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The Development of Cavalry in the American Civil War

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today, since I am tired and it looks like I am not get a chance to write anything new before we begin our trip to Germany I am going to  I am post a revised part of one of my Civil War texts.  This one deals with the organization, use, and development of cavalry during the war in the United States Army and the Army of the Confederate States Army.  

Peace

Padre Steve+

Cavalry in the United States in the ante-bellum period and during the war differed from the massive cavalry arms of European armies. In Europe the major armies had two types of cavalry units, light cavalry which was used for scouting, reconnaissance and screening, and heavy cavalry which was designed to be employed at the decisive moment of the battle in order to break enemy infantry formations through the shock of the massed charge. Napoleon always had a number of reserve cavalry corps to fulfill this mission.

The United States had little in the way of a cavalry tradition. Cavalry was considered by many American political leaders to be too aristocratic for America and as a result this arm of service suffered. In its early years the U.S. Army did not have any sizable mounted formations to call upon.

There were a number of other reasons for the cultural and institutional resistance to a strong were trained and armed cavalry service in the United States Army.

First, the nation as a whole distrusted large standing armies and viewed them as a source of potential tyranny and traditional cavalry was the most aristocratic part of European armies. The struggle between Federalists who desired a standing army and a militia that could be organized under central control and Republicans who wanted nothing of the sort was a constant source of friction in the new republic. Anti-Federalists saw standing armies as despotic, as one anti-federalist publication noted “In despotic governments, as well as in all the monarchies of Europe, standing armies are kept to execute the commands of the prince or magistrate…. By establishing an armed force to execute the laws at the point of the bayonet – a government of all others is the most to be dreaded.” [1]

As such, much of the nation’s military spending was focused on the Navy, which was deemed as less of a domestic threat, and even then the limited budgets meant that many times significant numbers of ships were laid up in ordinary. The Regular Army struggled to maintain its existence from 1787 until the War of 1812 in the face of Republican opposition led by Thomas Jefferson. After the War of 1812 the nation soon lost interest in paying for a standing army and in 1821 against the wishes of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun slashed “the Army’s strength by eliminating regiments and reducing the number of officers.” [2] With appropriations cut to the bone there was no effort to create a cavalry arm for the service as cavalry formations were much more expensive to equip and maintain than infantry.

Even though the Regular Army survived, it was tiny in. Its strength ranged from 3,000 to 6,000 men, the bulk were infantry who for the most part formed a frontier constabulary or manned coastal fortifications. However, in 1796 two companies of Dragoons were authorized, but even so the mounted arm remained a poor stepchild. Likewise, “Doctrinal resistance to battle cavalry was also very strong. The ‘American’ tradition had no place for such an animal….” [3]

Finally as the nation expanded westward the army formed the First Dragoon Regiment in 1833. In 1836 the Second Dragoons were organized. The Dragoons were basically mounted infantry formations and these units were scattered about the expanding western frontiers of the nation were employed “guarding the routes of expansion as far west as the Rocky Mountains and as far south as the Red River.” The army also formed Mounted Infantry units, which like the Dragoons were hybrid formations. Though many thought that such units promised “a double return on the government’s investment, but which did not manage to provide either an efficient force of infantry or an efficient battle force of cavalry.” [4]

The First Dragoons would serve with “distinction in numerous engagements in what was to become California and New Mexico.”[5] The regiment fought well in the War with Mexico but suffered heavy casualties in the process. When the war ended it was again dispersed on the frontier when it was used to protect settlers and fight Native American tribes that resisted the advance of the flood of white settlers.

One of the reasons for the heavy losses sustained by the First Dragoons in Mexico was because “West Point cavalry doctrine was based upon a Napoleonic mania for the massed saber charge.” [6] However, one problem with this was that the United States Army never had sufficient numbers of cavalry, not to mention a death of heavy cavalry needed to make such attacks successful, but in Mexico the limited number of cavalry troops available made such tactics untenable. The tactic had often worked well for Napoleon and massed cavalry charges were used to sweep the field of broken enemy infantry formation. However, the suicidal charge of Marshal Ney’s vaunted Cuirassiers against the Duke of Wellington’s highly disciplined infantry squares at Waterloo had shown that such tactics were destined for extinction unless they were part of an all arms assault. Marshal Ney failed because he used his cavalry in unsupported attacks against the allied infantry squares rather advancing artillery to support the attack or bringing infantry up to force the defenders out of their squares.

It was not until the 1850s that the army organized its first two Cavalry regiments for duty on the frontier. The new cavalry regiments were the equivalent of European light cavalry and during the war primarily served in that role, conducting reconnaissance, raids, and screening the army. Even so the tactical doctrine taught at West Point focused continued to “support the continuing predominance of the offense over the defense, of shock over firepower” [7] which was at odds with the cavalry’s actual capabilities.

Cavalry regiments were usually composed of four to six squadrons, each squadron having two companies. Cavalry regiments could range in size from 660 to nearly 1,200 troopers. Both the Union and the Confederacy grouped their cavalry into brigades and later divisions, but the Confederates were first to establish cavalry brigades and divisions. By 1863 both the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac each formed cavalry corps. Cavalry tactics “complemented conventional infantry assault tactics, emphasizing shock and the role of the saber”; unfortunately both the infantry and the cavalry developed their doctrine independently. U.S. Army Cavalry doctrine was prescribed in Philip St. George Cooke’s Cavalry Tactics which was published in 1861 while a corresponding Confederate manual, Joseph Wheeler’s A Revised System of Cavalry Tactics appeared in 1863.

Before the war American cavalry units tended to operate in small numbers with regiments seldom sending into action more than a few companies at once. At the beginning of the war the Federal government decided to form just five mounted regiments, including two of Dragoons and one of Mounted Infantry. It soon decided to add a sixth but the units were hindered by the fact that many of their officers had gone to the Confederacy, and some of those remaining “would jump to volunteer units to secure higher rank, pay, and prestige.”[8] The result was defeat after defeat at the hands of J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry.

Eventually large scale programs to train and equip large numbers of volunteers and the Regulars combined with wartime reorganizations and solid leadership would make the Federal cavalry a force that was able to hold its own and then to sweep Confederate cavalry from the field. But it took time to train cavalry, and early Union commanders like McClellan refused to take that time and a “whole year was lost as a result, during which the cavalry was allowed to indoctrinate itself in the notion that it could never make use of European standards.” [9] While McClellan may have done well in organizing and training the infantry and artillery of the Army of the Potomac, he did little in the way of providing the mounted arm with leaders, training or missions that would increase their effectiveness. Unlike Stuart who combined his troopers with effective horse artillery, McClellan “failed to appreciate the advantage of coordinating the tactical strengths of cavalry with those of infantry and artillery.” [10]

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J.E.B. Stuart

While the South did struggle at times with its cavalry arm but did have an advantage in that the vast majority of their cavalry troopers owned their mounts and were experienced horsemen, something that could not be said of the many city dwellers who volunteered for duty in the Union cavalry. But the initial Southern superiority in cavalry was also due to the fact that “the principal of massing regiments into brigades and divisions was pursued earlier than by the Federal.” [11] In contrast McClellan “followed the evil course of reducing mounted regiments to their smallest components for operational use.” Likewise, he “wasted cavalry’s potential and depressed its morale by employing it as couriers, bodyguards for his subordinates, pickets for his encampments, and wagon train escorts, instead of as combat troops.” [12] The result as one would expect was that for the first two years of the war “J.E.B. Stuart and his horsemen were able, literally, to run rings around their opponents.” [13]

One Union writer compared the development of the Confederate and Union cavalry arms during the war:

“The habits of the Southern people facilitated the formation of cavalry corps which were comparatively efficient even without instruction; and accordingly we see Stuart, John Morgan, and Forrest riding around with impunity around the Union armies, and destroying or harassing their communications. Late in the war that agency was reversed. The South was exhausted of horses, while the Northern cavalry increased in numbers and efficiency, and acquired the audacity which had characterized the Southern.” [14]

buford

John Buford

As such much of the initial improvement in the Union cavalry arm were due to solid commanders like Brigadier General John Buford to teach new recruits as well as discouraged veterans to become effective cavalrymen.

Cavalry remained a fairly small in comparison to the infantry and artillery branches of service. Even during the wartime expansion the amount of cavalry available was miniscule compared to European armies. On the average only about 8% of the Army of the Potomac was composed of cavalry, compared to Napoleon’s 20 to 25%. [15] Part of this was due to the perceived cost of the cavalry arm which many believed was too expensive to maintain on a large scale: “estimates held that every twelve companies mounted and outfitted at public expense would rob the Treasury of over $300,000 a year merely to cover upkeep on animals, remounts, weapons, and equipment….” [16]

The cost of equipping cavalry was high enough that in the South that troopers had to procure their own mounts. Edwin Coddington noted that the Confederate policy “was a wonderful arrangement for keeping the strength of the cavalry below par, much more than enemy bullets, for it encouraged absenteeism.” [17] The Confederate government paid the own for the use of the horse, and a cash reimbursement if it was lost in combat, but if it was lost in any other manner the soldier had to get another horse if he wanted to remain in the service. Since the Confederates never set up a “centralized replacement service” troopers who lost their mount “had to go home to procure a new horse. If he were a Virginian he needed from thirty to sixty days to accomplish his purpose, and a much longer time should he have to come deeper south.” [18]

Despite the doctrinal predilection to the offense and using the cavalry as a shock unit, the U.S. Army formed no heavy cavalry formations on the order of the famous French Cuirassiers, named after their armored breastplates and metal helmets which were the primary type of cavalry used in Europe for such tactics. As such, during the Civil War both Union and Confederate cavalry formations were primarily assigned to reconnaissance and screening missions normally conducted by light cavalry units in Europe. These larger formations began to be used en masse for the purpose of raiding by both sides “but in the hands of J.E.B Stuart and his friends it became little more than a license to roam off into the enemy’s rear areas looking for plunder and glory.”[19] The cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac was used in a similar manner to raid enemy rear areas with often dreadful results which contributed nothing to the overall goal of defeating Lee’s army. A prime example was when Joseph Hooker detached his newly formed Cavalry Corps under George Stoneman to raid Richmond leaving the flank of the army uncovered at Chancellorsville.

Quite often the soldiers assigned to the infantry and artillery had little use for the cavalry who they saw as pampered and contributing little to the war. Many infantrymen held the “cavalry in open contempt. “These cavalry are a positive nuisance,” an officer in the 123rd Illinois wrote. “They won’t fight, and whenever they are around they are always in the way of those who will fight.” [20] Disdainful Confederate infantrymen “greeted their cavaliers with “Here’s your mule!” and “their Federal counterparts would exclaim: “There’d going to be a fight, boy; the cavalry’s running back!” and “Whoever saw a dead cavalryman.”[21]

The lethality of the rifled musket also made the classic Napoleonic cavalry charge against enemy infantry a costly and dangerous enterprise if the enemy infantry still had the means to make organized resistance, and if the cavalry assault was not supported by infantry and cavalry.. An example of this was the ill-fated cavalry attack ordered by Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick against the men of Lafayette McLaws’s well prepared division on the Confederate right after the failure of Pickett’s Change at Gettysburg.

