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“Proper Commanders – Where can they be Found?” Lee Creates Third Corps in His Army Reorganization

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I now clear the decks to try to finish “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” tonight I present another section of one of my Gettysburg draft manuscripts.  Today is a look at the leaders of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps. 

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

general_a_p_hill

Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell “A.P.” Hill, C.S.A.

As I mentioned before the problem of where to find leaders for the Corps, Divisions, and Brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia was a serious issue for Robert E. Lee. He was bent on invading the North in June, despite the risks, and despite the lack of preparation of iThis Army under the new leaders he had appointed. With the death of Stonewall Jackson, he split Jackson’s Second Corps, taking two divisions from it and one from Longstreet’s First Corps to built Third Corps.

The newly created Third Corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was thought to be in good hands. Hill had commanded his large; six brigade “Light Division” with distinction, though having serious conflicts with both Longstreet and Jackson. At Antietam Hill’s hard marching from Harpers Ferry which allowed the Light Division to arrive on the battlefield in a nick of time, had saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction.

Hill was a graduate of West Point, class of 1847. He would have been part of the illustrious class of 1846, but the young cadet had a certain proclivity for women and a certain amount of debauchery lost a year of study after contracting “a case of gonorrhea, followed by complications, which were followed by lingering prostatitis” [1] afflictions which caused many other ailments that would plague him the rest of his life. At West Point Hill roomed with and became a longtime friend of a refined cadet from Philadelphia, George McClellan. His delayed graduate put him in the class of 1847 where along with his roommate Julian McAllister and friends Harry Heth and Ambrose Burnside were the social leaders of the class, due to their “practical jokes and boisterous conduct.” [2]

Hill graduated fifteenth in his class and was assigned to the artillery. The young Second Lieutenant accompanied Brigadier General Joseph Lane’s brigade to Mexico where he saw limited action at the end of the war and mainly served on occupation duty. In Mexico and in the following years he was stricken with various fevers including typhoid and yellow fever, as well as recurrences of his prostatitis which so limited his ability to serve in the field with the artillery that he requested a transfer to a desk job. This he was granted by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis who detailed him “for special duty in the United States Coast Survey offices in Washington D.C.” [3]

The assignment to the Coast Survey offices was unusual, especially for Hill’s era of service, for they were a part of the Department of the Navy. Despite much political support, Hill could not get promoted to captain, likely due to the fact that he was working for the Navy. As war drew near Hill married Kitty Morgan McClung. His friends at the Coastal Survey attempted to convince him to remain with the Union as serving in their office he would have little chance of taking up arms against Virginia.

Hill was torn, he hated slavery and the depreciations visited on blacks; having in 1850 responded to the lynching of a young black man in his home town of Lynchburg: “Shame, shame upon you all, good citizens…Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with this outrage.” [4] Likewise he was not in favor of secession, but he, like so many other Southern officers felt a stronger connection to family and his Virginia heritage than to the Union, and resigned his commission on February 26th 1861.

Hill was appointed as a Colonel of infantry in May 1861 to organize and command the 13th Virginia Infantry regiment. He commanded the regiment in the Valley and western Virginia as well as at First Manassas. By February 1862 he was a Brigadier General commanding Longstreet’s old Virginia brigade on the Peninsula where he distinguished himself against McClellan at Williamsburg. On May 26th 1862 he was promoted to Major General and given command of the very large so called “Light Division.” He emerged from the fighting on the Peninsula, the battles around Richmond and the Seven Days “with the reputation of being one of the best combat officers that Lee had.” [5] However, his success on the battlefield, like so many commanders came at great cost. In those battles his division suffered nearly 5,500 casualties. “Six colonels and three majors were killed; two brigadiers (Anderson and Pender), eleven colonels and six lieutenant colonels wounded.” [6]

Hill had an earned reputation as a brilliant division commander with the Light Division. Despite his clashes with Longstreet, and especially with Jackson, who had Hill arrested twice and attempted to have him court-martialed, Lee recommended him to take command of Third Corps. Lee sang his praise of Hill and his abilities to Jefferson Davis noting that Hill was “the best soldier of his grade with me.” [7] However, Hill had never commanded more than one division in action, except for the confused hour after Jackson had been struck down. Hill, however, was devoted, prompt, and energetic, and deserved promotion.” [8]

Hill’s reputation as a superb division commander was well earned, at Antietam where when Lee’s army was in danger of destruction, he “drove his men at a killing pace toward the sound of distant gunfire….” [9] Hill’s “Light Division’s remarkable march from Harper’s Ferry- seventeen miles in less than eight hours- rivaled the best marks by Jackson’s famous foot cavalry.” [10] Upon his arrival “instantly recognized the military situation, Kyd Douglas wrote, “and without waiting for the rest of the division and without a breathing spell he threw his columns into line and moved against the enemy, taking no note of their numbers.”[11] Hill’s march saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction as he dealt reverses to his old friends McClellan and Burnside. “Lee’s reference to him in his official Sharpsburg report, “And then A.P. Hill came up,” had become a byword in the army.” [12] There were other times, notably at Second Manassas and Fredericksburg where “he was sometimes careless on the battlefield,” and in both instances “his defensive postings were poor and nearly proved very costly.” [13]

Hill was a “nervous wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation on his shoulders and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress.” [14] He had an “impetuous streak and fiery temperament that matched his red beard, traits that at times had brought him trouble on the battlefield and off…” [15] He Despite that Hill exhibited a fondness and care for the welfare of his men that earned their respect and admiration. One officer called him “the most loveable of all Lee’s generals,” while “his manner so courteous as almost to lack decision.” [16]

Hill detested Jackson, who he referred to as “that old Presbyterian fool.” [17] His poor relations with Jackson’s confidants at Second Corps ensured that Ewell took Second Corps when Lee reorganized the army after Chancellorsville.

Lee appointed Hill to command Third Corps of which “half of the troops had been with him all along” [18] in the Light Division. Lee liked Hill’s aggressiveness and command instincts, which mirrored his own. Lee hoped that Hill’s aggressive instincts as a division commander would translate into success at the corps level. As such Lee, promoted him over the heads of D.H. Hill and Lafayette McLaws who were both senior to him. Longstreet was not in favor of Hill’s appointment, most likely due to his altercation with Hill the previous year and lobbied for the promotion of D.H. Hill.

Regarding the promotion of A.P. Hill and Ewell, Lee wrote to Davis:

“I wish to take advantage of every circumstance to inspire and encourage…the officers and men to believe that their labors are appreciated, and that when vacancies occur that they will receive the advantages of promotion….I do not know where to get better men than those I have named.” [19]

But the decision to promote the Ewell and Hill, both Virginians stirred some dissent among those that believed that Lee was “favoring Virginians over officers from other states. The promotion of A.P. Hill, as previous noted was “made over the head of two Major Generals more senior than Hill- North Carolinian D.H. Hill and Georgian Lafayette McLaws.” [20] There is some validity to this perception, as Longstreet’s biographer Jeffry Wert noted:

“While the bulk of the troops hailed from outside the Old Dominion, two of the three corps commanders, six of the ten division commanders – including Jeb Stuart with the cavalry – and sixteen of forty-seven brigade commanders were natives of Virginia, along with the army commander and the chief of artillery.” [21]

Hill’s corps, like those of Longstreet and Ewell was composed of three divisions, and even more so than Ewell his division suffered a want of senior leaders who had served at the grade they were now expected to serve.

Anderson’s Division

Richard_H._Anderson

Major General Richard Anderson, C.S.A.

The most stable division in Third Corps was Richard Anderson’s, transferred from First Corps. Under Longstreet the division and its commander had served well. Anderson was an 1842 graduate of West Point and classmate of Longstreet and Lafayette McLaws. He served in the Dragoons on the frontier, in Mexico and again on the frontier, throughout the 1840s and 1850s. He was promoted to Captain in 1855 and stationed in Nebraska when his home state of South Carolina seceded from the Union.

“Tall, strong, and of fine background, Anderson never was disposed to quibble over authority or to indulge in any kind of boastfulness.” [22] He began the war commanding the 1st South Carolina Infantry, and was soon a brigadier. He fought well on the Peninsula and was promoted to Major General and given command of Benjamin Huger’s former division in July of 1862. He commanded the division at Second Manassas and at Antietam, where he was wounded in the vicious fighting at the Bloody Lane. The division saw little action at Fredericksburg, but in “the Battle of Chancellorsville, he and his men fought extremely well.” [23] Lee commented that at Chancellorsville that Anderson was “distinguished for the promptness, courage, and skill with which he and his division executed every order.” [24]

Lee considered Anderson a “capable officer”…and had marked him for future higher command.” [25] Anderson was noted for his modesty and unselfishness, “his easy going ways, combined with his competence and professionalism made him one of the most well liked officers in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [26]

However, there was an incalculable thrown into the equation. During the reorganization of the army, Anderson’s division was detached from Longstreet’s First Corps and assigned to Hill’s new Third Corps. Hill had not yet established his methods of operation as a corps commander, and Anderson, used to “Longstreet’s methodical insistence that everything be just so before he would venture into action” contrasted with Hill’s “tendency to leap before he looked.” [27]

Anderson’s division was composed of five brigades commanded by a mixed lot of commanders, only one of whom was a professionals soldier.

Wilcox

Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox was a no-nonsense graduate of the illustrious West Point class of 1846. Hailing from Tennessee, Wilcox was outgoing and popular, and before the end of his first year “had made friends of every member of the class. It was said that no cadet of his time had so many friends and was so universally esteemed.” [28] He kept those friends throughout the years, friends who remained his friends, even though they had to fight against him. Harry Heth said of him “I know of no man of rank who participated in our unfortunate struggle on the Southern side, who had more warm and sincere friends, North and South.” [29]

Wilcox graduated near the bottom of the class fifty-fourth of fifty-eight and was commissioned as an infantry officer. Wilcox served in the Mexican War where he was in the thick of the fight at Chapultepec, on the frontier, and taught tactics for five years at West Point. Following that assignment he studied for two years in Europe. Wilcox is an expert rifleman and instructor. He “wrote a manual, Rifle and Infantry Tactics, and translated an Austrian manual on infantry tactics.” [30]

When war came he resigned his commission and became Colonel of the 9thAlabama Infantry, and by October 1861 he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of a brigade. He had served with distinction as a brigade commander at Williamsburg, Seven Pines and the Seven Days Battles, and was given acting command of small division at Second Manassas. However, after an uneven performance he is passed over for command of a division which instead was given to his classmate, George Pickett. Wilcox was disgruntled and upset at being “passed over for advancement in favor of a junior officer.” [31] “Restless, sore, and disposed to go to another Confederate army where he will have a chance,” [32] Wilcox asked Lee for a transfer to another army, but “Lee could not afford to lose such an experienced brigadier, and refused to transfer” him. [33]

At Chancellorsville the delaying action of his brigade at Salem’s Church had helped save the army. Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps had succeeded in crossing the Rappahannock and was marching on Lee’s rear areas. On May third with the fate of the army in the balance, Wilcox “reasoned intelligently and promptly when he should leave Banks’ Ford. Then, instead of joining Early, he took his chance on being destroyed in order that he might delay the enemy on the Plank Road.” [34]Wilcox and his troops, supported by other units of McLaws’ division which came up in support thrashed the Union troops, inflicting 1523 casualties for the loss of 674 men. [35] In his post-battle report Lee noted that Wilcox was “entitled to especial praise for the judgment and bravery displayed “in impeding Sedgwick “and for the gallant and successful stand at Salem’s Church.” [36] Three months later he will get his promotion to Major General and command of a division.

