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From Strategic Incompetence to Negligence in Conducting a do or Die Offensive: Robert E. Lee’s Lazy and Disastrous Discretionary Orders at Gettysburg, 1 July 1863

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I posted an article about Robert E. Lee’s inability to understand the connection between national strategy and operational level command in regard to engaging in offensive operations that did nothing to help his rebellion. In fact his opposition to sending large forces to defeat Grant and relieve Vicksburg, combined with the incompetence he displayed during the Gettysburg Campaign ensured the defeat of the Confederacy, for which I am grateful, despite my ancestors fighting for the Confederacy and against the Union for their land and human property.

This article, like last night’s article demonstrates Lee’s unfitness as a senior commander, who despite serving as the Commandant of West Point and student of Henri Jomini’s understanding of Napoleon, whose two major offensive operations into Union territory ended in failure and the irreplaceable loss of soldiers in 1862 at Antietam and 1863 at Gettysburg. Lee’s strategic incompetence allowed the Confederacy to be cut in half, lose control of the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, and the conquest of most of Tennessee, putting Union Armies under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman on the frontier of Georgia with Atlanta dangling as a prize.

Lee’s hubris in the Gettysburg Campaign showed the limitations of a man who despite every opportunity never grasped the consequences of treason and sedition. Nor a man who,fully appreciated, until it was too late the Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic aspects of modern war. Lee was still fighting Napoleonic warfare, without the benefit of Clausewitz and the Enlightenment. Likewise, he made decisions about who would command his Corps, and Divisions based on expediency and a preference for Virginians, regardless of better choices. That is where our story begins.


Discretionary orders are important to the success of commanders who desire that their subordinates have the necessary freedom to exploit opportunities within the broader operational context. They are a key element of what we now define as Mission Command and thus expressed clearly in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Desired Leader Attributes the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding. In this chapter we will look at how Lee conducted war and how his decision process and communications, particularly the use of discretionary orders influenced the outcome of the battle and how important the issuance of clear orders is to a successful campaign.

To be effective such orders need to be clear and concise and they must be employed in a manner that are within the capabilities of one’s subordinate commanders to both understand them and carry them out. Thus a commander must always be ready to adjust his method when his command goes through a major turnover of personnel. After the loss of Thomas ”Stonewall”Jackson at Chancellorsville and the subsequent reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee continued to operate as if nothing had changed, despite his own recognition that the army suffered from a want of qualified senior officers.

Robert E. Lee habitually issued discretionary orders with varying degrees of effectiveness. With Jackson, a man of ruthless battlefield instincts, Lee was able to do this, even when Lee’s intent was less than clear and even with Jackson such orders occasionally went awry as was the case during the Seven Days. Lee’s aide Walter Taylor noted that Jackson “took the suggestion of General Lee into immediate consideration, and proceeded to carry it into effect.” [1] This was not to be the case with those that followed Jackson, something that Lee failed to adjust to that would doom his army at Gettysburg.

Part of this is attributable to Lee’s distaste for administrative routine. Taylor noted how Lee’s “correspondence…was constantly a source of worry to him. He did not enjoy writing; indeed he wrote with labor, and nothing seemed to tax his amiability as the necessity for writing a lengthy official communication.” [2] But more importantly in the matter of communicating orders and following up, much of the issue came down to Lee’s near fatalistic understanding of faith and life in regard to the providence of God. For Lee victory and defeat came down to God’s will, as he wrote his wife after his ill-fated 1861 campaign in western Virginia “But the Ruler of the Universe willed otherwise and sent a storm to discontent a well laid plan and to destroy my hopes.” [3] But for Lee, the concept of “duty” became a secular manifestation of his religion.” [4]

J. F. C. Fuller attributes much of the manner in how Lee conducted battle to this sense of duty as well as belief in providence. Fuller notes that it “controlled the whole of his generalship.” [5] Lee explained his concept of command to the Prussian observer, Captain Justus Scheibert:

“You must know our circumstances, and see in battle that my leading would do more harm than good. It would be a bad thing if I could not then rely on my brigade and divisional commanders. I plan and work with all my might to bring my troops to the right place at the right time; with that I have done my duty. As soon as I order the troops forward into battle, I lay the fate of my army in the hands of God.” [6]

That firm belief in providence and the hand of God was evident in Lee’s comments to Major General Isaac Trimble as the army advanced into Pennsylvania. “We have again outmaneuvered the enemy, who even now does not know where we are or what our designs are. Our whole army will be in Pennsylvania day after tomorrow, leaving the enemy far behind and obliged to follow by forced marches. I hope with these advantages to accomplish some single result and to end the war, if Providence favors us.” [7] Lee’s belief in Divine providence was little different than every religious fundamentalist who believed that faith would result in victory without reason.

Fuller is one of the harshest critics of Lee bluntly notes that “this lack of appreciation that administration is the foundation for strategy; this lack of interest in routine, and his abhorrence to exert his authority…” [8] were key factors in many of his army’s problems, from command and control, discipline and the material and logistics aspects of war. Likewise his absolute reliance on his subordinates to carry out his orders, and unwillingness to interfere once the battle was joined was a major factor in his failure at Gettysburg, where Russell Weigley noted in a rather kind and subdued way that “Lee…was sometimes served less than well by his corps, division and brigade commanders.” [9]

Throughout the Gettysburg campaign Lee issued vague orders that his subordinates either failed to understand or willingly interpret in a manner that Lee did not intend. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda notes that “the phrase if practicable…led to many unfortunate consequences, since it provided subordinate commanders a kind of escape clause, allowing them to argue after the event that what they had been order to do was not, in their view “practicable.” [10]

From the time that Robert E Lee learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac into Maryland on June 28th, he attempted to adjust his campaign plan and concentrate his army in preparation for battle. At that point his army was scattered and he did not want to provoke an engagement until he could concentrate his forces. Stuart’s cavalry, the absence of which was a matter of great consternation to Lee was chief among his concerns. Lee had hoped that Hooker would pursue him north, but finding the information out from Longsteet’s spy Harrison disturbed Lee greatly. [11]

Lee expected to know about Hooker’s movements from Stuart. However, Stuart was nowhere to be found; operating nearly fifty miles away separated from Lee’s main body much of the Army of the Potomac. Lee’s aide Walter Taylor wrote: “No tidings had been received from or of our cavalry under General Stuart since crossing the river; and General Lee was consequently without accurate of the movements or position of the main Federal Army.” [12] However, while Stuart certainly can be blamed for taking his best cavalry off on a ride around the Federal army, he acted in accordance with how he interpreted Lee’s orders, as Douglas Southall Freeman wrote: “What was possible was permissible. That, as Stuart saw it, was the substance of his orders.” [13]

This was especially true after Stuart had been surprised at Brandy Station by the Federal cavalry and pilloried in the Confederate press, the Richmond Sentinel saying Stuart had been “outgeneraled” and the Richmond Whig predicting that “We shall not be surprised if the gallant Stuart does not, before many days, make the enemy repent sorely the temerity that led them to undertake this bold and insulting feat….” [14] Lee’s orders provided just enough ambiguity and wiggle room for the wounded Stuart to do precisely what he did.

Lee’s orders gave Stuart the options of moving back to screen the army or passing around the Federal army, leaving the decision to Stuart’s discretion. “You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can…” [15] Major Henry McClellan, Stuart’s aide recorded that he also received a “lengthy communication from General Lee…” which “discussed at considerable length the plan of passing around the enemy’s rear….” [16] Stuart in his official report wrote: “The commanding General wrote me, authorizing this move if I deemed it practical.” [17]

That being said Lee was clear enough that he expected Stuart to “lose no time in placing his command on the right of our column as soon as he should perceive the enemy moving northward.” [18] Though Stuart had detected Hancock’s II Corps moving north near Manassas he elected to make his movement around the Federal Army. Stuart’s biographer Burke Davis noted that Stuart “sought no advice on the all-important detour of June twenty-sixth, which changed his direct. He did not so much consult his brigadiers as he swung his column southward to pass around the enemy.” [19] Though Lee at a number of points during lead up to Gettysburg signaled his frustration with Stuart’s absence and its effect on his abilities, he failed to draw the appropriate conclusions that a prudent commander, operating deep in enemy territory would assume from the lack of contact. Lee should have assumed that Stuart was because of his move “become temporarily incommunicado” but instead, “inferred from Stuart’s silence that Hooker had not crossed the Potomac.” [20]

Lee’s vague order was the first in a series of command and control issues that plagued him during the campaign and combined with Stuart’s vanity and need to redeem his reputation, Lee’s ill use of the cavalry he did have under his control were all contributing factors leading to the disastrous encounter at Gettysburg, but there was more to come.

Now that Lee knew that the Army of the Potomac had crossed into Maryland and was now under the command of George Meade he began to take action to reassemble his widely scattered army in the vicinity of Chambersburg and Cashtown. A.P. Hill’s Third Corps was already near Cashtown, and Longstreet’s First Corps was on its way up. The most important issue Lee had was to get Ewell’s Second Corps, then near Carlisle preparing to attack Harrisburg, back in contact with the rest of the Army.

Lee sent two sets of orders to Ewell on the night of the 28th, after getting Harrison’s intelligence, but they did not reach Ewell until the morning of the 29th. The first orders were for Ewell to move to Chambersburg, and the second, to concentrate at Heidlersburg where he could either continue to Cashtown or turn south to Gettysburg. [21] The intent was good, Lee appears to have desired to minimize congestion on the turnpike in order to more rapidly assemble his army, however the orders caused much discontent at the Second Corps headquarters and “made Old Bald Head most unhappy.” [22] Many of his soldiers with Harrisburg in plain sight were likewise upset the “disappointment and chagrin were extreme” [23] while a soldier in “Maryland Steuart’s brigade recalled the “ill-concealed dissatisfaction” of the men, who “found the movement to be as they supposed “one of retreat.” [24] A staff officer noted that Ewell was “quite testy and hard to please” at the news and “became disappointed, and had everyone flying around.” [25]

Despite his displeasure Ewell did move promptly to comply with Lee’s orders “Lee had not communicated any particular sense of crisis to the case, and the Second Corps’ march proceeded at the usual pace.” [26] Likewise the fact that there were two orders caused several problems that would manifest themselves on July 1st all of which would affect the outcome of the battle.

The first regarded the movement of Second Corps. On receipt of the first order to proceed to Chambersburg Ewell promptly started Allegany Johnson’s division as well as the Second Corps Wagon Train and two battalions of its Corps Artillery Reserve down the turnpike. [27] When they arrived near Cashtown on the first they would become entangled with Anderson’s division of Hill’s Third Corps, slowing that unit’s attempt to move to battle. This massive traffic jam also delayed two of Longstreet’s divisions which were moving to link up with Hill’s Corps. [28]

Ewell was able to direct Rodes and Early’s divisions toward Heildlersburg, but the vagueness of Lee’s changing the objective of the march “to Cashtown or Gettysburg and leaving it up to the commander to choose between the two”[29]caused Ewell problems. Had Johnson’s division and the rest of the corps been available early on the afternoon of July 1st at Heildlersburg with Rodes and Early’s divisions it might have completely changed the outcome of the battle. Ewell had been very successful under Jackson, whose orders “were precise and positive” where Lee had not only revered the course of Ewell’s advance on Harrisburg back to Chambersburg, but then modified with the order to proceed to either Cashtown or Gettysburg. [30]

Lee’s order again contained a discretionary clause, to advance to Cashtown or Gettysburg “as circumstances dictate.” [31] Ewell was upset not knowing what “circumstances” Lee had in mind.” [32] On the night of the 30th he discussed the order with Rodes and Early as well as Major General Isaac Trimble, and complained of the order’s “indefinite phraseology” and made the comment “Why can’t a commanding General have someone on his staff who can write an intelligible order.” [33] Ewell’s acerbic comment could easily be applied to many of Lee’s orders issued during the next few days, but in spite of it Ewell did handle his “first discretionary order very well indeed” [34] as he issued his movement orders for July 1st in a manner that would allow his divisions to move on either location should the situation dictate.

As Ewell attempted to comply with Lee’s orders on the 29th and 30th to rejoin the army his other two corps were resting. Third Corps under A.P. Hill was at and around Cashtown west of Gettysburg. On the 30th Hill allowed Harry Heth to advance Johnston Pettigrew’s brigade to Gettysburg. When Pettigrew discovered Buford’s cavalry division there he withdrew and reported to incident to Hill and Heth who refused to believe it. Hill did pass on that news to Lee and alerted Lee that “that he intended to march there in the morning” but the “announcement seemed not to have disturbed the commanding general, since he expected to move his headquarters only as far as Cashtown the next day.” [35] This lack of reaction was to have enormous consequences for Lee.

On the morning of July 1st, Hill ordered Harry Heth to advance his division to Gettysburg without the benefit of cavalry support or reconnaissance and backing them up with Pender’s division. As they advanced the leading brigades under Brigadier General James Archer and Joseph Davis met Federal forces. Heth became embroiled in a fight with Buford’s cavalry, which developed into a fight with Reynolds’s I Corps, a fight that resulted in Heth’s division being mauled and helping to bring a general engagement. That engagement drew in Ewell’s corps as well before Lee knew what was happening.

Lee had a number of chances to prevent the meeting engagement that developed on July 1st 1863. Lee noted in his after action report that “It had not been intended to deliver a general battle so far from our base unless attacked…” [36] but there are no records of him giving such instructions prior to the battle. There are no reports indicating that he urged caution on his commanders not to bring on a general engagement before July 1st, when the battle was already underway, nor are there records of any warning orders to his corps commanders upon learning of the presence of the Federal army north of the Potomac.

In the end of the day it was Lee’s “laxness with respect to reconnaissance and his lack of control of Hill’s movements caused him to stumble into battle.” [37] The battle began without him knowing it; his subordinate commanders committed nearly half of his army into battle before he issued an order, Lee wrote “A battle had, therefore, become in a measure unavoidable….” [38] But such is not the case. Lee had the ability and command authority to break off the engagement before it took on a life of its own, but he did not do so.

(Gburg day one)

Lee arrived early enough in the battle to make his influence known. He was told of Ewell’s movements by Major G. Campbell Brown of Ewell’s staff and instructed Brown in very strong terms to tell Ewell “that a general engagement was to be avoided until the arrival of the rest of the army.” [39] Ewell, did not get that message until after his forces were heavily committed noting in his report “that By the time this message reached me….It was too late to avoid an engagement without abandoning the position already taken up.” [40]

Lee was not happy that battle had been joined by Heth and Taylor observed that “on arriving at the scene of the battle, General Lee ascertained that the enemy’s infantry and artillery were present in considerable force” [41] and when Lee arrived on Herr Ridge, Heth asked permission to renew his attack when Rodes entered the fight. Lee’s initial response was negative “No, I am not prepared to bring on a general engagement today. Longstreet is not up.” [42]

After observing the battle for a time it became evident that Ewell’s corps was also heavily engaged and Lee began to change his mind. Heth reported that the Federal troops in front of him were withdrawing and Lee sensed an opportunity to strike a blow that might bring the climactic victory that he sought. Lee analyzed the situation and with Heth back at his division Heth wrote that “very soon an aide came to me with the orders to attack.” [43]

The order was given in the heat of the moment, and Lee always aggressive responded, but it was a bad decision. “It committed him to a major confrontation on this ground…without sufficient troops on hand and without knowledge of the whereabouts of the rest of the Federal army,” [44] and Lee knew this. He told Anderson at Cashtown not long before- meeting Heth: “I am in ignorance of what we have in front of us here. It may be the whole Federal army, or it may be only a detachment. If it is the whole Federal force we must fight a battle here.” But he was worried, telling Anderson “If we do not gain a victory, those defiles and gorges which we passed through this morning will shelter us from disaster.” [45]

Despite the success that his soldiers we now enjoying as they drove the I Corps and XI Corps back through the town Lee gave yet another vague order. This one to Ewell, who having already committed his corps to battle in the full knowledge that Lee did not desire a general engagement was confronted with another discretionary order, Lee said “General Ewell was…instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army.” [46]

The Army of Northern Virginia came very close to sweeping Federal forces from the field on July 1st in spite of Lee’s lack of planning and clear commanders’ intent. But close was not enough. His forces which were committed in a piecemeal manner were unable to follow up their initial success. The situation faced by Ewell in Gettysburg was chaotic; his units were badly disorganized, and burdened by thousands of prisoners on the confided streets of the town. Rodes’ division had sustained frightful losses and he had no assurance of support from Hill. [47]Rodes’ after battle report supported Ewell’s decision. He wrote that before “the completion of his defeat before the town the enemy had begun to establish a line of battle on the heights back of the town, and by the time my line was in condition to renew the attack, he displayed quite a formidable line of infantry and artillery immediately in my front, extending smartly to my right, and as far as I could see to my left in front of Early.”[48]

Lee’s orders to Ewell, to take the high ground “if practicable” were correctly interpreted by Ewell despite his critics; he nature of the terrain, the number and condition of the troops that he had available for an attack, and the nature of the orders given by Lee late in the day was strong factors for Ewell to not attack. [49]Coddington noted that these problems “upset Ewell, for he was faced with the prospect of organizing a new attack with tired men even while he felt constrained by Lee’s injunction not to open a full-fledged battle. No wonder he was uncertain!”[50]The fact that Lee was not far away and did not issue a “peremptory order to Ewell” to attack also has to be noted. [51] If Lee had sensed that Ewell was not going to attack and really wanted him to he could have issued a direct order which Ewell, would have surely obeyed. “Lee realized that Ewell was not Jackson…and should have modified his method of command accordingly.” [52]

That evening Lee rode to Ewell’s headquarters and met with Ewell, Early and Rodes. “No reference was made to the possibility of an attack that evening on Cemetery Hill.” The question was put to them about what to do the next day. Lee asked “Can’t you with your corps attack on this flank tomorrow?” Jubal Early answered for Ewell saying “flatly that he did not believe an attack should be made from Gettysburg against Cemetery Hill the next day.” [53] Early added, “even if such an action were to succeed… it would be at a very great cost.” [54] Lee suggested to Ewell and his commanders that Second Corps around to the right along Seminary Ridge “where it might be better put to use, and twice he gave in to Ewell’s pleadings to remain where he was.” [55] This was yet another mistake that would haunt Lee during the rest of the battle, but the “notion of imposing his will on a subordinate was simply too alien to Lee’s nature for him to even to admit as a possibility.” [56] Fuller wrote “it was Lee’s inexhaustible tact that ruined his army.” [57]

Whether Lee intended to engage the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg so early in the campaign is debated. His multiple and contradictory strategic aims left his commanders acting much on their own. Lee’s lack of clear commander’s intent to his subordinate commanders created confusion on the battlefield. They also paved the way to many controversies in the years following the war as Southerners sought to explain the failure of the Lost Cause, for which Lee could not be blamed.

