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Gettysburg and Ghosts


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am back up at Gettysburg with another class. After a night of eating, teaching, and drinking some fine craft beer, I am back in my room at the 1863 Inn of Gettysburg. 

The hotel sits at the base of East Cemetery Hill where the right wing of Harry Hay’s brigade, the Louisiana Tigers, made their attack on the night of July 2nd 1863. The attack ended in failure and the Federal Troops held their ground and drove the Louisiana troops back. 

Since the hotel opened in the 1960s there have been many reports of paranormal activity. Usually the people are awakened by what appear to be Confederate soldiers near their beds.

So when I booked the rooms for the class I asked the manager to put me in one of the rooms where such activity has been reported. Now, after my night out with our students I am ensconced in my room and hoping that tonight or tomorrow that I might encounter one of these reported spirits. If I only had the gear of the various ghost hunters it would be really cool, but I don’t, so oh well. I guess if I do see one I will be okay, so long as I don’t go throwing myself out of bed and break another bone in my face.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 4

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have just gotten back from another trip with my students to Gettysburg, and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

robert-rodes

Major General Robert Rodes, C.S.A.

It would not be until the evening of the 2nd that Ewell’s troops went into action against the now very well entrenched, but depleted, Federal Forces on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill. The assaults began on Cemetery Hill where Jubal Early’s division attacked forces along the north and east section of the hill. This attack was to have been supported by Robert Rodes’ division on the west.

However as with most of the Confederate offensive actions of the battle this too fell apart as Rodes division provided no support to Early’s attack. Edwin Coddington explained that Rodes “did not give himself enough time to get his big division into formation for the attack. By the time he had completed the complicated maneuver of wheeling his brigades forty-five degrees to the left and advancing them half a mile to a good place from which to charge up Cemetery Hill the battle was over.” [1] However, this explanation gives Rodes too much of a pass, although he indeed failed to properly prepare for the attack, he decided not to attack based on the discretion given to him in Ewell’s orders.

Rodes’s division had lost about forty percent of its strength in the disastrous attack on Oak Ridge on July 1st. “Perhaps still shaken from the near disaster the day before, Rodes displayed a lack of diligence and energy which was untypical of his career, civilian or as a soldier.” [2] Robert Rodes was under general instructions from Ewell to support the attacks, which gave him some latitude in decided when and where to do so. As a result he “had been very careful and cautious in marching his men out of Gettysburg and into line across from the northwest corner of Cemetery Hill.” [3] Likewise, he “seems to have greatly underestimated how long it would take to move his five brigades out of Gettysburg and deploy them to the west of the town for an assault.” [4] His two leading brigades, those of Stephen Ramseur and George Doles which had distinguished themselves the previous day, “had covered about half an mile toward the enemy’s line when, in dusk, the two young brigadiers got a good and very sobering look at the Federal position.” [5] Rodes had given tactical command of the advance, and the final say in deciding on the attack, to Ramseur, an aggressive officer “who nonetheless paled when he saw the strength of the enemy defenses.” [6] When his brigade “came within six hundred feet of the Union line, the moonlight was apparently strong enough for Ramseur to observe the great strength of the position: batteries ready to pour “direct, cross, and enfilade fires” upon his lines, and two supporting rows of infantry well protected by stone walls and breastworks.” [7] Alfred Iverson, who had contributed to the disaster the day before claimed “we were advancing to our destruction.” [8]

This was enough for Ramseur who consulted with George Doles and Iverson, and told Rodes of their findings. “When Doles concurred with Ramseur in this report, Rodes cancelled the attack,” [9] and “deferring the attack until daylight.” [10] As the time was past when he could support Early, whose brigades had now ceased their attack, Rodes decided “it would be useless sacrifice of life to go on.” [11]

Despite the failure of Latimer’s barrage, and Rodes’s decision not to attack, “Johnson and Early rushed their men into action as if relieved that the tension of the long wait was over,” [12] and both would meet with bloody failure.

Storm on Cemetery Hill: Early’s Attack

Like the rest of Second Corps, Jubal Early’s division had waited throughout the day for the word to advance. Early had placed the brigades of Colonel Isaac Avery, who was commanding Hoke’s brigade, and Brigadier General Harry Hay’s Louisiana brigade, “in a protected position north of the town, from which they could easily storm cemetery Hill.” [13] He also moved John Gordon’s brigade into a supporting position while leaving “Extra Billy” Smith’s brigade to cover the Confederate rear along the York Road.

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Assault on Cemetery Hill

It was Early’s division which came the closest to breaking the Union line and seizing the all-important position on Cemetery Hill. His line, with Avery left and Hays on the right, “some 3,500 men in all, stretched east from the town across the fields to within a short distance from Rock Creek. As Johnson closed in on Culp’s Hill around eight o’clock. Early began to whip his men into motion.” [14] Early put Hays in tactical command of the two brigades Hays exhorted his men, including the famed Louisiana Tigers, with the challenge that Early had ordered “the Louisianans and …North Carolinians to take the guns on the hill.” [15] But some of his officers, including Lieutenant Warren Jackson, “who had been on the skirmish line most of the day was not assured; he felt as though his fate had been sealed.” [16]

But some Union troops along the line had become complacent, assuming that the defeat of Latimer’s artillery at Brenner’s Hill meant that the threat had passed. One Union soldier wrote, “We did not expect any assault,” and “could not have been more surprised if the moving column had raised up out of the ground amid the waving timothy grass of the meadow.” [17]

From their starting positions outside Gettysburg, Early’s forces had to make a giant wheel to their right to strike the Federal line on East Cemetery Hill. Hays’s Louisiana regiments “extended out from the pivot of the wheel. Isaac Avery’s three North Carolina regiments, on the outer edge of the wheel had longer to march.” [18] The two brigades began their advance and were immediately assailed by the massed Federal artillery batteries on Cemetery Hill. Charles Wainwright wrote that the Hays’s Confederates “marched straight out of the town, and then facing to their right rushed for the hill.” [19] A Federal artilleryman described the advance, “When they came into full view in Culp’s meadow our artillery…opened on them with all the guns that could be brought to bear. But on, still on, they came, moving steadily to the assault, soon the infantry opened fire, but they never faltered.” [20]

The Confederates faced a fusillade of artillery fire from the guns of First and Eleventh Corps. Captain Michael Wiedrich’s Battery I, 1st New York, “closest to the Louisianans, went to canister almost immediately. Before long all the batteries were firing canister, then double canister. When they ran out of canister they fired case shot without fuzes, the missiles exploding as they left the muzzles.” [21]  However, much of the fire had little effect as the guns could not be depressed enough and many rounds went over the heads of the Confederates, protecting them from an even greater slaughter. Avery’s North Carolina troops suffered worse as they had more open ground to cover and Avery himself was killed early in the advance.

The hill “was ascended through the wide ravine between Cemetery and Culp’s hills,” and “a line of infantry on the slopes was broken,” [22] and “Hays’s men moved straight up the hill, taking three successive positions.” [23] The Union troops in this section of the line were the survivors of Barlow’s division now commanded by Adelbert Ames who manned a thin line along a stone wall near the base of the hill. Numbering just over 1,000 men the division held a line along the base of the hill along the Brickyard lane. The thin line was quickly overwhelmed in many places after a brief fight, while many accused the Germans of fleeing at the first sight of the enemy, some units gave a good account, the 17th Connecticut and 75th Ohio on the right of Harris’s Brigade occupied a spot of high ground from which they were not moved by the Confederates. However, the 107th and 25th Ohio occupying a salient at the extreme north of the Union line were overwhelmed after a brief but fierce fight. Soon “Ames’s brigades were dissolving into an uncontrollable spray of fugitives or inconsequential knots of resistance in the lane, as the rebel tide flowed beyond them.” [24]

cemetery hill

Soon the Louisiana Tigers were among the Federal artillery batteries and fierce hand to fighting raged among the guns and the Union gunners refused to withdraw. The Germans of Wiedrich’s and Rickett’s batteries went toe to toe with the Louisianans and North Carolinians who had gain the summit, and “Wiedrich’s men defended their guns with courage.” [25] As one of “Hay’s Louisiana Tigers confidently threw himself onto the muzzle of a Napoleon, he shouted, I take command of this gun! A German gunner with the piece’s lanyard in his hand replied, Du sollst sie haben (it was a line from a German birthday song – you can have it) and blew the rebel to smoking bits.”  [26] The German gunners fought with such tenacity that Charles Wainwright, a frequent critic of the German units wrote, “the men of “I” Battery, also Germans, fought splendidly, sticking to their guns and finally driving the rebs out with their hand spikes and fence rails.” [27] So it went along the gun line as the Union gunners fought the Confederate infantry matching pikes, rammers, pistols and sabers against the Confederate riflemen, but soon the guns were silent and it appeared “for one incredible moment, as Hays reported, “every piece of artillery which had been firing on us was silenced,” and two Confederate brigades possessed the enemy stronghold.” [28] But the apparent triumph would not last long.

“In the crisis the performance of Howard and Schurz showed up well.” [29] Seeing the chaos on Cemetery Hill, Oliver Howard and Carl Schurz reacted to this with alacrity and ordered Colonel Wladimir Krzyzanowski to take the 119th and 58th New York regiments “at double quick the short distance across the Baltimore Pike to Wiedrich’s battery…. The 119th New York, less than 200 strong…made a “vigorous rush” against the Louisiana interlopers and swept them down the hill. When they reached the base, Krzyzanowski’s men flopped down and Wiedrich’s guns belched canister at the fleeing Confederates.” [30] Howard also had the foresight to ask “for supporting troops from the Second Corps,” a request “Hancock had anticipated by sending out Carroll with most of his brigade, but with “no precise orders” about where he was to go.” [31] Hancock had heard the sound of heavy firing Hancock reacted, he recalled “I heard the crack of musketry on Howard’s front…. Recognizing the importance to the whole army of holding the threatened positions, I directed General Gibbon to send a brigade instantly to Gen’l Howard’s assistance.” [32] The sense of both Generals to order this movement as a precaution proved to be a decision that ensured that Cemetery Hill would remain in Union hands.

