Tag Archives: john sedgwick

A Council Of War: Meade and His Generals the Night of July 2nd 1863

Gettysburg_Council_of_War

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The past couple of days I have been bombarding my readers with articles about the Battle Of Gettysburg leading into the 4th Of July. The are all from my Gettysburg text that I hope eventually will find a publisher, and all have been on the site before. A modified version of this article will be a vignette in the upcoming Army Doctrinal Publication on Operations. I have two more in the hopper for today. I hope you enjoy,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

While Lee took no counsel and determined to attack on the night of July 2nd little more than two miles away Major General George Meade took no chances. After sending a message to Henry Halleck at 8 PM Meade called his generals together. Unlike Lee who had observed the battle from a distance Meade had been everywhere on the battlefield during the day and had a good idea what his army had suffered and the damage that he had inflicted on the Army of Northern Virginia. Likewise during the day he had been with the majority of his commanders as opposed to Lee who after issuing orders that morning had remained unengaged.

Meade wired Halleck “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” [1] However Meade, realizing that caution was not a vice still needed to assess the condition of his army, hear his commanders and hear from his intelligence service. He ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” [2]

As he waited for his commanders his caution was apparent. Before the attack on Sickles’ III Corps at the Peach Orchard Meade had asked his Chief of Staff Brigadier General Dan Butterfield to “draw up a contingency plan for withdraw to Pipe Creek.” After that attack Alfred Pleasanton said that Meade ordered him to “gather what cavalry I could, and prepare for the retreat of the army.” [3] Some of his commanders who heard of the contingency plan including John Gibbon and John Sedgwick believed that Meade was “thinking of a retreat.”[4]. Despite his flat assurances to Halleck his position was threatened on both flanks and he “foresaw disaster, and not without cause.” [5]

In assessing Meade’s conduct it has to be concluded that while he had determined to remain, that he was smart enough to plan of the worst and to consult his commanders and staff in making his decision. Meade wrote to his wife that evening “for at one time things looked a little blue,…but I managed to get up reinforcements in time to save the day….The most difficult part of my work is acting without correct information on which to predicate action.” [6]

Meade called Colonel George Sharpe from the Bureau of Military Information to meet with him, Hancock and Slocum at the cottage on the Taneytown Road where he made his headquarters. Sharpe and his aide explained the enemy situation. Sharpe noted that “nearly 100 Confederate regiments in action Wednesday and Thursday” and that “not one of those regiments belonged to Pickett.” He then reported with confidence that indicated that “Pickett’s division has just come up and is bivouac.” [7]

It was the assurance that Meade needed as his commanders came together. When Sharpe concluded his report Hancock exclaimed “General, we have got them nicked.” [8]

About 9 P.M. the generals gathered. Present were Meade, and two of his major staff officers Warren just back from Little Round Top, wounded and tired, and Butterfield his Chief of Staff. Hancock action as a Wing Commander was there with Gibbon now commanding II Corps, Slocum of XII Corps with Williams. John Newton a division commander from VI Corps who had just arrived on the battlefield now commanding I Corps was present along with Oliver Howard of XI Corps, John Sedgwick of VI Corps, George Sykes of V Corps and David Birney, now commanding what was left of the wounded Dan Sickles’ III Corps. Pleasanton was off with the cavalry and Hunt attending to the artillery.

The meeting began and. John Gibbon noted that it “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation….” [9]The condition of the army was discussed and it was believed that now only about 58,000 troops available to fight. Birney honestly described the condition of III Corps noting that “his corps was badly chewed up, and that he doubted that it was fit for much more.” [10] Newton who had just arrived was quoted by Gibbon as saying that Gettysburg was “a bad position” and that “Cemetery Hill was no place to fight a battle in.” [11] The remarks sparked a serious discussion with Meade asking the assembled generals “whether our army should remain on that field and continue the battle, or whether we should change to some other position.” [12]

The reactions to the question showed that the army commanders still had plenty of fight in the. Meade listened as his generals discussed the matter. Hancock said he was “puzzled about the practicability of retiring.” [13] Newton later noted that he made his observations about the battlefield based on the danger that Lee might turn the Federal left and impose his army between it and its supplies. He and the other commanders agreed that pulling back “would be a highly dangerous maneuver to attempt in the immediate presence of the enemy.” [14]

Finally Butterfield, no friend of Meade and one of the McClellan and Hooker political cabal who Meade had retained when he took command posed three questions to the assembled generals.

“Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?”

It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?

If we wait attack, how long?” [15]

Gibbon as the junior officer present said “Correct the position of the army…but do not retreat.” Williams counselled “stay,” as did Birney and Sykes, and Newton after briefly arguing the dangers finally agreed. Howard not only recommended remaining but “even urged an attack if the Confederates stayed their hand.” Hancock who earlier voiced his opinion to Meade that “we have them nicked” added “with a touch of anger, “Let us have no more retreats. The Army of the Potomac has had too many retreats….Let this be our last retreat.” Sedgwick of VI Corps voted “remain” and finally Slocum uttered just three words “stay and fight.” [16]

None counselled an immediate attack; all recommended remaining at least another day. When the discussion concluded Meade told his generals “Well gentlemen…the question is settled. We remain here.” [17]

Some present believed that Meade was looking for a way to retreat to a stronger position, that he had been rattled by the events of the day. Slocum believed that “but for the decision of his corps commanders” that Meade and the Army of the Potomac “would have been in full retreat…on the third of July.” [18] Meade would deny such accusations before Congressional committees the following year.