Much of the controversy comes from Lee’s own correspondence which indicates that he might have not fully understood his own intentions. Some correspondence indicates that Lee desired to avoid a general engagement as long as possible while other accounts indicate that he wanted an early and decisive engagement. The controversy was stoked after the war by Lee’s supporters, particular his aides Taylor and Marshall and generals Early, Gordon and Trimble. Men like Longstreet and were castigated by Lee’s defenders for suggesting that Lee made mistakes on the battlefield.

The vagueness of Lee’s instructions to his commanders led to many mistakes and much confusion during the battle. Many of these men were occupying command positions under him for the first time and were unfamiliar with his command style. Where Stonewall Jackson might have understood Lee’s intent, even where Lee issued vague or contradictory orders, many others including Hill and Ewell did not. Lee did not change his command style to accommodate his new commanders.

That lack of flexibility and inability to clearly communicate Lee’s intent to his commanders and failure to exercise control over them proved fatal to his aims in the campaign. Stephen Sears’ scathing analysis of Lee’s command at Gettysburg perhaps says it the best. In the final analysis, it was Robert E. Lee’s inability to manage his generals that went to the heart of the failed campaign.” [58]

The vagueness of Lee’s intent was demonstrated throughout the campaign and was made worse by the fog of war. Day one ended with a significant tactical victory for Lee’s army but without a decisive result which would be compounded into a strategic defeat by Lee’s subsequent decisions on the 2nd and 3rd of July.


[1] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.45

[2] Ibid. Taylor General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences p.25

[3] Lee, Robert Edward. Recollections and Letters of General Robert E Lee A Public Domain book, Amazon Kindle edition location 548

[4] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.35

[5] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.112

[6] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.348

[7]Tucker, Glenn. High Tide at Gettysburg, The Bobbs Merrill Co. Indianapolis Indiana 1958 p.24

[8] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.125

[9] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.116

[10] Ibid. Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.446

[11] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p. 139

[12] Taylor, Walter Four Years with General Lee Original published 1877. Heraklion Press Kindle Edition 2013 location 1199

[13] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 pp.554-555

[14] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, p.552

[15] Nolan, Alan TR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.16

[16] McClellan, Henry Brainerd The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia 1885. Digital edition copyright 2011 Strait Gate Publications, Charlotte NC location 6123 unfortunately this letter cannot be verified as no copy exists, McClellan presuming that it was destroyed sometime during the march.

[17] Dowdy, CliffordLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.60

[18] 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 503

[19] Davis, Burke JEB Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p. 325

[20] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.183

[21] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.189

[22] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

[23] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.124

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

[25] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.124

[26] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command pp.189-190

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.99

[29] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to MeridianRandom House, New York 1963 p. 464

[30] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.464

[31] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.148

[32] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.192

[33] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.149

[34] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 160

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.264

[36] Ibid. Lee Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864 location 552

[37]Ibid. Nolan R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg p.24

[38] Ibid. Lee Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864 location 552

[39] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.150

[40] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg p.22

[41] Ibid. Taylor General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences p.188

[42] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.475

[43] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 203

[44] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg p.24

[45] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.474

[46] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.571

[47] 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 pp.54-55

[48] Ibid. Nolan p.26

[49] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.28

[50] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.319

[51] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.28

[52] Ibid Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.56

[53] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.572

[54] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.261

[55] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York p.504

[56] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.262

[57] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.119

[58]Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York p.504


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“Proper Commanders – Where Can they Be Found” Lee’s Reorganization of His Army Before Gettysburg, Stuart’s Cavalry Division and Attached Units and Generals

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’ve been working of trying to finish my manuscript for my book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” much of the night and have pretty much absented myself from social media. However, had a nice night with Judy and playing with our pups. Our Youngest Maddy Lyn, is so full of herself and full of energy that she gives all of us a run for our money. Anyway, this is another segment of one of my Gettysburg book manuscripts dealing with the reorganization of Lee’s Army after Chancellorsville in preparation for Lee’s invasion of the north, which culminated at Gettysburg. Today is a look at the leaders of Major General J.E.B Stuart’s Cavalry Division as well as three other generals, Brigadier General John Imboden who commanded an independent cavalry brigade, Lee’s Chief of Artillery, Brigadier General William Pendleton, Whose artillery had been reorganized leaving him with few actual duties, and Major General Isaac Trimble. This like the previous 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.

Have a great night, and pray that I can finish “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” tomorrow. 


Padre Steve+

Stuart’s Cavalry Division


Major General J.E.B. Stuart C.S.A.

The Cavalry Division was commanded by Major General J.E.B. Stuart. While it was considered a division, Stuart’s command was the size of a Union Army Corps with over 10,000 troopers assigned. Despite its large size at Gettysburg the Division was split by agreement of Lee and Stuart. Stuart who had five brigades at his immediate disposal would take three of them, Hampton’s, Rooney Lee’s and Fitz Lee’s on an ill-fated mission which would leave him and them out of the fight during the most important part of the movement to and first two days of battle. His raid causes him “to be absent on the day of all days when he could reconnoiter the Federal position.” [1] Two, Robertson and Grumble Jones’s would remain guarding passes along the Blue Ridge long after that mission had any relevance. Imboden’s would be far to the west and Jenkin’s ere with Ewell’s vanguard in the advance north.

Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart was the son of a former congressman whose family went back five generations in Virginia. He graduated thirteenth in a class of forty-six at West Point in 1854. Classmates included Dorsey Pender and Oliver O. Howard. A fellow cadet who would serve under Stuart during the war, Fitzhugh Lee wrote:

“His distinguishing characteristics were a strict attention to his military duties, an erect, soldierly bearing, an immediate and almost thankful acceptance of a challenge from any cadet to fight, who might in any way feel himself aggrieved, and a clear, metallic, ringing voice.” [2]

At West Point Stuart was noted for his “lifelong religious devoutness. When he was at West Point he was known as a “Bible Class Man.” [3] Stuart was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and assigned to the Mounted Rifles, which Stuart noted was “a corps which my taste, fondness for riding, and my desire to serve my country in some acceptable manner led me to select above all the rest.” [4]Stuart would serve with the Mounted Rifles for about a year before being selected to serve in one of the first Cavalry regiments formed, the First Cavalry at Jefferson Barracks Missouri.

In the pre-war years the young officer developed a solid reputation in the army where he served on the frontier and in “Bleeding Kansas.” In those years Stuart “was already a young officer of great promise, a natural horseman with a reputation for dash and bravery gained in countless clashes with Indians throughout the West, and for steady competence in the pro- and antislavery warfare of Kansas.” [5]

In 1859 Stuart was on leave visiting Washington D.C. and staying with the Lee’s at Arlington. He was visiting the War Department when news came of John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. He was given a letter to take to Lee which ordered Lee to take command of troops to suppress the rebellion. Stuart accompanied Lee on the mission and was send by Lee to present terms of surrender to the raiders, who at the time were still nameless to the Federal authorities. Stuart entered the building and was confronted by Brown who he had previously met in Kansas. After some fruitless negotiation, Stuart realized that Brown was not about to surrender. At some time Stuart broke away and motioned for the Marines to move in. “Three minutes after Stuart had given his signal, the affair was over.” [6]

Stuart resigned his commission when Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, while his father-in-law, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke remained in Union service. He commanded the 1st Virginia Cavalry in the Valley and at First Manassas and was promoted to Brigadier General in September 1861. The following month he was given command of the army’s cavalry brigade and distinguished himself in the eyes of both General Joseph Johnston and Robert E. Lee. Johnston wrote to President Jefferson Davis praising the young brigadier “He is a rare man…wonderfully endowed by nature with the qualities necessary for an officer of light cavalry….If you add to this army a real brigade of cavalry, you can find no better brigadier-general to command it.” [7]

Lee came to share that opinion and over the course of his service Stuart had come to:

“demonstrate a real talent for the most mundane and most essential role cavalry played in this war – reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. No intelligence source surpassed his eye for seeing and evaluating a military landscape or an enemy’s strengths and dispositions.” [8]

This would be something that Lee came to rely and which he would dearly miss at Gettysburg.

Despite his excellence in this “most mundane” task Stuart developed a flair and passion for the spectacular, which was first demonstrated during the Seven Days, where he took his cavalry on a circuit of McClellan’s army which not only gathered a significant amount of intelligence also unnerved the Army of the Potomac. His raid was “flawlessly executed….” And Stuart “became a hero to his troopers and one of the idols of the public.” [9] Lee wrote that Stuart’s operation “was executed with great address and daring by accomplished officer.” [10] The raid did have its detractors, especially among the infantry and it also revealed something to Stuart that appealed to his own vanity, “that raiding would easily garner headlines in the Richmond papers.” [11]

Stuart Lee’s staff secretary, Colonel Robert Taylor noted that Stuart was “possessing of great powers of endurance, courageous to an exalted degree, of sanguine temperament, prompt to act, always ready for fight – he was the ideal cavalryman.” [12] Stuart also kept a lively headquarters. Taylor remarked “How genial he was! There was no room for “the blues” around his headquarters; the hesitating and desponding found no congenial atmosphere at his camp; good will, jollity, and even hilarity, reigned there.” [13]

Stuart always had his African-American banjo player with him and frequently sang around camp and on campaign. That was not always appreciated by some other officers. Wade Hampton, who in time became Stuart’s right-hand man was not impressed with the atmosphere at Stuart’s headquarters and “was not certain that he could flourish, or even survive, among such people….” [14] Lafayette McLaws wrote home complaining not only about Stuart but others:

“Stuart carries around with him a banjo player and special correspondent. This claptrap is noticed and lauded as a peculiarity of genius, when, in fact, it is nothing more but the act of a buffoon to get attention.” [15]

But Stuart was always aware of his own mortality and there was a serious side to him, often expressed in his faith, which impressed those around him. His West Point classmate and friend, Oliver O. Howard wrote:

“J.E.B. Stuart was cut out for a cavalry leader. In perfect health, but thirty-two years of age, full of vigor and enterprise, with the usual ideas imbibed in Virginia concerning State Supremacy, Christian thought and temperate by habit, no man could ride faster, endure more hardships, make a livelier charge, or be more hearty and cheerful while so engaged. A touch of vanity, which invited the smiles and applause of the fair maidens of Virginia, but added to the zest and ardor of Stuart’s parades and achievements.” [16]

At Chancellorsville Stuart assumed acting command of Jackson’s Second Corps which he led well during the battle, even impressing the infantry, who had long derided Stuart and his cavalry. Leading by example “seemed on fire.” Stuart sang as he led the Stonewall Brigade into action and “the troops joined him, singing while they loaded and fired.” One officer stated “Jeb impressed himself on the infantry.” [17]

Some believed that Stuart should have been appointed to command Second Corps after Jackson’s death, but evidently Lee valued Stuart’s role as a cavalry commander more and despite his accomplishments refused to proffer the command to Stuart. Colonel Rosser told Stuart, who was grieving the loss of his friend Jackson “On his death bed Jackson said that you should succeed him, and command his corps.” Stuart responded “I would rather know that Jackson said that, than to have the appointment.” [18] One wonders what might have occurred during the Gettysburg campaign if Stuart had commanded Second Corps and left the cavalry to someone like the accomplished and level headed Wade Hampton.

Stuart was mortally wounded less than a year after Gettysburg at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, upon his death Hampton was promoted to command what was left of the Cavalry Corps.



Brigadier General Wade Hampton C.S.A. 

Brigadier General Wade Hampton is one of the fascinating and complex characters in either army who served at Gettysburg. He defies a one dimensional treatment or stereotype. His complexities, contradictions and character make him one of the most interesting men that I have written about during my study of this battle.

Wade Hampton III was one of the richest, if not the richest man in the Confederacy when the war broke out. He had inherited his family’s expansive plantation and many slaves and studied law at the College of South Carolina. As a slave owner he expressed an aversion for the institution, ensured that his slaves were well cared for by the standards of his day, including medical care, he never condemned slavery or worked for the abolition of a system that had made him and his family quite prosperous. He served in the South Carolina legislature and Senate, where he took an “active and prominent role in the public debate on many issues. He was vocal not only on the perils of reopening the African slave trade but also on whether and how his state should seek redress of wrongs, real and imagined, by the federal government.” [19]

As a state senator Hampton was pragmatic, and while he defended the South’s economic interests in slavery, Hampton cautioned against the rhetoric of secessionist fire-breathers. His argument was about “the preservation of the South’s political power and her social and economic institutions, now threatened by the short sighted policies of otherwise good and decent men.” [20] He did not wish to do anything that would lead to the destruction of the South, and he felt that the “only viable course was moderation, conciliation, compromise….” [21]

Hampton was a classic rich “Southern moderate He had opposed secession, and the fire eaters repulsed him.” [22] However, when Lincoln called for volunteers Hampton volunteered to serve in a war that he did not want, which would cost him dearly, and change him from a moderate to a vociferous opponent of most Reconstructionist policies.

Volunteering at the age of forty-three, Hampton had no prior military training. However, he had great organizational skill, leadership ability and a tremendous care and compassion for those who served under his command. Using his own money Hampton organized what would now be called a combined arms unit, the Hampton Legion, which comprised eight companies of infantry, four of cavalry and a battery of light artillery. He was careful in the appointment of the Legion’s officers choosing the best he could find.

Hampton rapidly rose to prominence as a respected officer and commander despite his lack of military training or experience. His soldiers fought well and took over command of an infantry brigade on the Peninsula, and was promoted to Brigadier General in May of 1862 and given command of a cavalry brigade serving under J.E.B. Stuart in July and he “became Stuart’s finest subordinate.” [23] As a brigade, and later division commander, Hampton had “little fondness or respect for Stuart. He regularly criticized Stuart for pampering the Virginia regiments and assigning his South Carolinians to the more arduous tasks.” [24]

During the war he was wounded several times, including at             Gettysburg where he took two sabre cuts to the head. Eventually he took command of the Cavalry Corps after Stuart was killed in action. He fought in nearly every cavalry engagement under Stuart and led his own raids deep into Union territory. He fought well, but “hated the war. In October 1862 he wrote home: “My heart has grown sick of the war, & I long for peace.” [25] Hampton was “one of only three civilians to attain the rank of Lieutenant General in Confederate service.” [26]At Petersburg his son Preston was mortally wounded and died in his arms even as his other son Wade IV was wounded when coming to Preston’s aid. Douglass South Freeman wrote of Hampton:

“Untrained in arms and abhorring war, the South Carolina planter had proved himself the peer of any professional soldier commanding within the same bounds and opportunities. He may not have possessed military genius, but he had the nearest approach to it.” [27]

The war that he opposed cost him the life of his brother, one of his sons and his livelihood. “His property destroyed, many of his slaves gone, and deep in debt from which he would never recover, Hampton faced the future with $1.75 in his pocket.” [28] The war changed the former moderate into a man who sought vindication in some ways, but reconciliation with the black population.

Hampton again entered politics and became the first post-Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina when President Rutherford Hayes withdrew the Federal troops which had supported the Reconstructionist governor. During his campaign and during his terms as Governor, Hampton “opposed the South’s imposition of so-called “black codes” which so restricted the freedom of former slaves as virtually to return them to civility.” [29] Unlike many in the post-reconstruction South Hampton won the thanks of African Americans for condemning whites that would vote for him if they thought that he would “stand between him and the law, or grant him any privileges or immunities that shall not be granted to the colored man.” [30]

Hampton came to dominate South Carolina politics for fifteen years, after two terms as Governor he served as a U.S. Senator until 1891 when a political enemy won the governorship and forced him from the Senate. When he died on April 11th1902 his final words were “God bless my people, black and white.” [31]

Like so many leaders of so many tumultuous eras, Hampton was complex and cannot be easily classified. He was certainly not perfect, but in war and in peace gave of himself to his state and community.

Rooney Lee


Brigadier General William Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee C.S.A.

Brigadier General William Fitzhugh Lee, who went by his nickname “Rooney” to distinguish himself from his cousin Fitzhugh Lee, was the second son of Robert E. Lee. He was educated at Harvard and received a direct commission into the Army in 1857, which he resigned in 1859 to manage the White House planation which had been left to him by his grandfather. When war came Lee volunteered for service and was named Colonel of the 9th Virginia Cavalry earning the trust and respect of Stuart and the quiet admiration of his father.

Rooney Lee was promoted to Brigadier General in September 1862 and was wounded at the Battle of Brandy Station as the Gettysburg campaign began and while convalescing was captured by Union forces. He was replaced by Colonel John R. Chambliss, an 1853 graduate of West Point who had left the army after a short amount of active service prior to the war. He was viewed as a competent cavalry tactician and “there was no perceptible anxiety when “Rooney” Lee’s brigade came under Chambliss’ command.” [32]

He was paroled and exchanged in March of 1864. He was promoted to Major General in April 1864 and served until his surrender with the army at Appomattox. After the war he would return to farming and serve in the Virginia legislature and as a Congressman.



Brigadier General Beverly Roberson C.S.A.