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Colonel Samuel Carroll

The brigade was commanded by Colonel Samuel Carroll, it was a crack unit, known as the Gibraltar Brigade, aside from the Iron Brigade, the only “Western” brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Carroll was one of the best brigade commanders in the Army of the Potomac. Carroll graduated near the bottom of the West Point class of 1856 and spent four years on the frontier before being assigned as a quartermaster at West Point and took command of the 8th Ohio in the fall of 1861. He soon was a brigade commander but at Gettysburg was still a Colonel, despite this he was a man of action and rapidly moved the brigade exactly where with was needed the most. Carrol had a full head of brick-red hair, which garnered him the name Old Brick Top. His personality and leadership style was such that it “often reminded people of his manic-aggressive division commander, Alex Hays, and this occasion was no exception.” [33]

Coming over from the west side of Cemetery Ridge the brigade appeared in the moonlight to Hays as a shadowy indistinguishable mass. Since Hays expect that Rodes’s troops might be moving in from the west, or Longstreet’s from the south. He was unsure of who the advancing troops were, and how many were advancing towards him. He wrote in his after action report, “I reserved my fire, from the uncertainty of this being a force of the enemy or of our own men, as I had been cautioned to expect friends both in front, to the right and to the left.” [34]

With little direction form either Hancock or Howard, “Carroll trotted him men in column…. He skillfully positioned his men in the dark for the attack, facing obliquely to the left and uphill. The debris of early fighting made it difficult to advance on a wide front, so Carroll placed the 14th Indiana in the advance and stacked up the other two regiments (the 7th West Virginia and 4th Ohio) behind it.” [35] Carroll had a booming voice and he called out to his troops “in a voice that was heard all over East Cemetery Hill: “Halt! Front Face! Charge bayonets! Forward, double-quick! March! Give them Hell!” [36]

The brigade charged the Confederates and “struck Hoke’s brigade and pushed it back. At the same moment some men from Hays’s brigade opened a brisk fire on his left flank from behind a stone wall. Carroll quickly had the 7th West Virginia change from and drive the Louisianans away.” [37] Even so the fight was fierce, “there was a confused sound of pounding feet and colliding human bodies, grunts, yells and curses and a crackling of rifle fire – and the last of the Confederates were driven out.” [38]

Though Early achieved some success his division was repulsed and the threat to the Union gun-line on Cemetery Hill was ending. “Hays, already staggered by three unanswered volleys – the third was especially destructive, delivered at such close range – gave the order at last for his men to return the fire.” [39] His troops fought back but he realized that no help was coming either from Rodes, or Gordon, whose brigade was withheld by Early when he realized that Rodes was not attacking, believing that it “would been a useless sacrifice.” [40] Without support and threatened by more Federal troops, Hays gave the order to withdraw. As one author noted, “Courage and determination could not offset superior numbers and fresh troops. With no help coming and enemy units swarming around them, all those Rebels who were still under some command and control began to fall back.” [41]

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Early’s attack which had been so promising ended in failure and would be the subject of controversy after the battle and after the war. Rodes’s failure to support his attack on Cemetery Hill, “angered Jubal Early, and he did not mince words about it. In his report, Early complained: “No attack was made on the immediate right, and not meeting with support from that quarter, these brigades could not hold the position that they had attained.” [42]

Whether the Confederates could have taken the position had Rodes delivered his attack is another matter which can only be speculative in nature. Had Rodes and Gordon supported the attack, had Ewell better coordinated with A.P. Hill in order to have Pender’s division support the attack, it might have succeeded Like the earlier Confederate failures of the past two days the issue came down to command and control, coordination, and vague orders. “Ewell had no control over his corps. Three division commanders were coordinating without a central control – and one failed.” [43] Likewise, there is no question that “if Rodes had been able to mount an attack in conjunction with Early, which under the circumstances would have been a miracle of generalship, the defenders of Cemetery Hill would have had a hard time of it.” [44] But the failure of Ewell and his division commanders to coordinate the attack speaks volumes about “the uncoordinated command style that had become Robert E. Lee’s habit, and for the paralyzing evaporation of initiative that crept over the senior generals of the Army of Northern Virginia the longer and deeper they remained in the unfamiliar environment of Pennsylvania.” [45]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command pp.429-430

[2] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.237

[3] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.407

[4] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.341

[5] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.238

[6] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.407

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.439

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.344

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.341

[10] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.439

[11] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.238

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.233

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.430

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.435

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.339

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.236

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.339

[18] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.334

[19] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.245

[20] Ibid. Gottfried  The Artillery of Gettysburg p.169

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.334

[22] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.312

[23] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.235

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.340

[25] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.269

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.342

[27] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle pp.246-246

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.236

[29] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[30] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.272

[31] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[32] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.339

[33] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.343

[34] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W. editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.163

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.56

[36] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.339

[37] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[38] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.303

[39] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.519

[40] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.340

[41] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.409

[42] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.281

[43] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.239

[44] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.440

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.344

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Culp’s and Cemetery Hill Pt 2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am traveling with my students to Gettysburg this weekend and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Richard-Ewell

Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, C.S.A

During the day of July second little happened on Ewell’s front, an officer in Maryland Steuart’s brigade wrote “Greatly did officers and men marvel as morning, noon, and afternoon passed in inaction – on our part, not the enemy’s, for, as we well knew, he was plying axe and pick and shovel….” [1] . Though he had persuaded General Lee to leave his troops in place in order to assist Longstreet’s attack if the situation permitted, Ewell remained mostly inactive on July second with the exception of some skirmishing and a battle between the Stonewall Brigade and Gregg’s division of Federal Cavalry on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge about two and a half miles east of the town.

Lee was becoming more frustrated at the inaction of his corps commanders, and wanted Ewell to be able to support Longstreet’s attack, desire it to “make a simultaneous demonstration upon the enemy’s right, to be converted into a real attack should opportunity offer.” [2] But Ewell and his division commanders who had opposed the attack the previous evening, still were against it. Despite his misgivings, Ewell had been stung by Lee’s criticism the night before, and “was eager to make a redemptive showing today.” [3] Accordingly after his meeting with Lee around nine a.m. he began to position his units for the diversion that he hoped would turn into an opportunity to attack. After his conversation with Lee, Ewell “suffered between fear of another failure and an inner goad to commit his troops to action. His unsettled state could not have been helped by the long wait for the sound of Longstreet’s guns, which frayed the nerves.” [4]

Second Corps was deployed in a rough semi-circle to the east, north, and west of Culp’s and Cemetery Hill. The four brigades of Allegheny Johnson’s division which had not been present on the first day of battle occupied the area to the east of Culp’s Hill north of the Hanover Road. From there its skirmishers occasionally clashed with Federal skirmishers, while otherwise spending an uneventful day.

Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson was an old regular army officer. Johnson was born in Salisbury, Virginia in 1816. He was a graduate of the West Point class of 1838 along with P.T.G. Beauregard and Irvin McDowell. Johnson had a solid record of service in the old Army, he served in the Seminole Wars and received brevet promotions to Captain and Major during the Mexican War. Like many officers that remained in the army after Mexico he served on the frontier on the Great Plains.

Johnson resigned his commission when Virginia seceded from the Union and was appointed Colonel of the 12th Georgia Infantry. [5] He was promoted to Brigadier General in December 1861. Johnson commanded a brigade sized force with the grand name of “the Army of the Northwest” which fell under the command of Stonewall Jackson.[6] He held the crest of the Allegheny Mountains so well with his small force that he was given the “nom de guerre “Allegheny” Johnson.” [7] Johnson was wounded in the ankle at the Battle of McDowell on May 8th 1862, but the wound took nearly a year to heal, imperfectly at that. He was a rather “curious, somewhat uncouth, and strangely fascinating man” [8] who made the most of his convalescence in Richmond, making pass after pass, and occasional proposals to women about town. He was a favorite of Stonewall Jackson who insisted that he be promoted to Major General and be given command of a division.

The division that Johnson took over was the former division of Jackson, and “many of these regiments had fought in “Stonewall” Jackson’s original division, and the troops enjoyed an spirit as exalted as their combat record.” [9] When Ewell was promoted to command Second Corps after Jackson’s death following the Battle of Chancellorsville Johnson was named as commander. Despite his wealth of experience in the pre-war army and service with Jackson in the Valley, Johnson was an outsider to the division and he commanded men “who knew him by reputation only.”[10] Like so many other Confederate division commanders at Gettysburg he had never before commanded a division, so he came to the position “with no real experience above the brigade level.” Likewise he was “unfamiliar with the qualities and limitations of his four new brigadiers,” [11] having served with none of them prior to the Gettysburg campaign. Two, “Maryland” Steuart, and James Walker were experienced brigade commanders, J.M. Jones was a former regular who due to problems with alcohol had only served in staff positions before being promoted to command a brigade, and Colonel Jesse Williams, a regimental commander with little experience had taken a brigade as there was no one else qualified.

Despite this, Johnson became quite popular with his men. Because Johnson walked with a limp and used a long staff to help him walk, it was said that: “his boys sometimes call him “Old Club.” [12] As a division commander “Johnson developed a reputation that when he threw his troops into battle, then struck with the punch of a sledgehammer, exactly the way Lee wanted his commanders to fight.” [13] Johnson “does well in nearly all his fights, hits hard and wins the confidence of his men.” [14] Gettysburg was his first test as a division commander, but not one that gave Johnson a real opportunity to excel.