Mahone

Brigadier General William “Little Billy” Mahone was a diminutive graduate of VMI with no prior military experience.. Barely five foot five inches tall and weighing just 125 pounds the brigadier was described by Moxie Sorrel as “Very small in height and frame, he seemed a mere atom with little flesh.” [37] There was so little substance to his body that when his wife heard that he had “he had taken a flesh wound at Second Manassas…she knew it had to be serious, she said, “for William has no flesh whatsoever.” [38]

Instead Mahone was an engineer who had “established himself as a resourceful construction engineer for railroads.” [39] When Virginia seceded he was “president, chief engineer and superintendent of the new Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, which he succeeded in constructing across the bottomless Dismal Swamp.” [40] Hard driven, he had dreams of connecting his railroad with others and linking the Virginia Tidewater with the Mississippi and the Pacific.

Mahone was an ardent secessionist and when Virginia seceded he took leave of his railroad and became Colonel of the 6th Virginia Infantry, with which he occupied Norfolk when Federal forces evacuated it. He was soon a brigadier and his skill in engineering was put to good use at Drewry’s Bluff before Richmond.

He commanded his brigade with reasonable effectiveness before Gettysburg. As a brigadier “he is not lacking in diligence, but he is not without special distinction.”[41] As a brigade commander fought competently at Chancellorsville and by Gettysburg had established himself as a “competent and experienced brigade leader.” [42] His actions at Gettysburg would be controversial, but he rose to fame as the war went on and became one of the hardest fighting division commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Wilderness, Petersburg and to the end of the war where he “one of Lee’s most conspicuous – and trusted – subordinates.” [43]. Following the war Mahone expands the Norfolk and Western Railway system, and entered politics, where won election as a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1880.

Wright

Brigadier General Ransom “Rans” Wright was a Georgia lawyer who had grown up dirt poor and between hard work and study had made a name for himself. He was a “very gifted man, a powerful writer, an effective orator, and a rare lawyer.” [44]

He had strong Unionist sentiments, something that gained him little popularity in a secession minded state, he was the brother in law of Stephen Douglas’s running mate Herschel Johnson and supported the pro-Union ticket of John Bell and Edward Everett.

Despite his sentiments Wright volunteered when Georgia seceded and despite his lack of military experience was named Colonel of the 3rd Georgia Infantry. He took command of his brigade as a Colonel and was promoted to Brigadier General in June 1862. By the time of Gettysburg he “was considered a well-tested combat veteran.” [45] Despite his earned reputation as a solid brigade commander, Wright “did not endear himself to the Virginia elite in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [46]In 1864 the Governor of Georgia requested that he be detached from the Army of Northern Virginia to serve in that state where he was promoted to Major General.

Posey

Brigadier General Carnot Posey was a highly successful plantation planter and lawyer who had served as a “lieutenant under Col. Jefferson Davis, and suffered a slight wound at the Battle of Buena Vista” [47] in the Mexican War. After the war he returned to his legal practice and was appointed as a United States District Attorney by President Buchanan, a position that he held until Mississippi seceded from the Union. At the outset of the war he organized a company named the “Wilkinson Rifles.” That company became part of the 16th Mississippi Infantry and Posey became its first Colonel. He was badly wounded at Cross Keys in the Valley campaign.

He fought well at Second Manassas and took acting command of Featherston’s brigade at Antietam. Despite a poor showing there by the brigade which collapsed in confusion after doomed counter-attack on the Sunken Road, he was promoted to brigade command prior to Chancellorsville where he and his brigade gave a strong performance under fire. He was mortally wounded at Bristoe Station on October 14th 1863.

Lang

Colonel David Lang commanded the Florida Brigade, the smallest Brigade in the army. Just twenty-five years old, the graduate of the Georgia Military Institute inherited brigade command when Brigadier General Edward Perry came down with typhoid fever after Chancellorsville. He had only fought in three battles, two as a captain “and he had never led a brigade in combat.” [48] After Gettysburg when Perry returned to the brigade Lang returned to command his regiment, finally taking command of a brigade at Petersburg at the end of the war, without a promotion to Brigadier General.

Pender’s Division

William_Dorsey_Pender

Major General Dorsey Pender, C.S.A

Hill’s old Light Division was divided into two divisions. Major General William Dorsey Pender commanded the old Light Division which now consisted of four rather than six brigades.

Pender was a “pious, serious North Carolinian” [49]and a graduate of West Point when he graduated nineteenth of forty-six in that class. Prior to the war he served on the frontier and in California with the artillery and dragoons. During the secession crisis he “offered his services to the Confederacy even before most of the states, including his own, had seceded.” [50]

Pender was “only seven years out of West Point” [51] in 1863 when he was promoted to Major General and given command of his division, he was only twenty-nine years old, and the “youngest of that rank in the army.” [52] The young general was deeply loyal to Powell Hill and a partisan of the Light Division. However, he had risen “on first rate ability, steadfast ambition and a headlong personal leadership in battle which gave a driving force to his brigade” [53] which he considered “the best brigade of the best division” [54] in the army.

Lee praised him as “a most gallant officer” and was deeply sensitive about keeping Pender with the troops that found him so inspiring noting “I fear the effect upon men of passing him over in favour of another not so identified with them.” [55]Pender was an “intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty.” [56]

Pender’s four veteran brigades were commanded by three experienced officers and one new to brigade command, but the young general would not get to lead them into action for long as he was mortally wounded by a shell fragment before the division was to go into action on July 2nd at Gettysburg. His division would be led by Brigadier General James Lane on July 2nd and turned over to Major General Isaac Trimble shortly before Pickett’s Charge.

Perrin

Colonel Abner Perrin from South Carolina was the least experienced of Pender’s brigade commanders. He had prior Regular Army experience. He enlisted in the army at the age of nineteen and served as a lieutenant in Mexico. He resigned his commission in 1848 and became a successful lawyer. When secession came he volunteered and served as a company commander in the 14th South Carolina. Perrin took command of the regiment after Fredericksburg. He led the regiment in action for the first time at Chancellorsville. Lee named him to command the brigade when his brigade commander, Samuel McGowan, was wounded. He was not promoted to Brigadier General, but despite his inexperience he remained in command of the veteran South Carolina brigade, “whose leadership had been decimated” and had “devolved to lieutenant colonels, majors and captains.” [57]His brigade performed well on the first day, and his leadership earned him his promotion. He was killed in action in the “counterattack at the Bloody Angle at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 12th, 1864. Just before the battle he promised to emerge a live major general or a dead brigadier.” [58]

Lane


Brigadier General James Lane was an academic. He graduated second in his class at VMI in 1854 and received a degree in science from the University of Virginia three years later. He returned to VMI as an assistant professor then became a professor of natural philosophy at the North Carolina Military Institute. [59]

He led many of his cadets to war when he was commissioned as a major in the 1stNorth Carolina Volunteer Infantry. He took command of it in September 1861 and was promoted to brigade command in October 1862 after Antietam.

Lane proved himself an able commander at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. During the Battle of Chancellorsville his brigade led Jackson’s assault against the Union right, suffering 909 casualties. That night he had the misfortune to be part of one of the saddest episodes of the Confederate war when one of his units mortally wounded Stonewall Jackson on the night of May 2nd 1863. Despite this “he and his men could be counted on to do the right thing when the bullets started to fly.” [60] He was badly wounded at Cold Harbor and missed most of the rest of the war. Following the war he returned to academics and was a professor of civil engineering at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute when he died in 1907.

Thomas

Brigadier General Edward Thomas was a plantation owner from Georgia. He was not completely without military experience having served as a lieutenant of Georgia mounted volunteers in the Mexican War. He was offered a commission in the Regular Army after the war, but he turned it down and returned home.

He became colonel of the 35th Georgia Infantry in October 1861 and led it as part of Pettigrew’s brigade. When Pettigrew was wounded at Seven Pines the regiment was shifted to Joseph Anderson’s brigade of the Light Division. Thomas assumed command of that brigade when Anderson was wounded at Frayser’s Farm and returned to Richmond to “resume direction of the important Tredegar Iron Works.” [61] He commanded it in the thick of the fighting at Second Manassas, and at Fredericksburg helped stop Meade’s advance with a fierce counterattack. He continued to command it at Chancellorsville. Thomas could always be counted on to deliver “a solid, if unspectacular performance.” [62] He remained in command of the brigade through the end of the war and surrendered with Lee at Appomattox.

Scales

Brigadier General Alfred Scales was new to brigade command. A “forty-five year old humorless politician…a duty driven public official-turned-warrior.” [63]Scales had served in the U.S. House of Representatives and left politics when the war began. Since he had no military experience he chose, unlike so many other men of stature, to enlist as a private when North Carolina seceded.

His fellow soldiers elected to a captaincy in Pender’s 3rd North Carolina Volunteers. When Pender was transferred, Scales succeeded him in command of the regiment. He commanded that regiment on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days. From that time Scales’ career was “one of consistent stout service in Pender’s hard fighting brigade.” [64] Scales served as acting commander of the brigade when Pender was wounded at Fredericksburg and “met the test.” [65] He distinguished himself with the 13th at Chancellorsville where he was wounded in the thigh. Scales service with Pender’s brigade “had been one of consistent stout service.” [66]

When Pender was promoted to division command “it was a forgone conclusion that his replacement in brigade command would be Scales.” [67] He had served with the brigade, was known to its soldiers and though inexperienced as a brigade commander he “and the brigade were one, for he had shared its fortunes, was proud of it, and was confident of victory as he led it to Gettysburg.” [68]

Heth’s Division

heth

Major General Harry Heth, C.S.A. 

Hill’s remaining division was commanded by the newly minted Major General Harry Heth. It was composed of the two remaining brigades of the Light Division and two brigades that had recently joined to the army for the offensive.