Much of the criticism of his command decisions during the battle were made by political partisans associated with the military cabal of Hooker, Butterfield and Sickles as well as Radical Republicans who believed that Meade was a Copperhead. Both Butterfield and Birney accused Meade before the committee of wanting to retreat and “put the worst possible interpretation on Meade’s assumed lack of self-confidence without offering any real evidence to substantiate it.” Edwin Coddington notes “that Meade, other than contemplating a slight withdraw to straighten his lines, wanted no retreat from Gettysburg.”[19]

Alpheus Williams wrote to his daughters on July 6th “I heard no expression from him which led me to think that he was in favor of withdrawing the army from before Gettysburg.”[20] Likewise the message sent by Meade to Halleck indicates a confidence in the upcoming battle of July 3rd. If Meade had some reservations during the day, as he mentioned in the letter to his wife they certainly were gone by the time he received the intelligence report from Sharpe and heard Hancock’s bold assertion that the enemy was “nicked.”

As the meeting broke up after shortly after midnight and the generals returned to their commands Meade pulled Gibbon aside. Gibbon with II Corps held the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge. Meade told him “If Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be in your front.” Gibbon queried as to why Meade thought this and Meade continued “Because he has made attacks on both our flanks and failed,…and if he concludes to try it again it will be on our center.” Gibbon wrote years later “I expressed the hope that he would, and told General Meade with confidence, that if he did we would defeat him.” [21]

If some generals believed Meade to be a defeatist it was not present in his private correspondence. He wrote to his wife early in the morning of July 3rd displaying a private confidence that speaks volumes:

“Dearest love, All well and going on well in the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking & we completely repulsing them- both armies shattered….Army in fine spirits & every one determined to do or die.” [22]

Meade did what Lee should have done, he had been active on the battlefield, he consulted his intelligence service and he consulted his commanders on the options available to him. Lee remained away from the action on July 2nd he failed to consult his commanders. He failed to gain accurate intelligence on the Federal forces facing him and he failed to fully take into account his losses. Meade better demonstrated the principles of what we now call “mission command.”

 

[1] [1] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.341-342

[2] Ibid. p.342

[3] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.355

[4] Ibid.

[5] Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.524

[6] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.413

[7] Ibid. Sears p.342

[8] Ibid. Trudeau p.413

[9] Ibid. Sears

[10] Ibid. Trudeau p.415

[11] Ibid. Guelzo p.556.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. Sears p.343

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. Trudeau p.415

[16] Ibid. Guelzo p.556

[17] Ibid. Foote p.525

[18] Ibid. Guelzo

[19] [19] Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 pp.451-452

[20] Ibid. p.452

[21] Ibid. Foote p.525

[22] Ibid. Trudeau p.345

1 Comment

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

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

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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

Leave a comment

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

Councils of War at Gettysburg: Lee & Meade July 2nd 1863

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I noted yesterday I returned from Gettysburg and another Staff Ride, and one of the questions that came up during some of our table talk, as well as on the battlefield was about the command decision process by which Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade and their subordinates planned, prepared and debated what to do on the night of July 2nd 1863, following the bloody, but unsuccessful attacks by Hood’s and McLaw’s Divisions at Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheat Field, Peach Orchard and Plum Run.

To provide that overview in one article I have encapsulated a number of chapters from my Gettysburg text into one article. The contrast between Lee’s decision to attack, his refusal to take counsel of dissenting voices and views of his subordinates stand in stark contrast to those of his opponent, George Gordon Meade, his subordinate commanders and staff. Their decisions shaped the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg, and were decisive in Lee’s defeat, and instrumental in the eventual defeat of the Confederacy, just under 21 months later.

I hope you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Lee1

As night fell on July 2nd 1863 General Robert E Lee had already made his decision. Despite the setbacks of the day he was determined to strike the Army of the Potomac yet again. He did not view the events as setback, and though he lacked clarity of how badly many of his units were mauled Lee took no external council to make his decision. With the exception of A.P. Hill who came and submitted a report to him Lee neither required his other two corps commanders, James Longstreet or Richard Ewell to consult with him, nor took any action to visit them.

Lee did “not feel that his troops had been defeated” and he felt that “the failure on the second day had been due to a lack of coordination.”1

In his official report of the battle he wrote:

“The result of this day’s operations induced the belief that, with proper concert of action, and with the increased support that the positions gained on the right would enable the artillery to render to the assaulting columns, that we should succeed, and it was ultimately determined to continue the attack…” 2

While Lee’s charge of a “lack of coordination” of the attacks can certainly be substantiated, the fact of the matter was that if there was anyone to blame for his lack of coordination it was him, and  even Lee’s most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2d “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” 3 Lee’s decision to attack on July 3rd, having not taken counsel of his commanders or assessed the battle-worthiness of the units that he was planning to through into his final assault on the Union center was “utterly divorced from reality.” 4 His plan was essentially unchanged from the previous day. Longstreet’s now battered divisions were to renew their assault on the Federal left in coordination with Pickett and two of Hill’s divisions.

