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Winfield Hancock and Lewis Armistead: Friends Separated by War


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been posting a number of articles based on my yet to be published book on the Battle of Gettysburg. This one deals with the relationships of close friends in war. In this case, these men were friends who had served together for many years then ended up fighting each other at Gettysburg. Their story is tragic, because none of them hated each other, or held any animosity towards each other, but instead had followed what they believed to be their duty.  Some like Winfield Scott in the continued service of the Union, and others like Lewis Armistead to that of their home states.

Even so the bonds of friendship were never severed. Of course, unless you have served with people in war and in the military it it hard to comprehend such a fate. Even now, I know men that I consider friends, men who now hold very different political and social beliefs than me, and if God forbid there was ever another civil war, we would most likely be on opposite sides, but they would still be friends, and I would grieve the fact that we would be fighting. 

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

When the Southern States seceded from the Union men who had spent much of their adult lives serving together discovered had to say goodbye and prepare to fight each other. Most did so with a heavy heart even though many had strong convictions about the rightness of their region’s cause. Those who left the army to serve the Confederate states were often torn by doubt and questions of where their loyalty lay.

Robert E. Lee was a good example of the conflict that many Southern officers faced. “The Southern professional officer in 1861 was confronted with a cruel choice symbolized by Lee’s anguished pacing at Arlington. On one hand, the Southern officer’s political allegiances drew him to the Confederacy; on the other his professional responsibility drew him to the Union.” [1] They wrestled with their oath of office and the costs of perhaps having to face their dearest friends on future battlefields. Lee’s letter to his sister Ann Marshall, who remained a supporter of the Union, after he resigned from the army he had served for 32 years reflects that anguish, torn between his loyalties Lee wrote “With all my devotion to the Union, and the dear feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.” [2] He added: “I know you will blame me…but you must think as kindly of me as you can, and believe that I have endeavored to do what I think right.” [3] 

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

The American Civil War has many such tales. Porter Alexander wrote of his final words with his superior James B. McPherson, who later went on to be a highly successful corps commander under Grant and Sherman before being killed outside Atlanta in 1864. McPherson desired that Alexander remain in California as an Engineering officer. He warned Alexander about the nature of the coming war and gave him his counsel, not as a superior, but as a friend:

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

Alexander  realized the implications of his friends words but his loyalty to his state and people was more than his loyalty to the Union, and he feared what friends and family at home would think of him more than the illogic of what he was about to do. He wrote of their parting visit and how it shook him:

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

However perhaps the most remembered of these interrupted friendships is that of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Armistead. For many people their friendship is best recalled in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels which was immortalized in the movie Gettysburg. 


                                         Major General Winfield Scott Hancock USA

Hancock is an interesting character. He was a West Point Graduate from Pennsylvania and like many Army officers of his day he was a Democrat as they were then the conservative party. Hancock was not a political ideologue but was since he was a Democrat he was suspect by leaders in the party establishments of both parties; Republicans for being a Democrat, and Democrats for serving under Lincoln. As such, despite his immense talent and accomplishments he never was given independent command of an Army but remained the beloved commander of the Union Second Corps.

As the nation split and friends went their separate ways Hancock gave some advice to his best friend, Lewis Armistead and their commander, Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston who were preparing to leave the Union in early 1861. In response to the states rights arguments of his friends he made himself clear. He fully believed in the principal of states rights, but he could not compromise his faithfulness to the Union. He told his friends as they departed company on their way to their destinies during the Civil War:

“I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” 

During the war Hancock served with distinction. At Gettysburg he was influential in determining the choice of the Union defense, in helping to repel the Rebel attacks on July 2nd 1863 and the final repulse of Pickett’s Charge where he was severely wounded and his friend Armistead died. After he recovered from his wounds he continued to lead Second Corps until the end of the war. Ulysses Grant wrote of him:

“Hancock stands the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate command. He commanded a corps longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of very conspicuous personal appearance…. His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the 2d corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”

After the war Hancock supervised the execution of those convicted of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Following that duty he served in various postings in the occupied South and attempted to mitigate some of the actions of those bent on vengeance against African Americans as well as others who tried to exploit the defeated Confederates for political or economic gain. His balanced attempt at justice was not appreciated by many people in the North or the South.

The Interrupted Friendship 

In 1861 Hancock was stationed in California as a Quartermaster under the command of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Albert Sidney Johnston with the Sixth Infantry Regiment. One of his fellow officers was Captain Lewis Armistead, a twice widowed Virginian who also served as a commander of the New San Diego Garrison under Johnston’s command, and Richard Garnett commanding a company at Fort Yuma. Hancock and his wife Almira became fast friends with the widowed Virginian.

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

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

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


                                          Brigadier General Lewis Armistead CSA

A Parting of Ways

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

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

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

“Mavourneen, Mavourneen, my sad tears are falling, 

to think that from Erin and thee I must part!

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

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

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

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

“I Hope God Will Strike Me Dead…”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes 

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

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

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

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

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Talking About Bad Ground: Walking the Gettysburg Battlefield, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Wheat Field and more…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about my walk around the areas of the Battle of Gettysburg which transpired on the afternoon of July 1st 1863. Today was my crack at doing my best to experience walking the areas of the battlefield that were contested on July 2nd 1863 when Robert E. Lee ordered James Longstreet to assault the Federal left on the basis of Dick Ewell and Jubal Early’s intransigence in ordering a follow up assault on the Federal right, coupled with inaccurate information Lee had about where the end of the Federal line was. The result was the attacks by Longstreet’s divisions which came perilously close to succeeding but which after some of the bloodiest fighting during any three and a half hour period of the war were repulsed by Union troops the Third, Second, and Fifth Corps.


The engagements of that afternoon and evening are etched in our national conscience. Devil’s Den, Little around Top, the Bloody Wheat Field, and the Peach Orchard, not to mention the fights along Rose’s Woods, the Stoney Ridge, Trostle Farm, and Plum Run are each microcosms of the battle, each with heroes, villains, and tactical geniuses and idiots. But my purpose tonight is not to dissect those battles, I am doing that in a text about the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead it is to reflect upon military history and what the men who fought the battle endured.

If you want to understand military history and want to do so without having actually been to war or having taken the time to try to see and walk the ground the soldiers trod firsthand make a critical mistake, especially in campaigns where the soldiers had to walk into combat. As Guy Sager, who endured the Russian Front as an infantryman in the Second World War wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”


Like yesterday I walked. I left my car at my hotel and put on my boots and my three-day pack from Iraq. I ate a biscuit with a little bit of gravy, and had a small cup of coffee at the hotel before I set off. Since the hotel didn’t serve hardtack it was the closest I could get to a Civil War breakfast. From the hotel it is about a two mile walk to get to General Lee’s HQ on Seminary Ridge. Since Longstreet’s advanced elements were about that far back from Lee’s HQ on that morning I thought that it would approximate the march of some of his troops while understanding that some of his Corps had to march far more just to get there before beginning their movement to the south part of the battlefield.

Upon reaching Seminary Ridge I began walking down what would have been the areas occupied by A.P. Hill’s Third Corps that Longstreet’s troops would have passed as they moved south. The distance that they covered was about five miles as the crow flies, but due to bad staff work and coordination most of the men of John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws divisions had to go further just to get to their start point for the attack. In the case of Evander Law’s brigade of Hood’s division which had the mission of being the furthest south of the attacking Confederates, they had marched over twenty miles before beginning their attack on Little Round Top. When I reached the area that they did I had only walked about seven and a half miles as opposed to the men of Evander Law’s brigade who had marched over twenty miles to get into their attack positions, but as a mater of fact they were almost all a couple of decades or more younger than me.


When I got to the point of the Confederate attack I walked a path that intersected with the soldiers of Law’s brigade and Robertson’s Texas brigade, both of Hood’s division. Hood had vigorously protested the attack to Longstreet due to the bad ground that his troops would have to traverse to reach their objectives. As I wrote in my draft book on the battle:

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

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


One can look at the ground and one can study it on maps, but until you walk that bad ground, even without doing it while subjected to enemy fire you won’t understand how bad it is. I made my way down a walking path and then tried to move off of it in order to get to Devil’s Den. It was awful, reeds, thrushes, a stream, boulders, and heavy brush prevented me from moving forward. So I went back, followed a trail to Big Round Top and then headed over to Devil’s Den. General Hood was right, the ground to use the words that he spoke to Longstreet after he was wounded “it was the worst ground I ever saw” is not an exaggeration. But the diversion allowed me to find the part of the battle where Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth, after having unsuccessfully resisted orders from Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick was forced to attack the well dug in Confederate infantry of Lafayette McLaw’s division on July 3rd.


From Devil’s Den I worked my way to Little Round Top. Most of the front slope is inaccessible due to the National Park Service doing a reclamation project, but there is a trail that leads up to it that many of the Confederates would have used. It was steep, and the ground was rugged. By the time I reached the top near the New York Monument I was exhausted. Despite having been in combat and being shot at I cannot imagine how the Confederate soldiers threw themselves up that hill facing small arms and artillery fire at point blank range. Their cause may have been wrong but they were valiant and tough soldiers. The fact that I am 30 to 40 years older than most of them is irrelevant, that ground was a bitch.


After that I went back over to the part of the battlefield occupied by the famous 20th Maine Infantry under the command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, and then followed their counter-attack down the hill. From there I went back across the rear slope of Devil’s Den to Houck’s Ridge where heavily outnumbered Union Regulars held their own against Hood and McLaw’s soldiers. From there I went over to the Bloody Wheat Field. Like the Bloody Corn Field at Antietam this was a killing ground which exchanged hands several times during the battle, about 30% of the 20,000 or so soldiers engaged there became casualties. When on looks it the field it is hard to imagine that so many men were killed and wounded in such a short amount of time. Walking across the ground I could not help thinking about the thousands of souls who suffered and died there.


From there I continued through Rose’s Woods and the Stoney Ridge where still more Union and Confederate soldiers fell in desperate fights before walking back west to the Peach Orchard. This was another bloody contest in which General Dan Sickles of the Union Third Corps surprised both the Confederates and his own Commander, General George Meade by moving his corps into an exposed position. The battle there cost many lives and apologists for Sickles, Meade, and the Confederates have used for their own benefit. Sickles is claimed to have nearly lost the battle for the Union, but Longstreet said that his movement and defense of the Peach Orchard was key to the Union victory. Again my purpose in this article is not to take a side in that controversy but to imagine the carnage of the battlefield as well as the bravery of the soldiers on it. It is hard to imagine being a Third Corps Soldier at the Peach Orchard as Confederate artilleryman Porter Alexander’s guns swept their positions, nor being one of McLaw’s infantrymen who were being slaughtered by the experienced Union artillerymen of Third Corps and the Artillery Reserve.


By the time I got to the Peach Orchard I was hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and my feet were hurting. I had a choice. I could simply walk up the Emmitsburg Road and head back to the hotel or I could continue to follow the route of the Confederate advance spearheaded by General Barksdale’s brigade. I went back across Excelsior Field and to the Trostle Farm where Sickles fell wounded, before crossing Plum Run and heading up Cemetery Ridge where the Confederate advance was halted. I then walked back to the hotel via Cemetery Ridge, the Taneytown Road and the Soldiers Cemetery, before making a brief stop on East Cemetery Hill.

Since I was exhausted and darkness and rain were beginning to close in I decided not to do my walk around the Culp’s Hill battlefield. That will have to wait for another time. Since the rain is expected to continue into the morning and I hate getting wet I’ll put off my walk around Culp’s Hill until another time.

Tomorrow I will head home early to help Judy do some work around our house. My friend Bill who met me last night had take care of a business emergency call from one of his customers in the Shenandoah Valley this morning and since it’s just me I figure I can head back home. Lord willing there is always tomorrow right?


But as a closing commentary:

In the past couple of months I have walked nearly 50 miles across two of the nation’s bloodiest battlefields, Antietam and Gettysburg. Honestly I don’t know a lot of people in policy making positions who do things like that. The tragedy of the American Civil War and the nearly three quarters of a million soldiers of both sides who died during it seems to me to have been forgotten or relegated to the realm of myth by too many Americans, including the President and many of his advisers and supporters. If we forget the cost and meaning of the Civil War, the validation of the proposition of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal then we do a grave injustice to those who fell in that war, unless we want to support Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens who said that slavery was the Cornerstone of the Confederate nation. The costs to our nation are too great to let the the lessons of our Civil War be relegated to myth or exploited to reimagine a recreated Confederacy dominating the rest of the country are too great to allow the President, who has called violent neo-Confederates and White Supremacists “very fine people” or to fail to resist theocratic people from imposing their religious beliefs on others as did the Southern clergy who helped break the bonds of the Union beginning in their own denominations in the 1840s.