Harry Heth was a graduate of West Point who had a “high reputation personally and professionally.” [69] He was a cousin of George Pickett and joined Pickett as one of the hell raising cadets of the academy. Their reunion at the academy “developed into a three-year effort to see how much illicit merriment they could initiate without getting booted out.” [70] Heth graduated no higher in his class than Pickett did his the previous year, finishing at the bottom in the forty-five member class of 1847. Heth wrote of his West Point years later admitting that his academic record was

“abominable. My thoughts ran in the channel of fun. How to get to Benny Havens occupied more of my time than Legendre on Calculus. The time given to study was measured by the amount of time necessary to be given to prevent failure at the annual examinations.” [71]

Heth spent fourteen years in the old army, rising to the rank of Captain and spending most of his time on the frontier. Heth came from a family with long ties dating back to the American Revolution where his grandfather had, fought and the War of 1812 where his father had served. He was “well liked for his social graces, and Powell Hill held him in great respect.” [72]

Lee had a high regard for Heth who “had a solid record as Lee’s quartermaster general in the early days of Virginia’s mobilization for war.” [73] Lee considered him a friend and somewhat a protégé, however his regard “cannot be based on any substantive achievements by Heth, whose antebellum career and war experience had been similarly unremarkable.” [74] The appointment would prove to be a mistake. “Heth had little experience under fire, and an earlier petition for Heth’s promotion had been turned down by the Confederate Senate.” [75] When he recommended Heth for command of the new division he assured Jefferson Davis that he had “a high estimate of Genl. Heth.” [76] Heth did know his own deficiencies and candidly “admitted his own weaknesses and resisted the temptation to take himself too seriously.” [77]

Clifford Dowdy wrote that Heth was an example of a “soundly trained soldier of perennial promise. Always seemingly on the verge of becoming truly outstanding”but “never lived up to the army’s expectations.” [78] Heth became a brigade commander in Hill’s division prior to Chancellorsville after having served in Western Virginia and in the West.

Heth was new to command of the newly formed division which was a hastily put together force. In a new division where experienced leadership was needed, Heth had the weakest collection of brigade commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Ironically, it would be the division that stumbled into combat against the Buford’s Cavalry and Reynold’s First Corps at Herr, McPherson and Seminary Ridge on July 1st 1863. After Gettysburg he retained command of his division “with steadfastness and some competence until the final surrender.” [79]

Pettigrew

Newest to the division was Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew whose North Carolina brigade was one of the largest in the army. This was one of the new brigades provided to Lee by Davis, and “it had no appreciable experience.” [80]Pettigrew was a renaissance man, “the most educated of all Confederate generals.[81] He was a graduate of the University of North Carolina. He was “proficient in French, German, Italian and Spanish, with a reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.” [82]

Pettigrew had spent a good amount of time abroad on diplomatic service before returning to his law practice in Charleston. He had “even spent time as a volunteer aid with the French and Italian forces against the Austrians in 1859.” [83] He was elected to the state legislature in 1856 when he “sensed the oncoming of hostilities and was named colonel of the 1st Regiment of Rifles, a Charleston militia outfit.” [84] Pettigrew was “one of those natural leaders of a privileged background who, without military ambitions, had been advanced on the application of native intelligence and contagious courage.” [85]

Davis

Brigadier General Joseph Davis, the nephew of President Jefferson Davis commanded a newly raised Mississippi brigade. Davis was “a congenial and conscientious officer,” but “he had never led troops in battle.”[86] Davis owed his appointment to his relationship with the President. He was “entirely without combat experience.[87] Robert Krick wrote that Davis’s “promotion to the rank of brigadier general seems to be as unadulterated an instance of nepotism as the record of the Confederacy offers.” [88] Davis survived Gettysburg and after a bout with typhoid fever returned to command his brigade and “served solidly, though unspectacularly, until the end of the war with Lee’s army.” [89]

Most of the war he had been spent on his uncle’s staff in Richmond and in his new appointment he was not with officers of any experience as “No one serving on Joe Davis’s staff showed strong signs of having the background, experience, and ability that might help the brigadier meet his responsibilities.” [90] Likewise the nine field grade officers assigned to the regiments of his brigade were similarly ill-equipped for what they would face in their first test of combat.

Archer

Heth did have the experienced mixed Alabama-Tennessee brigade of Brigadier General James Archer under his command, but despite its experience and “fine reputation” [91] the brigade was seriously understrength after seeing heavy combat at Chancellorsville.

The brigade commander James Archer was a native of Bel Air Maryland, one of two Maryland officers serving in the Army of Northern Virginia. Archer was graduate of the University of Maryland who practiced law before entering the Regular army as a Captain during the Mexican War. During the war he was brevetted for gallantry at the Battle of Chapultepec. He left the army after the war and then returned to it in 1855 as an infantry Captain and was serving in Walla Walla Washington as the secession crisis deepened.

He resigned his commission in March 1861 and was commissioned in the new Confederate army. He received command of the 5th Texas Regiment “who thought him a tyrant.” [92] Though he had no battle experience he was promoted to Brigadier General and took command of a Tennessee brigade at Seven Pines when its commander was killed. Like the Texans the Tennesseans did not take to him and dubbed him “The Little Game Cock.” [93]

Initially, Archer was not well liked in any of his commands, the Texans considered him a tyrant and he was “very non-communicative, the bearing and extreme reserve of the old army officer made him, for a time, one of the most hated of men.”[94] After being joined to the Light Division Archer transformed his reputation among his men and had “won the hearts of his men by his wonderful judgment and conduct on the field.” [95] He distinguished himself at Antietam, and though quite ill led his brigade solidly. At Fredericksburg Archer helped save the Confederate line by leading a counter-attack following the Union breakthrough at Telegraph Hill.

Brockenbrough

The last brigade of Heth’s division was the small Virginia brigade of the “plodding, uninspiring” [96] Colonel John Brockenbrough. Brockenbrough was a “wealthy, but rough- looking Virginia planter.” [97] He was an 1850 graduate of VMI.

He entered “entered service as colonel of the 40th [Virginia Infantry] in May 1861.” [98] The brigade when it had been commanded by Charles Field had been considered one of the best in the army. Brockenbrough took command of it in 1862 when Field was wounded, but he “had never managed the brigade well, especially at Fredericksburg, and Lee returned him to regimental command.” [99]

Brockenbrough again assumed the command of the brigade after Chancellorsville when Heth was promoted. Lee did not deem him suited for promotion, but believed that Brockenbrough “could be counted on to keep together a command sadly reduced in numbers.” [100] Like Archer’s brigade the brigade was “sadly reduced in numbers” and in morale…” [101] His performance at Gettysburg was dreadful and five days after the battle Lee relived him of command of the brigade, returning to his regiment with lower ranking subordinate in command of the brigade. He resigned from the army in 1864.

Hill’s Third Corps was the least prepared command to go into battle at Gettysburg. While some leaders, particularly Richard Anderson, Dorsey Pender and Cadmus Wilcox were excellent commanders, the corps was led by too many untried, inexperienced, or in some cases incompetent leaders to be committed to an offensive campaign so shortly after it was constituted. Likewise, some of its formations were just shells of what they had been before Chancellorsville and had not been reconstituted

Notes 

[1] Waugh, John C. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox, Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers Ballantine Books, New York 1994 p.166

[2] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987 p.13

[3] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.26

[4] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.22

[5] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.95

[6] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.95

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[8] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.304

[9] Ibid. Robertson, General A.P. Hillp.143

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.285

[11] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.144

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.301

[13] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.45

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

[15] Ibid. Sears Landscape Turned Red p.285

[16] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.301

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

[18] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to MeridianRandom House, New York 1963 p.434

[19] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[20] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.290

[21] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.249

[22] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.108

[23] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.343

[24] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

[25] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.86

[26] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.306

[27] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg pp.86-87

[28] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.69

[29] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.498

[30] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

[31] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

[32] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[33] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

[34] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

[35] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.385

[36] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

[37] Trudeau, Noah Andre, The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865 Little Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto, London 1991 p.117

[38] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

[39] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.243

[40] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.314

[41] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.48

[42] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.315

[43] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.243

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.328

[45] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.317

[46] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.328

[47] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.319

[48] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.322

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

[50] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.325

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

[52] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

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

[54] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.45

[55] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

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

[57] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.331

[58] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.332

[59] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.332-333

[60] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.334

[61] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.282

[62] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.337

[63] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338-339

[64] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[65] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[66] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[67] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[68] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.306

[69] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[70] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.13

[71] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.13

[72] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.88

[73] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.178

[74] Ibid. Krick, Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: p.96

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

[76] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[77] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.178

[78] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[79] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.342

[80] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.50

[81] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.196

[82] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[83] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.129

[84] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[85] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.78

[86] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.196

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

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

[89] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.354

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

[91] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[92] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.349

[93] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.350

[94] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.349

[95] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.350

[96] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

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

[98] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.118

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

[100] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.529

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

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“Proper Commanders- Where Can They Be Found?” Part One: Lee Reorganizes First and Second Corps Before Gettysburg

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another repost of my Gettysburg campaign series and one of the segments on the problems faced by Robert E. Lee as he attempted to find experienced and competent senior leaders to fill Corps, Division and Brigade command positions which were vacant due to the deaths of so many competent commanders over the past year of combat.

Of course, I am doing this in order to finish “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” this weekend. If I wrote about anything else it would consume too much time. I have cut back on my social media as well as I make this final push.

I hope you enjoy. Please be safe.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

An issue faced by armies that are forced to expand to meet the demands of war is the promotion and selection of competent leaders at all levels of command. It has been an issue throughout American military history including during our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The expansion of forces, the creation of new units and operational demands to employ those units sometimes result in officers being promoted, selected to command, being given field command or critical senior staff positions when in normal times they would not. To be fair, some do rise to the occasion and perform in an exemplary manner. Others do not. Those leaders that do not are quite often weeded out over the course of time but often not before their lack of experience, or incompetence proves disastrous on the battlefield. As Barbara Tuchman so eloquently put it:

“When the moment of live ammunition approaches, the moment to which all his professional training has been directed, when the lives of the men under him, the issue of the combat, even the fate of a campaign may depend upon his decision at a given moment, what happens inside the heart and vitals of a commander? Some are made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.” [1]

Stonewall Jackson was dead and with his death after the Pyrrhic victory at Chancellorsville General Robert E. Lee was faced with the necessity of reorganizing his army. Jackson’s loss was disastrous for Lee, for he lost the one man who understood him and his method of command more than anyone, someone for whom he had a deep and abiding affection. Months before Jackson’s death Lee said of him “Such an executive officer the sun has never shown on, I have but to show him my design, and I know that it if it can be done it will be done.” [2] After Jackson’s loss Lee said “I had such implicit confidence in Jackson’s skill and energy that I never troubled myself to give him detailed instructions. The most general suggestions were all that he needed.” [3] Lee met the loss with “resignation and deep perplexity,” his words displayed that sense of loss, as well as his sense of faith and trust in God’s providence “I know not how to replace him. God’s will be done. I trust He will raise someone up in his place…” [4]

In addition to the loss of Jackson, a major part of Lee’s problem was organizational. In 1862 Lee inherited an army that was a “hodgepodge of forces” [5]which was organized in an “unwieldy divisional command system, where green commanders out of necessity were given considerable independence.” [6] That organization was tested and found wanting during the Seven Days campaign where on numerous occasions division commanders failed to coordinate their actions with those of adjacent divisions or failed to effectively control their own troops during movement to contact or combat.

