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Our Army Would Be Invincible If: Pt 3 Ewell’s Second Corps

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

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

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

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

Richard-Ewell

Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell C.S.A.

Since Lee believed that the size of his two corps was too ponderous, especially for those that he was considering as successors to Jackson, Lee divided Jackson’s old Second Corps into tow elements. To command the three division that now comprised the Second Corps, Lee promoted Major General Richard Ewell to Lieutenant General.

Dick Ewell was a modest man and “had maintained a reputation for solid competence.” [1] Freeman wrote:

“In part, the appointment of Dick Ewell was made because of sentimental association with the name Jackson, and in part because of admiration for his unique, picturesque, and wholly lovable personality. Of his ability to lead a corps nothing was known. Ewell had never handled more than a division and he had served with Lee directly for less than a month.” [2]

Ewell was native of Virginia, his father, Thomas Ewell, was a physician and scientific writer whose works created controversy with both the Catholic and Episcopal Churches. Though a gifted writer and editor his finances declined even as the size of his family increased, plunging the family into poverty. The elder Ewell struggled with depression and alcoholism and died at the age of forty in in 1826 when Richard was nine years old. Ewell’s maternal grandfather was Benjamin Stoddert who served in the Revolutionary war and as the first Secretary of the Navy by John Adams. Stoddert helped create the Navy that rose to greatness. “In just three years he purchased land for six navy yards, acquired fifty ships, and recruited 6,000 sailors, including a corps of talented young officers that included David Porter, Isaac Hull, Oliver Perry, and Stephen Decatur.[3]

When his father died the family remained in poverty on the family farm, albeit poverty with a distinguished heritage which his mother ensured that her children understood. She also instilled a strict religious faith in her son. With one brother at West Point and another having died of a liver infection, possibly caused by typhoid, Richard took over the management of the family farm. His mother, who sought more than a rudimentary education for him worked to get him an appointment to West Point for several years and he was finally admitted to the academy in 1836. Ewell was an eccentric, in many ways like his father, mother and grandfather:

“In him one could see the practical, precise mind of his grandfather Benjamin Stoddert and, negatively, the cynicism and sharp tongue of his mother, Elizabeth. The similarities to his deceased father were more pronounced. Richard possessed Thomas Ewell’s violent temper, high intellect, nervous energy, and love of alcohol.” [4]

In 1836 Ewell entered West Point, from which he graduated in 1840 along with his classmates, William Tecumseh Sherman and George Thomas. Some of his seniors in his cadet company included Joseph Hooker, John Sedgwick, P.T.G. Beauregard, Henry Halleck, Jubal Early and Henry Hunt, all of whom served as General officers in either the Union or Confederate armies during the Civil War. Some of the underclassmen who served under him included both James Longstreet and Ulysses S. Grant. By the end of his time at West Point Ewell had “developed into not only an impressive student but an impressive soldier.[5] He graduated thirteenth in a class of forty-two and chose to be commissioned in the Dragoons.

Upon graduation and his brevet promotion to Second Lieutenant the young officer reported to the First Dragoons and served on the western territories and plains of the rapidly expanding nation. Ewell was picky as far as relationships went and seeing the often sad examples of men who married on the frontier he elected to wait, which caused him not to marry until after the Civil War began.

On the frontier his Christian faith began to wane. He still believed in God, but he was a skeptic, did not own a Bible and found little solace in region, even as his mother converted to Catholicism and entered a novitiate with a Catholic religious order. His antipathy was deepened as he observed the behavior of Christian missionaries working among the various Indian tribes. Of the missionaries he observed “wife beating, fornication, theft and adultery.” He was taken by surprise when his younger brother William decided to become a missionary. Ewell wrote: “I have seen so much injury done the Indians here by them that I am rather skeptic[c]al of their utility. Some of the greatest scamps we have are missionaries.[6] Despite this he never completely lost faith. Stonewall Jackson had a marked influence on his return to faith. One night before a battle he heard Jackson praying inside his tent and later remarked that “he had never before heard a prayer so devout and beautiful; he then for the first time, felt the desire to be a Christian.[7]

When war came with Mexico Ewell, now a First Lieutenant went with his company. He fought at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Puebla and Churubusco. While he suffered no physical harm in combat, he developed malaria and he lost his older brother Tom, who was serving with the Mounted Rifles and was mortally wounded at Cerro Gordo, and his cousin Levi Gannt, was killed at Chapultepec. Following Mexico he served in various duties became a noted Indian fighter on the western frontier. Those duties showed that “he had proved his mettle and established his credibility.” [8]

As secession drew near Ewell was very sick again with fever and was being returned to Virginia, some thought to die. However, that did not stop him from offering to fight a group of secessionists in Texas who were threatening to attack a Federal installation. He returned to health and on April 24th 1861 he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army, an act that he wrote “was like death to me.” [9] He was commissioned in the new Confederate Army as a Lieutenant Colonel of Cavalry shortly after his resignation.

Completely bald, and speaking with a lisp, Ewell’s oddities “endeared him to his officers and men,” [10] and by January 1862 he was a division commander and Major General serving under Jackson in the Valley campaign. John Gordon noted that Ewell “had in many respects the most unique personality I have ever known. He was composed of anomalies, the oddest, most eccentric genius in the Confederate Army….” [11] During that campaign he distinguished himself. During the campaign “Next to Jackson himself, Ewell stood out. Every act of Ewell’s in the campaign had been the standard of a competent, alert, and courageous lieutenant.” [12]

William C. Oates wrote of Ewell:

“Ewell was a first-class lieutenant, but he did not have enough confidence in himself to make him successful with an independent command…He hesitated…Therein was Ewell’s deficiency as a general. He had a splendid tactical eye, capable of grand military conceptions, and once resolved quick as lightening to act, yet never quite confident of his own judgment and sought the approval of others before he would execute.” [13]

Ewell had been an effective and dependable division commander under Jackson but had been wounded at Groveton where he was severely wounded and lost a leg, which meant the “absence for long months of the most generous, best disciplined, and in many soldierly qualities, the ablest of Jackson’s subordinates.” [14] Longstreet “regarded him as a superior officer in every respect to Hill.” [15]However, Ewell, though serving long with Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley had served “only briefly under Lee” [16] before being wounded at Groveton. The result was that neither Lee nor Ewell fully knew or understood each other. Lee knew Ewell’s excellent reputation among the soldiers of Second Corps and “may have heard rumors that on his deathbed Jackson expressed a preference for Ewell as his successor” [17] but he had little familiarity with Ewell.