In light of Lee’s belief that “a lack of coordination” was responsible for the failures of July 2nd it would have been prudent for him to ensure such coordination happened on the night of July 2nd. “Lee would have done well to have called out his three lieutenants to confer with them and spell out exactly what he wanted. That was not the way he did things however…” 5

Lee knew about the heavy losses among his key leaders but “evidently very little was conveyed to him regarding the condition of the units engaged this day.” 6 This certainly had to be because during the day his only view of the battlefield was from Seminary Ridge through binoculars and because he did not get first hand reports from the commanders involved. Lee was undeterred and according to some who saw Lee that night he seemed confident noting that when Hill reported he shook his and said “It is well, General,…Everything is well.” 7

It was not an opinion that Lee’s subordinates shared. Ewell and his subordinates were told to renew their attack on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill on the night of July 2nd, but “he and his generals believed more than ever that a daylight assault against the ranked guns on Cemetery Hill would be suicidal-Harry Hays said that such an attack would invite “nothing more than slaughter…” 8

LongstreetJ_main

James Longstreet was now more settled in his opposition to another such frontal attack and shortly after dawn when Lee visited him to deliver the order to attack again argued for a flanking movement around the Federal left. Lee’s order was for Longstreet to “attack again the next morning” according to the “general plan of July 2nd.” 9 Longstreet had not wanted to attack the previous day and when Lee came to him Longstreet again attempted to persuade Lee of his desire to turn the Federal flank. “General, I have had my scouts out all night, and I find that you still have an excellent opportunity to move around to the right of Meade’s army and maneuver him into attacking us.” 10

Lee would have nothing of it. He looked at his “Old Warhorse” and as he had done the previous day insisted: “The enemy is there,” he said, pointing northeast as he spoke, “and I am going to strike him.” 11 Longstreet’s gloom deepened and he wrote that he felt “it was my duty to express my convictions.” He bluntly told Lee:

“General, I have been a soldier all of my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position.” 12

But Lee was determined to force his will on both his subordinates and the battle. Lee was convinced that the plan could succeed while Longstreet “was certain” that the plan “was misguided and doomed to fail.” 13 Longstreet, now realized that further arguments were in vain recalled that Lee “was impatient of listening, and tired of talking, and nothing was left but to proceed.” 14

Even a consultation with Brigadier General William Wofford whose brigade had help crush Sickle’s III Corps at the Peach Orchard and had nearly gotten to the crest of Cemetery Ridge could not alter Lee’s plan. Wofford had to break off his attack on July 2nd when he realized that there were no units to support him. Lee asked if Wofford could “go there again” to which Wofford replied “No, General I think not.” Lee asked “why not” and Wofford explained: “General, the enemy have had all night to intrench and reinforce. I had been pursuing a broken enemy, and now the situation is very different.” 15

The attack would go forward despite Longstreet’s objections and the often unspoken concerns of others who had the ear of Lee, or who would carry out the attack. Walter Taylor of Lee’s staff wrote to his sister a few days after the attack the “position was impregnable to any such force as ours” while Pickett’s brigadier Richard Garnett remarked “this is a desperate thing to attempt” and Lewis Armistead said “the slaughter will be terrible.” 16

Pickett’s fresh division would lead the attack supported by Johnston Pettigrew commanding the wounded Harry Heth’s division of Hill’s Third Corps and Isaac Trimble commanding two brigades of Pender’s division, Trimble having been given command just minutes prior to the artillery bombardment. 17 On the command side few of the commanders had commanded alongside each other before July 3rd. Trimble had just recovered from wounds had never been with his men. Pettigrew had been given command when Pender was wounded was still new and relatively untested, and Pickett’s three brigadiers and their brigades had never fought together. Two of the divisions had never served under Longstreet. From a command perspective where relationships and trust count as much as strength and numbers the situation was nearly as bad is it could be. Although the Confederates massed close to 170 cannon on Seminary Ridge to support the attack ammunition was in short supply and the Lieutenant Colonel Porter Alexander who had been tasked with coordinating fires only controlled the guns of First Corps.

The assaulting troops would attack with their right flank exposed to deadly enfilade fire from Federal artillery and with the left flank unsupported and exposed to such fires from Union artillery on Cemetery Hill. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Longstreet noted “Never was I so depressed as on that day…” 18

general-george-meade

While Lee took no counsel and determined to attack on the night of July 2nd little more than two miles away Major General George Meade took no chances. After sending a message to Henry Halleck at 8 PM Meade called his generals together. Unlike Lee who had observed the battle from a distance Meade had been everywhere on the battlefield during the day and had a good idea what his army had suffered and the damage that he had inflicted on the Army of Northern Virginia. Likewise during the day he had been with the majority of his commanders as opposed to Lee who after issuing orders that morning had remained unengaged, as was noted by the British observer Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle who wrote that during the “whole time the firing continued, he sent only one message, and only received one report.” 19

Meade wired Halleck that evening: “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” 20 However Meade, realizing that caution was not a vice still needed to better assess the condition of his army, hear his commanders and hear from his intelligence service, ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” 21

As Meade waited for his commanders his caution was apparent. Before the attack on Sickles’ III Corps at the Peach Orchard Meade had asked his Chief of Staff Brigadier General Dan Butterfield to “draw up a contingency plan for withdraw to Pipe Creek.” After the attack on Sickles Alfred Pleasanton said that Meade ordered him to “gather what cavalry I could, and prepare for the retreat of the army.” 22 Some of his commanders who heard of the contingency plan including John Gibbon and John Sedgwick believed that Meade was “thinking of a retreat.” 23. Despite Meade’s  flat assurances to Halleck  his army’s position had been threatened on both flanks, though both were now solidly held, but some of his subordinates believed, maybe through the transference of their own doubts, that Meade “foresaw disaster, and not without cause.” 24

In assessing Meade’s conduct it has to be concluded that while he had determined to remain, that he was smart enough to plan of the worst and to consult his commanders and staff in making his decision. Meade wrote to his wife that evening “for at one time things looked a little blue,…but I managed to get up reinforcements in time to save the day….The most difficult part of my work is acting without correct information on which to predicate action.” 25

