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The Bloodiest Battle on American Soil: The Human Cost at Gettysburg

gburg dead2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This week I have been posting about Gettysburg, Independence Day, and a commentary on the toxic nationalism of President Trump’s hijacking of Independence Day. We have been visiting with friends and I have been catching up on my reading. I completed Ian Kershaw’s “To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949; I’m about halfway through Geoff Megargee’s “Inside Hitler’s High Command”; and I am about two thirds of the way through with Danielle Allen’s “Our Declaration: A Reading Of the Declaration of Independence In Defense of Equality.” They are all worth the read in an age where much of our citizenry lacks a basic understanding of the principles of the Declaration and worships at the altar of brute military and economic force, thinking that somehow those are the guarantors of freedom and liberty. They are not. Kershaw’s book shows the cost of toxic nationalism and ideologies that destroyed Europe in two World Wars, Megargee’s shows the cost of militarism and militaries  that become compliant with authoritarian leaders. 

So tonight I repost a final article from my Gettysburg text. It deals with the human cost of that battle. 

I am a career military officer who suffers from PTSD, TBI and other afflictions after serving in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008.  I have seen firsthand the terrible effects of war. I am also a historian and I  have served as Assistant Professor at a major military staff college which helps educate senior military officers from this country and other countries. In that capacity I taught ethics as well as led the Gettysburg Staff ride, or study of the Battle of Gettysburg. When teaching I always attempted to deal with the human cost of war.

Gettysburg was the most costly battle ever fought on the American continent. Around 50,000 men were killed or wounded there in three days of battle. William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell.” I agree, there is nothing romantic about it. The effects of war last generations and though we have been at war for the last seventeen and a half years, war itself is an abstract concept to most Americans. It is fought by professionals and only experienced by most Americans on the news, movies or most the banal manner, video games; thus the cost in human terms is not fully appreciated, and nor can it be, we are far too insulated from it. Over the past forty plus years our politicians have insulated the public from war, and in doing so they have ensured that we remain in perpetual war which benefits no one. That is a big reason why I write so much about it, not to glorify or romanticize it, but to try in some war to help make it real  to my readers. This is a another draft chapter from my Gettysburg text. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Walt Whitman Wrote:

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought, or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

Admittedly the subject is somewhat macabre. But with the reality being that very few people in the United States, Canada or Western Europe have experienced the terrible brutality of war it is something that we should carefully consider any time the nation commits itself to war. By we, I mean all citizens, including the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who never see the personally see people they kill, or walk among the devastation caused by the highly advanced, precision weapons that they employ from a great distance, sometimes thousands of miles. In some parts of our military we have men and women who have the mission of targeting and killing enemies and then walking home to their families, but in the Civil War killing in combat “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were able to see each other’s faces and to know whom they had killed.” [1]

While the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is Hell” are as true as when he spoke them; the tragic fact is that for most people war is an abstract concept, antiseptic and unreal; except for the occasional beheading of a hostage by Islamic militants or the videos shot by the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on the internet. Thus the cost of war and its attendant cost in lives, treasure and to the environment are not real to most people in the West.

We use words to describe the business of war which dehumanize the enemy, and we describe their deaths in words more palatable to us. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.” [2]

We can now add the terms Haji and Raghead to Grossman’s list of dehumanizing terms for our opponents from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!” [3]

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly exhort governments and peoples to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary. I fully comprehend the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” [4]

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as like the Gettysburg trip that we are embarking on, the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert.

Thus, it is my view, to conduct a staff ride, to walk the battlefield; especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there, died there, or brought home wounds that changed them forever.

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the Bulge, the West Wall, the Shuri Line on Okinawa, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Stone’s River, and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

In doing this I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students will face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of them will become Flag or General Officers, with the responsibility of advising our nation’s leaders as well planning and conducting the military operations on which the lives of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of people depend. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects of this campaign, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take this work seriously because it forces us to remember what war is about and its nature, which Clausewitz wrote is “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…” [5]which William Tecumseh Sherman so rightly understood without the euphemisms that we so frequently use to describe it: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….”

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next. On that afternoon it was as if “the doors of Hell had shut” and the next day, the Glorious 4th of July “The heavens opened, and a thunderstorm of biblical proprotions drenched the battlefield, soaking dead, wounded and able-bodied men equally.” [6]

Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance, thus “the two sides stared at each other, each waiting for the other to resume the fighting, neither did.” [7]

As the Confederate army retreated and Meade’s army pursued another army remained at Gettysburg, “an army of the wounded, some 20,350 in number, a third of them Confederate….” Just 106 surgeons were spared from the Army of the Potomac and “the comparatively few overburdened surgeons and attendants now on duty still labored every day to the point of exhaustion.” [8] These overworked men were aided by local volunteers as well as members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission and the Sisters of Charity. These men and women “brought organization to the hospitals, relief to the medical staffs and the local volunteers, and immense comfort to the wounded, whether blue or butternut.” [9]

The dead and wounded littered the battlefield and the sights and smells were ghastly:

“Wherever men gazed, they saw dead bodies. A New Yorker thought they “lay as thick as the stones that is on father’s farm.” A stench smothered the field, moving John Geary to tell his wife, “My very clothes smell of death.” A Regular Army veteran exclaimed, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” [10] A resident of Gettysburg walked up to Little Round top and wrote of what she observed from the peak of that rocky hill:

“surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.” [11]

At Joseph Sherfy’s farm, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the second day, his barn “which had been used as a field hospital, was left a burnt ruin, with “crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies” clearly visible.” [12] When the rains came, the wounded suffered terribly. Many of the field aid stations were set up next to the creeks that crisscrossed the battlefield, and those streams quickly flooded as torrents of rain water caused them to overflow their banks. “A New Jersey soldier watched in horror as the flood waters washed over and carried away badly wounded men unable to move to safety….” [13]

Oliver Howard took his escort to do a reconnaissance of the town on July 4th, one of the cavalry troopers described the scene:

“The battle field was the Awfulest sight I ever saw…The woods in front of our men the trees were riddled with Cannon ball and bullets evry limb shot off 20 feet high. Some say the Rebel dead lay six deep in the grave yard where we lay. Nearly every grave stone was shattered by shots and everything was torn to pieces. I went through the town on the 4th of July with the General. The streets were covered with dead. Evry frame house were riddled with balls the brick ones dented thick where shot had hit.” [14]

Field hospitals were often little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Churches were requisition for use of the surgeons. A volunteer nurse noted: “Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and arms and threw them out the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.” [15]

Chaplains were usually found with the doctors, caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the wounded. Protestant chaplains might ensure that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administered the Last Rites, often working together across denominational lines to care for their soldiers.

A Union chaplain described the ministry in the field hospitals and aid stations:

“Some of the surgeons were posted well up toward the front to give first aid. More of them were in the large field hospitals of division in more secure places at the rear. The chaplain might be at either place or at both by turns. Some made a point of watching for any wounded man who might be straggling back, who perhaps could be helped up into the saddle and ride back to the hospital. When the demand for help became urgent the chaplains were nurses. As the rows of wounded men grew longer, chaplains went from man to man to see what could be done to relieve their pain, perhaps to take a message or letter. All day into the night this work would continue. A drink of water, a loosened bandage on a swollen limb, a question answered, a surgeon summoned, a whispered word of comfort marked their course. Each night at sundown the men who died during the day were buried, with a short prayer, side by side in a common grave, each in his uniform with canvas wrapped around his face and a strip of paper giving his name and regiment in a bottle buttoned under his blouse.” [16]

The war would challenge the theology of the clergy who served as chaplains on both sides, as “individuals found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one in which unimaginable destruction had become a daily experience. Where could God belong in such a world? How could a benevolent deity countenance such cruelty and suffering? Doubt threatened to overpower faith….” [17] That sense of bewilderment is not lacking today among those of faith who return from war.

Some men, clergy and laity alike would attempt to find a theological meaning to the suffering. Many would do so in the theology of John Calvin which emphasized the Providence and foreknowledge of God. That theological frame of reference, of the results of battles and the death or wounding of men in war and the attendant suffering was found in the will, or providence of God was quite common among men of both sides who grew up during the Second Great Awakening, as it is today; and for some it was carried to fatalistic extremes. However, others like Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, who considered himself a believing Christian, wrote that he believed God:

“endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”[18]

The carnage around the battlefield was horrifying to most observers. Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the sight on Cemetery Ridge on the night of July 3rd following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.” [19]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.” [20]

Another Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [21]

The burial of the dead was too much for the soldier’s alone to accomplish. “Civilians joined the burial of the dead out of both sympathy and necessity. Fifty Confederates lay on George Rose’s fields; seventy-nine North Carolinians had fallen on a perfect line on John Forney’s farm.” [22]

Those tending the wounded recalled how many of the wounded selflessly asked medical personnel to tend others more badly wounded than themselves; a volunteer nurse wrote her sister: “More Christian fortitude was never witnessed than they exhibit, always say-‘Help my neighbor first, he is worse.’” [23] The Confederate wounded were the lowest priority for the badly overwhelmed Union surgeons and Lee had not done much to help, leaving just a few surgeons and attendants to care for the Confederates left on the battlefield. The Confederate wounded housed in the classrooms of Pennsylvania College were left in dire straits:

“All the rooms, halls and hallways were occupied with the poor deluded sons of the South,” and “the moans prayers, and shrieks of the wounded and dying were everywhere.” Between 500 and 700 wounded Confederates were jammed in with “five of our surgeons” and “no nurses, no medicines no kinds of food proper for men in our condition….” [24]

Across the battlefield the wounded were being treated in a variety of makeshift aid stations and field hospitals:

“Sergeant Major David E. Johnson of the Seventh Virginia was taken to the Myers house after the bombardment, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left side and arm. “The shed in which I was placed,” he recalled, “was filled with the wounded and dying….I spoke to no one, and no one to me, never closed my eyes to sleep; the surgeons close by being engaged in removing the limbs of those nearby to be amputated….I heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the groans of the dying, the agonies of General Kemper, who lay nearby, frequently being heard.” [25]

The suffering was not confined to the hospitals; John Imboden commanding the cavalry brigade protecting the Confederate wounded being transported home and supply trains described the horror of that movement:

“Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owning to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still far worse cases tat had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds….From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout came such cries and shrieks as these:

“My God! Why can’t I die?” “My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me?” “Stop! Oh! For God’s sake stop for just one minute; take me out and leave me to die on the roadside.” “I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?” [26]

Eventually, by July 22nd with most of the wounded evacuated a proper general hospital was set up east of the town and the remaining wounded taken there. That hospital, named Camp Letterman grew into “a hundred –acre village of cots and tents, with its own morgue and cemetery, and served more than 3,000 wounded before it was finally closed in November.” [27]

As for the families of the dead, many never found out the details of their loved one’s deaths, which caused their losses to be “in some sense unreal and thus “unrealized,” as the bereaved described them, recognizing the inhibition of mourning that such uncertainty imposed.” [28] Much was because of how overwhelmed the field hospital staffs were, and how inadequate their records of treatment and the dispositions of bodies were sketchy at best. “Reports from field hospitals were riddled with errors and omissions, often lacked dates, and were frequently illegible, “written with the faintest lead pencil.” [29]

Among the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps was severely wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Dan Sickles, the commander of Third Corps who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had his leg amputated after being grazed by a cannon ball at the Trostle Farm. Sickles, who survived the wound and the war, would visit the leg, which had carefully ordered his surgeons to preserve. The leg is now displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top; George Willard who brought redemption to his Harper’s Ferry brigade on Cemetery Ridge stopping Barksdale’s charge on July 2nd; Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis who before being killed at Devil’s Den told his staff “the men must see us today;” and the young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death in a senseless ordered by his division commander Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, against Hood and McLaws dug in divisions as the battle ended.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level, the list included excellent commanders such as Paul Semmes and William Barksdale, while Wade Hampton, Stuart’s best brigade commander was seriously wounded and would be out of action for months. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders who were killed or wounded was fearful. “At the regimental level approximately 150 colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors had been killed, wounded or captured. Of that number nineteen colonels had been slain, the most in any single battle in which the army had been engaged. Captains now led regiments.”[30]

In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while twenty-six of forty Field Grade officers were casualties. Forty-six percent (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and had taken a job in Virginia prior to the war. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on the very property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” [31]

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg list the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers, some as many as 53,000. One also has to remember that many of the missing soldiers were killed in action, but their bodies were simply never found.

                           Killed               wounded         missing         total

Union                    3,155                14,531             5,369           23,055

Confederate         4,708                12,693             5,830            23,231

Total                     7,863               27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference point we need to remember that in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history, and it was a battle between brothers not against foreign enemies. To put it another perspective, even at the lowest estimates “the “army of Northern Virginia suffered something comparable to two sinkings of the Titanic, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888, and two Pearl Harbors.” [32]Robert E Lee testified to Congress following the war “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” [33]  Lee’s “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet asked “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?” [34]

The carnage and death witnessed by survivors of Gettysburg and the other battles of the war changed Civil War soldiers as much as war has before or after. James Garfield, who served as a general in the Union army and went on to become President of the United States noted: “at the sight of these dead men whom other men killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.” [35]

Others, like veterans of today had trouble adjusting to life after the war. “Civil War veterans had trouble finding employment and were accused of being drug addicts. Our word “hobo” supposedly comes from homeless Civil War veterans- called “hoe boys” – who roamed the lanes of rural America with hoes on their shoulders, looking for work.” [36] Following the war, during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the massive social change brought about by the industrialization of society and rise of “industrial feudalism” numerous veterans organizations were founded, for those that belonged to them they were “one of the principle refuges for old soldiers who had fought for a very different world than the one they found around them.” The Grand Army of the Republic was the most prominent of these organizations. “In more than 7,000 GAR posts across the United States, former soldiers could immerse themselves in a bath of sentimental memory; there, they established a ritualized camp geography, rekindled devotion to emancipation and preached the glories of manly independence.” [37]

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never healed fully, and he struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate. He wrote his wife about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [38]

Gouverneur Warren, who had helped save the Union at Little Round Top wrote to his wife while on Engineering duty after the war: He wrote in 1866 “Indeed the past year…was one of great despondency for me…I somehow don’t wonder that persons often remark how seldom I laugh, but it is really seldom that I do.” He wrote again in 1867 “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [39]

The killing at Gettysburg and so many other battles “produced transformations that were not readily reversible; the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feelings at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by me just like themselves.” [40]

Joshua Chamberlain asked the most difficult questions when viewing the devastation around Petersburg in the final days of the war:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?” [41]

Notes

Chamberlain’s questions should always be in our minds as we send young men and women to war. 

Notes

[1] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.41

[2] Grossman, Dave On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company New York 1995, 1996 p.92

[3] Sager, Guy The Forgotten Soldier originally published as Le Soldat Oublie Editions Robert Laffont 1967, Translation Harper and Row Inc 1971, Brasey’s Washington D.C 2000 p.223

[4] Bismarck, Otto von Speech, August 1867

[5] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.89

[6] Wittenberg, Eric J, Petruzzi, David and Nugent, Michael F. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia July 4-14 1863 Savas Beatie LLC New York NY and El Dorado Hills CA 2008,2001 p.27

[7] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.28

[8] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.508

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.510

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.303

[11] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.357

[12] Faust This Republic of Suffering p.81

[13] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.30

[14] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight pp.32-33

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg. p.508

[16] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 pp.121-122

[17] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[18] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank AGettysburg: 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.138

[19] Chapman, Horatio Civil War Diary of a Forty-niner pp.22-24 Retrieved from http://www.dbappdev.com/vpp/ct20/hdc/HDC630703.htm 8 April 2014

[20] Oates, William C. Southern Historical Papers, April 6th, 1878 retrieved from http://www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4h.htm 18 July 2014

[21] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[22] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.81

[23] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.333

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.469

[25] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Gettysburg Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.56

[26] Imboden, John D. The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.424

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.469-470

[28] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[29] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.113

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.444

[31] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466

[32]

[33] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Lee: The Last Years Houghton Books, New York 1981 p.124

[34] Longstreet, James in New York Times, July 24, 1885, retrieved from the Longstreet Society http://www.longstreetsociety.org/Longstreet_Quotes.html18 July 2014

[35] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.55

[36] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.155

[37] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.523

[38] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

[39] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 pp.248-249

[40] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.60

[41] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based on the Personal Reminisces of the Fifth Corps G.P Putnam’s Son’s 1915, Bantam Books, New York 1993 Amazon Kindle Edition p.41

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From Limited to Total War: The American Civil War as a Watershed

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As always I continue to revise my Gettysburg and Civil War texts. I am posting the second half of a majorly revised section dealing the the nature of the war, and how it changed from a limited war to a total war. This subject may be uncomfortable to many readers, and I admit that. Truthfully I abhor war but I am a realist when it comes to human nature, politics, economics, ideology, religion, and even racism and race hatred play in the world.

Truthfully, if the North had continued the war with limited force, and goals, the Confederacy would have either become independent, or it would have been re-admitted to the Union with slavery intact, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Ammendments would have never been passed, and any concept of civil rights destroyed. You can be sure that with Southern States re-admitted without change that other things would not have occurred; Women’s sufferage, Native American citizenship, citizenship and civil rights for Asian immigrants, and most recently, LGBTQ people are directly tied to the constitutional amendments that the Union victory made possible.  Sometimes, as distasteful and repugnant as that may sound, a hard war is necessary to prevent an unjust peace. 

From a point of realpolitik,  the fact is that leaders in the South and the North, like so many other leaders in history and even today, failed to understand what the war that they helped unleash would bring about. War is not to be entered into lightly without connecting the dots between the act of policy that guides the war, as well as having the policy’s ends supported by the ways and means necessary to fulfill it, and not all of those are military. Diplomacy, economic power, and  information all play a part. 

Abraham Lincoln and his advisors came to understand this, maybe better than any presidential administration in United States history. Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated before he could guide the country through reunion, and Andrew Johnson was not up to the task. By the time Ulysses Grant became President, the opportune moment for reunion had passed. Though the South succeeded in rolling back civil rights for another century, they never were able to repeal those three critical amendments. That is why the hard war pursued by the Lincoln administration still matters for everyone with a stake in civil rights. Today, under the Trump Administration, the GOP Senate, and the GOP State majorities those civil rights stand endangered. The fight is not over.

Think about that, and have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg dead1

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War changed dramatically. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. It also challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Henri Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war.

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had:

 “blurred the distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principle labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [1]

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portend a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through the South, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians and free Blacks. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused William Tecumseh Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views.

To Sherman, the Confederates had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants, he noted that the Union army must act

 “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [2]

In response Henry Halleck, now backed with the legal authority of General Order 100, also known as The Lieber Code, which for the first time in American history defined the differences between partisans acting in the capacity as soldiers of the enemy army, and those who were not a part of a military unit, but rather men who blended back into the population after conducting armed attacks, [3] wrote to Sherman,

“I am fully of opinion that the nature of your position, the character of the war, the conduct of the enemy (and especially of non-combatants and women of the territory we have heretofore conquered and occupied), will justify you in gathering up all the forage and provisions which your army will require, both for a siege of Atlanta and for your supply in your march farther into the enemy’s country. Let the disloyal families of the country, thus stripped, go to their husbands, fathers, and natural protectors, in the rebel ranks; we have tried three years of conciliation and kindness without any reciprocation; on the contrary, those thus treated have acted as spies and guerillas in our rear and within our lines…. We have fed this class of people long enough. Let them go with their husbands and fathers in the rebel ranks; and if they won’t go, we must send them to their friends and protectors. I would destroy every mill and factory within reach which I did not want for my own use…..” [4]

The strategy of Sherman was to ensure that the Confederate heartland of the Deep South could no longer help to sustain Confederate armies in the field, it was military, economic, political, and diplomatic. He explained:

“I propose to act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negate Davis’ boasted …promises of protection. If we can march a well-appointed army right through hiss territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist.” [5]

in addition, Sherman was a pioneer of psychological warfare, he was convinced that the crushing will of White Confederate citizens was paramount to victory. He was