Brigadier General Beverly Roberson was a native Virginian who graduated from West Point in 1849. Most of his service was spent on the frontier with the Second Dragoons where for part of his service he served under command of J.E.B. Stuart’s father-in-law Colonel Philip St. George Cooke who “commended him repeatedly in dispatches.” [33]

Robertson was a veteran of much Indian service and “in person the embodiment of the fashionable French cavalry officer of the time.” [34] Robertson was dismissed from the U.S. Army in August 1861 when it was discovered that he had accepted an appointment in the Confederate army in April 1861.

Robertson’s Confederate service was less than distinguished. He never meshed with Jackson when he commanded Jackson’s cavalry, and Stuart was less than impressed when Robertson’s brigade was assigned to his command. During the Second Manassas campaign Stuart observed Robertson’s less than stellar performance, and his centrality to “so many cavalry quarrels” convinced Stuart that the old regular army veteran and West Pointer “must go. Within a month Robertson was transferred. He would finally go, as one of Stuart’s staff noted, “much to the joy of all concerned.” [35]

Robertson and his brigade were transferred to North Carolina, but returned to the Army of Northern Virginia to participate in the Gettysburg campaign. It was far too easy for Lee to obtain. D.H. Hill commanding in North Carolina “characterized Robertson’s command as “wonderfully inefficient,” [36] and Robertson would prove that again in the coming campaign where he would fail “miserably in his primary duty.” [37] After Gettysburg Robertson was relieved and reassigned to the Department of South Carolina where he served with little distinction until the end of the war.

Fitzhugh Lee


Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee C.S.A.

Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee was a nephew of both Robert E. Lee and Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper. He “graduated forty-fifth in a class of forty-nine at West Point in 1856.” [38] He was wounded on the frontier and was an instructor at West Point when Virginia seceded. He resigned his commission and was appointed as a Captain. Through his friendship with Stuart he was promoted to Colonel and given command of the First Virginia Cavalry after Grumble Jones was reassigned to the 7th Virginia. He and Stuart “shared a frolicsome nature and hearty laughter, but Lee’s abilities as a horse soldier were limited.” [39]

Wade Hampton held Lee in low regard, and Hampton believed that that Lee was representative of the “most objectionable qualities of the Virginia aristocrat – vanity, ostentation, pomposity, and condensation.” [40] Despite a condition which includes arthritis which hampers him he “fights hard and learns much of the art of command.” [41] He serves until the end of the war, finally surrendering his command in North Carolina.

After the war Fitz Lee enters politics, is elected governor of Virginia and following his defeat in attempting to become U.S. Senator was appointed as counsel-general in Havana by President Grover Cleveland. When the United States went to war with Spain, Lee was appointed as a Major General of Volunteers and serves honorably. Wade Hampton, whose regard for Lee did not increase during the war told his son Albert, who had volunteered to serve on Lee’s staff “Under no circumstances would he have a sin of his ever serve under “such an imperious blowhard as Robert E. Lee’s nephew continued to be.” [42] Lee was retired from the United States Army in 1901 with the rank of Brigadier General and died in Washington D.C. on April 28th 1905.

“Grumble” Jones


Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones C.S.A.

Another of the old army cavalrymen to serve under Stuart was Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones. Jones was an 1848 graduate of West Point and served on the frontier. In 1852 he and his new bride were in a shipwreck, and she was swept out of his arms and drowned. “Jones never recovered in spirit. Embittered, complaining, suspicious he resigned from the army” [43] in 1857 and returned to Virginia.

Jones raised a company at the beginning of the war, and served under Stuart at First Manassas, and from the beginning took a dislike to his young superior. He grumbled to his men that he “would take no orders from that young whippersnapper.” [44] When Stuart was promoted he was made Colonel of the 1stVirginia Cavalry. The assignment did not go well for him. His loathing for Stuart grew and one officer wrote that it “ripened afterwards into as genuine hatred as I ever remembered to have seen.” [45] His hatred of Stuart expanded into a hatred for his Lieutenant Colonel, Fitzhugh Lee, who was a close friend of Stuart. Jones was unpopular with the regiment and Lee much admired and the situation became so bad that Jones was reassigned to command the 7th Virginia Cavalry. Jones performed well in this duty, well enough to warrant promotion and he was promoted to Brigadier General in September 1862. The promotion allowed Lee to send Jones to serve in the Shenandoah Valley away from Stuart since their relationship was so toxic and Jones’s hatred of Stuart “bordered on pathological.”[46]

The need for cavalry for the upcoming invasion of Pennsylvania forced Lee to bring Jones and his command back to the Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart expressed his misgiving to Lee but was given no choice in the matter. Since Jones “had the biggest brigade in the division and had the reputation of being the “best outpost officer” [47] Stuart solved his problem by leaving Jones with Robertson to guard the passes of the Blue Ridge.

After Gettysburg Jones clashed again with Stuart over not being recommend for promotion when the division became a corps. The affair was so explosive and Jones reportedly “cursed him venomously” [48] an offense so great that Stuart had him arrested and court-martialed. The court found him guilty, and although Lee had great respect for Jones’s abilities as a brigade commander he wrote to Jefferson Davis:

“I consider General Jones a brave and intelligent officer, but his feelings have become so opposed to General Stuart that I have lost all hope of his being useful in the cavalry here… He has been tried by court-martial for disrespect and the proceedings are now in Richmond. I understand he says he will no longer serve under Stuart and I do not think it advantageous for him to do so.” [49]

Jones was assigned to command in Southwestern Virginia where “organized a cavalry brigade and rendered excellent service.” [50] In June of 1864, his understrength command was defeated and he was killed at the Battle of Piedmont. Douglas Southall Freeman called his death “a tragic end to a tragic life.” [51]



General Albert G. Jenkins C.S.A.

General Albert G. Jenkins was another anomaly in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was a native of the far western county of Virginia, Cabell County which was one of the six counties to secede from Virginia after Virginia seceded from the Union. He had no previous military training and like many of the Confederate volunteer officers was a lawyer and politician before the war. At the outset of the war he raised a company of volunteer cavalry from that area, which grew to become the 8th Virginia Cavalry.

Jenkins was promoted to Brigadier General and he and three regiments of his brigade were requisitioned by Lee for the invasion of Pennsylvania. The brigade was badly needed but the troops “had not been well schooled in cavalry tactics or in hard fighting at close quarters. Some had the complex of home guards, and some preferred the life of a guerilla to that of a trooper, but many were good raw material” [52] who Lee hoped could be wielded into a good cavalry force.

Jenkins was wounded on July 2nd in an action east of Gettysburg and his brigade was commanded by a subordinate during the final cavalry clash on July 3rd 1863. Jenkins and his brigade returned to the Valley where he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain in May of 1864.

Attached or Staff Officers: Imboden, Pendleton and Trimble



Brigadier General John Imboden C.S.A.

Brigadier General John Imboden commanded a cavalry brigade which operated independently of Stuart’s division during the campaign. Imboden had no prior military experience before the war. He was a graduate of Washington College and a lawyer in Staunton Virginia. He raised a volunteer battery of light artillery, occupied “Harpers Ferry less than thirty hours after Virginia’s secession from the Union.” [53]

Imboden fought at Manassas where he and his battery gave a respectable performance. After Manassas Imboden raised another unit, “the 1st Virginia Partisan Rangers (later called the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry)” [54] and operated primarily in the valley and western Virginia. His command expanded in size and he was promoted to Brigadier General in January 1862.

His command during the Gettysburg campaign included the 18th Virginia Cavalry, the previously mentioned 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry, a battery of artillery and several other partisan units. Imboden and his unit had been on “irregular, detached duty, and many of his men had recently been recruited, some from the infantry service.[55] Imboden’s “brigade” was “more an assortment of armed riders even more unruly and untrained than Jenkins’ and possessing a well-developed proclivity to rob civilians, especially of their horses.” [56] However, they were useful for foraging and guarding supply bases and wagon trains during the march north. It was of dubious value in fighting “pitched battles with veteran enemy cavalry” [57] and would not be used in that capacity. Lee and Stuart did understand the limitations of such irregular formations.

Pendleton and Trimble – Generals Without Commands

During the march north Imboden’s command slipped away and when found was discovered to be “resting idly at Hancock Maryland, more than fifty miles from Chambersburg When this became known it was to provoke the wrath of Lee as did few events of the war.” [58] Imboden and his brigade served well during the army’s withdraw from Gettysburg, protecting the wounded and the trains. Overall Imboden was not well respected by Lee, Stuart or Early who he later served under and the brigade was not an effective fighting force. As such Lee sent it back to the Valley after Gettysburg.



Brigadier General William Pendleton C.S.A. 

Brigadier General William Pendleton graduated fifth in his class at west Point in 1830, in the class behind Robert E. Lee and was commissioned as an artillery officer. He spent little time on active service and spent most of his active duty in hospitals battling the effects of “fever, nausea, and paralyzed limbs from an illness that may have been yellow fever.” [59] He resigned his commission in 1833, became a teacher and then entered the ministry as an Episcopal Priest. He pastored Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington where after John Brown’s raid he was asked to assist and train some men who had formed a battery of artillery. When war came he was elected Captain of the battery and served at First Manassas. Joseph Johnston appointed Pendleton as Chief of Artillery as he does have a certain amount of organizational skill, and “Johnston appointed him to the post more for his administrative ability, not for his tactical control of cannon on the battlefield.” [60]

When Lee took command he kept Pendleton in the position, in large part due to their friendship and spiritual connection as Episcopalians. As an artillery commander Pendleton showed his limitations during the Malvern Hill, Antietam and Chancellorsville, all of which harmed Confederate efforts on the battlefield. A junior officer remarked: “Pendleton is Lee’s weakness…. He is like the elephant, we have him and we don’t know what on earth to do with him, and it costs a devil of a sight to feed him.” [61]

His miserable performance “makes the younger men of the artillery wonder if he has the basic qualities of command.” [62]As such Lee removed him from command and returned him to his staff position and his “impatient subordinates hoped that would sever him from any combat role.” [63] At Gettysburg, Pendleton’s interference in moving the artillery trains to the rear and repositioning batteries without informing Porter Alexander, would again prove harmful to Confederate efforts.

Pendleton’s relationship with Lee, and his impact as a spiritual leader kept him with the army, today it would be argued that such a man should have been the senior chaplain of the army rather than remain in any form of combatant role. He did have a major effect on many leaders and soldiers as a source of spiritual encouragement. In fact, he “played such an invaluable role in the spiritual well-being of the army, travelling throughout the army and offering Divine Liturgy so frequently that Lee was loath to remove him as artillery chief, even when more accomplished and capable officers were available.” [64] A junior officer remarked: Pendleton was with Lee at Appomattox and after the war the two remained close, Pendleton helping to secure Lee’s appointment at Washington College and Lee serving on the vestry of Pendleton’s parish. When Lee died it was Pendleton who conducted the last rights as the family gathered around Lee’s deathbed. [65]



Major General Isaac Trimble C.S.A.

Major General Isaac Trimble was a General without a command. One of the oldest Confederate Generals at Gettysburg, William “Extra Billy” Smith was older, Trimble graduated from West Point in 1822 and served as a lieutenant of artillery for ten years. He resigned in 1832 and spent the years before the war “as engineer for a succession of Eastern and Southern roads then being constructed.” [66] At the time of secession “Trimble was general superintendent of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, and Marylanders regarded him as one of their most distinguished citizens.” [67] He immediately went to Virginia and was appointed as a Colonel of Engineers and was rapidly promoted to Brigadier General. At First Manassas it was his skill with railroads that enabled the troops from the Valley to join with P.T.G. Beauregard’s forces, it was “an assignment that would have overtaxed the ingenuity of any railroad man.” [68] Likewise, it was the first and last time that the Confederacy would use railroads to their fullest advantage.

Trimble led a brigade of Ewell’s division with great verve and skill during the Valley campaign, during the Seven Days and Cedar Mountain. One officer remarked that “there was enough fight in old man Trimble to satisfy a herd of tigers.” [69] His abilities were such that Stonewall Jackson “had him ticked for future command of his own division.” [70] However his was severely wounded at Second Manassas and still convalescing when Lee named Allegheny Johnson to command Jackson’s old division.

Having recovered Trimble was given command of the forces that were to protect Lee’s supply line in the Shenandoah Valley, but “when he reached his new post he found no troops.” [71] This would have deterred or discouraged many an officer, but Trimble wasted no time and riding alone sought out Lee and reported to the army commander at Chambersburg on June 27th 1863. Lee who admired Trimble’s aggressiveness sent him on to Ewell, who he had previously served under as “as a sort of general officer without portfolio.” [72] The old but fiery general would get his chance in battle commanding Pender’s old division during Pickett’s Charge. Badly wounded in the assault he never commands again. He survived the war and died in 1888.

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would go into the Gettysburg Campaign with two new and untried corps commanders. Of nine infantry division commanders four were new to division command and another who had never commanded a division in combat. “At brigade level more than one third of the commanders lacked serious combat experience,” [73] of the infantry brigade commanders First Corps was in the best shape with ten of eleven assigned commanders having experience in command at that level, and most were of sound reputation and seasoned by combat. Second Corps was worse off, with six of thirteen assigned brigade commanders new to command, and two of the experienced brigade commanders were not competent to command at that level. Third Corps had nine of its thirteen commanders who had experience as brigade commanders; however, one of them, Brockenbrough was of little value despite being experienced. The Cavalry division too was a mixed bag of solid commanders, especially Wade Hampton but it too suffered its share of less than effective leaders and formations.

Douglas Southall Freeman wrote that the reorganization necessitated by the losses:

“involved an admixture of new units with old, it broke up many associations of long standing, and it placed veteran regiments of a large part of the army under men who were unacquainted with the soldiers and methods of General Lee. The same magnificent infantry were ready to obey Lee’s orders, but many of their superior officers were untried and were nervous in their new responsibilities.” [74]

Had the new commanders had been given a chance to work together in their new command assignments, especially those who had been promoted and or working with new subordinates or superiors before going into action, Lee might have achieved better results. But as Lee told Hood “this army would be invincible if…” In May and June of 1863 Lee did not believe that he had time to do this.

As we know, “if” is the biggest two letter word in the English language, and these men, as Barbara Tuchman noted would be “made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.”

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

[2] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p.20

[3] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.356

[4] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.27

[5] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.xxv

[6] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.101

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.149

[8] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.167

[9] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.158

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

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

[12] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.92

[13] Ibid. Taylor General Lee p.92

[14] Longacre, Edward G. Gentleman and Soldier: The Extraordinary Life of General Wade Hampton Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville TN 2003 p.83

[15] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.264

[16] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.255

[17] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.198

[18] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.299

[19] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier pp.26-27

[20] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.28

[21] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.28

[22] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.399

[23] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.64

[24] Ibid. Glatthaar, General Lee’s Army p.352

[25] Ibid. Goldfield, America Aflame p.399

[26] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.123

[27] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.770

[28] Ibid. Goldfield, America Aflame p.399

[29] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.265

[30] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.265

[31] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.276

[32] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.365

[33] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.259

[34] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.286

[35] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.159

[36] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.57

[37] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.227

[38] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.178

[39] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.64

[40] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier pp.84-85

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

[42] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.275

[43] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.427

[44] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.54

[45] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.427

[46] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.15

[47] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.111

[48] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.352

[49] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.352

[50] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.167

[51] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.723

[52] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.532

[53] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, & the Pennsylvania Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.81

[54] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.147

[55] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.306

[56] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.17

[57] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.17

[58] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.551

[59] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.371

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

[61] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.373

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

[63] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.57

[64] Ibid. Glatthaar, General Lee’s Army p.239

[65] Ibid. Thomas Robert E. Lee p.415

[66] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.147

[67] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.129

[68] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.173

[69] Ibid. Pfanz Ewell p.152

[70] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.129

[71] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.129

[72] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.130

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

[74] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.30

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


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

I hope you enjoy. Please be safe.


Padre Steve+ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[15] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.170

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 4

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have just gotten back from another trip with my students to Gettysburg, and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.


Padre Steve+


Major General Robert Rodes, C.S.A.

It would not be until the evening of the 2nd that Ewell’s troops went into action against the now very well entrenched, but depleted, Federal Forces on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill. The assaults began on Cemetery Hill where Jubal Early’s division attacked forces along the north and east section of the hill. This attack was to have been supported by Robert Rodes’ division on the west.

However as with most of the Confederate offensive actions of the battle this too fell apart as Rodes division provided no support to Early’s attack. Edwin Coddington explained that Rodes “did not give himself enough time to get his big division into formation for the attack. By the time he had completed the complicated maneuver of wheeling his brigades forty-five degrees to the left and advancing them half a mile to a good place from which to charge up Cemetery Hill the battle was over.” [1] However, this explanation gives Rodes too much of a pass, although he indeed failed to properly prepare for the attack, he decided not to attack based on the discretion given to him in Ewell’s orders.

Rodes’s division had lost about forty percent of its strength in the disastrous attack on Oak Ridge on July 1st. “Perhaps still shaken from the near disaster the day before, Rodes displayed a lack of diligence and energy which was untypical of his career, civilian or as a soldier.” [2] Robert Rodes was under general instructions from Ewell to support the attacks, which gave him some latitude in decided when and where to do so. As a result he “had been very careful and cautious in marching his men out of Gettysburg and into line across from the northwest corner of Cemetery Hill.” [3] Likewise, he “seems to have greatly underestimated how long it would take to move his five brigades out of Gettysburg and deploy them to the west of the town for an assault.” [4] His two leading brigades, those of Stephen Ramseur and George Doles which had distinguished themselves the previous day, “had covered about half an mile toward the enemy’s line when, in dusk, the two young brigadiers got a good and very sobering look at the Federal position.” [5] Rodes had given tactical command of the advance, and the final say in deciding on the attack, to Ramseur, an aggressive officer “who nonetheless paled when he saw the strength of the enemy defenses.” [6] When his brigade “came within six hundred feet of the Union line, the moonlight was apparently strong enough for Ramseur to observe the great strength of the position: batteries ready to pour “direct, cross, and enfilade fires” upon his lines, and two supporting rows of infantry well protected by stone walls and breastworks.” [7] Alfred Iverson, who had contributed to the disaster the day before claimed “we were advancing to our destruction.” [8]

This was enough for Ramseur who consulted with George Doles and Iverson, and told Rodes of their findings. “When Doles concurred with Ramseur in this report, Rodes cancelled the attack,” [9] and “deferring the attack until daylight.” [10] As the time was past when he could support Early, whose brigades had now ceased their attack, Rodes decided “it would be useless sacrifice of life to go on.” [11]

Despite the failure of Latimer’s barrage, and Rodes’s decision not to attack, “Johnson and Early rushed their men into action as if relieved that the tension of the long wait was over,” [12] and both would meet with bloody failure.