Gettysburg_Council_of_War

Meade called Colonel George Sharpe from the Bureau of Military Information to meet with him, Hancock and Slocum at the cottage on the Taneytown Road where he made his headquarters. Sharpe and his aide explained the enemy situation. Sharpe noted “nearly 100 Confederate regiments in action Wednesday and Thursday” and that “not one of those regiments belonged to Pickett.” He then reported with confidence that indicated that “Pickett’s division has just come up and is bivouac.” 26

It was the assurance that Meade needed as his commanders came together. When Sharpe concluded his report Hancock exclaimed “General, we have got them nicked.” 27

About 9 P.M. the generals gathered. Present were Meade, and two of his major staff officers Warren just back from Little Round Top, wounded and tired, and Butterfield his Chief of Staff. Hancock action as a Wing Commander was there with Gibbon now commanding II Corps, Slocum of XII Corps with Williams. John Newton a division commander from VI Corps who had just arrived on the battlefield now commanding I Corps was present along with Oliver Howard of XI Corps, John Sedgwick of VI Corps, George Sykes of V Corps and David Birney, now commanding what was left of the wounded Dan Sickles’ III Corps. Pleasanton was off with the cavalry and Hunt attending to the artillery.

The meeting began and John Gibbon noted that it “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation….” 28 The condition of the army was discussed and it was believed that now only about 58,000 troops were available to fight. Birney honestly described the condition of III Corps noting that “his corps was badly chewed up, and that he doubted that it was fit for much more.” 29 Newton who had just arrived was quoted by Gibbon as saying that Gettysburg was “a bad position” and that “Cemetery Hill was no place to fight a battle in.” 20 The remarks sparked a serious discussion with Meade asking the assembled generals “whether our army should remain on that field and continue the battle, or whether we should change to some other position.” 31

The reactions to the question showed that the army commanders still had plenty of fight in the. Meade listened as his generals discussed the matter. Hancock said he was “puzzled about the practicability of retiring.” 32 Newton later noted that he made his observations about the battlefield based on his belief that that Lee might turn the Federal left and impose his army between it and its supplies, as Longstreet However Newton and the other commanders agreed that pulling back “would be a highly dangerous maneuver to attempt in the immediate presence of the enemy.” 33

Finally Butterfield, no friend of Meade and one of the McClellan and Hooker political cabal who Meade had retained when he took command posed three questions to the assembled generals:

“Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?

It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?

If we wait attack, how long?” 34

Gibbon as the junior officer present said “Correct the position of the army…but do not retreat.” Williams counseled “stay,” as did Birney and Sykes, and Newton, who after briefly arguing the dangers finally agreed. Oliver Howard not only recommended remaining but “even urged an attack if the Confederates stayed their hand.” Hancock who earlier voiced his opinion to Meade that “we have them nicked” added “with a touch of anger, “Let us have no more retreats. The Army of the Potomac has had too many retreats….Let this be our last retreat.” Sedgwick of VI Corps voted “remain” and finally Slocum uttered just three words “stay and fight.” 35

None of Meade’s assembled commanders counseled an immediate attack; all recommended remaining at least another day. When the discussion concluded Meade told his generals “Well gentlemen…the question is settled. We remain here.” 36

Some present believed that Meade was looking for a way to retreat to a stronger position, that he had been rattled by the events of the day. Slocum believed that “but for the decision of his corps commanders” that Meade and the Army of the Potomac “would have been in full retreat…on the third of July.” 37 Meade would deny such accusations before Congressional committees the following year as Radical Republicans in Congress sought to have him relieved for political reasons.

Much of the criticism of his command decisions during the battle were made by political partisans associated with the military cabal of Hooker, Butterfield and Sickles as well as Radical Republicans who believed that Meade was a Copperhead. Both Butterfield and Birney accused Meade before the committee of wanting to retreat and “put the worst possible interpretation on Meade’s assumed lack of self-confidence without offering any real evidence to substantiate it.” Edwin Coddington notes “that Meade, other than contemplating a slight withdraw to straighten his lines, wanted no retreat from Gettysburg.” 38

Alpheus Williams of XII Corps, wrote to his daughters on July 6th regarding his beliefs about Meade on the night of July 2nd. “I heard no expression from him which led me to think that he was in favor of withdrawing the army from before Gettysburg.” 39 Likewise the message sent by Meade to Halleck indicates Meade’s own confidence in the upcoming battle of July 3rd. If Meade had some reservations during the day, as he mentioned in the letter to his wife they certainly were gone by the time he received the intelligence report from Sharpe and heard Hancock’s bold assertion that the enemy was “nicked.”

As the meeting broke up after shortly after midnight and the generals returned to their commands Meade pulled Gibbon aside. Gibbon with II Corps had the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge. Meade told him “If Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be in your front.” Gibbon queried as to why Meade thought this and Meade continued “Because he has made attacks on both our flanks and failed,…and if he concludes to try it again it will be on our center.” Gibbon wrote years later “I expressed the hope that he would, and told General Meade with confidence, that if he did we would defeat him.” 40

If some of his generals and political opponents believed Meade to be a defeatist,  that defeatism was not present in his private correspondence. He wrote to his wife early in the morning of July 3rd displaying a private confidence that speaks volumes: “Dearest love, All well and going on well in the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking & we completely repulsing them- both armies shattered….Army in fine spirits & every one determined to do or die.” 41

The contrast between Lee’s and Meade’s decision making process is Meade did what Lee should have done, he had been active on the battlefield, he consulted his intelligence service and he consulted his commanders on the options available to him. Lee remained away from the action on July 2nd he failed to consult his commanders. He failed to gain accurate intelligence on the Federal forces facing him and he failed to fully take into account his losses. Meade better demonstrated the principles of what we now call “mission command.”