Jubal Early’s division lay to the north of both Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, with the brigades of Hays and Hoke posted “east of Baltimore Street in the ravine of Winebrenner’s Run,” where it “spent a miserable day,” as the ravine was “deep enough to cut off cooling breezes, its slopes were bare of trees, and the July sun warmed the Confederates without mercy. It was a debilitating and dangerous place. General Ewell wanted to pull Hays’s brigade back when it became apparent that the attack would be delayed, but he could not do so without risk of great loss. But staying there was not much better because, as Lt. William Seymour observed, it was almost death for a man to stand upright. ” [15]

“Old Jube” Early was an unusual character. He was described similarly by many to Dick Ewell in his gruffness and eccentrics. However, unlike Ewell, who was modest and charitable, Early was “ambitious, critical, and outspoken to the point of insubordination. Under certain circumstances he could be devious and malevolent.” [16] James Longstreet’s aide Moxey Sorrel wrote of him: “Jubal Early….was one of the ablest soldiers in the army. Intellectually he was perhaps the peer of the best for strategic combinations, but he lacked the ability to handle troops effectively in the field….His irritable disposition and biting tongue made him anything but popular.” [17] Despite this, Early had proved himself as a brigade commander and acting division commander and Lee referred to him affectionately as “my bad old man.” [18]

Early was the son of a tobacco planter in Franklin County Virginia. He was born in 1816 who had served in the Virginia legislature and was a Colonel of militia. Growing up he had an aptitude for science and mathematics. He was accepted into West Point in 1833 at the age of seventeen. He was a good student, but had poor marks for conduct and graduated in the eighteenth of fifty cadets in the class of 1837. His fellow students included Joe Hooker, John Sedgwick, Braxton Bragg, and John Pemberton, later, the doomed defender of Vicksburg. Also in the class was Lewis Armistead, with whom the young Early had an altercation that led to Armistead breaking a plate over his head in the mess hall. For the offense Armistead was dismissed from the academy.

He was commissioned into the artillery on graduation in 1837. However, after experiencing life in the active duty army, including service in the in the Seminole War, Early left the army and became a highly successful lawyer and active Whig politician. He served in the Mexican war as a Major with Virginia volunteers. Unlike some of his classmates, and later contemporaries in the Civil War, Early, and his men did not see combat, instead, serving on occupation duty. In Mexico Zachary Taylor made Early the “military governor of Monterrey, a post that he relished and filled with distinction.” [19]

After his service in Mexico, Early returned to Virginia, where he returned to his legal practice, serving as a prosecuting attorney. He also entered local politics where he served as a Whig in the Virginia legislature.

During his time in Mexico, Early contracted rheumatic fever, which left him with painful rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of his life. Due to it he “stooped badly and seemed so much older than his years that his soldiers promptly dubbed him “Old Jube” or Old Jubilee.” [20]

Jubal Early was “notoriously a bachelor and at heart a lonely man.” Unlike many Confederate officers he had “no powerful family connections, and by a somewhat bitter tongue and rasping wit” isolated himself from his peers.[21]

Likewise, in an army dominated by those with deep religious convictions, Early was avowedly irreligious and profane, though he did understand the importance of “the value of religion in keeping his soldiers’ spirits up” and as commander of the Army of the Valley, issued orders for a stricter keeping of the Sabbath. [22] Lee’s adjutant Walter Taylor wrote of him “I feared our friend Early wd not accomplish much because he is such a Godless man. He is a man who utterly sets at defiance all moral laws & such a one heaven cannot favor.” [23] That being said Porter Alexander praised Early and noted that his “greatest quality perhaps was the fearlessness with which he fought against all odds & discouragements.” [24]

Jubal Early was a Whig, and a stalwart Unionist who opposed Virginia’s secession, voting against it because he found it “exceedingly difficult to surrender the attachment of a lifetime to that Union which…I have been accustomed to look upon (in the language of Washington) as the palladium of the political safety and prosperity of the country.” [25]  Nonetheless, like so many others he volunteered for service after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion.

Robert E. Lee “appreciated Early’s talents as a soldier and displayed personal fondness for his cantankerous and profane Lieutenant …who only Stonewall Jackson received more difficult assignments from Lee.” [26] Early was the most influential of Ewell’s division commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [27]

On Ewell’s left, Robert Rodes’s division, which had taken such a brutal beating at Oak Hill on July 1st lay to the west and north of Cemetery Hill in the town itself. “Doles’s, Iverson’s, and Ramseur’s brigades of Rodes’s division occupied Middle Street west from Baltimore Street to the edge of the town. O’Neal’s brigade was along the railroad bed to the right and rear, and Daniel’s brigade occupied the ridge at the seminary.” [28]

Ewell also took the time to scout for artillery positions, the only two that offered any support were on Seminary Ridge to the west and on Brenner’s Hill to the north, and on Brenner’s Hill he deployed Major Joseph Latimer’s artillery battalion. Latimer was not yet twenty years old at Gettysburg. Latimer had been a seventeen year-old student at the Virginia Military Institute at the outbreak of the war and volunteered to help a newly formed artillery battery. He impressed other officers enough that he was given a commission as a First Lieutenant shortly after turning eighteen, and promoted to Captain and command of Virginia’s Courtney Artillery in March of 1862. “Sometimes called “the “Boy Major” and “Young Napoleon,” Latimer had won the respect of the entire army for his skill and bravery,[29] and he was often cheered by the infantry as he rode by. His battlefield performance was such that he was promoted to Major in March 1863, and given command acting command of the battalion of Lieutenant Colonel R. Snowden Andrews who had been wounded at Winchester.

The lack of good positions to place his guns meant that Ewell’s artillery Chief, Colonel J. Thompson Brown had to work hard to find suitable firing positions for all of his guns. Some he placed on Seminary Ridge, and others on Brenner’s Hill. Brown “could get only forty-eight of the eighty or so guns of the Second Corps placed for action. Of these only thirty-two became actively engaged on July 2nd.” [30]

Around four o’clock Latimer’s batteries commenced firing at the Federal positions on Cemetery Hill, provoking a storm of counter-battery fire from Colonel Wainwright’s First Corps guns. The confederate batteries were placed on Brenner’s Hill, which was devoid of cover and about fifty feet lower than the opposing Federal batteries on Cemetery Hill. The Confederates opened fire and Wainwright noted the effectiveness of the Confederate fire from Brenner’s Hill, considering it some “of the most accurate we had seen,” and that the weight of shell between the two sides was about equal, but Latimer’s gunners had no chance. Heavy fire from Wainwright’s batteries “immediately answered him and soon found the range. Within five minutes one of his caissons exploded. Twenty-five men went down in the Allegheny Roughs. Gunners in other batteries began dropping, and it became evident that the open hill was too hot a place to stay.” [31]

The Union fire was most effective and caused great damage to the Confederate batteries. Wainwright wrote, “Still we were able to shut them up, and actually drive them from the field in about two hours.” [32]  The highly accurate Federal fire “smothered the enemy gunners and forced them to pull back from the hill out of effective range.[33]A Confederate artilleryman from the Chesapeake Artillery described the position as “simply a hell infernal,” and wrote “we were directly opposed by some of the finest batteries in the regular service of the enemy, which batteries moreover, held a position to which ours was a molehill. Our shells ricocheted over them, whilst theirs plunged into the devoted battalion, carrying death and destruction everywhere.” [34] Latimer realized that he could not keep up the fight and told General Johnson “that he could no longer hold his posting on Brenner’s Hill. He was told to evacuate all but four guns, which would be used to support the infantry.” [35] While directing the fire of the remaining battery Latimer was mortally wounded by an artillery burst. He died a month later, depriving the Confederacy of one of its most promising young artillery officers. Ewell, who admired him greatly wrote, “Though not yet twenty-one when he fell, his soldierly qualities had impressed me as deeply as those of any officer in my command.” [36] It was “a high price to pay for confirming what should have been apparent before the one-sided contest ever began.” [37] The Confederate cannonade achieved nothing. “As a demonstration it quite failed to distract the Federals, with Meade continuing to reinforce against Longstreet’s offensive. It also quite failed to uncover any obvious “opportunity” for a “real attack” against the Federal right.” [38]

Despite the beating Latimer’s battalion had suffered Ewell was now determined to play his part in the day’s action. During the tense waiting period before the attack Ewell had advised his division commanders “that they should begin their demonstration when they heard Longstreet’s guns. He left to their discretion whether or not they should change the threat into a real assault.” [39] As such he failed to coordinate Ewell made a critical mistake by failing to ensure that Johnson, Early, and Rodes coordinated any offensive that they should undertake. As a result the effort of the Second Corps devolved into three separate actions none of which were coordinated, with fatal results.

As Latimer’s attack ended “quiet, quiet, along with the fading sun, descended on Slcoum’s front,” [40] Ewell and his troops prepared for battle, the impact of Longstreet’s assaults on the Federal left were beginning to be felt on Culp’s Hill.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.325

[2] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.314

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.514

[4] 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.231

[5] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.159 Others sources state this is the 12th Virginia and I cannot find a consensus.

[6] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.123

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.170

[8] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.459

[9] Greene, A. Wilson “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” Henry Slocum and the Twelfth Corps on July-1-2 in The Second Day at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership edited by Gallagher, Gary W.  Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio and London, 1993 p.111

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.459

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

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

[13] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.345

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

[15] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.127

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.268

[17] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.206

[18] Ibid. Wert  A Glorious Army p.155

[19] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.28

[20] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.83

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

[22] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.385

[23] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.207

[24] 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.397

[25] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.50

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

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

[28] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.128

[29] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.159

[30] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.429

[31] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.232

[32] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.243

[33] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.428

[34] Ibid. Pfanz Ewell p.316

[35] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.283

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Ewell p.316

[37] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.515

[38] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.283

[39] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation pp.231-232

[40] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.113

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Gettysburg: Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am traveling with my students to Gettysburg this weekend and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

culp's hill

On the night of July 1st 1863 Dick Ewell’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill prepared for another day of battle. Despite a significant amount of success on July 1st, Lee’s Army had failed to drive the lead elements of the Army of the Potomac off of Cemetery Hill, which Oliver Howard had wisely placed Steinwehr’s division and his artillery, and which both he and Winfield Scott Hancock recognized had to be held if the Confederates were to be defeated. As the darkness fell over the battlefield that night more Federal troops in the form of Major General Henry Slocum’s Twelfth Corps began to take up positions on Cemetery Hill as well as Culp’s Hill alongside the battered brigades of Oliver Howard’s Eleventh Corps, and Abner Doubleday’s First Corps.