 “convinced that not only economic resources but also the will of Southern civilians sustained the Confederate War effort…. Sherman was well aware of the fear that his soldiers inspired among Southern whites. This terror “was a power,” he wrote, “and I intend to utilize it… to humble their pride, to follow them to their innermost recesses, and to make them dread and fear us…” [6]

When Confederate General John Bell Hood elected to fortify Atlanta, the largest and most important industrial city in the Confederacy against a Union attack, thereby making the population of the city a target, Sherman wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta to warn him of the consequences of allowing this:

“The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go…. You cannot qualify war in any harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…. You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable…” [7]

Sherman’s strategy worked, “it deprived Confederate armies of desperately needed supplies; it also crippled morale both at home front and in the army,” [8] His armies did more than destroy factories and farms in its path, wherever they went “they broke the power of the secessionist government, the slaveholder’s social order, and most of whatever fighting spirit remained among Confederate partisans.” [9]

Jefferson Davis understood the effect that Sherman’s army was having, he wrote, “Sherman’s campaign has produced a bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needed to restore public confidence.” [10] Mary Boykin Chesnut saw the clouds of doom approaching and confided in her diary, “Since Atlanta I have felt as if all were dead in me, forever,” she wrote. “we are going to be wiped off the map.” [11]

The effects of Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas were felt in the Confederate armies at the front as just as he had predicted. Lee’s artillery chief, Brigadier General Porter Alexander wrote:

“The condition of the country at large was one of almost as great deprivation & suffering as that of the army itself; & in many localities even of much greater. North Carolina, South Carolina, & Georgia had been over-run by Sherman’s army carrying off many of the Negroes & most of the stock & destroying all accumulation of provisions which they could not use, & often burning barns & dwellings & all implements of agriculture…. Naturally, the wives & mothers left at home wrote longingly for the return of the husbands & sons who were in the ranks in Virginia. And, naturally, many of them could not resist these appeals, & deserted in order to return & care for their families.” [12]

A member of the 20th Maine noted the effect on Lee’s troops opposing them at Petersburg wrote, “Since Sherman’s victories… we see the affect it is having on Lee’s Army.” They were deserting in groups, “not only privates, but many officers with them.” [13] Lee was so frustrated and angry with the desertion problem that he resorted to summary executions of the men, occasionally without hearing their appeals.

The war was revolutionary in other ways, and brought about a host of social, philosophical, economic, and political changes which continue to impact the lives of people in the United States and around the world even today. Some of these, especially those regarding the abolition of slavery and emancipation, as well as the beginnings of the Women’s Rights movement have had a ripple effect in matters of political and social equality for other previously disenfranchised groups of citizens. One writer noted in regard to the social impacts that “The Civil War uprooted institutions, transformed our politics, influenced social relationships of half a continent, and wrought changes that echo down the generations.” 

 Mark Twain wrote in 1873 that the war “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people …and wrought so profoundly upon the national character that cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” [15]

In a sense, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed  “a new birth of freedom” in his Gettysburg address it served as a watershed moment in American history because it brought to the forefront the understanding of Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.

That statement, flowing from the Declaration was key to Lincoln’s understanding of human rights and dignity, and from it came the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Those would be followed by the Republican Congresses’ passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which overturned the Dred Scott Decision, which denied all citizenship to blacks across the country, and by Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men to right to vote. These were all revolutionary ideas, and there was a counterrevolutionary backlash after the war “overthrew the fledgling experiment in racial equality” but “did not fully restore the old order. Slavery was not reinstated. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were not repealed.” [16]  That is the human and political context by which we have to understand the American Civil War.

Thus it is important to study the Gettysburg campaign in the context of the Civil War because the campaign of 1863 in the east cannot be divorced from what was happening in the west at Vicksburg, nor the Union blockade, nor the diplomatic, economic and informational aspects of the war.  Likewise the Gettysburg campaign cannot be separated from its relationship to the broader understanding of the nature and character of war. To do this one must examine the connection between them and policies made by political leaders; to include the relationship of political to military leaders, diplomats, the leaders of business and industry and not to be forgotten, the press and the people. Likewise we must understand the various contexts of war, to include the social, political, ideological and even the religious components of war, how they impacted Civil War leaders and why civilian policy makers and military leaders must understand them today.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers.

The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray wrote:

 “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [17]

That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is an issue for our present and future political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [18] 

This is actually very important in our present context as since “the end of the Cold War, the tendency among civilians – with President Bush as a prime example – has been to confuse strategy with ideology. The president’s freedom agenda, which supposedly provided a blueprint for how to prosecute the global war on terror, expressed grandiose aspirations without serious effort to assess the means required to achieve them.” [19] Likewise, it is something that President Obama did not fully understand, and President Trump, is flailing and failing at, not because he has a strategy or a coherent ideology, but because everything revolves around him.

Strategy is hard and mostly ignored until there is a crisis, “soldiers focus on their professional military duties, while politicians exercise their skill in policymaking. The strategy bridge between the two worlds, the two cultures, generally is left poorly guarded, if it is guarded at all.” [20] In the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his administration as well as military advisers came to develop a realistic strategy to match his political goals, Lincoln understood the contexts of the war far better than his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, whose administration and military leadership was never able to devise a coherent strategy because they did not fully grasp the contexts of the war, never seriously considered the ends, ways, and means to victory.

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War prefigured the idea of total war written about by Clausewitz that occurred in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. The war combined a massive number of technological advances, which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore.

Likewise, the enmity of the two sides for one another had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda that ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press and even from the pulpit brought the element of hatred to the fore of the conflict; as Clausewitz correctly observed, “Even the most civilized of peoples, in short, can be filled with passionate hatred for each other.”  [21]

As the war went on the feelings of animosity and hatred often boiled over and were reflected in the words and sometimes the actions of the soldiers. A Confederate Captain wrote his wife to teach his children to have

 “a bitter and unrelenting hatred of the Yankee race” that had “invaded our country and devastated it… [and] murdered our best citizens…. If any luckless Yank should unfortunately come my way he need not petition for mercy. If he does I will give him lead.” 

A soldier from a Wisconsin regiment wrote to his fiancée after the assault on Resaca, Georgia that his unit had captured twenty-three Confederates and

 “our boys asked if they remembered Fort Pillow and killed them all. Where there is no officer with us, we take no prisoners…. We want revenge for our brother soldiers and will have it…. Some of the [rebels] say they will fight as long as there is one of them left. We tell them that is what we want. We want to kill them all off and cleanse the country.” [22]

While this was hatred was not universal and many times the combatants behaved with great chivalry on the battlefield, and Northern and Southern veterans led efforts at reconciliation after the war; such hatred was something that had not been a part of the American military experience.  The deep rooted enmity, especially in the South, would remain a constant over the next one hundred years. “White southerners who retained Confederate loyalties against Federal soldiers and northerners in general…. Confederates defiantly refused to forgive enemies who had inflicted such pain on their society.” [23]Likewise, many Union veterans felt that in their sacrifices to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery would be forgotten as time slipped by and the memory of the war subsided.

This very real hatred meant that there were many times when the American Civil War came close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century. J.F.C. Fuller noted “for the first time in modern history the aim of war became not only the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but also of their foundations- his entire political, social and economic order.” [24] It was the first war where at least some of the commanders, especially Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were men of the Industrial Age, in their thought and in the way that they waged war, in strategy, tactics even more importantly, psychologically. Fuller wrote:

“Spiritually and morally they belonged to the age of the Industrial Revolution. Their guiding principle was that of the machine which was fashioning them, namely, efficiency. And as efficiency is governed by a single end- that every means is justified- no moral or spiritual conceptions of traditional behavior must stand in its way.” [25]

President Lincoln, as well as Grant and Sherman realized in early 1864 that “the South was indeed a nation in arms and that the common European practice of having standing armies engaged each other in set-piece battles to determine the outcome of a war was not enough to win this struggle.” [26] Though none was a student of Clausewitz, their method of waging war was in agreement with the Prussian who wrote that

 “the fighting forces must be destroyed; that is, they must be put in such a position that they can no longer carry on the fight” but also that “the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken.”  [27]

Sherman told the mayor of Atlanta after ordering the civilian population expelled that “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make the old and young, the rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [28]Sherman was one of the first American military leaders to understand that a civil war could not be waged according to the limited war doctrines most American officers had been taught. He not only “carried on war against the enemy’s resources more extensively and systematically than anyone else had done, but he developed also a deliberate strategy of terror directed against the enemy’s minds.” [29] While some might find this troubling, the fact remains that it was Sherman’s Southern sweep of all that lay before him that broke the back of the Confederacy.

But Sherman and Grant were not alone in understanding the problem of fighting a limited war against the Confederacy. In the fall of 1862 a twenty-five year volunteer officer, Colonel Strong Vincent serving with McClellan’s army in Virginia understood what had to happen if the Union were to overcome the rebellion of the Confederacy. Vincent who would be instrumental in throwing back Hood’s assault on Little Round Top, and die leading the defense of that edifice, wrote to his wife about the need for harder measures.

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [30]

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace the eternal nature of war as well as the change in the character of the war over time. Lincoln had gone to war for the preservation of the Union, something that for him was almost spiritual in nature, as is evidenced by the language he used in both of his inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.

Instead of a war to re-unite the Union with the Emancipation Proclamation the war became a war for the liberation of enslaved African Americans, After January 1st 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln “told an official of the Interior Department, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation…The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” [31] That too was a modern understanding of war.

