[17] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

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

[19] 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[32] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[40] 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

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Almost Unbearable: Waiting for Pickett’s Charge


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A couple of weeks ago I led a group of my students from the Staff College to Gettysburg. One thing that an observant person will do when they go to such a location is to imagine what was going through the minds of the people who were there. At Gettysburg this is very possible because the battlefield is in such good shape, thus when you stand in the wood line on Seminary Ridge looking out at the federal positions as did the Confederates on July 3rd 1863, or on Cemetery Ridge looking to the west as the Union troops did you can get a sense of what these men were face. The Confederates were to advance across an open field in the face of concentrated artillery, much of which they could not even see before they came into range. I think that when we look at events like this that there is always a current application simply because people are people and no-matter how much technology changes, it is the actions of people that are important, be it in a military setting or not. To go to a place such as Gettysburg and to take in the sites while reading and imagining what those men were thinking, both those in command as well as those being ordered to their deaths.

Anyway, this a a part of my Gettysburg text and I do hope that it helps you understand the plight of those invested with command as well as those whose only real option based on their society and culture is to obey their orders.


Padre Steve+


Major General George Pickett C.S.A.

While James Longstreet was depressed and doubted whether any assault could break the Federal line, as were many other Confederate commanders who had seen the great cost in lives of attacking the entrenched Federal army on July 2nd, Robert E. Lee held on to the hope that one more assault would carry the day. It had to Lee had staked everything on a decisive battle, “the importance with which his whole strategy had invested in this battle and the stubbornness which had driven him on at Gainess Mill, Malvern Hill, and Antietam, impelled Lee to still try another major attack on July 3.” [1]

However, Robert E. Lee was encouraged by the partial success of his forces on July 2nd and he was now confident “that with the proper coordination and support of artillery, it was still possible to assault and break through Meades front.” [2] Convinced that his men could conquer the Federal position, and encouraged by the small successes of the second day, “the general plan of attack was unchanged.” [3]

Lee’s tactical problem remained the same as it had on July 2nd, when the power of the rifled musket and massed artillery of the Federal defenders had cut his assaulting troops to ribbons. True his troops inflicted heavy casualties on the Federal army, especially on Sickles’ badly exposed III Corps in the Wheat Field and the Peach Orchard, but the Federal position was unbroken. His problem was how to break the enemy’s line and then exploit the breakthrough in order to gain not only a victory, but destroy the Army of the Potomac as a fighting force in the process. Some of his troops had pierced the Federal line on July 2nd but unsupported with Federal reinforcements flowing in were forced to withdraw. Thus Lee’s real problem was not breaking through the Federal line, but “how to stay there and exploit the advantage once the enemys line was pierced.” [4] Lee’s solution was a grand frontal attack on the center of the Federal position, something that he had absolute faith that his troops could accomplish.

As we have already discussed, the new battlefield of the Civil War was one where the killing power of entrenched troops on the defense had grown exponentially as compared to the Napoleonic era or even the Mexican War, of which Lee and so many commanders were veterans. Troops on the offense assaulting an entrenched enemy had few advantages. As Russell Weigley noted that by the time an attacking force was able to breach a prepared defensive position, “almost invariably, by that time the attacker had lost so heavily, and his reserves were so distant, that he could not hold on against a counterattack by the defending armys nearby reserves.” [5] Like Lee’s costly assaults at Gaines’s Mill, Malvern Hill and those at Gettysburg on July 2nd, the assault of July 3rd by the divisions of Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble were facing a similar bloody repulse; only Lee refused to accept it.

Colonel Porter Alexander, commanding Longstreet’s corps artillery noted that “even if the attack was “entirely successful, it can be only be at a very bloody cost” [6] while Brigadier General A.R. Wright, whose brigade had actually reached Cemetery Ridge on the afternoon of July 2nd told Alexander “The trouble is not going in there…the problem is to stay there after you get there.” [7]