Storm on Cemetery Hill: Early’s Attack

Like the rest of Second Corps, Jubal Early’s division had waited throughout the day for the word to advance. Early had placed the brigades of Colonel Isaac Avery, who was commanding Hoke’s brigade, and Brigadier General Harry Hay’s Louisiana brigade, “in a protected position north of the town, from which they could easily storm cemetery Hill.” [13] He also moved John Gordon’s brigade into a supporting position while leaving “Extra Billy” Smith’s brigade to cover the Confederate rear along the York Road.


Assault on Cemetery Hill

It was Early’s division which came the closest to breaking the Union line and seizing the all-important position on Cemetery Hill. His line, with Avery left and Hays on the right, “some 3,500 men in all, stretched east from the town across the fields to within a short distance from Rock Creek. As Johnson closed in on Culp’s Hill around eight o’clock. Early began to whip his men into motion.” [14] Early put Hays in tactical command of the two brigades Hays exhorted his men, including the famed Louisiana Tigers, with the challenge that Early had ordered “the Louisianans and …North Carolinians to take the guns on the hill.” [15] But some of his officers, including Lieutenant Warren Jackson, “who had been on the skirmish line most of the day was not assured; he felt as though his fate had been sealed.” [16]

But some Union troops along the line had become complacent, assuming that the defeat of Latimer’s artillery at Brenner’s Hill meant that the threat had passed. One Union soldier wrote, “We did not expect any assault,” and “could not have been more surprised if the moving column had raised up out of the ground amid the waving timothy grass of the meadow.” [17]

From their starting positions outside Gettysburg, Early’s forces had to make a giant wheel to their right to strike the Federal line on East Cemetery Hill. Hays’s Louisiana regiments “extended out from the pivot of the wheel. Isaac Avery’s three North Carolina regiments, on the outer edge of the wheel had longer to march.” [18] The two brigades began their advance and were immediately assailed by the massed Federal artillery batteries on Cemetery Hill. Charles Wainwright wrote that the Hays’s Confederates “marched straight out of the town, and then facing to their right rushed for the hill.” [19] A Federal artilleryman described the advance, “When they came into full view in Culp’s meadow our artillery…opened on them with all the guns that could be brought to bear. But on, still on, they came, moving steadily to the assault, soon the infantry opened fire, but they never faltered.” [20]

The Confederates faced a fusillade of artillery fire from the guns of First and Eleventh Corps. Captain Michael Wiedrich’s Battery I, 1st New York, “closest to the Louisianans, went to canister almost immediately. Before long all the batteries were firing canister, then double canister. When they ran out of canister they fired case shot without fuzes, the missiles exploding as they left the muzzles.” [21]  However, much of the fire had little effect as the guns could not be depressed enough and many rounds went over the heads of the Confederates, protecting them from an even greater slaughter. Avery’s North Carolina troops suffered worse as they had more open ground to cover and Avery himself was killed early in the advance.

The hill “was ascended through the wide ravine between Cemetery and Culp’s hills,” and “a line of infantry on the slopes was broken,” [22] and “Hays’s men moved straight up the hill, taking three successive positions.” [23] The Union troops in this section of the line were the survivors of Barlow’s division now commanded by Adelbert Ames who manned a thin line along a stone wall near the base of the hill. Numbering just over 1,000 men the division held a line along the base of the hill along the Brickyard lane. The thin line was quickly overwhelmed in many places after a brief fight, while many accused the Germans of fleeing at the first sight of the enemy, some units gave a good account, the 17th Connecticut and 75th Ohio on the right of Harris’s Brigade occupied a spot of high ground from which they were not moved by the Confederates. However, the 107th and 25th Ohio occupying a salient at the extreme north of the Union line were overwhelmed after a brief but fierce fight. Soon “Ames’s brigades were dissolving into an uncontrollable spray of fugitives or inconsequential knots of resistance in the lane, as the rebel tide flowed beyond them.” [24]

cemetery hill

Soon the Louisiana Tigers were among the Federal artillery batteries and fierce hand to fighting raged among the guns and the Union gunners refused to withdraw. The Germans of Wiedrich’s and Rickett’s batteries went toe to toe with the Louisianans and North Carolinians who had gain the summit, and “Wiedrich’s men defended their guns with courage.” [25] As one of “Hay’s Louisiana Tigers confidently threw himself onto the muzzle of a Napoleon, he shouted, I take command of this gun! A German gunner with the piece’s lanyard in his hand replied, Du sollst sie haben (it was a line from a German birthday song – you can have it) and blew the rebel to smoking bits.”  [26] The German gunners fought with such tenacity that Charles Wainwright, a frequent critic of the German units wrote, “the men of “I” Battery, also Germans, fought splendidly, sticking to their guns and finally driving the rebs out with their hand spikes and fence rails.” [27] So it went along the gun line as the Union gunners fought the Confederate infantry matching pikes, rammers, pistols and sabers against the Confederate riflemen, but soon the guns were silent and it appeared “for one incredible moment, as Hays reported, “every piece of artillery which had been firing on us was silenced,” and two Confederate brigades possessed the enemy stronghold.” [28] But the apparent triumph would not last long.

“In the crisis the performance of Howard and Schurz showed up well.” [29] Seeing the chaos on Cemetery Hill, Oliver Howard and Carl Schurz reacted to this with alacrity and ordered Colonel Wladimir Krzyzanowski to take the 119th and 58th New York regiments “at double quick the short distance across the Baltimore Pike to Wiedrich’s battery…. The 119th New York, less than 200 strong…made a “vigorous rush” against the Louisiana interlopers and swept them down the hill. When they reached the base, Krzyzanowski’s men flopped down and Wiedrich’s guns belched canister at the fleeing Confederates.” [30] Howard also had the foresight to ask “for supporting troops from the Second Corps,” a request “Hancock had anticipated by sending out Carroll with most of his brigade, but with “no precise orders” about where he was to go.” [31] Hancock had heard the sound of heavy firing Hancock reacted, he recalled “I heard the crack of musketry on Howard’s front…. Recognizing the importance to the whole army of holding the threatened positions, I directed General Gibbon to send a brigade instantly to Gen’l Howard’s assistance.” [32] The sense of both Generals to order this movement as a precaution proved to be a decision that ensured that Cemetery Hill would remain in Union hands.


Colonel Samuel Carroll

The brigade was commanded by Colonel Samuel Carroll, it was a crack unit, known as the Gibraltar Brigade, aside from the Iron Brigade, the only “Western” brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Carroll was one of the best brigade commanders in the Army of the Potomac. Carroll graduated near the bottom of the West Point class of 1856 and spent four years on the frontier before being assigned as a quartermaster at West Point and took command of the 8th Ohio in the fall of 1861. He soon was a brigade commander but at Gettysburg was still a Colonel, despite this he was a man of action and rapidly moved the brigade exactly where with was needed the most. Carrol had a full head of brick-red hair, which garnered him the name Old Brick Top. His personality and leadership style was such that it “often reminded people of his manic-aggressive division commander, Alex Hays, and this occasion was no exception.” [33]

Coming over from the west side of Cemetery Ridge the brigade appeared in the moonlight to Hays as a shadowy indistinguishable mass. Since Hays expect that Rodes’s troops might be moving in from the west, or Longstreet’s from the south. He was unsure of who the advancing troops were, and how many were advancing towards him. He wrote in his after action report, “I reserved my fire, from the uncertainty of this being a force of the enemy or of our own men, as I had been cautioned to expect friends both in front, to the right and to the left.” [34]

With little direction form either Hancock or Howard, “Carroll trotted him men in column…. He skillfully positioned his men in the dark for the attack, facing obliquely to the left and uphill. The debris of early fighting made it difficult to advance on a wide front, so Carroll placed the 14th Indiana in the advance and stacked up the other two regiments (the 7th West Virginia and 4th Ohio) behind it.” [35] Carroll had a booming voice and he called out to his troops “in a voice that was heard all over East Cemetery Hill: “Halt! Front Face! Charge bayonets! Forward, double-quick! March! Give them Hell!” [36]

The brigade charged the Confederates and “struck Hoke’s brigade and pushed it back. At the same moment some men from Hays’s brigade opened a brisk fire on his left flank from behind a stone wall. Carroll quickly had the 7th West Virginia change from and drive the Louisianans away.” [37] Even so the fight was fierce, “there was a confused sound of pounding feet and colliding human bodies, grunts, yells and curses and a crackling of rifle fire – and the last of the Confederates were driven out.” [38]

Though Early achieved some success his division was repulsed and the threat to the Union gun-line on Cemetery Hill was ending. “Hays, already staggered by three unanswered volleys – the third was especially destructive, delivered at such close range – gave the order at last for his men to return the fire.” [39] His troops fought back but he realized that no help was coming either from Rodes, or Gordon, whose brigade was withheld by Early when he realized that Rodes was not attacking, believing that it “would been a useless sacrifice.” [40] Without support and threatened by more Federal troops, Hays gave the order to withdraw. As one author noted, “Courage and determination could not offset superior numbers and fresh troops. With no help coming and enemy units swarming around them, all those Rebels who were still under some command and control began to fall back.” [41]


Early’s attack which had been so promising ended in failure and would be the subject of controversy after the battle and after the war. Rodes’s failure to support his attack on Cemetery Hill, “angered Jubal Early, and he did not mince words about it. In his report, Early complained: “No attack was made on the immediate right, and not meeting with support from that quarter, these brigades could not hold the position that they had attained.” [42]

Whether the Confederates could have taken the position had Rodes delivered his attack is another matter which can only be speculative in nature. Had Rodes and Gordon supported the attack, had Ewell better coordinated with A.P. Hill in order to have Pender’s division support the attack, it might have succeeded Like the earlier Confederate failures of the past two days the issue came down to command and control, coordination, and vague orders. “Ewell had no control over his corps. Three division commanders were coordinating without a central control – and one failed.” [43] Likewise, there is no question that “if Rodes had been able to mount an attack in conjunction with Early, which under the circumstances would have been a miracle of generalship, the defenders of Cemetery Hill would have had a hard time of it.” [44] But the failure of Ewell and his division commanders to coordinate the attack speaks volumes about “the uncoordinated command style that had become Robert E. Lee’s habit, and for the paralyzing evaporation of initiative that crept over the senior generals of the Army of Northern Virginia the longer and deeper they remained in the unfamiliar environment of Pennsylvania.” [45]


[1] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command pp.429-430

[2] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.237

[3] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.407

[4] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.341

[5] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.238

[6] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.407

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.439

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.344

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.341

[10] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.439

[11] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.238

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.233

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.430

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.435

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.339

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.236

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.339

[18] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.334

[19] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.245

[20] Ibid. Gottfried  The Artillery of Gettysburg p.169

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.334

[22] Hunt, Henry. 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, Secaucus NJ p.312

[23] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.235

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.340

[25] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.269

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.342

[27] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle pp.246-246

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.236

[29] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[30] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.272

[31] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[32] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.339

[33] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.343

[34] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W. editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.163

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.56

[36] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.339

[37] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[38] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.303

[39] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.519

[40] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.340

[41] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.409

[42] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.281

[43] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.239

[44] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.440

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.344

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Culp’s and Cemetery Hill Pt 2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am traveling with my students to Gettysburg this weekend and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.


Padre Steve+


Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, C.S.A

During the day of July second little happened on Ewell’s front, an officer in Maryland Steuart’s brigade wrote “Greatly did officers and men marvel as morning, noon, and afternoon passed in inaction – on our part, not the enemy’s, for, as we well knew, he was plying axe and pick and shovel….” [1] . Though he had persuaded General Lee to leave his troops in place in order to assist Longstreet’s attack if the situation permitted, Ewell remained mostly inactive on July second with the exception of some skirmishing and a battle between the Stonewall Brigade and Gregg’s division of Federal Cavalry on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge about two and a half miles east of the town.

Lee was becoming more frustrated at the inaction of his corps commanders, and wanted Ewell to be able to support Longstreet’s attack, desire it to “make a simultaneous demonstration upon the enemy’s right, to be converted into a real attack should opportunity offer.” [2] But Ewell and his division commanders who had opposed the attack the previous evening, still were against it. Despite his misgivings, Ewell had been stung by Lee’s criticism the night before, and “was eager to make a redemptive showing today.” [3] Accordingly after his meeting with Lee around nine a.m. he began to position his units for the diversion that he hoped would turn into an opportunity to attack. After his conversation with Lee, Ewell “suffered between fear of another failure and an inner goad to commit his troops to action. His unsettled state could not have been helped by the long wait for the sound of Longstreet’s guns, which frayed the nerves.” [4]

Second Corps was deployed in a rough semi-circle to the east, north, and west of Culp’s and Cemetery Hill. The four brigades of Allegheny Johnson’s division which had not been present on the first day of battle occupied the area to the east of Culp’s Hill north of the Hanover Road. From there its skirmishers occasionally clashed with Federal skirmishers, while otherwise spending an uneventful day.

Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson was an old regular army officer. Johnson was born in Salisbury, Virginia in 1816. He was a graduate of the West Point class of 1838 along with P.T.G. Beauregard and Irvin McDowell. Johnson had a solid record of service in the old Army, he served in the Seminole Wars 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.

Johnson resigned his commission when Virginia seceded from the Union and was appointed Colonel of the 12th Georgia Infantry. [5] He was promoted to Brigadier General in December 1861. Johnson commanded a brigade sized force with the grand name of “the Army of the Northwest” which fell under the command of Stonewall Jackson.[6] He held the crest of the Allegheny Mountains so well with his small force that he was given the “nom de guerre “Allegheny” Johnson.” [7] Johnson 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 rather “curious, somewhat uncouth, and strangely fascinating man” [8] who made the most of his convalescence in Richmond, making pass after pass, and occasional proposals to women about town. He was a favorite of Stonewall Jackson who insisted that he be promoted to Major General and be given command of a division.

The division that Johnson took over was the former division of Jackson, and “many of these regiments had fought in “Stonewall” Jackson’s original division, and the troops enjoyed an spirit as exalted as their combat record.” [9] When Ewell was promoted to command Second Corps after Jackson’s death following the Battle of Chancellorsville Johnson was named as commander. Despite his wealth of experience in the pre-war army and service with Jackson in the Valley, Johnson was an outsider to the division and he commanded men “who knew him by reputation only.”[10] Like so many other Confederate division commanders at Gettysburg he had never before commanded a division, so he came to the position “with no real experience above the brigade level.” Likewise he was “unfamiliar with the qualities and limitations of his four new brigadiers,” [11] having served with none of them prior to the Gettysburg campaign. Two, “Maryland” Steuart, and James Walker were experienced brigade commanders, J.M. Jones was a former regular who due to problems with alcohol had only served in staff positions before being promoted to command a brigade, and Colonel Jesse Williams, a regimental commander with little experience had taken a brigade as there was no one else qualified.

Despite this, Johnson became quite popular with his men. Because Johnson walked with a limp and used a long staff to help him walk, it was said that: “his boys sometimes call him “Old Club.” [12] As a division commander “Johnson developed a reputation that when he threw his troops into battle, then struck with the punch of a sledgehammer, exactly the way Lee wanted his commanders to fight.” [13] Johnson “does well in nearly all his fights, hits hard and wins the confidence of his men.” [14] Gettysburg was his first test as a division commander, but not one that gave Johnson a real opportunity to excel.

Jubal Early’s division lay to the north of both Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, with the brigades of Hays and Hoke posted “east of Baltimore Street in the ravine of Winebrenner’s Run,” where it “spent a miserable day,” as the ravine was “deep enough to cut off cooling breezes, its slopes were bare of trees, and the July sun warmed the Confederates without mercy. It was a debilitating and dangerous place. General Ewell wanted to pull Hays’s brigade back when it became apparent that the attack would be delayed, but he could not do so without risk of great loss. But staying there was not much better because, as Lt. William Seymour observed, it was almost death for a man to stand upright. ” [15]

“Old Jube” Early was an unusual character. He was described similarly by many to Dick Ewell in his gruffness and eccentrics. However, 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.” [16] James 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.” [17] 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.” [18]

Early was the son of a tobacco planter in Franklin County Virginia. He was born in 1816 who had served in the Virginia legislature and was a Colonel of militia. Growing up he had an aptitude for science and mathematics. He was accepted into West Point in 1833 at the age of seventeen. He was a good student, but had poor marks for conduct and graduated in the eighteenth of fifty cadets in the class of 1837. 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.

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, Early 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, instead, serving on occupation duty. In Mexico Zachary Taylor made Early the “military governor of Monterrey, a post that he relished and filled with distinction.” [19]

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

During his time in Mexico, Early 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.” [20]

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.[21]

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. [22] 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.” [23] 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.” [24]

Jubal 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.” [25]  Nonetheless, like so many others he volunteered for service after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion.