Notes

1 Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.558

2 Lee, Robert E, Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition location 594 of 743

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

4 Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 p.349

5 Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 p.455

6 Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.4117 Ibid p.412

8 Ibid. p.347

9 Ibid. p.430

10 Wert, Jeffry General James Longstreet, the Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier A Tuchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1993 p.283

11 Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.529 12 Ibid. Wert p.283

13 Ibid. Sears p.349

14 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.377

15 Ibid. Foote p.531

16 Ibid. Wert p.287

17 Ibid. Freeman p.589

18 Ibid. Wert p.290

19 Fremantle, Arthur Three Months in the Southern States, April- June 1863 William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London 1863 Amazon Kindle edition p.266

20 Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.341-342

21 Ibid. p.342

22 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.355

23 Ibid.

24 Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.524

25 Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.413

26 Ibid. Sears p.342

27 Ibid. Trudeau p.413

28 Ibid. Sears p.342

29 Ibid. Trudeau p.415

30 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

31 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

32 Ibid. Sears p.343

33 Ibid. Sears p.343

34 Ibid. Trudeau p.415

35 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

36 Ibid. Foote p.525

37 Ibid. Guelzo

38 Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 pp.451-452

39 Ibid. p.452

40 Ibid. Foote p.525

41 Ibid. Trudeau p.345

 

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military

“Well, We May as Well Fight it out Here” Meade Decides to Fight at Gettysburg

general-george-meade

“General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I commit one he will make haste to take advantage of it.” Robert E Lee June 28th 1863

The choosing of the place to give battle, at any level of war, but particularly at the operational level is always of the utmost importance and has been so from time immemorial. Despite advances in technology terrain and weather are major factors that a commander or staff must consider in terms of their courses of action. Knowing the terrain features as well as the infrastructure such as road networks that they are operating on allows commanders to choose courses of action which accentuate their strengths and expose their opponent’s weaknesses. To understand this is a key part of Course of Action (COA) development, Operational Art and Operational Design as well as analyzing Centers of Gravity, especially in determining decisive points.

While the commanders at Gettysburg did not use such terminology, they did understand the effects of terrain and weather, friction and the importance of occupying “good ground.” Our understanding of these concepts can help us draw from the actions of the commanders at Gettysburg lessons that we can employ today, despite the vast changes in technology and expansion of the battlefield.

As he looked at the dispositions of the Confederate army on June 30th George Gordon Meade “felt he had move his forces in such a way as to challenge the enemy advance while at the same time protecting Washington and Baltimore.” 1 To do this he decided to concentrate the Army of the Potomac along what is known as the Pipe Creek line, a line along Parr’s Ridge just behind Pipe Creek to the south of Meade’s Taneytown headquarters. As an engineer Meade recognized the The decision was made because he realized that his advance had caused Lee’s army to abandon its threatening movement toward Harrisburg and the Susquehanna and was concentrating in the general area of Cashtown, South Mountain and possibly advancing toward Gettysburg.

The Pipe Creek line offered Meade a number of advantages; “it covered his own supply line and blocked the direct route to Baltimore.” 2 The positions of his intrenched army there would be “almost impossible to storm by frontal attack” 3 as well as allow his army to concentrate quickly. By placing himself in that position Meade believed that it would force Lee to attack him on good ground of his own choosing, offer him the chance to attack should Lee divide his forces, or by allowing Lee to exhaust his forage and supplies to withdraw from Pennsylvania without giving battle. Meade’s intention at Pipe Creek was to fight the “kind of battle he was to fight at Gettysburg.” 4

However Meade’s carefully laid plan became a victim of circumstances as events progressed during the evening of June 30th and morning of July 1st. When Reynolds was told by Buford that contact had been made and the Confederates were advancing on Gettysburg he brought I Corps and XI Corps up as quickly as he could and issued orders for III Corps under Sickles to join them at Gettysburg.

About 1130 a.m. Meade received word from John Reynolds’ aide Captain Stephen Weld that Reynolds had engaged the enemy at Gettysburg and had not received Meade’s Pipe Creek circular, which jeopardized his plan. Meade, having not known that Reynolds was not acting on his latest plan had assumed that Reynolds was conducting a temporary holding action at Gettysburg, but at 1 p.m. he was given the message that “Reynolds was dead or severely wounded and that Otis Howard was in command on the field.” 5 At this point Meade wasted no time and appointed Winfield Scott Hancock to go to Gettysburg and take charge of the situation, not trusting Howard’s abilities and instructed him “If you think the ground and position there are a better one to fight under existing circumstances, you will so advise the General, and he will order his troops up.” 6 He placed John Gibbon in command of II Corps and because he was concerned that Lee might cut off the embattled I Corps and XI Corps.