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


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

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

While Lee was certainly determined to reengage the Federals and defeat them, his lack of clarity and vagueness in his orders combined with the reluctance of a subordinate to carry them out hindered his plan. Lee again had not published a written plan of attack and relied on verbal instructions, which were vague, and more importantly he and Longstreet “had not reached a clear understanding on the nature, extent, and direction of his offensive operations.” [12] The misunderstandings and disagreement between the two men had not gotten better over the course of the battle, and somehow, in “the strange, undeclared conflict of wills that had begun thirty-six hours before, neither general was thinking clearly. As Longstreet would now do anything to avoid assuming responsibility for a full-scale attack, Lee would do anything to get him to move out.” [13]

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

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

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

The decision to leave these two divisions in place resulted in a change of plan as to where the Confederate assault would be directed. Lee initially planned for Longstreet’s corps to continue its push in the south, from the positions they had taken near Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field. In that attack Hood’s division now lead by Evander Law, would be on the extreme right, McLaws division in the center attacking from the Wheat Field and Peach Orchard and Pickett on the left, supported by some of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps. Their target would be the south center of Cemetery Ridge, where Wright’s brigade had made it the day before.

However, with the change of plan Pickett’s division was now on the left of the attack, while Heth’s division, now commanded by Johnston Pettigrew would be in the center supported by Lane’s and Scales’ brigades of Dorsey Pender’s division, now commanded by Isaac Trimble, who had taken command only that morning. The selection of Heth’s division to join the attack now “provided a focal point for the attack, since it was roughly opposite the Federal center; then, too, there was a concealed position to the right of Heths line that offered room enough for Picketts men.” [15] This necessitated a change to the intended target of the attack, which Lee now identified as the “small clump of trees” visible in the center of the Federal position.

Lee discounted the terrain as a factor, thinking that the fences that crisscrossed the open field between the two opponents were of little concern. The open ground lent itself to the “massive attack on the scale that Lee visualized” but would “expose his men to a raking fire from enemy muskets and artillery.” [16] Lee hoped to reduce this danger with an overwhelming artillery barrage as we have already discussed.


While Longstreet had opposed the attack opposed the attack and finally consented to Lee’s wishes, and other Confederate commanders such as Armistead and Garnett realized the near hopelessness of the attack but maintained their silence, William Mahone, whose brigade was part of Anderson’s division and not assigned to the attack was mortified. Mahone begged Anderson to observe the battlefield and told him his honest opinion of the coming attack: “That no troops ever formed a line of battle that could cross the plain of fire to which the attacking force would be subjected, and…that I could not believe that General Lee would insist on such an assault after he had seen the ground.” [17] But Lee was determined and Anderson refused to confront Lee, saying “in substance, that we had nothing to do but to obey the orders.” [18]

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


From a command, control and coordination aspect there was little to be commended in Lee’s plan. The artillery support, nominally to be conducted by all the Confederate artillery from all three corps was not well coordinated and lacked an overall commander, this ensured that the “corps artillery commanders acted independently, without a firm understanding of the crucial importance of their roles.” [21] Porter Alexander, who had the heaviest responsibility during the attack, and on whose recommendation the attack would proceed, only had operational control of the batteries of First Corps and a few from Third Corps, the rest of the artillery battalions remained under their respective corps artillery commanders.

Additionally, to further complicate the artillery plan, the senior artilleryman present, Brigadier General William Pendleton, despite his lack of command authority muddled the artillery preparations by batteries committed to Alexander and the infantry assault without telling him. He also moved the artillery trains from their location near the batteries, far to the rear where the ammunition needed to sustain an attack was out of reach when needed. Lacking central control the batteries of Third Corps did not conserve their limited ammunition and became involved in a long battle over the Bliss farmhouse between the lines which limited their ability to take part in the attack. Likewise the guns of Second Corps, some of which could have had good enfilade fire on Cemetery Hill took little part in the action.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.117

[5] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.117

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.459

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

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

[19] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.79

[20] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.81

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

[22] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.462

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.491

[24] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.32

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.492

[26] Ibid. Wert. Gettysburg Day Three p.128

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

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

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Shades of Confederate Gray


Major General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A. 

“When the prophet, a complacent fat man,
Arrived at the mountain-top
He cried: “Woe to my knowledge!
I intended to see good white lands
And bad black lands—
But the scene is gray.”