In sending the recommendation on to Richmond Lee termed Ewell “an honest, brave soldier, who has always done his duty well.” [18] It was not a resounding recommendation, but then Lee barely knew Ewell. Lee wrote after the war that he recommended Ewell “with full knowledge of “his faults as a military leader- his quick alternations from elation to despondency[,] his want of decision &c.” [19] Many questions hovered around the appointment of Ewell including how the loss of his leg, his recent marriage, newness to corps command, and unfamiliarity with Lee’s style of command would have on him.

The latter was even more problematic than any residual mental or physical effects of his wound and change in lifestyle. The fact was that Ewell was unfamiliar with Lee’s methods of command in large part because he “had served directly under Lee something less than a month, and then always subject to Jackson’s guidance. Lee never had an opportunity of the lack of self-confidence in Ewell.” [20] Had Lee known that the humble Ewell had reservations of his own about assuming command of a corps and going back to battle after the traumatic amputation of his leg, he had written “I don’t feel up to a separate command” and he had “no desire to see the carnage and shocking sights of another field of battle.” [21] Ewell admitted to his new bride Lizinka that he was “provoked excessively with myself at times at my depression of spirits & dismal way of looking at everything, present & future….” [22] Lee did speak privately about his concerns to Ewell, but no record exists of the conversation, regardless Lee was not concerned enough to remove Ewell from command or to assign his corps to important tasks.

Ewell’s reorganized Second Corps now consisted of his former division, commanded since Antietam by Major General Jubal Early, who in some measure acted as Ewell’s executive officer, on whom “Ewell came to rely on heavily – perhaps too heavily – on his judgment.” [23] The corps also contained the former division of Stonewall Jackson under the command of Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson, an old regular with a solid record of service. The former division of D.H. Hill was now under the command of Robert Rodes, a VMI graduate and professor who had never served in the Regular Army and only had briefly commanded a division before his appointment to command. The brigade level commanders in the corps were another matter.

Early’s Division

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Major General Jubal Early C.S.A.

Early was an unusual character. Described similarly by many to Ewell in his gruffness and eccentrics, unlike Ewell, who was modest and charitable, Early was “ambitious, critical, and outspoken to the point of insubordination. Under certain circumstances he could be devious and malevolent.” [24] Longstreet’s aide Moxey Sorrel wrote of him: “Jubal Early….was one of the ablest soldiers in the army. Intellectually he was perhaps the peer of the best for strategic combinations, but he lacked the ability to handle troops effectively in the field….His irritable disposition and biting tongue made him anything but popular.” [25] Despite this, Early had proved himself as a brigade commander and acting division commander and Lee referred to him affectionately as “my bad old man.” [26]

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

He was commissioned into the artillery on graduation in 1837. However, after experiencing life in the active duty army, including service in the in the Seminole War, left the army and became a highly successful lawyer and active Whig politician. He served in the Mexican war as a Major with Virginia volunteers. Unlike some of his classmates, and later contemporaries in the Civil War, Early, and his men did not see combat, and instead served on occupation duty. In Mexico Zachary Taylor made Early the “military governor of Monterrey, a post that he relished and filled with distinction.” [27]

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

During his time in Mexico contracted rheumatic fever, which left him with painful rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of his life. Due to it he “stooped badly and seemed so much older than his years that his soldiers promptly dubbed him “Old Jube” or Old Jubilee.” [28]

Jubal Early was “notoriously a bachelor and at heart a lonely man.” Unlike many Confederate officers he had “no powerful family connections, and by a somewhat bitter tongue and rasping wit” isolated himself from his peers.[29]

Likewise, in an army dominated by those with deep religious convictions, Early was avowedly irreligious and profane, though he did understand the importance of “the value of religion in keeping his soldiers’ spirits up” and as commander of the Army of the Valley issued orders for a stricter keeping of the Sabbath. [30] Lee’s adjutant Walter Taylor wrote of him “I feared our friend Early wd not accomplish much because he is such a Godless man. He is a man who utterly sets at defiance all moral laws & such a one heaven cannot favor.” [31] That being said Porter Alexander praised Early and noted that his “greatest quality perhaps was the fearlessness with which he fought against all odds & discouragements.” [32]

Early was a Whig, and a stalwart Unionist who opposed Virginia’s secession voting against it because he found it “exceedingly difficult to surrender the attachment of a lifetime to that Union which…I have been accustomed to look upon (in the language of Washington) as the palladium of the political safety and prosperity of the country.” [33] Nonetheless, like so many others he volunteered for service after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion.

Lee “appreciated Early’s talents as a soldier and displayed personal fondness for his cantankerous and profane Lieutenant …who .Only Stonewall Jackson received more difficult assignments from Lee.” [34] He was the most influential of Ewell’s commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [35]

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

Gordon

Brigadier General John Gordon was one of the most outstanding Confederate commanders in the Civil War, eventually rose to command Second Corps. He is possessed of a naturally chivalrous character, which would be show on the Gettysburg battlefield where he came to the aid of the wounded Union General Francis Barlow. Though lacking in some highest command abilities due to his inexperience, he brings a certain freshness, boldness, freedom and originality to command. At Appomattox he was detailed to lead the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia as it formally surrendered, the officer receiving the surrender was Major General Joshua Chamberlain, who honored the defeated Rebel army by bringing his division to present arms.

