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July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 4: The Confederate Storm at Devil’s Den

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

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

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

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

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Men_of_Granite

Fix bayonets my brave Texans

The delays had taken a toll on the Confederate plan. By the time Hood and McLaws divisions were in place along with Anderson’s division from Hill’s Third Corps it was nearly four o’clock. Throughout the day the senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia had made a thorough mess of their chances for success, but when the attack began it blew into the Federal forces like a violent storm as the Confederate troops fell upon the soldiers of Sickles Third Corps.

However, the Confederate assault was marred by still more command and control issues, the most important which happened in Hood’s division.. “Contrary to orders Hood had moved his division away from the Emmitsburg road for the purpose of taking Little Round Top and outflanking the Union position on the heights of Devil’s Den.” [1] Riding in front of his old Texas brigade, Hood called out “Fix bayonets my brave Texans…forward and take those heights.” His loyal troops responded to their former commander, and cheered his words in response: “Follow the Lone Star Flag to the Top of the mountain!” Cried the lieutenant colonel of the 1st Texas, and there “arose such a wild indescribable battle yell that no one having heard ever forgot.” [2]

McLaws had waited until Hood’s troops advanced across the rough ground that separated his division from “Smith recalled that his guns “tore gap after gap in the ranks of the Confederate foe.” Robertson agreed, reporting that as his brigade advanced through the intervening fields, “for half a mile we were exposed a heavy and destructive fire of canister, grape, and shell” [3] Little Round Top and Devil’s Den. As Hood’s division moved forward it came under artillery fire from the four 10 pound Parrot Rifles of Captain James Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery on Houck’s Ridge above Devil’s Den and it began to sustain casualties. . Among the earliest to fall was John Bell Hood who was badly wounded when a shell “exploded above his head, and one of the fragments tore into his left arm.” The arm would have to be amputated and as he was taken away by stretcher-bearers recalled that he experienced “deep distress of mind and heart at the inevitable fate of my brave fellow-soldiers, who formed one of the greatest divisions of that world-renown army….” [4]

The absence of Hood would create a leadership void in his division as it made its attack on Devil’s Den and Little Round Top as his successor Evander Law was deeply engaged in leading his brigade in its epic fight at Little Round Top, and not able to influence or coordinate the attacks of the remaining brigades of the division. Coordination “between the brigades soon dissolved. Regiments in Law’s Alabama brigade veered apart, and a gap formed in the center of Jerome Robertson’s Texas Brigade. While these units angled toward the Round Tops, behind them, moving towards Rose’s Woods and Devil’s Den came the pair of Georgia brigades under Henry Benning and George T. Anderson.” [5] Order broke down, and soon control was at the company commander level or lower, “Every fellow was his own general,” a Texan later wrote. “Private soldiers give commands as loud as officers, nobody paying attention to either. [6] In the absence of Hood, Brigadier, and feeling the pressure of the situation, General J.B. Robertson commanding the Texas Brigade on Law’s left, took the initiative and sent couriers to Henry Benning and George Anderson “urging them to hurry their brigades to his support.” [7]

As Law’s brigade and two of Robertson’s regiments assaulted Little Round Top, the remainder of Robertson’s brigade as well as those of Benning and Anderson attacked the Federal position on Devil’s Den. There a fierce fight ensued as the badly outnumbered troops of the 124th New York under the command of Colonel Augustus Van Horn Ellis, and the four guns of Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery refused to yield the hill to Robertson and Benning’s troops.