Shortly after the Seven Days Lee reorganized the army, working with the material that he had. He divided the army into two corps, under Jackson and James Longstreet, each composed of four divisions consisting of about 30,000 troops apiece. While both commanders were technically equals, it was Jackson to whom Lee relied on for the most daring tasks, and whom he truly considered his closest confidant and his “executive officer.”

The organization worked well at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, although Longstreet’s corps was detached from the army at the time of the latter, and with the loss of Jackson on the first night of that battle neither A.P. Hill nor J.E.B. Stuart effectively commanded Second Corps during the remainder of the battle.

Longstreet and Jackson served to balance each other and each enjoyed the trust of Lee. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda calls them the:

“yin and yang of subordinates. Jackson was superb at guessing from a few words exactly what Lee wanted done, and setting out to do it immediately without argument or further instructions; Longstreet was as good a soldier, but he was an instinctive contrarian and stubbornly insisted on making Lee think twice, and to separate what was possible from what was not.” [7]

Both men had been instrumental to Lee’s battlefield success and both played indispensable roles in Lee’s ability to command the army.

Likewise, the sheer size of Lee’s formations posed problems both in moment and combat, as Lee noted “Some of our divisions exceed the army Genl Scott entered Mexico with, & our brigades are larger than divisions”…that created stupendous headaches in “causing orders & req[uisitions] to be obeyed.” [8] Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis on May 20th “I have for the past year felt that the corps of the army were too large for one commander. Nothing prevented my proposing to you to reduce their size and increase their number but my inability to recommend commanders.” [9]

In the hands of Longstreet and Jackson these massive corps were in the good hands of leaders who could effectively handle them, “but in anyone else’s hands, a corps the size of Jackson’s or Longstreet’s might prove so big as to become clumsy, or even worse, might call for a degree of micromanagement that Lee and his diminutive staff might not be able to deliver.” [10] Thus Lee did not try to replace Jackson; he wrote to Davis the reasons for creating a new corps:

“Each corps contains in fighting condition about 30,000 men. These are more than one man can handle & keep under his eye in battle….They are always beyond the range and vision & frequently beyond his reach. The loss of Jackson from the command of one half of the army seems to me a good opportunity to remedy this evil.” [11]

Instead of appointing one man to command Second Corps, Lee reorganized the army and created two corps from it, stripping a division of Longstreet to join the new Third Corps and dividing the large “Light” Division of A.P. Hill, which under Hill’s “intelligent administration probably is the best in the army” [12] into two divisions.

The problem for Lee was just who to place in command of the new corps and divisions that he was creating. Lee was deeply aware of this problem, and wrote to John Bell Hood that the army would be “invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. There never were such men in an Army before. The will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. But there is the difficulty-proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” [13] Lee sought the best commanders possible for his army, but the lack of depth in the ranks of season, experienced commanders, as well as the need to placate political leaders made some choices necessary evils.

The First Corps, under Longstreet remained relatively intact, but was now less the division of Major General Richard Anderson, which was transferred to the new Third Corps. The First Corps now had three divisions instead of four, those of Major General Lafayette McLaws, Major General John Bell Hood and Major General George Pickett. McLaws and Hood were both experienced division commanders who worked well under Longstreet.

McLaws had served in the old army. An 1842 graduate of West Point McLaws served in the infantry and was resigned from the army in 1861 to take command of a Georgia regiment.   McLaws was “a capable soldier without flair, who steady performance never produced a high moment. His reliability and dogged tenacity rubbed off on his men, however, and made them as hard to dislodge as any in the army.” [14] Porter Alexander noted that in the defense “McLaws was about the best in the army…being very painstaking about details, & having an eye for good ground.” [15] But there was a drawback, for all of his solidness and fortitude “he lacked a military imagination,” and was “best when told exactly what to do and closely supervised by superiors.” [16]His division was typical of many in First Corps, “outstanding on defense and led by a competent soldier, they were thoroughly dependable. With the reliance of old pro’s, they did what they were told, stood up under heavy casualties, and produced tremendous firepower.” [17]

McLaws was fortunate to have solid brigade commanders, three of whom had served with him from the beginning, so the lack of familiarity so common in the divisions of Second and Third Corps was not an issue. Interestingly none were professional soldiers.

Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw was a lawyer and politician he had served in Mexico with the Palmetto Regiment and volunteered for service as South Carolina succeeded and he was at Fort Sumter. As commander of the 2nd South Carolina and as a brigade commander he distinguished himself during the Seven Days, Antietam and Fredericksburg He displayed an almost natural ability for “quick and rational decisions, and he never endangered his men rashly. McLaws had complete faith in him and his brigade…” [18]

Brigadier General Paul Semmes was a banker and plantation owner from Georgia and the brother of the Confederacy’s most famous naval commander, Raphael Semmes, who commanded the Raider C.S.S. Alabama. Semmes “was well known in Georgia as a man both of military tastes & accomplishments before the war & though of no military education he was one of the first generals created.” [19] He commanded the 2nd Georgia Regiment and by 1862 was in command of McLaws’ old brigade which he led with distinction during the Seven Days, Antietam and Chancellorsville. By Gettysburg he “had proved himself a worthy and capable brigadier” [20] and Porter Alexander wrote “and it is due to say that there was never a braver or a better.” [21]

Brigadier General William Barksdale was a Mississippi lawyer, newspaper editor and politician who had served in Mexico as a quartermaster, but who “frequently appeared at the front during heavy fighting, often coatless and carrying a large sword.” [22] He was one of the few generals who had been “violently pro-slavery and secessionist” [23] and as a Congressman had been involved in the altercation where Representative Preston Brooks nearly killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. At the outbreak of the war Barksdale volunteered for service and took command of a brigade at Malvern Hill and at Antietam and Fredericksburg was in the thick of the fight. He had a strong bond with his soldiers.

Brigadier General William Wofford was the newest of McLaws’ brigade commanders. Wofford was a Georgia newspaper owner and lawyer who had done a great deal of fighting in the Mexican War where he commanded a company despite having no military education. He was considered a man of “high morale bearing…of the strictest sobriety, and, indeed of irreproachable moral character.” [24] Demonstrating the tensions of the day Wofford was a “staunch Unionist Democrat” who “opposed secession and voted against it at the Georgia secession convention.” [25] Wofford volunteered for service and was “elected colonel of the first Georgia regiment to volunteer for the war.” [26] That being said 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…” [27] Wofford served well as a regimental commander and acting brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg and was promoted to the brigadier general and command of a brigade just before Chancellorsville.

Major General John Bell Hood was an 1853 graduate of West Point and had served as a cavalry officer under Lee’s command in Texas. He gained a stellar reputation as a leader and fighter and when his home state of Kentucky did not secede he attached himself to his adopted state of Texas. He began the war as a lieutenant but by 1862 was a Brigadier General commanding the only Texas brigade in the east. He took command of a division following the Seven Days and during the next year built a “combat record unequalled by any in the army at his level.” [28] And the “reputation gained as commander of the Texas Brigade and as a division commander made him both a valuable general officer and a celebrity who transcended his peers.” [29]

Hood’s brigade commanders were as solid as group as any in the army:

Brigadier General Evander Law was a graduate of the South Carolina Military (the Citadel) and a professor in various military colleges and schools before the war. He served admirably as a regiment and brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, and Antietam and was promoted to brigadier general in October 1862 just prior to Fredericksburg. After Chancellorsville he was the senior brigadier in Hood’s division. He had “military training, youth, dash ability and familiarity with his men- a formidable package in combat.” [30]

Brigadier General George “Tige” Anderson was a Georgian who had served in Mexico as a lieutenant of Georgia cavalry and in 1865 was commissioned as a captain in the Regular cavalry, but resigned after three years. He had no formal military training but was considered a capable officer. He was present at most of the major battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia but in most cases his brigade had not been heavily engaged and had “little chance to distinguish himself” but he was loved by his soldiers. One wrote that he “stands up for us like a father” while another wrote “He is always at his post.” [31]

Hood’s old Texas Brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Jerome Robertson. At the age of forty-eight he had served with Sam Houston in the Texas War for Independence and later took time off to serve fighting Indians. He practiced medicine in Texas and in 1861 was a pro-secession delegate to the Texas secession convention. He was commissioned as a Captain and promoted to Colonel of the 5th Texas just prior to the Seven Days and led that unit to fame. He was promoted after Antietam to command the Texas Brigade. Away from most of the action at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he would have his first combat experience as a brigade commander at Gettysburg.

Brigadier General Henry Benning was a lawyer and Georgia Supreme Court justice. While not having any military training or experience he was “known to all as a man of the highest integrity, and he was compared in character to that earlier champion of the South, John Calhoun. He was one of the most industrious and capable men in the Confederacy.” [32] Unlike other Confederate political leaders he favored a strong central government for the new South. He was considered a prime candidate for a cabinet post but had already decided to serve in the new army and helped organize the 17th Georgia Infantry. As a regiment commander and acting brigade commander at Antietam, his brigade had held off Burnside’s corps at the Burnside Bridge and became known as “Old Rock” [33]and was a “proven commander” who “provided strong leadership and bolstered the confidence of the men under him.” [34]

Major General George Pickett had commanded his division for some time, but Pickett “had never led his division in combat.” [35] Likewise the brigades of his division had not fought together in a major engagement and the division was new to fighting as a part of First Corps. The campaign would also be Pickett’s first offensive campaign as a division commander. Pickett was an 1846 graduate of West Point who though well liked “showed evidence of a meager intellect and aversion to hard work.” [36] However he distinguished himself by his gallantry at Chapultapec in the Mexican War where taking the colors from the wounded Longstreet and “carried them over the wall[37] gaining fame around the country for the exploit. Pickett was a protégé of Longstreet who “had been instrumental in Pickett’s appointment to divisional command.” [38] Pickett was was “untried at his new rank, but had been an excellent brigade leader and with Longstreet’s full support was apt to direct with wisdom his larger force.” [39]

Pickett’s division only had three of his five brigades at Gettysburg. Two were commanded by old Regular officer’s Richard Garnett and Lewis Armistead, and the third by James Kemper.