Robert E. 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.” [26] Early was the most influential of Ewell’s division commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [27]

On Ewell’s left, Robert Rodes’s division, which had taken such a brutal beating at Oak Hill on July 1st lay to the west and north of Cemetery Hill in the town itself. “Doles’s, Iverson’s, and Ramseur’s brigades of Rodes’s division occupied Middle Street west from Baltimore Street to the edge of the town. O’Neal’s brigade was along the railroad bed to the right and rear, and Daniel’s brigade occupied the ridge at the seminary.” [28]

Ewell also took the time to scout for artillery positions, the only two that offered any support were on Seminary Ridge to the west and on Brenner’s Hill to the north, and on Brenner’s Hill he deployed Major Joseph Latimer’s artillery battalion. Latimer was not yet twenty years old at Gettysburg. Latimer had been a seventeen year-old student at the Virginia Military Institute at the outbreak of the war and volunteered to help a newly formed artillery battery. He impressed other officers enough that he was given a commission as a First Lieutenant shortly after turning eighteen, and promoted to Captain and command of Virginia’s Courtney Artillery in March of 1862. “Sometimes called “the “Boy Major” and “Young Napoleon,” Latimer had won the respect of the entire army for his skill and bravery,[29] and he was often cheered by the infantry as he rode by. His battlefield performance was such that he was promoted to Major in March 1863, and given command acting command of the battalion of Lieutenant Colonel R. Snowden Andrews who had been wounded at Winchester.

The lack of good positions to place his guns meant that Ewell’s artillery Chief, Colonel J. Thompson Brown had to work hard to find suitable firing positions for all of his guns. Some he placed on Seminary Ridge, and others on Brenner’s Hill. Brown “could get only forty-eight of the eighty or so guns of the Second Corps placed for action. Of these only thirty-two became actively engaged on July 2nd.” [30]

Around four o’clock Latimer’s batteries commenced firing at the Federal positions on Cemetery Hill, provoking a storm of counter-battery fire from Colonel Wainwright’s First Corps guns. The confederate batteries were placed on Brenner’s Hill, which was devoid of cover and about fifty feet lower than the opposing Federal batteries on Cemetery Hill. The Confederates opened fire and Wainwright noted the effectiveness of the Confederate fire from Brenner’s Hill, considering it some “of the most accurate we had seen,” and that the weight of shell between the two sides was about equal, but Latimer’s gunners had no chance. Heavy fire from Wainwright’s batteries “immediately answered him and soon found the range. Within five minutes one of his caissons exploded. Twenty-five men went down in the Allegheny Roughs. Gunners in other batteries began dropping, and it became evident that the open hill was too hot a place to stay.” [31]

The Union fire was most effective and caused great damage to the Confederate batteries. Wainwright wrote, “Still we were able to shut them up, and actually drive them from the field in about two hours.” [32]  The highly accurate Federal fire “smothered the enemy gunners and forced them to pull back from the hill out of effective range.[33]A Confederate artilleryman from the Chesapeake Artillery described the position as “simply a hell infernal,” and wrote “we were directly opposed by some of the finest batteries in the regular service of the enemy, which batteries moreover, held a position to which ours was a molehill. Our shells ricocheted over them, whilst theirs plunged into the devoted battalion, carrying death and destruction everywhere.” [34] Latimer realized that he could not keep up the fight and told General Johnson “that he could no longer hold his posting on Brenner’s Hill. He was told to evacuate all but four guns, which would be used to support the infantry.” [35] While directing the fire of the remaining battery Latimer was mortally wounded by an artillery burst. He died a month later, depriving the Confederacy of one of its most promising young artillery officers. Ewell, who admired him greatly wrote, “Though not yet twenty-one when he fell, his soldierly qualities had impressed me as deeply as those of any officer in my command.” [36] It was “a high price to pay for confirming what should have been apparent before the one-sided contest ever began.” [37] The Confederate cannonade achieved nothing. “As a demonstration it quite failed to distract the Federals, with Meade continuing to reinforce against Longstreet’s offensive. It also quite failed to uncover any obvious “opportunity” for a “real attack” against the Federal right.” [38]

Despite the beating Latimer’s battalion had suffered Ewell was now determined to play his part in the day’s action. During the tense waiting period before the attack Ewell had advised his division commanders “that they should begin their demonstration when they heard Longstreet’s guns. He left to their discretion whether or not they should change the threat into a real assault.” [39] As such he failed to coordinate Ewell made a critical mistake by failing to ensure that Johnson, Early, and Rodes coordinated any offensive that they should undertake. As a result the effort of the Second Corps devolved into three separate actions none of which were coordinated, with fatal results.

As Latimer’s attack ended “quiet, quiet, along with the fading sun, descended on Slcoum’s front,” [40] Ewell and his troops prepared for battle, the impact of Longstreet’s assaults on the Federal left were beginning to be felt on Culp’s Hill.


[1] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.325

[2] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.314

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.514

[4] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.231

[5] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.159 Others sources state this is the 12th Virginia and I cannot find a consensus.

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

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.170

[8] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.459

[9] Greene, A. Wilson “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” Henry Slocum and the Twelfth Corps on July-1-2 in The Second Day at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership edited by Gallagher, Gary W.  Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio and London, 1993 p.111

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.459

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

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

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

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

[15] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.127

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

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

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

[19] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.28

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

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

[22] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.385

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

[24] 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

[25] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.50

[26] 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

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

[28] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.128

[29] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.159

[30] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.429

[31] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.232

[32] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.243

[33] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.428

[34] Ibid. Pfanz Ewell p.316

[35] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.283

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Ewell p.316

[37] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.515

[38] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.283

[39] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation pp.231-232

[40] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.113

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When Political Parties Implode: Pt 5: “The Heather is on Fire…” Politics, Religion, and War


Reverend Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Confederate Preacher and Propagandist

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Over the past six months or so I have alluded to events in the Republican Party that make it appear that it is about to implode. I am a historian, and there is precedent in American history for the collapse of a national political party. This happened before in the 1854 collapse of the Whig Party, the 1912 division in the republican Party, but more importantly during the 1858 through 1860 collapse of the Democratic Party. Now I am not a person to say that history repeats itself. there are similarities and trends, but nothing is ever exactly the same as to why different parties collapse.  

While the issues of each day may be different there are common threads of humanity, hubris and hatred that unite to destroy political parties. I think that this is happening now in the Republican Party, and that it is possible that something similar may occur with the Democratic Party in the coming years. So it is important to look at history whenever possible to see how different political leaders responded in times of intense ideological, economic, social, national, and sectional division.

I decided to add an afterward to the three part series on the disaster that the Democratic Party made for itself and the country between 1858 and 1860. The third part deals with the after effects of results of the democratic Party split in the election of 1860. I followed those articles with one yesterday that dealt secession crisis that enveloped the nation as former Southern Democrats led their states into rebellion against the Union and Northern Democrats joined the anti-secession party in the North. Today is a section that talks about the mood of the country in that time and the impact of religion on the politics of the era. I do plan on doing a bit more work with it but figure that it works fine for the present moment, when religion again is a major part of politics, not only in the United States but elsewhere in the world.

This is a section of one of the chapters of my Civil War and Gettysburg text and I hope that you will find it interesting and thought provoking.


Padre Steve+

As no middle ground remained, the nation plunged into war with many leaders in the South and North including those who previously had encouraged conciliation and compromise hardened their positions on secession. In the South men like Alexander Stephens and Judah P. Benjamin joined the secession movement, while in the North the positions of leaders hardened as the Southern states seceded and seized Federal installations including armories, forts, and mints and threatened others. “Northerners greeted secession as a deadly assault upon their own rights, welfare and security. Secession leaders sought not to nullify a single law, but the results of an entire presidential election. Far worse, they intended to shatter a nation that was liberty’s last, best hope. That could not be tolerated.” [1]

But soon only four installations in the new Confederacy remained in Federal hands, “two far away in the Florida Keys; Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Florida; and the most visible, Fort Sumter.” [2] Among them, one, Fort Sumter would sit at the eye of the brewing hurricane of civil war that threatened to hit the nation with unmatched fury.

In the South, Church leaders provided “Ministerial hosannahs to the providential nature of secession, such as Benjamin Palmer’s, contributed vital ideological work to the creation of the Confederacy. Such sermonizing language provided the appearance of a seamless bridge between proslavery and the revolution creating an independent nation.” [3] The South forged ahead to claim the mantle of Christ and God for their side; and given the widely held theological “assumptions about divine sovereignty and God’s role in human history, northerners and southerners anxiously looked for signs of the Lord’s favor.” [4] Of course people on both sides used the events of any given day during the war to interpret what this meant and both were subject to massive shifts as the God of Battles seemed to at times favor the armies of the Confederacy and as the war ground on to favor those of the Union. Tennessee Presbyterian pastor William H. Vernor was blunt in what God’s position on secession and slavery was, “In all contests between nations God espouses the cause of the Righteous and makes it his own….The institution of slavery according to the Bible is right. Therefore in the contest between North and South, he will espouse the cause of the South and make it his own.” [5]

Benjamin Morgan Palmer was one of the most influential preachers in the South, and when he took the pulpit on November 29th 1860 preached one of the most polemic pro-slavery and secession sermons made anywhere in the South. This Thanksgiving Sermon became one of the most influential Confederate propagandists. “Some 50,000 copies of that sermon were printed in pamphlet form and circulated throughout the South. That pamphlet became a most powerful part of Southern propaganda.” [6] The sermon was electrifying in it Palmer thundered against abolitionists, in particular Northern ministers equating them to atheists and radicals of the French Revolution. .

“Last of all, in this great struggle, we defend the cause of God and religion. The abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic. The demon which erected its throne upon the guillotine in the days of Robespierre and Marat, which abolished the Sabbath and worshipped reason in the person of a harlot, yet survives to work other horrors, of which those of the French Revolution are but the type. Among a people so generally religious as the American, a disguise must be worn; but it is the same old threadbare disguise of the advocacy of human rights…. Under this suspicious cry of reform, it demands that every evil shall be corrected, or society become a wreck—the sun must be stricken from the heavens, if a spot is found upon his disk. The Most High, knowing his own power, which is infinite, and his own wisdom, which is unfathomable, can afford to be patient. But these self-constituted reformers must quicken the activity of Jehovah or compel his abdication. In their furious haste, they trample upon obligations sacred as any which can bind the conscience…. Working out the single and false idea which rides them like a nightmare, they dash athwart the spheres, utterly disregarding the delicate mechanism of Providence, which moves on, wheels within wheels, with pivots and balances and springs, which the great Designer alone can control. This spirit of atheism, which knows no God who tolerates evil, no Bible which sanctions law, and no conscience that can be bound by oaths and covenants, has selected us for its victims, and slavery for its issue. Its banner-cry rings out already upon the air—”liberty, equality, fraternity,” which simply interpreted mean bondage, confiscation and massacre. With its tricolor waving in the breeze,—it waits to inaugurate its reign of terror. To the South the high position is assigned of defending, before all nations, the cause of all religion and of all truth. In this trust, we are resisting the power which wars against constitutions and laws and compacts, against Sabbaths and sanctuaries, against the family, the State, and the Church; which blasphemously invades the prerogatives of God, and rebukes the Most High for the errors of his administration; which, if it cannot snatch the reign of empire from his grasp, will lay the universe in ruins at his feet. Is it possible that we shall decline the onset?” [7]

Even as their preachers like Palmer urged secession and linked the cause of the Confederacy and slavery to Divine Providence events continued to move forward. Those who had been hesitant about secession in the South were overcome by events when Fort Sumter was attacked. Edmund Ruffin spoke for many of the ardent secessionists when he proclaimed “The shedding of blood…will serve to change many voters in the hesitating states, from submission or procrastinating ranks, to the zealous for immediate secession.” [8]

But very few of the radical secessionists found their way into uniform or onto the front lines. Then like now, very few of those who clamor for war and vengeance the most, who send the sons of others to die in their wars, take up arms themselves. Confederate General Jubal Early saw the sour irony in this. Early had been a strong Unionist and had fought against secession until the last as a Virginia legislator during the Virginia secession debate. But when he finally accepted secession as a reality, he went to war and never looked back becoming an intractable enemy of the Union. During the war he became one of the most committed Rebels of the Cause and after the war became one of the most powerful voices for the Lost Cause. That being said, the caustic Early was not fond of the proponents of secession and took pleasure as the war went on by taunting: “the identifiable secessionists in gray uniform who came his way, especially when the circumstances were less than amusing….” [9]After the disastrous defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester in 1864, Early looked at his second in command, former Vice President of the United States, failed candidate for President in the 1860 presidential election, and Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge, who had advocated secession as they retreated amid the “chaos and horror of his army’s rout. Early took the occasion to mock his celebrated subordinate: “Well General, he crowed, “what do you think of the ‘rights of the South’ in the territories now?” [10]

In the North a different sentiment rose as one volunteer soldier from Pennsylvania wrote: “I cannot believe…that “Providence intends to destroy this Nation, the great asylum for all the oppressed of all other nations and build a slave Oligarchy on the ruins thereof.” Another volunteer from Ohio mused “Admit the right of the seceding states to break up the Union at pleasure…and how long before the new confederacies created by the first disruption shall be resolved into smaller fragments and the continent become a vast theater of civil war, military license, anarchy and despotism? Better to settle it at whatever cost and settle it forever.” [11]

As the war began and both sides mobilized for war, the clergymen on both sides of the now divided land now proclaimed a holy war to support their side’s cause, just as they had in the decades leading to the crisis. Palmer, whose sermon had helped propagandize the cause of secession was active in giving Confederate soldiers a religious basis for their fight, “he insisted that the Louisiana Washington Artillery resist the Northern invasion in order to protect the right of self-government. To them he advocated the pursuit of a holy war, a war of true Christian faith against fanaticism.” [12] The religious character of the war was in evidence as “Clergymen and their congregations became caught up in the patriotic fervor…..It would not be entirely fair to say that politics rode roughshod over religion, but Americans exhibited more spiritual hubris than spiritual reflection” [13] as the country went to war with itself. The depth of the religious dimension of the struggle can be seen in the hymn most commonly associated with the Civil War and the United States. This was the immensely popular Battle Hymn of the Republic whose lyricist Julia Ward Howe penned the lines “As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free! While God is marching on” [14]

Evangelical Churches, evangelistic organizations and tract societies were particularly active in conducting revival meetings and working to convert soldiers, and as “early as 1862, large-scale “conversion seasons” swept through both Union and Confederate troops: the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of Northern Virginia both experienced large-scale revivals of religion during the winter and spring of 1864.” [15] These would be the last of these seasons of revival as the war entered a new and more brutal phase, which not only tested, but also shattered the faith of many soldiers, one Illinois surgeon named “John Hostetter remarked, “The is no God in war. It is merciless, cruel, vindictive, unchristian, savage, relentless. It is all that devils could wish for.” [16]

Not content with efforts to evangelize and convert soldiers there was also an attempt on the part of some Northern Evangelicals to push religion to the forefront of the conflict and to establish the Christian faith as the official religion of the United States. In doing so they sought to correct what they believed was an error in the Constitution. The error that they sought to correct was that God was not mentioned in it. These Evangelicals believed that the Civil War was God’s judgment on the nation because the Founders had left the mention of God out of that document. The group, which called itself the National Reform Association proposed what they called the Bible Amendment in 1863. The amendment would united Evangelical Protestantism with the Republic, forming what they believed would be a truly Christian nation. They met with Lincoln and proposed to modify the opening paragraph of the Constitution to read:

“We the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power and civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to form a more perfect union.” [17]

While Lincoln brushed off their suggestion and never referred to the United States as a Christian nation, much to the chagrin of many Northern Christians, the Confederacy reveled in its self-described Christian character. The Confederacy had “proudly invoked the name of God in their Constitution. Even late in the war, a South Carolina editor pointed to what he saw as a revealing fact: the Federal Constitution – with no reference to the Almighty – “could have been passed and adopted by Atheists or Hindoes or Mahometans.” [18]


[1] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.236

[2] Ibid. Cooper We Have the War Upon Us p.192

[3] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.141

[4] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.74

[5] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.138

[6] Wakelyn, John L. Benjamin Morgan Palmer in Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary edited by Charles F. Ritter and Jon L. Wakelyn, Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut 1998 p.309

[7] Palmer, Benjamin M. Thanksgiving Sermon, November, 29, 1860. Retrieved from http://civilwarcauses.org/palmer.htm 9 March 2016

[8] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.273

[9] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.52

[10] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.52

[11] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.253-254

[12] Ibid. Wakelyn Benjamin Morgan Palmer p.309

[13] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.56

[14] Ibid. Huntington Who Are We? P.77

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.415

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.415

[17] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.360

[18] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.337-338

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Disaster at Blocher’s Knoll

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today another section from my Gettysburg text, this on the disaster the befell the Union Eleventh Corps north of the town on the afternoon of July 1st 1863.

Have a great day,


Padre Steve+


Schurz placed his own Second division under the acting command of Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelpfennig his senior brigade commander. Schimmelpfennig was a former Prussian Captain, an engineering officer, who had left the Prussian army to fight in the 1848 Revolution where he met Schurz and the two men became fast friends. When the revolution was crushed Schimmelpfennig, like Schurz fled Germany and was sentenced to death in absentia by the government of the Palatine region. He immigrated to the United States in 1853 “where he wrote military history and secured a position as an engineer in the War Department.” [1] He volunteered to serve at the outbreak of the war, and was appointed as colonel of the German 74th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Schimmelpfennig took command of the brigade when his brigade commander was killed at Second Bull Run, and he was promoted to Brigadier General by Lincoln in November 1862. According to an often told fable Lincoln supposedly promoted the German “because he found the immigrant’s name irresistible,” [2] but unlike so many other volunteer generals Schimmelpfennig was no novice to soldiering. It “took him aback to discover that American-born generals “have no maps, no knowledge of the country, no eyes to see where help is needed.” [3] He also criticized the method by which many American staff officers were selected, from their “relations, some of old friends, or men recommended by Congressmen,” [4] as compared to Molkte’s Prussian General Staff which prided itself on producing competent staff officers who could also direct troops in the heat of battle.

He too was a Chancellorsville and warned of the danger of the hanging flank and his troops were routed by Jackson’s, but as one writer noted “The brigade’s list of casualties indicates that it deserves more credit than it has been generally given.” [5] Schimmelpfennig too wanted to redeem himself and the Germans of his command as they marched to meet Lee again.