At first Slocum and many of his officers seemed to “have had much apprehension that the Confederates would attempt a head-on attack on Culp’s Hill…or troubled enough by the likelihood of rebel movements to give any orders to improve their hillside positions by digging trenches or chopping down enough trees to form rough protective walls.” [1] The three brigades of Geary’s division of the Twelfth Corps entered the line to the east of the remnants of Wadsworth’s Second division of First Corps along the northern and eastern face of Culp’s Hill.

The commander of the Twelfth Corps was Major General Henry Slocum. Slocum was from upstate New York and entered West Point in 1848 at the age of twenty having already earned a teacher’s certificate at the age of seventeen. “Ability and activity had marked his whole life.” [2] One of his closest friends and roommate at West Point was Philip Sheridan who described the New Yorker as “a cadet whose education was more advanced than mine, and whose studious habits and willingness to aid others benefitted me greatly.” [3] Slocum graduated seventh in the class of 1852 which included George Crook who distinguished himself in the Civil War under the command of Sheridan, as well as Silas Casey, an engineer “whose later architectural achievements would include both the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress.” [4]

Slocum was commissioned in 1852 as a Brevet Second Lieutenant of Artillery and first served in Florida with the First Artillery, and then at Fort Moultrie in Charleston South Carolina. There he was promoted to First Lieutenant and began to study law. Slocum was an abolitionist but he was in favor of gradual abolition, and understood the mood of the South as the fires of disunion and secession over the issue of slavery smoldered. However, due to chronic illnesses that he and his wife suffered in the hot, humid, and fever-ridden climate of the Carolina Low Country, he resigned his commission and returned to New York in late 1856. There he passed the bar, went into the slat business and became relatively well off. He also became active in the Republican Party where he was elected to the State assembly in 1858. As an assemblyman he avoided the schemes that were pressed on him by other members, and maintained a well-earned reputation for honesty. During the time he also became very active in the New York State Militia where he served as a Colonel of Artillery. The governor refused Slocum’s request to raise artillery units instead desiring him to remain as his military adviser at Albany. This was not to Slocum’s liking and he earnestly sought command of an infantry regiment, which he finally obtained when he was appointed as commander of the newly raised 27th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

“Slocum was above medium height, with long, wavy brown hair that he combed behind his ears, a heavy brown mustache and sparkling brown eyes…. He seemed especially disposed to order and discipline and was attentive to details that he sought to master.” [5] As a regimental commander known as a disciplinarian, but also a commander who cared for and defended his troops, making sure that they were adequately led, trained, fed, and billeted. Sadly, the training regimen was cut short and the unit thrown into action at the Battle of Bull run where Slocum was severely wounded in the leg attempting to rally it when it was caught in the flank by Wade Hampton’s South Carolinians. While the regiment’s performance was uneven, it performed about as well as most other Federal units at Bull Run, however, “Slocum’s own conduct was solid and presaged his battlefield demeanor for the rest of the war.” [6]

220px-Henry_Warner_Slocum

Major General Henry Slocum

After Bull Run Slocum earned rapid promotion for his performance. While he was recovering from his wound he was promoted to Brigadier General and made a brigade commander. When the Sixth Corps was formed in 1862 he was given command of its First Division. He “led that division with distinction in the maelstrom of Gaines Mill” [7] during McClellan’s mismanaged Peninsular Campaign. At the Battle of South Mountain during the Antietam Campaign, Slocum and his division distinguished themselves, in an attack that “routed the enemy and captured for battle flags.” [8]  Following that he was promoted to Major General and took command of Twelfth Corps when its commander, Joseph Mansfield was killed at Antietam. His rise had been rapid, nearly meteoric, even though his generalship style was described as similar to John Sedgewick: “competent, careful, cautious, and entirely without military imagination.” [9] He was now the second youngest officer in the army to attain that rank, despite having served just two years as a Lieutenant in the Regular Army, a few months as a Colonel of Volunteers and under two years as a General. He ranked second in the Army of the Potomac to Joe Hooker and was senior to every other corps commander including Reynolds and Meade. Like most volunteer officers he “probably had some political backing, but, if so, it was not particularly blatant according to the standards of the time.” [10]

He commanded Twelfth Corps at Chancellorsville where it was in the fighting and fought well suffering over 3,000 casualties. Slocum was highly critical of Hooker’s performance and was an early advocate for Meade assuming command of the Army of the Potomac. Slocum, who had no desire to command the army went to Lincoln himself to have Hooker removed.

At Gettysburg Slocum was served by two solid division commanders, Brigadier General Alpheus Williams, who though a volunteer officer was considered one of the best division commanders in the army, and Brigadier General Joseph Geary. Joseph Geary was another battle hardened volunteer who had fought with the Pennsylvania volunteers in Mexico and was wounded five times in the assault on Chapultepec. “After this exploit, he was named the regiment’s colonel and returned home a war hero.” [11] He went to California in 1849 was elected as the first mayor of San Francisco. A strong anti-slavery man, Geary was appointed to the unenviable position of Governor of the Kansas Territory where he had vetoed the Lecompton Constitution, earning him the enmity of President James Buchanan.

220px-George_S._Greene

Brigadier General George Sears Greene, U.S. Army

One of Geary’s brigades was commanded by Brigadier General George Sears Greene. Greene was “the oldest general in the army, though he was far from doddering or ineffectual. He was a hardy war-horse, a man who spent most of his time in the saddle, an officer who insisted on hard drilling and discipline in camp and hard fighting on the battlefield.” [12] He was “described as a strict disciplinarian and an officer with a rigid sense of justice,” [13] who did not win immediate affection from his troops, “but those under his command soon learned to appreciate his ability,” [14] his troops nicknaming him “pap” “pop” or “pappy.” Greene led his brigade up Culp’s Hill where it took a position next to the remnants of the Iron Brigade on the eastern face of the rugged edifice.

Greene was born in Warwick Rhode Island in 1801 and graduated from West Point second in a class of thirty five. He was commissioned as an artillery officer some six years before Robert E. Lee. He was a descendent of Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene.  His son Lieutenant Dana Greene United States Navy, was the Executive officer of the ironclad warship USS Monitor which fought the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first battle between fully steam-powered armored warships in the history of the world. Dana Greene distinguished himself in the battle when he took command of the Monitor when its commander was wounded.

He had graduated second in his class at West Point in 1823, a full six years before Robert E. Lee, and after 13 years of garrison and instructor duty as an artillery officer, left the army in 1836 to enter civilian life as an engineer. After Greene left the army he spent most of his time overseeing the construction of railroads in the rapidly growing nation, as well as designing “sewage and water systems for Washington, Detroit, and several other cities. The Central Park reservoir in New York City was his handiwork, along with the enlarged High Bridge over the Harlem River.” [15]

Greene did not serve in the Mexican War and when the call came for volunteers in 1861 he waited to join up. In January 1862 he resigned from work on the Croatan Reservoir in New York City and was appointed to command the 60th New York Volunteer Infantry, a unit composed of men from the northern reaches of the state along the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Greene was promoted to Brigadier General in 1862 he commanded his brigade and served as an acting division commander at Antietam, where he was one of the few Federal General Officers not to fail the courage of his men in the heat of that bloody action. He commanded the division with skill, and audacity in the fierce fighting around the Dunker Church, the Cornfield and the Eastern Woods, which was “the one bright spot in the abruptly dismal Union picture.” [16] Despite his excellent performance he requited command of the Division to Geary, “who had returned to the army after being wounded at Cedar Mountain. Geary outranked Greene. (Geary’s appointment to brigadier general predated Greene’s by three days), and “Old Man Greene” went back to leading his brigade.” [17] During the battle of Chancellorsville he would again take acting command of the division when Geary was incapacitated during some of the heaviest fighting. During the fight where Twelfth Corps was attacked from multiple directions, Greene saved his brigade “by having them clear a 200-foot-wide space in front of their position and digging in with bayonets, tin cups, and canteen-halves.” [18] Following the battle he again returned to command his brigade of New Yorkers. By the time of Gettysburg the old general “was a seasoned veteran with enough battle experience at or above brigade level to allow his superiors to feel confident in his abilities.” [19]

As Greene’s brigade took their positions on Culp’s Hill, Greene had them do something that was not yet commonplace in either army. They began to construct field fortifications and breastworks. This occurred after he met Geary to discuss the defense of the hill. Geary told Greene that “he personally opposed building breastworks,” as “the men became less than stalwart in the open field. But he would leave the matter to his brigadiers.” [20] Greene replied and told Geary that “the saving of lives was more useful than such theories and that his men would build them if they had time to do so.” [21] With Geary’s blessing Greene ordered his troops to start building the types of fortifications that had helped save them at Chancellorsville.

Working through the night with the ample materials at hand they dug in, an officer wrote “Right and left the men felled the trees, and blocked them up into a close log fence. Piles of cordwood which lay near were appropriated. The sticks, set slanting on end against the outer face of the logs made excellent battening.” [22]  Likewise, “any pioneer details “which had spades and picks” set up a battening of earth over the felled logs.” [23] They linked their positions with each other such as the Iron Brigade on its left, as well as Brigadier General Thomas Kane’s brigade to Greene’s right, “which extended Greene’s line down the southeastern slope, its members imitated their comrades.” [24] The line of fortifications took advantage of the natural terrain which on its own made the ground good for the defense, but when fortified made it nearly impregnable to assault. Greene’s old regiment, the 60th New York, was particularly valuable as “it was largely composed of men accustomed to woodcraft, and they fell in to construct log breastworks with unaccustomed heartiness. All instinctively knew that a life-and-death struggle was impending, and that every help should be used.” [25] Since the Hill was actually two peaks connected by a lower “saddle” which fell at the juncture of his and Kane’s brigades, Greene felt it prudent to “take the additional precaution of having his men construct a short traverse at the lower end of their sector, providing an emergency line facing the saddle.” [26] By noon the fortifications were completed and the Federal troops rested and waited behind their creation for the coming attack. Greene described his position:

“Our position on the front were covered with a heavy growth of timber, free from undergrowth, with large ledges of rock projecting above the surface. These rocks and trees offered good cover for marksmen. The surface was very steep on our left, diminishing to a gentle slope on our right. The Second Brigade was on our right, thrown forward at a right angle to conform with the crest of the hill.” [27]

Notes

Greene’s decision to fortify the hill was emulated by the rest of the division as well as some of Wadsworth’s troops, and the Greene’s actions was fortuitous would have a profound effect on the coming struggle for Culp’s Hill.