It was at this point that Meade decided to abandon his Pipe Creek plan and even before getting Hancock’s report, issued orders to his Corps commanders. At about 4:30 p.m. Meade ordered Sedgwick and his VI Corps up to Taneytown and put Slocum’s XII Corps and Sykes V Corps on the road to “move up to Gettysburg at once.” 7

Throughout the afternoon Meade kept his wits and “may have restrained a natural impulse to rush to the battleground and take over control of affairs himself.” 8 After the battle some criticized Meade for this, but it was from a perspective of command, and what we now call Mission Command did the right thing. He stayed at his headquarters to better control the movements and communicate with all his forces, which he could not have done had he rushed to the front, and instead “delegated authority to a highly competent subordinate, while he himself stayed close to the center of operations at army headquarters.” 9

Had Meade done what many commanders might have done in his position, and moved to the battle he might not have been able to do the more important job of ensuring the in a moment of crisis that his subordinate commanders received his orders and moved their units where they were needed. In fact any delay of getting the Union forces to Gettysburg could have been fatal to his army and allowed Lee to gain the advantage and possibly defeat his forces in detail. Likewise if Hancock arrived and found that the position could not be held, Meade would still be in position to ensure that the Pipe Creek position could be held.

The man he appointed in his stead, Hancock was someone that was not only capable but someone that “was a man who he knew and could trust,” 10 and who despite being junior to Howard, Slocum and Sickles was able to diplomatically handle the awkwardness of the situation. After Hancock arrived on the field he took in the tactical situation and judged it “the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle that I ever saw.” 11

Howard objected to Hancock taking charge of the battlefield due to seniority, and although Howard had selected the position, demurred to Howard and said “and if it meets your approbation I will select this as the battlefield.” After Howard concurred Hancock announced “Very well, sir. I select this as the battlefield.” 12 While Howard could make the claim that he actually selected the ground of where to fight by emplacing Steinwehr’s division on the Hill as a reserve and withdrawing the battered remnants of I Corps and XI Corps to it during the afternoon, it was Hancock that “organized the all-round defense of the position.” 13 After consulting with Howard and directing Slocum’s XII Corps to occupy Culp’s Hill Hancock sent his aide Major William Mitchell to tell Meade that the position “could not well be taken.” 14 He had III Corps extend the line down Cemetery Ridge and directed his own II Corps to protect the flank in case Lee attempted to turn the Federal left. Upon Slocum’s arrival Hancock relinquished command and rode to Taneytown to personally brief Meade on the situation.

When Meade received word that from Hancock that he believed that “Gettysburg could maintain itself until dark” he dispatched a message to Hancock and Doubleday “It seems to me that we have so concentrated that a battle at Gettysburg is now forced upon us.” 15 Meade then sent a dispatch to Henry Halleck in Washington: “A.P. Hill and Ewell are certainly concentrating…Longstreet’s whereabouts I do not know. If he is not up tomorrow, I hope with the force I have concentrated to defeat Hill and Ewell; at any rate I see no other course that to hazard a general battle.” 16 He added “Circumstances during the night may alter this decision, of which I will try to advise you.” 17 Upon sending out his final orders directing all units to Gettysburg he had his headquarters strike its tents and equipment and begin to move to Gettysburg, being briefed by Hancock before he set off at 10 p.m.

Meade arrived on the field about midnight to the surreal scene of soldiers of the I Corps and XI Corps encamped on the grounds of the cemetery, many exhausted and asleep having thrown back the last Confederate attacks, and met Slocum, who had taken charge when Hancock went back to brief Meade, as well as Howard, his artillery chief Henry Hunt and chief engineer, Gouverneur Warren, Dan Sickles of III Corps his and by Hancock when that weary general arrived back from Taneytown.

Howard was anxious due to the disaster that had befallen his Corps, but Meade assured him that he was not assigning any blame. He then asked their opinions about the position. Howard declared “I am confident that we can hold this position.” He was joined by Slocum who noted “It is good for defense,” and Sickles added “It is a good place to fight from.”
Meade was satisfied with their conclusions and replied: “I am glad to hear you say so, gentlemen for it is too late to leave it.” 18

Meade then began a thorough inspection of his lines, the placement of his forces and disposition of his artillery, which he directed Hunt “to see that the artillery was properly posted.” 19 An engineer officer made a sketch of the position, and “Meade used to indicate where he wanted to post his troops” 20 and he had copies made and “sent to the corps commanders.” 21 After consulting with Slocum about the position on Culp’s Hill, and the “practicability of attacking the enemy in that quarter.” Slocum indicated that it was excellent for defense but “not favorable for attack,” 22 Warren added his “his doubts about attacking across ground that was sullied and uneven” 23 and Meade gave up the option of taking the offensive there, which he had considered to do when Sedgwick arrived with VI Corps later in the day. He and Warren also directed XII Corps to construct “breastworks and abatis” on the peaks of Culp’s Hill,” 24 a measure that would prove to be of decisive importance on the night of July 2nd and morning of July 3rd. He also moved V Corps into a reserve position behind Cemetery Hill on the Baltimore Pike, and used his command authority to replace Doubleday, who he did not feel able enough to command a Corps, who had been in acting command of I Corps since the death of Reynolds’ with Brigadier General John Newton who commanded a division in Sedgwick’s V Corps, earning himself Doubleday’s undying enmity.
About 3 a.m. still unsure of Lee’s intent Meade wrote Halleck informing him that the army “was in a strong position for the defensive” and though hoped to attack had considered all possibilities, and attempted to prepare for anything, even Lee attempting to move around his flank to interpose himself between Meade and Washington, exactly as Longstreet had recommended to Lee. If that occurred he told Halleck that he would “fall back to my supplies at Westminster….” 25 (the Pipe Creek line).