Brigadier General James Kemper was the only non-professional soldier of the three brigade commanders. Kemper had been a captain of volunteers in the Mexican War, but that war ended before he could see action. He was a politician who had served twice as Virginia’s Speaker of the House and “was another of those civilian leaders who, accustomed to authority, translated their gifts to command in the field.” [40] During his time as a legislator Kemper had served as “chairman of the Military Affairs Committee in the years before the Civil War, and insisted on a high level of military preparedness.” [41] Kemper served as commander of the 7th Virginia Regiment and was promoted to brigadier general after Seven Pines and commanded the brigade at Second Manassas and Antietam. He was “very determined and was respected by brother officers for solid qualities and sound judgment.” [42]

Brigadier Richard Garnett came to his command and to Gettysburg under a cloud. He was a West Point graduate, class of 1841who strong Unionist, but who had resigned his commission in the Regular Army because he “felt it an imperative duty to sacrifice everything in support of his native state in her time of trial.” [43]Garnett had run afoul of Jackson while commanding the Stonewall Brigade and during the Valley campaign had been relieved of command and arrested by Jackson for ordering a retreat without Jackson’s permission. Garnett had been “humiliated by accusations of cowardice” [44] and demanded a court-martial which never was held as Lee transferred him away from Jackson to Pickett’s division. Gettysburg offered him “his first real opportunity with Pickett’s division to clear his honor as a gentleman and a soldier.” [45]

Pickett’s last brigade was commanded by an old Regular, and longtime friend and comrade of Garnett, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead. He was expelled from West Point following a dinning room brawl with Jubal Early, in which he smashed a plate on Early’s head.  However, later was commissioned directly into the infantry in 1839. He fought in the Mexican War where he received two brevet promotions for gallantry and was wounded at Chapultapec. Like Garnett Armistead resigned his commission in 1861 to serve in the Confederate army where he took command of the 57th Virginia Infantry and shortly thereafter was promoted to Brigadier General. He held brigade command and served Provost Marshal during Lee’s 1862 invasion of Maryland. He had seen little action since Second Manassas, but was known for “his toughness, sound judgment and great personal courage.” [46]

To command what was left of Second Corps Lee promoted Major General Richard Ewell to Lieutenant General. Ewell had been an effective and dependable division commander under Jackson but had been wounded at Groveton where he was severely wounded and lost a leg, which meant the “absence for long months of the most generous, best disciplined, and in many soldierly qualities, the ablest of Jackson’s subordinates.” [47] However, Ewell, though serving long with Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley had served “only briefly under Lee” [48] before being wounded at Groveton. The result was that neither fully knew or understood each other. Lee knew Ewell’s excellent reputation among the soldiers of Second Corps and “may have heard rumors that on his deathbed Jackson expressed a preference for Ewell as his successor.” [49] Ewell was a modest man and “had maintained a reputation for solid competence.” [50] Freeman wrote:

“In part, the appointment of Dick Ewell was made because of sentimental association with the name Jackson, and in part because of admiration for his unique, picturesque, and wholly lovable personality. Of his ability to lead a corps nothing was known. Ewell had never handled more than a division and he had served with Lee directly for less than a month.” [51]

In sending the recommendation on to Richmond Lee termed Ewell “an honest, brave soldier, who has always done his duty well.” [52] It was not a resounding recommendation, but then Lee barely knew Ewell. Lee wrote after the war that he recommended Ewell “with full knowledge of “his faults as a military leader- his quick alternations from elation to despondency[,] his want of decision &c.” [53]Many questions hovered around the appointment of Ewell including how the loss of his leg, his recent marriage, newness to corps command and unfamiliarity with Lee’s style of command would have on him. Had Lee known that the humble Ewell had reservations of his own about assuming command of a corps and going back to battle after the traumatic amputation of his leg, he had written “I don’t feel up to a separate command” and he had “no desire to see the carnage and shocking sights of another field of battle.” [54]

Ewell’s reorganized Second Corps now consisted of his former division, commanded since Antietam by Major General Jubal Early. Early was an unusual character. He was a West Point graduate who had served in the Seminole wars, left the army and became a highly successful lawyer. He served in the Mexican war as a Major with Virginia volunteers and returned to civilian life. He was “notoriously a bachelor and at heart a lonely man.” Unlike many Confederate officers he had “no powerful family connections, and by a somewhat bitter tongue and rasping wit” isolated himself from his peers.[55] He was a Whig and opposed succession, volunteering for service only after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion. Called the “my old bad man” by Lee, who “appreciated Early’s talents as a soldier and displayed personal fondness for his cantankerous and profane Lieutenant …who only Stonewall Jackson received more difficult assignments from Lee.” [56] He was affectionately known as “Old Jube” or “Jubilee” by his soldiers he is the most influential of Ewell’s commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [57]

The corps had tow other divisions, one, the former division of Stonewall Jackson under the command of Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson, an old regular with a solid record of service. However, Johnson had spent a year recovering from a serious wound and took command of the division after Chancellorsville. He was an outsider to the division, “with no real experience above the brigade level” and he was “unfamiliar with the qualities and limitations of his four new brigadiers.” [58] The former division of D.H. Hill was now under the command of Robert Rodes, a VMI graduate and professor who had never served in the Regular Army and only had briefly commanded a division before his appointment to command. Rodes was a solid officer who in time became an excellent division commander, but at Gettysburg he was still new and untried. In the summer of 1863 Rodes was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s brightest stars…because of his effective, up-front style of combat leadership.” [59]

The brigade level commanders in the corps were another matter. Early’s division included standouts such as Brigadier General John Gordon and Harry Hays, which was balanced out by the weakness of Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith and the inexperience of Colonel Isaac Avery, who commanded the brigade of Robert Hoke who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

In Johnson’s division the situation was even more unsettled, as Johnson and all of his brigade commanders were new to their commands. Johnson had the brigades of Brigadier General George “Maryland” Steuart, a tough old regular cavalry officer who was new to command of a troubled brigade whose commander had just been relieved. Brigadier General John Marshall Jones who also was a former regular commanded his second brigade, but Jones  had a well-known problem with alcohol and had never held a field command. He like his division commander he was new to the division. Brigadier General James Walker commanded the “Stonewall” Brigade. Walker replaced the former brigade commander, Paxton who had been killed at Chancellorsville. He had commanded the 13th Virginia in Ewell’s division and served as acting commander of different brigades during the Seven Days, Antietam and Fredericksburg and had a solid record of success. He had just been promoted to Brigadier General and was new to both the Stonewall Brigade and the division. Many Stonewall Brigade officers initially resisted the appointment of an outsider but soon warmed up to their new commander. The commander of his fourth brigade, Colonel Jesse Williams had just taken command of that brigade fro. Brigadier General Francis Nichols who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

Rodes’s division was the largest in the army.  It had five brigades present at Gettysburg. Rodes’s  brigade commanders were a mixed bag ranging from the excellent Brigadier General George Doles, the young Brigadier General Stephen Ramseur, and Brigadier General Junius Daniel, a former regular who had much brigade command time but little combat experience. Despite his lack of combat experience Daniel was well respected and “had the essential qualities of a true soldier and successful officer, brave, vigilant, honest…gifted as an organizer and disciplinarian, skilled in handling troops.” [60]However, Rodes was saddled with two commanders of dubious quality, Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, who was hated by his men and Colonel Edward O’Neal, a leading secessionist politician “who had absolutely no military experience before the war” [61] and who had been ineffective as an acting brigade commander when he took over for Rodes at Chancellorsville, however, Lee was forced to leave O’Neal at the head of his brigade for lack of other senior leaders over Rodes objections.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Tuchman, Barbara The Guns of August Ballantine Books, New York 1962 Amazon Kindle edition location 2946

[2] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.128

[3] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.30

[4] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.524

[5] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.30

[6] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare.Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.110

[7] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.527

[8] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 pp.20-21

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

[10] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.20-21

[11] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.289

[12] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.35

[13] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.12

[14] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition pp.208-209

[15] 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.170

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

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

[18] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.214

[19] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.80

[20] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.217

[21] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.80

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

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.224

[29] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.161

[30] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.228

[31] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.230

[32] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.234

[33] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.430

[34] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.235

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

[36] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.237

[37] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.45

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

[39] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.385

[40] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.268

[41] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.241

[42] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.269

[43] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.269

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.379

[45] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.270

[46] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.244

[47] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.322

[48] Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.47

[49] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.47

[50] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.130

[51] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.322

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

[53] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p..49

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

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

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

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

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

[59] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p. 284

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

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

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In the Shadow of Jackson: Lee Begins to Reorganize his Army for the Gettysburg Campaign

Lee1

General Robert E. Lee C.S.A.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another section from one of my three draft books on the Battle of Gettysburg. This one is about the loss of Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had on Robert E. Lee after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Jackson’s shadow and building myth loomed large over the Army and the Confederacy. I will continue this tomorrow since I am still in the midst of working on completing Mine Eyes of Seen the Glory. Hopefully I can finish it by Sunday. I wasted a couple of hours chasing a rabbit that was important but didn’t need the work I put into it. So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

An issue faced by armies that are forced to expand to meet the demands of war is the promotion and selection of competent leaders at all levels of command. It has been an issue throughout American military history including during our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The expansion of forces, the creation of new units, combined with the operational demands to employ those units often creates a leadership vacuum that must be filled. Sometimes this results in officers being promoted, being given field command or critical senior staff positions, who have critical deficiencies of leadership, character, intellect, experience or lack the necessary skill sets to do the job.

We may not see this as often in a long term professional military which has been at war for a significant amount of time, but during the Civil War it was something that both sides had to wrestle with, even for high level commanders. The nature of the armies involved, the high proportion of volunteer officers and political appointees coupled with the dearth of officers who had commanded anything larger than a company or widely scattered regiment made this a necessary evil.

To be fair, some officers of limited experience or training do rise to the occasion and perform in an exemplary manner. Others do not. Those leaders that do not are quite often weeded out over the course of time but often not before their lack of experience, or incompetence proves disastrous on the battlefield. As Barbara Tuchman so eloquently put it:

“When the moment of live ammunition approaches, the moment to which all his professional training has been directed, when the lives of the men under him, the issue of the combat, even the fate of a campaign may depend upon his decision at a given moment, what happens inside the heart and vitals of a commander? Some are made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.” [1]

Of course the selection of competent and experienced leaders is essential to the planning and execution of all aspects of Joint Planning and Mission Command, as is the proper supervision and command and control on the battlefield. As was noted in Infantry in Battle:

“Of course, a leader cannot be everywhere, but he can and should weigh the capabilities and limitations of his subordinates, determine the critical point or time of the action, and lend the weight and authority of personal supervision where it is most needed.” [2]

The Death of Stonewall Jackson and the Reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia

Stonewall_Jackson

Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson C.S.A

Stonewall Jackson was dead, and with his death after the Pyrrhic victory at Chancellorsville, General Robert E. Lee was faced with the necessity of reorganizing the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson’s loss was disastrous for Lee, for he lost the one man who understood him and his method of command more than anyone, someone for whom he had a deep and abiding affection. Months before Jackson’s death Lee said of him: “Such an executive officer the sun has never shown on, I have but to show him my design, and I know that it if it can be done it will be done.” [3]

Jackson’s loss loomed large over the Army and the Confederate nation. Jefferson Davis told his wife Varina at Jackson’s funeral “saw a tear escape her husband’s eye and land on Jackson’s face. “You must excuse me,” Davis said later after silently ignoring a fellow mourner’s conversation. “I am still staggered from such a dreadful blow. I cannot think.” [4] Davis telegraphed Lee and described Jackson’s death “A great national calamity has befallen us.” [5] Lee was devastated, but stoic. When he told his Chief of artillery, Brigadier General William Pendleton of Jackson’s death he wept. Lee told his son Custis “It is a terrible loss. I do not know how to replace him. Any victory would be dear at such a cost. But God’s will be done.” [6]