Of course, the revolution in military affairs that characterized the Civil War took time, but it was the political and military leaders of the North who better adapted themselves and their nation to the kind of war that was being fought. “Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the determination to make it succeed.” [32]

At the beginning of the war the leaders and populace of both sides still held a romantic idea of war. The belief that the war would be over in a few months and that would be settled by a few decisive battles was held by most, including many military officers on both sides. There were some naysayers like the venerable and rather corpulent General Winfield Scott, but politicians and the press mocked Scott and those who even suggested that the war would be long, hard, and bloody. Of course those who predicted a short, easy, and relatively bloodless war who were proven wrong, and the war became the bloodiest war ever waged by Americans, and it was against other Americans. In many ways it has yet to have ended.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[2] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

[3] Lieber noted in Article 82 of the code that “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.” And in Article 85 that, “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” Lieber, Francis, General Orders No. 100 : The Lieber Code INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE FIELD 24 April 1863 Retrieved from The Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library, The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp#sec4 1 June 2016

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.148

[5] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.445

[6] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.82

[7] Sherman, William Tecumseh, Letter to James M. Calhoun, Mayor of Atlanta September 12, 1864 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 pp.147-148

[8] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.83

[9] Levine, Bruce The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South Random House, New York 2013 p.233

[10] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.348

[11] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.775

[12] 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 pp.508-509

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.469

[14] Lowry, Thomas P. The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1994 p.176

[15] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.48

[16] McPherson, James. The Second American Revolution in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.14

[17] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.36

[18] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[19] Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (The American Empire Project) Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2008 Amazon Kindle Edition, Location 2375 of 3875

[20] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.49

[21] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.76

[22] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation pp.49-50

[23] 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.34

[24] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862,  to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944  Minerva Press 1956 p.88

[25] Ibid. Fuller  A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.88

[26] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the War, Harper Perennial, New York 2005 p.238

[27] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

[28] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era  p.809

[29] Ibid. Weigley  The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy  p.149

[30]Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.57

[31] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.558

[32] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

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Innovations of Death: The Minié Ball, the Rifled Musket, and the Repeating Rifle

claude_etienne_minie

                                                                                  Claude Minié

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to admit that I am kind of a geek about militaria and weaponry but in order to understand the broad brush aspects of history one also has to know something about detailed facts. So anyway, here is a section or one of my yet to be published books. This section deals with the advances in weaponry that made the American Civil War and subsequent wars so much more deadly.

Peace

Padre Steve+

minnie-ball

                                                                             The Minié Ball 

While various individuals and manufacturers had been experimenting with rifles for some time the weapons were difficult to load as the rifled groves slowed down the loading process. The British pioneered the use of the rifle during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. The issue of the Baker rifle, a rifled flintlock which was accurate to about 300 yards was limited to specific Rifle Regiments which were considered elite units, as well as skirmishers in some other regiments. The soldiers assigned to the Rifle regiments wore a distinctive green uniform as opposed to the red wore by the rest of the British Army. When the United States Army formed its first Sharpshooter regiments in late 1861 under the command of Colonel Hiram Berdan. Like the British the men of the regiment as well as the 2nd Regiment of Sharpshooters wore a distinctive green uniform instead of the Union Blue.

In 1832 a captain Norton of the British Army “invented a cylindroconoidal bullet. When fired, its hollow base automatically expanded to engage the rifling of the barrel, thus giving the bullet a horizontal spin.” [1] But the bullet was unwieldy, so it and other bullets that were “large enough to “take” the rifling was difficult to ram down the barrel” and slowed down the rate of fire significantly, and since “rapid and reliable firing was essential in a battle, the rifle was not practical for the mass of the infantrymen.” [2]

In was not until 1848 when French Army Captain Claude Minié who “perfected a bullet small enough to be easily rammed down a rifled barrel, with a wooden plug in the base of the bullet to expand it upon firing to take the rifling.” [3]Unfortunately the bullets were expensive to produce and it was not until in 1850 an American armorer at Harpers Ferry, James Burton “simplified the design that had made Minié famous and developed a hollow based, .58-caliber lead projectile that could be cheaply mass-produced.” [4] Burton’s ammunition was very easy to load into weapons, and soldiers were able to drop the cartridge into the muzzle of their rifles as easily as they could musket balls down a smoothbore.

The tactics the officers were educated in were developed at a time when the maximum effective range of muskets was barely 100 yards. However, the Army did make some minor adjustments to its tactics to increase speed and mobility in the tactic movement of the infantry. Colonel William J. Hardee went on to become a Confederate General adapted changes first made by the French to the U.S. infantry manual. These changes “introduced double-quick time (165 steps per-minute) and the run and allowed changes to the order of march to be made in motion rather than after coming to a halt.” [5]

During Napoleon’s time assaulting an opponent with a large body of troops was a fairly easy proposition, one simply maneuvered out of the rage of the enemy’s artillery and muskets, thus “to bring a heavy mass of troops upon them was possible because of the limited destructiveness of smoothbore firearms. Their range was so restricted that defenders could count on getting off only one reasonably effective volley against advancing soldiers. By the time that volley was unloosed, the attackers would be so close to their objective that before the defenders could reload, the attacking troops would be upon them.” [6] One of Napoleon’s favorite tactics was for his troops to make well executed turning maneuvers aimed at the enemy’s flanks, but the increased range and lethality meant that even when such maneuvers were executed, they often produced only a short term advantage as the defenders would form a new front and continue the action.

Yet by 1860 the rifled muskets had an effective range of about 500 yards and sometimes, depending on the type of weapon even more, but in most cases during the Civil War infantry engagements were fought at considerable shorter ranges. Paddy Griffith notes that even in the modern era long range firing by infantry units is still rare, and that there is “a fallacy in the notion that longer range weapons automatically produce longer-range fire. The range of firing has much more to do with the range of visibility, the intentions of the firer and the general climate of the army.” [7] Drew Gilpin Faust wrote that Civil War battles still “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were often able to see each other’s faces and to know who they had killed.” [8] They knew their weapons could fire at longer range, and one Union soldier explained, “when men can kill one another at six hundred yards they would generally would prefer to do it at that distance.” [9] But for the average infantryman such occasions were the exception.

The advent of the breach loading and later the repeating rifle and carbine further increased the firepower available to individual soldiers. However, with the exception of the Prussian Army, armies in Europe as well as the United States Army were slow to adapt the breech loading rifles. In “1841 the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, had prepared the pattern weapons of the first general-issue rifled shoulder arm of the U.S. Army”[10]

The process of conversion to the new weapons was slow, conservatism reigned in the Army and the lack of suitable ammunition was a sticking point. However, the U.S. Army began its conversion “to the rifled musket in the 1840s but rejected both the repeating rifle and the breechloader for infantry because of mechanical problems.” [11] Even so there was a continued resistance by leaders in the army to arming infantry with the rifled muskets despite the already noted obsolescence of them during the Crimean War. In discussing the differences of rifles and smoothbore muskets during the Peninsular Campaign, Edward Porter Alexander wrote that “In the Mexican War fought with smooth bore, short range muskets, in fact, the character of the ground cut comparatively little figure. But with the rifles muskets & cannon of this war the affair was proven both at Malvern Hill, & at Gettysburg….” [12]

However, in 1855 the new Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis ordered the Army to convert to “the .58 caliber Springfield Rifled Musket. Along with the similar British Enfield rifle (caliber .577, which would take the same bullet as the Springfield), the Springfield became the main infantry arm of the Civil War.” [13] Even so the production of the new rifles was slow and at the beginning of the war only about 35,000 of all types were in Federal arsenals or in the hands of Federal troops.

The one failure of Union Chief of Ordnance Ripley was his “insistence in sticking by the muzzle loading rifle as the standard infantry arm, rather than introducing the breach-loading repeating rifle.” [14] Ripley believed that a “move to rapid fire repeating rifles would put too much stress on the federal arsenals’ ability to supply the repeaters in sufficient quantities for the Union armies.”[15] There is a measure of truth in this for troops armed with these weapons did have the tendency to waste significantly more ammunition than those armed with slow firing muzzle loaders, but had he done so the war may not have lasted nearly as long.

weapons

Had Ripley done this Union infantry would have enjoyed an immense superiority in sheer weight of firepower on the battlefield. The noted Confederate artilleryman and post-war analyst Porter Alexander believed that had the Federals adopter breech-loading weapons that the war would have been over very quickly, noting, “There is reason to believe that had the Federal infantry been armed from the first with even the breech-loaders available in 1861 the war would have been terminated within a year.” [16] Alexander’s observation is quite correct. As the war progressed and more Union troops were armed with breach loaders and repeaters Confederates found themselves unable to stand up to the vastly increased firepower of Union units armed with the newer weapons. A Union soldier assigned to the 100thIndiana of Sherman’s army in 1865:

“I think the Johnnys are getting rattled; they are afraid of our repeating rifles. They say that we are not fair, that we have guns that we load up on Sunday and shoot all the rest of the week. This I know, I feel a good deal confidence in myself with a 16 shooter in my hands, than I used to with a single shot rifle.” [17]

During the war both the Union and Confederate armies used a large number of shoulder-fired rifles and muskets of various manufactures and vintage. This was in large part because of a shortage of the standard M1861 Springfield Rifled Musket at the beginning of the war and initially standardization was a problem, and as a result many units went to war armed with various types of weapons which made supply, training, and coordinated fires difficult. At the beginning of the war, the Federal government had only about 437,000 muskets and rifles in its inventory, and only about 40,000 of these were rifled muskets, either older weapons converted from smoothbores or the newly manufactured Springfield rifles.

The disparity of types of weapons that might be found in a single regiment contributed to difficulties in supplying ammunition to them, and proved to be nightmarish for experienced quartermasters. This was especially the case when the amateur quartermasters of many regiments did not specify exactly what types of ammunition they required.