Meade made his headquarters at the Liester House behind Cemetery Ridge where he continued planning. Meade’s headquarters offered him a central position from which he could easily reach any position on the battlefield and speed communications with his commanders. The position he had taken was strong, with his Corps all occupying good ground and positions being continuously improved and reinforced as more troops arrived. To the north XII Corps occupied a very strong position on Culp’s Hill while I Corps and XI Corps occupied Cemetery Hill. II Corps now occupied the central area of Cemetery Ridge with Sickles III Corps extend that line south toward the Round Tops. V Corps was in reserve and cavalry was posted to cover each flank. Sedgwick’s VI Corps was nearing Gettysburg and expect to arrive in the afternoon after completing a 36 mile forced march from Manchester Maryland. His army occupied interior lines allowing rapid reinforcements to any threatened area. It was as strong as a position as could be imagined.

After sunrise Meade met Carl Schurz, who had so ably helped maintain XI Corps on July 1st and whose troops occupied the northern face of Cemetery Hill. Schurz observed that though Meade “looked careworn and tired, as though he had not slept the night before-probably because he hadn’t” but that “his mind was evidently absorbed by a hard problem. But this simple, cold, serious soldier with his business-like air did inspire confidence….” 26

As Schurz watched Meade survey the Federal defenses he asked how many soldiers Meade expected to have on hand. Meade told him that he expected about 95,000. 27 Meade then told Schurz: “Well, we may fight it out here just as well as anywhere else” and then rode off. 28

During the night of July 1st Meade did what Lee failed to do. Lee failed to control his units or commanders, while Meade maintained control of his units, ensured that his commanders understood his intent and replaced ones that he felt unable to do what was needed. Lee conducted no reconnaissance of any importance, the only attempt sending his staff engineer to look around Little Round Top, a task that he failed in, while Meade and his subordinates made a thorough reconnaissance of their lines and fortified them. Lee, in an almost fatalistic manner did no real contingency planning, leaving things to the elan’ of his troops and the Providence of God, but Meade planned for contingencies that Lee might attempt, even the possibility that Lee might do what Longstreet so strongly advocated.

In the end Meade did almost everything that a commander could do to ensure that his army not only was in position to succeed in the tactical and operational levels, but also through his contact with his superiors linked his operations to larger strategic considerations.

Notes

1 Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.118

2 Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York p.150

3 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 p.239

4 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.239

5 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.188

6 Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.154

7 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.159

8 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.323 9 Ibid Coddington. The Gettysburg Campaign p.323

10 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.158

11 Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life University of Indiana Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.84 

12 Foote, Shelby The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.48313 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.483

14 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.321

15 Ibid. Trudeau pp.264-265

16 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.241

17 Ibid. Trudeau p.265

18 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p. 159

19 Hunt, Henry J. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III The Tide Shifts, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, Castle Books Secaucus New Jersey p.293

20 Ibid. Huntington. p.15921 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.330

22 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.494

23 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.228 

24 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.228

25 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.464

26 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

27 An overestimate based on unit reports, which included many troops not present for duty, or able to perform their duties. He actually had about 83,000-85,000 on the field during the battle. 

28 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

 

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military

A Council of War: Meade and his Generals Decide to Stay and Fight at Gettysburg July 2nd 1863

Gettysburg_Council_of_War

“In Mission Command, the commander must understand the problem, envision the end state and visualize the nature and design of the operation…describe the time, space, resources while constantly assessing the process” CJCS Mission Command White Paper, 3 April 2012

While Lee took no counsel and determined to attack on the night of July 2nd little more than two miles away Major General George Meade took no chances. After sending a message to Henry Halleck at 8 PM Meade called his generals together. Unlike Lee who had observed the battle from a distance Meade had been everywhere on the battlefield during the day and had a good idea what his army had suffered and the damage that he had inflicted on the Army of Northern Virginia. Likewise during the day he had been with the majority of his commanders as opposed to Lee who after issuing orders that morning had remained unengaged.

Meade wired Halleck “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” [1] However Meade, realizing that caution was not a vice still needed to assess the condition of his army, hear his commanders and hear from his intelligence service. He ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” [2]

As he waited for his commanders his caution was apparent. Before the attack on Sickles’ III Corps at the Peach Orchard Meade had asked his Chief of Staff Brigadier General Dan Butterfield to “draw up a contingency plan for withdraw to Pipe Creek.” After that attack Alfred Pleasanton said that Meade ordered him to “gather what cavalry I could, and prepare for the retreat of the army.” [3] Some of his commanders who heard of the contingency plan including John Gibbon and John Sedgwick believed that Meade was “thinking of a retreat.”[4]. Despite his flat assurances to Halleck his position was threatened on both flanks and he “foresaw disaster, and not without cause.” [5]

In assessing Meade’s conduct it has to be concluded that while he had determined to remain, that he was smart enough to plan of the worst and to consult his commanders and staff in making his decision. Meade wrote to his wife that evening “for at one time things looked a little blue,…but I managed to get up reinforcements in time to save the day….The most difficult part of my work is acting without correct information on which to predicate action.” [6]

Meade called Colonel George Sharpe from the Bureau of Military Information to meet with him, Hancock and Slocum at the cottage on the Taneytown Road where he made his headquarters. Sharpe and his aide explained the enemy situation. Sharpe noted that “nearly 100 Confederate regiments in action Wednesday and Thursday” and that “not one of those regiments belonged to Pickett.” He then reported with confidence that indicated that “Pickett’s division has just come up and is bivouac.” [7]

It was the assurance that Meade needed as his commanders came together. When Sharpe concluded his report Hancock exclaimed “General, we have got them nicked.” [8]

About 9 P.M. the generals gathered. Present were Meade, and two of his major staff officers Warren just back from Little Round Top, wounded and tired, and Butterfield his Chief of Staff. Hancock action as a Wing Commander was there with Gibbon now commanding II Corps, Slocum of XII Corps with Williams. John Newton a division commander from VI Corps who had just arrived on the battlefield now commanding I Corps was present along with Oliver Howard of XI Corps, John Sedgwick of VI Corps, George Sykes of V Corps and David Birney, now commanding what was left of the wounded Dan Sickles’ III Corps. Pleasanton was off with the cavalry and Hunt attending to the artillery.