Men_Must_See_Us_Today_Gettysburg

The 124th New York was raised in Orange County New York, and a veteran unit, but it had taken many casualties and during the afternoon of July 2nd 1863 it went into action with just 18 officers and 220 men, in a position just to the left rear of Smith’s battery. The left flank of the 124th was protected by the tiny 4th Maine Infantry and the two remaining guns of Smith’s battery. Captain Smith whose battery had already expended its supply of case shot called out, “Give them she’ll! Give them solid shot! Damn them, give them anything!” [8]

Led by their gallant commander, who against the advice of a number of officers, mounted his horse and further exposed himself to enemy fire, the New Yorkers of the 124th were aware of their critical place on the battlefield. Looking at his Major Cromwell, Ellis remarked “the men must see us today.” [9] Cromwell cried out the order to charge the advancing Texans, and “the New Yorkers rushed down the west face of Houck’s Ridge at the double-quick. The 1st Texas reeled back some 200 yards under the surprise onslaught. “The conflict at this point defied description,” wrote an officer of e 124th. “Roaring cannon, crashing rifles, screeching shots, bursting shells, hissing bullets, cheers, shouts, shrieks and groans….” [10] A Confederate soldier wrote that the battle “was more like Indian fighting…than anything I experienced in the war.” [11] A reporter from the Savannah Republican accompanying Benning’s brigade wrote, “Down the plunging shot came…bursting before and around and everywhere tearing up the ground in a terrific rain of death….[As Benning’s brigade] approached the [Yankee] guns, the rain of grape and canister began! Mingling their sharp cries with the shrill whistle of the mad minnie balls which seemed to come in showers.” [12] The gallant regiment held off several attacks by Robertson’s Texans, and Ellis was killed by a bullet, as was Major Cromwell, and many of their gallant soldiers. “In the savage hand-to-hand fighting among the rocks, men shot at one another from the opposite side of the same Boulder, sometimes so close that clothing caught fire from the blaze of an enemy’s rifle. The high-pitched Rebel yell and the full-throated Federal huzzahs echoed through the rocks as first one side and then the other gave way…” [13]

In his after action report, Henry Benning wrote:

“When my first line reached the foot of the peak, I found there a part of the First Texas, struggling to make the ascent… The part of the First Texas…falling in with my brigade, the whole line commenced ascending the rugged…steep [incline] and, on the right, crossing the gorge. The ground was difficult – rocks in many places presenting, by their precipitous sides, insurmountable obstacles, while the fire of the was very heavy and very deadly. The progress was, therefore, not very rapid, but it was regular and uninterrupted….” [14]

With their supporting infantry considerably weakened, Smith’s guns were in danger. Some of Robertson’s troops had reached the base of the hill and taken cover behind a stone wall where they could take Smith’s artillery men under fire. Smith “could no longer depress his guns sufficiently to hit the Rebels. Occupying the low ground and using boulders for cover, the Confederates began to pick off Smith’s gunners. Smith “saw it would be impossible…to hold my position without assistance” and fell back…but the loss of artillery support was the beginning of the collapse of Sickles left flank.” [15] To the left in the Plum Run Valley, which later became known as the Valley of Death, the 4th Maine and Smith’s remaining guns fought off attacks by Robertson and Benning’s brigades before being forced to retreat. With his left now threatened Brigadier General Hobart Ward dispatched the 99th Pennsylvania to protect it, thinning his lines to do so. The Pennsylvanians of the 99th as well as men from the 124th New York, and the 4th Maine launched a counter-attack which succeeded in regaining the lower section of Houck’s Ridge. A soldier of the 99th recalled the moment his unit entered the fight, “Above the crack of the rifle, the scream of shells and the cries of the wounded, could be heard the shout of for “Pennsylvania and our homes…” [16] The cost had been great, but the ridge had been retaken from it the Union men rained fire down on the Alabamians below them in the Valley of Death. Hood’s men occupied Devil’s Den and secured a small lodgment on Houck’s Ridge which enabled the assault on Little Round Top to continue.