[1] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.345

[2] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.143

[3] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007 p.14

[4] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.15

[5] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.91

[6] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.51

[7] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.143

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.144

[9] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.38

[10] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.91

[11] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.155

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.162

[13] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.211

[14] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[15] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[16] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.231

[17] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.346

[19] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.325

[21] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.114

[22] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.325

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.346

[24] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.287

[25] Jones, Jesse H. The Breastworks at Culp’s Hill 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.316

[26] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.287

[27] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.116

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The Last Stand of the Iron Brigade

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Tonight a section from one of my Gettysburg text chapters. This one is about the stand of the Iron Brigade on the ridges west of Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1st 1863.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

IronBrigade12021001

Harry Heth launched his two uncommitted brigades, those of Pettigrew and Brockenbrough to wrest control of the Herbst Woods from the Iron Brigade. The battle around the seminary and in Herbst wood ahead of it was fierce and the casualties enormous. The Iron Brigade still held on to Herbst Woods and was attacked by Pettigrew’s brigade of Heth’s division and it’s commander Solomon Meredith ensured that his veterans would hold the woods as Doubleday had instructed, “at all costs.” “At the apex of the curved line of the Iron Brigade in the woods stood the 24th Michigan. Straight ahead, ascending the slope was the 26th North Carolina, a huge regiment of 850 officers and men. For the next twenty minutes, hell enveloped both regiments.” [1] In the maelstrom of musketry the Confederates suffered heavily, a North Carolina sergeant recalled “could not even begin to estimate the number of “deadly missiles [that] were sent into our ranks, which mowed us down like wheat before the sickle.” [2]

Despite their immense losses the Confederates finally drove the Iron Brigade back to the seminary but it was at great cost to both sides. The battle for the woods was a wholesale slaughter, the 26th North Carolina lost “549 out of the 843 men it had lined up that afternoon; its regimental flag went through thirteen sets of hands” [3] in a fight where “seven out of every ten men on both sides fell killed or wounded.” [4] The 26th North Carolina lost its commanding officer, the young Colonel Henry Burgwyn Jr., who had picked up the regimental colors when the color guard was shot down. “He called out to the regiment to “dress on the colors.” He turned to hand the colors to a private, only to be hit in the left side, puncturing both lungs; the impact twisted him around and entangled Burgwyn in the flag.” [5]

But by now the outnumbered soldiers of the Iron Brigade were being flanked by part of the 11th North Carolina, which had worked its way around the left. These North Carolina troops began raking the Union line with their musket fire, and a soldier of the 19th Indiana noted, “The slaughter in our flanks became frightful beyond description,” [6] Even so the 11th North Carolina lost heavily in the attack, its losses included its colonel and senior major, the Iron Brigade “inflicted such heavy losses on the Confederates that there were not enough men left even for a successful bayonet charge.” [7]

Harry Heth’s division had finally wrested the McPherson’s Ridge from the determined Yankees but it was now a spent force. Archer and Davis’s brigades had been shattered in the morning fighting and now Pettigrew and Brockenbrough’s were shattered and his men were out of ammunition. Heth claimed “his division had lost 2,300 men in thirty minutes. Pettigrew’s brigade, which had borne the brunt of the afternoon’s fight had lost over 1,000 men killed and wounded.” [8]

Solomon Meredith was among the wounded and the Iron Brigade, now under the command of Colonel Henry Morrow of the 24th Michigan were forced to withdraw back to the seminary. The westerners fought stubbornly and withdrew “step by step, contesting every foot of ground.” [9] They withdrew “by echelon of alternate battalions, turning and stopping six times to beat back the Confederate pressure.” [10] On Seminary Ridge the survivors joined with the remnants of Biddle’s and Stone’s brigades and Wainwright’s artillery. The gallant First Corps was now but a shadow of its former self formed near the seminary for a last stand against the advancing Confederates. “Ordered to hold onto the ridge as long as possible, “the shattered remnants of the Iron Brigade” – Doubleday’s description – moved in behind the barricade to face the onslaught to come.” [11]

Abner Doubleday had ordered his troops to hold their positions “at all hazards” and when the assaulting waves of the Confederates “neared Willoughby Run, the Union ranks exploded in a gale of musketry.” [12] These Confederates from Dorsey Pender’s division were fresh and ready to fight, having taken the lead as Heth’s battered formations were given time to reform. Pender chose the North Carolina brigade of Alfred Scales and the South Carolina brigade of Abner Perrin for the assault, but the Carolinians encountered the same stubborn resistance from the depleted Federals as Heth’s men had earlier in the day. Doubleday remained at the Seminary directing the action and contributed his own headquarters guard company to the defense and “lent a hand sighting the artillery.” [13]

The Iron Brigade and Stone’s brigade were in a good position and covered by a “stone wall and some rough fence-rail breastworks and opened a blistering fire on the advancing Carolinians.” [14] Wainwright had eighteen guns concentrated in this sector on a front of less than 200 yards, and they added to the carnage in the Confederate ranks, one battery was enfilading the Confederate left and Wainwright wrote, “round shot, together with the canister poured in from all the other guns, was cutting great gaps in the front line of the enemy. But still they came on, the gaps being closed by regiments from the second line, and this again filled up by a third column which was coming over the hill. Never have I seen such a charge. Not a man seemed to falter….” [15]

The recipients of this blast were the men of Scales brigade and to one of the Confederates the Federal redoubt seemed “a sheet of fire and smoke, sending its leaden missiles…in the faces of men who had often, but never so terribly, met it before.” [16] Colonel William Robinson of the 7th Wisconsin wrote that “the Confederate ranks went down like grass before the scythe” [17] The casualties suffered by Scales’ brigade in their assault on Seminary Ridge were devastating, “Scales was wounded by a shell fragment, and in his five regiments every field officer but one was killed or wounded. Scales had launched his attack that afternoon with 1,350 men. That evening barely 500 answered roll call.” [18]

With Scales and his brigade out of action it was left to Perrin and his South Carolinians to press the fight. These troops were also met with a terrible reception, but Perrin detected a slight gap between Biddle’s brigade and Gamble’s cavalrymen “and drove straight for it. Perrin himself led the charge. Filled with admiration for such courage as defied the whole fire of the enemy,” wrote J.F.J. Caldwell of the 1st South Carolina “…the brigade followed, with a shout that itself half a victory.” [19] Perrin’s troops broke through the Union line just south of the seminary, and once he penetrated the Union line Perrin exploited his advantage and “neatly fanned out his regiments to the left and to the right so as to attack his opponent on the flanks.” [20] By now the 1st and 14th South Carolina had pushed around the flank of the Seminary redoubt, “while the 12th and 13th South Carolina struck Biddle’s brigade through “a furious storm of musketry and shells,” forcing Biddle’s thinned-out regiments to fall back behind the seminary.” [21]

Retreat to Cemetery Hill

By now there was little that could be done by the battered remnants of First Corps to hold on to Seminary Ridge or Oak Ridge. Doubleday and Wadsworth gave the order to withdraw to Cemetery Hill, Wadsworth noted “Outflanked on both right and left, heavily pressed in front, and my ammunition nearly exhausted,… I ordered the command to retire.” [22] The survivors of the corps withdrew under heavy Confederate pressure as the 6th Wisconsin and Battery “B” 4th U.S. Artillery covered the retreat. Doubleday noted “from behind the feeble barricade of rails these brave men stemmed the fierce tide which pressed upon them incessantly, and held the rebel lines…at bay until the greater portion of the corps had retired.” [23] Gamble’s cavalrymen also contributed by so effectively resisted Lane’s brigade that it could not support Perrin in the assault, causing Perrin to complain that it “never came up until the Yankees were clear out of reach.” [24]

“The Iron Brigade and Stone’s Bucktails generally fell back toward Gettysburg under some semblance of control, but this was not as easily done in units with the enemy closing in right at their heels.” [25] These units took more causalities during and lost some men as prisoners while withdrawing, but they were able to work their way through the chaotic streets of Gettysburg, to Cemetery Hill where “the men were re-formed and were ready for service.” [26] The remnants of the Iron Brigade were then directed by Abner Doubleday to Culp’s Hill to support an artillery battery on that vital ground.

Some units did not get the word directly and only found out when supporting units withdrew, such was the case with Wainwright’s artillery. Wainwright was still under the impression that the ridge was to be held at all costs and only withdrew when he found that his infantry supports and already withdrawn, leaving his gunners alone against the advancing Confederates. However, they had already done such damage to the Confederates that the Southerners to their front advanced with caution. One federal artilleryman noted “I was astonished at the caution of the enemy at this time. He seemed utterly paralyzed at the punishment he had received from First Corps, and was literally ‘feeling every inch of the way’ in his advance on our front.” [27]

Wainwright and his gunners executed their guns withdraw from Seminary Ridge under heavy Confederate fire, though the Confederate infantry failed to follow up its success by rushing his guns. He directed his batteries to “move at a walk towards town” [28] as he believed that sending them through at a trot or gallop could panic the infantry. He lost one gun in the retreat, something that as an artilleryman he found upsetting, but he realized that “our getting out of that place as quite a feat, and I wish it could have been without the loss of a gun. The more I think of it, the more I wonder how we got off at all. Our front fire must have shaken the rebel lines badly or they would have been upon us.” [29]

To the north on Oak Ridge the survivors of John Robinson’s division were threatened with complete disaster. Hard pressed on three sides by Rodes’s division and threatened from the east by the collapse of Eleventh Corps and by of the rest of First Corps withdraw from Seminary Ridge. These troops had successfully repelled every Confederate attack and had suffered terribly as they did so. Brigadier General Gabriel Paul’s First Brigade had relieved Baxter’s brigade, which had been withdrawn to replenish ammunition after mauling Iverson and O’Neal’s brigades at the northern apex of Oak Ridge. After its arrival Paul’s excellent brigade beat back an attack by Ramseur’s brigade but in the process lost their commander. General Paul was “shot in the head and blinded” and his place was taken by Colonel Adrian R. Root. [30]