Since I have now eaten and had a few beers  I will take my 57 year old body to bed and get ready to head home in the morning.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Military, Political Commentary

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


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


                                                                            Major General Winfield Scott Hancock USA

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

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

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

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


                                                                               Brigadier General Lewis Armistead CSA

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

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

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

“Mavourneen, Mavourneen, my sad tears are falling, 

to think that from Erin and thee I must part!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes 

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

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

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

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

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Peach Orchard: July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt.6

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

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

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

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

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

It was now time for Longstreet to commit the last brigades of McLaws’ division, the Georgians of William Wofford, and the Mississippians of William Barksdale. These units had been waiting west of the Peach Orchard, and the delay of Barksdale’s brigade getting into the fight had greatly chagrinned Joseph Kershaw when his South Carolinians made their attack without the Mississippi brigade supporting their left. “Longstreet never fully explained how he timed his order for Barksdale’s advance, nor did he specify why he allowed Kershaw to attack without Barksdale’s support.” [1] However, the delay was not easy on McLaws, or his brigade commanders, “particularly William Barksdale, whose thirst for glory was as sharp in Pennsylvania as it had been on his great day at Fredericksburg, where Lee to his delight had let him challenge the entire Yankee army.” [2]During the seemingly endless wait, the aggressive Barksdale plead with both McLaws and Longstreet to be allowed to attack, telling Longstreet, “I wish you would let me go in General!” “Wait a little,” answered Longstreet, “we are all going in presently.” [3] In the acrimonious post-war feud between the Confederate generals, Longstreet blamed McLaws for the delay, and Lafayette McLaws blamed Alexander’s slowness in bringing up his artillery for it, and while Alexander complained of “four partial attacks of two brigades each [in Hood and McLaw’s divisions], requiring each an hour and a half to be gotten into action; where one advance by the eight brigades would have won a quicker victory with far less loss.” [4]

However, McLaws was now ready, and Longstreet gave the order to attack. Porter Alexander’s massed artillery opened the battle for the Peach Orchard opening fire on the Federal troops with fifty-four guns which were drawn up to within five hundred yards of the Federal position. Henry Hunt saw the Confederate build-up and brought up more artillery and by four o’clock and they went “into battery not a minute too soon, the Rebel artillery that Hunt had spied moving into position let loose with a converging fire” [5] against Sickles’ troops. The Confederate artilleryman “hoped, with my 54 guns & close range, to make it short, sharp, and decisive. At close ranges there was less inequality in our guns, & especially in our ammunition, & I thought if I could ever overwhelm & crush them I would do it now.” [6]

The effect the barrage was dramatic as the Confederate guns blasted away at the men of Graham’s brigade of Birney’s division who held the angle of the Federal salient. Even so, Henry Hunt had managed to get “an impressive array of ordnance totaling thirty-two guns ready to take on the looming Confederate attack.” [7] By the time McLaws’s infantry attacked, “the three batteries in the Peach Orchard area had been increased to seven. A virtual solid line of forty Federal guns extended south from the Sherfy house to the Peach Orchard and east from there along the Wheatfield Road to Trostle’s Woods and the stony hill.” [8] Exposed to the massed fire of Alexander’s batteries the Federal artillery replied furiously and with more effects than Alexander or the other Confederate commanders expected. Alexander recalled that “they really surprised me, both in the number of guns that they developed, & the way they stuck to them. I don’t think that there ever in our war a hotter, harder, sharper artillery afternoon than this.” [9] In the artillery slugfest Alexander reported losing 144 men and 116 horses to the Federal batteries, He wrote, “So accurate was the enemy’s fire, that two of my guns were fairly dismounted, and the loss of men so great that I had to ask General Barksdale, whose brigade was lying down close to the wood, for help to handle the heavy 24-pounder howitzers of Moody’s battery.” [10] He noted that it was a higher toll than the artillery had suffered at Antietam during the entire battle. Henry Hunt’s gunners tenaciously held on to their exposed positions and with “waves of gray rolling all around them, some of the batteries in the forefront of the line went under, sucked into the vortex of death and devastation. Yet despite the opposition and the ninety-two-degree heat…other batteries held one stubbornly, hurling single and double charges of canister at their opponents, determined to seal up the holes in Meade’s line created by Dan Sickles’s impetuosity.” [11]

general-barksdale

Leading the assault now was the battle-hardened Mississippi brigade of Brigadier General William Barksdale, a former congressional colleague of Sickles whose time in Congress was not without a journey or two into infamy. Barksdale was born in Smyrna Tennessee in 1822. He was a Mississippi lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. Barksdale served in Mexico as a quartermaster officer of a militia unit, but though he was an administrator he did not shy away from battle. He “frequently appeared at the front during heavy fighting, often coatless and carrying a large sword.” [12]

While most of the former Regular Army Confederate officers supported and defended the institution of slavery and secession, many were less than passionate about either and would have preferred that the Union had been preserved. However, Barksdale was one of the few generals serving in Lee’s Army who in the decade leading up to the war had become “violently pro-slavery and secessionist.” [13] But his views regarding secession had evolved since he had first entered politics. When Barksdale entered Mississippi politics he was not a proponent of secession. In fact he was solidly against it and in one debate remarked that “no occasion for the right of [secession] existed.” [14] However, over time he became a reluctant supporter of secession and eventually “came to passionately embrace the Southern dream of an independent nation.” [15]

Barksdale was a passionate and sometimes violent man. As a state legislator and Congressman Barksdale was involved in a number of violent altercations with political opponents. In an 1853 incident at Vicksburg he was attacked and stabbed a number of times before knocking his assailant, his former commander during the War with Mexico out with one punch.

However, the incident for which Barksdale became most famous was an altercation which occurred when Representative Preston Brooks nearly killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. During that brawl Representative Elihu Washburne of Illinois landed a blow on Barksdale that sent Barksdale and his previously unsuspected wig flying. Someone snatched the wig from the floor and “waved it about like a captured flag.” When Barksdale finally recaptured the hairpiece he “and plopped it on his head wrong side out, the absurdity of the scene giving the combatants pause.” [16] As the scrum broke up Barksdale was left “sputtering about his shame.” [17]

At the outbreak of the war Barksdale volunteered for service and enlisted as a private. Shortly thereafter he was elected Colonel of the 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. Barksdale took command of the Mississippi Brigade during the Seven Days Battles at Malvern Hill and he was promoted to Brigadier General in August 1862.

At Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he and his Mississippi brigade were always in the thick of the fight. “He possessed a “thirst for battle glory” wrote one Mississippian….Inspiring by example, Barksdale was a leader who dared to go where many other high-ranking officers would not go in a crisis situation.” [18] He had a strong bond with his soldiers which made them willing to follow him anywhere, one soldier wrote “of the comfort of his men he was most considerate, would tolerate no neglect of denial of their rights, or imposition of anyone.” [19]

The other brigade commander of McLaws’s division final strike was Brigadier General William Wofford. Wofford was the newest of McLaws’ brigade commanders, and in many respects was Barksdale’s opposite in temperament and politics, particularly in regard to secession. Wofford was born in Habersham County, Georgia in 1824. Educated a local schools “he studied law, was elected to the bar, and began a practice in Cassville, Georgia.” [20] In addition to his law practice Wofford served as the editor for the Cassville Standard newspaper, and was a respected leader in his community. Though he had no military education Wofford volunteered to serve during the Mexican War, as a Captain of “a battalion of Georgia mounted volunteers” [21] where he experienced a great deal of fighting.

Wofford was considered a man of “high moral bearing…of the strictest sobriety, and, indeed of irreproachable moral character.” [22] Demonstrating the political tensions of the day Wofford was a “staunch Unionist Democrat” who “opposed secession and voted against it at the Georgia secession convention.” [23]

Despite his opposition to secession, Wofford, like others, considered loyalty to his state a higher ideal than to the Union, and when Georgia seceded he volunteered for service and was “elected colonel of the first Georgia regiment to volunteer for the war.” [24] Despite the contradiction of volunteering to serve his home state, Wofford “was a decided Union man from first to last during the whole war” and saw “with exceptional prescience…the certain fatality” of secession, but once the deed was done, he closed ranks…” [25] This may seem hard to comprehend in our present day, to to men like Wofford it was not. When he went to war Wofford served well as the regimental commander of the 18th Georgia regiment, and served as an acting brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Now the able and experienced the Georgia Unionist was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in January 1863 and given command of the brigade of Thomas Cobb who had been mortally wounded at Fredericksburg.

These two men would lead Longstreet’s final attack of July 2nd 1863. The fiery Mississippian and the pragmatic Georgian would lead their devoted soldiers in one of the fiercest charges of the war, one which pushed their Federal opponents to the limit before it was repulsed on the southern end of Cemetery Ridge.

When the order to attack was relayed to Barksdale by McLaws’ aide-de-camp, Captain G.B. Lamar reported, when I carried him [Barksdale] the order to advance, his face was radiant with joy. He was in front of his brigade, his hat off, and his long white hair reminded me of ‘the white plume of Navarre.’” [26] Barksdale told his regimental commanders “The line before you must be broken – to do so let every office and man animate his comrades by his personal presence in the front line.” [27]

As McLaws division attacked, Barksdale’s Mississippians broke through Federal salient, “charged straight through a picket fence, knocking it down by sheer impact, and they shot and stabbed a Pennsylvania regiment that was dug in behind it, and after a flurry of hand-to-hand fighting under the shattered peach trees the Union defenders turned and ran and the peach orchard was gone.” [28] Porter Alexander wrote, “McLaws’s division charged past our guns, and the enemy deserted their line in confusion. Then I believed that Providence was indeed “taking the proper view,” and that the war was very nearly over.” [29] But like many that day Alexander’s instinct was wrong.

Barksdale’s Mississippians drove forward through the Peach Orchard, through the men of Graham’s brigade, cheering and making the rebel yell, continuing to Plum Run, driving broken Federal regiments and batteries before them. “The Mississippi brigade drove forward at the double-quick and “literally rushed the goal,” tipping the rebel yell “with the savage courage of baited bulls” [30] Barksdale continued to lead his brigade forward though it had suffered significant casualties and was losing cohesion. Barksdale insisted on continuing to advance and would not stop to take time to reform his lines shouting at one of his regimental commanders “No! Crowd them – we have them on the run. Move your regiments.” [31] General Graham, attempted to rally his men and rode forward where he had his mount shoot out from under him. He then encountered Barksdale’s Mississippians who called on him to surrender. Graham, who had taken his adjutant’s mount replied “I won’t surrender. I’m a Brigadier General, and I won’t surrender.” [32] Undeterred the Mississippians shot his second mount out from under him and took him prisoner. “Graham had followed Sickles from their old days together in New York all the way to the Peach Orchard, and now would spend the next several months in captivity as his reward.” [33] As the Mississippians drove the remnants of Graham’s brigade to the rear, “the shattered line was retreating in separate streams[,] artillerists heroically clinging to their still smoking guns, and brave little infantry squads assisting their endangered cannon over soft ground…” [34]

As the Third Corps line collapsed the Trostle farm where Sickles had made his headquarters became hot to remain in. At about six-thirty P.M. Sickles was riding up to a hill just above the Trostle barn which would allow him a better view of his troops, the General was stuck by a Confederate round shot which stuck him in his right leg while leaving his mount unharmed. Sickles wrote:

“I never knew I was hit. I was riding the lines and was tremendously interested in the terrific fighting which was going on along my front. Suddenly I was conscious of dampness along the lower part of my right leg, and I ran my hand down the leg of my high-top boots and pulling it out I was surprised to see it dripping with blood. Soon I noticed the leg would not perform its usual functions. I lifted it carefully over my horse’s neck and slid to the ground. Then I was conscious of approaching weakness, and the last thing I remembered was designating the surgeons of my staff who should examine the wound and treat it. They found that the knee had been smashed, probably by a piece of shell, and that the leg had been broken above and also below the knee; but while all this damage had been done I had not been unhorsed, and never knew exactly what hurt had been received.” [35]

fig23

Sickles ordered Major Tremain to find General Birney and said “Tell General Birney he must take command.” [36] as a tourniquet was placed on his leg and his soldiers prepared to evacuate him to the rear, thinking that his wound might well be mortal. When the stretcher bearers arrived the wounded general, never missing a chance to build upon his legacy, “had an NCO light his cigar, and that was how he was carried away, cap over his eyes, cigar in mouth, hands folded on chest.” [37] Sickles was taken to the rear by ambulance where his leg was amputated in a field hospital that night. A soldier of the 17th Maine wrote, “Our last sight of him in the field ambulance is one we shall long remember….He was sitting in an ambulance smoking and holding his shattered limb and appeared as cool as though nothing had happened.” [38] His surgeon was using a new method of amputation and he had read that “the Army Medical Museum in Washington was advertising for samples, and so, instead of throwing the limb into a heap, he had it wrapped in a wet blanket and placed in a small coffin for shipment to Washington.” [39] In the years following Sickles paid his leg many visits and it can still be viewed along with a round shot similar to the one that wounded him at National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

The disaster that engulfed Sickles’ Third Corps now threatened the Federal center. Meade and Hancock rushed reinforcements in the form of Fifth Corps and much of Second Corps. The tip of the Sickle’s salient at Sherfy’s Peach Orchard manned by Graham’s brigade of David Birney’s division was overwhelmed and retreated in disorder. Once “the angle had been breached, the lines connecting to it on the east and north were doomed.” [40] This exposed the left of Humphrey’s division and it too was forced to retreat under heavy pressure sustaining heavy casualties. The final collapse of Humphrey’s division a large gap opened in the Federal lines between the elements of Fifth Corps fighting along Devil’s Den and Little Round Top and Second Corps along the central portion of Cemetery Ridge.

The Battle on the Plum Run Line July 2nd

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

“The Federals…opened on these doomed regiments a raking fire of grape and canister, at short distance, which proved most disastrous, and for a time destroyed their usefulness. Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell….” [41]

mcgilvery

Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilveryThis Fiery Line

The Confederates believed that they had cut the Union line in half and advanced through the Peach Orchard and across the Wheat Field toward Cemetery Ridge. But they were to befall another furiously conducted defense, this by artillery hastily collected along what is known as the Plum Run Line.

Among the artillery called into action was the First Volunteer Brigade under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery. McGilvery was a Maine native and a former sea captain who had left the high seas to volunteer to serve the Union cause, and it was fortunate for the Union that this officer, knew how to inspire his artillerymen feats many thought unattainable in combat. On obtaining his commission as a Captain of Maine Volunteers, McGilvery organized and commanded the 6th Battery of the 1st Maine Volunteer artillery in January 1862.