Gordon was not a professional soldier, he raised a company from the northwest corner of Georgia called “the Raccoon Roughs” in the opening weeks of the war.” [36] Georgia had no room in its new military for the company and Gordon offered it to Alabama. After Manassas was elected colonel of the 6th Alabama which he commanded the regiment until he was wounded five times in the defense of the Bloody Lane at Antietam. Though he had no prior military experience he learned his trade well and possessed “an oratorical skill which inspires his troops to undertake anything. His men adore him….he makes them feel as if they can charge hell itself.” [37] He is promoted to Brigadier General Gordon took command of Lawton’s brigade of Georgians prior to Chancellorsville.

Hays

Brigadier General Harry Hays was a New Orleans lawyer who had served as “lieutenant and quartermaster of the 5th Louisiana in the Mexican War” and “When the South seceded Hays was made colonel of the 7th Louisiana.” [38] Harry Hays was a solid commander who was promoted to command a Louisiana brigade before the 1862 Maryland campaign. He would continue to serve with distinction until he was wounded at Spotsylvania.

“Extra Billy” Smith

Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith was a sixty-five year old politician turned soldier who was a “valiant but unmilitary officer.” [39] He refused an appointment as a brigadier from Governor John Letcher of Virginia, because “he was wholly ignorant of drill and tactics,” [40] but he instead accepted an appointment as Colonel of the 49th Virginia, and attempted to learn the trade of being a soldier, though he never gave up his political office, serving in the Confederate Congress while at the same time serving as the Colonel of the 49th Virginia. Smith’s case was certainly an unusual, even in an unusual army.

Though never much of a tactician, he was brave in battle. He commanded that regiment and was acting commander of Early’s brigade at Antietam, where he was wounded three times, but directed his troops until the battle was over. Jeb Stuart observed him during the battle “dripping blood but fighting gallantly.” [41] Smith was “the only political general to survive Lee’s weeding out” [42] of officers after Chancellorsville, and in “commanding a brigade Extra Billy Smith was straining the limits of his martial abilities.” [43] He left the army in 1864, but only after he had been elected Governor of Virginia in 1863. At Gettysburg the caustic Jubal Early would “contend not only with an eccentric brigadier general but also the governor-elect of his state.” [44]

Avery

Colonel Isaac Avery commanded the 6th North Carolina and when Hoke was wounded at Chancellorsville took the brigade. Avery was described as having a “high moral worth,” “genial nature,” “stern inflexible fortitude,” and “chivalrous bearing.” [45] As a brigade commander he was an unknown quantity, and though “his peers had confidence in him, in Pennsylvania Avery would be going into battle for the first time at the head of a brigade of men who did not know him well.” [46]

Johnson’s Division

Edward_Johnson_(general)

Major General Edward Johnson C.S.A.

Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson, an old regular, a graduate of the West Point class of 1838. He had a solid record of service in the old Army. Johnson served in the Seminole War and received brevet promotions to Captain and Major during the Mexican War. Like many officers that remained in the army after Mexico he served on the frontier on the Great Plains. He resigned his commission when Virginia seceded from the Union and was appointed Colonel of the 12th Virginia Infantry and soon was promoted to Brigadier General in December 1861. He commanded a brigade sized force with the grand name of “the Army of the Northwest” which fell under the command of Stonewall Jackson.[47] He was wounded in the ankle at the Battle of McDowell on May 8th 1862, but the wound took nearly a year to heal, imperfectly at that. He was a favorite of Jackson who insisted that he be promoted to Major General and be given a division.

He took command of Jackson’s old division when Ewell was promoted to command Second Corps after Jackson’s death after Chancellorsville. Despite his wealth of experience in the pre-war army and service with Jackson in the Valley, Johnson was an outsider to the division. Like so many others he had never commanded a division “with no real experience above the brigade level.” Likewise he was “unfamiliar with the qualities and limitations of his four new brigadiers.” [48] Despite this he becomes quite popular with some of his men, and because he walks with limp, and uses a long staff to help him walk “his boys sometimes call him “Old Club.” [49] Gettysburg is his first test as a division commander, but not one that he is given a real opportunity to excel.

As a division commander “Johnson developed a reputation that when he threw his troops into battle, the struck with the punch of a sledgehammer, exactly the way Lee wanted his commanders to fight.” [50] Johnson “does well in nearly all his fights, hits hard and wins the confidence of his men.” [51] He was considered for command of First Corps when Longstreet was seriously wounded during the Wilderness Campaign. [52] One of his subordinates agreed, writing “without hesitation that he was the best Division commander I have ever met with, a thorough soldier and capable officer. I have little doubt that as a corps commander he would have proved himself far superior to others that I knew….” [53]

In Johnson’s division the command situation was more unsettled. Like Johnson, all of his brigade commanders were new to their commands. Johnson’s division had four brigades commanded by Brigadier Generals George “Maryland Steuart, John Marshall Jones and James Walker, as well as Colonel Jesse Williams.

“Maryland” Steuart

Brigadier General George “Maryland” Steuart, was a tough regular army cavalry officer. Steuart was one of the few officers from Maryland who left the army for the Confederacy. He graduated from West Point in 1848 along with John Buford. He entered the army too late to serve in Mexico, but served with the 2nd Dragoons and the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment on the Great Plains. He resigned his commission and entered Confederate service. Initially commissioned as a Captain of Cavalry, he became Colonel of the 1st (Confederate) Maryland Regiment at Bull Run. The Marylander was promoted to Brigadier general in March of 1862 and commanded “brigades of cavalry and infantry in the Shenandoah Valley” under Jackson. [54]

His performance as a cavalry commander was “lackluster” and “he was reassigned to an infantry brigade, which he commanded at Cross Keys,” [55] where he was wounded by a canister ball in his chest, a wound that took a year to heal.