Likewise, in addition to the existing stocks of weapons available for use, the Federal government only had two armories capable of manufacturing arms, Harpers Ferry Virginia, which had to be abandoned in 1861 when Virginia seceded from the Union, and the other in Springfield Massachusetts, which had a capacity to manufacture between 3,000 and 4,000 rifles a month. Ordnance Chief Ripley solved that problem by contracting with U.S. and foreign manufacturers to make up for what government armories could not do. In the first year of the war he contracted for nearly 750,000 rifles from U.S. and foreign arms suppliers. During the war he expanded the capacity at Springfield so that it could produce over 300,000 weapons a year. Even so at Gettysburg sixty-five of the 242 Union infantry regiments, some 26%, were fully or partially armed with older substandard weapons, both smoothbores and antiquated rifles. In 1863 and 1864, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee over half of the army was armed with smoothbores or antiquated rifles. [18]

But the initial shortage of weapons caused problems for both sides. The Confederacy had to make the best use of what they had obtained in captured federal depots at the beginning of the war, which amounted to 140,000 smoothbores and another 35,000 rifled muskets.  Like the Federal Government, the Confederacy which had much less industrial capacity was forced to purchase many of its weapons from England expending badly needed capital to do so and requiring the weapons to be shipped through the Union blockade on blockade runners operating from England, the Bahamas, or other English Caribbean possessions. During the war the Confederates purchased approximately 300,000 rifled muskets and 30,000 smoothbores from Europe while producing just over 100,000 shoulder fired weapons of all types during the war. The Union through its economic superiority was able to acquire a million rifled muskets, 100,000 smoothbores from Europe in addition to the 1.75 million rifled muskets, 300,000 breechloaders, and 100, repeaters of its own wartime manufacture. [19]

In the end the disparity in quality and quantity of arms would doom the élan of the Confederate infantry in battle after battle. Porter Alexander wrote of the Confederate equipment situation:

“The old smooth-bore musket, calibre 69, made up the bulk of the Confederate armament at the beginning, some of the guns, even all through 1862, being old flint-locks. But every effort was made to replace them by rifled muskets captured in battle, brought through the blockade from Europe, or manufactured at a few small arsenals which we gradually fitted up. Not until after the battle of Gettysburg was the whole army in Virginia equipped with the rifled musket. In 1864 we captured some Spencer breech-loaders, but we could never use them for lack of proper cartridges.” [20]

The number of kinds of weapons that a given unit might be equipped was difficult for commanders and logisticians on both sides.  For example, Sherman’s division at the Battle of Shiloh “utilized six different kinds of shoulder arms, with each necessitating a different caliber of ammunition,” [21]which caused no end of logistical problems for Sherman’s troops as well as other units equipped with mixed weaponry.

Commonly Used Union and Confederate Rifles and Muskets

Type Designed Manufactured Weight Length Caliber Rate of Fire (Rounds per Minute) Feed System Effective Range Maximum Range
M1861 Springfield 1861 ~1,000,000

9 Lbs.

56 inches .58 2-4  Muzzle Loaded 100-400 yards 500-620 yards
M1863 Springfield 1863 700,000 9 Lbs. 56 inches .58 2-3 Muzzle Loaded 200-300 yards 800-1000 yards
Pattern 1853 Enfield (England) 1853 1,500,000 total 900,000 estimated used in Civil War 9.5 Lbs.  55 inches .58 3+  Muzzle Loaded  200-600 Yards 1250 yards
Lorenz Rifle (Austria) 1853  ~325,000 used in Civil War 8.82 Lbs. 37.5 inches .54 2 Muzzle Loaded 100-600 yards 900-1000 yards
M186 to M1842 Springfield Musket 1816-1842 ~1,000,000 10 Lbs. 58 inches .69 2-3 Muzzle Loaded 75-100 yards 200 yards
Sharps Rifle 1848 120,000+ 9.5 Lbs. 47 inches .52 8-9 Breech Loading 500 yards 1000 yards
Spencer Repeating Rifle 1860 200,000 10 Lbs. 47 Inches .52 14-20 Breech Loading 500 yards

1000 yards

 

While this increase in range, accuracy, and rate of fire were important, they were also mitigated by the fact that the smoke created by the black, non-smokeless gunpowder powder expended by all weapons during the Civil War often obscured the battlefield, and the stress of combat reduced the rate and accuracy of fire of the typical soldier. This was compounded by the fact that most soldiers received little in the way of real marksmanship training. Allen Guelzo notes that the “raw inexperience of Civil War officers, the poor training in firearms offered to the Civil War recruit, and the obstacles created by the American terrain generally cut down the effective range of Civil War combat to little more than eighty yards.” [22] That being said well-drilled regiments engaging enemy troops in the open on ground of their choosing could deliver devastating volley fire on their enemies.

But the real increase in lethality on the Civil War battlefield was the Minié ball “which could penetrate six inches of pine board at 500 yards.” [23] as such, the bullet was decidedly more lethal than the old smoothbore rounds, and most wounds “were inflicted by Minié balls fired from rifles: 94 percent of Union casualties were caused by bullets.” [24] The old musket balls were fired at a comparatively low velocity and when they hit a man they often pass through a human body nearly intact, unless there was a direct hit on a bone. Thus wounds were generally fairly simple to treat unless a major organ or blood vessel had been hit. But the Minié ball ushered in for those hit by it as well as the surgeons who had to treat their wounds:

“The very attributes that increased the bullet’s range also increased its destructive potential when it hit its target. Unlike the solid ball, which could pass through a body nearly intact, leaving an exit would not much larger than the entrance wound, the soft, hollow-based Minié ball flattened and deformed on impact, while creating a shock wave that emanated outward. The Minié ball didn’t just break bones, it shattered them. It didn’t just pierce organs, it shredded them. And if the ragged, tumbling bullet had enough force to cleave completely through the body, which it often did, it tore out an exit wound several times the size of the entrance wound.” [25]

When these bullets hit the arm and leg bones of soldiers the effects were often catastrophic and required immediate amputation of the limb by surgeons working in abysmal conditions. “The two minie bullets, for example, that struck John Bell Hood’s leg at Chickamauga destroyed 5 inches of his upper thigh bone. This left surgeons no choice but to amputate shattered limbs. Hood’s leg was removed only 4 and 1/2 inches away from his body. Hip amputations, like Hood’s, had mortality rates of around 83%.” [26]

This technological advance changed the balance and gave armies fighting on the defensive an edge. The advance in the range and killing power embodied in the rifled musket made it especially difficult for the armies that fought the Civil War to successfully execute frontal assaults on prepared defenders. The defensive power was so enhanced that even a “well executed turning maneuver was likely to produce only a decidedly temporary advantage in the Civil War.” [27] Well trained units could change their front against enemies assailing their flanks and turning them back as was demonstrated by Joshua Chamberlain’s 20thMaine at Little Round Top. Occasionally some assaulting troops would get in among the enemy’s lines, despite the enormous costs that they incurred during their attacks, but “the greater problem was how to stay there and exploit the advantage once the enemy’s line had been pierced. Almost invariably, by that time the attacker had lost so heavily, and his reserves were distant, that he could not hold on against a counterattack by the defending army’s nearby reserves.”[28]

Despite the increased range of the rifled muskets many infantry firefights were still fought at closer ranges, usually under 200 yards, not much more than the Napoleonic era. Much of this had to do with the training of the infantry as well as visibility on the battlefield which in North America was often obscured by heavy forested areas and thickets in which armies would battle each other at close range. Battles such as the Seven Days, Chancellorsville, and much of the Overland Campaign were fought in such terrain.

This was demonstrated time and time again throughout the course of the war as commanders attempted frontal assaults on such positions. “The only way to impose heavy enough casualties upon an enemy army to approximate that army’s destruction was to accept such heavy casualties oneself that no decisive advantage could accrue.” [29]Lee’s assault on Malvern Hill and his numerous frontal assaults on prepared positions at Gettysburg, Burnside’s ghastly assaults at Fredericksburg, Grant’s first attack at Vicksburg, and Grant’s ill-advised attack at Cold Harbor demonstrated the futility and ghastly cost of such tactics. The ability of infantry in the assault to “rise up and deliver a frontal attack became almost always futile against any reasonably steady defenders. Even well executed flank attacks tended to suffer such heavy casualties as experienced riflemen maneuvered to form new fronts against them that they lost the decisiveness they had enjoyed in the Napoleonic Wars.” [30] During the Wilderness Campaign battles were fought for hours on end at point blank range amid heavy woods and fortifications.

As important as the rifled muskets were, the real revolution in battlefield firepower was brought about by the repeating rifles and muskets which came into use during the war. The early examples were not reliable because the ammunition available was in a paper cartridge which sometimes caused gas and flames to escape form the breach, making the weapon dangerous to the user. But this was corrected with the introduction of brass cartridges and later weapons became deadly instrument. Because of its range as compared to the older smoothbores, the rifled musket “added a new spatial dimension to the battlefield,” [31] but the repeating rifles, which had a shorter range than the rifled muskets looked forward to the day of semi-automatic and automatic weapons. The repeaters could “pump out so many shots in such a short time that it offered a new perspective in tactical theory from that used by the old carefully aimed one-shot weapons,” and added “a new temporal dimension to the close range volley.” [32]

Despite the fact that leaders knew about the increased range and accuracy that came with the rifled musket, tactics in all arms were slow to change, and “on every occasion, a frontal assault delivered against an unshaken enemy led to failure.” [33]Even at Gettysburg Robert E. Lee would demonstrate that he had not fully appreciated the effects of the lethality of the rifled musket when he ordered Hood’s assault on Federal troops at Little Round Top on July 2nd and Pickett’s assault on the Union center on July 3rd1863. Lee should have learned during the bloody battles of 1862 and early 1863 which cost his army over 50,000 casualties.

I find it most interesting and tragic that this increase in firepower, among many other things, was not appreciated by the military leaders of the European powers who went to war in 1914. As a result millions of men died unnecessary deaths.

                                                                                   Notes 

[1] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.15

[2] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[3] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[4] Leonard, Pat The Bullet that Changed History in The New York Times Disunion: 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator edited by Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.372

[5] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.20

[6] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.33

[7] Griffith, Paddy, Battle Tactics of the Civil War Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1989 p.148

[8] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[9] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[10] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.32

[11] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.17

[12] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.111

[13] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.317

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.251

[16] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 1691 of 12969

[17] Davis, Burke. Sherman’s March Open Roads Integrated Media, New York, 2016, originally published by Vintage Press 1980 p.196

[18] Ibid. Griffith,  Battle Tactics of the Civil War  pp.76-77

[19] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.80

[20] Ibid. Alexander Military Memoirs of a Confederate location 1683 of 12969

[21] Ibid. McDonough William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country, A Life  p.2

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.255-256

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.250

[24] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[25] Ibid. Leonard, Pat The Bullet that Changed History p.372

[26] Goellnitz, Jenny Civil War Battlefield Surgery The Ohio State University, Department of History retrieved from https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/cwsurgeon/cwsurgeon/amputations 22 December 2016

[27] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.34

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

[29] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.34

[30] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.419

[31] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.75

[32] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.75

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

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The Deadliest Battle on American Soil: The Human Cost at Gettysburg

 

gburg dead2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am a career military officer who suffers from PTSD, TBI and other afflictions after serving in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008.  I have seen firsthand the terrible effects of war. I am also a historian and I  have served as Assistant Professor at a major military staff college which helps educate senior military officers from this country and other countries. In that capacity I taught ethics as well as led the Gettysburg Staff ride, or study of the Battle of Gettysburg. When teaching I always attempted to deal with the human cost of war.