Cavalry tactics began to change during the war. Both sides used their cavalry for raids, sometimes very large ones, and operations against enemy partisans in their rear areas. In each case the cavalry was typically deployed by itself and even when it accompanied the armies into battle cavalry units were typically employed on the periphery of the battle. As such as Griffith wrote, “Civil War doctrine of raiding… was not only a deliberate turn away from the hope of victory on the battlefield, but it actually removed the means by which victory might have been won at the very moment when those means were at last starting to be properly efficient.” [22] The lack of heavy cavalry of the European model sometimes kept commanders from completing victories, one can only imagine what would have happened had George Meade had a division of heavy cavalry at hand to sweep the Confederates from the battlefield after Pickett’s Charge.

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Philip Sheridan

Tactics only began to change when General Philip Sheridan took command of Grant’s cavalry. Sheridan kept the cavalry close to the main body of the arm. Sheridan had replaced Major General Alfred Pleasanton as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in early 1864. It is quite possible had he not died in December 1863 that the post would have gone to John Buford, but Sheridan had a vision for the cavalry that foreshadowed modern operational art. Sheridan wanted to organize the Cavalry Corps by concentrating it “into a powerful striking arm. He desired to do this, first, to deal with the Confederate cavalry, on the theory that “with a mass of ten thousand mounted men… I could make it so lively for the enemy’s cavalry that… the flanks and rear of the Army of the Potomac would require little or no defense.” [23] Sheridan was making no idle boast as by now his troops “were not only more numerous, but they had better leaders, tactics, and equipment than before,” [24] especially when it came to the Spencer repeating rifle which was now standard issue for the cavalrymen, and which gave them a tremendous advantage in firepower over Stuart’s now ill-equipped troops.

Sheridan first did this at the beginning of the Wilderness campaign when he took his 10,000 strong corps around the Confederate flank. Sheridan had been quarreling with Meade about the latter’s insistence that Sheridan’s horsemen were clogging the roads that his infantry needed to advance upon. In the heated discussion Sheridan came very close to being insubordinate with Meade. Meade reportedly told Sheridan that “Stuart “will do about how he pleases anyhow” to which Sheridan supposedly replied “Damn Stuart, I can trash hell out of him any day.” [25] Furious, Meade went and reported the matter to Grant. Grant listened and replied “Did Sheridan say that?… He usually knows what he is talking about. Let him go ahead and do it.” [26] At Grant’s request Meade provided Sheridan with new orders to concentrate his cavalry, march south and engage Stuart’s cavalry. Unlike previous raids which sought to avoid battle with Stuart’s troops in order to hit prescribed objectives, above all Sheridan wanted to engage and defeat the legendary Confederate cavalier. He “defined the raid as “a challenge to Stuart for a cavalry duel behind Lee’s lines in his own country.” And the more there were of the gray riders when the showdown was at hand, the better he would like it, since that would mean there were more to be smashed up.” [27]

Sheridan’s column totaled nearly 13,000 men and was nearly 13 miles long as he proceeded at a slow pace around Lee’s army and south towards Richmond. In addition to his horsemen he brought all of his horse artillery batteries. He was well around Lee’s flank before he was discovered and during the march his troops burned a depot and over one hundred railroad cars containing “close to a million rations of meat and better than a half million of bread, along with Lee’s entire reserve of medical stores.” [28]

On May 11th Stuart managed to intercept Sheridan’s column at a place called Yellow Tavern, just south of Ashland and the Ana River, but his corps was outnumbered by at least three to one. Three well trained, experienced, equipped, and superbly led Federal cavalry divisions confronted Stuart. With no hopes of fighting an offensive action, Stuart’s troops fought dismounted and were routed by the superior Bluecoats who continued on to cut the railroad between Lee’s army and Richmond. During the battle Stuart, who had cheated death on a number of occasions was mortally wounded. The Confederate cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia would never recover, and to Southerners Stuart’s death was a profound psychological blow, only slightly worse than that of Stonewall Jackson a year before. Robert E. Lee, to who Stuart was like a son took the loss harder than he had taken Jackson’s. “I can scarcely think of him without weeping,” he told one of Stuart’s officers.” [29]

As the armies in the East and West dueled throughout 1864, Sheridan and other Federal cavalry officers transformed the Union cavalry into a striking force which could be the spearhead of the army and use new tactics to overcome the problem of combining fire with rapid maneuver which had never been satisfactory applied by the infantry. There were four components in the new tactical mix: “fast operational mobility on horseback out of contact with the enemy; a willingness to take cover and fight on foot when the enemy was close; new repeating carbines to give enhanced firepower; and a mounted reserve to make the sabre charge when the moment was ripe.” [30] Sheridan would apply these tactics in his later campaigns against Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley and during the Appomattox campaign and his cavalry, working with infantry and artillery smashed the beleaguered Confederate armies which tried to oppose them. The reorganized cavalry was not the answer to all of the battlefield problems faced by Civil War commanders but it gave Union commanders an impressive weapon in which the speed and firepower of the cavalry could be readily combined with artillery and infantry to achieve decisive results. On the Confederate side, General Joseph Wheeler who commanded the cavalry in the west, Wheeler usually fought dismounted in “skirmish order using field fortification, whether skirmishing independently or in the line…. In the last major action of the war, he dramatically displayed how cavalry had become tactically integrated with infantry. At Bentonville, while fighting his cavalry dismounted, first on the right, then moving around to the left flank, Wheeler constructed a line of breastworks 1,200 yards long.” [31]

European cavalry officers found little to admire in American use of cavalry. Few paid attention to the importance of fighting dismounted and working as part of a combined arms team. In August 1914 their cavalry formations paid severe price for ignoring the realities of modern war, realities which the Americans, both Union and Confederate learned during the Civil War.

Notes

[1] ____________ Anti-Federalists Fear a Large Military “Brutus I.” “To the Citizens of the State of New York” 1787 in Major Problems in American Military History edited by John Whiteclay Chambers II and G. Kurt Piehler, Houghton-Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York 1999 p. 103

[2] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States p.122

[3] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[4] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[5] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.33

[6] Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1986 and 1999 p.30

[7] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.21

[8] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.44

[9] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.182

[10] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[11] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[12] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[13] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.183

[14] Buell, Don Carlos. East Tennessee and the Campaign of Perryville 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.51

[15] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[16] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.43

[17] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.17

[18] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.17

[19] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.183

[20] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.20

[21] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[22] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War pp.183-184

[23] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.369

[24] Ibid. Whelan Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy’s Fate p.181

[25] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart p.288

[26] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown, and Company, New York, Toronto, London 1968 and 1969 p.216

[27]Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.564 p.224

[28] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.564 p.225

[29] Ibid. Korda, Clouds of Glory p.626

[30] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.184

[31] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.298

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U.S. Army Artillery Doctrine and Tactics from the Mexican War to the Wilderness

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a very long day. My legs hurt, I broke the big toe on my right foot Thursday afternoon, and between real work and work at home I put on about 7.5 miles on my legs. Thankfully I used Mr. Cane, who came into my life when I broke my tib-fib near the knee back in 2011 was there to help me out. I showed up at command PT dressed out in my PT uniform with Mr. Cane, but it was not the “Cane Mutiny.” Yes, that is a very bad pun, but when your are as tired as I am and in as much pain you really don’t care, but I digress… 

I still am working on my article about the President’s terrible week which seems to get more fascinating by the hour. Maybe after a long day working in the house tomorrow, ripping out nasty old carpet. laying some flooring in closets, and doing a bunch of other stuff I might try to finish it tomorrow, which is actually today because I am still awake and it is after midnight. 

So what the hell, tonight I am reposting a section of my unpublished Civil War book A Great War in a Revolutionary Age of Change. This section continues one that I posted two or three weeks ago dealing with U.S. Army artillery. This particular section deals with the period between 1846 and the summer of 1864. It is as non-partisan as you can get, but I hate to admit that the thought of  M-1857 12 Pound smoothbore “Napoleons” firing at massed Confederate infantry in the open  as they did during Pickett’s Charge does warm my heart. Oh my God it almost gives me a woody, but that isn’t exactly very Christian of me, but as I readily admit I am no saint and pretty much a Mendoza Line Christian. At least I can admit it. 

So have a great day and please get some sleep. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

fig20

American artillery doctrine subordinated the artillery to the infantry. Doctrine dictated that on the offensive “was for about one-third of the guns to occupy the enemy’s artillery and two-thirds to fire on the infantry and cavalry. Jomini liked the concentrated offensive cannonade where a breach of the line was to be attempted.” [1] But being such a small service, it was difficult for Americans to actually implement Napoleonic practices, or organization as the organization itself “was rooted in pre-Napoleonic practice, operating as uncoordinated batteries.” [2]

American artillerymen of the Mexican War could not match the massive firepower and concentration of Napoleon’s army. Instead it utilized mobile tactics, which gave it “the opportunity to maneuver in open country to support the infantry.” [3] During the war the actions of the highly mobile light batteries proved decisive, as did the spirit of their officers and soldiers. The Americans may not have had the organization of Napoleon, but “the audacious spirit was there.” [4] In a number of engagements American batteries employed the artillery rush, even gaining the admiration of Mahan, a noted exponent of the defensive. Among the leaders of the artillery at the Battle of Buena Vista were Captain Braxton Bragg, and Lieutenants John Reynolds and George Thomas, all of who would go on to fame in the Civil War. During a moment when Mexican forces threatened to overwhelm the American line, Bragg’s battery arrived:

“Without support, Bragg whirled his guns into battery only a few rods from the enemy…. The Mississippi Rifles and Lane’s Hoosiers also double-quicked from the rear of the plateau. From then on it was a storybook finish for the Americans, and artillery made the difference. Seventeen guns swept the Mexicans with grape and canister…. Reynolds, Thomas, and the others stood to the work with their captains until 5 o’clock. Santa Ana was through…” [5]

At Casa Mata outside of Mexico City, Americans found their flank threatened by Mexican cavalry. Captain James Hunter and Lieutenant Henry Hunt observed the situation and “Without awaiting orders they rushed their guns to the threatened sector…  With Duncan directing them, all stood their posts long enough to spray the front ranks of mounted Mexicans with canister, the shotgun effect of which shredded the half-formed attack columns, dissolving all alignment and sending the lancers scrambling rearward in chaos…” [6] As a result these and other similar instances the artillery came out of the war with a sterling reputation and recognition of their gallant spirit. John Gibbon reflected such a spirit when he wrote: “Batteries derive all their value from the courage and skill of the gunners; from their constancy and devotion on difficult marches; from the quickness and capacity of the officers; and especially from the good condition and vigor of the teams, without which nothing can be undertaken.” [7]