Some wonder why Steuart was not more severely handled by Jackson, who was a harsh disciplinarian and who preferred courts-martial charges on others, including Dick Garnett for similar performance issues. Douglas Southall Freeman believed that “As a Maryland soldier of stranding, Steuart was expected to have a large influence, especially on recruiting. If he we arrested as a failure, Marylanders of Southern sympathy would be disillusioned and resentful. Considerations of policy outweighed personalities.” [56] This is likely the case, the Confederacy was counting on bringing sizable numbers of Marylanders into the fold as late as 1863.

Returning to active service Steuart took command of a troubled brigade, whose commander, Brigadier General Raleigh Colston, “had just been relieved of duty by Lee after a disappointing performance as head of a division at Chancellorsville.” [57] Steuart was a strict disciplinarian, who “Lee hoped would bring harmony to a bickering brigade of Marylanders, Virginians, and North Carolinians.” [58] Though Steuart was somewhat eccentric, he trained hi men well and over time his men came to respect him. Fifty years later, one of the surviving Maryland Confederate Veterans said “No one in the war gave more completely and conscientiously every faculty, every energy that was in him to the southern cause.” [59]

J.M. Jones

Brigadier General John Marshall Jones also was a former regular who was an underclassman in Ewell’s company and a classmate of John Reynolds and Richard Garnett. He graduated thirty-ninth of fifty-two cadets in the class of 1841, and served in the infantry. He had a “routine career” and served on the frontier and was an instructor at West Point during the Mexican War, a position that he heled for seven years. [60]

He resigned his commission in 1861 and served as a staff officer. He had a had a well-known problem with alcohol which had earned him the nickname “Rum” at West Point [61] likely kept him out of command for the first part of the war. Unlike most of the former Regulars Jones had never held a field command, and instead “served in staff assignments at the division level, lastly as a lieutenant colonel” [62] under Early.

Though Ewell thought much of his abilities as a staff officer, Jones was an alcoholic, but by early 1863 he appeared “to have gotten himself sufficiently under control to warrant the opportunity to lead men in battle.” [63] Lee was not confident of the appointment and wrote to Jefferson Davis “Should [Jones] fail his duty, he will instantly resign.” If this meant that Jones’s enemy was strong drink, the new brigadier met and overcame that adversary.” [64] Like Johnson he was new to command at this level, he would continue to serve well until his death in the Wilderness in 1864.

Walker

Brigadier General James Walker commanded the “Stonewall” Brigade. Walker replaced the former brigade commander, Elisha Paxton, who had been killed at Chancellorsville. As a cadet at V.M.I. Walker had a confrontation with his instructor, Stonewall Jackson, where he challenged his professor to a duel. [65] The duel did not take place and Walker “was expelled from the school.” [66] After his expulsion worked in railway construction, then studied law and set up a practice in Pulaski Virginia.

After John Brown’s raid Walker formed a militia company which became part of the 4th Virginia, which a part of Jackson’s command. The past did not haunt him and he and Jackson had an “amicable” relationship during the war and “Jackson did what he could to advance Walker.” [67] Walker became Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Virginia and took command when A.P. Hill was promoted to Brigadier general. He continued to command the 13th Virginia in Ewell’s division, earning praise from Jubal Early who called him “a most gallant officer, who is always ready to perform a duty.” [68] The solid regimental commander then served as acting commander of different brigades during the Seven Days, Antietam, where he was wounded, and Fredericksburg. Walker had a solid record of success and was deserving of his promotion.

He had just been promoted to Brigadier General and was given the honor of command of the Stonewall Brigade, over the distinguished colonels of all five of its regiments. The appointment of an outsider like Walker was “a shock” [69] and brought an outcry from these officers who “in protest tendered their resignations.” Lee handled the incident with great care, and the “resignations were so declined so quietly and with so much tact that no trace of the incident appears in official records.” [70] Likewise Walker dealt with the situation well, in large part due to his personality:

“He was an extrovert who loved to fight, a two-fisted drinker and practical joker who enjoyed life too much to engage in petty bickering with his new subordinates. By the end of his first month, the Virginians affectionately called the tall and muscular fighter “Stonewall Jim.” [71]

He would lead the brigade until it was annihilated with the rest of the division at Spotsylvania, where he lost an arm. He briefly returned to service to lead a division at the end of the war. Following the war he returned to his law practice as well as politics, serving in the House of Delegates, as Lieutenant Governor, and as a Republican a two term member of Congress in the 1890s.

Williams

Colonel Jesse Williams had just taken acting command of the brigade of Brigadier General Francis Nichols who had been wounded at Chancellorsville. Williams had commanded the 2nd Louisiana Regiment prior to Gettysburg, and had little previous military experience. He remained in commanded due to the lack of a suitable brigadier, “it was an ominous admission that superior, developed material of high command had been exhausted temporarily.” [72] After less than stellar performances at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg Williams returned to his regiment when the brigade received a new commander. He was killed in battle at Spotsylvania Court House on May 12th 1864.

Rodes’ Division

rodes

Major General Robert Rodes C.S.A.