McGilvery commanded that unit with distinction in a number of engagements. At the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9th 1863, “During the battery’s baptismal fire, McGilvery and his Maine cannoneers, in one general’s opinion, had “saved the division from being destroyed or taken prisoners.” [42] A few days later, operating without infantry support yet again, “The battery performed spectacularly during the Second Manassas campaign, bringing recognition to its salty commander.” [43] He was promoted to Major in early 1863 and assumed command of the brigade during the Chancellorsville campaign. Following Chancellorsville McGilvery was given command of the newly formed First Volunteer Brigade of the Artillery Reserve. Barley a month later as the Army of the Potomac pursued Lee’s Army through Virginia and into Maryland he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

McGilvery’s battalion was directed by Brigadier general Tyler of the Artillery Reserve to assist Sickles, and Henry Hunt met them on the road and directed them into position. McGilvery’s batteries arrived in the sector between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. and “he was told by Sickles to examine the ground and pace the guns where he saw fit.” [44] He placed his four batters, some twenty-two guns in the Peach Orchard to support the artillery of Third Corps. Three batteries were placed in the Orchard itself near the Emmitsburg Road, and the fourth, the 9th Massachusetts under the command of Captain John Bigelow was deployed near the Trostle Farm. Without infantry support “It would be their job to hold the road down to the stony ridge by themselves.” [45] “Though hurt by enfilading fire from some of Alexander’s batteries, McGilvery’s guns in company with others from the reserve and the Third Corps had exchanged blow for blow with Confederate artillerymen for about two hours and had broken up the movements of some enemy infantry columns.” [46] These batteries were key in the first repulse of Kershaw and Semmes’ brigades at the stony ridge and which mortally wounded Semmes. McGilvery wrote:

“At about 5 o’clock a heavy column of rebel infantry made its appearance in a grain field, about 850 yards in front, moving at quick time toward the woods on our left, where infantry fighting was going on (front of the Round Tops). A well directed fire from all the batteries was brought to bear on them, which destroyed their order of march and drove many back into the woods on the right… In a few minutes another and larger column appeared, at about 750 yards, presenting a slight left flank to our position. I immediately trained the entire line of guns upon them and opened fire with various kinds of ammunition. The column continued to move on at double quick until it reached a barn and farm house immediately in front of my left battery (Bigelow’s) about n450 years distant. When it came to a halt (a shot had killed its commanding officer) I gave them canister and solid shot with such good effect, that, I am sure that several hundred were put hors du combat in a short time….” [47]

The Union batteries continued a destructive fire against various Confederate regiments and brigades but suffered from Confederate artillery fire and close in infantry assaults. Finally, “the pressure of the rebels became too great, and all of McGilvery’s batteries except Bigelow’s retired from this part of the field.” [48] Bigelow wrote, “No friendly supports of any kind were in sight…but Johnnie Rebs in great numbers. Bullets were coming in to our midst from many directions and a Confederate battery added to our difficulties.” [49]

McGilvery rode into the maelstrom of the retreating Third Corps soldiers and guns broken by Alexander’s withering fire. As he rode to and from each battery his horse was hit four times by enemy fire, but the salty artilleryman remained unwounded despite “exposing himself to enemy missiles on all parts of the field from Cemetery Ridge to the Peach Orchard.” [50] As he surveyed the scene he realized that there was no infantry in the immediate area that could plug the gap in the line. Taking the initiative, McGilvery acted instantly on his own authority to make a decision that in all likelihood saved the Union line.

In the confusion of the Third Corps disintegration, with soldiers fighting their way back to Cemetery Ridge and small groups and batteries attempting to keep their guns from being captured, McGilvery rode up to Bigelow and his 9th Massachusetts battery, which now stood alone at the Trostle farm. McGilvery told Bigelow, who was starting to make preparations to withdraw back to Cemetery Ridge, that he and his battery must “hold at all hazards.” [51]

Bigelow later explained that McGilvery told him that “for 4 or 500 yards in my rear there were no Union troops.” He was then instructed by McGilvery “For heavens [sic] sake hold that line…until he could get some other batteries in position…” [52] In another account Bigelow recorded “Captain Bigelow…there is not an infantryman back of you along the whole line which Sickles moved out; you must remain where you are and hold your position at all hazards, and sacrifice your battery if need be, until at least I can find some batteries to put in position and cover you.” [53]

The order could have been considered suicidal, the 21st Mississippi was nearly upon them and they were but one battery and barely one hundred troops. Bigelow did not hesitate to obey; he brought his guns into line at the Trostle house “facing one section slightly to the southwest and the other two sections directly into the path of the oncoming Confederates.” [54]

Henry Hunt described the action, “Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts made a stand close by the Trostle house in the corner of the through which he had withdrawn with prolonges fixed. Although already much cut up he was directed by McGilvery to hold that point until a line of artillery could be formed in front of the wood beyond Plum Run; that is, on what we now call the “Plum Run line.” [55]

fig20

Bigelow’s Drawing of the action at Trostle Farm

Bigelow’s artillerymen fought like demons he described the effect of his fire on Kershaw’s South Carolinians “the Battery immediately enfiladed them with a rapid fire of canister, which tore through their ranks and sprinkled the field with their dead and wound, until they disappeared in the woods on our left, apparently a mob.” [56] They poured a merciless stream of fire into the advancing Confederates until “they had exhausted their supply of canister and the enemy began to close in on his flanks.” [57] A German born gunner noted “we mowed them down like grass, but they were thick and rushed up.” [58] A hand to hand fight ensued among the guns but the Massachusetts men escaped losing 28 of its 104 men engaged,[59] their brave commander Bigelow was wounded and nearly captured but one of his men helped him to the rear.

Their sacrifice was not in vain. They bought McGilvery an additional half an hour to set up a new line of guns along Plum Run, it was a masterful exercise of improvisation under incredible pressure. “This line was formed by collecting the serviceable batteries, that were brought off, with which, and with Dow’s Maine battery fresh from the reserve, the pursuit was checked. Finally some twenty-five guns formed a solid mass, which unsupported by infantry held this part of the line, aided General Humprheys’s movements, and covered by its fire the abandoned guns until the could be brought off, as all were, except perhaps one. When, after accomplishing its purpose, all that was left of Bigelow’s battery was withdrawn.” [60] Hunt praised the effort of Bigelow’s men to give McGilvery the necessary time to form his new gun line. “As the battery had sacrificed itself for the safety of the line, its work is specially noticed as typical of the service that artillery is not infrequently called to render, and did render in other instances at Gettysburg besides this one.”[61]

Barksdale’s brigade did not pause and continued in their relentless advance towards Cemetery Ridge, sweeping Union stragglers up as they moved forward led by their irrepressible Colonel. Before them was McGilvery’s new line, hastily cobbled together from any batteries and guns that he could find. Initially the line was composed of about fifteen guns of four different batteries and McGilvery was he was joined by two more batteries. This gave him a total of about twenty-five guns on the new line. Subjected to intense Confederate artillery fire and infantry attacks McGilvery’s batteries held on even as their numbers were reduced until only six guns remained operational. “Expertly directed by McGilvery a few stouthearted artillerymen continued to blaze away and keep the low bushes in front of them clear of lurking sharpshooters. Although they had no infantry supports, they somehow managed to create the illusion that the woods to their rear were filled with them, and they closed the breach until the Union high command could bring up reinforcements.” [62]

However, it was McGilvery who recognized the emergency confronting the line and on his own took responsibility to rectify the situation. He courageously risked “his career in assuming authority beyond his rank” [63] and without his quick action, courage under fire and expert direction of his guns Barksdale’s men might have completed the breakthrough that could have won the battle for General Lee despite all of the mistakes committed by his senior leaders that day.

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

As Barksdale’s Mississippians advanced, Wofford’s Georgians moved forward on their right. It was the advance of Wofford’s men that caused Crawford’s men to pull back from the stony hill and the Wheatfield. That brigade “drove into the gap between the Peach Orchard and de Trobriand’s old position on Stony Hill. The Georgians were an especially welcome sight to Kershaw’s weary South Carolinians, trying to sort themselves out on Rose’s farm.” [64] The remnants of Kershaw’s brigade joined in the advance to the right of Wofford and forced the survivors of Zook, Kelly, and Sweitzer’s brigades from the stony hill. The Confederates advanced driving the Union troops before them and plunged into the valley at the base of Little Round Top. Here that were met by the fresh division of the Pennsylvania Reserves which launched a counterattack, “driving the Southerners back across the ridge and into the Wheatfield…and the fighting on that section of the battlefield on that section abated into deadly sharpshooting.” [65] Longstreet, knowing that nothing more could be done in the sector ordered his troops back.

Barksdale’s advance also affected the Humphrey’s division which up to this point had not been severely engaged and had acquitted itself well against elements of Richard Anderson’s division of A.P. Hill’s corps. When Sickles was wounded he turned command of the Third Corps over to Birney. In spite of being flanked by Barksdale and pressed by Anderson, Humphreys planned to counter attack, but Birney order him back to Cemetery Ridge. One of Humphreys’ aides recalled the scene, “The crash of artillery and the tearing rattle of our musketry was staggering, and added to the noise on our side, the advancing roar & cheer of the enemy’s masses, coming on like devils incarnate.” [66] Pressed hard, Humphreys pulled his troops back in a delaying action and the division suffered about 1,200 casualties, “but it came out intact with morale sound and still full of fight.” [67]

fig22

The High Water Mark

Led by their exuberant commander the brigade pushed past the Trostle farm and into the Plum Run Valley, continuing to take casualties from the stubborn survivors of Third Corps. Now unsupported Barksdale continued to press forward toward cemetery Ridge, a soldier of the 13th Mississippi “recalled the sight of the mounted Barksdale encouraging the boys onward, yelling, “Forward through the brushes.” [68] Barksdale believed that he and his Mississippians could still wrest victory from defeat and he kept urging his decimated brigade forward in spite of the odds.

However, the tide was about to shift for the last time, as Barksdale’s survivors reached the lower portion of Cemetery Ridge a fresh Federal brigade arrived. Commanded by Colonel George Willard this brigade, struck the Mississippians. Willard’s brigade was seeking redemption having been one of the units forced to surrender at Harpers Ferry the previous September. His troops were fresh and full of fight fell upon the Mississippians. “Taking advantage of the downhill grade, they charged headlong into the right flank of Barksdale’s brigade.” [69] As they did so the New Yorkers shouted, “Remember Harper’s Ferry! Remember Harpers Ferry!” “A short but terrible contest ensured in the bushes in the swale” and the Mississippians; “fire slackened and they began to give back.” As they did, “large numbers of them, staring at “the very points of our bayonets,” surrendered and “lay down in ranks.” [70]

The attack by Willard’s brigade broke the Mississippians who had swept so many others before them, but now Barksdale’s troops were spent and disorganized having reached their culminating point of their attack. When the two sides collided in the swale, “the New Yorkers were at the peak of their frenzy, while the Mississippians had spent theirs.” [71] Barksdale “in his gold-braided roundabout jacket, was “almost frantic with rage” at the repulse of his brigade, and “was riding at the front of his troops” and trying to make his men stand.” [72] He was now a conspicuous target and the men of 125th and 126th New York opened fire on him, hitting him “in the chest, puncturing a lung, and in his left leg fracturing a bone.” [73] The gallant officer fell from his horse, mortally wounded as his troops driven back by the New Yorkers. A party of Union soldiers recovered him and took him to a Federal field hospital where he “told his minders “tell my wife I fought like a man and I will die like one.” [74] The former Congressman died the next “morning, his thirst for glory slaked at last.” [75] His final opponent, Colonel George Willard did not live long to savor the redemption that he and his brigade won that afternoon as he was hit “full in the face by a fragment of a shell and died instantly.” [76]

To the north of the salient Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps made a disjointed and uncoordinated attack at toward Cemetery Ridge. Due to apparently garbled orders from Anderson, neither Carnot Posey’s or “Little Billy” Mahone’s brigades advanced. Ambrose Wright’s troops went forward, but his claims to have breached the Federal line are romantic fiction at best, and David Lang’s tiny Florida brigade made only a desultory advance before retiring. Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade advanced unsupported up to Cemetery Ridge which due to the dispatch of troops to the Peach Orchard was only lightly defended.

When Hancock saw the threat he ordered the 1st Minnesota commanded by Colonel William Covill, all of 262 men to charge the advancing Confederates. Hancock told Covill: “Colonel, do you see those colors?…Then take them.” [77] Second Lieutenant Lochran of the regiment remembered the moment “Every man realized in an instant what that order meant, – death or wounds to us all; the sacrifice of the regiment to gain a few minutes time to save the position, and probably the battlefield…” [78] Covill’s tiny force “of a little over three hundred men tore into Wilcox’s right and stopped it cold.” [79] But the cost to the regiment was high, “Covill and all but three of his officers were killed or wounded, together with 215 of his men.” [80] Covill’s gallant troops bought time for Hancock to bring up Gibbon’s division which forth a heavy fire of musketry and were joined by the artillery which just minutes before had ravaged Barksdale’s Mississippians Wilcox, now staggered Wilcox’s regiments. Having taken a fair number of casualties he saw that he had no help or support from the rest of Anderson’s division, and reluctantly he withdrew his brigade from Cemetery Ridge .He later reported, “With a second supporting line the heights could have been carried. Without support on either my right or my left, my men were withdrawn to prevent their entire destruction or capture.” [81]

By the evening fresh Federal troops directed by Meade, Hancock and Hunt poured into the sector. Dan Sickles’ impetuous gamble was a near disaster for the Army of the Potomac, but the cool determination of his soldiers, the outstanding work of the Federal artillery, and the active leadership provided by Meade, Hancock, Warren, and Hunt enabled the army to repulse the Confederate assault. But it had been “another close call, staving off another Chancellorsville through unscripted decisions and split second timing.” [82] By the end of the day despite sustaining massive casualties the Federal Army held its ground and the Confederates, with the exception of their lodgment at Devil’s Den returned to their start positions.

The fighting around the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield and Devil’s Den was confusing as units of both sides became mixed up and cohesion was lost. Both sides sustained heavy casualties but Lee’s Army could ill afford to sustain such heavy losses. By the end of the evening both McLaws and Hood’s divisions were spent having lost almost half of their troops as casualties. Hood was severely wounded early in the fight, and many other Confederate commanders were killed or mortally wounded including the irrepressible Barksdale and Paul Semmes of McLaws’ division.