The First Division of Eleventh Corps was under the command of Brigadier General Francis Barlow. Barlow was a twenty-nine year old Harvard law graduate and Boston Brahmin was well connected politically with the more radical abolitionists of the Republican Party and had an intense dislike of Democrats. He volunteered for service and became the regimental commander and of the 61st New York Infantry. Though he did not have prior military training he “was a self-taught officer of resolute battlefield courage.” [6] His courage and competence were recognized and was promoted to Brigadier General after Antietam where he had been wounded in the groin by canister in the vicious battle for the sunken Road.

Due to his abilities the “Boy general” was convinced by his fellow abolitionist, Howard to command an Eleventh Corps division after Chancellorsville, but Barlow soon regretted his decision. Barlow, was to use modern terminology somewhat of an elitist and snob. He disliked army life and developed a reputation as a martinet with a boorish personality, who life in the army “very tedious living so many months with men who are so little companions for me as our officers are.” [7]

“Billy” Barlow was not happy with commanding the Germans, and he “disliked the beery and impenetrable Germans in his division as much as he disliked Democrats.” He admitted that he had “always been down on the ‘Dutch’ & I do not abate my contempt now.” [8] The feeling was reciprocal, his men considered him a “petty tyrant” and one wrote “As a taskmaster he had no equal. The prospect of a speedy deliverance from the yoke of Billy Barlow filled every heart with joy.” [9] As Barlow marched with his men into Gettysburg he had in his pocket a letter requesting to be given command of one of the new brigades of U.S. Colored Troops which were then being raised, something he felt was more attuned to his abolitionist beliefs and temperament.

Brigadier General Adolf von Steinwehr was another of the German’s and he enjoyed a solid reputation as a soldier. Steinwehr was a German nobleman, actually “Baron Adolf Wilhelm Augustus Friedrich von Steinwehr, a onetime officer in the army of the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbutel.” [10] Steinwehr was a graduate of the Brunswick Military Academy came to the United States seeking to serve in the United States Army and served in the Coastal Survey as an engineer, but was not able to get a commission. He settled in Connecticut and volunteered to serve at the beginning of the war. He raised the heavily German 29th New York Infantry. He was made a brigadier general in October 1861 and took command of the Eleventh Corp’s Second division in in the summer of 1862 when the Corps was still under the command of Franz Sigel. A Pennsylvania soldier noted that Steinwehr was “accomplished and competent, and deserv[ing] of more credit than he ever received.” [11] At Chancellorsville his troops performed well and did some hard fighting before being driven back, Howard considered Steinwehr’s conduct and bearing at Chancellorsville as “cool, collected and judicious.” [12]

As Howard and Schurz consulted on Cemetery Hill, it was decided that Schurz would advance Schimmelpfennig and Barlow’s divisions to the north of the town in order to anchor the right flank of Doubleday’s embattled First Corps. “As Schurz remembered it, he was to take the “First and Third Divisions of the Eleventh Corps through the town and … place them on the right of First Corps, while he {Howard} would hold back the Second Division… and the reserve artillery on Cemetery Hill and the eminence east of it as a reserve.” [13] Schimmelpfennig’s division led the way through the town and deployed to the north, Barlow’s division followed moving to its right.

Schurz had two missions, to protect First Corps right flank and also to “guard against the anticipated arrival of Confederates from the northeast.” [14] Schurz intended to bring his two divisions into line each with one brigade forward and one in reserve. Schimmelpfennig’s brigade was placed at a right angle to the flank of Robinson’s division. It was Schurz’s intention that Barlow’s division “extend Schimmelpfennig’s front facing north” by keeping Ames’ brigade as a reserve in the right rear “in order to use it against a possible flanking movement by the enemy.” [15]

Both divisions were very small, especially compared to their Confederate opponents, consisting of just two brigades apiece. Schurz estimated that the two divisions numbered “hardly over 6,000 effective men when going into battle…” [16] and the ground that they had to occupy, being flat and open without and without any geographic advantage was hardly conducive for the defense, but it was necessary in order to attempt to secure the flank of First Corps and to prevent Doubleday’s command from being rolled up by Ewell’s Corps.

With the heavy pressure being put on First Corps by the Confederate divisions of Heth, Pender and Rodes; and the arrival of Jubal Early’s division of Ewell’s Second Corps Howard had few choices, and realistically Howard’s “only course was to delay the enemy.” [17] Howard has been faulted by historians Stephen Sears and Edwin Coddington for allowing Doubleday and First Corps to continue to fight on McPherson’s Ridge instead of withdrawing back to Seminary Ridge or even Cemetery Ridge during the lull in fighting early in the afternoon. [18] However, in defense of Howard, the only Confederate troops on the field when he met with Doubleday between Seminary and McPherson’s Ridge during the lull were those of Heth and Pender, as Rodes’ division had not yet arrived. As such, Howard promised to protect Doubleday’s flank without full knowledge of the situation, a promise that “would soon prove rash.” [19]

In making his decision to advance it was Howard’s intention was to get Schimmelpfennig and Barlow’s divisions up to Oak Hill to secure the right flank, but by the time his troops were moving into the open country north of the town, Rodes’s division was already there and the guns of Carter’s artillery battalion soon found the range on the Union troops. Because of this Schimmelpfennig “had to post his troops on the plain facing northwest off the right and rear of First Corps” [20] and his troops were never able to “make their link up with Robinson and the dangling flank of First Corps.” [21]

Schurz’s small divisions now found themselves facing elements of two veteran Confederate divisions; those of Robert Rodes and Jubal Early. Unlike the battle on McPherson’s and Seminary Ridge the Eleventh Corps troops did not have the advantage of good defensible ground. Likewise they had to cover a front that was much too wide for their numbers without fast reinforcements from Third or Twelfth Corps, which would not come.

Oliver Howard was counting on the timely arrival of either Slocum’s Twelfth or Sickles’ Third Corps which were in reasonable marching distance of Gettysburg, however Sickles was attempting to sort out conflicting orders from Meade and Howard, while Slocum who had just gotten the now hopelessly out of date Pipe Creek Circular waited for hours after receiving Howard’s message before putting his troops on the road to Gettysburg. Coddington argues that Howard’s hope for reinforcement at this point “was both unrealistic and unfair to the commanders of the other corps,” [22] but others have questioned that point of view, especially in regard to Slocum. Slocum’s most recent biographer Brian Melton notes that Slocum seemed to believe that “Reynolds and Howard were actively disobeying orders” [23] and wanted Slocum to do the same, and “because he deemed it contrary to Meade’s wishes, he did not want to come forward himself to take responsibility for the fight, or “of becoming a scapegoat for a lost, politically important fight someone else started against standing orders.” [24]

Melton attributes Slocum’s reluctance to take command and send his troops forward was that he had been McClellanized as a result of learned behavior in the politically charged Army of the Potomac. As such he was hesitant to jump into a situation that he had no control and then be blamed for the defeat.

“What historians see in Slocum at Gettysburg is not so much a failure of nerve (though it can be described as such) but, rather, the triumphant moment of his McClellanism. Slocum, with his tendency to absorb the philosophies of his powerful superiors, displayed conduct on day one and day two of Gettysburg that looks like McClellan in microcosm. He was absorbed with maneuver, over-cautious, focused on retreat, and scrupulously concerned with the chain of command (sometimes conveniently so). Like McClellan on the Peninsula he found excuses that kept him away from the fight, and therefore the responsibility.” [25]

What the Union command situation does show is that in a rapidly changing tactical environment that orders, no matter how well thought out, can become obsolete as soon as soon as contact is made. There it is imperative that commanders and staff officers adapt to changing situations. However, in the Army of the Potomac, which had been formed and taught by McClellan, and had endured command shake ups and the political machinations of many of its senior commanders, Slocum found that he could not take that risk. Melton wrote, “no matter what his reasons, Slocum missed an important opportunity to play an important role in the most famous battle fought on this continent, Acoustic shadows and conflicting orders kept him away from the fighting when other corps desperately needed him. Instead of covering himself with glory that day, the best he can hope for is to be quietly excused.” [26]


Major General Francis Barlow

“A Portrait of Hell”

Without reinforcements Schurz’s divisions moved north out of the town. Schurz had two missions as he moved north, “to protect Doubleday’s right and to guard against the anticipated arrival of Confederates from the northeast.” [27] to do this he had to keep his line compact enough on bad defensive ground with little natural advantage and maintain a reserve to parry any emerging Confederate threats from the northeast. The first issue was that to meet these missions Schurz only had about 6,000 troops, and these had to be spread along a line beginning at the Mummasburg Road to the York Pike. Even so there was a gap of about a quarter of a mile between Schurz’s left and Doubleday’s troops on Oak Ridge. It was the best he could do and for practical purposes the two Eleventh Corps divisions were only able to form “the equivalent of a strong skirmish line along their broad front.” [28] Had Barlow remained in place his troops would have been in a better position to receive the Confederate attack and protect Doubleday’s right flank.

However, this did not happen. Barlow did not comply with Schurz’s orders to simply extend Schimmelpfennig’s line and keep Ames’s brigade as a reserve to parry any attack on his right flank. Instead, as he moved his division through the town, Barlow secured the permission of Howard to take a small portion of high ground about a mile further north, called Blocher’s Knoll. There was a certain logic to the move, “to prevent the Rebel troops then visible to the north – George Doles’s brigade, of Rodes’s division – from occupying it and using it as an artillery platform.” [29] But the advance was to be a disastrous mistake as it left Barlow’s division exposed to Doles’s advancing troops, as well as Jubal Early’s division which then deploying for battle along the Harrisburg Road in perfect position to turn the flank of Schurz’s divisions. When Howard saw that deployment he countermanded his order that had allowed Barlow to seize Blocher’s Knoll. Howard wrote, “as soon as I heard of the approach of Ewell and saw that nothing the turning of my right flank if Barlow advanced… I countermanded the order.” [30] But the aggressive Billy Barlow continued to advance and left his own flank exposed to the attack of Early’s division which was “deployed in a three-brigade-wide battle front that was almost a mile across – and overlapped the Union line by almost half a mile.” [31]

Barlow was the only non-German division commander in XI Corps and he had little regard for Schurz. “Without consulting or even notifying his superiors, Barlow issued orders that got his division moving toward that point.” [32] Barlow advanced Colonel Ludwig Von Gilsa’s small brigade with two sections of artillery to Blocher’s Knoll placing it on the extreme right of the Union line. Instead of maintaining Ames’ brigade in reserve and slightly to the right of von Gilsa to guard against any potential flanking attack, Barlow deployed Ames’s brigade on the left of von Gilsa’s brigade facing slightly to the northwest. Barlow’s decision to do this left von Gilsa’s right flank hopelessly exposed and gave him no reserve to meet any danger on the right.

The orders that Barlow had previously had from Howard to move forward to Blocher’s Knoll were predicated on Oak Hill being unoccupied and Schimmelpfennig’s division being able to occupy it before the Confederates could do so. Barlow, on his own volition, knowing that the Confederates had taken Oak Hill and were assaulting Robinson’s division on Oak Ridge decided to advance movement placed Barlow’s division “where Barlow wished it to be” [33] and not where Schurz or Howard expected it, with disastrous results. Schurz noted:

“But I now noticed that Barlow, be it that he had misunderstood my order, or that he was carried away by the ardor of the conflict, had advanced his whole line and lost connection with my third division on the left, and…he had instead of refusing, had pushed forward his right brigade, so that it formed a projecting angle with the rest of the line.” [34]

There are still debates as to why Barlow advanced but one of the most likely explanations is that he saw the unprotected left of Brigadier General George Doles’s brigade of Georgians from Rodes division and wanted to strike them in the flank. [35]

To be sure, the position on Blocher’s Knoll “offered a cleared crown suitable for artillery and a good line of sight up the Heidlersburg Road,” [36] provided that it could be supported but it had a weakness in that “thick woods began about one hundred feet below the crest toward Rock Creek, severely limiting the field of fire in the direction of the anticipated Confederate advance.” [37] Barlow’s deployment provided Jubal Early with the perfect opportunity to execute one the hard hitting flanking attacks that had been the specialty of his old superior Stonewall Jackson.

The instrument of Barlow’s division’s destruction was Brigadier General John Gordon’s brigade of Early’s division. Gordon was a self-taught soldier whose army service began when he was “elected Captain of a mountaineer company” [38] called “the Raccoon Roughs” in the opening weeks of the war.” [39] As Georgia had no room in its new military for the company Gordon offered it to Alabama where is was mustered into the 6th Alabama regiment. Even though Gordon 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.” [40] After Manassas, Gordon was elected colonel of the 6th Alabama. He commanded the regiment until he was wounded five times in the defense of the Bloody Lane at Antietam. His final wound that day was to the face, which rendered him unconscious. He fell “with his face in his cap, and only the fact that another Yankee bullet had ripped through the cap saved him from smothering in his own blood.” [41] Before Chancellorsville the gallant colonel was promoted to brigadier general and given command of Lawton’s brigade.

Gordon’s troops hit the exposed right flank of Colonel Ludwig Von Gilsa’s tiny brigade and that force was overwhelmed by the fierceness of the Confederate assault. Von Gilsa was a professional soldier by trade who had served as a “major in the Prussian army during the Schleswig-Holstein War before immigrating to the United States” [42] from 1848 through 1850. After coming to the United States Von Gilsa supported as a singer, piano player and lecturer in New York, and on the outbreak of the war he raised and was commissioned as the Colonel of the 41st New York Infantry. He was badly wounded at the Battle of Cross Keys in the spring of 1862 and was made a brigade commander when Julius Stahel was elevated to division command. His first battle as a brigade commander was Chancellorsville where on the extreme Union right he warned of Stonewall Jackson’s flanking move, but his reports were discounted. Von Gilsa was a colorful man who won the respect of his men and “was notorious for his genius for profanity in his native German.” During the difficult retreat from Chancellorsville, Oliver Howard reminded the German Colonel “to depend upon God, and von Gilsa poured out a stream of oaths in German with such vehemence and profusion that Howard thought he had gone insane.” [43] Admired by his troops, one officer noted that von Gilsa was “one of the bravest of me4n and an uncommonly good soldier.” [44] This did not keep his new division commander Barlow from taking a dislike to him and arresting the German on the march to Gettysburg for allowing more than one soldier at a time to break ranks to refill canteens. Barlow reinstated Von Gilsa to his command at 1 p.m. just as his brigade was entering Gettysburg and beginning its march to engage the Confederates north of the town.

The position occupied by von Gilsa’s brigade “was at once a strong and dangerous position, powerful in front…but exposed on both flanks.” [45] Thus the exposed position of Barlow’s troops on Blocher’s Knoll provided the advancing Confederates the opportunity to roll up his division and defeat it in detail before moving down the Federal line to deal with Schimmelpfennig’s division. The Confederate attack engineered by Jubal Early was a masterpiece of shock tactics combining a fearsome artillery barrage with a well-coordinated infantry assault.

Colonel H.P Jones who commanded Jubal Early’s artillery battalion opened up a crossfire on von Gilsa’s brigade from its positions east of the Heidlersburg Road as Gordon’s brigade struck assisted by pressure being put forth by Junius Daniel’s brigade of Rodes division which was attacking Ames’s brigade from the northwest. The concentrated fire of the artillery added to the din and furthered the destruction among the Union men as Jones’s battalion’s fire “enfiladed its whole line and took it in reverse.” [46] The artillery fire from Jones’s battalion supported Gordon’s brigade as well as Early’s other two brigades, those of Hays and Avery as they advanced. “A prominent member of Ewell’s staff later said he had never seen guns “better served than Jones’ were on this occasion.” [47]

Von Gilsa’s outnumbered and badly exposed Union troops attempted to make a stand but were slaughtered by the Confederates; soon the brigade began to unravel, and then disintegrated. But it was not the complete rout posited by the brigade’s critics. It took “fifteen to twenty minutes of hard fighting for John Gordon’s men, assisted by some of George Doles regiments, to overrun Blocher’s Knoll” [48]One Confederate soldier later recalled, “it was a fearful slaughter, the golden wheat fields, a few minutes before in beauty, now gone, and the ground covered with the dead and wounded in blue.” [49] Another of Gordon’s soldiers noted “The Yankees…fought more stubborn than I ever saw them or ever want to see them again.” [50] Von Gilsa himself displayed tremendous courage in trying to stem the tide of the Confederate advance. He had “one horse shot from under him, but jumped onto another and desperately tried to stem the retreat. On soldier saw him ride “up and down that line through a regular storm of lead, meantime using German epithets so common to him.” [51] Despite his best efforts, just as a Chancellorsville von Gilsa was unable to hold his position and his troops fled through crowded and chaotic streets of Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill where their retreat was halted and they joined the troops of Steinwehr’s division and the other survivors of the First and Eleventh Corps troops who managed to escape the Confederate onslaught.


Brigadier General John Gordon

As Von Gilsa’s brigade collapsed Gordon “focused on the exposed right flank of Ames’s brigade” and Doles’s troops, now supported by Ramseur fell upon its left and “Ames’s outnumbered troops also collapsed” [52] even as that young and gallant commander attempted to advance his brigade to support Von Gilsa’s now fleeing troops. Barlow was in the thick of the fighting attempting to rally von Gilsa’s troops when he was wounded. Ames, the senior brigade commander took command of the shattered remnants of the two brigades when Barlow, went down. The wounded Barlow would be assisted by Gordon and “carried to the shade” of a nearby farmhouse by a member of Early’s staff. [53] Barlow recovered and after the war “he and Gordon established a friendship that lasted for the remainder of their lives.” [54]

Adelbert Ames was a native of Maine and had a stellar reputation when he entered Gettysburg. The young officer “graduated 5th out of 45 students in the Class of 1861, which completed its studies just after the fall of Fort Sumter.” [55] He was commissioned into the artillery and was wounded at First Bull Run where he was awarded the Medal of Honor. After he recovered he was commended for his service during the Peninsular Campaign. Ames then returned to Maine where he organized and commanded the illustrious 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry, and after Fredericksburg was promoted to brigadier general. “Like von Gilsa’s brigade, Ames’s came under fire from both infantry and artillery.” [56] After Chancellorsville he was promoted to brigadier general and took command of his brigade in Barlow’s division. Ames was a brave and capable leader who would continue to serve with distinction throughout the war ending up as a Major General of Volunteers and serving as one of Mississippi’s Reconstruction governors after the war. He lived a long and eventful life and was the last Civil War general to die in 1933.