However now, under pressure from the brigades of Daniel, Ramseur and Doles Robinson had to act to save First Brigade. He ordered Colonel Charles Tilden and the 16th Maine to act as a rearguard. Forced to withdraw by overwhelming Confederate numbers “an effort was made to retire in good order, but the pressure was too great.” [31] Tilden’s Maine men were cornered in the Railroad cut they were caught in the crossfire of several Confederate regiments, and for most the only option was surrender or death. Of “the 275 men who entered the battle with the 16th Maine, only 39 reached the hill.” [32] The regiment’s adjutant recalled “They swarmed down upon us….they engulfed us, and swept away the last semblance of organization that marked us a separate command.” [33] To ensure that the regiment’s colors did not become a trophy for the Confederates Tilden ordered his color bears to tear the flags from their staffs and rip them into pieces too small to become souvenirs. Many of the Maine men kept these shreds of their precious colors for the rest of their lives. The gallant 6th Wisconsin which had been at the Railroad cut to turn back the initial assault of Davis’s brigade in the morning which covered the retreat fought its way through town and finally “its men saw “the colors of the Union, floating over well ordered line of men in blue, who were arrayed along the slope of Cemetery Hill.” [34]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.278

[2] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.225

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.196

[4] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.278

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.196

[6] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.228

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.293

[8] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.292

[9] Nolan, Alan T. The Iron Brigade: A Military History Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1961 and 1994 p.245

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.196

[11] Ibid. Nolan, The Iron Brigade p.247

[12] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.278

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.200

[14] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.218

[15] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.236

[16] Ibid. Nolan, The Iron Brigade p.247

[17] Ibid. Nolan, The Iron Brigade p.247 and Sears p.218

[18] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.218

[19] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.218

[20] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.294

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.201

[22] Ibid. Nolan, The Iron Brigade p.248

[23] Ibid. Nolan, The Iron Brigade p.248

[24] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.318

[25] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.220

[26] Ibid. Nolan, The Iron Brigade p.252

[27] Ibid. Gottfried, The Artillery of Gettysburg p.53

[28] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.220

[29] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.237

[30] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.233

[31] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.235

[32] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.193

[33] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.235

[34] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.330

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.459

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

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

19 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.79

20 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.81

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

22 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.462

23 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.491

24 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.32

25 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.492

26 Ibid. Wert. Gettysburg Day Three p.128

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

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

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

general-george-meade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

4 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.239

5 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.188

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.321

15 Ibid. Trudeau pp.264-265

16 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.241

17 Ibid. Trudeau p.265

18 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p. 159

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

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

28 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee was one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.428

[14] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.428

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

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

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

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

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

[20] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.427

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Gettysburg Day One: Lee’s Vague Discretionary Orders and Lack of Control

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Discretionary orders are important to the success of commanders who desire that their subordinates have the necessary freedom to exploit opportunities within the broader operational context. They are a key element of what we now define as Mission Command and thus expressed clearly in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Desired Leader Attributes the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding. In this chapter we will look at how Lee conducted war and how his decision process and communications, particularly the use of discretionary orders influenced the outcome of the battle and how important the issuance of clear orders is to a successful campaign.

To be effective such orders need to be clear and concise and they must be employed in a manner that are within the capabilities of one’s subordinate commanders to both understand them and carry them out. Thus a commander must always be ready to adjust his method when his command goes through a major turnover of personnel. After the loss of Jackson at Chancellorsville and the subsequent reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee continued to operate as if nothing had changed, despite his own recognition that the army suffered from a want of qualified senior officers.

Robert E. Lee habitually issued discretionary orders with varying degrees of effectiveness. With Jackson, a man of ruthless battlefield instincts Lee was able to do this, even when Lee’s intent was less than clear, but even with Jackson such orders occasionally went awry as was the case during the Seven Days. Lee’s aide Walter Taylor noted that Jackson “took the suggestion of General Lee into immediate consideration, and proceeded to carry it into effect.” [1] This was not to be the case with those that followed Jackson, something that Lee failed to adjust to that would doom his army at Gettysburg.

Part of this is attributable to Lee’s distaste for administrative routine. Taylor noted how Lee’s “correspondence…was constantly a source of worry to him. He did not enjoy writing; indeed he wrote with labor, and nothing seemed to tax his amiability as the necessity for writing a lengthy official communication.” [2] But more importantly in the matter of communicating orders and following up, much of the issue came down to Lee’s near fatalistic understanding of faith and life in regard to the providence of God. For Lee victory and defeat came down to God’s will, as he wrote his wife after his ill-fated 1861 campaign in western Virginia “But the Ruler of the Universe willed otherwise and sent a storm to discontent a well laid plan and to destroy my hopes.” [3] But for Lee, the concept of “duty” became a secular manifestation of his religion.” [4]

J. F. C. Fuller attributes much of the manner in how Lee conducted battle to this sense of duty as well as belief in providence. Fuller notes that it “controlled the whole of his generalship.” [5] Lee explained his concept of command to the Prussian observer, Captain Justus Scheibert:

“You must know our circumstances, and see in battle that my leading would do more harm than good. It would be a bad thing if I could not then rely on my brigade and divisional commanders. I plan and work with all my might to bring my troops to the right place at the right time; with that I have done my duty. As soon as I order the troops forward into battle, I lay the fate of my army in the hands of God.” [6]

That firm belief in providence and the hand of God was evident in Lee’s comments to Major General Isaac Trimble as the army advanced into Pennsylvania. “We have again outmaneuvered the enemy, who even now does not know where we are or what our designs are. Our whole army will be in Pennsylvania day after tomorrow, leaving the enemy far behind and obliged to follow by forced marches. I hope with these advantages to accomplish some single result and to end the war, if Providence favors us.” [7]

Fuller is one of the harshest critics of Lee bluntly notes that “this lack of appreciation that administration is the foundation for strategy; this lack of interest in routine, and his abhorrence to exert his authority…” [8] were key factors in many of his army’s problems, from command and control, discipline and the material and logistics aspects of war. Likewise his absolute reliance on his subordinates to carry out his orders, and unwillingness to interfere once the battle was joined was a major factor in his failure at Gettysburg, where Russell Weigley noted in a rather kind and subdued way that “Lee…was sometimes served less than well by his corps, division and brigade commanders.” [9]

Throughout the Gettysburg campaign Lee issued vague orders that his subordinates either failed to understand or willingly interpret in a manner that Lee did not intend. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda notes that “the phrase if practicable…led to many unfortunate consequences, since it provided subordinate commanders a kind of escape clause, allowing them to argue after the event that what they had been order to do was not, in their view “practicable.” [10]

From the time that Robert E Lee learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac into Maryland on June 28th, he attempted to adjust his campaign plan and concentrate his army in preparation for battle. At that point his army was scattered and he did not want to provoke an engagement until he could concentrate his forces. Stuart’s cavalry, the absence of which was a matter of great consternation to Lee was chief among his concerns. Lee had hoped that Hooker would pursue him north, but finding the information out from Longsteet’s spy Harrison disturbed Lee greatly. [11]

Lee expected to know about Hooker’s movements from Stuart. However, Stuart was nowhere to be found; operating nearly fifty miles away separated from Lee’s main body much of the Army of the Potomac. Lee’s aide Walter Taylor wrote: “No tidings had been received from or of our cavalry under General Stuart since crossing the river; and General Lee was consequently without accurate of the movements or position of the main Federal Army.” [12] However, while Stuart certainly can be blamed for taking his best cavalry off on a ride around the Federal army, he acted in accordance with how he interpreted Lee’s orders, as Douglas Southall Freeman wrote: “What was possible was permissible. That, as Stuart saw it, was the substance of his orders.” [13]

This was especially true after Stuart had been surprised at Brandy Station by the Federal cavalry and pilloried in the Confederate press, the Richmond Sentinel saying Stuart had been “outgeneraled” and the Richmond Whig predicting that “We shall not be surprised if the gallant Stuart does not, before many days, make the enemy repent sorely the temerity that led them to undertake this bold and insulting feat….” [14] Lee’s orders provided just enough ambiguity and wiggle room for the wounded Stuart to do precisely what he did.

Lee’s orders gave Stuart the options of moving back to screen the army or passing around the Federal army, leaving the decision to Stuart’s discretion. “You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can…” [15] Major Henry McClellan, Stuart’s aide recorded that he also received a “lengthy communication from General Lee…” which “discussed at considerable length the plan of passing around the enemy’s rear….” [16] Stuart in his official report wrote: “The commanding General wrote me, authorizing this move if I deemed it practical.” [17]

That being said Lee was clear enough that he expected Stuart to “lose no time in placing his command on the right of our column as soon as he should perceive the enemy moving northward.” [18] Though Stuart had detected Hancock’s II Corps moving north near Manassas he elected to make his movement around the Federal Army. Stuart’s biographer Burke Davis noted that Stuart “sought no advice on the all-important detour of June twenty-sixth, which changed his direct. He did not so much consult his brigadiers as he swung his column southward to pass around the enemy.” [19] Though Lee at a number of points during lead up to Gettysburg signaled his frustration with Stuart’s absence and its effect on his abilities, he failed to draw the appropriate conclusions that a prudent commander, operating deep in enemy territory would assume from the lack of contact. Lee should have assumed that Stuart was because of his move “become temporarily incommunicado” but instead, “inferred from Stuart’s silence that Hooker had not crossed the Potomac.” [20]

Lee’s vague order was the first in a series of command and control issues that plagued him during the campaign and combined with Stuart’s vanity and need to redeem his reputation, Lee’s ill use of the cavalry he did have under his control were all contributing factors leading to the disastrous encounter at Gettysburg, but there was more to come.

Now that Lee knew that the Army of the Potomac had crossed into Maryland and was now under the command of George Meade he began to take action to reassemble his widely scattered army in the vicinity of Chambersburg and Cashtown. A.P. Hill’s Third Corps was already near Cashtown, and Longstreet’s First Corps was on its way up. The most important issue Lee had was to get Ewell’s Second Corps, then near Carlisle preparing to attack Harrisburg, back in contact with the rest of the Army.