At the beginning of the war U.S. Army doctrine recommended placing batteries equally across the line and concentrating them as needed. The last manual on artillery tactics Instruction for Field Artillerypublished in 1859 retained much of its pre-Mexican War content and the doctrine in it provided that artillery was to “be organized at the regiment and brigade level with no reserve.” [8] Nonetheless some artillery officers discussed the possibilities of concentration, Grand Batteries, and the artillery reserve, no changes in organization occurred before the war. However, these discussions were all theoretical, as practical experience of these officers was limited to the small number of weapons employed in the Mexican War, and the “immediate problem was the organization of an unaccustomed mass of artillery.” [9] The Artillerist’s Manual, a highly technical treatise on gunnery was written by Captain John Gibbon in 1859 while he was serving at West Point and used by artillerymen of both sides during the war.  In  Gibbon described the principle object of the artillery was to, “sustain the troops in the attack and defense, to facilitate their movements and to oppose the enemy’s; to destroy his forces as well as the obstacles that protect them; and to keep up the combat until the opportunity for a decisive blow.”  [10]

Since the United States Army traditionally drawn their doctrine from the French this meant going back to the Napoleonic model the foundational unit of which was the battery. The field artillery batteries were classed as either foot artillery or horse artillery. The horse artillery accompanied the cavalry and all gun crews went into battle mounted as cavalrymen. The soldiers of the foot artillery either rode with the guns or walked. The battery was the basic unit for American artillery and at the “start of the war the artillery of both sides was split into self-contained batteries, and each battery allocated to a particular brigade, regiment or even battalion of infantry.” [11]

12 pound napoleon

At the battery level Union artillery was organized by type into six-gun batteries. Confederate artillery units were organized into four or six-gun batteries in which the guns were often of mixed type. This often led to supply problems for Confederate gunners and inconsistent rates of fire and or range. Confederate gunners also had to deal with poor quality power and explosive shells, a condition that only worsened as the war continued. The well-trained Union gunners had better quality ammunition and gunpowder as well as what seemed to the Confederates to have limitless ammunition.

Each gun was manned by a seven-man crew and transported by a team of horses that towed a limber, which transported the cannon and a caisson, which transported the ammunition. The caissons would normally be stocked with four chests of ammunition. For a Napoleon “a standard chest consisted of twelve shot, twelve spherical case, four shells, and four canister rounds for a total of 112 rounds of long range ammunition.” [12] In addition to the ammunition carried in the caissons of each gun, more ammunition was carried in the corps and division supply trains.

As the war progressed the both the Union and Confederate armies reorganized their field artillery. In the North this was a particular problem due to the lack of flexibility and politics in the Army which were prejudiced against large artillery formations, despite the great numbers of batteries and artillerymen now in the army. However the Federal army had good artillerymen. The Regular Army batteries were the foundation of the artillery service. Unlike the infantry units which were overwhelmingly composed of volunteer soldiers, the artillerymen were regulars, many who had served for years in the ante-bellum army.

Since there were few billets for senior artillerymen many artillery officers volunteered or were selected to serve in the infantry to get promoted or to take advantage of their experience and seniority. One of those chose was John Reynolds who promote to Lieutenant Colonel and given orders to form an infantry regiment. Before he could get started in that work he was made a Brigadier General of Volunteers. He wrote: “I would, of course, have preferred the Artillery arm of service, but could not refuse the promotion offered me under any circumstance, much less at this time, when the Government has a right to my services in any capacity.” [13] Other artillerymen who rose to prominence outside of the branch during the war included William Tecumseh Sherman, George Meade, John Gibbon, George Thomas, Ambrose Burnside, and Abner Doubleday, and Confederates Stonewall Jackson, Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, and A.P. Hill.

However, General Winfield Scott took action to keep a core of experienced artillery officers with the artillery. At Scott’s behest, “the War Department limited the resignations of artillerymen to accept higher rank in infantry regiments, resulting in a core of capable and experienced officers.” [14]  This allowed George McClellan to select two exceptional artillery veterans, William Barry and Harry Hunt to “organize the branch and to oversee training.” [15] McClellan appointed Barry, who had been commissioned in 1836 as the head of his artillery. After the defeat at Bull Run, Barry “prepared as set of guidelines or principles for the artillery service. He prescribed a uniform caliber of guns in each battery, four to six cannon in each battery, and that four batteries – one Regular Army and three volunteer – be attached to each division.” [16]  In this organization, McClellan and Barry “called for the Regular Army battery commander to take charge of those batteries assigned to the division. This was in addition to his responsibilities to his own battery.” The practical effect of this was that “with the exception of the Artillery Reserve, the highest artillery command remained that of a Captain.” [17]

Hunt was responsible for the organization of the Artillery Reserve and the siege train. The Artillery Reserve was given eighteen batteries, about 100 guns or about one-third of the army’s artillery. It would be a source from which to replace and reinforce batteries on the line, but Hunt also understood its tactical employment. He explained:

‘In marches near the enemy it is often desirable to occupy positions with guns for special purposes: the command fords, to cover the throwing and taking up bridges, and for other purposes for which it would be inconvenient and unadvisable to withdraw their batteries from the troops. Hence the necessary reserve of artillery.” [18]

Hunt’s Artillery Reserve would be of great value in the early battles of maneuver. “The primary advantage of the army artillery reserve was the flexibility it gave the commander, making it unnecessary to go through the division or corps commanders. The reserve batteries could be used whenever or wherever needed.” [19] But this would not be in the offense role that Napoleon used his artillery to smash his opponents, for technology and terrain would seldom allow it; but rather in the defense; especially at the battles of Malvern Hill and Gettysburg. However, “Gettysburg was the last battle of the Civil War in which field artillery fire was paramount…” but “By the end of 1863, the tide of war had changed in the eastern theater, with both sides making more use of field fortifications to cover themselves from the murderous fire of the infantry rifle.” [20]

Even so, lack of promotion opportunity for artillerymen was a problem for both sides during the war, and artillerymen who showed great promise were sometimes promoted and sent to other branches of service. A prime example of such a policy was Captain Stephen Weed “who fought his guns brilliantly in the first two years of the war, and a Chancellorsville even commanded the artillery of a whole army corps.” Henry Hunt “singled him out as having a particular flair for handling large masses of cannon, and wanted to see him promoted.” [21] He was promoted to Brigadier General but in the infantry where he would lead a brigade and die helping to defend Little Round Top. In all “twenty-one field-grade artillery officers in the Regular Army became generals in the Volunteers, but only two remained with the artillery branch.” [22]

Both Barry and Hunt sought to rectify this issue. Barry insisted that a “battery of artillery was the equivalent of a battalion of infantry” [23] and pressed for a higher grade structure for the artillery. Colonel Charles Wainwright wrote of their efforts: “Many officers of the regular artillery have long been trying to get a recognition of their arm of the service, doing away with the regiments and making a corps of it, the same as the engineers and ordnance. McClellan and Hunt drew up a plan soon after Antietam, which by Stanton and Halleck, but nothing more has been hear of it.” [24]

However, Barry and Hunt were opposed by War Department insiders. General Lorenzo Thomas, the Adjutant General used law and regulation to prevent promotions in the artillery beyond Captain and as to General Officers as well. Thomas insisted that the battery was equivalent of an infantry company or cavalry troop. He noted “that laws long in force stipulated that only one general officer could be appointed per each for each forty infantry companies or cavalry troops.” [25] He applied this logic to the artillery as well, which meant in the case of the Army of the Potomac which had over sixty batteries that only one general could be appointed. The result could be seen in the organization of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, the artillery component, “which included approximately 8,000 men with 372 pieces – almost the manpower (and certainly the firepower) of a complete army corps. It included only two general officers… then there were three colonels and no other high ranks at all. One army corps had its guns commanded by a lieutenant.” [26] Over time the situation would improve and the artillery given some autonomy within the Army, at Gettysburg Meade gave Hunt command authority to employ the artillery as he deemed necessary, even over the objections of the corps commanders.

General Henry Hunt was probably the most instrumental officer when it came to reorganizing Union artillery organizations in the Army of the Potomac. Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hunt prevailed upon the army commander, Joseph Hooker to create “artillery brigades assigned to each corps. This overcame a problem at Chancellorsville, where the batteries of uncommitted divisions had gone unused. The reorganization also made a practical adjustment to the situation where the attrition of divisions was making the corps the basic tactical unit.” [27] In the reorganization the infantry brigades retained their assigned batteries for direct support, but the guns of the divisions were organized into brigades at the corps level. The artillery brigades of the infantry corps had “from four to eight batteries, depending on the size of the corps.” [28] Despite being reflagged as brigades the command structure was not increased. This was often due to the fact “that for much of the war commanding officers persisted in regarding artillery as merely a subsidiary technical branch, an auxiliary which might add a little extra vitality to a firing line if conditions were favourable – but more typically would not.” [29] Dr. Vardell Nesmith noted:

“Resistance within the Army to formalizing tactical organizations for field artillery above the level of the battery was a complex phenomenon. Certainly there was some hesitance on the part of the Army establishment to create new organizations that would come between infantry and cavalry commanders and their fire support assets. Also one cannot discount the institutionalized tendency to keep everyone in their proper place – in other words, to keep a new power group from organizing.” [30]

Organized into brigades the Artillery Reserve became the instrument of the Army commander and served as what we would now call “general support”artillery where they were invaluable to Union army commanders to be available to augment other batteries and to replace batteries which had suffered casualties while on line. The organization of the artillery into brigades, even if they were field expedient organizations did much to increase the effectiveness of the arm. They supplanted “the battery in tactics and to considerable degree in administration. Supply and maintenance were improved, and more efficient employment and promptness and facility of movement resulted. In addition, the concentration of batteries was favorable for instruction, discipline, and firepower. Fewer guns were needed, and in 1864, the number of recommended field pieces per 1,000 men was reduced from 3 to 2.5.” [31]

henryhunt

General Henry Hunt

Hunt lobbied the War Department to provide a staff for each brigade, but since the new units were improvised formations no staffs were created and no promotions authorized for their commanders. Colonel Wainwright proposed a congressional bill to organizer volunteer artillery units into a corps of artillery, but lamented:

“Both Barry and General Hunt while commanding the artillery of this army have frequently complained in their reports of the great want of field officers. Were the light batteries of each state organized as a corps, and provided with field officers in the proportion proposed in the bill referred to above, this want would be provided for. The officers of light batteries also have a claim demanding some such change. No class of officers in our volunteer service stand as high as high as those of our light batteries. I say without hesitation that they are very far superior as a class in all respects to the officers of the infantry or cavalry. Yet for them there is not a chance at this time any chance of promotion above a simple captaincy, except in the few light regiments spoken of. I can point to several cases of captains of light batteries who, from this want of field officers, have for the past year exercised all the authority and borne all the responsibility of a brigadier-general.” [32]

But change did come, however slowly and with great resistance from the War Department bureaucracy, and the artillery service “did succeed in winning some measure of recognition for its independent status and tactics. After Gettysburg the army’s artillery commander was accept as having overriding authority in gunnery matters, with the infantry relegated to a merely consulting role, although in practice the change brought little improvement.” [33] The beginning of this came in August 1863 when George Meade promulgated an order that “defined Hunt’s authority in matters of control of the artillery in the Army of the Potomac. The order “definitely stated that Hunt was empowered to supervise and inspect every battery in the army, and in battle to employ them “under the supervision of the major-general commanding.” [34] The order was important but still did not go far enough to remedy the problem of a lack of field officers in the artillery, a problem that was not completely remedied during the war although Ulysses Grant did allow a limited number of promotions to provide more field grade officers in the artillery service of the Army of the Potomac and other armies under his command in the Eastern Theater. Likewise some additional billets were created in the brigades as brigade commanders “were authorized a staff consisting of an adjutant, quartermaster, commissary officer, ordnance officer (an artillery officer on ordnance duty), medical officer, and artillery inspector, with each staff officer having one or more assistants…” However the staff officers had to be detailed from the batteries, thereby reducing the number of officers present with those units”[35] However, in most cases the brigade commanders remained Captains or First Lieutenants.