Amidst the chaos of the retreat Ames worked with von Gilsa to “try to gather enough men together around a cluster of buildings along the Heidlersburg Road which served as the Adams County almshouse,” [57] and upon assuming command he succeeded in “slowing the retreat and establishing a second line when Avery’s and Hays’s brigades came crashing in on the right.” [58] However, this line too was driven back in great confusion as the brigades of Gordon and Hays, supported by Jones’s artillery hammered the thin blue line.

Schurz attempted to recover the situation by extending Schimmelpfennig’s division to the right, and advanced his reserve brigade under Polish born Colonel Wladimir Krzyzanowski to support Barlow counterattacking against Doles’s brigade. Krzyzanowski too was a refugee from Europe, coming from a region of Poland occupied by Prussia. “Kriz” as he was known to many Americans had fled to New York following the failed revolution of 1848 and made his living as a civil engineer. When war came Krzyzanowski volunteered for service, and was allowed to recruit “a multinational regiment that became known as the 58th New York Infantry, the “Polish Legion.” [59] Following service in a number of campaigns he was given command of a brigade in June of 1862.

Krzyzanowski’s brigade achieved some initial success against one of Doles’s regiments and for a time engaged in a furious short range shoot out with two more of Doles’s regiments. The opponents stood scarcely seventy-five yards apart aiming deadly volleys at one another without regard for themselves, an Ohio solider recalled “Bullets hummed about our ears like infuriated bees, and in a few minutes the meadow was strewn with…the wounded and the dead.” [60] Despite their gallantry Krzyzanowski’s troops were also rolled up in the Confederate assault when Doles and Gordon turned his flanks. Both of “Krzyzanowski’s flanks received enfilading fire and the brigade fell back across the Carlisle Road toward an orchard on the north side of Gettysburg.” [61]

As the situation deteriorated Schimmelpfennig ordered the 157th New York Infantry to support Krzyzanowski. The regiment advanced and engaged in a furious twenty minute fight, continuing the battle “in Indian fashion” until Schurz ordered them to retreat. The gallant 157th sacrificed itself buying time for others to withdraw and left over 75 percent of its men on the battlefield, when the order came, “less than fifty of the 157th were able to rise out of the wheat and follow.” [62] “So the horrible screaming, hurtling messengers of death flew over us from both sides,” recollected a New York soldier. “In such a storm it seemed a miracle that any were left alive.” [63] Krzyzanowski described the scene as “a portrait of hell.” [64]

Harry Hays brigade of Louisianans joined the assault on the collapsing Federal right while on the left Schimmelpfennig’s line collapsed under the weight of Doles’s attack, which had now been joined by the brigade of Stephen Ramseur. The proud Schimmelpfennig joined his troops in retreat. Inside the town he was unhorsed by enemy fire. In the town Schimmelpfennig was knocked unconscious “with the butt of a musket – “by the blow of a gun” – as he tried to scale a fence.” [65] By the time he regained himself Confederate troops were swarming all around, and to avoid capture he prudently “took refuge in a woodshed, where he remained in hiding the next three days.” [66] The attack of Early’s division supported by Doles and Ramseur “completely unhinged the end of the long Union line and destroyed any opportunities for resistance on that part of the field.” [67]

Howard was still looking for relief from Major General Slocum’s Twelfth Corps and seeing the disaster unfolding north of the town sent the First Brigade of Brigadier General Adolph Steinwehr’s division from Cemetery Hill to support the fleeing men of Barlow and Schimmelpfennig’s divisions. The small brigade of about 800 soldiers under the command of Colonel Charles Coster advanced through the town to a brickyard on the outskirts of the town. Before this small force could get into position they were hit hard by Hays and Avery’s brigades of Early’s division. The Confederates again had a massive numerical advantage at the point of attack with “eight big regiments to face Coster’s three small ones” [68] and they too were able to find an open flank and envelop both flanks of the tiny Union brigade. Avery’s brigade took them in the right flank and with both flanks turned by the advancing Confederates [69] Coster’s little brigade broke under the pressure and began to retreat leaving many prisoners to be collected by the Confederates. The commander of the 134th New York exclaimed “I never imagined such a rain of bullets.” [70] In its fight with Avery’s brigade which had the New Yorkers in a crossfire, the 134th lost some forty men killed and 150 wounded. Coster had entered the fight with about 800 soldiers but by the end of the afternoon over 550 were casualties, with “313 of them left it as prisoners.” [71] Coster survived the assault but resigned from the army a few months later never having filed and official report. [72] As the Union right collapsed and the Confederate pressure on Robinson’s division on Oak Ridge mounted, von Amsberg’s brigade, without the 157th New York found itself without support and was forced to withdraw. However, the sacrifice of Coster’s brigade “succeeded in checking the enemy long enough to permit Barlow’s division to “enter the town without being seriously molested on its retreat.” [73]

In his after action report as well as in other correspondence Barlow was acrimonious toward the German troops who he had so carelessly exposed to the Confederate onslaught on Blocher’s Knoll. He wrote “We ought to have held the place easily, for I had my entire force at the very point where the attack was made….But the enemies [sic] skirmishers had hardly attacked us before my men began to run. No fight at all was made.” [74] However, more circumspect Union officers do not back the gallant, but arrogant Boston Brahmin’s statement nor do his Confederate opponents. The Union artillery commander Henry Hunt wrote that it was “an obstinate and bloody contest” [75] while Gordon, whose brigade had inflicted so much of the damage on Barlow’s divisions wrote:

“The enemy made a most obstinate resistance until the colors of the two lines were separated by a space of less than 50 paces, when his line was broken and driven back, leaving the flank which this line had protected exposed to the fire from my brigade. An effort was made by the enemy to change his front and check our advance, but the effort failed and this line too, was driven back in the greatest confusion with immense loss in killed, wounded and prisoners.” [76]

A private of the 61st Georgia Infantry of Gordon’s brigade wrote that the Eleventh Corps troops “stood firm until we got near them. Then they began to retreat in good order. They were harder to drive than we had known them before….Their officers were cheering their men and behaving like heroes and commanders of ‘the first water’” [77]

During the retreat the redoubtable Hubert Dilger whose battery had wrought such death and destruction on O’Neal and Iverson’s brigades and Carter’s artillery while supporting Robinson’s division on Oak Ridge continued its stellar contribution to the battle. Instead of withdrawing his battery completely he halted four guns north of the town to support the infantry. “The four cannon immediately banged away at the approaching Confederate infantry and helped hundreds of Federal troops successfully escape the clutches of the enemy.” [78] When he could do no more Dilger withdrew to Cemetery Hill where his guns joined the mass of Union artillery gathering on that edifice.

Collapse and the Retreat of First & Eleventh Corps

The retreat of Eleventh Corps “southward through the streets of Gettysburg exposed the rear of the First Corps at a time when Doubleday’s troops were already having to give ground before the superior numbers represented by” [79] the divisions of Harry Heth and Dorsey Pender of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps. The First Corps had been battling Hill’s troops for the better part of the morning and for the most part had gotten the better of their Confederate opponents, inflicting very heavy casualties on the divisions of Heth, Pender and Robert Rodes. The fierceness of the Union defense of the ridges west of the town wreaked havoc on the Confederate attackers. The remnants of the Iron Brigade supported by the brigades of Biddle and Stone, Gamble’s dismounted cavalry, and Wainwright’s expertly directed artillery inflicted massive casualties on their Confederate opponents.


[1] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.218

[2] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.63

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.166

[4] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.166

[5] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.139

[6] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.38

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.181

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.181

[9] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.126

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.162

[11] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.63

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.132

[13] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.198

[14] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.74

[15] Ibid. Guelzo . Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.181

[16] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.288

[17] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.74

[18] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.303

[19] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.142

[20] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.140

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.166

[22] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.303

[23] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007 p.125

[24] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.143

[25] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.124

[26] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.128

[27] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.74

[28] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.76

[29] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.212

[30] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.77

[31] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.212

[32] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.217

[33] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.216

[34] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.77

[35] Ibid. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership Greene p.78

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.216

[37] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.78

[38] Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of Confederate Commanders Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 1959, 1987 p.111

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

[40] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.41

[41] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.242

[42] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.224

[43] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.127

[44] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.61

[45] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.128

[46] Hunt, Henry The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War edited by Bradford, Neil Meridian Press, New York 1989 p.363

[47] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.291

[48] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.225

[49] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.79

[50] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.225

[51] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.128

[52] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.79

[53] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.188

[54] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.141

[55] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.129

[56] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.234

[57] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.187

[58] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.292

[59] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.236

[60] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.80

[61] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.80

[62] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.186

[63] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.225

[64] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.186

[65] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.139

[66] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.477

[67] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.292

[68] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.190

[69] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.241

[70] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.241

[71] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.217

[72] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.190

[73] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg pp. 267-268

[74] Ibid Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.79

[75] Ibid. Hunt The First Day at Gettysburg p.365

[76] Report of Brigadier General J. B. Gordon, CSA, commanding brigade, Early’s Division, in Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.45

[77] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.79

[78] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.71

[79] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.244

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Shades of Confederate Gray


Major General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A. 

“When the prophet, a complacent fat man,
Arrived at the mountain-top
He cried: “Woe to my knowledge!
I intended to see good white lands
And bad black lands—
But the scene is gray.”

Stephen Crane

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

If you read my work you know how much I condemn the cause of the Confederacy and the institution of slavery. I also make no bones about the continued use of the symbols of the Confederacy by some who do not use them simply to honor the memory of dead soldiers but rather to further inflame political and racial divides. As a descendant of slave owners and Confederate officers I do understand the tension. THe family patriarch on my paternal side was an unreconstructed Rebel. He was a slave owner who served as a Lieutenant in the Confederate cavalry during the war and refused to sign the loyalty oath to the United States. For this he lost his lands and plantation. There are some who sincerely desire to honor their ancestors, and I think that is honorable, but to stand by an indefensible cause as my ancestors did is another matter to me.

I agree with historian George Santayana who wrote “Loyalty to our ancestors does not include loyalty to their mistakes.” I think we have to be able to deal with that, and I do not only mean for the descendants of slave owners and Confederates. Certainly the descendants of those in the North who cooperated with, enabled and profited from slavery, and then the entire movement to reenslaved freed blacks by other means after the war have nothing to be proud of in this regard. I readily admit that many political, industrial and religious leaders in the North were little better than many Southern leaders (see my articles Accomplices to Tyranny: The North & Reconstruction and Corporate Slavery & the Black Codes ). Both of these articles highlight how Northerners, especially politicians from both political parties and industrialists who took in those injustices committed against blacks. The same people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line dis similar things to poor whites who they referred to as “White Trash” as well as Native Americans, women later other immigrants like the Chinese. As we get closer to Labor Day I am going to spend some time on how American workers of all races were treated during that time, but not today.


Instead I want to talk about shades of gray. As my regular readers know I believe that people are the most important part of history, and that people are seldom fully good or fully evil. In fact most people, saints and sinners alike live lives of some shade of gray. Thus I believe that good people can sometimes support evil causes and otherwise evil people can end up on the right side of history by supporting a good cause. We have other people that we treat as icons who had dark places in their lives, and did things that were not honorable; history is full of them. The problem is that we like to look at people as totally good or totally evil, it’s easier that way.

That is the case when we look at men who fought for the Confederacy and the Union during the Civil War, and since I have spent a lot of time hammering the cause that Confederate soldiers fought to defend, even those who opposed secession and slavery; it is only right that I spend some time talking about the shades of Confederate Gray. To do this we have to be able to put aside the notion that every Confederate was a racist or White Supremacist.


Lieutenant General A.P. Hill

Those who fought for the Confederacy spanned the spectrum of belief and often fought for reasons other than slavery and some of their stories are tragic. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill opposed slavery before the war and opposed secession but because his state and his family seceded he went south. In 1850 he was on leave from the army and learned of a lynching in his home town of Lynchburg, he wrote “Shame, shame upon you all, good citizens…Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with this outrage.” Hill was incredibly brave and led his troops honorably throughout the war. Sadly he died in action just days before the end of the war at Petersburg and his widow took no part in any commemorations of the Lost Cause after the war.

Brigadier General Lewis Armistead who led Pickett’s troops to the High Water mark at the Battle of Gettysburg is another tragic figure. He was a widower who lived a life of much sorrow and loneliness and the army was his life; his best friends were in the army. His very best friend, Winfield Scott Hancock and his wife Almira remained with the Union, their parting in California at the beginning of the war is heartrending, and it was Hancock’s troops who inflicted the mortal wound on him.

Major General Patrick Cleburne, called the “Stonewall Jackson of the West” is another. He was an Irish immigrant to Arkansas. He had no slaves, opposed the institution and fought because the people he lived among were his friends. He was the first Confederate to broach the subject of emancipating the slaves, and for this he was ostracized, and not promoted to Lieutenant General and command of a Corps. He died in action at the Battle of Franklin in 1864.

There are others, Lieutenant General James Longstreet who was probably the best corps commander on either side during the war, quickly reconciled, became a Republican and served in various capacities in government after the war. For this, as well as needing a scapegoat for the loss at Gettysburg Longstreet was treated as a modern Judas Iscariot by many in the South, especially among the proponents of the Lost Cause. Major General William “Little Billy” Mahone was another like Longstreet who joined the Republican Party and suffered a fair amount of criticism for his stance.

Another more interesting personality was Colonel John S. Mosby, the legendary “Gray Ghost” of Virginia whose “Raiders” caused Union forces much difficulty throughout the war. Mosby is interesting, he did not support slavery, was not a proponent of secession but felt that it was his duty to fight for his state. This was not unusual because in that era most people in all parts of the country, felt much more loyalty to their own state, or even city or county than they did to the national government. He and his troops served honorably and after the war too he supported reconciliation, he became a Republican and a friend and supporter of Ulysses Grant. He was not ashamed of his service and stated after the war, “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in” and that “The South was my country. But he also condemned those in the South who denied that slavery was the cause of the war. All this made him anathema and he had to live the rest of his life outside the south or serving in various overseas diplomatic postings.

There were other shades of gray among Confederates, some like Lieutenant General Jubal Early who was not a slave owner and vehemently opposed secession in the Virginia legislature until the state seceded. When it did he joined the Confederate forces and became one of the fiercest supporters of Confederate independence who ever lived. In fact Early, though pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, never reconciled with the United States and became the leading proponent of the history of the Lost Cause. Early’s Corps Commander Lieutenant General Richard Ewell was more circumspect, he owned and admitted the mistakes he made during the war as a commander, and he fully reconciled to the United States. Before he died Ewell “insisted that nothing disrespectful to the United States Government be inscribed upon his tomb.”


Lieutenant General Wade Hampton

Lieutenant General Wade Hampton of South Carolina was one of the richest men in the South if not the country when war came. He supported secession, owned hundreds of slaves, but for a slave owner he was relatively decent in the way he treated his slaves. He fought through the war and returned home to nothing. He became involved in politics, remained very much a White Supremacist, but that being said built bridges to African American political and religious leaders when he ran for governor, even as the terrorist bands of the Red Shirts did all they could to ensure that blacks were harassed, disenfranchised and even killed to keep them from voting. To the surprise of the militants Hampton adopted a moderate course, kept blacks in his cabinet and in state offices, kept a regiment of African American militia in Charleston and opposed the black codes and Jim Crow. For this he was run out office. When he died his last words were “God bless my people, black and white.”

One the other hand there were men like Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest who helped found the Ku Klux Klan, and even led some of the early violence against blacks, and purchased black prisoners for use on his plantation after the war. However, he evolved on the issue, and left the Klan in 1869 and in 1875 two years before his death began to promote racial harmony. He spoke about that to a group of African Americans, where he received a bouquet of flowers from a black women he was condemned throughout the South. An article in the Charlotte Observer noted “We have infinitely more respect for Longstreet, who fraternizes with negro men on public occasions, with the pay for the treason to his race in his pocket, than with Forrest and Pillow, who equalize with the negro women, with only ‘futures’ in payment.”

There were many Confederate Soldiers who fought and died because they did believe in White Supremacy and hated the North, that too is a fact, and many of those who lived carried on that hate until they died.


There were others who never reconciled and who rewrote history to minimize the importance of slavery and White Supremacy to the Confederate cause, these included Jefferson Davis, his Vice President Alexander Stephens, and Brigadier General Henry Benning of Georgia. All had spearheaded the drive for secession, spoken and wrote forcefully for not only preserving but expanding slavery Stephens said quite clearly in 1861 what the Confederacy was founded upon in his Cornerstone Speech “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” However, after the war all of them sought to distance themselves from this and change the narrative to Constitutional, economic and political reasons.


There were also many Confederate soldiers for whom the war never ended and they did continue it by other means, either as members of any of the various terrorist groups such as the Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League, the White Liners, or any of the related groups who terrorized and killed blacks and their white supporters, be they Northern “Carpetbaggers” or Southern “Scalawags.”

I could go on longer or in more detail on any of these men and probably could write a book about any of them, but I wanted to show that even when a cause is wrong, that we cannot condemn people as groups, and we also have to take into account people’s evolution on issues. The evolution of Wade Hampton and Nathan Bedford Forrest was far different than that of Jubal Early and others who supported the Lost Cause. I wish my family patriarch had been more like Mosby, Hampton, Hill, Ewell, Cleburne, or even Forrest rather than Jubal Early and others who never reconciled and in some cases continued to use violence to oppress others. 

Shades of gray. In history you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.