Robert Rodes was a Virginia Military Institute graduate and professor who had never served in the Regular Army, the only non-West Point Graduate at the Corps or Division levels in the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Thirty-two years old “more than six feet in height, with a drooping sandy mustache and a fiery, imperious manner on the field of battle” [73] Rodes “as the visage of a Viking warrior” [74] and looks like he had “stepped off the pages of Beowulf.” [75] His physical appearance “seemed a dramatic contrast to his one-legged eccentric corps commander and to the stoop and irascible Early.” [76] One of his Alabama soldiers who served under him when he commanded a brigade wrote “We fear him; but at the same time we respect and love him.” [77]

His career had been remarkable. Rodes was “tough, disciplined and courageous; he was one of those unusual soldiers who quickly grew into each new assignment.” [78] In just two years he had “risen from captaining a company of “Warrior Guards” in Alabama in 1861 to earning the equivalent of a battlefield promotion to major general for the fight he made at Chancellorsville.” [79] As a brigadier he had shown remarkable leadership on the battlefield and off, taking care of the needs of his soldiers and worked to have “at least one company per regiment to drill on a field gun and to keep up that training from time to time, so that his men could service a cannon in a crisis.” [80]

While Rodes only had briefly commanded a division before his appointment, he was a solid officer who in time became an excellent division commander, but at Gettysburg he was still new and untried. In the summer of 1863 Rodes “was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s brightest stars…because of his effective, up-front style of combat leadership.” [81]

Rodes’ division was the largest in the army with five brigades present at Gettysburg. His brigade commanders were a mixed bag ranging from the excellent to the incompetent. Among the former he had George Doles, Stephen Ramseur and Junius Daniel. However, Rodes was saddled with two commanders of dubious quality, Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, who was hated by his men and Colonel Edward O’Neal, a leading secessionist politician “who had absolutely no military experience before the war” [82] and who had been ineffective as an acting brigade commander when he took over for Rodes at Chancellorsville, however, Lee was forced to leave at the head of his brigade for lack of other senior leaders over Rodes objections.

Doles

While Brigadier General George Doles of Georgia had no formal military training he was no stranger to military life. He ran away from home as a teenager to join the army in the Mexican War but was caught before he could join. He later served in the Georgia militia where he commanded a company, “the Baldwin Blues,” one of the oldest and best-trained military units in the state.” [83] As a Colonel he “had shown fiber and distinction” [84] as commander of the 4th Georgia. He was promoted to Brigadier General after Antietam, and commanded the brigade at Chancellorsville. By Gettysburg he had a reputation for “being among the Southern army’s most daring, hard fighting brigadiers.” [85]

Ramseur

Raided in a devout Presbyterian home in North Carolina, Brigadier General Stephen Ramseur attended Davidson College, a Presbyterian before being accepted into West Point. He graduated fourteenth of forty-one cadets in the West Point class of 1861, the last to graduate before the Civil War commenced. [86]

Ramseur was commissioned as an artillery officer, but resigned shortly after to join the new Confederate army in Alabama even before his native state of North Carolina had seceded. Within seven months he would be a Brigadier General. He was elected captain of the Ellis Light Artillery of Raleigh North Carolina, and became colonel of the 49th Alabama in 1862. He led that regiment at Malvern Hill where he was badly wounded. Ramseur was noted for “being a fighter and for his skill in handling troops in battle.” [87] Ramseur was promoted to Brigadier General in late 1862, becoming the youngest general in the army and led a North Carolina brigade with great daring at Chancellorsville where he was wounded in the shin by a shell fragment. Along with his division commander Robert Rodes, the still injured Ramseur was “one of the brightest lights in Lee’s army as it approached the field at Gettysburg.” [88]Jubal Early, who he succeeded as a division commander when Early took command of Second Corps in 1864 said that Ramseur “was a most gallant and energetic officer whom no disaster appalled, but his courage and energy seemed to gain new strength in the midst of confusion and disorder.” [89] The young General was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek on October 19th 1864 shortly after hearing about the birth of a child.

Daniel

Brigadier General Junius Daniel, a former regular and graduate of the West Point Class of 1851. He had resigned his commission as a lieutenant in 1858 to manage a family planation, but when war came volunteered for service where he served as commander of the 14th North Carolina. [90] He commanded a brigade on the Peninsula and was promoted to Brigadier General in September 1862.

Daniel had much brigade command time but little combat experience, as his brigade had been posted in North Carolina and the Virginia Tidewater and thus had not shared in the Army of Northern Virginia’s year of glory and slaughter. “Daniel’s brigade joined Rodes division in Virginia as a result of the army’s reorganization after Chancellorsville and in time for it to take part in the invasion of Pennsylvania.” [91] Despite the lack of combat experience Junius Daniel was well respected and “had the essential qualities of a true soldier and successful officer, brave, vigilant, honest…gifted as an organizer and disciplinarian, skilled in handling troops.” [92] At Gettysburg he “proved himself a valiant soldier and capable leader….” [93] This officer too would be killed in the fighting in the Wilderness.

O’Neal

Colonel Edward O’Neal was an Alabama Lawyer who occasionally dabbled in politics and after the war was elected Governor of Alabama. He won his rank due to his political connections as nothing he “had studied or experienced before 1861 had prepared him for military command at any level.” [94] In acting command at Chancellorsville he handled Rodes old brigade badly and bungled his assignment when Jackson “gave the go-ahead to commence his famous flank attack.” [95] O’Neal was “quarrelsome and unhappy under Rodes, still mired at the rank of colonel and convinced that Rodes was planning to replace him.” [96]

In fact Rodes had recommended other officers for the position, but was turned down by Lee. However, Lee did not have anyone suitable to take command of the brigade and left O’Neal in command, though he “blocked O’Neal’s promotion to brigadier general…Obviously if Lee distrusted O’Neal’s ability as a brigade commander, Rodes would have to give special attention to his old brigade in the fight ahead.” [97]

Iverson

Brigadier General Alfred Iverson had served in Mexico as a teen and gained a direct appointment to the Regular army “with the help of his congressman father” [98] and served as a Lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Cavalry until Georgia seceded. He was “a Richmond political pet whose promotion was deeply resented by his North Carolina brigade as a vote of no confidence in their political loyalties.” [99] His brigade had never been in combat and “the four regiments …needed judicious and competent leadership. Instead they had Alfred Iverson.” [100] Iverson was at constant loggerheads with his officers and once attempted to arrest all twenty six officers of his former regiment. [101]

The situation faced by Ewell, a new corps commander working with three new division commanders, each of whom had a mixture of subordinates that ranged from stellar to incompetent was unfortunate. Though he kept most of Stonewall Jackson’s experienced headquarters staff, he was new to them as a commander. Unlike Longstreet who’s First Corps maintained good continuity among its senior leadership and units, Ewell’s command was just beginning to coalesce as the campaign began.