Amid the carnage there were acts of kindness shown towards one another by men who not long before had been mortal enemies. Private John Coxe of the 2nd South Carolina wrote:

“I felt sorry for the wounded enemy, but we could do little to help them. Just before dark I passed a Federal officer sitting on the ground with his back resting against a large oak tree. He called me to him, and when I went he politely asked me to give him some water. There was precious little in my canteen, but I let him empty it. His left leg was crushed just above the ankle, the foot lying on the ground sidewise. He asked me to straighten it up, and as I did so I asked him if the movement hurt him. “There isn’t much feeling in it now,” he replied quietly. Then before leaving him I said, “Isn’t this war awful?” “Yes, yes,” said he, “and all of us should be in a better business….” [83]

That evening the exhausted Confederate troops consolidated their positions on the few places where they had made lodgments in near the Federal line, tending to their wounded and seeking shelter among the rocks, trees and the dead. The Federal troops tended to the wounded around their lines while Henry Hunt’s artillerymen repaired their batteries as the night fell and their generals took counsel.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.193

[2] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.136

[3] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgment by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.580

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.193

[5] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns p.165

[6] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.239

[7] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery at Gettysburg p.119

[8] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day p. 312

[9] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.239

[10] Alexander, Edward Porter. The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting 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.360

[11] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns p.167

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

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

[14] Tucker, Phillip Thomas. Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2nd, 1863 Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia and Oxford 2013 p.14

[15] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.15

[16] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.144

[17] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.140

[18] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.18

[19] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.17

[20] Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of Confederate Commanders Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 1959, 1987 p.343

[21] Ibid. Warner. Generals in Gray p.343

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

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

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

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

[26] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Army at Gettysburg p.221

[27] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 193

[28] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.295

[29] Ibid. Alexander The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting at Gettysburg p.360

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.308

[31] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.368

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.310

[33] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 202

[34] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.368

[35] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 202

[36] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.217

[37] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.288

[38] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 207

[39] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.289

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

[41] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.335

[42] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.188

[43] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery at Gettysburg p.97

[44] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery at Gettysburg p.97

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg p.307

[46] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.415

[47] Bigelow, John The Peach Orchard Gettysburg, July 2nd 1863, Explained by Official Reports and Maps. Primary Source edition., Originally published by Kimball-Storer Co. Minneapolis 1910 p.20

[48] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.416

[49] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.384

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

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

[52] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg p.314

[53] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.385

[54] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.385

[55] 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.310

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

[57] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.416

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion pp.314-315

[59] Ibid. Hunt Proceeded to Cemetery Hill p.379

[60] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg p.310

[61] Ibid. Hunt Proceeded to Cemetery Hill p.379

[62] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.417

[63] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.417

[64] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.302

[65] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.262

[66] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.379

[67] Nofi, Albert A. The Gettysburg Campaign June – July 1863 Third Edition Combined Publishing, Conshohocken, PA 1986 p.128

[68] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.221

[69] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.417

[70] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.325

[71] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.388

[72] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.325

[73] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.262

[74] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.325

[75] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.509

[76] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.231

[77] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.393

[78] Ibid. Gragg The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader p.222

[79] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.423

[80] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.509

[81] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.128

[82] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.334

[83] Ibid. Gragg The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader p.205

 

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July 2nd at Gettysburg: Part 1, Preparations

The Enemy is There

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

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

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

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

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Preparations

On July 2nd 1863 as on the first day of battle and throughout the Gettysburg campaign issues of command and control would be of paramount importance to both armies. On the second day the glaring deficiencies of Robert E Lee and his corps commanders command and control at Gettysburg would again be brought to the fore. Likewise the exemplary command of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade, Winfield Scott Hancock, staff artillery officer Henry Hunt and staff engineer Gouverneur Warren exemplified the best aspects of what we now define as Mission Command.

The definition of mission command as currently defined in American doctrine helps us in some ways to understand what happened on July 2nd 1863. Without imposing current doctrine on the leaders at Gettysburg, the definition describes the timeless aspect of leadership in battle and the importance of the human dynamic in war.

“Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based upon mission-type orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission. Essential to mission command is the thorough knowledge and understanding of the commander’s intent at every level of command.” [1]

It is with this in mind that we look at the actions of various commanders during the critical second day of the battle of Gettysburg, and as we do so we also try to examine their lives and in a sense try to bring them to life. It is important because the actions of a number of commanders, including Robert E. Lee, George Meade, James Longstreet, Dan Sickles, and to a lesser degree A.P. Hill would be the subject of a great amount of controversy and partisan bickering that still lingers a century and a half later.

Confederate Consternation

Before the sun rose on July 2nd James Longstreet took stock of the situation. The burly commander of First Corps was now working to bring the divisions of McLaws and Hood from their bivouac sites west of Herr’s Ridge and onto the battlefield. While his divisions moved out, Longstreet met with Lee to again express his opposition to taking the offensive. He again brought up the subject of making a “broad turning movement around the enemy’s left flank that would place the Confederate army between the Federal capital and George Meade’s army.” [2] As he did the previous night, Lee again rebuffed Longstreet’s suggestion and apparently frustrated by Longstreet’s continued resistance to his decision Lee “walked off by himself, away from the conflict.” [3] Lee then left Longstreet and went to confer with Dick Ewell to discuss the possibility of attacking the Federal right, and he sent his staff topographical engineer, Captain Samuel Johnson to reconnoiter the Federal left.

At this point Lee had not yet decided where to attack. Again he conferred with Ewell about the possibility of attacking the Federal right, but Ewell again dissuaded him from doing so. Ewell insisted that a “daylight attack on Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill would be costly and of doubtful success.” [4] For a second time Lee brought up the possibility of Ewell redeploying his corps from its positions around the “fishhook” of the Federal line to the west where they could better support an assault on the Federal left, but as he had the previous night “Ewell persuaded the general commanding to leave his corps where it was.” [5] In doing so Ewell promised to create a demonstration on the Federal right when he heard Longstreet’s attack commence. But, “according to Fitzhugh Lee, He decided to turn Meade’s left with Longstreet’s corps, demonstrate against his centre and right with Hill’s and Ewell’s corps, and then convert this demonstration into a real attack directly Longstreet’s attack succeeded.” [6] Ewell’s corps was to be the “anvil against which Longstreet would smash whatever was left of the 1st and 11th Corps, or any other Union reinforcements might have arrived overnight.” [7] However, the position of Second Corps around the fishhook was a poor position. “It greatly extended the army’s lines, and confronted the most defensible part of the Federal lines.” [8] Likewise, the position offered little advantage for Ewell’s artillery.

By the time Lee returned to his headquarters the divisions of Hood and McLaws, with the exception of Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, “which had been “left by Hood on picket” below the pike stretching back to Chambersburg, and was far behind the others” [9] were marching onto the field and halted just west of Seminary Ridge while the Confederate leaders conferred. But Longstreet was also troubled by the absence of George Pickett’s division of Virginians, which due to the lack of cavalry had been left at Chambersburg to guard the Confederate supply trains and would not be available for action until late in the evening.

Captain Johnson returned to the headquarters following his reconnaissance of the Federal left. He reported that the Federal left was weakly held and that there were no Federal troops on the Round Tops. But Johnson’s reconnaissance was not nearly as thorough or accurate as he reported. Johnson made “no detailed sketches of the hazardously rough ground at the southern end of the Federal line” and gave “an inadequate picture of the obstacles to mass troop movement.”[10] Despite getting up to the Round Tops he did not observe the large number of Union troops from Sickles’ Third Corps in the woods to the north and northwest of Little Round Top. The latter omission appears to be more to bad timing, lack of attention, Johnson’s lack of familiarity with the terrain and lack of experience in conducting a reconnaissance that should have been undertaken by cavalry scouts.

Johnson arrived with his report as Lee was conferring with Hill and Longstreet. He traced his route on the map. Johnson’s replies to Lee’s questions satisfied Lee that the Federal left was again up in the air and unprotected as it had been at Chancellorsville. However, this was not the case. First, had Johnson taken the route that he described he “would have come upon the encampments of the Third Corps, located north and west of Little Round Top. He would have also encountered trouble from John Buford’s cavalry vedettes, some of whom were posted about Sherfy’s peach orchard.” [11] Johnson claimed to have gotten up to Little Round Top, and if he did the only way he could not have seen Federal troops was if he had gotten there “just after the guarding troops of the night had been withdrawn and just before their replacements had arrived.” [12] Even if that was the case it would have been hard for Johnson to miss the Third Corps troop bivouacs. The Federals might have been obscured from the Captain’s view by the morning mist, but “Johnson should have detected the noise of men and animals, drums and bugles.” [13] A more likely scenario is that the inexperienced Johnson went further south and scaled Big Round Top from which his report of seeing no troops would have been completely accurate, but the inaccuracies of Johnson’s report were to cause serious complications and consequences for Lee’s plan.

Johnson’s report convinced Lee of the soundness of his plan to roll up the Federal left. He again conferred with Longstreet and announced his intention to attack Meade’s left flank with Hood and McLaws divisions. Lee went directly to McLaws and described his plan. He desired McLaws division to move south to a position perpendicular to the Emmitsburg Road south of the Peach Orchard. McLaws said it was possible but wanted to make a personal reconnaissance and Longstreet objected to the position that Lee indicated for McLaws division. Longstreet said “No, sir, I do not want wish for you to leave your division,” and tracing with his finger a line perpendicular to that drawn on the map, said, “I wish your division placed so.” “No, General,” Lee objected, “I wish it placed just so.” [14] Lee’s statement ended the conversation and after another consult with Ewell, Lee returned to lay out his plan. As he left for his division McLaws recalled that “General Longstreet appeared if he was irritated and annoyed,… but the cause I did not ask.” [15]

The divisions of Hood and McLaws were still about a mile and a half to the rear of the Confederate line. As soon as those divisions were in position they would march south while attempting to remain unseen by Federal troops on the high ground to the east, and then wheel left and come up the Emmitsburg Road into what Lee believed was the rear of the Federal position. After his brief consultation with Ewell regarding the security of his left flank, Lee returned to check the progress of Longstreet. Longstreet had not been completely inactive. He had already sent out his artillery led by Porter Alexander to find a suitable position to support the impending attack, but he did not make any further consultations with Hood of McLaws, nor send any officers to make a further reconnaissance until receiving definitive orders from Lee to launch the attack. For some reason, perhaps his misunderstanding with Lee concerning the nature of the campaign, or Lee’s rejection of his course of action, Longstreet did not demonstrate his usual energy and the careful preparation that he showed in previous actions. His biographer, Jeffry Wert noted “He allowed his disagreement with Lee to affect his conduct….The concern for detail, the regard for timely information, and the need for preparation were absent. Or, as Moxley Sorrell admitted, “there was apparent apathy in his movements. They lacked the fire and point of his usual bearing on the battlefield.” [16]

Like all movements to contact made by large armies was fraught with logistical complications and irritating, yet unavoidable delays in moving large numbers of troops over unfamiliar terrain. Even if Longstreet had acted with greater alacrity, and if the Confederates at all levels had been more efficient managers, “it would take several hours for to march them a distance of four miles or more to the place where they would be deployed for battle.” [17] Lee desired for McLaws division to lead the assault. However, McLaws division was trailing Hood’s troops on the Chambersburg Pike west of town, and would have to pass around Hood’s division to take up its position in the Confederate van. Another delay occurred when Longstreet requested additional time for Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, marching up from Guilford to rejoin Hood before he began his movement. Lee acquiesced to Longstreet and Law’s men reached Hood about an hour later.

Lee’s plan required that Anderson’s division of Hill’s Corps would have to move first to take up a supporting position along Seminary Ridge so it could launch a supporting attack as Longstreet’s corps advanced up the Emmitsburg Road. However, elements of Anderson’s division had become embroiled in a firefight at the Bliss farm which delayed his movement to reach his start position for the attack. But in addition to this, lee complicated matters by not removing Anderson from Hill’s command and giving Longstreet operational control. Instead Lee, possibly to avoid hurting the “sensitive Hill by removing a division that had not yet fought with his corps, and yet allow Longstreet to call on Anderson without going through Hill, Lee instructed Anderson “to cooperate…in Longstreet’s attack.” [18] It was another example of Lee’s vague orders which plagued the campaign, as one historian observed, “This order was the vaguest he ever gave. He did not specify whether Anderson was to act under the orders of Longstreet, or of Hill. His new corps commander, or Lee’s own. He seemed to be reverting to the loose structure of his early days in command.” [19]

But even more importantly it was an offensive that required “careful coordination and expert timing. If his plan was sound, which is debatable, there was still the question of whether the army was equal to the task.” [20]

As the various Confederate commands struggled to get in position to attack, without being observed, the Army of the Potomac readied itself for action. After the near disaster of July 1st, the army had recovered its “operational balance, setting in place the systems necessary for command and control.” [21] Meade and his subordinates had chosen a strong position from which they could maximize their strengths, and in addition to this they ensured that each corps had established headquarters and reported their position to the army staff. Wireless was set up to allow Meade to communicate directly to Washington, while the army’s Signal Corps detachments set up observation points on every bit of high ground under Federal control, including Little Round Top, which allowed them communicate with Meade’s headquarters by semaphore. Meanwhile, Henry Hunt had brought up the reserve artillery and began refitting damaged guns while supervising the emplacement of newly arrived batteries along the Federal line. Even more importantly, unlike Lee whose exterior lines refusal to use semaphore created undue delays in communications, Meade’s little headquarters at the Leister house was “almost up to the line of battle and little time would be wasted in the transmittal of orders.” [22]

general-george-meade

Meade’s Defensive Preparation

On the morning of July 2nd the Army of the Potomac was mostly assembled on the high ground from Culp’s Hill to Cemetery Hill and along Cemetery Ridge. In the north and east, the Twelfth Corps under the command of Major General Henry Slocum held Culp’s Hill and protected the Federal right. His troops began fortifying the already formidable position as soon as they arrived on the night of July 1st and continued to strengthen their positions throughout the day.