Padre Steve+


Filed under civil rights, civil war, ethics, History, leadership, Political Commentary

Racism and the Lost Cause

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

During the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg I tend to focus on that battle, and the actions of the men who fought it. I anticipate that I will add another article tomorrow from my Civil War and Gettysburg text dealing with a part of that battle, but today because it is so pertinent even 150 years after the war, I will revisit the myth of the Lost Cause and its influence on American history and race relations after the war was over. 

Sadly, the desire of Northern corporations, Southern landowners and those who sought reunion over justice, the rights of African Americans were not only subjugated to those interests but blacks were again degraded and their efforts to achieve their own freedom cast aside as politicians, landowners, academics, businessmen, preachers and even veterans organizations raced to forget what the war was about. 

This post is also part of my Gettysburg text and I do hope that it will cause us all to think about how history and justice can be obscured in the interest of covering over crimes for political, economic and social goals. 


Padre Steve+


Though Edmund Ruffin and his dreams of an independent republic built on slavery and white supremacy was dead, in the coming years, the Southern states would again find themselves under the governance of former secessionists who were unabashed white supremacists. The institution of slavery did not endure “but southerners’ racial beliefs and habits did…. The white ex-Confederate South proved much more successful in guarding this sacred realm” [1] during Reconstruction and after than they did during the war. Former secessionist firebrands who had boldly proclaimed slavery to be the deciding issue during the war changed their story. Instead of slavery being the primary cause of Southern secession and the war, it was “trivialized as the cause of the war in favor of such things as tariff disputes, control of investment banking and the means of wealth, cultural differences, and the conflict between industrial and agricultural societies.” [2]

Alexander Stephens who had authored the infamous Cornerstone Speech in 1861 that “that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition” argued after the war that the war was not about slavery at all. Instead, the former Senator and Confederate Vice President changed his tune and argued that the war:

“had its origins in opposing principles….It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation on the other.” He concluded “that the American Civil War “represented a struggle between “the friends of Constitutional liberty” and “the Demon of Centralism, Absolutism, [and] Despotism!” [3]

Jefferson Davis, who had masterfully crafted “moderate” language, which radicals in the South used to their advantage regarding the expansion and protection of the rights of slave owners in the late 1850s to mollify Northern Democrats, and who wrote in October 1860 that: “The recent declarations of the Black Republican part…must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it where it is, not where it is not” [4] was not above changing his longstanding insistence that the slavery was the heart of the Confederacy’s claim to existence and the reason for secession.


After the war a revisionist Davis wrote:

“The Southern States and Southern people have been sedulously represented as “propagandists” of slavery, and the Northern as the champions of universal freedom…” and “the attentive reader…will already found enough evidence to discern the falsehood of these representations, and to perceive that, to whatever extent the question of slavery may have served as an occasion, it was far from being the cause for the conflict.” [5]

Instead of being about slavery the Confederate cause was mythologized by those promoting the false history of the “Lost Cause” a term coined by William Pollard in 1866, which “touching almost every aspect of the struggle, originated in Southern rationalizations of the war.” [6] By 1877 many southerners were taking as much pride in the “Lost Cause” as Northerners took in Appomattox.[7] Alan Nolen notes: “Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization.” [8]

The Lost Cause was elevated by some to the level of a religion. In September 1906, Lawrence Griffith, speaking to a meeting of the United Confederate Veterans, stated that when the Confederates returned home to their devastated lands, “there was born in the South a new religion.” [9] The mentality of the Lost Cause took on “the proportions of a heroic legend, a Southern Götterdämmerung with Robert E. Lee as a latter day Siegfried.” [10]

This new religion that Griffith referenced in his speech was replete with the signs, symbols and ritual of religion:

“this worship of the Immortal Confederacy, had its foundation in myth of the Lost Cause. Conceived in the ashes of a defeated and broken Dixie, this powerful, pervasive idea claimed the devotion of countless Confederates and their counterparts. When it reached fruition in the 1880s its votaries not only pledged their allegiance to the Lost Cause, but they also elevated it above the realm of common patriotic impulse, making it perform a clearly religious function….The Stars and Bars, “Dixie,” and the army’s gray jacket became religious emblems, symbolic of a holy cause and of the sacrifices made on its behalf. Confederate heroes also functioned as sacred symbols: Lee and Davis emerged as Christ figures, the common soldier attained sainthood, and Southern women became Marys who guarded the tomb of the Confederacy and heralded its resurrection.” [11]

Jefferson Davis became an incarnational figure for the adherents of this new religion. A Christ figure who Confederates believed “was the sacrifice selected-by the North or by Providence- as the price for Southern atonement. Pastors theologized about his “passion” and described Davis as a “vicarious victim”…who stood mute as Northerners “laid on him the falsely alleged iniquities of us all.” [12] It was a theme that would be repeated by others in the coming decades, instead of a traitor to his nation; Davis became a figure like Jesus Christ, condemned though innocent.

In 1923 a song about Jefferson Davis repeated this theme:

Jefferson Davis! Still we honor thee! Our Lamb victorious, who for us endur’d a cross of martyrdom, a crown of thorns, soul’s Gethsemane, a nation’s hate, A dungeon’s gloom! Another God in chains.” [13]

The myth also painted another picture, that of slavery being a benevolent institution which has carried forth into our own time. The contention of Southern politicians, teachers, preachers and journalists, before, during and after the war was that slaves liked their status; they echoed the words of slave owner Hiram Tibbetts to his brother in 1842 “If only the abolitionists could see how happy our people are…..The idea of unhappiness would never enter the mind of any one witnessing their enjoyments” [14] as well as the words of Jefferson Davis who in response to the Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation called the slaves “peaceful and contented laborers.” [15]


The romantic images of the Lost Cause were conveyed to the American public by numerous writers and Hollywood producers including Thomas Dixon Jr. whose play and novel The Clansman became D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation; a groundbreaking part of American cinematography which was released in 1915. Margaret Mitchell, who penned the epic Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gone With the Wind, which in its 1939 film form won ten academy awards immortalized the good old days of the old South with images of faithful slaves, a theme which found its way into Walt Disney’s famed 1946 animated Song of the South. Through such films and books the myth of the Lost Cause became part of the national heritage with many people in states outside of the South and even some foreigners coming to believe the myth.

The Lost Cause helped buttress the myths that both comforted and inspired many Southerners following the war. “It defended the old order, including slavery (on the grounds of white supremacy), and in Pollard’s case even predicted that the superior virtues of cause it to rise ineluctably from the ashes of its unworthy defeat.” [16] The myth effectively helped pave the way to nearly a hundred more years of second class citizenship for now free blacks who were often deprived of the vote and forced into “separate but equal” public and private facilities, schools and recreational activities. The Ku Klux Klan and other violent organizations harassed, intimidated, persecuted and used violence against blacks.

When Reconstruction ended Southerners elected officials who turned a blind eye to the activities of the Klan and instituted state laws which denied most civil rights to African Americans, “From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement.” [17] Lynching was common and even churches were not safe. It would not be until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that blacks would finally begin to gain the same rights enjoyed by whites in most of the South.

Despite this, many Union veterans to their dying day fought the Lost Causers. Members of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first truly national veteran’s organization, and the first to admit African American soldiers as equals, the predecessor of modern veteran’s groups, continued their fight to keep the public fixed on the reason for war, as well as point out the profound difference between what they believed that they fought for, and what their Confederate opponents fought for during the war.

“The Society of the Army of the Tennessee described the war as a struggle “that involved the life of the Nation, the preservation of the Union, the triumph of liberty and the death of slavery.” They had fought every battle…from the firing on the Union flag Fort Sumter to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox…in the cause of human liberty,” burying “treason and slavery in the Potter’s Field of nations” and “making all our citizens equal before the law, from the gulf to the lakes, and from ocean to ocean.” [18]

At what amounted to the last great Blue and Gray reunion at Gettysburg was held in 1937. The surviving members of the United Confederate Veterans extended an invitation to the GAR to join them there. The members of the GAR’s 71st Encampment from Madison Wisconsin, which included survivors of the immortal Iron Brigade who sacrificed so much of themselves at McPherson’s Ridge on July 1st 1863 adamantly, opposed a display of the Confederate Battle flag. “No Rebel colors,” they shouted. “What sort of compromise is that for Union soldiers but hell and damnation.” [19]

Ruffin outlived Lincoln who was killed by the assassin John Wilkes Booth on April 14th, 1864. However the difference between the two men was marked. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln spoke in a complete different manner than did Ruffin. He concluded that address with these thoughts:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” [20]

Why this Matters Today


The American Civil War provides a complex drama that political leaders, diplomats and military leaders would be wise to study, and not simply the military aspects and battles. Though the issues may be different in nations where the United States decides to intervene to prevent humanitarian disasters, to prevent local civil wars from becoming regional conflagrations, or to provide stability after a civil war, the conflict provides poignant example after poignant example. If we fail to remember them we will lose who we are as a nation. Sadly, all too often that is what we do.

Ken Burns wrote:

“after the South’s surrender at Appomattox we conspired to cloak the Civil War in bloodless, gallant myth, obscuring its causes and its great ennobling outcome – the survival of the Union and the freeing of four million Americans and their descendants from bondage. We struggled to rewrite our history to emphasize the gallantry of the wars’ top-down heroes, while ignoring the equally important bottom-up stories of privates and slaves. We changed the irredeemable, as the historian Davis Blight argues, into positive, inspiring stories.” [21]

The Union was preserved. Reconciliation was achieved to some degree, albeit in an imperfect manner. The continuance of legal racism and discrimination through the imposition of Jim Crow laws which discriminated against blacks and promoted segregation, poll-taxes and rigged tests to keep blacks from voting stained honor of the nation. The lack of repentance on the part of many of those who shamelessly promoted the Lost Cause and their current defenders continues to this day. Allen Guelzo wrote in the American Interest about the importance of both reconciliation and repentance to Frederick Douglass after the war:

“Douglass wanted the South not only to admit that it had lost, but also that it had deserved to lose. “The South has a past not to be contemplated with pleasure, but with a shudder”, he wrote in 1870. More than a decade later, Douglass was still not satisfied: “Whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it.” [22]

Likewise, that imperfect but reunited Union was all that stood in the way of Nazi Germany in the dark days of early 1942. Had the American republic fragmented during the war, had the South won, as so many kings and dictators of the day either openly or secretly desired, there would have been nothing to stand in the way of Hitler and his legions. Neither there would there be anyone to stand in the way of the modern despots, terrorists and dictatorships such as the Islamic State today.

Religion does matter to peoples, tribes and nations. It is still an important part of both foreign and domestic policy, even if a civilian policy maker or military strategist or operational planner does not believe in God and the effect of it cannot be minimized. Michael Oren notes “the impact of religion in shaping American attitudes and policies toward the Middle East” [23]in his book Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present. The conflict between largely secular Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Moslems in the Balkans is a glaring example of how people who are basically non-religious will rally around faith as a means of unity against rivals of a different faith, even those who are their long time neighbors.

Likewise, the attempt of former President Bush as well as President Obama to portray the response against Al Qaida and later the invasion of Iraq as “a war against terrorism – not as a war against Arabs, nor, more generally, against Muslims…” [24] has fallen on deaf ears in much of the Moslem world. Many Moslems, see the war as being waged against them and their religion. Many, even moderates have deeply ingrained beliefs similar to the late Osama Bin Laden, or the current leaders of the Al Qaida or the Islamic State for whom “this is a religious war, a war for Islam against infidels, and therefore, inevitably; against the United States, the greatest power of the world of the infidels.” [25]

In our culture of secularization we forget the primal importance of religion to others. Part of what we do not realize is that for people with Fundamentalist religious beliefs, no-matter what religion they belong to that religion is bedrock in times of tumult. When times are tough it is far easier for people to fall back on the more simple and fundamental aspects of their religious beliefs. For Americans this usually plays out in the individual drama of struggle, faith, sin and redemption and salvation. However, even in the United States religion can be, as we have seen from this brief look at the importance of religious faith and ideology in the ante-bellum United States, the Civil War and the aftermath of the war and Reconstruction, be translated into a catalyst and buttress for mass movements and holy war.


The controversies and conflicts brought on by the ideological, social and religious divides in the Ante-Bellum United States provide current leaders with historical examples. Our Civil War was heavily influenced by religion and the ideologies of the partisans in the North and in the South who were driven by religious motives, be those of the evangelical abolitionists or the proslavery evangelicals. If one is honest, one can see much of the same language, ideology and religious motivation at play in our twenty-first century United States. The issue for the vast majority of Americans, excluding certain neo-Confederate and White Supremacist groups, is no longer slavery; however the religious arguments on both sides of the slavery debate find resonance in our current political debates.

Likewise, for military, foreign policy officials and policy makers the subject of the role of religion can be quite informative. Similar issues are just as present in many the current conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe which are driven by the religious motives of various sects. The biggest of these conflicts, the divide between Sunni and Shia Moslems, is a conflict that threatens to engulf the region and spread further. In it religion is coupled with the quest for geopolitical and economic power. This conflict in all of its complexity and brutality is a reminder that religion is quite often the ideological foundation of conflict.

These examples, drawn from our own American experience can be instructive to all involved in policy making. These examples show the necessity for policy makers to understand just how intertwined the political, ideological, economic, social and religious seeds of conflict are, and how they cannot be disconnected from each other without severe repercussions.

Samuel Huntington wrote:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.” [26]

By taking the time to look at our own history as well as our popular mythology; planners, commanders and policy makers can learn lessons if they take the time to learn, will help them understand similar factors in places American troops and their allies might be called to serve, or that we might rather avoid.


[1] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom pp.148-149

[2] Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan Alan T. editors The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.15

[3] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.16

[4] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.104

[5] Davis, Jefferson The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government Volume One of Two, A public Domain Book, Amazon Kindle edition pp.76-77

[6] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[7] Millet Allen R and Maslowski, Peter. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, a division of McMillan Publishers, New York 1984 p.230

[8] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[9] Hunter, Lloyd The Immortal Confederacy: Another Look at the Lost Cause Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.185

[10] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.854

[11] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.186

[12] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[13] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[14] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.106

[15] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.16

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.525

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.526

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.532

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.532

[20] Ibid. Lincoln Second Inaugural Address

[21] Ibid. Burns A Conflict’s Acoustic Shadows p.102

[22] Guelzo, Allen C. A War Lost and Found in The American Interest September 1st 2011 retrieved 30 October 2014 from http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2011/09/01/a-war-lost-and-found/

[23] Oren, Michael Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2007 p.13

[24] Lewis, Bernard The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror Random House, New York 2003 p.xv

[25] Ibid. Lewis The Crisis of Islam p.xv

[26] Ibid. Huntington The Clash of Civilizations p.97


Filed under civil war, film, Gettysburg, History, Political Commentary

The Oddest, Most Eccentric Genius: Lt. General Richard Ewell


Lieutenant General Richard Ewell C.S.A.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am continuing to periodically intersperse and publish short articles about various commanders at Gettysburg on the site. These all are drawn from my student text and may become a book in their own right.  The reason is I am going to do this is because I have found that readers are often more drawn to the lives of people than they are events. As I have noted before that people matter, even deeply flawed people, and we can learn from them.

Today’s article is about Lieutenant General Richard Ewell who commanded the Confederate Second Corps at Gettysburg. He is another complex character, whose actions at Gettysburg are surrounding in controversy. This article does not go into those but instead focuses on the man and his leadership qualities, character, particularly his struggle with faith and depression.


Padre Steve+


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]

Richard Ewell was native of Virginia on February 8th 1817 in the District of Columbia. 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 that 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 for several years to get him an appointment to West Point. Through her efforts he was finally admitted to the academy in 1836.

The young 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. He lost his older brother Tom, who while serving with the Mounted Rifles was mortally wounded at Cerro Gordo. Likewise 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 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]

Three days after his promotion Ewell married his widowed cousin, Lizinka Campbell, who he had long admired. Lizinka was the daughter of a Tennessee Congressman and had inherited he first husband’s estate. The couple had renewed their relationship during Ewell’s recovery from his wounds suffered at Grovetown. However, the marriage did not help Ewell. Lizinka was domineering and attempted to extend her “domination to the operations of 2nd Corps.” This “created animosity all around.” [20] One colonel noted that Lizinka’s conduct:

“very seriously injured old Ewell, and the very cleverness, which at other times would render her agreeable has only tended to make her more unpopular. She manages everything,” he complained, “from the General’s affairs down to the courier’s, who carries his dispatches. All say they are under the petticoat government.” [21]

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.” [22] 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 might have reconsidered his choice.

Ewell 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.” [23] 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….” [24] 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. However, Ewell was “never the same man in body or mind after the loss of his leg at Groveton.” [25] His decision making on the battlefield became clouded and he was often indecisive.

After Gettysburg Ewell continued to command Second Corps through the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, “after which his health compelled his temporary retirement from active field duty.” [26] He was reassigned to be the commander of the Department of Richmond and was captured at Sayler’s Creek in April 1865. After the war Ewell was honest about his shortcomings as a corps commander, especially of his actions at Gettysburg. He told one officer “it took a dozen blunders to lose Gettysburg he committed a good many of them.” [27]

He retired to his wife’s dilapidated farm in Tennessee, which he rehabilitated through much hard work. He was active in his community and did not become immersed in the conflicts of various commanders. In January 1872 he and his family were stricken with fever, Lizinka died and he followed a few days later.

In his final days, the faith that he had so long avoided sustained him remarked to a former subordinate he said “I don’t know how it all is, but the mercy of God is greater than the mercy of men.” [28] He dictated that he wanted a simple funeral and no monument over his grave. “Above all, he insisted that nothing disrespectful to the United States Government be inscribed upon his tomb.” [29]

Unlike his former subordinate the bitter, hate filled and arrogant Jubal Early, the reserved and humble Dick Ewell reconciled with his country and owned his mistakes.


Padre Steve+


[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] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.25

[21] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.356

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

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

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

[25] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.720

[26] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.85

[27] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.605

[28] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell pp.495-496

[29] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.496

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


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