Likewise, the death of Jackson was felt throughout the Confederacy, and not just from a military point of view. Southerners saw the war “as a spiritual and religious crusade, a test of the superiority of their devoutness and culture.” [7] As such victory was seen as part of God’s blessing and defeat or loss of Divine punishment. Jackson was a part of that, his legendary piety, valor and success on the battlefield had imbued the spiritual dimension of the Confederate cause with proof of God’s favor. He had been sent by God, and even in death his memory inspired Confederates, one poet “described Jackson as the Confederate Moses who would not get to the Promised Land” [8] although others most certainly would. In a war where death had become more pervasive and affected almost everyone in the South in a personal way, through the loss of family, friends, or home it was easy to lose sight of “basic values and transcending causes. Jackson’s death brought those values and causes to the fore. To what end remained unclear. The certitude of a holy cause that greeted the war’s onset slid into doubt….” [9] After the war soldiers, journalists and civilians pointed to Jackson’s death as “a premonition of their coming defeat.” One wrote “The melancholy news affected the Confederates in the same way that various omens predicted, before Troy could be captured affected the city’s defenders.” [10]

A forlorn Southern woman wrote: “He was the nation’s idol, not a breath even from a foe has ever been breathed against his fame. His very enemies reverenced him. God has taken him away from us that we may lean more upon Him, feel that he can raise up to Himself instruments to work His Divine Will.” [11] An officer in the Army of Northern Virginia wrote: “One of the greatest heroes of the war has been called from us by an all-wise Providence, no doubt as a punishment for ascribing to a mere man praises due to God for giving us Jackson with the virtues and talents he possessed.” [12] Seeing Jackson’s death in light of the defeat at Gettysburg and other major Confederate reverses in the summer of 1863 Virginia Presbyterians decided that Jackson’s “Untimely” death marked a “further chastisement for sins, especially ingratitude, pride, and dependency on an arm of the flesh.” [13]

In death, Jackson, a harsh and unforgiving man, who before anyone advocated the burning of enemy cities and the indiscriminate killing of Union soldiers. He also was unforgiving to any member of his command who fell short of his standards, officers and enlisted alike. From the summary relief of officers to the executions of enlisted men his discipline was rooted in his religious convictions which led him to a certitude that his actions were right. But a myth built around him in death, the myth of a righteous warrior, and that myth would overshadow the Generals that Lee would replace him. Richard Ewell and Ambrose Powell Hill. 

After Jackson’s loss Lee said “I had such implicit confidence in Jackson’s skill and energy that I never troubled myself to give him detailed instructions. The most general suggestions were all that he needed.” [14] Lee met the loss with “resignation and deep perplexity,” his words displayed that sense of loss, as well as his sense of faith and trust in God’s providence “I know not how to replace him. God’s will be done. I trust He will raise someone up in his place…” [15] In losing Jackson Lee lost a commander who had the ability to make his most imaginative plans come to life and find fulfillment and despite his efforts he never succeeded in finding a suitable replacement. Jackson was not a great tactician, but unlike any other Confederate commander he could implement Lee’s plans through his:

“single-mindedness of purpose, his unbending devotion to duty, his relentlessness as a foe, and his burning desire at whatever cost, for victory….He possessed an unmatched ability to impose his will on recalcitrant subordinates and on his enemies.” [16]

In addition to the loss of Jackson, Lee was desperately short of qualified senior and mid-level officers and Lee “understood how the diminishing numbers of quality officers impacted the army’s effectiveness.” [17] The problem was serious throughout the army, even though Lee had been victories in many battles, was that it suffered badly from high casualty counts, not just in the aggregate number of troops lost, but in leaders. “From the Seven Days to Chancellorsville, few if any regiments had not lost multiple field grade officers. Casualties among colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors surpassed 300 in total in all of the engagements.”[18]

A major part of Lee’s problem was organizational. In 1862 Lee inherited an army that was a “hodgepodge of forces” [19] which was organized in an “unwieldy divisional command system, where green commanders out of necessity were given considerable independence.” [20] That organization was tested and found wanting during the Seven Days campaign where on numerous occasions division commanders failed to coordinate their actions with those of adjacent divisions or failed to effectively control their own troops during movement to contact or combat.

Shortly after the Seven Days Lee reorganized the army, working with the material that he had. He divided the army into two wings since “Confederate law still did not allow for corps commands” [21] under Jackson and James Longstreet. Each wing was composed of four divisions and consisted of about 30,000 troops apiece. Both would be appointed Lieutenant Generals and their command’s recognized officially as the First Corps and the Second Corps in October 1862. These were massive forces, each nearly three times the size of a Union Corps in the Army of the Potomac.

While both Longstreet and Jackson were technically equals, and Longstreet Jackson’s senior by one day, it was Jackson to whom Lee relied on for the most daring tasks, and whom he truly considered his closest confidant and his “executive officer.” The relationship between Lee and Jackson was one of the most remarkable collaborations in military history and Lee owed much of his battlefield success to Jackson, and as J.F.C Fuller wrote: “Without Jackson, Lee was a one armed pugilist. Jackson possessed that brutality essential in war; Lee did not” [22]

The organization worked well at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, although Longstreet’s corps was detached from the army at the time of the latter. When Jackson was wounded at Chancellorsville on the first night of that battle neither A.P. Hill nor J.E.B. Stuart were able effectively commanded Second Corps during the remainder of the battle.

The temperament and personalities of Longstreet and Jackson served to balance each other, and each enjoyed the trust of Lee. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda calls them the:

“yin and yang of subordinates. Jackson was superb at guessing from a few words exactly what Lee wanted done, and setting out to do it immediately without argument or further instructions; Longstreet was as good a soldier, but he was an instinctive contrarian and stubbornly insisted on making Lee think twice, and to separate what was possible from what was not.” [23]

Both men had been instrumental to Lee’s battlefield success and both played indispensable roles in Lee’s ability to command the army.

Likewise, the sheer size of Lee’s formations posed problems both in moment and combat, as Lee noted “Some of our divisions exceed the army Genl Scott entered Mexico with, & our brigades are larger than divisions”…that created stupendous headaches in “causing orders & req[uisitions] to be obeyed.” [24] Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis on May 20th “I have for the past year felt that the corps of the army were too large for one commander. Nothing prevented my proposing to you to reduce their size and increase their number but my inability to recommend commanders.” [25]

In the hands of Longstreet and Jackson these massive corps were in the good hands of leaders who could effectively handle them, “but in anyone else’s hands, a corps the size of Jackson’s or Longstreet’s might prove so big as to become clumsy, or even worse, might call for a degree of micromanagement that Lee and his diminutive staff might not be able to deliver.” [26] Lee recognized this and did not try to replace Jackson. Instead he wrote Jefferson Davis and explained the reasons for creating a new corps:

“Each corps contains in fighting condition about 30,000 men. These are more than one man can handle & keep under his eye in battle….They are always beyond the range and vision & frequently beyond his reach. The loss of Jackson from the command of one half of the army seems to me a good opportunity to remedy this evil.” [27]

Instead of appointing one man to command Second Corps, Lee reorganized the army and created two corps from it. He stripped a division of Longstreet’s First Corps, that of Richard Anderson, to join the new Third Corps. He also divided the large “Light” Division, which under Hill’s “intelligent administration probably is the best in the army” [28] into two divisions, one commanded by Dorsey Pender and the other by Harry Heth.

The problem for Lee was just who to place in command of the new corps and divisions that he was creating. Lee was deeply aware of this problem, and wrote to John Bell Hood that the army would be “invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. There never were such men in an Army before. The will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. But there is the difficulty-proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” [29] Lee sought the best commanders possible for his army, but the lack of depth in the ranks of season, experienced commanders, as well as the need to placate political leaders made some choices necessary evils.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Tuchman, Barbara The Guns of August Ballantine Books, New York 1962 Amazon Kindle edition location 2946

[2] _________. Infantry In Battle The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC 1939, reprinted by the USACGSC with the permission of the Association of the United States Army p.195

[3] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.128

[4] Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour Harper Collins Publishers New York 1991 p.501

[5] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.524

[6] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.208

[7] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.235

[8] Rable, George C. God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2010 p.261

[9] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.279

[10] Royster, Charles The destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1991 p.227

[11] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.255

[12] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.236

[13] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.261

[14] 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.30

[15] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.524

[16] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.209

[17] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.217

[18] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.217

[19] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.30

[20] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare.Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.110

[21] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee p.157

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

[23] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.527

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 pp.20-21

[25] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.248

[26] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.20-21

[27] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.289

[28] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.35

[29] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.12

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Planning Matters: Robert E. Lee’s Failure to Link Grand Strategy to Operational Objectives in the Gettysburg Campaign

jefferson_davis_and_his_cabinet

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another busy day, another night with a section from one of my three draft books on the Battle of Gettysburg so I can do more work to finish up “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” This is about Robert E. Lee’s poor strategic and operational planning for the Gettysburg campaign. Military leaders in many eras made these same kind of dreadful decisions, but civilian leaders can too in dealing with let’s say things like responding to pandemics. I’ll just leave that to lay.

Have a great night, and please stay safe.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. However in May of 1863 the leaders of the Confederacy allowed themselves to choose the worst possible course of action for their circumstances simply because it was proposed by Robert E. Lee.

The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the euphoria after the Lee and Jackson’s victory at Chancellorsville. In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter.

If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [1] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [2]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [3] in their upper leadership. Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [4]

american14_51

Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.” [5] From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, however, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [6] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [7]Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [8] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [9]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [10] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [11] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [12] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [13]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” [14] In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…[15] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [16]

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As I have already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. He believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [17] Instead, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. He proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [18] and sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful receiving two relatively untested brigades from Hill, those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.”[19]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.”[20] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [21] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down very real threats.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [22] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [23]Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it, unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [24] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [25] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [26]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. In the meeting with the cabinet Postmaster-General Reagan, agreeing with General Beauregard warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [27] Likewise, Stephens the fire breathing Vice President “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [28]

Lee believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations. While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan notes that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.”[29] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [30]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third.

Likewise Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and counterproductive to Southern strategy. Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [31] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like a Fredericksburg he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [32] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic point level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [33]

What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. It was a long shot and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go north also exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [34] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [35] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [36]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [37] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander. Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. He understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

Notes

[1] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME

[2] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101

[3] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629

[4] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5

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

[6] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.193

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to MeridianRandom House, New York 1963 p.429

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429

[10] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525

[11] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241

[12] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656

[13] Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705

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

[15] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[16] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430

[18] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528

[19] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[21] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[22] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6

[23] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

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

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

[26] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[27] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[28] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[29] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.2

[30] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[31] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134

[32] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.120

[33] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415

[34] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[35] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[37] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4

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The Gettysburg Campaign: Change, Uncertainty, and Prelude to Battle

army of the potomac

The Army of the Potomac on the Move

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

If you were an ordinary soldier in either the Army of the Potomac or Army of Northern Virginia June 28th 1863 would not have been much different than any of the previous days, in fact it was “uneventful for men in the ranks.” [1] Both armies had been on the march for over three weeks, and now both armies were across the Potomac, Lee’s was now mostly in Pennsylvania and Hooker’s following in Maryland. With the exception of the cavalry engagements at Brandy Station, Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville, and Ewell’s easy victory over Milroy at Winchester, the main body of either army had been engaged.