Gettysburg was the most costly battle ever fought on the American continent. Around 50,000 men were killed or wounded there in three days of battle. William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell.” I agree, there is nothing romantic about it. The effects of war last generations and though we have been at war for the last seventeen and a half years, war itself is an abstract concept to most Americans. It is fought by professionals and only experienced by most Americans on the news, movies or most the banal manner, video games; thus the cost in human terms is not fully appreciated, and nor can it be, we are far too insulated from it. Over the past forty plus years our politicians have insulated the public from war, and in doing so they have ensured that we remain in perpetual war which benefits no one. That is a big reason why I write so much about it, not to glorify or romanticize it, but to try in some war to help make it real  to my readers. This is a another draft chapter from my Gettysburg text. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Walt Whitman Wrote:

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought, or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

Admittedly the subject is somewhat macabre. But with the reality being that very few people in the United States, Canada or Western Europe have experienced the terrible brutality of war it is something that we should carefully consider any time the nation commits itself to war. By we, I mean all citizens, including the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who never see the personally see people they kill, or walk among the devastation caused by the highly advanced, precision weapons that they employ from a great distance, sometimes thousands of miles. In some parts of our military we have men and women who have the mission of targeting and killing enemies and then walking home to their families, but in the Civil War killing in combat “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were able to see each other’s faces and to know whom they had killed.” [1]

While the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is Hell” are as true as when he spoke them; the tragic fact is that for most people war is an abstract concept, antiseptic and unreal; except for the occasional beheading of a hostage by Islamic militants or the videos shot by the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on the internet. Thus the cost of war and its attendant cost in lives, treasure and to the environment are not real to most people in the West.

We use words to describe the business of war which dehumanize the enemy, and we describe their deaths in words more palatable to us. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.” [2]

We can now add the terms Haji and Raghead to Grossman’s list of dehumanizing terms for our opponents from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!” [3]

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly exhort governments and peoples to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary. I fully comprehend the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” [4]

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as like the Gettysburg trip that we are embarking on, the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert.

Thus, it is my view, to conduct a staff ride, to walk the battlefield; especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there, died there, or brought home wounds that changed them forever.

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the Bulge, the West Wall, the Shuri Line on Okinawa, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Stone’s River, and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

In doing this I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students will face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of them will become Flag or General Officers, with the responsibility of advising our nation’s leaders as well planning and conducting the military operations on which the lives of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of people depend. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects of this campaign, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take this work seriously because it forces us to remember what war is about and its nature, which Clausewitz wrote is “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…” [5]which William Tecumseh Sherman so rightly understood without the euphemisms that we so frequently use to describe it: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….”

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next. On that afternoon it was as if “the doors of Hell had shut” and the next day, the Glorious 4th of July “The heavens opened, and a thunderstorm of biblical proprotions drenched the battlefield, soaking dead, wounded and able-bodied men equally.” [6]

Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance, thus “the two sides stared at each other, each waiting for the other to resume the fighting, neither did.” [7]

As the Confederate army retreated and Meade’s army pursued another army remained at Gettysburg, “an army of the wounded, some 20,350 in number, a third of them Confederate….” Just 106 surgeons were spared from the Army of the Potomac and “the comparatively few overburdened surgeons and attendants now on duty still labored every day to the point of exhaustion.” [8] These overworked men were aided by local volunteers as well as members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission and the Sisters of Charity. These men and women “brought organization to the hospitals, relief to the medical staffs and the local volunteers, and immense comfort to the wounded, whether blue or butternut.” [9]

The dead and wounded littered the battlefield and the sights and smells were ghastly:

“Wherever men gazed, they saw dead bodies. A New Yorker thought they “lay as thick as the stones that is on father’s farm.” A stench smothered the field, moving John Geary to tell his wife, “My very clothes smell of death.” A Regular Army veteran exclaimed, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” [10] A resident of Gettysburg walked up to Little Round top and wrote of what she observed from the peak of that rocky hill:

“surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.” [11]

At Joseph Sherfy’s farm, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the second day, his barn “which had been used as a field hospital, was left a burnt ruin, with “crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies” clearly visible.” [12] When the rains came, the wounded suffered terribly. Many of the field aid stations were set up next to the creeks that crisscrossed the battlefield, and those streams quickly flooded as torrents of rain water caused them to overflow their banks. “A New Jersey soldier watched in horror as the flood waters washed over and carried away badly wounded men unable to move to safety….” [13]

Oliver Howard took his escort to do a reconnaissance of the town on July 4th, one of the cavalry troopers described the scene:

“The battle field was the Awfulest sight I ever saw…The woods in front of our men the trees were riddled with Cannon ball and bullets evry limb shot off 20 feet high. Some say the Rebel dead lay six deep in the grave yard where we lay. Nearly every grave stone was shattered by shots and everything was torn to pieces. I went through the town on the 4th of July with the General. The streets were covered with dead. Evry frame house were riddled with balls the brick ones dented thick where shot had hit.” [14]

Field hospitals were often little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Churches were requisition for use of the surgeons. A volunteer nurse noted: “Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and arms and threw them out the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.” [15]

Chaplains were usually found with the doctors, caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the wounded. Protestant chaplains might ensure that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administered the Last Rites, often working together across denominational lines to care for their soldiers.

A Union chaplain described the ministry in the field hospitals and aid stations:

“Some of the surgeons were posted well up toward the front to give first aid. More of them were in the large field hospitals of division in more secure places at the rear. The chaplain might be at either place or at both by turns. Some made a point of watching for any wounded man who might be straggling back, who perhaps could be helped up into the saddle and ride back to the hospital. When the demand for help became urgent the chaplains were nurses. As the rows of wounded men grew longer, chaplains went from man to man to see what could be done to relieve their pain, perhaps to take a message or letter. All day into the night this work would continue. A drink of water, a loosened bandage on a swollen limb, a question answered, a surgeon summoned, a whispered word of comfort marked their course. Each night at sundown the men who died during the day were buried, with a short prayer, side by side in a common grave, each in his uniform with canvas wrapped around his face and a strip of paper giving his name and regiment in a bottle buttoned under his blouse.” [16]

The war would challenge the theology of the clergy who served as chaplains on both sides, as “individuals found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one in which unimaginable destruction had become a daily experience. Where could God belong in such a world? How could a benevolent deity countenance such cruelty and suffering? Doubt threatened to overpower faith….” [17] That sense of bewilderment is not lacking today among those of faith who return from war.

Some men, clergy and laity alike would attempt to find a theological meaning to the suffering. Many would do so in the theology of John Calvin which emphasized the Providence and foreknowledge of God. That theological frame of reference, of the results of battles and the death or wounding of men in war and the attendant suffering was found in the will, or providence of God was quite common among men of both sides who grew up during the Second Great Awakening, as it is today; and for some it was carried to fatalistic extremes. However, others like Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, who considered himself a believing Christian, wrote that he believed God:

“endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”[18]

The carnage around the battlefield was horrifying to most observers. Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the sight on Cemetery Ridge on the night of July 3rd following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.” [19]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.” [20]

Another Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [21]

The burial of the dead was too much for the soldier’s alone to accomplish. “Civilians joined the burial of the dead out of both sympathy and necessity. Fifty Confederates lay on George Rose’s fields; seventy-nine North Carolinians had fallen on a perfect line on John Forney’s farm.” [22]

Those tending the wounded recalled how many of the wounded selflessly asked medical personnel to tend others more badly wounded than themselves; a volunteer nurse wrote her sister: “More Christian fortitude was never witnessed than they exhibit, always say-‘Help my neighbor first, he is worse.’” [23] The Confederate wounded were the lowest priority for the badly overwhelmed Union surgeons and Lee had not done much to help, leaving just a few surgeons and attendants to care for the Confederates left on the battlefield. The Confederate wounded housed in the classrooms of Pennsylvania College were left in dire straits:

“All the rooms, halls and hallways were occupied with the poor deluded sons of the South,” and “the moans prayers, and shrieks of the wounded and dying were everywhere.” Between 500 and 700 wounded Confederates were jammed in with “five of our surgeons” and “no nurses, no medicines no kinds of food proper for men in our condition….” [24]

Across the battlefield the wounded were being treated in a variety of makeshift aid stations and field hospitals:

“Sergeant Major David E. Johnson of the Seventh Virginia was taken to the Myers house after the bombardment, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left side and arm. “The shed in which I was placed,” he recalled, “was filled with the wounded and dying….I spoke to no one, and no one to me, never closed my eyes to sleep; the surgeons close by being engaged in removing the limbs of those nearby to be amputated….I heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the groans of the dying, the agonies of General Kemper, who lay nearby, frequently being heard.” [25]

The suffering was not confined to the hospitals; John Imboden commanding the cavalry brigade protecting the Confederate wounded being transported home and supply trains described the horror of that movement:

“Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owning to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still far worse cases tat had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds….From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout came such cries and shrieks as these:

“My God! Why can’t I die?” “My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me?” “Stop! Oh! For God’s sake stop for just one minute; take me out and leave me to die on the roadside.” “I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?” [26]

Eventually, by July 22nd with most of the wounded evacuated a proper general hospital was set up east of the town and the remaining wounded taken there. That hospital, named Camp Letterman grew into “a hundred –acre village of cots and tents, with its own morgue and cemetery, and served more than 3,000 wounded before it was finally closed in November.” [27]

As for the families of the dead, many never found out the details of their loved one’s deaths, which caused their losses to be “in some sense unreal and thus “unrealized,” as the bereaved described them, recognizing the inhibition of mourning that such uncertainty imposed.” [28] Much was because of how overwhelmed the field hospital staffs were, and how inadequate their records of treatment and the dispositions of bodies were sketchy at best. “Reports from field hospitals were riddled with errors and omissions, often lacked dates, and were frequently illegible, “written with the faintest lead pencil.” [29]

Among the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps was severely wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Dan Sickles, the commander of Third Corps who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had his leg amputated after being grazed by a cannon ball at the Trostle Farm. Sickles, who survived the wound and the war, would visit the leg, which had carefully ordered his surgeons to preserve. The leg is now displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top; George Willard who brought redemption to his Harper’s Ferry brigade on Cemetery Ridge stopping Barksdale’s charge on July 2nd; Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis who before being killed at Devil’s Den told his staff “the men must see us today;” and the young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death in a senseless ordered by his division commander Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, against Hood and McLaws dug in divisions as the battle ended.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level, the list included excellent commanders such as Paul Semmes and William Barksdale, while Wade Hampton, Stuart’s best brigade commander was seriously wounded and would be out of action for months. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders who were killed or wounded was fearful. “At the regimental level approximately 150 colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors had been killed, wounded or captured. Of that number nineteen colonels had been slain, the most in any single battle in which the army had been engaged. Captains now led regiments.”[30]

In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while twenty-six of forty Field Grade officers were casualties. Forty-six percent (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and had taken a job in Virginia prior to the war. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on the very property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” [31]

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg list the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers, some as many as 53,000. One also has to remember that many of the missing soldiers were killed in action, but their bodies were simply never found.