Notes

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

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

[3] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.9

[4] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.11

[5] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.24

[6] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.33

[7] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.266

[8] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.99

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.121

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.172

[11] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.209

[12] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.220

[13] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.209

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

[15] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.214

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

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

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

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

[20] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.305

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

[22] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.279

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

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

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

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

[27] Osborne, Charles C. Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Early, CSA Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 1992

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

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

[30] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.385

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

[32] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.397

[33] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.50

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

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

[36] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.262

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

[38] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.206

[39] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.534

[40] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.69

[41] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.380

[42] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.123

[43] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.53

[44] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.70

[45] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.240

[46] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.268

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

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

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

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

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

[52] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.672

[53] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.227

[54] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.312

[55] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.312

[56] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.216

[57] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.273

[58] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.54

[59] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.313

[60] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.206

[61] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.276

[62] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.206

[63] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.276

[64] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.530

[65] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.156

[66] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.154

[67] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.530

[68] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p. 279

[69] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.156

[70] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.530

[71] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p. 278

[72] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.530

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

[74] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

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

[76] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.147

[77] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.178

[78] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.243

[79] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

[80] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.244

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

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

[83] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.287

[84] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.386

[85] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.288

[86] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.289

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

[88] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.290

[89] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.251

[90] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.179

[91] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.179

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

[93] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.21

[94] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.120

[95] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.298

[96] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[97] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.162

[98] Ibid. Pfanz . Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.152

[99] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[100] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.129

[101] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.129

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Strategy and Policy: Lee’s Offensive Gettysburg Campaign -The Worst of Both Worlds

A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. It must look at the ends, ways and means of achieving national strategic objectives as well as the risk entailed in each course of action. It has to involve both the political leadership and military commanders. Clausewitz said: “the supreme, most far reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.” [1]

“Wars are not free flowing events, sufficient unto themselves as objects for study and understanding. Instead they are entirely the product of their contexts.” [2] Thus it is imperative that both political and military leaders understand for what purpose they embark on a war or begin a campaign. Even in the recent American experience we can recount time after time where American political leaders of both the Republican and Democrat parties, as well as military leaders and planners have failed to grasp the central truth of was Clausewitz wrote about the nature of war.

davis and cabinet

British political and military theorist Colin S. Gray writes: “Choice of strategy can determine whether or not policy goals will be attainable. And that choice must provide the most vital contexts for tactical behavior. Once policy objectives have been chosen, strategy is the function that delivers victory.” [3] In our recent wars and in the American Civil War this maxim has been born out time and time again.

Thus, the Gettysburg campaign has to be looked at in the context of Grand Strategy and what was necessary for both sides to achieve their goals. For the Confederacy this was independence and in the context of the Gettysburg campaign the key question is whether it should have been made at all. While Lee is regarded as a masterful commander by many, the myth created by the Lost Cause school of history, in which the failure of Confederate war aims cannot be ascribed to Lee, keeps many people from asking the hard questions of strategy, and how Lee as commander failed to understand what was best for his country.

The key consideration, as Alan T. Nolan observes “must be whether a general’s actions helped or hurt the cause of his government in view of that government’s grand strategy. In short, the appropriate inquiry is to ask whether a general’s actions related positively or negatively to the war objectives and national policy of his government.” [4] The question was one of following a strategy of the defensive as Washington had done in the Revolutionary War, or a strategy of the offense culminating in a climactic battle that would decide the outcome of the war.

A defensive strategy was seen by British observers early in the war as the most feasibly for achieving Southern military and political goals in relationship to attaining independence. In the Revolution, Washington remained on the “grand strategic defensive” and “lost many battles and retreated many times, but they kept their forces in the field to avoid being ultimately defeated, and they won because the British decided that the struggle was either too hopeless or too burdensome to pursue.” [5] They had no doubt that this was the best policy for the Confederate government and military to achieve their strategic end.

The terrain of Virginia, particularly the number of east-west running rivers, the swamps that lay to the east of Richmond and the nearly impassible Wilderness to its north made any Union offensive a costly proposition. Clausewitz noted that terrain has “a decisive influence on the engagement, both as to its course and to its planning and exploitation….Their principle effect lies in the realm of tactics, but the outcome is a matter of strategy” [6]

This naturally advantageous terrain gave the advantage to Lee on the defense, but Lee seemed to never fully appreciate the strategic strength that the nature of the terrain, especially that of the Wilderness offered him. J.F.C. Fuller noted that “the Wilderness had been his staunchest ally. It was not only a natural fortress protecting Richmond, but a spider’s web to any army advancing from the north. Lee never fully realized this, for if he had done so his strategy would have been based upon maneuvering his enemy again and again into this entanglement and defeating him.” [7]

However, the strategic defensive was not that of Robert E. Lee. Lee’s view throughout the war, even as late as the siege of Petersburg was that of the offensive and climactic battle: “If we can defeat or drive the armies of the enemy from the field, we shall have peace. Our efforts and energies should be devoted to that object.” [8]

In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the post Chancellorsville euphoria.