The morale of the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia was high, and reflected by Lee’s own attitude toward the campaign. Colonel Eppa Hunton of the 8th Virginia recalled that Lee told him that “the invasion of Pennsylvania would be a great success, and if so, it would end the war, or we would have rest for some time to come.” Hunton added, “General Lee was so enthusiastic about the movement that I threw away my doubts and became as enthusiastic as he was.”[2] Like its commander the army was superbly confident as it marched north. A Virginian observing the army as it marched through Maryland recalled: “The health of the troops was never better and above all the morale of the army was never more favorable for offensive or defensive operations….Victory will inevitably attend our arms in any collision with the enemy.” [3] Another soldier later recalled “no one ever admitted the possibility of defeat across the Potomac.” [4]

Robert E. Lee

However, Robert E. Lee was uneasy, but not overly concerned. Though he had not heard anything from J.E.B. Stuart since June 23rd, when Stuart had begun his ride, he was still confident. Not knowing the location of the Federal army, Lee met with Major General Isaac Trimble on the evening of June 27th at his headquarters near Chambersburg. Though he had been slated to command to division now commanded by Allegheny Johnson, he had been slow to recover from a leg wound incurred in 1862 and could not take command. Though he did not have a command, Trimble had accompanied the army north, as Lee did not want to lose “the services of so hard a fighter as this veteran of all the Second Corps victories from First through Second Manassas.” [5] Trimble recalled the words of a very confident commander:

“Our army is in good spirits, not overly fatigued, and can be concentrated on any point in twenty-four hours or less. I have not yet heard that the enemy have crossed the Potomac, and I am waiting to hear from General Stuart….They will come up, probably through Frederick, broken down with hunger and hard marching….I shall throw up an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, [and] drive one corps back on another…create a panic and virtually destroy the enemy.” [6]

Trimble was “stirred” by Lee’s words and told Lee that he did “not doubt of the outcome of such a confrontation, especially because the moral of the Army of Northern Virginia had never been higher than it was now.” [7] Lee agreed and “as Trimble rose to go, Lee laid his hand on the map and pointed to a little town east of the mountains, Gettysburg by name, from which roads radiated like so many spikes. “Hereabout,” he said, “we shall probably meet the army and fight a great battle, and if God gives us the victory, the war will be over and we shall achieve the recognition of our independence.” [8]

George Gordon Meade

On the night of June 27th Major General George Gordon Meade was simply one of seven Corps Commanders in the Army of the Potomac. As Trimble left and Lee settled in for the night, Meade, Commander of V Corps, was at his new headquarters located at Robert McGill’s farm outside of Frederick. Meade was asleep in his tent, was unaware that Colonel James A. Hardie, Halleck’s Assistant Adjutant General, was on a train from Washington with orders that would change the course of the war. Hardie arrived in Fredericksburg after midnight and instead of remaining for the night rented a carriage and made his way directly to Meade’s headquarters, bearing in his hand “General Orders 194…relieving General Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac and appointing General Meade in his place.” [9]

Meade, desired the appointment as commander of the Army did not expect it. Meade, a career soldier “possessed ambition but had never allowed it to consume him as Joseph Hooker had.” [10] Meade believed that if Hooker was relieved of command that John Reynolds of First Corps or another would receive it. Meade was outranked by his fellow Corps commanders Reynolds and John Sedgwick of VI Corps, and he felt that Reynolds was the ideal man to command the army.

Meade wrote to his wife the reasons he believed that he would not get command a few days before: “because I have no friends, political or others, who press or advance my claims or pretentions.” [11] The latter was not because Meade did not have friends, but because unlike Hooker, Sickles and so many others he stayed out of the various political cabals in the army and their constant intrigues. Meade, though on bad terms with Hooker was not one of the Generals who conspired against Hooker in the weeks following Chancellorsville. He told Governor Andrew Curtain of Pennsylvania that “I should be very sorry to see him removed, unless a decidedly better man is substituted.”[12]

On June 25th Meade had written his wife Margaret, who was uneasy with the rumors that her husband might be named head of the army. Reiterating his belief that he did not have the necessary political connections, and that there were others at least as competent or more to lead the army, he wrote:

“For these reasons I have never indulged in any dreams of ambition, contented to await events, and do my duty in the sphere it pleases God to place me in…and I really think that it would be well for you to take the same philosophical view; but do you know, I think your ambition is being roused and that you are beginning to be bitten with the dazzling prospect of having for a husband a commanding general of an army. How is this?” [13]

At 3:00 A.M. Hardie arrived. “Led to Meade’s tent, Hardie greeted the suddenly awakened general by saying he brought “trouble.” [14]Meade wrote his wife:

“At 3:00 A.M. I was roused from my sleep by an officer from Washington entering my tent…and after waking me up, saying he had come to give me trouble. At first I thought that it was to either relieve or arrest me, and promptly replied to him, that my conscience was clear, void of offense towards any man; I was prepared for his bad news. He then handed me a communication to read: which I found was an order relieving Hooker from the command and assigning me to it.” [15]

Meade stated his objections to Hardie, again reiterating his belief that Reynolds should command the army but Hardie explained that the decision had been made-Meade had no choice but to obey his orders or resign. Hardie provided Meade a letter from Halleck which said “Considering the circumstances…no one ever received a more important command; and I cannot doubt that you will firmly justify the confidence that the Government has reposed in you.” [16]

The order gave Meade command of the troops at Harper’s Ferry which had been denied to Hooker just days before. It also gave him freedom of command. It read: “You will not be hampered by any minute instructions from these headquarters” and “you are free to act as you deem proper under the circumstances as they arise.” [17] Likewise Meade was authorized to take command General Couch’s forces along the Susquehanna. A further power given to Meade which had not been given to previous commanders of the Army of the Potomac was the authority to relieve from command and dismiss officers from the army, or appoint to command officers regardless of seniority as he saw fit. It was a power that during the tumult of battle that he would use well in the coming days.

Meade went by horseback with Hardie and his son Captain George Meade to Hooker’s headquarters at Prospect Hall. The previous night Hooker who after hearing nothing after Halleck’s terse response to his request to be relieved “had convinced himself that the ensuing silence meant that he had beaten Halleck.” [18] But now, Hooker, aware that Hardie was in the camp, and obviously correctly assumed that he was through as the commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker greeted his visitors in his dress uniform and with “much effort he tried to hide his feelings and by extreme courtesy to relieve the situation of embarrassment.” [19]

Meade had not seen Hooker in two weeks and had no idea how scattered the army was. When Hooker and Dan Butterfield his Chief of Staff briefed Meade, and Meade learned of the army’s disposition he “unguardedly expressed himself.” Hooker “retorted with feeling. [20] Despite the uncomfortableness of the situation Hooker and Meade were able to successfully pass command of the army and Hooker issued General Order 66 in which “he praised his successor and asked the army to extend the hearty support it had given him. He added: 

“Impressed with the ability that my usefulness as the commander of the Army of the Potomac is impaired I part from it; yet not without the deepest emotion.

The sorrow of parting with comrades of so many battles is relieved by the conviction that the courage and devotion of this army will never cease to fail.” [21]

Meade’s words in his General Order 67 are indicative of his feelings on assuming command of the army:

“By direction of the President of the United States, I hereby assume command of the Army of the Potomac…. As a soldier obeying this order- an order totally unexpected and unsolicited- I have no promises to make.”

‘The country looks to this army to relieve it from the devastation and disgrace of a foreign invasion. Whatever fatigues and sacrifices we may be called to undergo, let us have in view, constantly the magnitude of the interests involved, and let each man determine to do his duty, leaving to an all-controlling Providence the decision of the contest.

“It is with great diffidence that I relieve in the command of this army an eminent and accomplished soldier, whose name must appear conspicuous in the history of its achievements; but I rely on the hearty support of my companions in arms to assist me in the discharge of the duties of the important trust which has been confided to me.” [22]

That afternoon Meade sent a note to Halleck telling him he had received “the order placing me in command of this army” and that “as a soldier, I obey it.” [23] Reynolds was among the first corps commanders to pay his respects to Meade, and Meade “grabbed him by the arm and earnestly told him he wished Reynolds had received the assignment. Reynolds replied that Meade was the right choice and that he would do whatever was necessary to support him.” [24]John Gibbon greeted Meade’s appointment “with a sigh of relief” and Reynold’s artillery commander wrote “For my part, I think that we have got the best man of the two, much as I think of Reynolds….” [25]

Meade had good reason to wish that Reynolds or another had been appointed and certainly welcomed his friend Reynolds’ support. Meade knew that he was not Lincoln’s first choice for the job, partly because of being associated with George McClellan, as well as his own political ties as a Democrat, and the opposition of leading Republicans to his appointment to any command. He had run afoul of the Northern abolitionist “fire eaters” in Detroit when Fort Sumter was fired on, and “while he was a staunch Unionist he was dismayed by the arrogance of the fire-eaters, to whom Southern secession looked like a simple riot which would be suppressed by the mere appearance of Federal troops.” [26] William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper The Liberator had early on tired Meade and found him to be wanting in abolitionist sentiment: “There seems to be a marked deficiency of benevolence, and a dainty, aristocratic look, which…reveals a character that never efficiently and consistently served a liberal cause.” [27]

Aware of the fate of other officers who had a similar political bent, such as Fitz-John Porter who was “court-martialed, cashiered and disgraced” [28] after being falsely accused of “disobedience of orders during the Second Battle of Bull Run” [29] by John Pope who had brought about the disaster. Thus with that in mind Meade understood the political danger that his appointment entailed. “If he was successful in protecting Washington and Baltimore or if he somehow defeated Lee and drove the Confederates back across the Potomac, he would receive precious little credit from the Lincoln administration; if he failed, even for the most plainly military reasons, he expected to be pilloried without mercy as a halfheart and traitor.” [30]

The appointment of Meade was met with relief by most of his fellow Corps commanders. He was respected by them, despite having “a cold, even irascible, edge to him, particularly when occupied with army business. He was demanding of himself and of aids and subordinates,” [31] but what mattered to them was that Meade “was a thorough soldier, and a “mighty clear headed man”, with “extraordinary courage.” [32] A future staff officer noted that Meade “will pitch himself in a moment, if he thinks he has done wrong; and woe to those, no matter who they are, who do not do right.” [33]

He was viewed as a truthful, honest and caring commander who after a blow- up would do what he could to reconcile. He was passionate about the lives of his troops and whenever possible avoided battles that he believed their sacrifice would be in vain. He knew his trade, paid close attention to detail and knew and understood his troops and commanders. He had earned respect throughout his career and during the battles on the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville proved that he was an excellent leader and commander of troops.