                           Killed               wounded         missing         total

Union                    3,155                14,531             5,369           23,055

Confederate         4,708                12,693             5,830            23,231

Total                     7,863               27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference point we need to remember that in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history, and it was a battle between brothers not against foreign enemies. To put it another perspective, even at the lowest estimates “the “army of Northern Virginia suffered something comparable to two sinkings of the Titanic, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888, and two Pearl Harbors.” [32]Robert E Lee testified to Congress following the war “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” [33]  Lee’s “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet asked “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?” [34]

The carnage and death witnessed by survivors of Gettysburg and the other battles of the war changed Civil War soldiers as much as war has before or after. James Garfield, who served as a general in the Union army and went on to become President of the United States noted: “at the sight of these dead men whom other men killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.” [35]

Others, like veterans of today had trouble adjusting to life after the war. “Civil War veterans had trouble finding employment and were accused of being drug addicts. Our word “hobo” supposedly comes from homeless Civil War veterans- called “hoe boys” – who roamed the lanes of rural America with hoes on their shoulders, looking for work.” [36] Following the war, during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the massive social change brought about by the industrialization of society and rise of “industrial feudalism” numerous veterans organizations were founded, for those that belonged to them they were “one of the principle refuges for old soldiers who had fought for a very different world than the one they found around them.” The Grand Army of the Republic was the most prominent of these organizations. “In more than 7,000 GAR posts across the United States, former soldiers could immerse themselves in a bath of sentimental memory; there, they established a ritualized camp geography, rekindled devotion to emancipation and preached the glories of manly independence.” [37]

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never healed fully, and he struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate. He wrote his wife about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [38]

Gouverneur Warren, who had helped save the Union at Little Round Top wrote to his wife while on Engineering duty after the war: He wrote in 1866 “Indeed the past year…was one of great despondency for me…I somehow don’t wonder that persons often remark how seldom I laugh, but it is really seldom that I do.” He wrote again in 1867 “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [39]

The killing at Gettysburg and so many other battles “produced transformations that were not readily reversible; the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feelings at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by me just like themselves.” [40]

Joshua Chamberlain asked the most difficult questions when viewing the devastation around Petersburg in the final days of the war:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?” [41]

Notes

Chamberlain’s questions should always be in our minds as we send young men and women to war.

[1] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.41

[2] Grossman, Dave On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company New York 1995, 1996 p.92

[3] Sager, Guy The Forgotten Soldier originally published as Le Soldat Oublie Editions Robert Laffont 1967, Translation Harper and Row Inc 1971, Brasey’s Washington D.C 2000 p.223

[4] Bismarck, Otto von Speech, August 1867

[5] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.89

[6] Wittenberg, Eric J, Petruzzi, David and Nugent, Michael F. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia July 4-14 1863 Savas Beatie LLC New York NY and El Dorado Hills CA 2008,2001 p.27

[7] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.28

[8] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.508

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.510

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.303

[11] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.357

[12] Faust This Republic of Suffering p.81

[13] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.30

[14] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight pp.32-33

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg. p.508

[16] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 pp.121-122

[17] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[18] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank AGettysburg: 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.138

[19] Chapman, Horatio Civil War Diary of a Forty-niner pp.22-24 Retrieved from http://www.dbappdev.com/vpp/ct20/hdc/HDC630703.htm 8 April 2014

[20] Oates, William C. Southern Historical Papers, April 6th, 1878 retrieved from http://www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4h.htm 18 July 2014

[21] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[22] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.81

[23] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.333

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.469

[25] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Gettysburg Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.56

[26] Imboden, John D. The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.424

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.469-470

[28] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[29] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.113

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.444

[31] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466

[32]

[33] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Lee: The Last Years Houghton Books, New York 1981 p.124

[34] Longstreet, James in New York Times, July 24, 1885, retrieved from the Longstreet Society http://www.longstreetsociety.org/Longstreet_Quotes.html18 July 2014

[35] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.55

[36] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.155

[37] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.523

[38] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

[39] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 pp.248-249

[40] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.60

[41] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based on the Personal Reminisces of the Fifth Corps G.P Putnam’s Son’s 1915, Bantam Books, New York 1993 Amazon Kindle Edition p.41

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Controversy and Glory: Dan Sickles Part Six

Daniel_Edgar_Sickles

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break for the past week or so to read and reflect. As such I am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

LongstreetJ_main

Lieutenant General James Longstreet C.S.A.

President John F. Kennedy paraphrased the words of the Roman Emperor Tacitus after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy told a journalist, “victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.” The problem in doing a proper analysis of Longstreet’s assault is the fact that many of the men involved on both sides made the battle personal, issuing scathing denunciations of one another, fudging the facts to their advantage, and by making the fight political a political football in the South and in the North.

The Confederate attacks had been badly directed and uncoordinated. In the end though McLaws’ and Hood’s divisions had succeeded in thrashing Sickles’ Third Corps in the exposed salient they were unsuccessful at breaking the Federal line. The disjointed nature of their attacks and the lack of active command and control by Lee and Longstreet had much to do with the outcome. Lee’s presence was needed on the south end of the Confederate line, but he left Longstreet to his own devices.

There was much blame to go around on the Confederate side, Longstreet placed much of the blame for the defeat on Lee, which earned him the everlasting enmity of many Confederates. But Lee’s Warhorse also met with criticism, especially for his performance on July 2nd 1863. Some of the most withering came not years later, but in the days following the battle. The harshest came from Lafayette McLaws, his old friend, who had been a favorite of Longstreet. McLaws blamed his corps commander for the defeat, writing his wife, “I think that the attack was unnecessary and the whole plan of battle a very bad one. Genl Longstreet is to blame for not reconnoitering the ground and for persisting in ordering the assault when his errors were discovered. During the engagement he was very excited [,] giving contrary orders to every one, and exceedingly overbearing. I consider him a humbug – a man of small capacity, very obstinate, not at all chivalrous, exceedingly conceited, and totally selfish….” [1]

One of Longstreet’s biographers wrote “Longstreet’s performance during the morning deserves criticism…. Had he attended to the details that were his responsibility and not allowed his disagreement with Lee to affect his judgment and effort, the afternoon assault would have begun sooner, but not several hours earlier.” [2] That historian believes that had Sickles not moved forward that Longstreet’s attack, even if made earlier would have met success, something echoed by Porter Alexander who wrote, “There seems no doubt that Longstreet’s attack on the 2nd been materially sooner, we would have gained a decided victory.” [3]

Casualties were heavy on both sides but the attack had failed and it had failed because of senior leadership of Lee and his corps commanders. Had Lee “duplicated the active role taken by his counterpart, George Meade, the outcome might have been different.” [4] But this too is speculation born of perfect 20/20 hindsight. One of Lee’s biographer’s wrote “Longstreet was disgruntled, Ewell was inept and Hill was unwell.” [5] To make matters worse, throughout the day, Robert E. Lee did not assert himself and even his most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2nd 1863 “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” [6]

general-george-meade

Major General George Meade U.S. Army

On the Federal side most of the controversy has to do with Sickles’ decision to move the Third Corps forward from Cemetery Hill to the Peach Orchard and so it is appropriate to close this chapter discussing Dan Sickles. The matter has been a long subject of controversy, especially because of the way that Sickles politicized his actions in the press and in the Congressional hearings that followed. Many generals on both sides blundered at Gettysburg.

One can speculate that had Sickles remained in the position dictated by Meade that the Confederate assault might have gone down to an even more disastrous defeat. That being said the line that Sickles would have occupied with his 10,600 troops was long and he could not have held it in great strength, even Little Round Top would have been lightly occupied, and Meade might not have been forced to reexamine his line. It is fully possible that “had Longstreet attacked there with the same headlong fury, it is possible that the Confederates would have broken through not merely into Sickles’ rear, but into the entire Union rear and that disaster would have been the result.” [7] However, Sickles, even though he thought he was justified, was wrong in not informing Meade of the move, and leaving his army commander ignorant of the position of his left.