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The battered remnants of the First and Eleventh Corps held Cemetery Hill where they had made their final stand on the night of July 1st. Oliver Howard retained command of Eleventh Corps, while Meade returned Doubleday to command of his division and brought John Newton from Sixth Corps to command the remnants of the battered First Corps. Winfield Scott Hancock’s crack Second Corps extended the line down southward down Cemetery Ridge. To Second Corps right was Dan Sickles’ Third Corps. George Sykes Fifth Corps was in reserve just to the north and east of Little Round Top, while John Sedgwick’s massive Sixth Corps was still enroute, marching up the Baltimore Pike. “The convex character of the Union line facilitated the rapid movement of troops to reinforce any threatened section.” [23] Unlike Lee’s troops who had to make long marches to support each other, the Union men “never had to march more than two and half miles, usually less.” [24]This would provide Meade with a vital advantage during the viscous battle that was to ensue on July 2nd and as the ever observant Porter Alexander noted, “Communication between our flanks was very long – roundabout & slow while the enemy were practically all in one convenient sized bunch. Reinforcements from their extreme right marched across in ample time to repulse our attack on their extreme left. But Ewell’s men could hardly have come to our help in half a day – & only under view & fire.” [25]

The Army of the Potomac now occupied a solid and well laid out position which commanded the battlefield. Meade and Warren were worried that Lee might attempt to turn them out of their position by moving south, as Longstreet was begging Lee to do, but in reality there was little threat. Even so, Major General Gouverneur Warren, the Army’s Staff Engineer Officer who had been sent by Meade to assist Hancock the night of the first wrote his wife that morning: “we are now all in line of battle before the enemy in a position where we cannot be beaten but fear being turned.” [26]

There was one notable problem, the commander of the Third Corps, Major General Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps on the south end of Cemetery Ridge.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] __________ Mission Command White Paper and JP 3-31

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 pp. 260-261

[3] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.297

[4] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.315

[5] Sears, Stephen Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 2004 p.256

[6] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.197

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.236

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.256

[9] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.237

[10] 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.186

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Perennial Books, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.289

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.186

[13] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.262

[14] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg the Second Day University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London, 1987 p.110

[15] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.290

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

[17] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 p.376

[18] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.193

[19] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.193

[20] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.384

[21] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.292

[22] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.142

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.332

[24] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.332

[25] 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 p242

[26] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.89

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Almost Unbearable: Waiting for Pickett’s Charge

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

Pickett

Major General George Pickett C.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. Picketts Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.79

[20] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.81

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

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

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

[24] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.32

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

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

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

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

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The Bonds of Friendship & Tragedy of War

armistead

“Armistead at Gettysburg” by Keith Rocco

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

When the Southern States seceded from the Union men who had spent much of their adult lives serving together discovered had to say goodbye and prepare to fight each other. Most did so with a heavy heart even though many had strong convictions about the rightness of their region’s cause. Those who left the army to serve the Confederate states were often torn by doubt and questions of where their loyalty lay. They wrestled with their oath of office and the costs of perhaps having to face their dearest friends on future battlefields.

They were different from the mass levies of civilian volunteers who rallied to the flags of the Union and Confederacy in 1861. The volunteers, most of whom did not have the deep and abiding friendships of the professionals were often motivated by ideological, sectional or religious hatred of the other and went to war with great aplomb.

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

hancockMajor General Winfield Scott Hancock USA 

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

Armistead was a nephew of the officer who defended Fort McHenry from the British in the War of 1812. Armistead had academic and personal difficulties at West Point including an altercation with Jubal Early in which he broke a plate over Early’s head.  Between his academic difficulties and the fight with Early he resigned from the Academy. However, his father helped him obtain a commission as an Infantry officer in 1839. Armistead’s career from that point on was similar to many other officers of his day. He served with distinction in Mexico, the Great Plains, Kansas, Utah and California.

As the war clouds built and various southern states seceded from the Union numerous officers from the South were torn between their oath, their friendships and their deep loyalty to their home states and families. In the end most Southern officers resigned their commissions, many with mixed feelings and quite often sadness. A minority of southern born officers remained loyal to the Union. The most prominent of these men were General Winfield Scott and Major General George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Likewise Union Brigadier General John Buford’s family in Kentucky supported the Confederacy.

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

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Brigadier General Lewis Armistead CSA

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

The parting came in 1861. When it was apparent that many officers would be resigning and heading home to join their state’s forces the Hancock’s hosted a going away party for their friends. Almira Hancock wrote of the party that “Hearts were filled with sadness over the surrendering of life-long ties.” Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston’s wife Eliza went to a piano and sang the popular Irish song Kathleen Mavourneen:

“Mavourneen, mavourneen, my sad tears are falling, To think that from Erin and thee I must part!

It may be for years, and it may be forever, Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?…”

The parting was especially emotional for Armistead who had been a friend of the Hancock’s for 17 years. They had helped in following the death of both of his wives and children. He was tearful. He put his arm on his friend’s shoulder as he said: “Hancock, good-by; you can never know what this has cost me, and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worse.”

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

At Gettysburg Armistead spoke his fears to his comrades. One was Brigadier General Dick Garnett, another of Armistead and Hancock’s comrades from the California days on the night of July 2nd. The next afternoon Armistead and Garnett led their brigades of Pickett’s Division against Hancock’s II Corps which was defending Cemetery Ridge.

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

His troops breached the Union line and his black hat atop his sword led his troops forward. It was then that he met more Federal troops who unleashed a volley of musket fire that cut down many of the survivors. Armistead was wounded in the right arm and shoulder and fell near one of the Union artillery pieces, a point now known as “The High Water Mark” of the Confederacy.

As Armistead lay wounded he was approached by Major Bingham of Hancock’s staff. Bingham, a Mason noticed that Armistead was making a Masonic sign of distress. When Bingham told Armistead of Hancock’s injury Armistead was grieved and told Bingham to “Tell General Hancock for me that I have done him and you all an injury which I shall regret the longest day I live.”  The meaning of those words is debated, especially by Southerners who cherish the myth of the Lost Cause. However, based on Armistead’s conduct and behavior in the time before he left California, it is not unreasonable to assume that as he lay dying he truly regretted what he had done. He gave Bingham a wrapped Bible and Prayer book to give to Almira Hancock, inscribed were the words “Trust in God and fear nothing.” 

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“Minnesota Forward” Hancock directing the Defense by Dale Gallon

Armistead died from infections caused by his wounds which were initially not thought to be life threatening. A Union surgeon described him as: “seriously wounded, completely exhausted, and seemingly broken-spirited.”

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

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

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

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

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

Hancock-4c_4500

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Price of Immortality – Pickett’s Charge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Here is the latest chapter revision of my Gettysburg text. It is long but again a complex subject that does with more than just the battle. It deals with the complexity of people, relationships and motivations that transform history into myth and turn myth into history. I do hope that you enjoy, as I said it is a bit long but I think well worth the read.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

picketts charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is also a place that we can look to find the end of dreams, the shattering of legacies, the emergence of myth as history, and the terrible effects ill-conceived of plans gone awry.

Major General George Pickett and his division waited in Spangler’s Woods and in the swale behind Seminary Ridge and looked across the valley the separated them from the Federal positions on Cemetery Ridge. The troops for the most part were eager to fight and had not seen difficult action for about a year while their comrades in the Army of Northern Virginia had marched to glory. The division had been held in reserve and not seen action at Fredericksburg and they had missed the great victory at Chancellorsville entirely having been detached with Longstreet’s corps on the Suffolk excursion. Now these troops waited anxiously for their orders in the sultry summer heat which caused them to perspire and to drink from the canteens that they filled that morning.

The men varied in what they thought of the battle that they knew that was approaching. Some in Richard Garnett’s brigade were in splendid spirits and confident of sweeping everything before them;never was there anything like the same enthusiasm entering battle. [7] Others were not so confident. In Armistead’s brigade Lieutenant James F. Crocker of the 9th Virginia who had been wounded at Malvern Hill surveyed the ridge before them and told a number of officers that the attack was going to be another Malvern Hill, another costly day to Virginia and Virginians, [8] while a Colonel in Pickett’s division noted that when the men were told of the attack that they went being unusually merry and hilarious that they on a sudden had become as still and thoughtful as Quakers at a love feast. [9] Their commander, George Pickett received the plan of attack from James Longstreet who later noted that Pickett seemed to appreciate the severity of the contest he was about to enterbut was quite hopeful of success. [10]

A member of Pickett’s staff noted years later that It is said, that the condemned, in going to execution, the moments fly.To the good soldier, about to go into action, I am sure the moments linger. Let us not dare say, that with him, either individually, or collectively, is that mythical love of fighting, poetical but fabulous; but rather, that it is the nervous anxiety to solve the great issue as speedily as possible, without stopping to count the cost. [11]

Porter Alexander’s artillery began its bombardment at 1:07 p.m. As it did the Union artillery commenced a deliberate counter-fire, in which the Confederate infantry behind Seminary Ridge began to take a beating. Unlike the Confederate barrage which had mainly sailed over the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge causing few causalities, a large proportion” of the Union long shots landed squarely in the ranks of the gray soldiers drawn up to await the order to advance. [12] Estimates vary but the waiting Confederates lost between 300-500 killed and wounded, the most affected was Kemper’s brigade of Pickett’s division which lost about 250 men, or 15% of its strength. [13] Other units lost significant numbers, with those inflicted on Pettigrew’s brigades further depleting their already sparse numbers.

The Union counter fire had an effect on many of the Confederates including Pickett. Alexander found Pickett in a very positive and excited frame of mind. [14] There are conflicting opinions of Pickett’s state of mind, supporters tending to believe the best about him and his conduct on the battlefield, while detractors, both his contemporaries and current historians allege that he was afraid and quite possibly minimizing his exposer to enemy fire due to his obsession with Sallie. Edwin Longacre wrote: While not himself under fire, Pickett appears not to have taken the barrage too calmly. Aware that Longstreet had asked Alexander recommend the most opportune time for our attack based on the enemys response to his cannonade, Pickett at least twice sent couriers to as the colonel if they should go in. [15]

Like in any historical account the truth probably lies in the middle of the extreme viewpoints and while we think that we know much about the greatest charge in the history of the United States, we are hindered by the lack of written accounts by most of the senior Confederate officers who took part in Pickett’s Charge. This complicates the task of attempting to separate the true from the false and the truth from a judgment or verdict rendered by a less than impartial judge. Lee, Hill and Longstreet treated the charge as just one episode in long campaign reports, and modern readers, like some of the participants, can wonder how much of any of the three generals really saw once the firing started. [16]

Since no reports of the Confederate division commanders are available, Pickett’s was suppressed because of how critical it was toward other commanders. Pettigrew and Pender were dead, Trimble was wounded and in a Federal prison and Harry Heth, Pickett’s cousin limited his report to the action of July 1st 1863. Likewise only two of the nine brigade commanders filed reports and none of them were from Pickett’s division, so it is hard to get a complete and accurate view from official sources. Longstreet discussed Pickett’s report and said that it was not so strong against the attack as mine before the attack was made but his was made in writing and of official record. [17] Pickett was reportedly furious at being force to destroy his report and refused to submit an edited report. So what we are left with on the Confederate side are the reports of two corps commanders and an army commander who were far away from the scene of the action, after action reports of regiments, many of which had lost their commander’s and most of their senior officers, and the recollections from men with axes to grind and or reputations to defend; some Longstreet, some Pickett, some Pettigrew.

The assault force was composed of Pickett’s fresh division from First Corps, Harry Heth’s battered division now under Johnston Pettigrew which had already taken close to 40% casualties and two brigades of Pender’s division now commanded by Isaac Trimble. These two brigades, Lane’s which was fresh but Scales brigade, now under command of Colonel William Lowrence had suffered greatly on July 1st; its “casualty rate was 63% and it had lost its commander and no fewer than fifty-five field and company grade officers. [18] And now, these battered the units began to take casualties from well directed Federal fire. George Stewart wrote: In most armies, such a battered unit would have been sent to the rear for reorganization, but here it was being selected for a climactic attack! [19]

The Confederate losses mounted at an alarming rate. The psychological impact of artillery casualties was great, for the big guns not only killed but mangled bodies, tore them apart, or disintegrated them. [20] A survivor wrote his wife days later: If the crash of worlds and all things combustible had been coming in collision with each other, it could not have surpassed it seemingly. To me it was like the Magazine of Vengeanceblown up. [21] A soldier of Kemper’s brigade recalled that The atmosphere was rent and broken by the rust and crash of projectilesThe sun, but a few minutes before so brilliant, was now darkened. Through this smoky darkness came the missiles of deaththe scene beggars descriptionMany a fellow thought his time had comeGreat big, stout hearted men prayed, loudly too. [22] Colonel Joseph Mayo of the 3rd Virginia regiment was heavily hit, one of its survivors wrote when the line rose up to chargeit appeared that as many were left dead and wounded as got up. [23]

On the opposite ridge Union forces were experiencing the same kind of intense artillery fire. But these effects were minimized due to the prevalent overshooting of the Confederate artillery as well as the poor quality of ammunition. This resulted in few infantry casualties with the worst damage being taken by a few batteries of artillery at the angle. Soldiers behind the lines took the worst beating, but the routing of these non-combatants was of no military significance, [24] This did create some problems for the Federals as Meade was forced to abandon their headquarters and the Artillery Reserve was forced to relocate a little over a half mile to the rear.[25] The effects of this on operations were minimal as Brigadier General Robert Tyler commanding the Artillery Reserve posted couriers at the abandoned position, should Hunt want to get in touch with him. [26]

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

Gentlemen, are you trying to find a safe place?…You remind me of the man who drove the oxen team which took ammunition for the heavy guns to the field at Palo Alto. Finding himself in range, he tipped up his cart and hid behind it. Just then General Taylor came along and shouted You damned fool, dont you know you are no safer there than anywhere else?The driver responded, I dont suppose I am general, but it kind of feels so. [27]

A bombardment of this magnitude had never been seen on the American continent, but despite its apparent awesome power, the Confederate artillery barrage had little actual effect on the charge. The Prussian observer traveling with Lee’s headquarters dismissed the barrage as a Pulververschwindung,”…a waste of powder. [28] The Federal infantry remained in place behind the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge ready to meet the assault. Henry Hunt replaced his damaged artillery batteries on Cemetery Ridge. But even more importantly Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery’s massive battery was lying undetected where it could deliver devastating enfilade fire as the Confederate infantry neared their objective. Likewise, Rittenhouse’s batteries on Little Round Top and Osborne’s on Cemetery Hill were unaffected by the Confederate bombardment were poised to wreak destruction on the men of the three Confederate divisions.