In a sense the fight at Devil’s Den was a victory for the Confederates as they had forced Ward’s troops from the position, but the human cost had been high among the men of the assaulting regiments. Robertson was wounded and had to be carried from the field, and most of the field officers of the Texas brigade were either killed or wounded leading their troops in the fight. Historian Harry Pfanz wrote, “The hard fighting at Devil’s Den, together with the sinister character of the spot, gave it a hallowed place in American history that might actually exceed its actual significance.” [17]

Robertson’s Texans and some of Law’s Alabamians surged up the slope of Little Round Top. But the sacrifice of the New Yorkers and Maine men was not in vain, they had helped buy the needed minutes for the soldiers of Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade to arrive at the summit of Little Round Top, and Confederate casualties had been very heavy even before they attempted to scale the heights of Little Round Top.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.402

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.256

[3] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.166

[4] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg pp.172-173

[5] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.259

[6] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.128

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.402

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.273

[9] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.293

[10] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg pp.273-274

[11] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.128

[12] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.342

[13] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.211

[14] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson, Harold W. Editors The U.S. army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, South Mountain Press Incorporated, Carlisle PA 1986 p.99

[15] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.166

[16] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.345

[17] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day

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“Our Army Would Be Invincible” Pt.2 Longstreet’s First Corps

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is the second part of my re-written chapter on the leadership of Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Today is a look at the leaders of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps. This like the following sections of this chapter of my Gettysburg text is interesting because it shows the complexities of the lives and personalities of the men leading these units. Professional soldiers, volunteers with little military experience, soldiers, lawyers, engineers and politicians they are an interesting collection of personalities; some surrounded in myth and others practically unknown. I think it is important for anyone studying a war, a campaign, or a battle to at least look at the lives of the men who planned and fought it. In doing so, even those that oppose what they did in rebelling against the United States can find in them some measure of humanity, and sometimes even gain a sense of empathy for some of them.   

That is why when we look at the lives of soldiers, we have to take the time to at least try to understand the nuance, the contradictions, their strengths and weaknesses as leaders, as well as a measure of their character.

In the coming week I will be doing Ewell’s Second Corps, A.P. Hill’s Third Corps, and Stuart’s Cavalry Division. I will then get to work on a similar chapter for the Army of the Potomac.

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

The First Corps, under Longstreet remained relatively intact, but 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, commanded by 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, while Pickett had never commanded a division in battle.

LongstreetJ_main

James Longstreet

James Longstreet was a native of the Piedmont area of northeastern Georgia, his father, a planter hailed from a Dutch family that had originally migrated to the colonies in 1687. The young Longstreet, nicknamed Peter or Pete by his family had determined as a child that he would have a military career. His father assisted in his admission to the Military Academy which he entered in 1838. Longstreet was neither a model cadet nor student. He graduated in 1842 “ranked fifty-fourth in a class of fifty-six” [1] and was commissioned into the infantry.

While his academy performance was lacking, and he accumulated a significant amounts of demerits, the husky Georgian was well liked and made many lifelong friends in a class that produced ten Confederate and seven Union Generals during the war. His best friend was a cadet from Ohio in the class which followed him, Ulysses S. Grant of whom Longstreet said was “of noble, generous heart, a lovable character, a valued friend.” [2] That friendship would endure for the rest of their lives.

Longstreet served in the West and went to Texas after it was annexed into the Union, and then served in Mexico getting his first taste of combat on the Rio Grande, then at Monterrey and then at Chapultepec. At Chapultepec, Longstreet was in command of Company H of the 8th Infantry Regiment which was leading the assault. He was near the head of the regiment the regiment as they breached the first parapet carrying the regimental colors “which he had grabbed …as they fell from the hands of their wounded bearer[3] he was wounded in the thigh, and he handed the colors to his friend George Pickett, who’s Company A was advancing behind Longstreet’s company.

After his wound had healed Longstreet continued to serve in Texas and later in the New Mexico Territory in campaigns against the Comanche. Serving in various command and staff positions including as a company commander, regimental adjutant, and department Quartermaster he became a well-rounded officer. He was promoted to Major and appointed as a Paymaster and was assigned to Fort Leavenworth in 1858 and then again to New Mexico in 1859.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 and Southern states began to secede, Longstreet, who was not a proponent of secession, but he did not hesitate and offered his services to the Governor of Alabama in February 1861. However, there are many questions about this period due to the conflicting story that Longstreet recorded and what the administrative and pay documents record.