In the Western theater there was a trend toward the centralization of the artillery in the various armies depending on the commander and the terrain and the size of the operation. As the war progressed in the west commanders began to group their artillery under brigades, divisions, and finally under the various army corps. At Shiloh Grant concentrated about 50 guns “in the notorious “Hornet’s Nest,” perhaps saving him from defeat.” [36] Artillery tactics shifted away from the offense to the defense and even during offensive operations western commanders were quick to entrench both their infantry and artillery. During the Atlanta campaign and march to the sea William Tecumseh Sherman successfully reduced his artillery complement first to 2 guns per 1,000 men then to 1 per 1,000. [37] This was in large part because he was conducting a campaign of maneuver and was far from his logistics base. Since supplies had to be carried with the army itself with a heavy reliance on forage, Sherman recognized that his army had to be trimmed down. Likewise, “the terrain and concept of operations must have been very important in his decision.” His “rapid, almost unopposed raid through Georgia gave no opportunities for the massing of large batteries in grand manner.” [38] During the campaign Sherman marched without a siege train and reinforced his cavalry division with light artillery batteries.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.21

[2] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.195

[3] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.194

[4] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.6

[5] Nichols, Edward J. Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of General John Reynolds, The Pennsylvania State University Press 1958, reprinted by Old Soldier Book Gaithersburg MD 1987 p.43

[6] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac pp.53-54.

[7] Gibbon, John. Artillerist’s Manual: Compiled from Various Sources and Adapted to the Service of the United States. 1859 retrieved from http://www.artilleryreserve.org/Artillerists%20Mannual.pdf 19 January 2017 pp.345-346

[8] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.22

[9] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.19

[10] Ibid. Gibbon  Artillerist’s Manual: Compiled from Various Sources and Adapted to the Service of the United States. p.343

[11] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.165

[12] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.15

[13] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of General John Reynoldsp.75

[14] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.39

[15] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac p.39

[16] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac p.40

[17] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example pp.21-22

[18] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.98

[19] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.65

[20] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.74

[21] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[22] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.60

[23] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.22

[24] 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.336

[25] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.100

[26] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[27] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.94

[28] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.94

[29] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[30] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example pp.22-23

[31] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.62

[32] Ibid. Wainwright. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 p.337

[33] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[34] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.181

[35] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.61

[36] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.198

[37] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.284

[38] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.178

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American Artillery, Doctrine, and Tactics from the Mexican War to the Wilderness

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I continue to work on my Civil War books. Today an excerpt dealing with American artillery during the Civil War. This is the follow-on article to the one that I posted last week,

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

fig20

American artillery doctrine subordinated the artillery to the infantry. Doctrine dictated that on the offensive “was for about one-third of the guns to occupy the enemy’s artillery and two-thirds to fire on the infantry and cavalry. Jomini liked the concentrated offensive cannonade where a breach of the line was to be attempted.” [1] But being such a small service, it was difficult for Americans to actually implement Napoleonic practices, or organization as the organization itself “was rooted in pre-Napoleonic practice, operating as uncoordinated batteries.” [2]

American artillerymen of the Mexican War could not match the massive firepower and concentration of Napoleon’s army. Instead it utilized mobile tactics, which gave it “the opportunity to maneuver in open country to support the infantry.” [3] During the war the actions of the highly mobile light batteries proved decisive, as did the spirit of their officers and soldiers. The Americans may not have had the organization of Napoleon, but “the audacious spirit was there.[4] In a number of engagements American batteries employed the artillery rush, even gaining the admiration of Mahan, a noted exponent of the defensive. Among the leaders of the artillery at the Battle of Buena Vista were Captain Braxton Bragg, and Lieutenants John Reynolds and George Thomas, all of who would go on to fame in the Civil War. During a moment when Mexican forces threatened to overwhelm the American line, Bragg’s battery arrived:

“Without support, Bragg whirled his guns into battery only a few rods from the enemy…. The Mississippi Rifles and Lane’s Hoosiers also double-quicked from the rear of the plateau. From then on it was a storybook finish for the Americans, and artillery made the difference. Seventeen guns swept the Mexicans with grape and canister…. Reynolds, Thomas, and the others stood to the work with their captains until 5 o’clock. Santa Ana was through…” [5]

At Casa Mata outside of Mexico City, Americans found their flank threatened by Mexican cavalry. Captain James Hunter and Lieutenant Henry Hunt observed the situation and “Without awaiting orders they rushed their guns to the threatened sector…  With Duncan directing them, all stood their posts long enough to spray the front ranks of mounted Mexicans with canister, the shotgun effect of which shredded the half-formed attack columns, dissolving all alignment and sending the lancers scrambling rearward in chaos…” [6] As a result these and other similar instances the artillery came out of the war with a sterling reputation and recognition of their gallant spirit. John Gibbon reflected such a spirit when he wrote: “Batteries derive all their value from the courage and skill of the gunners; from their constancy and devotion on difficult marches; from the quickness and capacity of the officers; and especially from the good condition and vigor of the teams, without which nothing can be undertaken.” [7]

At the beginning of the war U.S. Army doctrine recommended placing batteries equally across the line and concentrating them as needed. The last manual on artillery tactics Instruction for Field Artillery, published in 1859 retained much of its pre-Mexican War content and the doctrine in it provided that artillery was to “be organized at the regiment and brigade level with no reserve.” [8] Nonetheless some artillery officers discussed the possibilities of concentration, Grand Batteries, and the artillery reserve, no changes in organization occurred before the war. However, these discussions were all theoretical, as practical experience of these officers was limited to the small number of weapons employed in the Mexican War, and the “immediate problem was the organization of an unaccustomed mass of artillery.” [9] The Artillerist’s Manual, a highly technical treatise on gunnery was written by Captain John Gibbon in 1859 while he was serving at West Point and used by artillerymen of both sides during the war.  In  Gibbon described the principle object of the artillery was to, “sustain the troops in the attack and defense, to facilitate their movements and to oppose the enemy’s; to destroy his forces as well as the obstacles that protect them; and to keep up the combat until the opportunity for a decisive blow.”  [10]

Since the United States Army traditionally drawn their doctrine from the French this meant going back to the Napoleonic model the foundational unit of which was the battery. The field artillery batteries were classed as either foot artillery or horse artillery. The horse artillery accompanied the cavalry and all gun crews went into battle mounted as cavalrymen. The soldiers of the foot artillery either rode with the guns or walked. The battery was the basic unit for American artillery and at the “start of the war the artillery of both sides was split into self-contained batteries, and each battery allocated to a particular brigade, regiment or even battalion of infantry.” [11]

At the battery level Union artillery was organized by type into six-gun batteries. Confederate artillery units were organized into four or six-gun batteries in which the guns were often of mixed type. This often led to supply problems for Confederate gunners and inconsistent rates of fire and or range. Confederate gunners also had to deal with poor quality power and explosive shells, a condition that only worsened as the war continued. The well-trained Union gunners had better quality ammunition and gunpowder as well as what seemed to the Confederates to have limitless ammunition.

Each gun was manned by a seven-man crew and transported by a team of horses that towed a limber, which transported the cannon and a caisson, which transported the ammunition. The caissons would normally be stocked with four chests of ammunition. For a Napoleon “a standard chest consisted of twelve shot, twelve spherical case, four shells, and four canister rounds for a total of 112 rounds of long range ammunition.” [12] In addition to the ammunition carried in the caissons of each gun, more ammunition was carried in the corps and division supply trains.

As the war progressed the both the Union and Confederate armies reorganized their field artillery. In the North this was a particular problem due to the lack of flexibility and politics in the Army which were prejudiced against large artillery formations, despite the great numbers of batteries and artillerymen now in the army. However the Federal army had good artillerymen. The Regular Army batteries were the foundation of the artillery service. Unlike the infantry units which were overwhelmingly composed of volunteer soldiers, the artillerymen were regulars, many who had served for years in the ante-bellum army.

Since there were few billets for senior artillerymen many artillery officers volunteered or were selected to serve in the infantry to get promoted or to take advantage of their experience and seniority. One of those chose was John Reynolds who promote to Lieutenant Colonel and given orders to form an infantry regiment. Before he could get started in that work he was made a Brigadier General of Volunteers. He wrote: “I would, of course, have preferred the Artillery arm of service, but could not refuse the promotion offered me under any circumstance, much less at this time, when the Government has a right to my services in any capacity.” [13] Other artillerymen who rose to prominence outside of the branch during the war included William Tecumseh Sherman, George Meade, John Gibbon, George Thomas, Ambrose Burnside, and Abner Doubleday, and Confederates Stonewall Jackson, Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, and A.P. Hill.