In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter. If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [9] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [10]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [11] in their upper leadership, between those like Lee who advocated for the offensive and those like Davis who advocated a defensive strategy. The military relationship between Lee and Davis “represented a continuous compromise between the president’s undeclared policy of outlasting the enemy and the general’s purpose of winning by breaking the enemy’s will to continue their effort at subjugation.” [12]

Davis, though he was Commander-in-Chief wavered between the two strategic ideas throughout the first years of the war, something that was worse than coming to no decision at all. Lee’s latest biographer Michael Korda makes the point that: “The danger that the Confederacy might unravel from west to east, whatever happened between the Rappahannock and the Potomac, was Grant’s central strategic idea, and should have been the overriding concern of the Confederate government; but Lee’s position as the South’s most respected and admired military figure, the high drama of his rapid marches and his victories against much larger armies had a profound effect on southern military strategy.” [13] Instead it was not, and a fog of confused policies confounded Confederate war efforts.

Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.” [14] From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, “but in the post-Chancellorsville aura of invincibility, anything seemed possible.” [15]

However, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [16] Fuller wrote that Lee “was so obsessed by the idea of threatening Washington in order to relieve Northern Virginia, that throughout his generalship he never saw the war as a whole.” [17] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Likewise, despite the success of his defensive battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Lee was not encouraged. Those victories had elated the Confederacy and caused great concern in the North. But Lee was depressed after each. Lee told Harry Heth after Chancellorsville: “Our people were wild with delight- I, on the contrary, was more depressed than after Fredericksburg; our loss was severe, and again we had not gained an inch of ground, and the enemy could not be pursued…” [18]

Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [19]

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [20] Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [21] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [22]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [23] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [24] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [25] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [26]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” [27]

In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…[28] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [29]

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

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. Lee believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [30] Russell Weigley wrote that “In truth, Lee seems to have been less than fully responsive to the problems of the West, partly out of Virginia parochialism- he always regarded his sword as serving his first state of Virginia-and partly in adherence to his military philosophy,” [31] that of the offensive. Lee was not willing to sacrifice Virginia for the west, and “tenaciously fought every suggestion that the Army of Northern Virginia be denuded to reinforce the west, and his influence over Davis guaranteed, at least until the fall of 1863, that the defense of Virginia would always be able to outweigh the demands for help from the Confederate forces in the West.” [32]

Instead of sending troops west, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. Lee proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [33] and he sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful. He received two relatively untested brigades from Hill; those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis instead two of Pickett’s veteran brigades. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.” [34]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.” [35] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [36] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down other very real threats in the West.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [37] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [38]

Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it. Unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [39] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [40] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [41]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. The fact was that those that “though there was a strong peace party in the North, they did not realize that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had settled once and for all the question of foreign intervention, and second that to invade the North would consolidate the Federals instead of dividing them.” [42]

In the meeting with the cabinet, Postmaster-General Reagan, agreed with General Beauregard and warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [43] Reagan was decidedly against Lee’s offensive. He “saw everything wrong with Lee’s plan and everything right with the plan it had superseded. Grant was the main threat to the survival of the Confederacy, and it was Grant at whom the main blow must be aimed and struck.” [44] But “Lee’s opinion carried so much weight that Davis felt compelled to concur” [45] with Lee and voted with the remaining cabinet members to allow the offensive.

Stephens the fire breathing Vice President “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [46] However, he was kept in the dark as to Lee’s plans until after Lee had crossed the Potomac.

Likewise, Lee, the consummate defender of Virginia was determined to at least for a season remove the war from his beloved state. He believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations.

While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan noted that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.” [47] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [48]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Lee wanted, and believed that he would have his entire army to conduct his offensive. However, Davis did not understand or conceive that Lee’s offensive scheme was a “change in the existing policy, a shift from the defense to the offense. To Davis, Lee’s invasion was merely a necessary expedient in the policy of static, scattered defensiveness.” [49]

Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and “had not the slightest intention of reducing a single garrison to support Lee’s offensive.” [50] Davis insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third in the doomed effort to break the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. As a result Lee was without a significant portion of his army when he moved north. Lee did not learn “until he had crossed the Potomac that four of his best brigades, the equivalent of a division, were to be uselessly employed away from the army.” [51]

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

The conflict between those who believed in the offensive like Lee, and those that advocated a strategic defensive strategy resulted in indecision, which resulted in a policy that brought about “the worst of both worlds.” [52] The fact that Lee got permission to invade but was denied significant numbers of experienced troops as well as support from other departments meant that “what Lee designed as a total stroke from a concentration of its armed strength, was reduced to a desperate, unsupported gamble of one man with one army-and not all of that.” [53] Knowing this, Lee still chose to continue his offensive, something that along with his “own awareness of factors that argued against it.” [54]

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and “counterproductive in terms of the Confederacy’s “objects of war.” [55]

Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [56] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like at Fredericksburg, he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [57] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

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

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [58]

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

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. As Russell Weigley noted “for a belligerent with the limited manpower resources of the Confederacy, General Lee’s dedication to an offensive strategy was at best questionable.” [59] The offensive was a long shot for victory at best, and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go north exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [60] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [61] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [62]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [63] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander.

Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. Lee also understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

In light of all of these factors one has to ask a question that is applicable as much today as it was to Lee. Since the object of a campaign is to be able to connect national strategy to the operational and tactical objectives of any campaign, in other words the connection of the campaign to grand-strategy objectives of a nation. In the case of the Confederacy it was to achieve independence, and as Clausewitz so keenly noted that “the political object, which was the original motive, must become an essential factor in the equation.” [64] The Gettysburg campaign, “Lee’s most audacious act, is the apogee of his grand strategy of the offensive.” But the question that has to be asked is “whether Lee should have been there at all.” [65] The same question should be asked by any political or military leader before embarking on a war or campaign within the war.