Longstreet resigned his commission on May 9th 1861, though he had already accepted a commission in the new Confederate Army dated May 1st 1861 with a date of rank of March 16th 1861 “eight days before he wrote his letter of resignation from the United States Army.” [4] His biographer Jeffry Wert notes that the acceptance of the Confederate commission while he was still serving as an officer in the United States Army, is “a dark story of a man who crossed the delicate line between honor and dishonor” and that “what he did, however, was not the act of an honorable man and officer.” [5] While there may be extenuating circumstances that we do not know, it does appear that Longstreet crossed a line that few, if any other active officers who left the Army for Confederate service crossed.

After his resignation he travelled to Richmond and was promoted to Brigadier General on June 17th, given command of a brigade and fought at Bull Run. He was consider to be one of the best Brigadiers in the army and was promoted to Major General on October 7th 1861 and given command of a division on the Peninsula. He was noted by his aide Moxie Sorrel to be “rather gay in disposition with his chums, fond of a glass, and very skillful at poker.” [6] However, during that time, his family living in Richmond was ravaged by a Scarlett fever outbreak which in January 1862 claimed the lives of three of his children, leaving him a much more serious, and very changed man. “There was no more gaiety, no more poker, and, certainly for the time, no more liquor. Essentially, from that tragic January, he was a soldier and little besides.” [7]

When Lee took over the Army Longstreet quickly became one of his most trusted subordinates and following the Seven Days was promoted to command a wing of the army, with Jackson commanding the other until the Confederate Congress allowed the creation of army corps and promoted each man to the Rank of Lieutenant General. One of Lee’s biographers wrote of the contrast between Jackson and Longstreet:

“In these two latter men Lee seemed to have recognize the Janus face of his own military personality. Longstreet seemed to be steady and dependable, the consummate professional. Jackson, on the other hand, had been by turns brilliant (the Valley) and useless (Mechanicsville and White Oak Swamp). But Jackson was a killer, possessed of the same sorts of aggressive instincts which obsessed Lee.” [8]

During the 1862 campaign Longstreet built a solid reputation as a commander. Douglas Southall Freeman wrote that if there was a word Longstreet’s contemporaries would have used to describe him “they would have agreed on the same soldierly term: dependable. Brilliance there might not be, reliability there undoubtedly was.” [9] He led that corps in the hammer blows that nearly destroyed Pope’s army at Second Manassas, grimly held the line at Antietam, and helped direct the massacre of Burnside’s attacking force at Fredericksburg. His corps was not present at Chancellorsville. As a commander he was noted for his devoted care and concern for the welfare of his soldiers, his reluctance to waste their lives in what he believed to be unwise, foolish, or suicidal attacks and “Under his command, the First Corps was the “bedrock” of the army.” [10]

During their time together Lee and Longstreet developed “a close personal and professional relationship.” [11] Lee would refer to him at times as “the staff in my right hand” and “my old war horse.” After Jackson’s death their relationship grew closer, even when they did not agree, which was not uncommon. Longstreet could be, and was, blunt with Lee, and Lee “was a strong enough personality to bear the presence of a contrarian,” [12] and Longstreet could indeed be a contrarian. Even so he was a trusted subordinate and Longstreet wrote that the relationship was “one of confidence and esteem, official and personal, which ripened into stronger ties as the mutations of war bore heavier upon us.” [13]

Longstreet’s presence as a gruff but kindhearted Georgian in an army dominated by Virginians who “idolized Lee” brought him to appoint “himself to pronounce on military reality, which was to say that his outlook on war was more practical than romantic.” [14] That outlook and honesty would cause Longstreet great consternation after the war as Jubal Early and other leaders of the Lost Cause branded him a “Judas” for his actions at Gettysburg and criticism of Robert E. Lee. Even at Gettysburg, despite their differences of opinion regarding Lee’s strategy, British Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle noted “The relations between him and Longstreet are quite touching – they are almost always together.… I believe these two generals to be as little ambitious and as thoroughly unselfish as any men in the world.” [15]

Lafayette_McLaws

McLaws’ Division

Longstreet’s senior division commander was McLaws, a career soldier who had served in the old army. He was an 1842 graduate of West Point and friend and classmate of Longstreet. McLaws served in the infantry after graduation and took part in the Mexican War, first in the defensive battle on the Rio Grande, then at Monterrey and at Vera Cruz. Suffering illness he was sent back to recruiting duty in New York and finally rejoined his regiment after the fall of Mexico City.