However, General Winfield Scott took action to keep a core of experienced artillery officers with the artillery. At Scott’s behest, “the War Department limited the resignations of artillerymen to accept higher rank in infantry regiments, resulting in a core of capable and experienced officers.” [14]  This allowed George McClellan to select two exceptional artillery veterans, William Barry and Harry Hunt to “organize the branch and to oversee training.” [15] McClellan appointed Barry, who had been commissioned in 1836 as the head of his artillery. After the defeat at Bull Run, Barry “prepared as set of guidelines or principles for the artillery service. He prescribed a uniform caliber of guns in each battery, four to six cannon in each battery, and that four batteries – one Regular Army and three volunteer – be attached to each division.” [16]  In this organization, McClellan and Barry “called for the Regular Army battery commander to take charge of those batteries assigned to the division. This was in addition to his responsibilities to his own battery.” The practical effect of this was that “with the exception of the Artillery Reserve, the highest artillery command remained that of a Captain.” [17]

Hunt was responsible for the organization of the Artillery Reserve and the siege train. The Artillery Reserve was given eighteen batteries, about 100 guns or about one-third of the army’s artillery. It would be a source from which to replace and reinforce batteries on the line, but Hunt also understood its tactical employment. He explained:

‘In marches near the enemy it is often desirable to occupy positions with guns for special purposes: the command fords, to cover the throwing and taking up bridges, and for other purposes for which it would be inconvenient and unadvisable to withdraw their batteries from the troops. Hence the necessary reserve of artillery.” [18]

Hunt’s Artillery Reserve would be of great value in the early battles of maneuver. “The primary advantage of the army artillery reserve was the flexibility it gave the commander, making it unnecessary to go through the division or corps commanders. The reserve batteries could be used whenever or wherever needed.” [19] But this would not be in the offense role that Napoleon used his artillery to smash his opponents, for technology and terrain would seldom allow it; but rather in the defense; especially at the battles of Malvern Hill and Gettysburg. However, “Gettysburg was the last battle of the Civil War in which field artillery fire was paramount…” but “By the end of 1863, the tide of war had changed in the eastern theater, with both sides making more use of field fortifications to cover themselves from the murderous fire of the infantry rifle.” [20]

Even so, lack of promotion opportunity for artillerymen was a problem for both sides during the war, and artillerymen who showed great promise were sometimes promoted and sent to other branches of service. A prime example of such a policy was Captain Stephen Weed “who fought his guns brilliantly in the first two years of the war, and a Chancellorsville even commanded the artillery of a whole army corps.” Henry Hunt “singled him out as having a particular flair for handling large masses of cannon, and wanted to see him promoted.” [21] He was promoted to Brigadier General but in the infantry where he would lead a brigade and die helping to defend Little Round Top. In all “twenty-one field-grade artillery officers in the Regular Army became generals in the Volunteers, but only two remained with the artillery branch.” [22]

Both Barry and Hunt sought to rectify this issue. Barry insisted that a “battery of artillery was the equivalent of a battalion of infantry” [23] and pressed for a higher grade structure for the artillery. Colonel Charles Wainwright wrote of their efforts: “Many officers of the regular artillery have long been trying to get a recognition of their arm of the service, doing away with the regiments and making a corps of it, the same as the engineers and ordnance. McClellan and Hunt drew up a plan soon after Antietam, which by Stanton and Halleck, but nothing more has been hear of it.” [24]

However, Barry and Hunt were opposed by War Department insiders. General Lorenzo Thomas, the Adjutant General used law and regulation to prevent promotions in the artillery beyond Captain and as to General Officers as well. Thomas insisted that the battery was equivalent of an infantry company or cavalry troop. He noted “that laws long in force stipulated that only one general officer could be appointed per each for each forty infantry companies or cavalry troops.” [25] He applied this logic to the artillery as well, which meant in the case of the Army of the Potomac which had over sixty batteries that only one general could be appointed. The result could be seen in the organization of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, the artillery component, “which included approximately 8,000 men with 372 pieces – almost the manpower (and certainly the firepower) of a complete army corps. It included only two general officers… then there were three colonels and no other high ranks at all. One army corps had its guns commanded by a lieutenant.” [26] Over time the situation would improve and the artillery given some autonomy within the Army, at Gettysburg Meade gave Hunt command authority to employ the artillery as he deemed necessary, even over the objections of the corps commanders.

General Henry Hunt was probably the most instrumental officer when it came to reorganizing Union artillery organizations in the Army of the Potomac. Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hunt prevailed upon the army commander, Joseph Hooker to create “artillery brigades assigned to each corps. This overcame a problem at Chancellorsville, where the batteries of uncommitted divisions had gone unused. The reorganization also made a practical adjustment to the situation where the attrition of divisions was making the corps the basic tactical unit.” [27] In the reorganization the infantry brigades retained their assigned batteries for direct support, but the guns of the divisions were organized into brigades at the corps level. The artillery brigades of the infantry corps had “from four to eight batteries, depending on the size of the corps.” [28] Despite being reflagged as brigades the command structure was not increased. This was often due to the fact “that for much of the war commanding officers persisted in regarding artillery as merely a subsidiary technical branch, an auxiliary which might add a little extra vitality to a firing line if conditions were favourable – but more typically would not.” [29] Dr. Vardell Nesmith noted:

“Resistance within the Army to formalizing tactical organizations for field artillery above the level of the battery was a complex phenomenon. Certainly there was some hesitance on the part of the Army establishment to create new organizations that would come between infantry and cavalry commanders and their fire support assets. Also one cannot discount the institutionalized tendency to keep everyone in their proper place – in other words, to keep a new power group from organizing.” [30]

Organized into brigades the Artillery Reserve became the instrument of the Army commander and served as what we would now call “general support” artillery where they were invaluable to Union army commanders to be available to augment other batteries and to replace batteries which had suffered casualties while on line. The organization of the artillery into brigades, even if they were field expedient organizations did much to increase the effectiveness of the arm. They supplanted “the battery in tactics and to considerable degree in administration. Supply and maintenance were improved, and more efficient employment and promptness and facility of movement resulted. In addition, the concentration of batteries was favorable for instruction, discipline, and firepower. Fewer guns were needed, and in 1864, the number of recommended field pieces per 1,000 men was reduced from 3 to 2.5.” [31]

henryhunt

General Henry Hunt

Hunt lobbied the War Department to provide a staff for each brigade, but since the new units were improvised formations no staffs were created and no promotions authorized for their commanders. Colonel Wainwright proposed a congressional bill to organizer volunteer artillery units into a corps of artillery, but lamented:

“Both Barry and General Hunt while commanding the artillery of this army have frequently complained in their reports of the great want of field officers. Were the light batteries of each state organized as a corps, and provided with field officers in the proportion proposed in the bill referred to above, this want would be provided for. The officers of light batteries also have a claim demanding some such change. No class of officers in our volunteer service stand as high as high as those of our light batteries. I say without hesitation that they are very far superior as a class in all respects to the officers of the infantry or cavalry. Yet for them there is not a chance at this time any chance of promotion above a simple captaincy, except in the few light regiments spoken of. I can point to several cases of captains of light batteries who, from this want of field officers, have for the past year exercised all the authority and borne all the responsibility of a brigadier-general.” [32]

But change did come, however slowly and with great resistance from the War Department bureaucracy, and the artillery service “did succeed in winning some measure of recognition for its independent status and tactics. After Gettysburg the army’s artillery commander was accept as having overriding authority in gunnery matters, with the infantry relegated to a merely consulting role, although in practice the change brought little improvement.” [33] The beginning of this came in August 1863 when George Meade promulgated an order that “defined Hunt’s authority in matters of control of the artillery in the Army of the Potomac. The order “definitely stated that Hunt was empowered to supervise and inspect every battery in the army, and in battle to employ them “under the supervision of the major-general commanding.” [34] The order was important but still did not go far enough to remedy the problem of a lack of field officers in the artillery, a problem that was not completely remedied during the war although Ulysses Grant did allow a limited number of promotions to provide more field grade officers in the artillery service of the Army of the Potomac and other armies under his command in the Eastern Theater. Likewise some additional billets were created in the brigades as brigade commanders “were authorized a staff consisting of an adjutant, quartermaster, commissary officer, ordnance officer (an artillery officer on ordnance duty), medical officer, and artillery inspector, with each staff officer having one or more assistants…” However the staff officers had to be detailed from the batteries, thereby reducing the number of officers present with those units” [35] However, in most cases the brigade commanders remained Captains or First Lieutenants.

In the Western theater there was a trend toward the centralization of the artillery in the various armies depending on the commander and the terrain and the size of the operation. As the war progressed in the west commanders began to group their artillery under brigades, divisions, and finally under the various army corps. At Shiloh Grant concentrated about 50 guns “in the notorious “Hornet’s Nest,” perhaps saving him from defeat.” [36] Artillery tactics shifted away from the offense to the defense and even during offensive operations western commanders were quick to entrench both their infantry and artillery. During the Atlanta campaign and march to the sea William Tecumseh Sherman successfully reduced his artillery complement first to 2 guns per 1,000 men then to 1 per 1,000. [37] This was in large part because he was conducting a campaign of maneuver and was far from his logistics base. Since supplies had to be carried with the army itself with a heavy reliance on forage, Sherman recognized that his army had to be trimmed down. Likewise, “the terrain and concept of operations must have been very important in his decision.” His “rapid, almost unopposed raid through Georgia gave no opportunities for the massing of large batteries in grand manner.” [38] During the campaign Sherman marched without a siege train and reinforced his cavalry division with light artillery batteries.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.21

[2] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.195

[3] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.194

[4] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.6

[5] Nichols, Edward J. Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of General John Reynolds, The Pennsylvania State University Press 1958, reprinted by Old Soldier Book Gaithersburg MD 1987 p.43

[6] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac pp.53-54.

[7] Gibbon, John. Artillerist’s Manual: Compiled from Various Sources and Adapted to the Service of the United States. 1859 retrieved from http://www.artilleryreserve.org/Artillerists%20Mannual.pdf 19 January 2017 pp.345-346

[8] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.22

[9] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.19

[10] Ibid. Gibbon  Artillerist’s Manual: Compiled from Various Sources and Adapted to the Service of the United States. p.343

[11] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.165

[12] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.15

[13] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of General John Reynolds p.75

[14] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.39

[15] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac p.39

[16] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac p.40

[17] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example pp.21-22

[18] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.98

[19] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.65

[20] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.74

[21] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[22] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.60

[23] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.22

[24] 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.336

[25] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.100

[26] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[27] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.94

[28] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.94

[29] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[30] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example pp.22-23

[31] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.62

[32] Ibid. Wainwright. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 p.337

[33] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[34] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.181

[35] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.61

[36] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.198

[37] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.284

[38] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.178

 

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Cavalry in the American Civil War

gallonbuyingtime

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am posting a revised part of one of my Civil War texts, this one dealing with the organization, use, and development of cavalry during the war. It’s kind of a history geek thing, I’m re-working on the section on artillery. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Cavalry in the United States in the ante-bellum period and during the war differed from the massive cavalry arms of European armies. In Europe the major armies had two types of cavalry units, light cavalry which was used for scouting, reconnaissance and screening, and heavy cavalry which was designed to be employed at the decisive moment of the battle in order to break enemy infantry formations through the shock of the massed charge. Napoleon always had a number of reserve cavalry corps to fulfill this mission.

The United States had little in the way of a cavalry tradition. Cavalry was considered by many American political leaders to be too aristocratic for America and as a result this arm of service suffered. In its early years the U.S. Army did not have any sizable mounted formations to call upon.

There were a number of other reasons for the cultural and institutional resistance to a strong were trained and armed cavalry service in the United States Army.