Stephen Crane

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

If you read my work you know how much I condemn the cause of the Confederacy and the institution of slavery. I also make no bones about the continued use of the symbols of the Confederacy by some who do not use them simply to honor the memory of dead soldiers but rather to further inflame political and racial divides. As a descendant of slave owners and Confederate officers I do understand the tension. THe family patriarch on my paternal side was an unreconstructed Rebel. He was a slave owner who served as a Lieutenant in the Confederate cavalry during the war and refused to sign the loyalty oath to the United States. For this he lost his lands and plantation. There are some who sincerely desire to honor their ancestors, and I think that is honorable, but to stand by an indefensible cause as my ancestors did is another matter to me.

I agree with historian George Santayana who wrote “Loyalty to our ancestors does not include loyalty to their mistakes.” I think we have to be able to deal with that, and I do not only mean for the descendants of slave owners and Confederates. Certainly the descendants of those in the North who cooperated with, enabled and profited from slavery, and then the entire movement to reenslaved freed blacks by other means after the war have nothing to be proud of in this regard. I readily admit that many political, industrial and religious leaders in the North were little better than many Southern leaders (see my articles Accomplices to Tyranny: The North & Reconstruction and Corporate Slavery & the Black Codes ). Both of these articles highlight how Northerners, especially politicians from both political parties and industrialists who took in those injustices committed against blacks. The same people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line dis similar things to poor whites who they referred to as “White Trash” as well as Native Americans, women later other immigrants like the Chinese. As we get closer to Labor Day I am going to spend some time on how American workers of all races were treated during that time, but not today.


Instead I want to talk about shades of gray. As my regular readers know I believe that people are the most important part of history, and that people are seldom fully good or fully evil. In fact most people, saints and sinners alike live lives of some shade of gray. Thus I believe that good people can sometimes support evil causes and otherwise evil people can end up on the right side of history by supporting a good cause. We have other people that we treat as icons who had dark places in their lives, and did things that were not honorable; history is full of them. The problem is that we like to look at people as totally good or totally evil, it’s easier that way.

That is the case when we look at men who fought for the Confederacy and the Union during the Civil War, and since I have spent a lot of time hammering the cause that Confederate soldiers fought to defend, even those who opposed secession and slavery; it is only right that I spend some time talking about the shades of Confederate Gray. To do this we have to be able to put aside the notion that every Confederate was a racist or White Supremacist.


Lieutenant General A.P. Hill

Those who fought for the Confederacy spanned the spectrum of belief and often fought for reasons other than slavery and some of their stories are tragic. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill opposed slavery before the war and opposed secession but because his state and his family seceded he went south. In 1850 he was on leave from the army and learned of a lynching in his home town of Lynchburg, he wrote “Shame, shame upon you all, good citizens…Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with this outrage.” Hill was incredibly brave and led his troops honorably throughout the war. Sadly he died in action just days before the end of the war at Petersburg and his widow took no part in any commemorations of the Lost Cause after the war.

Brigadier General Lewis Armistead who led Pickett’s troops to the High Water mark at the Battle of Gettysburg is another tragic figure. He was a widower who lived a life of much sorrow and loneliness and the army was his life; his best friends were in the army. His very best friend, Winfield Scott Hancock and his wife Almira remained with the Union, their parting in California at the beginning of the war is heartrending, and it was Hancock’s troops who inflicted the mortal wound on him.

Major General Patrick Cleburne, called the “Stonewall Jackson of the West” is another. He was an Irish immigrant to Arkansas. He had no slaves, opposed the institution and fought because the people he lived among were his friends. He was the first Confederate to broach the subject of emancipating the slaves, and for this he was ostracized, and not promoted to Lieutenant General and command of a Corps. He died in action at the Battle of Franklin in 1864.

There are others, Lieutenant General James Longstreet who was probably the best corps commander on either side during the war, quickly reconciled, became a Republican and served in various capacities in government after the war. For this, as well as needing a scapegoat for the loss at Gettysburg Longstreet was treated as a modern Judas Iscariot by many in the South, especially among the proponents of the Lost Cause. Major General William “Little Billy” Mahone was another like Longstreet who joined the Republican Party and suffered a fair amount of criticism for his stance.