After Mexico McLaws served in a variety of posts and capacities in Missouri, New Mexico, and Arkansas. He was promoted to Captain in August 1851. As war neared he could see the country beginning to unravel. Typical of many U.A. Army officers from the South he was not an ardent secessionist and his thoughts were pragmatic concerning the issue of slavery. His diary entry for February 27th 1860 noted:

“Debates in congress show no mitigation od sec. feeling…. I think it would be better not to be so fanatical on any subject, the extreme pro-slavery man is as bad as that type as that type of anti-slavery, John Brown. I do not consider slavery an evil by any means, but I certainly do not think it the greatest blessing.” [16]

Throughout 1860 and 1861 McLaws continued to serve in expeditions to Utah and against the Navajo where he commanded a detachment of five companies, three of infantry and two of mounted infantry. When the Navajo expedition terminated and his regimental commander learned of the secession proceedings in Georgia he gave McLaws a leave of absence. Once in Georgia he submitted his resignation which was accepted and approved by the Army on March 23rd 1861. He was appointed as a major and reporting to Virginia was assigned to command the 10th Georgia regiment. Thanks to his early dedication to ensure that it was well trained and led, the regiment went on to great fame and distinction during the war.

He was involved in the construction of the Confederate defenses at Yorktown and Williamsburg and appointed as a Brigadier General in September 1861and led the defense of those lines against McClellan garnering him a promotion to Major General and command of a division in May of 1862.

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.” [17]

McLaws put together a solid record as a division commander. The division was composed of two Georgia one South Carolina and one Mississippi brigade which he led for two years. During his time in command his exceptional care for the welfare of his men had endeared him to them. He and his division were excellent in the defense, and McLaws was very deliberate “but his attention to his men made him and his division a reliable command.” [18]

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.” [19] 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.” [20] 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.” [21]

Unlike many other divisions where brigade leaders were a mix of former officers from the old army as well as volunteers “none of the brigadiers who commanded McLaws’s brigades for extended periods – Semmes, Wofford, Kershaw, and Barksdale – had training or experience as a professional soldier” Most divisions averaged a mix of about half professional officers and half amateurs, often of mixed quality. That being said “no other division operated for any extended period with all-amateur leadership at the brigade level.” The fact that men like James Longstreet and Robert E. Lee demonstrated such confidence in the unit testifies to McLaws’ leadership abilities and accomplishment in welding “the four headstrong brigade commanders into an effective infantry division….” [22]

Kershaw

Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw was a lawyer and politician he had served in Mexico with the Palmetto Regiment. He volunteered for service when South Carolina succeeded and served at Fort Sumter. He had excelled as commander of the 2nd South Carolina and was promoted to command a brigade. 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…” [23]

Semmes

Brigadier General Paul Semmes was a banker and plantation owner from Georgia. He was the brother of the Confederacy’s most famous naval commander, Captain Raphael Semmes, who commanded the Raider C.S.S. Alabama. Semmes too was not a professional soldier. However, he “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.” [24] He commanded the 2nd Georgia Regiment and by 1862 was in command of McLaws’ old brigade. He led with that brigade distinction during the Seven Days, Antietam and at Chancellorsville. By Gettysburg Semmes “had proved himself a worthy and capable brigadier.” [25] Porter Alexander wrote of him “it is due to say that there was never a braver or a better.” [26]

Barksdale

Brigadier General William Barksdale was a Mississippi lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. Barksdale had served in Mexico as a quartermaster, but did though an administrator, he did not shy away from battle and “frequently appeared at the front during heavy fighting, often coatless and carrying a large sword.” [27] While most Confederate officers supported and defended the institution of slavery, Barksdale was one of the few generals who had been “violently pro-slavery and secessionist” [28] before the war.