First, the nation as a whole distrusted large standing armies and viewed them as a source of potential tyranny and traditional cavalry was the most aristocratic part of European armies. The struggle between Federalists who desired a standing army and a militia that could be organized under central control and Republicans who wanted nothing of the sort was a constant source of friction in the new republic. Anti-Federalists saw standing armies as despotic, as one anti-federalist publication noted “In despotic governments, as well as in all the monarchies of Europe, standing armies are kept to execute the commands of the prince or magistrate…. By establishing an armed force to execute the laws at the point of the bayonet – a government of all others is the most to be dreaded.” [1]

As such, much of the nation’s military spending was focused on the Navy, which was deemed as less of a domestic threat, and even then the limited budgets meant that many times significant numbers of ships were laid up in ordinary. The Regular Army struggled to maintain its existence from 1787 until the War of 1812 in the face of Republican opposition led by Thomas Jefferson. After the War of 1812 the nation soon lost interest in paying for a standing army and in 1821 against the wishes of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun slashed “the Army’s strength by eliminating regiments and reducing the number of officers.” [2] With appropriations cut to the bone there was no effort to create a cavalry arm for the service as cavalry formations were much more expensive to equip and maintain than infantry.

Even though the Regular Army survived, it was tiny in. Its strength ranged from 3,000 to 6,000 men, the bulk were infantry who for the most part formed a frontier constabulary or manned coastal fortifications. However, in 1796 two companies of Dragoons were authorized, but even so the mounted arm remained a poor stepchild. Likewise, “Doctrinal resistance to battle cavalry was also very strong. The ‘American’ tradition had no place for such an animal….” [3]

Finally as the nation expanded westward the army formed the First Dragoon Regiment in 1833. In 1836 the Second Dragoons were organized. The Dragoons were basically mounted infantry formations and these units were scattered about the expanding western frontiers of the nation were employed “guarding the routes of expansion as far west as the Rocky Mountains and as far south as the Red River.” The army also formed Mounted Infantry units, which like the Dragoons were hybrid formations. Though many thought that such units promised “a double return on the government’s investment, but which did not manage to provide either an efficient force of infantry or an efficient battle force of cavalry.” [4]

The First Dragoons would serve with “distinction in numerous engagements in what was to become California and New Mexico.” [5] The regiment fought well in the War with Mexico but suffered heavy casualties in the process. When the war ended it was again dispersed on the frontier when it was used to protect settlers and fight Native American tribes that resisted the advance of the flood of white settlers.

One of the reasons for the heavy losses sustained by the First Dragoons in Mexico was because “West Point cavalry doctrine was based upon a Napoleonic mania for the massed saber charge.” [6] However, one problem with this was that the United States Army never had sufficient numbers of cavalry, not to mention a death of heavy cavalry needed to make such attacks successful, but in Mexico the limited number of cavalry troops available made such tactics untenable. The tactic had often worked well for Napoleon and massed cavalry charges were used to sweep the field of broken enemy infantry formation. However, the suicidal charge of Marshal Ney’s vaunted Cuirassiers against the Duke of Wellington’s highly disciplined infantry squares at Waterloo had shown that such tactics were destined for extinction unless they were part of an all arms assault. Marshal Ney failed because he used his cavalry in unsupported attacks against the allied infantry squares rather advancing artillery to support the attack or bringing infantry up to force the defenders out of their squares.

It was not until the 1850s that the army organized its first two Cavalry regiments for duty on the frontier. The new cavalry regiments were the equivalent of European light cavalry and during the war primarily served in that role, conducting reconnaissance, raids, and screening the army. Even so the tactical doctrine taught at West Point focused continued to “support the continuing predominance of the offense over the defense, of shock over firepower” [7] which was at odds with the cavalry’s actual capabilities.

Cavalry regiments were usually composed of four to six squadrons, each squadron having two companies. Cavalry regiments could range in size from 660 to nearly 1,200 troopers. Both the Union and the Confederacy grouped their cavalry into brigades and later divisions, but the Confederates were first to establish cavalry brigades and divisions. By 1863 both the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac each formed cavalry corps. Cavalry tactics “complemented conventional infantry assault tactics, emphasizing shock and the role of the saber”; unfortunately both the infantry and the cavalry developed their doctrine independently. U.S. Army Cavalry doctrine was prescribed in Philip St. George Cooke’s Cavalry Tactics which was published in 1861 while a corresponding Confederate manual, Joseph Wheeler’s A Revised System of Cavalry Tactics appeared in 1863.

Before the war American cavalry units tended to operate in small numbers with regiments seldom sending into action more than a few companies at once. At the beginning of the war the Federal government decided to form just five mounted regiments, including two of Dragoons and one of Mounted Infantry. It soon decided to add a sixth but the units were hindered by the fact that many of their officers had gone to the Confederacy, and some of those remaining “would jump to volunteer units to secure higher rank, pay, and prestige.” [8] The result was defeat after defeat at the hands of J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry.

Eventually large scale programs to train and equip large numbers of volunteers and the Regulars combined with wartime reorganizations and solid leadership would make the Federal cavalry a force that was able to hold its own and then to sweep Confederate cavalry from the field. But it took time to train cavalry, and early Union commanders like McClellan refused to take that time and a “whole year was lost as a result, during which the cavalry was allowed to indoctrinate itself in the notion that it could never make use of European standards.” [9] While McClellan may have done well in organizing and training the infantry and artillery of the Army of the Potomac, he did little in the way of providing the mounted arm with leaders, training or missions that would increase their effectiveness. Unlike Stuart who combined his troopers with effective horse artillery, McClellan “failed to appreciate the advantage of coordinating the tactical strengths of cavalry with those of infantry and artillery.” [10]

CWP015

J.E.B. Stuart

While the South did struggle at times with its cavalry arm but did have an advantage in that the vast majority of their cavalry troopers owned their mounts and were experienced horsemen, something that could not be said of the many city dwellers who volunteered for duty in the Union cavalry. But the initial Southern superiority in cavalry was also due to the fact that “the principal of massing regiments into brigades and divisions was pursued earlier than by the Federal.” [11] In contrast McClellan “followed the evil course of reducing mounted regiments to their smallest components for operational use.” Likewise, he “wasted cavalry’s potential and depressed its morale by employing it as couriers, bodyguards for his subordinates, pickets for his encampments, and wagon train escorts, instead of as combat troops.” [12] The result as one would expect was that for the first two years of the war “J.E.B. Stuart and his horsemen were able, literally, to run rings around their opponents.” [13]

One Union writer compared the development of the Confederate and Union cavalry arms during the war:

“The habits of the Southern people facilitated the formation of cavalry corps which were comparatively efficient even without instruction; and accordingly we see Stuart, John Morgan, and Forrest riding around with impunity around the Union armies, and destroying or harassing their communications. Late in the war that agency was reversed. The South was exhausted of horses, while the Northern cavalry increased in numbers and efficiency, and acquired the audacity which had characterized the Southern.” [14]

buford

John Buford

As such much of the initial improvement in the Union cavalry arm were due to solid commanders like Brigadier General John Buford to teach new recruits as well as discouraged veterans to become effective cavalrymen.

Cavalry remained a fairly small in comparison to the infantry and artillery branches of service. Even during the wartime expansion the amount of cavalry available was miniscule compared to European armies. On the average only about 8% of the Army of the Potomac was composed of cavalry, compared to Napoleon’s 20 to 25%. [15] Part of this was due to the perceived cost of the cavalry arm which many believed was too expensive to maintain on a large scale: “estimates held that every twelve companies mounted and outfitted at public expense would rob the Treasury of over $300,000 a year merely to cover upkeep on animals, remounts, weapons, and equipment….” [16]

The cost of equipping cavalry was high enough that in the South that troopers had to procure their own mounts. Edwin Coddington noted that the Confederate policy “was a wonderful arrangement for keeping the strength of the cavalry below par, much more than enemy bullets, for it encouraged absenteeism.” [17] The Confederate government paid the own for the use of the horse, and a cash reimbursement if it was lost in combat, but if it was lost in any other manner the soldier had to get another horse if he wanted to remain in the service. Since the Confederates never set up a “centralized replacement service” troopers who lost their mount “had to go home to procure a new horse. If he were a Virginian he needed from thirty to sixty days to accomplish his purpose, and a much longer time should he have to come deeper south.” [18]

Despite the doctrinal predilection to the offense and using the cavalry as a shock unit, the U.S. Army formed no heavy cavalry formations on the order of the famous French Cuirassiers, named after their armored breastplates and metal helmets which were the primary type of cavalry used in Europe for such tactics. As such, during the Civil War both Union and Confederate cavalry formations were primarily assigned to reconnaissance and screening missions normally conducted by light cavalry units in Europe. These larger formations began to be used en masse for the purpose of raiding by both sides “but in the hands of J.E.B Stuart and his friends it became little more than a license to roam off into the enemy’s rear areas looking for plunder and glory.” [19] The cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac was used in a similar manner to raid enemy rear areas with often dreadful results which contributed nothing to the overall goal of defeating Lee’s army. A prime example was when Joseph Hooker detached his newly formed Cavalry Corps under George Stoneman to raid Richmond leaving the flank of the army uncovered at Chancellorsville.

Quite often the soldiers assigned to the infantry and artillery had little use for the cavalry who they saw as pampered and contributing little to the war. Many infantrymen held the “cavalry in open contempt. “These cavalry are a positive nuisance,” an officer in the 123rd Illinois wrote. “They won’t fight, and whenever they are around they are always in the way of those who will fight.” [20] Disdainful Confederate infantrymen “greeted their cavaliers with “Here’s your mule!” and “their Federal counterparts would exclaim: “There’d going to be a fight, boy; the cavalry’s running back!” and “Whoever saw a dead cavalryman.” [21]

The lethality of the rifled musket also made the classic Napoleonic cavalry charge against enemy infantry a costly and dangerous enterprise if the enemy infantry still had the means to make organized resistance, and if the cavalry assault was not supported by infantry and cavalry.. An example of this was the ill-fated cavalry attack ordered by Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick against the men of Lafayette McLaws’s well prepared division on the Confederate right after the failure of Pickett’s Change at Gettysburg.

Cavalry tactics began to change during the war. Both sides used their cavalry for raids, sometimes very large ones, and operations against enemy partisans in their rear areas. In each case the cavalry was typically deployed by itself and even when it accompanied the armies into battle cavalry units were typically employed on the periphery of the battle. As such as Griffith wrote, “Civil War doctrine of raiding… was not only a deliberate turn away from the hope of victory on the battlefield, but it actually removed the means by which victory might have been won at the very moment when those means were at last starting to be properly efficient.” [22] The lack of heavy cavalry of the European model sometimes kept commanders from completing victories, one can only imagine what would have happened had George Meade had a division of heavy cavalry at hand to sweep the Confederates from the battlefield after Pickett’s Charge.

sheridanphiliphbio

Philip Sheridan

Tactics only began to change when General Philip Sheridan took command of Grant’s cavalry. Sheridan kept the cavalry close to the main body of the arm. Sheridan had replaced Major General Alfred Pleasanton as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in early 1864. It is quite possible had he not died in December 1863 that the post would have gone to John Buford, but Sheridan had a vision for the cavalry that foreshadowed modern operational art. Sheridan wanted to organize the Cavalry Corps by concentrating it “into a powerful striking arm. He desired to do this, first, to deal with the Confederate cavalry, on the theory that “with a mass of ten thousand mounted men… I could make it so lively for the enemy’s cavalry that… the flanks and rear of the Army of the Potomac would require little or no defense.” [23] Sheridan was making no idle boast as by now his troops “were not only more numerous, but they had better leaders, tactics, and equipment than before,” [24] especially when it came to the Spencer repeating rifle which was now standard issue for the cavalrymen, and which gave them a tremendous advantage in firepower over Stuart’s now ill-equipped troops.