Unlike the Federal Army which had its large pool of artillery battalions in the Artillery Reserve with which to replace batteries that had taken casualties or were running low on ammunition, Porter Alexander had no fresh batteries or ammunition: soon the drivers of the caissons found that the heavy fire had exhausted their supply of shot and shell, and the had to go even farther to get it from the reserve train. As a result some of the guns remained mute and their gunners stood helpless during the cannonade and charge, for Alexander had no batteries in reserve to replace them. [29]

There were two reasons for this. First was that Lee had reorganized the artillery before Chancellorsville. He eliminated the artillery reserve and assigned all artillery battalions and batteries directly to the three infantry corps. This meant that Alexander could only draw upon the battalions assigned to First Corps and had no operational control over the batteries of Ewell’s Second Corps or Hill’s Third Corps.

The second was due to the meddling of Brigadier General William Pendleton, Lee’s senior artilleryman who as a staff officer had no command authority over any of the guns in the army. Pendleton relocated the artillery trains of First Corps further to the rear without informing Alexander or Longstreet. Likewise, Pendleton also ordered the eight guns of the Richardson’s artillery away without notifying anyone. These were guns that Alexander was counting on to provide direct support to the attack by advancing them to provide close support to the infantry.

At about 2:20 p.m. Alexander, knowing that he was running short of ammunition sent a note to Picket and Pettigrew advising them:

General: If you are to advance at all, you must come at once or we will not be able to support you as we ought. But the enemys fire has not slackened and there are still 18 guns firing from the cemetery.[30]

About twenty minutes later Alexander saw some of the Federal guns along Cemetery Ridge begin to limber up and depart. He also noticed a considerable drop off in Federal fire. He interpreted this to mean that his guns had broken the Federal resistance, and at 2:40 Alexander sent word to Pickett For Gods sake come quick or my ammunition will not let me support you. [31]

However, what Alexander did not realize was that what was happening on Cemetery Ridge had little to do with his bombardment but instead was directed by Henry Hunt. Hunt ordered batteries low on ammunition or that had sustained damage to withdraw and was replacing them with fresh batteries that Alexander could not see, although he assumed that such might be the case, he noted that the withdraw of batteries was new, for the Federals had never done anything of that sort before, & I did not believe that they were doing it now. [32] He had also decided to conserve ammunition by ordering an immediate cessation and preparation for the assault to follow. [33]

Alexander’s message reached Pickett and Pickett immediately rode off to confer with Longstreet. Pickett gave the message to Longstreet who read it “and said nothing. Pickett said, “General, shall I advance!Longstreet, knowing it had to be, but unwilling to give the word, turned his face away. Pickett saluted and said I am going to move forward, sirgalloped off to his division and immediately put it in motion. [34] Sadly Pickett had no inkling that his corps commander was immovably opposed to the charge [35] and Pickett, caught up in the moment with the excitement of leading his Division into battle did not notice his friend’s mood.

A few minutes later Longstreet rode to find Alexander. Meeting him at 2:45 and Alexander informed him of the shortage of ammunition. The news was surprising to Longstreet as neither he nor Lee had checked on the supply of ammunition during the morning. [36] the news took him aback enough that he seemed momentarily stunned [37] by it. Longstreet told Alexander: Stop Pickett immediately and replenish your ammunition. [38] But Alexander now had to give Longstreet even worse news telling him I explained that it would take too long, and the enemy would recover from the effect of our fire was then having, and too that we had, moreover, very little to replenish it with. [39] Longstreet continued to ride with Alexander and again eyed the Federal positions on Cemetery Ridge with his binoculars. As he looked at the Federal position he slowly spoke and said I dont want to make this attack,pausing between sentences as if thinking aloud. I believe it will fail- I do not know how it can succeed- I would not make it even now, but Gen. Lee has ordered it and expects it. [40] Alexander, who as a battalion commander now in charge of First Corps artillery was very uncomfortable, he later wrote:

I had the feeling that he was on the verge of stopping the charge, & that with even slight encouragement he would do it. But that very feeling kept me from saying a word, or either assent I would not willingly take any responsibility in so grave a matter & I had almost a morbid fear of causing any loss of time. So I stood by, & looked on, in silence almost embarrassing. [41]

While Longstreet was still speaking Pickett’s division swept out of the woods to begin the assault, Alexander knew that the battle was lost if we stopped. Ammunition was too low to try anything else, for we had been fighting for three days. There was a chance, and it was not my part to interfere.[42]

Despite this Pickett and many of his soldiers were confident of success, and: “no officer reflected the mens confidence better than George Pickett. There was no fatalism in him. Believing that his hour of destiny had come and expecting to take fortune at its flood, he rode down the slope like a knight in a tournament. [43] Pickett was an unforgettable man at first sight [44] Pickett wore a dark mustache drooping and curled at the ends, a thin goatee, and hair worn long and curled in ringlets. His hair was brown, and in the morning sunlight it reflected auburn hints. George Pickett stood slender and graceful at the middle height, and carried himself with an air. Dandified in dress, he was the most romantic looking of all Confederates, the physical image of that gallantry implicit in the Souths self concept. [45]

George Pickett was born to wealth and privilege in a Neo-feudal society [46] and came from an old and distinguished Virginia family with a long military heritage dating to the Revolution and the War of 1812. He attended the Richmond Academy until he was sixteen and had to withdraw due to the financial losses his parents had suffered during the panic of 1837.

 Pickett

Major General George Pickett C.S.A.

This led to the young Pickett being sent to live with and study law under his mother’s older brother, the future President, Andrew Johnston in Quincy Illinois. The family’s continued financial distress led them to get George to consider the free education provided by West Point. His mother asked Johnston to assist and Johnston set about obtaining an appointment for his nephew. As befit an up-and-coming politician, his quest was short and successful. His Springfield acquaintances included a United States Congressman who happened to be a fellow Southerner and brother Whig, Kentucky native John T. Stuart. [47] There is a long running myth that connects Pickett’s appointment to West Point to Abraham Lincoln, but it is fiction, fabricated by Pickett’s widow Sallie long after her husband and Lincoln’s death. [48]

Pickett entered West Point in 1842 where he was described by a fellow cadet thought a jolly good fellow with fine natural gifts sadly neglected [49] through his tendency to demonstrate in word and deed that henhouse neither to authority nor submit to what’re considered the Academys narrow, arbitrary, unrealistic, harshly punitive, and inconsistently applied code of conduct [50] became a loyal patron of Benny Havens tavern where he was stealing away regularly now to life his glass in good fellowship…” [51]

Pickett’s academic performance, as well as his record of disciplinary infractions at West Point was exceptionally undistinguished. He racked up vast amounts of demerits for everything from being late to class, chapel and drill, uniform violations and pranks on the drill field where he mocked those who observed proper drill and ceremonies. Pickett graduated last in the class of 1846, something that his vast amount of demerits contributed.

His widow Sallie wrote after his death that he accumulated them so long as he could afford the black marks and punishments they entailed. He curbed his harmful behavior, however, when he found himself approaching the magic number of 200 demerits per year that constituted grounds for dismissal. [52] Pickett finally graduated only five behavioral demerits short of expulsion. [53] The graduating class included George McClellan, A.P. Hill, Thomas, later “Stonewall” Jackson as well as a number of other cadets, most of whom who went on to distinguished military and other careers. At West Point Pickett was considered to be the class clown by many of his classmates was the most popular and prominent young man in the class. [54] Among the many friends that he made was an upperclassman named Ulysses S. Grant and their friendship would span decades and would survive the fire of a war that placed them at swords point. [55]

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Lieutenant Pickett at Chapultepec

Pickett was commissioned into the infantry and served alongside James Longstreet in the Mexican War where fought valiantly in a number of battles, including Contreras, Churubusco, El Molino Del Rey [56] during the Mexican War. Pickett distinguished himself at Chapultepec where he had been the first American to scale the ramparts of Chapultepec, where he planted the flag before the admiring gaze of his friend Longstreet. [57] During that assault Longstreet was wounded and Pickett had snatched the colors and planted them on the castle heights for all to see and cheer. [58] For his actions he received a brevet promotion to First Lieutenant.

Following the war Pickett married but was widowed less than two years later when his wife Sally Minge Pickett died during childbirth along with their infant son in 1852 The loss was devastating to the young officer, he went into a deep depression caused by grief and considered leaving the army. He was persuaded by friends, peers and understanding commanding officers to remain.

While on leave following Sally’s death he was at Fort Monroe, laying under an umbrella at Point Comfort when a child approached him and took pity on him. The child was the nine year old La Salle “Sallie” Corbell and she broke through his emotional defenses by persistently, as only a child can do asking what the source of his grief was. Pickett told the child that his heart had been broken by a sorrow almost too great to bear. When the child asked how ones heart could break, he replied that God broke it when he took from him his loved ones and left him so lonely. [59] While Pickett may not had thought much of the meeting, he did give the little girl a ring and a golden hear bearing his wife’s name. He likely expected never to see her again but though she was a child she was a willful and determined one. She knew her own mind and heart, both told her that one day she would marry George Pickett. [60]

Pickett returned to Texas to serve with the 8th Infantry and was promoted to Captain and ordered to take command of the newly raised Company “D” 9th Infantry at Fort Monroe. Transferred to the Pacific Northwest he married Widowed after that war he served in the Pacific Northwest where he took a Native American wife who bore him a son, however she did not survive childbirth and when she died in early 1858 Pickett was again widowed. In 1859 Captain Pickett faced down British troops from the Hudson Bay Company in an incident now known at the Pig War which at its heart was a dispute about whether the British or the Americans own San Juan Island. The dispute, which brought the two nations to the brink of war, was settled without bloodshed, save for the unfortunate pig, and Pickett became a minor celebrity in the United States and anathema to the British.

When Virginia seceded from the Union, Pickett like many other southern officers was conflicted in his feelings and loyalties and hoped to the last that he would have to take up arms against neither state nor country. [61] Pickett resigned his commission on June 25th 1861. He wrote to Sallie with who he now maintained a frequent correspondence about his decision and decidedly mixed feelings as he:

Always strenuously opposed disunion…” But While I love my neighbor, i.e., my country, I love my household, i.e., my state, more, and I could not be an infidel and lift my sword against my own kith and kin, even though I do believethat the measure of American greatness can be achieved only under one flag. [62]

Pickett returned to Virginia by a circuitous route where he was commissioned as a Captain in the new Confederate army on September 14th and two weeks later was promoted to Colonel and assigned to command forces along the Rappahannock. Though he had as yet seen no combat serving in the Confederate army Pickett was promoted to a brigadier General and assigned to command a Virginia brigade belonging to Longstreet’s division.

Pickett led his brigade well on the peninsula and at Williamsburg was instrumental in routing an advancing Federal force, and at Seven Pines had helped repel a dire threat to the Confederate position. At Gaines Mill Pickett was wounded in the shoulder during the assault put out of action and placed on convalescent leave to recover from his wounds. During his convalescence he fell in love with an old acquaintance; La Salle Corbell, who as a young girl had cheered him after the loss of his wife now a beautiful young woman nursed him back to health and started a chain reaction that would nearly engulf the Confederate officer. [63]

Pickett was promoted to Major General in October 1862 and was assigned command of the division formerly commanded by David R. Jones, which was assigned to Longstreet’s First Corps. The division was sent to peripheral areas and took no part in the battles of late 1862 or Chancellorsville serving instead in the Tidewater with Longstreet’s corps. The corps took part in a series of operations against Union forces in the Hampton Roads area and Pickett’s division bested a Federal force at Suffolk on April 24th 1863, though it was hardly a true test of his ability to command the division in combat. During this time Pickett spent much time visiting La Salle, much to the concern of some of his officers and Longstreet’s staff, and by the time the corps left the area the two were engaged to be married.

When the Division returned to the Army of Northern Virginia after Chancellorsville it was among the forces considered by Jefferson Davis to be sent west for the relief of Vicksburg. Since that operation never materialized the division was assigned to accompany First Corps with the army during the upcoming Pennsylvania campaign. However, much to the consternation of Lee, Longstreet and Pickett two of its brigades were detached by the order of Jefferson Davis to protect Richmond from any Federal incursion.

During the advance into Pennsylvania the division, now composed of the brigades of James Kemper, Lewis Armistead and Richard Garnett was the trail division in Longstreet’s corps and often, in the absence of cavalry assigned to guard the corps and army trains. Due to its late release from these duties at Chambersburg, Pickett’s Division did not arrive at Gettysburg until late afternoon on July 2nd. Lee decided that they would not be needed that day and Longstreet placed that the division in bivouac at Marsh Creek for the night, sending word by messenger to tell Pickett I will have work for him tomorrow. [64]

Pickett spent the night with his soldiers and woke them about 3 a.m. After a quick breakfast Pickett moved the division to Seminary Ridge marshaling his troops in Spangler’s Woods where there was a modicum of protection from Federal fires and observation. However, despite these advantages it placed his division about 1000 yards from the extreme right of Pettigrew’s division with which he would have to coordinate his attack that fateful day.