Sickles action, though an error, was something that could have been rationally addressed by him and Meade long before the Confederate attack began. Had the two men “worked in tandem – that is had the line taken by the Third Corps been shared by the Fifth, and had command matters been resolved and fallback plans established – Longstreet’s troops would have been hard pressed to achieve any of their goals.” [8] One historian put the matter of Sickles’s decision and the subsequent controversies into perspective:

“The entire episode has been clouded since 1863 by issues of politics and personality that hinder unbiased analysis. It is time to put aside such extraneous issues. When Sickles’s scandalous prewar behavior, postwar bombast, and special pleading are discounted and the case is considered solely on its merits, the results of the Third Corps advance speak for themselves. Dan Sickles was not perfect on July 2, 1862, but neither was he the military buffoon so often portray.” [9]

In his after action report Meade criticized Sickles and did so again before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, that latter in regard to comments made by Sickles and his supporters both to the committee and in the press. Meade not only had to deal with the diversions created by Sickles, he also had the real problem of Abraham Lincoln’s disappointment with his failure to catch and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia before it escaped across the Potomac. Dan Sickles did not have to worry about that, and “he could play the role that politicians play best: critic and second guesser.” [10]With the press on his side the former disgraced Congressman was now a one legged war hero, and Sickles attempted to use his redemption and status of a hero “to have Meade removed from command in disgrace.” [11] Many generals on both sides blundered at Gettysburg. Had Sickles taken the high road after the battle rather than attempting to torpedo the name and reputation of George Meade, his action might have provoked less controversy, and “Dan Sickles the historical figure has paid a permanent price for this, overshadowing the laudable work he did as an early force in establishing the Gettysburg National Memorial Park.” [12]

That was most unfortunate, for it has poisoned the discussion of the battle for over 150 years. Unlike Lee, Meade was constantly leading from the front on this long and brutal afternoon. Meade fought a magnificent defensive battle and recovered from the surprise of Sickles movement even as Sickles and his soldiers fought hard greatly impeded the Confederate plan. Sickles was praised in the press and even by long term enemies such as George Templeton Strong, who wrote, “I suppose Sickles… with his one leg, among our best volunteer officers. His recuperative powers are certainly wonderful. Four years ago he was a ruined man in every sense, a pariah whom to know was discreditable.” [13]

“The whole damned field is my memorial”

The Excelsior Brigade Monument at Gettysburg

But the continuing controversy which always seemed to swirl around him prevented him from being honored on the battlefield where he lost his leg. Alone of all the Union Corps commanders at Gettysburg Sickles has no memorial on the battlefield. When asked about the lack of a monument, Sickles, in his typical manner is reported to have said that “The whole damned field is my memorial.” [14]Despite the controversy surrounding his life, and those that swirled in the fighting and refighting of the Battle of Gettysburg, in true fashion Dan Sickles went on to further glory and scandal. Ulysses Grant never allowed him to command troops in the field, Sickles commanded the Military Department of South Carolina, the Department of the Carolinas, and the Department of the South, where was a strong proponent of Reconstruction. Teresa died of tuberculosis in 1866

He was retired as a Major General in the Regular Army in 1869 and went on to serve as Minister to Spain where he carried on an affair with the deposed Queen Isabella, a nymphomaniac who long before she ever Sickles had conducted a myriad of high profile affairs. The affair with the former queen was open and offensive to many people, but neither seemed to mind. In a sense they were kindred spirits. A Paris newspaper dubbed the one-legged General “the Yankee King of Spain.” [15]The affair with Isabella eventually burned itself out and Sickles married Senorita Caroline de Creagh, the daughter of a Spanish Minister, who bore him two children. To do this he converted to Roman Catholicism, something that he had never done when Teresa was alive. After his service in Spain was ended Sickles remained in Paris for four years, where he was widely admired and “received the office of Commander of the Legion of Honor.” [16]

Though a Democrat he supported Republican Presidential candidates Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford Hayes, the latter against a long time Democratic rival from New York. As he got older Gettysburg became an increasing part of his life and in 1892 he ran for Congress in order to spearhead efforts to preserve the battlefield. He was elected and it was in large part due to his efforts that what we now know as the Gettysburg National Military Park exists. In 1893, Sickles met James Longstreet at a Gathering in Gettysburg, and the two men became lifelong friends. Since the war both men had been refighting the battle and the controversies that hung over their decisions that July 2nd like a pall. Longstreet, for his actions on the battlefield, and his decision to become a Republican and serve in the post-war Reconstruction efforts was a pariah in much of the South. That “unpopularity was painful to him, and he was glad to find a sympathetic ally in Sickles. Each of the two generals agreed that the other had moved with blameless skill that day,” [17] and both would defend the other in the succeeding years. As the continuing battle of Gettysburg was fought in the press and in histories written by various participants, Longstreet wrote of Sickles, “I believe it is now conceded that the advanced position at the peach orchard, taken by your Corps and under your orders, saved that battlefield for the Union cause.” [18]

Sickles was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897, the citation stating, “Displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded.”

Sickles long to outlived George Meade who died in 1872 and all of the other Corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac, not to mention most of his friends and enemies. His father George Sickles died in 1887 leaving Dan an estate of nearly five million dollars. His daughter by Teresa, Laura, whose life had been so scarred by the events of 1859 died alone and estranged from her father. In 1896, disgusted by the nomination of William Jennings Bryant as the Democratic Presidential nominee, the one-legged Sickles went to work with his old Gettysburg comrade, the one-armed Oliver Otis Howard to campaign for the Republican William McKinley. They were quite a pair, the religious Howard, and the libertine Sickles, but they helped McKinley defeat Bryant, and McKinley remained grateful to them until his death by an assassin’s bullet.

In 1913 he attended the fiftieth anniversary ceremonies at Gettysburg where he watched the white haired survivors of Pickett’s Charge hobble across the wide battlefield into the arms of their former opponents on Cemetery Ridge. Helen Longstreet, James Longstreet’s second wife and widow quoted the words of a poet named Horatio King, for the event for a southern newspaper.

I see him on that famous field,

The bravest of the brave,

Where Longstreet’s legions strove to drive

The Third Corps to its grave

The fight was bloody, fierce and long,

And Sickles’ name shall stay

Forever in the hall of fame

As he who saved the day [19]

While Helen Longstreet’s claim that Sickles was “forever in the hall of fame” is a tad farfetched, there is no doubt that scoundrel had found redemption. When Sickles died in 1914 at the age of 94, his funeral was held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors, his flag-draped casket carried on an artillery caisson accompanied by a rider-less horse and artillery salutes. His funeral, in a military cemetery among other soldiers was “proof that he was no longer an attorney, politician, or even the murderer of Barton Key,” [20] he was a soldier. His tombstone simply reads:

Daniel E. Sickles

Medal of Honor

Maj. Gen. U.S. Army

May 3 1914

sickles grave

The New York Times made a comment that no one, be they an admirer or enemy could deny. “He was a truly adventurous spirit.” [21]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Oeffinger A Soldier’s General p.197

[2] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.279

[3] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.278

[4] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.279

[5] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.149

[6] Freeman, Douglas S. R.E. Lee volume 3 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1935 p.150

[7] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.235

[8] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.421

[9] Robertson, William Glenn The Peach Orchard Revisited: Daniel E. Sickles and the Third Corps on July 2, 1863 in The Second Day at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership edited by Gary W. Gallagher, The Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio and London, 1993 p.56

[10] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 244

[11] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.235

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 401

[13] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.244-245

[14] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.390

[15] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.321

[16] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.339

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.367

[18] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.341

[19] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.353

[20] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 385

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.390

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They Too Needed Emancipation: Remembering the Common Confederate Soldiers


Monument to the 11th Mississippi on Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I drove home from Gettysburg after walking as an infantryman would have the battlefield in order to better get a feel for what the soldiers of both sides experienced. Over the two days I was there I walked almost 32 miles including walking across some of the most rugged terrain of the battle which gave me a far greater appreciation for the toughness, valor, and courage shown by the men of John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws’s divisions of the Confederate First Corps. Most of those men had marched between seven and twenty miles to get to their attack positions in the hot and humid weather of July 2nd 1863. If they even had them their shoes and boots were of relatively poor quality. As I walked seven miles with my hiking books and carrying a modern three day pack with about a 15 pound load I could only imagine the physical duress of those soldiers. To be sure I am 30 to 40 years older than most of those infantrymen, but still they had all marched between 200 to 300 miles before they even arrived at Gettysburg.

The physical stamina required of soldiers at war is something that most people today cannot imagine. Not only have most never served in the military but far fewer have served in combat. I have, but I didn’t have to walk everywhere like these soldiers did, and while I came under enemy fire I never had to charge up a rugged hill under rifle and artillery fire as did the men of Robertson, Benning, and Laws brigades did at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, nor did I have to fight outnumbered in an exposed position as did the men of the Union Eleventh Corps north of town on July First 1863.

I have always been able to admire the courage of any soldiers who fight in desperate battles, even those who fight for unjust causes. While I consider my service in Iraq to been the high point of my military career, I have come to see it as an unjust, and illegal war of aggression that under the Nuremberg codes could easily been declared an unjust war of aggression in which our political and military leaders could have been tried and found guilty as were men like Herman Goering, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, and Albert Speer.

Thus while I absolutely condemn the cause that the Confederate soldiers fought for I still admire their battlefield courage and toughness. Likewise I do not glorify their senior leaders including men like Robert E. Lee. I will write about him in a future article, maybe as soon as this week. Since I have the beginning of a draft article I should go back and finish it, but tonight I will only say that Lee was not that great of Commander and his battlefield decisions cost the lives of far too many Southern men, including those he had summarily shot for desertion after the war was irrevocably lost in the Fall and Winter of 1864 and 1865 many of who, having served two to three years in continuous combats were only trying to go home to their families who had lost all when William Tecumseh Sherman’s army cut its way through the heartland of Georgia and the Carolinas. I think that is one of the reasons that I find the monuments to Confederate leaders so despicable, these men cared nothing for the soldiers who sacrificed all in a morally wrong cause. I completely agree with Ulysses S. Grant who wrote of the vast majority of Confederate soldiers:

“The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre–what there was, if they had been capable of seeing it, was with the North; they too needed emancipation.”

Speaking of monuments I write about the Confederate monuments at Gettysburg another time. Compared to the Union monuments they are few, and only two,that of the 11th Mississippi, and the 3rd Arkansas on Seminary Ridge are actually dedicated to specific units, the others are quite generic and convey mixed political and ideological messages which often demean the sacrifice of their soldiers who died on that battlefield. Once again I will defer writing about those messages until later, but as I walked Seminary Ridge and read each one I was stuck with the stories that each monument told.

So anyway, tomorrow begins a short work week for the Veteran’s Day holiday, a day where we honor all who served our country in peace and war. I usually get a bit melancholy over this weekend as I think about my friends and comrades that I served with over the course of my thirty-six year career in the Army and Navy.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


But as a closing commentary:

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

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

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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