Another more interesting personality was Colonel John S. Mosby, the legendary “Gray Ghost” of Virginia whose “Raiders” caused Union forces much difficulty throughout the war. Mosby is interesting, he did not support slavery, was not a proponent of secession but felt that it was his duty to fight for his state. This was not unusual because in that era most people in all parts of the country, felt much more loyalty to their own state, or even city or county than they did to the national government. He and his troops served honorably and after the war too he supported reconciliation, he became a Republican and a friend and supporter of Ulysses Grant. He was not ashamed of his service and stated after the war, “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in” and that “The South was my country. But he also condemned those in the South who denied that slavery was the cause of the war. All this made him anathema and he had to live the rest of his life outside the south or serving in various overseas diplomatic postings.

There were other shades of gray among Confederates, some like Lieutenant General Jubal Early who was not a slave owner and vehemently opposed secession in the Virginia legislature until the state seceded. When it did he joined the Confederate forces and became one of the fiercest supporters of Confederate independence who ever lived. In fact Early, though pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, never reconciled with the United States and became the leading proponent of the history of the Lost Cause. Early’s Corps Commander Lieutenant General Richard Ewell was more circumspect, he owned and admitted the mistakes he made during the war as a commander, and he fully reconciled to the United States. Before he died Ewell “insisted that nothing disrespectful to the United States Government be inscribed upon his tomb.”


Lieutenant General Wade Hampton

Lieutenant General Wade Hampton of South Carolina was one of the richest men in the South if not the country when war came. He supported secession, owned hundreds of slaves, but for a slave owner he was relatively decent in the way he treated his slaves. He fought through the war and returned home to nothing. He became involved in politics, remained very much a White Supremacist, but that being said built bridges to African American political and religious leaders when he ran for governor, even as the terrorist bands of the Red Shirts did all they could to ensure that blacks were harassed, disenfranchised and even killed to keep them from voting. To the surprise of the militants Hampton adopted a moderate course, kept blacks in his cabinet and in state offices, kept a regiment of African American militia in Charleston and opposed the black codes and Jim Crow. For this he was run out office. When he died his last words were “God bless my people, black and white.”

One the other hand there were men like Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest who helped found the Ku Klux Klan, and even led some of the early violence against blacks, and purchased black prisoners for use on his plantation after the war. However, he evolved on the issue, and left the Klan in 1869 and in 1875 two years before his death began to promote racial harmony. He spoke about that to a group of African Americans, where he received a bouquet of flowers from a black women he was condemned throughout the South. An article in the Charlotte Observer noted “We have infinitely more respect for Longstreet, who fraternizes with negro men on public occasions, with the pay for the treason to his race in his pocket, than with Forrest and Pillow, who equalize with the negro women, with only ‘futures’ in payment.”

There were many Confederate Soldiers who fought and died because they did believe in White Supremacy and hated the North, that too is a fact, and many of those who lived carried on that hate until they died.


There were others who never reconciled and who rewrote history to minimize the importance of slavery and White Supremacy to the Confederate cause, these included Jefferson Davis, his Vice President Alexander Stephens, and Brigadier General Henry Benning of Georgia. All had spearheaded the drive for secession, spoken and wrote forcefully for not only preserving but expanding slavery Stephens said quite clearly in 1861 what the Confederacy was founded upon in his Cornerstone Speech “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” However, after the war all of them sought to distance themselves from this and change the narrative to Constitutional, economic and political reasons.


There were also many Confederate soldiers for whom the war never ended and they did continue it by other means, either as members of any of the various terrorist groups such as the Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League, the White Liners, or any of the related groups who terrorized and killed blacks and their white supporters, be they Northern “Carpetbaggers” or Southern “Scalawags.”

I could go on longer or in more detail on any of these men and probably could write a book about any of them, but I wanted to show that even when a cause is wrong, that we cannot condemn people as groups, and we also have to take into account people’s evolution on issues. The evolution of Wade Hampton and Nathan Bedford Forrest was far different than that of Jubal Early and others who supported the Lost Cause. I wish my family patriarch had been more like Mosby, Hampton, Hill, Ewell, Cleburne, or even Forrest rather than Jubal Early and others who never reconciled and in some cases continued to use violence to oppress others. 

Shades of gray. In history you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.


Padre Steve+


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