Pickett scribbled a final note to Sallie as his troops prepared to attack. Oh, may God in his mercy help me as He never has helped me beforeremember always that I love you with all my heart and soul That now and forever I am yours. [65]

When Pickett’s division as well as those of Pettigrew and Trimble swept out of the wood to begin the attack the last chance to stop the attack ended. As Pickett’s brigades moved out, Pickett galloped up, as debonair as if he had been riding through the streets of the Richmond under the eye of his affianced [66] and every soldier within hearing was stirred by Picketts appeal [67] as he shouted Remember Old Virginia! or to Garnett’s men Up, men, and to your posts! Dont forget today that you are from Old Virginia! [68] But when Garnett asked if there were any final instructions Pickett was told I advise you to make the best kind of time in crossing the valley; its a hell of an ugly looking place over yonder. [69]

Armistead called out to his soldiers, Men, remember who you are fighting for! Your homes, your firesides, and your sweethearts! Follow Me! [70]Armistead’s example had a major impact on his brigade, men were inspired, as one later wrote They saw his determination, and they were resolved to follow their heroic leader until the enemys bullets stopped them. [71] about 500 yards to Pickett’s left Pettigrew exhorted his men for the honor of the good old North State, forward.[72]

Pickett’s division showed the full length of its long gray ranks and shining bayonets, as grand as a sight as ever a man looked on.[73] The sight was impressive on both sides of the line, a Confederate Captain recalling the glittering forest of bayonetsthe two half mile wide formations bearing down in superb alignment. [74] The sight of the amassed Confederates moving forward even impressed the Federals. Colonel Philippe Regis de Trobriand, a veteran of many battles in Europe and the United States recalled it was a splendid sight, [75] and another recalled that the Confederate line gave their line an appearance of being irresistible. [76]

469px-Picketts-Charge

But the Federals were confident. Having withstood the Confederates for two days and having survived the artillery bombardment the Union men eagerly awaited the advancing Confederates. Directly facing the Confederate advance in the center of the Union line was the division of Pickett’s West Point Classmate and North Carolina native who remained with the Union, John Gibbon. The cry went out Here they come! Here they come! Here comes the infantry! [77] To the left of Gibbon Alexander Hays called to his men Now boys look outnow you will see some fun! [78]

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

Through our field-glasses we could distinctly see the gaps torn in their ranks, the grass dotted with dark spots- their dead and wounded.But the brave rebels promptly filled the gaps from behind or by closing up on their colors, and unasked and unhesitatingly they continued with their onward march.[79]

Pettigrew’s division was met by fire which enveloped them obliquely from Osborne’s thirty-nine guns emplaced on Cemetery Hill. On their left flank a small Federal regiment, the 8th Ohio lay in wait unnoticed by the advancing Confederates. Seeing an opportunity the regiment’s commander Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Sawyer deployed his 160 men in a single line, took aim at Brockenbrough’s Virginia brigade some two hundred yards ahead of the Emmitsburg Road, and opened a devastating fire. Above the boiling clouds the Union men could see a ghastly debris of guns, knapsacks, blanket rolls, severed human heads, and arms and legs and parts of bodies tossed into the air by the impact of the shot. [80] So sudden and unexpected was this that the Confederates panicked and fled in confusion… to the rear where they created more chaos in Trimble’s advancing lines as one observed they Came tearing through our ranks, which caused many men to break. [81] The effect on Confederate morale was very important, for the Army of Northern Virginia was not used to seeing a brigade, even a small one, go streaming off to the rear, with all its flags.Even Picketts men sensed that something disastrous had happened on the left. [82]

In one fell swoop Pettigrew was minus four regiments. Brockenbrough was singularly ineffective in leading his men, he was a nonentity who did not know how to control his recalcitrant rank and file; nor did he have the presence to impress his subordinate officers and encourage them to do his bidding. [83] The disaster that had overtaken Brockenbrough’s brigade now threatened another important component of Lee’s plan- protecting the left flank of the assaulting force. As Brockenbrough’s brigade collapse the vital protection of the left flank collapsed with it.

Pettigrew’s division continued its advance after Brockenbrough’s brigade collapsed, but the Confederate left was already beginning to crumble. Sawyer changed front, putting his men behind a fence, and the regiment began firing into the Confederate flank. [84]with Davis’s brigade now taking the brunt of the storm of artillery shells from Osborne’s guns. This brigade had suffered terribly at the railroad cut on July 1st, especially in terms of field and company grade officers was virtually leaderless, and the inexperienced Joe Davis was helpless to control them. [85] To escape the devastating fire Davis ordered his brigade to advance at the double quick which brought them across the Emmitsburg Road ahead of the rest of the division, where they were confronted by enfilade canister fire from Woodruff’s battery to its left, as well as several regiments of Federal infantry and from the 12th New Jersey directly in their front. A New Jersey soldier recalled We opened on them and they fell like grain before the reaper, which nearly annihilated them. [86] Davis noted that the enemy’s fire commanded our front and left with fatal effect. [87] Davis saw that further continuing was hopeless and ordered his decimated brigade to retire to the position originally held. [88]

Pettigrew’s remain two brigades continued grimly on to the Emmitsburg Road, now completely devoid of support on their left flank. Under converging fire from Hay’s Federal troops the remaining troops of Pettigrew’s command were slaughtered. Hay’s recalled As soon as the enemy got within range we poured into them and the cannon opened with grape and canister [, and] we mowed them down in heaps.[89] The combination of shot, shell, canister and massed musket fire simply erased the North Carolinians ranks. [90]Pettigrew was wounded, Colonel Charles Marshall was killed fifty yards from the stone wall and only remnants of companies and regiments remained unscathed. Soon the assault of Pettigrew’s division was broken:

Suddenly Pettigrews men passed the limit of human endurance and the lines broke apart and the hillside covered with men running for cover, and the Federal gunners burned the ground with shell and canister. On the field, among the dead and wounded, prostrate men could be seen holding up handkerchiefs in sign of surrender. [91]

Trimble’s two brigades fared no better. Scales brigade, now under the command of Colonel W. Lee Lowrence never crossed the Emmitsburg Road but instead took position along it to fire at the enemy on the hill. The soldiers from North Carolina who two days before had marched without flinching into the maw of Wainwrights cannon on Seminary Ridge could not repeat the performance. [92] Trimble was severely wounded in the leg and sent a message to Lane to take command of the division. The order written in the third person added a compliment to his troops: He also directs me to say that if the troops he had the honor to command today for the first time couldnt take that position, all hell cant take it. [93] Lane attempted to rally the troops for one last charge when one of his regimental commanders exploded telling him My God, General, do you intend rushing your men into such a place unsupported, when the troops on the right are falling back? [94] Lane looked at the broken remains of Pettigrew’s division retiring from the field and ordered a retreat. Seeing the broken remnants of the command retreating, an aide asked Trimble if the troops should be rallied. Trimble nearly faint from loss of blood replied: No Charley the best these brave fellows can do is to get out of this,so let them get out of this, its all over. [95] The great charge was now over on the Confederate left.

The concentrated Federal fire was just as effective and deadly on the Confederate right. Kemper’s brigade, on the right of Pickett’s advance was mauled by the artillery of Rittenhouse on Little Round Top, which tracked their victims with cruel precision of marksmen in a monstrous shooting galleryand the overs landed their shots on Garnetts ranks with fearful effect.[96]

As the Confederates advanced Pickett was forced to attempt to shift his division to the left to cover the gap between his and Pettigrew’s division. The move involved a forty-five degree oblique and the fences, which had been discounted by Lee as an obstacle which along the Emmitsburg Road virtually stopped all forward movement as men climbed over them or crowed through the few openings. [97] Pickett’s division’s oblique movements to join with Pettigrew’s had presented the flank of his division to McGilvery’s massed battery. The movement itself had been masterful, the execution of it under heavy fire impressive; however it meant the slaughter of his men who were without support on their right flank.

Pickett himself was doing his best to direct the movements of his Division. Placing himself just behind his Division he “kept his staff busy carrying messages to various generals and performing other duties on the field. At different times he sent his aides back to Confederate lines to inform Longstreet of his need for reinforcements, or to direct Wilcox when to advance his troops, or to ask Major James Dearing for artillery support.” [98] While some of Pickett’s detractors attempt to accuse him of cowardice, including inventing fables about him drinking behind the lines, the facts do not substantiate the accusations. Likewise, Pickett’s position about one hundred yards behind his advancing troops was optimal for command and control purposes.

Though he did not have operational control of Pettigrew’s division, “when he saw it beginning to falter, he ordered Captains E.R. Baird and W. Stuart Symington to help rally them. Then Pickett himself galloped to the left in an effort to steady the men.” [99]

As Pickett’s division advanced into the Plum Run Valley they were met by the artillery of Freeman McGilvery, who wrote that the execution of the fire must have been terrible, as it was over a level plain, and the effect was plain to be seen. In a few minutes, instead of a well-ordered line of battle, there were broken and confused masses, and fugitives fleeing in every direction. [100]

Kemper’s brigade which had the furthest to go and the most complicated maneuvering to do under the massed artillery fire suffered more damage. The swale created by Plum Run was a “natural bowling alley for the projectiles fired by Rittenhouse and McGilvery” [101] was now flanked by Federal infantry as it passed the Condori farm. The Federal troops were those of the Vermont brigade commanded by Brigadier General George Stannard. These troops were nine month volunteers recruited in the fall of 1862 and due to muster our in a few days. They were new to combat, but one of the largest brigades in the army and 13th Vermont had performed with veteran like precision the day before [102] leading Hancock to use them to assault the Confederate right. The Vermonters were positioned to pour fire into the Confederate flank, adding to the carnage created by the artillery, and the 13th and 16th Vermont pivoted ninety degrees to the right and fired a succession of volleys at pistol range on the right of Picketts flank. [103]

Kemper had not expected this, assuming that the Brigades of Wilcox and Perry would be providing support on the flank. As he asked a wounded officer of Garnett’s brigade if his wound was serious, the officer replied that he soon expected to be a prisoner and asked Kemper Dont you see those flanking columns the enemy are throwing on our right to sweep the field? [104] Kemper was stunned but ordered his troops to rush federal guns, but they were torn to pieces first by the artillery and then by the successive musketry of three and a half brigades of Yankee infantry. [105] Kemper was fearfully wounded in the groin and no longer capable of command. His brigade was decimated and parts of two regiments had to refuse their line to protect the flank, and those that continued to advance had hardly any strength left with which to succeed, the Confederate left was no for all intents and purposes out of the fight.

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

This left the decimated remains of Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing’s battery of artillery alone to face the advancing Confederates. Cushing who had already received multiple wounds in his should and groin and was desperately wounded. A number of his guns had been disabled and his battery had taken significant numbers of casualties during the Confederate bombardment. Cushing was another of the young West Point graduates who directed batteries at key points during the battle who was not only a skilled artilleryman, but a gifted leader and a warrior who won the respect of his men. One corporal said that Cushing was the best fighting man I ever saw while another recollected He was so cool and calm as I ever saw him, talking to the boys between shots with the glass constantly to his eyes, watching the effect of our shots. [106]

He received permission from the commander of the Philadelphia Brigade, Alexander Webb, among whose regiments his battery was sited to advance his guns to the wall. Though he was already desperately wounded in the shoulder and the groin, Cushing remained with his gunners. When a subordinate suggested that he go to the rear he replied I will stay right here and fight it out or die in the attempt. [107]

When Webb came to his battery and told Cushing that he believed that the Confederate infantry was about to assault their position Cushing replied I had better run my guns right up to the stone fence and bring all my canister alongside each piece. [108] From the stone fence the young officer directed the fire of his remaining guns. His gunners rammed in more loads of double canister when the Confederates were less than seventy yards away. [109] When the Garnett and Armistead’s survivors were just a hundred yards away from the wall, Cushing ordered triple canister. He was hit a third time, this time in his mouth killing him instantly.[110] The surviving gunners, now commanded by a sergeant fought hand to hand against the Confederates as they were overrun.

The survivors of Garnett’s brigade, led by their courageous but injured commander, who rode fully exposed to Federal fire on his horse, crossed the Emmitsburg Road and pushed forward overwhelming the few Federals remaining at the wall. They reached the outer area of the angle which had been abandoned by the 71st Pennsylvaniaand some of his men stood on the stones yelling triumphantly at their foes. [111] Armistead, sword raised with his hat still on it, climbed over the wall shouting to his men Come on boys! Give them the cold steel”…and holding his saber high, still with the black hat balanced on its tip for a guidon, he stepped over the wall yelling as he did so: Follow me! [112]

Armistead and his remaining soldiers, about one hundred in total, waded into the wreckage of Cushing’s battery and some began to attempt to turn the guns on the Federals. For a few moments there was a sense of supreme exultation as the rebels swarmed over the fence, forced back two Federal companies, and swallowed up a third. Armistead was the first to reach Cushings two guns, placing a hand on one of them and yelling, The day is ours men, come turn this artillery upon them. [113]

However, the triumph of Armistead and his band was short lived; the 72nd Pennsylvania was rushed into the gap by the brigade commander Brigadier General Alexander Webb. The climax of the battle was now at hand and the next few minutes would tell the story, and what that story would be would all depend on whether these blue-coated soldiers really meant it. Right here there were more Confederates than Federals, and every man was firing in a wild, feverish haste, with smoke settling down thicker and thicker. [114] The 69th Pennsylvania, an Irish regiment under Colonel Dennis O’Kane stood fast and their fire slaughtered many Confederates. Other Federal regiments poured into the fight, famous veteran regiments the 19th and 20th Massachusetts, the 7th Michigan and the remnants of the 1st Minnesota who had helped stop the final Confederate assault on July 2nd at such fearful cost.

Dick Garnett, still leading his troops muffled in his dark overcoat, cheered his troops, waving a black hat with a silver cord [115] when he was shot down, his frightened horse running alone off the battlefield, a symbol of the disaster which had befallen Pickett’s division. Armistead reached Cushing’s guns where he was hit by several bullets and collapsed mortally wounded. Armistead had been the driving force behind the last effort, there was no one else on hand to take the initiative. Almost as quickly as it had come crashing in, the Rebel tide inside the outer angle ebbed back to the wall. [116]

For a time the Confederate survivors engaged Webb’s men in a battle at the wall itself in a stubborn contest. A Federal regimental commander wrote The opposing lines were standing as if rooted, dealing death into each other. [117] The Federals launched a local counterattack and many Confederates elected to surrender rather than face the prospect of retiring across the battlefield that was still swept by Federal fire.

Webb had performed brilliantly in repulsing the final Confederate charge andgained for himself an undying reputation. Faced with defeat, he accepted the challenge and held his men together through great personal exertion and a willingness to risk his life. [118] For his efforts he was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor.