Lee sent two sets of orders to Ewell on the night of the 28th, after getting Harrison’s intelligence, but they did not reach Ewell until the morning of the 29th. The first orders were for Ewell to move to Chambersburg, and the second, to concentrate at Heidlersburg where he could either continue to Cashtown or turn south to Gettysburg. [21] The intent was good, Lee appears to have desired to minimize congestion on the turnpike in order to more rapidly assemble his army, however the orders caused much discontent at the Second Corps headquarters and “made Old Bald Head most unhappy.” [22] Many of his soldiers with Harrisburg in plain sight were likewise upset the “disappointment and chagrin were extreme” [23] while a soldier in “Maryland Steuart’s brigade recalled the “ill-concealed dissatisfaction” of the men, who “found the movement to be as they supposed “one of retreat.” [24] A staff officer noted that Ewell was “quite testy and hard to please” at the news and “became disappointed, and had everyone flying around.” [25]

Despite his displeasure Ewell did move promptly to comply with Lee’s orders “Lee had not communicated any particular sense of crisis to the case, and the Second Corps’ march proceeded at the usual pace.” [26] Likewise the fact that there were two orders caused several problems that would manifest themselves on July 1st all of which would affect the outcome of the battle.

The first regarded the movement of Second Corps. On receipt of the first order to proceed to Chambersburg Ewell promptly started Allegany Johnson’s division as well as the Second Corps Wagon Train and two battalions of its Corps Artillery Reserve down the turnpike. [27] When they arrived near Cashtown on the first they would become entangled with Anderson’s division of Hill’s Third Corps, slowing that unit’s attempt to move to battle. This massive traffic jam also delayed two of Longstreet’s divisions which were moving to link up with Hill’s Corps. [28]

Ewell was able to direct Rodes and Early’s divisions toward Heildlersburg, but the vagueness of Lee’s changing the objective of the march “to Cashtown or Gettysburg and leaving it up to the commander to choose between the two” [29]caused Ewell problems. Had Johnson’s division and the rest of the corps been available early on the afternoon of July 1st at Heildlersburg with Rodes and Early’s divisions it might have completely changed the outcome of the battle. Ewell had been very successful under Jackson, whose orders “were precise and positive” where Lee had not only revered the course of Ewell’s advance on Harrisburg back to Chambersburg, but then modified with the order to proceed to either Cashtown or Gettysburg. [30]

Lee’s order again contained a discretionary clause, to advance to Cashtown or Gettysburg “as circumstances dictate.” [31] Ewell was upset not knowing what “circumstances” Lee had in mind.” [32] On the night of the 30th he discussed the order with Rodes and Early as well as Major General Isaac Trimble, and complained of the order’s “indefinite phraseology” and made the comment “Why can’t a commanding General have someone on his staff who can write an intelligible order.” [33] Ewell’s acerbic comment could easily be applied to many of Lee’s orders issued during the next few days, but in spite of it Ewell did handle his “first discretionary order very well indeed” [34] as he issued his movement orders for July 1st in a manner that would allow his divisions to move on either location should the situation dictate.

As Ewell attempted to comply with Lee’s orders on the 29th and 30th to rejoin the army his other two corps were resting. Third Corps under A.P. Hill was at and around Cashtown west of Gettysburg. On the 30th Hill allowed Harry Heth to advance Johnston Pettigrew’s brigade to Gettysburg. When Pettigrew discovered Buford’s cavalry division there he withdrew and reported to incident to Hill and Heth who refused to believe it. Hill did pass on that news to Lee and alerted Lee that “that he intended to march there in the morning” but the “announcement seemed not to have disturbed the commanding general, since he expected to move his headquarters only as far as Cashtown the next day.[35] This lack of reaction was to have enormous consequences for Lee.

On the morning of July 1st, Hill ordered Harry Heth to advance his division to Gettysburg without the benefit of cavalry support or reconnaissance and backing them up with Pender’s division. As they advanced the leading brigades under Brigadier General James Archer and Joseph Davis met Federal forces. Heth became embroiled in a fight with Buford’s cavalry, which developed into a fight with Reynolds’s I Corps, a fight that resulted in Heth’s division being mauled and helping to bring a general engagement. That engagement drew in Ewell’s corps as well before Lee knew what was happening.

Lee had a number of chances to prevent the meeting engagement that developed on July 1st 1863. Lee noted in his after action report that “It had not been intended to deliver a general battle so far from our base unless attacked…” [36] but there are no records of him giving such instructions prior to the battle. There are no reports indicating that he urged caution on his commanders not to bring on a general engagement before July 1st, when the battle was already underway, nor are there records of any warning orders to his corps commanders upon learning of the presence of the Federal army north of the Potomac.

In the end of the day it was Lee’s “laxness with respect to reconnaissance and his lack of control of Hill’s movements caused him to stumble into battle.[37] The battle began without him knowing it; his subordinate commanders committed nearly half of his army into battle before he issued an order, Lee wrote “A battle had, therefore, become in a measure unavoidable….” [38] But such is not the case.

(Gburg day one)

Lee arrived early enough in the battle to make his influence known. He was told of Ewell’s movements by Major G. Campbell Brown of Ewell’s staff and instructed Brown in very strong terms to tell Ewell “that a general engagement was to be avoided until the arrival of the rest of the army.” [39] Ewell, did not get that message until after his forces were heavily committed noting in his report “that By the time this message reached me….It was too late to avoid an engagement without abandoning the position already taken up.” [40]

Lee was not happy that battle had been joined by Heth and Taylor observed that “on arriving at the scene of the battle, General Lee ascertained that the enemy’s infantry and artillery were present in considerable force” [41] and when Lee arrived on Herr Ridge, Heth asked permission to renew his attack when Rodes entered the fight. Lee’s initial response was negative “No, I am not prepared to bring on a general engagement today. Longstreet is not up.” [42]

After observing the battle for a time it became evident that Ewell’s corps was also heavily engaged and Lee began to change his mind. Heth reported that the Federal troops in front of him were withdrawing and Lee sensed an opportunity to strike a blow that might bring the climactic victory that he sought. Lee analyzed the situation and with Heth back at his division Heth wrote that “very soon an aide came to me with the orders to attack.” [43]

The order was given in the heat of the moment, and Lee always aggressive responded, but it was a bad decision. “It committed him to a major confrontation on this ground…without sufficient troops on hand and without knowledge of the whereabouts of the rest of the Federal army,” [44] and Lee knew this. He told Anderson at Cashtown not long before- meeting Heth: “I am in ignorance of what we have in front of us here. It may be the whole Federal army, or it may be only a detachment. If it is the whole Federal force we must fight a battle here.” But he was worried, telling Anderson “If we do not gain a victory, those defiles and gorges which we passed through this morning will shelter us from disaster.” [45]

Despite the success that his soldiers we now enjoying as they drove the I Corps and XI Corps back through the town Lee gave yet another vague order. This one to Ewell, who having already committed his corps to battle in the full knowledge that Lee did not desire a general engagement was confronted with another discretionary order, Lee said “General Ewell was…instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army.” [46]

The Army of Northern Virginia came very close to sweeping Federal forces from the field on July 1st in spite of Lee’s lack of planning and clear commanders’ intent. But close was not enough. His forces which were committed in a piecemeal manner were unable to follow up their initial success. The situation faced by Ewell in Gettysburg was chaotic; his units were badly disorganized, and burdened by thousands of prisoners on the confided streets of the town. Rodes’ division had sustained frightful losses and he had no assurance of support from Hill. [47] Rodes’ after battle report supported Ewell’s decision. He wrote that before “the completion of his defeat before the town the enemy had begun to establish a line of battle on the heights back of the town, and by the time my line was in condition to renew the attack, he displayed quite a formidable line of infantry and artillery immediately in my front, extending smartly to my right, and as far as I could see to my left in front of Early.”[48]

Lee’s orders to Ewell, to take the high ground “if practicable” were correctly interpreted by Ewell despite his critics; he nature of the terrain, the number and condition of the troops that he had available for an attack, and the nature of the orders given by Lee late in the day was strong factors for Ewell to not attack. [49] Coddington noted that these problems “upset Ewell, for he was faced with the prospect of organizing a new attack with tired men even while he felt constrained by Lee’s injunction not to open a full-fledged battle. No wonder he was uncertain!” [50]The fact that Lee was not far away and did not issue a “peremptory order to Ewell” to attack also has to be noted. [51] If Lee had sensed that Ewell was not going to attack and really wanted him to he could have issued a direct order which Ewell, would have surely obeyed. “Lee realized that Ewell was not Jackson…and should have modified his method of command accordingly.” [52]

That evening Lee rode to Ewell’s headquarters and met with Ewell, Early and Rodes. “No reference was made to the possibility of an attack that evening on Cemetery Hill.” The question was put to them about what to do the next day. Lee asked “Can’t you with your corps attack on this flank tomorrow?” Jubal Early answered for Ewell saying “flatly that he did not believe an attack should be made from Gettysburg against Cemetery Hill the next day.” [53] Early added, “even if such an action were to succeed… it would be at a very great cost.” [54] Lee suggested to Ewell and his commanders that Second Corps around to the right along Seminary Ridge “where it might be better put to use, and twice he gave in to Ewell’s pleadings to remain where he was.” [55] This was yet another mistake that would haunt Lee during the rest of the battle, but the “notion of imposing his will on a subordinate was simply too alien to Lee’s nature for him to even to admit as a possibility.” [56] Fuller wrote “it was Lee’s inexhaustible tact that ruined his army.” [57]

Whether Lee intended to engage the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg so early in the campaign is debated. His multiple and contradictory strategic aims left his commanders acting much on their own. Lee’s lack of clear commander’s intent to his subordinate commanders created confusion on the battlefield. They also paved the way to many controversies in the years following the war as Southerners sought to explain the failure of the Lost Cause, for which Lee could not be blamed.