As a Congressman Barksdale was involved in the altercation when Representative Preston Brooks nearly killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. During that brawl Representative Elihu Washburne of Illinois landed a blow on Barksdale that sent Barksdale and his previously unsuspected wig flying. Someone snatched the wig from the floor and “waved it about like a captured flag.” When Barksdale finally recaptured the hairpiece he “and plopped it on his head wrong side out, the absurdity of the scene giving the combatants pause.” [29] As the scrum broke up Barksdale was left “sputtering about his shame.” [30]

At the outbreak of the war Barksdale volunteered for service and took command of a brigade at Malvern Hill. At Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he and his Mississippi brigade were in the thick of the fight. “He possessed a “thirst for battle glory” wrote one Mississippian….Inspiring by example, Barksdale was a leader who dared to go where many other high-ranking officers would not go in a crisis situation.” [31] He had a strong bond with his soldiers which made them willing to follow him anywhere.

Wofford

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. Wofford was considered a man of “high morale bearing…of the strictest sobriety, and, indeed of irreproachable moral character.” [32] Demonstrating the tensions of the day Wofford was a “staunch Unionist Democrat” who “opposed secession and voted against it at the Georgia secession convention.” [33]

Despite his opposition to secession, Wofford, like others volunteered for service and was “elected colonel of the first Georgia regiment to volunteer for the war.” [34] 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…” [35] Wofford served well as the regimental commander of the 18th Georgia and acting brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Now able and experienced the Georgia Unionist was promoted to the brigadier general and given command of the brigade of Thomas Cobb who had been mortally wounded at Fredericksburg in January 1863.

Lt._Gen._John_B._Hood

Hood’s Division

Major General John Bell Hood was an 1853 graduate of West Point and had served as a cavalry officer under Lee’s command with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Texas. Physically imposing “Hood stood six feet, two inches and had a powerful chest and a giant’s shoulders.” [36] He gained a stellar reputation as a leader and Indian fighter while serving in the U.S. Army. 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 soon was given the task of forming Texas in Virginia into a fighting regiment. By 1862 Hood was a Brigadier General commanding the only Texas brigade in the east. He took temporary command of a division during the reorganization of the army that followed the Seven Days.

Over the course of the next year he had built a “combat record unequalled by any in the army at his level.” [37] 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.” [38] After his performance at Antietam Lee worked the personnel system to get Hood promoted to Major General and assigned to command of an enlarged division which he would command at Gettysburg. Lee wrote of him “Hood is a good fighter, very industrious on the battle field, careless off, & I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested on him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness & zeal.” [39]

After Gettysburg Hood went on to succeed Joseph E. Johnston in Georgia as an army commander and attempting to be too aggressive saw his army shattered at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. As good of Brigade and division commander as he was under the direction of Longstreet, Hood was out of his league as an Army commander. John B. Gordon, as judicious of judge of command ability of any on the Confederate side noted:

“To say he was as brave and dashing as any officer of any age would be the merest commonplace tribute to such a man; but courage and dash are not the only or even the prime requisites of the commander of a great army.” [40]

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

Law

Brigadier General Evander Law was a graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy, now known as the Citadel. He served as 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.” [41]

“Tige” Anderson

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.” [42]

Robertson

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.

Benning

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.” [43] 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” [44]and was a “proven commander” who “provided strong leadership and bolstered the confidence of the men under him.” [45]

GeorgePickett

Pickett’s Division

Major General George Pickett had commanded his division for some time, but he “had never led his division in combat.” [46] 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.” [47] He graduated last in his class and was assigned to the infantry. During the Mexican War Pickett distinguished himself by his gallantry at Chapultepec where he served under command of James Longstreet. As the battle raged Longstreet was wounded. Pickett retrieved the unit colors from Longstreet and as the latter looked on Pickett “carried them over the wall.[48] The act made him famous.