Webb, like John Buford on July 1st, Strong Vincent, Freeman McGilvery and George Sears Greene on July 2nd, was instrumental in the Union victory. Hancock said of Webb In every battle and on every important field there is one spot to which every army [officer] would wish to be assigned- the spot upon which centers the fortunes of the field. There was but one such spot at Gettysburg and it fell to the lot of Genl Webb to have it and to hold it and for holding it he must receive the credit due him. [119]

The survivors of Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble’s shattered divisions began to retreat, Lee did not yet understand that his great assault had been defeated, but Longstreet, who was in a position to observe the horror was. He was approached by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle, a British observer from the Coldstream Guards. Fremantle did not realize that the attack had been repulsed, having just seen one of Longstreet’s regiments advancing through the woods in good orderand unwisely bubbled I would not have missed this for anything.[120] Longstreet replied with a sarcastic laugh The devil you wouldntbarked Longstreet. I would have liked to have missed this very much; weve attacked and been repulsed. Look there. [121]

Fremantle looked out and for the first time I then had a view of the open space between the two positions, and saw it covered with Confederates slowly and sulkily returning towards us in small broken parties, under a heavy fire of artillery. [122] Henry Owen of the 18th Virginia wrote that the retreating men without distinction of rank, officers and privates side by side, pushed, poured and rushed in a continuous stream, throwing away guns, blankets, and haversacks as they hurried on in confusion to the rear. [123]

It was a vision of utter defeat. The Pickett, who had seen his division destroyed and had been unable to get it additional support was distraught. An aide noted that Pickett was greatly affected and to some extent unnerved [124] by the defeat. He found Longstreet and poured out his heart in terrible agony: General, I am ruined; my division is gone- it is destroyed. [125] Lee had come up by now and attempted to comfort Pickett grasping his hand and telling him: General, your men have done all that they could do, the fault is entirely my own and instructed him that he should place his division in the rear of this hill, and be ready to repel the advance of the enemy should they follow up their advantage. [126] The anguished Pickett replied, General Lee, I have no division now. Armistead is down, Garnett is down and Kemper is mortally wounded. [127] Lee missed the point of Picketts anguish completely and attempted to console Pickett again and told the distraught General, General Pickettyou and your men have covered themselves in glory. [128]

Pickett, the romantic true believer in the cause refused to be consoled and told Lee not all the glory in the world, General Lee, can atone for the widows and orphans this day has made. [129] While Longstreet and Lee maintained their composure, Pickett felt an overpowering sense of helplessness as he observed the high tide from Emmitsburg Road and the subsequent retreat of his shattered division. It was too much for the mercurial romantic to absorb. [130] But Pickett was not alone, Cadmus Wilcox told Lee as he returned from the assault that he came into Pennsylvania with one of the finest brigades in the Army of Northern Virginia and now all my people are gone. [131]

When others attempted to stop the flight of his men Pickett countermanded them and ordered his survivors to return to the site where they had bivouacked the previous night. A soldier from the 18th Virginia who saw the retreat noted that at Willoughby Run:

The fugitives, without distinction of rank, officers and privates side by side pushed, poured and rushed in a continuous stream, throwing away guns, blankets, and haversacks as they hurried in confusion toward the rear. Before long there was another attempt to restore order, but again Pickett intervened. Don’t stop any of my men! he cried. Tell them to come to the camp we occupied last night. As he said this he was weeping bitterly, and then he rode on alone toward the rear. [132]

When the survivors finally assembled the next morning they numbered less than 1000 out of the approximately 5000 troops who Pickett led into the attack remained. Four out of every five of Picketts men had been either killed, wounded, or captured. Two of his three brigadiers were gone, probably dead, the third perhaps mortally wounded. Every one of his regimental commanders had been killed, wounded or captured. [133]

During the retreat Pickett and his remaining soldiers would be assigned to the task of being the Provost Guard for the army, escorting Federal prisoners back during the long retreat back to Virginia. For them, it was a humiliating experience.

Pickett was never the same after the charge of July 3rd 1863. Pickett’s after action report which complained about the lack of support his division received was suppressed and destroyed by Lee who wrote Pickett You and your men have crowned yourselves in glory But we have an enemy to fight, and must carefully, at this critical moment, guard against dissections which the reflections in your report will create. [134]

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George and La Salle “Sallie” Pickett circa 1865

Pickett married La Salle “Sallie” Corbell in September of 1863, and the marriage would last until his death in 1875. Sallie, impoverished by the death of “her soldier” took up writing as well as speaking tours in both the South and the North. Sallie was a stalwart defender of her husband, who she said had the keenest sense of justice, most sensitive consciousness of right, and the highest moral courage but also opposing hatred, sectionalism and strife. [135] Though much of her work was panned by historians and shunned by established magazines and periodicals; her writing were published by newer popular magazines. Her book The Heart of a Soldier, as Revealed in the Intimate Letters of General George Pickett, C.S.A. was for the most part fabrications authored by her, but she found a niche in newer popular magazines and journals, including Cosmopolitan for which she authored a ten part serial of the Pickett family story on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle. Sallie Pickett’s:

idealized portrait of her husband made him a Confederate hero. He never reached the status of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, but his association with the famed but futile charge at Gettysburg helped. Virginia veterans and newspapers began romanticizing Picketts all-Virginia divisions role soon after the battle; it was almost by association that George too would share in this idolization…” [136]

Pickett retained command of his division which was reconstituted after Gettysburg and shipped off to North Carolina where he and it performed adequately but without marked distinction. It performed well in the defensive battles around Richmond and Petersburg. The end came at the battle at Five Forks where Pickett’s grossly under strength division was deployed on the far right of the Confederate line was overwhelmed by a massive assault by Sheridan’s cavalry and the Fifth Corps which destroyed it as a fighting formation. Pickett, who had successfully repulsed an attack by Sheridan the previous day did not expect an attack and was away from his division at a Shad bake with Rooney Lee when the attack came. No cowardice was involved; Pickett simply misjudged the situation by assuming that no attack was imminent, yet it left a bad taste in everyones mouth. [137] Two days later Pickett and two other generals, including Richard Anderson were relieved of their duties and dismissed by Lee. However Pickett remained with his division until the end and at Appomattox Lee was heard to remark in what some believed was a disparaging manner Is that man still with this army? [138]

George Pickett attempted to rebuild his life after the war and the task was not easy for though he applied for amnesty his case was complicated by an incident where he had ordered the execution of about twenty-two former North Carolina militiamen who had defected to the Union and been captured by the Confederates. Federal authorities thought about charging him with war crimes which resulted in Pickett fleeing to Canada. It took the intervention of Pickett’s faithful friend Ulysses S. Grant to have the charges dismissed and for Pickett to be granted amnesty by President Johnson in 1868. Grant admitted that the punishment was harsh, but wrote in his friend’s defense:

But it was in time of war and when the enemy no doubt it necessary to retain, by some power, the services of every man within their reach. Gen. Pickett I know personally to be an honorable man but in this case his judgement [sic] prompted him to do what can not well be sustained though I do not see how good, either to the friends of the deceased or by fixing an example for the future, can be secured by his trial now. [139]

Even so his life was difficult, health difficulties plagued him and employment was scarce, even for a man of Pickett’s stature in Virginia. He refused employment which would take him away from Sallie and his children and finally took a job as an insurance agent in Richmond. It was a job which he felt demeaning, which required that he attempt to sell insurance policies to destitute and out of work Confederate veterans and their families. Sallie wrote that he could not come to terms with a profession that made its profits through what one colleague called gall, gall, old man, gall and grub. [140] Distinctly unhappy the dejected old soldier told her Id sooner face a canon,than to take out a policy with me. [141]

In 1870 he was convinced by John Singleton Mosby to visit Lee when the latter was visiting Richmond as Lee was making a final tour of battlefields and other sites. For Pickett the visit only reinforced his resentment that he felt for Lee, who he felt blamed him for the defeat at Five Forks and had ostracized him. The meeting occurred in Lees room at the Ballard Hotel was icy and lasted only two or three minutes. [142]

Mosby realized quickly that the meeting was not going well and Sensing the unpleasantness of the meeting, Mosby got up in a few moments and Pickett followed him. Once outside the room, Pickett broke out bitterly against that old man who, he said, had my division massacred at Gettysburg. [143] Mosby attempted to assuage his friend’s feelings but Pickett was not mollified by Mosbys rejoinder that it made you immortal. [144]

George Pickett was a romantic as well as a true believer in the cause of the Confederacy. Pickett was vain, and at times self-serving, he certainly as Porter Alexander noted was a better brigade commander than division commander, a position that he desired but never excelled. His temperament at times got the better of him and he was not the equal of many of his fellow division commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia.

That being said it would be hard to prove the charges of cowardice or incompetence that some leveled at him for allegedly not being forward enough during the great charge. The fact that he retained command after the battle indicates that Lee did not believe that he had acted with cowardice, or that Lee questioned the manner in which he led the assault.

Likewise, it is unlikely that such any such action on Pickett’s part to charge further into the maelstrom would have done little more than add yet another name to the list of Confederate general officers killed or wounded at Gettysburg. The question of how Pickett survived without a scratch, when his three brigadiers and all of his field officers but one went down. This could be done by the brief explanation that his escape was miraculous. [145] Edwin Coddington wrote that it would have been better for his reputation if had been called to give his life or if the attack had been known for what it was, Longstreets Second Assault. [146]

Bitter and discouraged at the end of his life he uttered his last words to Sallie’s uncle who had also served in the Army of Northern Virginia Well, Colonel, the enemy is too strong for me againmy ammunition is all out He closed his eyes, and settled back as if at peace for the first time in his life. Sallie never left his side; two hours after his death they gently pried her hands from his. [147]

Pickett’s charge was over, except for the blame, the stories and the legends, especially in the South. The failure of this disastrous tactical assault that bears Pickett’s name placed the final nail in Lee’s operational plan to take the war to the North and defeat the Federal army on its own territory. Lees plan was almost Burnside-like in its simplicity, and it produced a Fredericksburg with the roles reversed. [148] James McPherson made the very succinct observation that Picketts charge represented the Confederate war effort in microcosm: matchless valor, apparent initial success, and ultimate disaster. [149]

That tactical and operational failure had strategic implications for the Confederacy; it ensured the loss of Vicksburg and forced Lee to assume the defensive in the east. Lee and his men would go on to further laurels. But they never again possessed the power and reputation that they carried into Pennsylvania those palmy midsummer days of 1863. [150] The repulse ended the campaign that Lee had hoped would secure the independence of the Confederacy. The Battle of Gettysburg was and it was much more than a military defeat, but a political one as well, for with it went the slightest hope remaining of foreign intervention. As J.F.C. Fuller wrote It began as a political move and it had ended in a political fiasco.[151]

Notes

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

[2] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.108

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

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

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

[6] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.101

[7] Stewart, George R. Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3rd 1863 Houghton Mifflin Company Boston 1959 p.94

[8] Hess, Earl J. Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p. 55

[9] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History p.94

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

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

[12] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.548

[13] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.206

[14] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.193

[15] Longacre, Edward G. Pickett: Leader of the Charge White Mane Publishing Company, Shippensburg PA 1995 p.121

[16] Reardon, Carol The Convergence of History and Myth in the Southern Past: Pickett’s Charge in The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond edited by Gallagher, Gary W. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1994 p.83

[17] Ibid. Wert Gettysburg Day Three p.297

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

[19] Ibid. Stewart Picketts Charge: A Micro-History p.39

[20] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.153

[21] Ibid. Wert Gettysburg Day Three p.181

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

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

[24] Ibid. Stewart Picketts Charge p.132

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

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

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

[28] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.163

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

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

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

[32] Alexander, Edward Porter Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gallagher, Gary The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1989 p.258

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

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

[35] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.297

[36] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.291

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

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

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

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

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

[42] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.261

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

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

[45] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.264

[46] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.4

[47] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.6

[48] See Longacre Pickett pp.6-7. The myth was quite successful and it endures in some accounts of Pickett’s life and in a number of military histories including Larry Tagg’s The Generals of Gettysburg

[49] Waugh, John C. The Class of 1846 from West Point to Appomattox: Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers A Ballantine Book, New York 1994 pp.38-39

[50] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.7

[51] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 from West Point to Appomattox p.39

[52] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.12

[53] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.378

[54] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.378

[55] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.20

[56] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.37

[57] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.264

[58] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.457

[59] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.32

[60] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.33

[61] Ibid. Longacre Pickett pp.50-51

[62] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.51

[63] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.38

[64] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.47

[65] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and his Men at Gettysburg p.296

[66] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.338

[67] Freeman, Douglas Southall Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command abridged in one volume by Stephen Sears, Scribner Books, Simon and Schuster, New York 1998 p.594

[68] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.408

[69] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.166

[70] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.167

[71] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.167

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

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

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

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

[76] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.193

[77] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.193

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

[79] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.422

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

[81] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.423

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

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

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

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

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

[87] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.425

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[98] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.505

[99] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.505

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

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

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

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

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

[105] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.448

[106] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.200

[107] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.221

[108] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.208

[109] Ibid. Wert Gettysburg Day Three p.211

[110] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.221

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

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

[113] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.262

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

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

[116] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg p.508

[117] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.451

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

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

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

[121] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier p.292

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

[123] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.456

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

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

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

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

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

[129] ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.428-429

[130] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.325

[131] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.429

[132] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.456

[133] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.489

[134] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.354

[135] Ibid. Reardon The Convergence of History and Myth in the Southern Past: Pickett’s Charge p.76

[136] Gordon, Lesley J. “Let the People See the Old Life as it Was” La Salle Corbell Pickett and the Myth of the Lost Cause in The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History edited by Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan, Alan T. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.170

[137] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.375

[138] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.375

[139] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.175

[140] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.178

[141] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.178

[142] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.377

[143] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.569

[144] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.529

[145] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History p.287

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

[147] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.180

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

[149] McPherson, James The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.662

[150] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.665

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

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“A Glittering Forrest of Bayonets” Pickett’s Charge

picketss-charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

469px-Picketts-Charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

picketts charge1

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.108

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

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

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

[6] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[45] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.422

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

[47] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.423

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

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

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

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

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

[53] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.425

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[70] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.448

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

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

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

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

[75] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg p.508

[76] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.451

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

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

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

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

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

[82] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.456

[83] bid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.326

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.459

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

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

19 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.79

20 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.81

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

22 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.462

23 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.491

24 Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.32

25 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.492

26 Ibid. Wert. Gettysburg Day Three p.128

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

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

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