Sheridan first did this at the beginning of the Wilderness campaign when he took his 10,000 strong corps around the Confederate flank. Sheridan had been quarreling with Meade about the latter’s insistence that Sheridan’s horsemen were clogging the roads that his infantry needed to advance upon. In the heated discussion Sheridan came very close to being insubordinate with Meade. Meade reportedly told Sheridan that “Stuart “will do about how he pleases anyhow” to which Sheridan supposedly replied “Damn Stuart, I can trash hell out of him any day.” [25] Furious, Meade went and reported the matter to Grant. Grant listened and replied “Did Sheridan say that?… He usually knows what he is talking about. Let him go ahead and do it.” [26] At Grant’s request Meade provided Sheridan with new orders to concentrate his cavalry, march south and engage Stuart’s cavalry. Unlike previous raids which sought to avoid battle with Stuart’s troops in order to hit prescribed objectives, above all Sheridan wanted to engage and defeat the legendary Confederate cavalier. He “defined the raid as “a challenge to Stuart for a cavalry duel behind Lee’s lines in his own country.” And the more there were of the gray riders when the showdown was at hand, the better he would like it, since that would mean there were more to be smashed up.” [27]

Sheridan’s column totaled nearly 13,000 men and was nearly 13 miles long as he proceeded at a slow pace around Lee’s army and south towards Richmond. In addition to his horsemen he brought all of his horse artillery batteries. He was well around Lee’s flank before he was discovered and during the march his troops burned a depot and over one hundred railroad cars containing “close to a million rations of meat and better than a half million of bread, along with Lee’s entire reserve of medical stores.” [28]

On May 11th Stuart managed to intercept Sheridan’s column at a place called Yellow Tavern, just south of Ashland and the Ana River, but his corps was outnumbered by at least three to one. Three well trained, experienced, equipped, and superbly led Federal cavalry divisions confronted Stuart. With no hopes of fighting an offensive action, Stuart’s troops fought dismounted and were routed by the superior Bluecoats who continued on to cut the railroad between Lee’s army and Richmond. During the battle Stuart, who had cheated death on a number of occasions was mortally wounded. The Confederate cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia would never recover, and to Southerners Stuart’s death was a profound psychological blow, only slightly worse than that of Stonewall Jackson a year before. Robert E. Lee, to who Stuart was like a son took the loss harder than he had taken Jackson’s. “I can scarcely think of him without weeping,” he told one of Stuart’s officers.” [29]

As the armies in the East and West dueled throughout 1864, Sheridan and other Federal cavalry officers transformed the Union cavalry into a striking force which could be the spearhead of the army and use new tactics to overcome the problem of combining fire with rapid maneuver which had never been satisfactory applied by the infantry. There were four components in the new tactical mix: “fast operational mobility on horseback out of contact with the enemy; a willingness to take cover and fight on foot when the enemy was close; new repeating carbines to give enhanced firepower; and a mounted reserve to make the sabre charge when the moment was ripe.” [30] Sheridan would apply these tactics in his later campaigns against Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley and during the Appomattox campaign and his cavalry, working with infantry and artillery smashed the beleaguered Confederate armies which tried to oppose them. The reorganized cavalry was not the answer to all of the battlefield problems faced by Civil War commanders but it gave Union commanders an impressive weapon in which the speed and firepower of the cavalry could be readily combined with artillery and infantry to achieve decisive results. On the Confederate side, General Joseph Wheeler who commanded the cavalry in the west, Wheeler usually fought dismounted in “skirmish order using field fortification, whether skirmishing independently or in the line…. In the last major action of the war, he dramatically displayed how cavalry had become tactically integrated with infantry. At Bentonville, while fighting his cavalry dismounted, first on the right, then moving around to the left flank, Wheeler constructed a line of breastworks 1,200 yards long.” [31]

European cavalry officers found little to admire in American use of cavalry. Few paid attention to the importance of fighting dismounted and working as part of a combined arms team. In August 1914 their cavalry formations paid severe price for ignoring the realities of modern war, realities which the Americans, both Union and Confederate learned during the Civil War.

Notes

[1] ____________ Anti-Federalists Fear a Large Military “Brutus I.” “To the Citizens of the State of New York” 1787 in Major Problems in American Military History edited by John Whiteclay Chambers II and G. Kurt Piehler, Houghton-Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York 1999 p. 103

[2] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States p.122

[3] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[4] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[5] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.33

[6] Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1986 and 1999 p.30

[7] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.21

[8] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.44

[9] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.182

[10] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[11] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[12] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[13] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.183

[14] Buell, Don Carlos. East Tennessee and the Campaign of Perryville 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.51

[15] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[16] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.43

[17] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.17

[18] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.17

[19] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.183

[20] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.20

[21] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[22] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War pp.183-184

[23] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.369

[24] Ibid. Whelan Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy’s Fate p.181

[25] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart p.288

[26] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown, and Company, New York, Toronto, London 1968 and 1969 p.216

[27]Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.564 p.224

[28] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.564 p.225

[29] Ibid. Korda, Clouds of Glory p.626

[30] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.184

[31] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.298

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Obedience to the Powers that Be: John Reynolds

220px-GenJFRenyolds

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.

This article deals with Major General John Fulton Reynolds who in large part is responsible for bringing about the Battle of Gettysburg and whose actions on that field in the opening hours of the engagement helped decide the course of the Civil War. This segment does not include the details of that battle, those are reserved for the rest of this chapter which I am currently revising for the student text.

I have come to admire Reynold’s more and more and I hope that in this brief treatment of his life and career leading to Gettysburg that you will be inspired by his single dovotion to the Union and the humanity compassion that he treated the victims of war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

There is much written about the supposed superiority of Robert E. Lee and the generals of the Army of Northern Virginia over those of the Army of the Potomac. Their eventual defeat is often blamed on the Union’s superior manpower and attrition with scant recognition of times where the Union commanders, particularly at Gettysburg out-generaled them. Not only did Harry Heth have the misfortune of battling John Buford and John Reynolds, but division, brigade and regimental leaders who performed their duties magnificently. Despite being greatly outnumbered by the Confederates these men and their soldiers turned back the initial Confederate assaults and shattering Confederate infantry formations.

Likewise if chance plays a role in war, the Army of the Potomac had good fortune smiling upon it that fateful morning of July 1st 1863. Part of that good fortune was having Major General John Fulton Reynolds, one of the finest commanders on either side during the Civil War directing its operations. During the engagement Reynolds, his subordinates and his successor in command Abner Doubleday dealt with the unforeseen elements of this engagement far better than any Confederate General on the battlefield that morning. Reynolds exemplified the indispensable qualities described by Clausewitz regarding commanders who must deal with the role of chance and the unforeseen elements that so often cloud the battlefield:

“first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains the glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint inner light wherever it may lead.” [1]

John Reynolds was a native Pennsylvanian, born in Lancaster to descendants of Irish Protestants. His maternal grandfather, Samuel Moore fought as a Captain in the Continental Line during the American Revolution. Reynold’s father, was a lawyer and moved to Lancaster where he “owned and published the Journal.” The elder Reynolds had served two terms in the Pennsylvania legislature and in the early 1830s was a political ally and friend of Senator and later President James Buchannan for whom “he was attending to local business affairs” in Lancaster. [2] Buchannan helped one of Reynold’s brother William gain an appointment to the Naval Academy and in 1837 obtained the appointment to West Point.

The young Pennsylvanian graduated from West Point in 1841, twenty-sixth in a class of fifty-two and was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the artillery. Among his classmates were the future Union generals Israel Richardson, Don Carlos Buell and Horatio Wright and Confederate generals Richard Garnett and J.M. Jones. Graduating in the class ahead of him was a man who would become a lifelong friend, William Tecumseh Sherman. He graduated at a time of military cutbacks, the Army was about to be reduced from 12,000 to 9,000 the following year. Chances for promotion were so bad, especially from First Lieutenant to Captain, “so unlikely that in a single year 117 officers resigned.” [3] Many of these officers would find their way back to the army but even so, army life did not promise much.

Despite this Reynolds found army life to his liking. He served in Florida during the Seminole War, as well as in Mexico “where he was cited for bravery at Monterey and Buena Vista.” [4] During the campaign in Mexico he served with the army commanded by General Zachary Taylor and in the artillery battery commanded by the future Confederate general, Captain Braxton Bragg. He acquitted himself well and also had compassion for the Mexican soldiers that he fought against. Visiting Mexican wounded who had been left with “little medical care and less food” he gave them money to help with their needs. At Buena Vista a number of senior officers wrote official citations praising the artillery and Reynolds by name. General John Wool wrote

“Without our artillery,” he said, “we could not have maintained our position a single hour,” and also: “…a section of artillery, admirably served by Lieutenant Reynolds, 3rd Arty, played an important part in checking and dispersing the enemy in the rear of our left. They retired before him whenever he approached them.” [5]

Those actions brought him fame and two brevet promotions for bravery, [6] to Captain at Monterrey and Major at Buena Vista. However, Reynolds saw little value in them if the army’s promotion system was not fixed. He wrote his brother Jim “The system is a complete humbug and until it changes I believe it is to be rather more of a distinction to be passed over than to be breveted…that is, amongst us who know facts.” [7]

Reynold’s skill as an artilleryman would be used to great effect on the morning of July 1st 1863 on McPherson’s Ridge at Gettysburg. Following the war he remained in the army predominantly with the artillery. He served in field and coastal batteries and like John Buford had “participated in the Utah Expedition.” [8] The Utah expedition is little known and nearly forgotten incidents in United States history which involved the territory of Utah, and it left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of the officers and soldiers who served in it, including John Reynolds.

The Territory of Utah had been created after the Compromise of 1850 and President Millard Fillmore named Mormon leader Brigham Young as Governor. The Mormons settled Utah after having been driven out of Illinois and Missouri as a result of their religious beliefs which included polygamy and well as the political concept Theodemocracy, which had been formulated by Mormon founder Joseph Smith Jr. Theodemocracy was a concept which is a blend of theocracy and republican principles. Though it largely died out after the replacement of Young as Governor it has many similarities with theology, political ideology and goals of the leaders of the current Christian Dominion concepts of the leaders of what is called The New Apostolic Reformation which has gained much power among the leadership of the current Republican Party.