Notes

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von. On WarIndexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.88

 

[2] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.3

[3] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.54

[4] Nolan, Alan T. Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General in Major Problems in American Military History: Documents and Essays Edited by Chambers, John Whiteclay II and Piehler, G. Kurt Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.175

[5] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.9

[6] Clausewitz, Carl von. On WarIndexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.348

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.192

[8] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.5

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

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

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

[12] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 pp.20-21

[13] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 pp.524-525

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

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

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

[17] Ibid. Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.193

[18] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.339

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

[20] Ibid. Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.193

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[31] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.114-115

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction p.340

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[42] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.222

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

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

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

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

[47] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburgin the First Day at Gettysburg p.2

[48] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[49] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.27

[50] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.27

[51] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.36

[52] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.118

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

[54] Ibid. Nolan Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General p.176

[55] Ibid. Nolan Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General in Major Problems p.176

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

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

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

[59] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.118

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

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

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

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

[64] Ibid. Clausewitz On War pp.80-81

[65] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.10

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The Failure to Link Grand-Strategy and Operational Objectives: Robert E. Lee and the Decision to Invade Pennsylvania 1863

jefferson_davis_and_his_cabinet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[30] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Gettysburg Campaign: Lee Decides to Go on the Offensive

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I am preparing to lead a Staff Ride of our students to Gettysburg in early March. As part of my preparation I am doing a lot of study to refresh myself on both the campaign and the battle, not only as an operational study, but at the strategic level. This short essay deals with Lee’s decision to invade the North following his victory at Chancellorsville. I will follow it up with other articles the next talking about the Northern strategy at both the strategic and operational levels.

In early May 1863 General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and that Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond.

The strategic situation was bad, even if many Confederate politicians realized it or cared in the post Chancellorsville euphoria. In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut. If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas, while in Tennessee a Union Army was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy.

Some Confederate leaders realized the danger presented by Grant in the West. Secretary of War James Seddon recognized the danger in the Winter of 1862-1863 both suggested to Lee that he detach significant units to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it, he argued that the war would be won in the East. It was his view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had two goals three major goals, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation. Unfortunately no notes from that conference are known to survive.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief, instead he believed that his Army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative. Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it, unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war.  He also believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations.

However, the meeting evidently did not have all the results that Lee desired. Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus that existed between General D. H. Hill in the Carolinas towards Lee.

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

However, Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however it was unfeasible and counterproductive to Southern strategy. His offensive operations cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like a Fredericksburg he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, and the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Lee recognized this as was evident in his correspondence but it did not deter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

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

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.”  (Edward Porter Alexander, Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415 

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

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. It was a long shot and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go North also exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered.  Likewise he took the offensive in spite of the fact that many of his commanders were untested at the levels of command that they exercised. He had lost his right arm, General Stonewall Jackson, who died following being wounded at Gettysburg.

He knew from his previous battles the heavy casualties that even a victory over the Army of the Potomac would entail deep in Northern territory and the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Four Score and Seven: July 4th at Gettysburg

“Dead men and plenty here – and I saw plenty [3] of them in all shapes on the field – Help to wound & Kill men then Patch them up I could show more suffering here in one second than you will see in a Life…” Elbert Corbin, Union Soldier at Gettysburg 1st Regiment, Light Artillery, N. Y. S. Volunteers (Pettit’s Battery)

“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.” Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

The Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac remained on the bloodstained Gettysburg battlefield on July 4th 1863. Both armies had suffered severely in the fighting around 50,000 soldiers from both sides lay dead, dying or wounded on the battlefield. Surgeons and their assistants manned open air hospitals while parties of stretcher bearers evacuated wounded men for treatment and other soldiers began to identify and bury the dead.  Halfway across the continent Confederate Lieutenant General John C Pemberton surrendered his emaciated forces at Vicksburg to Major General Ullysses S Grant which cut the Confederacy in half. It was a fitting day of remembrance as it was the 87th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the significance was not lost on any of the commanders.

It was a somber day, the sweltering heat sunshine which had bathed the battlefield as Longstreets’ Corps Corps attacked Cemetery Ridge was broken by heavy rain and wind. The commanders of both armies, General Robert E Lee and Major General George Mead attempted to discern the others intent while making their own plans. It was Lee’s hope that Meade would attack and possibly give him the opportunity to inflict a defeat on the Union forces.  Meade, still new to command and cautious did not renew the engagement and Lee began to withdraw the battered Army of Northern Virginia from the field.

As Lee withdrew Meade slowly pursued and lost a chance at trapping the Confederate Army before it could escape across the rain swollen Potomac River.  Lee completed his withdraw under pressure on the 14th and his rear-guard under the command of Major General Harry Heth fought an action against Union forces at the in which the accomplished academic and author Brigadier General James Pettigrew was mortally wounded.

Meade’s lackluster pursuit was criticized by many including President Lincoln who believed that had Meade been more aggressive that the war could have ended there. Had Lee’s army been destroyed in little over a week after the surrender of Vicksburg it could have well brought about the downfall of the Confederacy in the summer of 1863.  Even so the skill of Meade in defeating Lee at Gettysburg was one of the greatest achievements by a Union commander during the war in the East.  In earlier times Lee had held sway over his Federal opponents. McClellan, Porter, Pope, Burnside and Hooker had all failed against Lee and his army.

Many of the dead at Gettysburg were the flower of the nation. Intelligent, thoughtful and passionate they were cut down in their prime. The human cost some of over 50,000 men killed or wounded is astonishing. In those three days more Americans were killed or wounded than in the entire Iraq campaign.

The war would go on for almost two more years adding many thousands more dead and wounded. However the Union victory at Gettysburg was decisive. Never again did Lee go on the offensive and when Grant came East at the end of 1863 to command Union armies in the East against Lee the Federal armies fought with renewed ferocity and once engaged Grant never let Lee’s forces out of their grip.

In November 1863 Lincoln travelled to Gettysburg to dedicate a cemetery and commemorate the dead. He penned a short speech which still echoes in the hearts of Americans as one of the greatest tributes ever spoken. His Gettysburg Address is a speech that still calls Americans to the cause of freedom and the to remember the great cost of liberty with renewed passion.

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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