Much of the controversy comes from Lee’s own correspondence which indicates that he might have not fully understood his own intentions. Some correspondence indicates that Lee desired to avoid a general engagement as long as possible while other accounts indicate that he wanted an early and decisive engagement. The controversy was stoked after the war by Lee’s supporters, particular his aides Taylor and Marshall and generals Early, Gordon and Trimble. Men like Longstreet and were castigated by Lee’s defenders for suggesting that Lee made mistakes on the battlefield.

The vagueness of Lee’s instructions to his commanders led to many mistakes and much confusion during the battle. Many of these men were occupying command positions under him for the first time and were unfamiliar with his command style. Where Stonewall Jackson might have understood Lee’s intent, even where Lee issued vague or contradictory orders, many others including Hill and Ewell did not. Lee did not change his command style to accommodate his new commanders.

That lack of flexibility and inability to clearly communicate Lee’s intent to his commanders and failure to exercise control over them proved fatal to his aims in the campaign. Stephen Sears’ scathing analysis of Lee’s command at Gettysburg perhaps says it the best. In the final analysis, it was Robert E. Lee’s inability to manage his generals that went to the heart of the failed campaign.” [58]

The vagueness of Lee’s intent was demonstrated throughout the campaign and was made worse by the fog of war. Day one ended with a significant tactical victory for Lee’s army but without a decisive result which would be compounded into a strategic defeat by Lee’s subsequent decisions on the 2nd and 3rd of July.

Notes:

[1] 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.45

[2] Ibid. Taylor General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences p.25

[3] Lee, Robert Edward. Recollections and Letters of General Robert E Lee A Public Domain book, Amazon Kindle edition location 548

[4] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.35

 

[5] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.112

[6] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.348

[7]Tucker, Glenn. High Tide at Gettysburg, The Bobbs Merrill Co. Indianapolis Indiana 1958 p.24

[8] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.125

[9] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.116

[10] Ibid. Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.446

[11] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p. 139

[12] Taylor, Walter Four Years with General Lee Original published 1877. Heraklion Press Kindle Edition 2013 location 1199

[13] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 pp.554-555

[14] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, p.552

[15] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.16

[16] McClellan, Henry Brainerd The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia 1885. Digital edition copyright 2011 Strait Gate Publications, Charlotte NC location 6123 unfortunately this letter cannot be verified as no copy exists, McClellan presuming that it was destroyed sometime during the march.

[17] 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.60

[18] Lee, Robert E. Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition location 503

[19] Davis, Burke JEB Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p. 325

[20] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.183

[21] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.189

[22] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

[23] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.124

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

[25] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.124

[26] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command pp.189-190

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.99

[29] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p. 464

[30] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.464

[31] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.148

[32] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.192

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

[34] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 160

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.264

[36] Ibid. Lee Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864 location 552

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

[38] Ibid. Lee Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864 location 552

[39] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.150

[40] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg p.22

[41] Ibid. Taylor General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences p.188

[42] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.475

[43] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 203

[44] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg p.24

[45] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.474

[46] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.571

[47] 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 pp.54-55

[48] Ibid. Nolan p.26

[49] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.28

[50] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.319

[51] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.28

[52] Ibid Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.56

[53] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.572

[54] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.261

[55] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York p.504

[56] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.262

[57] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.119

[58]Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York p.504

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The Forgotten Hero: Brigadier General George Sears Greene at Culp’s Hill: Night of July 2nd and 3rd 1863

220px-George_S._GreeneBrigadier General George Sears Greene

On the night of July 1st 1863 Dick Ewell’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill prepared for another day of battle. Despite a significant amount of success Lee’s Army had failed to drive the lead elements of the Army of the Potomac off of Cemetery Hill. As the evening progressed more Federal troops in the form of Henry Slocum’s XII Corps began to take up positions on Cemetery Hill as well as Culp’s Hill which Oliver Howard and Winfield Scott Hancock recognized to be vital to holding the Federal position.

The three brigades of Geary’s division entered the line to the east of Wadsworth’s division of I Corps along the northern and eastern face of Culp’s Hill. Key to the position was the placement of the brigade of Brigadier General George S. Greene one of the oldest, if not the oldest Union officer on the field. Greene’s brigade took a position next to the remnants of the Iron Brigade which had fought so hard along Seminary Ridge earlier in the day.

Greene had been born in 1801 and had graduated from West Point as an artillery officer some six years before Robert E. Lee. He graduated second in his class at West Point in 1823 and after 13 years left the army in 1836 to enter civilian life as an engineer. Greene missed the Mexican War but when the call came for volunteers in 1861 he was appointed to command the 60th New York Volunteer Infantry. Promoted to Brigadier General in 1862 he commanded his brigade and served as an acting division commander at Antietam. He was a descendent of Nathaniel Greene and his son Lieutenant Dana Greene USN was the Executive officer of the USS Monitor at the Battle of Hampton Roads against the CSS Virginia.

culps hill map

As the Federal units on Culp’s Hill took their positions they began to do something that was not yet commonplace in either army. They began to construct field fortifications and breastworks. Working through the night with the ample materials at hand they dug in and linked their positions with each other as well as Brigadier General Thomas Kane’s brigade to Greene’s right. The line of fortifications took advantage of the natural terrain which on its own made the ground good for the defense, but when fortified made it nearly impregnable to assault.

During the day of July second little happened on Ewell’s front. Though he had persuaded General Lee to leave his troops in place Ewell remained mostly inactive on July second with the exception of some skirmishing and a battle between the Stonewall Brigade and Gregg’s division of Federal Cavalry on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge about two and a half miles east of the town.

It would not be until the evening of the 2nd that Ewell’s troops went into action against the now very well entrenched Federal Forces on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill. The assaults began on Cemetery Hill where Jubal Early’s division attacked forces along the north and east section of the hill to be supported by Robert Rodes’ division on the west.

However as with most of the Confederate offensive actions of the battle this too fell apart as Rodes division gave little support to Early’s attack as due to both Rodes’ and Ewell’s indecisiveness Rodes “did not give himself enough time to get his big division into formation for the attack. By the time he had completed the complicated maneuver of wheeling his brigades forty-five degrees to the left and advancing them half a mile to a good place from which to charge up Cemetery Hill the battle was over.” [1]

Though Early achieved some success his division was repulsed and the threat to the Union gun line on Cemetery Hill was ended. One author noted of Early’s attack: Courage and determination could not offset superior numbers and fresh troops. With no help coming and enemy units swarming around them, all those Rebels who were still under some command and control began to fall back.” [2]

Longstreet’s attack on the Federal left forced George Meade to pull troops from his quiet sector along Culp’s Hill in order to reinforce his forces in the Peach Orchard, the Wheat Field and along the southern extension of Cemetery Ridge. According to most accounts Meade directed Slocum to send “at least one division” to the threatened sector which weakened the forces deployed on Culp’s Hill considerably.

However within XII Corps there was much confusion and in addition to William’s division Geary had pulled two of his brigades out of line leaving only George Greene’s brigade to defend Culp’s Hill “guarding nearly half a mile of Twelfth Corps works.”[3] Neither Slocum nor Williams realized the danger and before the units which had left the hill could return Allegheny Johnson’s division of Ewell’s corps which had sat inactive and impatiently awaiting orders to attack all day jumped off.

culp's hill149th New York Volunteer Infantry on Culp’s Hill

The Confederate attack began around Seven PM and continued through the night. Johnson sent some 4,700 men to attack Greene’s 1,300 dug in veterans. “That kind of manpower edge would have likely been decisive elsewhere on the field that day, but against Pop Greene’s providential and well-constructed breastworks the odds leveled out.” [4]Greene’s men fought hard as Greene directed them and requested reinforcements from I Corps and XI Corps who in turn sent units including the Iron Brigade to help. However, the six regiments that arrived had been reduced to fractions of their former strength by the first day’s battle “increased Greene’s force only by about 755 men.” [5]Additionally, Hancock who heard the battle raging “sent two regiments to the relief of Slocum as well.”[6] Greene’s report of the battle noted:

“we were attacked on the whole of our front by a large force few minutes before 7 p.m. The enemy made four distinct charges between 7 and 9.30 p.m., which were effectually resisted. No more than 1,300 were in our lines at any one time. The loss of the enemy greatly exceeds ours.”[7]

As the night wore on Confederate attacks continued and in the darkness other Federal units arrived, including those from XII Corps which had gone earlier in the day. By mid-morning Johnson’s assault was done. His units had suffered severe casualties and his division had been drained of all attacking power by the time Lee needed it on the morning of July 3rd to support Pickett’s attack. “This division, formed by Stonewall Jackson was never the same again. Its glories were in the past.”[8] In the end the Army of the Potomac still held both Cemetery and Culp’s Hill, in large part due to the actions of the old soldier, George Greene who’s foresight to fortify the hill and superb handling of his troops and those who reinforced him kept Johnson’s division from rolling up the Federal right.

Ewell’s troops would play no further role in the battle. In the end his presence around Cemetery and Culp’s Hill diminished the resources that Lee needed to support his other assaults on the second and third day of battle. In effect it left Lee without one third of his forces. The result was the sacrifice of many troops with nothing to show for it. Ultimately Lee is to blame for not bringing Ewell’s forces back to Seminary Ridge where they and their artillery may have had a greater effect on the battle.

greene monumentMonument to General George S Greene on Culp’s Hill

The real hero of Culp’s Hill was Greene. But Greene in many ways is a forgotten hero, he was not given much credit in Meade’s after action report though Slocum attempted to rectify this and Meade made some minor changes to his report. But it was in later years that Greene was began to receive recognition for his actions. James Longstreet gave Greene credit for saving the Union line on the night of July 2nd and said that “there was no better officer in either army” at the dedication of the 3rd Brigade monument on Culp’s Hill in 1888. Greene died in 1899 having been officially retired from the Army in 1893 as a First Lieutenant, his highest rank in the Regular Army. A monument to Greene stands on Culp’s Hill looking east in the direction of Johnson’s assault.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

[1] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster Ne5w York, 1968 pp.429-430

[2] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.409

[3] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p. 204

[4] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.326

[5] Ibid. Coddington p.431

[6] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indian University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.94

[7] 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 pp. 159-160

[8] 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.262

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