After Mexico his career was typical of many other officers. When southern states began to secede Pickett was in the Pacific Northwest where he had very nearly helped bring the United States and Britain to the brink of war. Pickett opposed secession, not because he did not believe states had the right to secede “but as gravely questioning its expediency.” [49] However, loyalty to his home state was too much and Pickett resigned his commission and returned to Virginia in the summer of 1861.

Pickett was commissioned as a Captain and soon was promoted to Colonel, and as a protégé of Longstreet was promoted to Brigadier General in February 1862 and was given command of a unit known as the Game Cock Brigade, consisting of the 8th, 18th, 19th and 28th Virginia Infantry regiments which he commanded at the Battle of Williamsburg, Seven Pines and Gaines’ Mill where he was wounded.

After he recovered he was appointed to command a newly formed division of four brigades built around his “Game Cocks.” It was Longstreet who through his influence with Lee again “had been instrumental in Pickett’s appointment to divisional command.” [50] But even without that Pickett had “established a reputation as a courageous and hard-driving, if rather impetuous, combat leader able to employ his troops to advantage against great odds.” [51] Though Pickett 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.” [52]

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.

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.” [53] 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.” [54] 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.” [55]

Garnett

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.” [56] 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” [57] 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.” [58]

Armistead

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 and 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 Chapultepec. 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.” [59]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.30

[2] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.31

[3] Longacre, Edward G. Pickett: Leader of the Charge White Mane Publishing Company, Shippensburg PA 1995 p.26

[4] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.54

[5] Ibid. Wert Longstreet pp.54-55

[6] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.91

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.111

[8] Ibid. Thomas Robert E. Lee p.247

[9] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.112

[10] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.405

[11] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.61

[12] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.527

[13] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.173

[14] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.527

[15] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.552

[16] Oefinger, John C. Editor A Soldier’s General: The Civil War Letters of Major general Lafayette McLaws University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London 2002 p.18

[17] 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

[18] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.209

[19] 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

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

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

[22] Ibid. Oefinger A Soldier’s General p.27

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

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

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

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

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

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

[29] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.144

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

[31] Tucker, Phillip Thomas. Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2nd, 1863 Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia and Oxford 2013 p.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[39] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.219

[40] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War Generals p.219

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[49] Longacre, Edward G. Pickett: Leader of the Charge White Mane Publishing Company, Shippensburg PA 1995 p.51

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

[51] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.92

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Our Army Would be Invincible if…” The Problem of Senior Leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia June 1863 Part One First and Second Corps

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This is another installment of my Gettysburg campaign series and the first of four 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. I had planned this to be a single entry, but it has kind of taken on a life of its own…such is the life of a historian…. Anyway, I should be publishing the second part on A.P. Hill’s Third Corps and Stuart’s Cavalry division  tomorrow or Wednesday. Likewise, I will be expanding the second about Ewell’s Second Corps leadership and then doing a similar series on the problems of leadership in the Army of the Potomac, which undoubtedly take on a life of its own too…

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 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 when 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 “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 and 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 also contains 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 more unsettled, as Johnson and all of his brigade commanders were new to their commands. Johnson’s division had 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, but who had a well-known problem with alcohol, who had never held a field command, like his division commander he was new to the division. Brigadier General James Walker commanded the “Stonewall” Brigade. Walker replaced the 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 whose officers initially resisted the appointment of an outsider but soon warmed up to their new commander. Colonel Jesse Williams had just taken command of the brigade of Brigadier General Francis Nichols who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

Rodes division was the largest in the army with five brigades present at Gettysburg. His brigade commanders were a mixed bag ranging from the excellent Brigadier General George Doles and Stephen Ramseur, Brigadier General Junius Daniel, a former regular who had much brigade command time but little combat experience, despite the 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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