All that being said Meade was virtually “an unknown quantity outside of his corps.” [34] Many in the rank and file wondered about the change of commanders in the middle of the campaign, “What’s Meade ever done?” was a common response among the men- those outside his corps at least- when they heard that he was their new commander. The general himself had few delusions on this score. “I know they call me a damned old snapping turtle….” [35] These soldiers had seen good and bad commanders and seen how Washington had dealt with each one, but by now “their training in the school of hard knocks under fumbling leaders had toughened the soldiers to a flinty self-reliance that left many indifferent to the identity of their commander. [36]On the eve of battle they had a new commanding general and “they were almost within rifleshot of a supremely aggressive enemy…whatever happened during the next week, the one certainty was now that the soldiers themselves would run this next battle. The most that could be expected of Meade was that he would make no ruinous mistakes.” [37]It not only was an army with a new leader, but in its soul, the Army of the Potomac was a different army than Lee had ever faced. In fact, though Lee won the Battle Of Chancellorsville, with the possible exception of some units of Howard’s XI Corps, the rank and file and many leaders of the Army Of the Potomac did not accept the defeat and wanted another chance at Lee.

Meade had an immense task to accomplish. When he went to bed on the night of the 27th he was unaware of the locations of the bulk of the Federal Army and knew that Lee was already deep in Pennsylvania. Meade was determined to bring Lee to battle was cautious as he did not want to take a chance of his forces being split up and defeated in detail.

With his assumption of command Meade had to make some organizational changes. Against the advice of some Meade kept General Daniel Butterfield as his Chief of Staff despite Butterfield’s close association with Hooker and his political cabal.  He appointed Major General George Sykes to command his old V Corps and wired Halleck with an “unheard of request: to promote in one jump three brilliant young officers from the rank of captain to that of brigadier general. They were Elon J. Farnsworth of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, George A Custer of the 5th United States Cavalry and Wesley Merritt of the 2nd United States Cavalry.” [38] Each was appointed to command brigades in Pleasanton’s Cavalry Corps which was being reorganized that day.

Meade had a great advantage over Lee in that Colonel George Sharpe of the Bureau of Military Information had provided him with the information that “the enemy force does not exceed 80,000 men and 275 guns,” as well as “a remarkably accurate outline of Lee’s movements.” [39] The information allowed Meade to begin his pursuit of Lee in earnest the following morning.

Meade knew that if he was to defeat Lee he had to concentrate his combat power. He wired Halleck that he would “move toward the Susquehanna keeping Baltimore and Washington well covered, and if the enemy is checked in his attempt to cross the Susquehanna or if he turns toward Baltimore, to give him battle.” [40] He prepared a fallback position along Pipe Creek and gave his Corps commanders permission to withdraw back to the Pipe Creek line outside Taneytown Maryland if they felt threatened by a larger Confederate force, and on the morning of June 29th the Army of the Potomac began to march north where it was fated to do battle with its old nemesis.

Any commander that embarks on a high risk offensive operation in enemy territory must do so with great care, especially in regard to command and control of his forces. This is especially true regarding reconnaissance, and intelligence. Lee had been operating blind for well over a week and this was his fault. Because Lee had issued such vague orders to his Cavalry Corps Commander, J.E.B. Stuart, Stuart was well to the east conducting a ride around the Federal army. Stuart was now completely useless to Lee, who needed the intelligence alone Stuart could provide, and without a Cavalry screen on his right flank. Now Lee was reaping the results of his carelessness in planning, order writing, and overconfidence. 

Though Lee still had three brigades of Stuart’s Cavalry Division available, none were in a position to assist his reconnaissance needs. Again blame for this has to be laid at the feet of Lee. Robertson’s and Jones’ brigades were still deep in Virginia guarding Snicker’s and Ashby’s Gap. Iboden’s Brigade was to the west at Hancock Maryland. Jenkins’ brigade, which was not a part of Stuart’s division, was far to the front with Ewell’s Corps. Had Robertson followed Stuart’s orders “Lee would not have felt the want of adequate cavalry support” [41] but since Robertson had remained stationary Lee had nothing available when he needed it.

In the case of the selection of Jones’ and Robertson’s brigades for the mission of screening Lee, Stuart made a critical mistake. Jones and Robertson both had serious deficiencies as leaders and proved that neither had Lee’s “confidence or understood his expectations…and Stuart badly misread the amount of personal connection his superior required.” [42] While Lee’s orders to Stuart allowed him to go off on his mission, Lee had plenty of cavalry available. However, he employed it in a woeful manner and did not take the steps necessary to ensure that the commanders assigned understood his expectations. This was another critical mistake made by Lee and as Alan T. Nolan wrote: “There seems to be no excuse for Lee’s finding himself at Chambersburg on the 28th without a single regiment of cavalry” [43] The tragic thing for the Confederacy was that Lee would make this same mistake in failing to communicate his intent with other subordinates throughout the campaign.

James Longstreet

Late on the night of June 28th Lieutenant General James Longstreet “was woken by someone banging on his tent pole.” [44] It was the assistant Inspector General, Major John W. Fairfax who had with him a man claiming to have information on the movement and location of the Army of the Potomac. The man’s name was Harrison and he was an actor, employed by Longstreet as a “scout.” Harrison was one of those mysterious figures that occasionally show up in the context of a historical event and make it even more interesting.

Harrison brought word to Longstreet the news Hooker’s relief and replacement by Meade as well as the location of Federal Cavalry as well as the location of five of the Army of the Potomac’s seven army corps, all too close for comfort. Questioned about the location and activities of Stuart, Harrison could give no information. The news was electrifying and Longstreet immediately sent Fairfax with Harrison to Lee’s headquarters. Lee distrusted spies and was “very reluctant to make a move without confirmation of his cavalry.” [45] Lee was skeptical of the news and told Fairfax “I do not know what to do….I cannot hear from General Stuart, the eye of the army. What do you think of Harrison? I have no confidence in any scout, but General Longstreet thinks a good deal of Harrison.” [46]

Lee’s puzzlement at finding the federal army across the Potomac is curious as he had known as early as June 23rd of the pontoon bridge being built over the Potomac, but he seemed paralyzed by the absence of Stuart. The surprise of the Union Army being concentrated so near him took away Lee’s ability to retain the initiative of a campaign of maneuver. Because his army was so scattered he was now in danger of being hit and defeated in detail by the Federal army, “Meade, in short, might be able to do what he had planned to do to Hooker- defeat him in detail.” [47]It was a dangerous position for him to be in and he knew it. In a sense he was fortunate that on June 28th  the Army of the Potomac was changing command and unable to strike while he was so vulnerable.

With the knowledge that the Federal army was near Lee acted with alacrity to concentrate his army in the Cashtown and Gettysburg area. “Within eight hours of Harrison’s report to Lee” [48] Lee had set in motion orders to all commands of his scattered army.  Lee still had “no idea of the whereabouts of the enemy’s forces beyond what Longstreet’s spy had just told him- information that was already twenty-four hours old,” and did have “any idea of how to remedy this intelligence gathering void.” [49] He knew precious little other than the fact that “Hooker’s army, now under Meade, was across the mountain from him and that it was Stuart who was still in Virginia,” [50] a fact he had learned from Captain James Power Smith who informed Lee that he had met two troopers of Stuart’s division who “casually told him that on the preceding day (Saturday the 27th) that they had left the main body of cavalry under Stuart in Prince William County back in northern Virginia. When Smith passed on this information, General Lee, he said, “was evidently surprised and disturbed.” [51]

Another consequence of his lack of available cavalry was that he had to leave Pickett’s division to guard the rear until Imboden’s cavalry could arrive to take up the task. The detention of Pickett’s division would be another unfortunate consequence of Stuart’s absence that would plague Lee during the battle, especially on July 2nd when Longstreet’s corps would be without Pickett’s troops as they assaulted the Federal left.

On the afternoon of June 29th Lee met with a number of officers and his outward calm was still present. He told them “Tomorrow, gentlemen, we will not move to Harrisburg, as we expected, but will go over to Gettysburg and see what General Meade is after.” [52] When questioned by his subordinates about the relief of Hooker, and by his replacement by Lee’s former subordinate, Meade, Lee noted “General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it.” [53]

John Buford

Meade too had recognized the importance of Gettysburg and began to move his forces toward the town even as Lee gathered his army. He sent the evening of the 30th the 1st Cavalry Division under the command of Brigadier General John Buford, a seasoned Indian fighter and brigade commander conducting his first battle commanding a division ahead to Gettysburg. Meade then  “redirected the 1st, 3rd and 11th Corps north toward Emmitsburg and the Pennsylvania state line, and the 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 12th Corps to the northeast toward Pipe Creek and Taneytown.” [54]

On the morning of June 30th, Buford detected Confederate infantry to the west of the town. Buford had a keen eye for terrain and instantly recognized that the area around Gettysburg was favorable ground. He knew that the battle was to be there and sent word back to John Reynolds, commander of I Corps:

“Have Occupied Gettysburg. Contacted large force of Reb infantry. I think they are coming this way. Expect they will be here in force in the morning.”[55]

[1] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster New York 1968 p. 180

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.226

[3] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.67

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.455

[5] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.445

[6] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.140

[7] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.446

[8] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.320

[9] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.123

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.267

[11] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.446

[12] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.145

[13] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.147

[14] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.266

[15] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York, 2003. p.102

[16] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.148

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.451

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.89

[19] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p. 24

[20] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.149

[21] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.246

[22] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.150

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.89

[24] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.149

[25] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.150

[26] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory RoadDoubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.257

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.88

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.90

[29] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.185

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.90

[31] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.267

[32] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.268

[33] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.267

[34] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.652

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.454

[36] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.652

[37] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac p.259

[38] Ibid. Coddington p.220

[39] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.106

[40] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command pp. 219-220

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

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

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

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

[45] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.231

[46] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.320

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

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

[49] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.124

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

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

[52] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

[53] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

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

[55] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.4

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Vague Orders, Vanity, and the Need for Redemption: JEB Stuart’s Ride at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

[3] Dowdy, CliffordLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.226

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

[19] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.540

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

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

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

[36] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

[37] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cav Fight at Brandy Station

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes 

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

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

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

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

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.221

[6] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.219

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

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

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

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

[11] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.37

[12] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

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

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

[15] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.223

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

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

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

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

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

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

[22] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

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

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

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

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

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[28] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

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

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

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

[32] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[33] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

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

[35] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

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

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

[38] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.311-312

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

[3] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.226

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

[19] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.540

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

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

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

[36] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

[37] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

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

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

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

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

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

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The Battle of Brandy Station

Cav Fight at Brandy Station

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.221

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

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

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

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

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

[11] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.37

[12] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

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

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

[15] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.223

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

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

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

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

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

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

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

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

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

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

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

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[28] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

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

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

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

[32] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

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

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

[35] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

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

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

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

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The Road to Gettysburg: Lee is Puzzled as Meade Acts

Lee1

General Robert E. Lee

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

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

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

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Ibid Sears. Gettysburg. p.124

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.320

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

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

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.124

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

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

[23] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

[24] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

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

[26] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.133

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.114

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

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

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

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

[32] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.187

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

 

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