The meeting began and. John Gibbon noted that it “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation….” [9] The condition of the army was discussed and it was believed that now only about 58,000 troops available to fight. Birney honestly described the condition of III Corps noting that “his corps was badly chewed up, and that he doubted that it was fit for much more.” [10] Newton who had just arrived was quoted by Gibbon as saying that Gettysburg was “a bad position” and that “Cemetery Hill was no place to fight a battle in.” [11] The remarks sparked a serious discussion with Meade asking the assembled generals “whether our army should remain on that field and continue the battle, or whether we should change to some other position.” [12]

The reactions to the question showed that the army commanders still had plenty of fight in the. Meade listened as his generals discussed the matter. Hancock said he was “puzzled about the practicability of retiring.” [13] Newton later noted that he made his observations about the battlefield based on the danger that Lee might turn the Federal left and impose his army between it and its supplies. He and the other commanders agreed that pulling back “would be a highly dangerous maneuver to attempt in the immediate presence of the enemy.” [14]

Finally Butterfield, no friend of Meade and one of the McClellan and Hooker political cabal who Meade had retained when he took command posed three questions to the assembled generals.

“Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?”

It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?

If we wait attack, how long?” [15]

Gibbon as the junior officer present said “Correct the position of the army…but do not retreat.” Williams counselled “stay,” as did Birney and Sykes, and Newton after briefly arguing the dangers finally agreed. Howard not only recommended remaining but “even urged an attack if the Confederates stayed their hand.” Hancock who earlier voiced his opinion to Meade that “we have them nicked” added “with a touch of anger, “Let us have no more retreats. The Army of the Potomac has had too many retreats….Let this be our last retreat.” Sedgwick of VI Corps voted “remain” and finally Slocum uttered just three words “stay and fight.” [16]

None counselled an immediate attack; all recommended remaining at least another day. When the discussion concluded Meade told his generals “Well gentlemen…the question is settled. We remain here.” [17]

Some present believed that Meade was looking for a way to retreat to a stronger position, that he had been rattled by the events of the day. Slocum believed that “but for the decision of his corps commanders” that Meade and the Army of the Potomac “would have been in full retreat…on the third of July.” [18] Meade would deny such accusations before Congressional committees the following year.

Much of the criticism of his command decisions during the battle were made by political partisans associated with the military cabal of Hooker, Butterfield and Sickles as well as Radical Republicans who believed that Meade was a Copperhead. Both Butterfield and Birney accused Meade before the committee of wanting to retreat and “put the worst possible interpretation on Meade’s assumed lack of self-confidence without offering any real evidence to substantiate it.” Edwin Coddington notes “that Meade, other than contemplating a slight withdraw to straighten his lines, wanted no retreat from Gettysburg.” [19]

Alpheus Williams wrote to his daughters on July 6th “I heard no expression from him which led me to think that he was in favor of withdrawing the army from before Gettysburg.” [20] Likewise the message sent by Meade to Halleck indicates a confidence in the upcoming battle of July 3rd. If Meade had some reservations during the day, as he mentioned in the letter to his wife they certainly were gone by the time he received the intelligence report from Sharpe and heard Hancock’s bold assertion that the enemy was “nicked.”

As the meeting broke up after shortly after midnight and the generals returned to their commands Meade pulled Gibbon aside. Gibbon with II Corps held the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge. Meade told him “If Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be in your front.” Gibbon queried as to why Meade thought this and Meade continued “Because he has made attacks on both our flanks and failed,…and if he concludes to try it again it will be on our center.” Gibbon wrote years later “I expressed the hope that he would, and told General Meade with confidence, that if he did we would defeat him.” [21]

If some generals believed Meade to be a defeatist it was not present in his private correspondence. He wrote to his wife early in the morning of July 3rd displaying a private confidence that speaks volumes:

“Dearest love, All well and going on well in the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking & we completely repulsing them- both armies shattered….Army in fine spirits & every one determined to do or die.” [22]

Meade did what Lee should have done, he had been active on the battlefield, he consulted his intelligence service and he consulted his commanders on the options available to him. Lee remained away from the action on July 2nd he failed to consult his commanders. He failed to gain accurate intelligence on the Federal forces facing him and he failed to fully take into account his losses. Meade better demonstrated the principles of what we now call “mission command.”

 

[1] [1] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.341-342

[2] Ibid. p.342

[3] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.355

[4] Ibid.

[5] Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.524

[6] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.413

[7] Ibid. Sears p.342

[8] Ibid. Trudeau p.413

[9] Ibid. Sears

[10] Ibid. Trudeau p.415

[11] Ibid. Guelzo p.556.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. Sears p.343

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. Trudeau p.415

[16] Ibid. Guelzo p.556

[17] Ibid. Foote p.525

[18] Ibid. Guelzo

[19] [19] Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 pp.451-452

[20] Ibid. p.452

[21] Ibid. Foote p.525

[22] Ibid. Trudeau p.345

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military