In Illinois Smith had “founded an autonomous community, with its own militia, where Smith was eventually called “King of the Kingdom of God.” [9] Smith believed that it was a necessary step until a true theocracy could be established. Smith had taught his ruling Council of Fifty, which included a few non-Mormons “that in the initial stages of the millennium the council would participate in concert with men of differing religious and political persuasions” and the earth would still have a pluralism of governments and religions in the early part of those thousand years…” [10] Tensions between Smith, the Mormon community and surrounding communities grew and “eventually, an unruly mob lynched the prophet and one of his followers.” [11]

Two years after the territory was formed Young “declared that Smith had a vision, until then kept secret, reinstituting polygamy.” [12] To be fair, Young did not require this of his followers, but the introduction produced a furor among many Americans. The situation with Utah was complicated further by the actions of Congress which in throwing out the Missouri Compromise that Utah and New Mexico “when admitted as a State or States…shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.” [13]

The combination of a growing theocracy, the introduction of polygamy and the possibility of slavery brought many tensions. The 1856 convention of the new Republican Party condemned “the twin relics of barbarism” – slavery and polygamy.” Midwesterners who joined that part remembered their clashes with the Mormons and “few voters were sympathetic to the Mormons” [14] or their growing power in the Utah Territory. In 1857 this tension led to President James Buchannan to appoint a non-Mormon Governor for the territory which led to conflict between Young’s government and its militias and the United States. Young considered U.S. Troops to be those of a “foreign power” and prepared for war “insisting as strongly on the independence of his people from Washington as the capital insisted on its jurisdiction over the territory.” [15]

Like many officers and Americans in general, Reynolds had negative views of the Latter Day Saints. Some were gained in his introduction to the territory, where he found that as a “gentile” he was treated as an outsider by the Mormon community. His initial bad disposition was only deepened through his interactions with Governor Brigham Young. The most important of these to Reynolds was an attempt to bring to justice the Indians who had massacred a party of army engineers under the command of Captain Gunnison the previous summer. Reynolds for that the Mormon led government, particularly Governor Young had convicted the Indians of manslaughter and sentenced them to prison for manslaughter. This act angered Reynolds. He wrote his sisters:

“They have been since tried by the Mormons and found guilty of manslaughter, tho’ the proof was positive and clear. But their jury was counseled by Brigham Young as to their verdict and perjured themselves. May God have mercy upon them, they would hang two Indians for killing two Mormon boys last summer when there was scarcely any proof at all, but when a Gentile is murdered it is only manslaughter!! I cannot write the truth about these people here – but will sometime later.” [16]

After Utah Reynolds served in Kansas and briefly in the Pacific Northwest. During that time he developed a dislike for radical abolitionists who he believed were responsible for much of the division of the country.

But with tensions growing in 1860 Reynolds was appointed as Commandant of the Corps of Cadets at West Point. During the interregnum of the election of Abraham Lincoln and his inauguration he “hoped for a moderate course that might avoid war.” [17] However, the Confederate seizure of U.S. facilities and siege of Fort Sumter and the tensions building between Southerners and Northerners at the Academy weighed on Reynolds and soon brought about a break with his family’s longtime political ally and benefactor President James Buchannan. Though normally not outspoken about his political beliefs on thing was sure, he valued the Union and as with the Mormons opposed those who sought to undermine it. He wrote his sister Ellie about his feelings for the President at his administration:

“What will history say of us, our Government, and Mr. B’s Administration makes one wish to disown him….”I have said but little, except among ourselves here, on the present difficulties that surround the Government but a more disgraceful plot, on the part of our friend B’s cabinet and the leading politicians of the South, to break up our Government, without cause, has never blackened the pages of history in any nation’s record.” [18]

However, Reynolds’s harshest and most bitter words were reserved for Jefferson Davis who he had served with in Mexico:

“…Who would have believed that when I came here last September and found Mr. Jeff Davis laboring with a Committee of Congress and civilians to re-organize the Academy; our national school! Whose sons, never until the seeds sown by his parricidal hand had filled it with the poisonous weed of secession, had known any other allegiance than the one to the whole country, or worshipped any other flag, than that which has moved our own youthful hopes and aspirations and under which we marched so proudly in our boyish days – who! I dare say, would have believed, that he was brooding over his systematic plans for disorganizing the whole country. The depth of his treachery has not been plumbed yet, but it will be.” [19]

Reynolds served at the Academy until June of 1861 when it graduated its final class before the war began. Departing West Point he was initially appointed as Lieutenant Colonel of the 14th U.S. Infantry regiment. [20] He would have preferred the artillery but wrote that he “could not refuse this promotion offered me under any circumstances, much less at this time, when the Government has a right to my services in any capacity.” [21] How much different was Reynolds than another politically moderate and illustrious soldier, Robert E. Lee, who barely a month after accepting a promotion to full Colonel in the Regular Army resigned his commission to serve his state of Virginia and the Confederacy rather than lead an army “in an invasion of the Southern States” whatever Virginia decided.” [22]

Before Reynolds could take command of the 14th United States, he was promoted to Brigadier General. He commanded a brigade of Pennsylvania volunteers during the Peninsula Campaign and was captured on June 28th after leading his troops successful at Gaines Mill, as McClellan began his withdraw from the gates of Richmond. He spent six weeks in Confederate captivity but was released in a general prisoner exchange on August 15th 1862. [23] Despite being captured Reynolds’s performance during the Seven Days was praised by friend and foe alike and even his Confederate enemies in the city of Fredericksburg petitioned Richmond to release Reynolds who they said:

“when inasmuch as we were prisoners in the hands of General Reynolds we received from him a treatment distinguished by a marked and considerable respect for our opinions and feelings, it becomes us to use our feeble influence in invoking for him, now a prisoner of our Government as kind and as considerate as was extended by him to us. We would therefore hope that he might be placed on parole…” [24]

In doing so they returned to the Army of the Potomac the man who would help decide the fate of the Confederacy barely ten months later.

Reynolds returned to command a division at Second Bull Run where his division held firm as much of the army retreated. Reynolds missed the battle of Antietam as he was called to “the fruitless and frustrating task of trying to organize Pennsylvania’s militia” [25] by Governor Curtin. He returned to the Army of the Potomac and again commanded First Corps at Fredericksburg and again at Chancellorsville.

Reynolds was reportedly offered command of the Army of the Potomac by Lincoln in early June of 1863 but declined it. He went to the White House when he heard that he was under consideration for the post and ensured that he would not get the job by stating the his conditions for taking it. However, he did “urge the president to appoint Meade in Hooker’s place.” [26] He told his artillery chief Colonel Wainwright that he “refused it because he would have been under the same constraints as Burnside and Hooker.” [27] Colonel Wainwright believed that it was in large part due to “Reynolds’s recommendation that General Meade received his appointment.” [28]

The Army of the Potomac’s senior leadership had been the source of much political consternation during 1862 and 1863 for Abraham Lincoln. It was split among Lincoln’s supporters and detractors, Radical Republican abolitionists and moderate Democrats. To complicate matters some of senior leaders of the Army of the Potomac including McClellan, Hooker and Sickles had their own, scarcely hidden aspirations for the presidency.

However, Reynolds was of a different character than the politically connected and conniving commanders who used their position in the army to advance their career. Reynolds was a moderate Pennsylvania Democrat and prior to the war had been no supporter of Lincoln, once comparing him to a “baboon.” That opinion being noted, Reynolds did not allow his political beliefs and opinions to influence the manner in which he upheld his oath to the nation in time of civil war. Lincoln was President and was attempting to hold the Union together against forces that Reynolds found decidedly treacherous. It was a tribute to Reynold’s personal manner of keeping politics out of his command, which allowed him, a moderate Democrat to successfully command a corps whose divisions “were commanded by some of the Army’s most fervent abolitionists – Abner Doubleday, James S. Wadsworth, and John Cleveland Robinson.” [29]

Reynolds was “a serious unbending professional, who unlike McClellan, actually lived by the principle of “obedience to the powers that be.” [30] The Pennsylvanian was “universally respected” in the army “for his high character and sterling generalship” [31] it was noted that unlike others who so quickly interjected themselves into the political turmoil which had embroiled the nation that Reynolds had a policy of holding back. He stood “stoutly aloof from all personal or partisan quarrels, and keeping guardedly free from any of the heart-burnings and jealousies that did so much to cripple the usefulness and endanger the reputation of many gallant officers.” [32]

Oliver Howard noted that unlike many commanders that Reynolds was a commander “who had a steady hand in governing, were generous to a fault, quick to recognize merit, trusted you and sought to gain your confidence, and, as one would anticipate, were the foremost in battle.” [33] George McClellan noted that Reynolds was “remarkably brave and intelligent, an honest, true gentleman.” [34] In his autobiography Howard wrote about Reynolds:

“From soldiers, cadets, and officers, junior and senior, he always secured reverence for his serious character, respect for his ability, care for his uniform discipline, admiration for his fearlessness, and love for his unfailing generosity.” [35]

On the night of June 30th Reynolds was awash in reports, some of them conflicting and even though he was without Meade’s course of action for the next day “concluded that Lee’s army was close by and in force.” [36] He spent the night at his headquarters “studying the military situation with Howard and keeping in touch with army headquarters.” [37] Howard noted Reynolds anxiety and “received the impression that Reynolds was depressed.” [38] After Howard’s departure Reynolds took the opportunity to get a few hours of fitful sleep before arising again at 4 a.m. on July 1st.

When morning came, Reynolds was awakened by his aide Major William Riddle with Meade’s order to “advance the First and Eleventh Corps to Gettysburg.” [39] Reynolds studied the order and though he expected no battle that morning, expecting “only moving up to be in supporting distance to Buford” [40] took the prudent and reasonable precautions that his Confederate opponents A.P. Hill and Harry Heth refused to take as they prepared to move on Gettysburg.

His troops were in fine spirits that morning even though it had been busy. After a breakfast of hardtack, pork and coffee the troops moved out. An officer of the Iron Brigade noted that the soldiers of that brigade were “all in the highest spirits” while Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes of the “placed the fifes and drums at the head of the Sixth Wisconsin and ordered the colors unfurled” as the proud veterans marched forward into the sound of the raging battle to the tune of “The Campbell’s are Coming.” [41]

Though Reynolds was not expecting a fight he organized his march in a manner that ensured if one did happen that he was fully prepared. The precautionary measures that he took were those that any prudent commander having knowledge that strong enemy forces were nearby would take. Reynolds certainly took to heart the words of Napoleon who said “A General should say to himself many times a day: If the hostile army were to make its appearance in front, on my right, or on my left, what should I do?” [42]

This was a question that A.P. Hill and Harry Heth seemed not to consider on that warm and muggy July morning when Heth was committing Lee’s army to battle on his own authority. Reynolds was also about to commit the Army of the Potomac to battle, but unlike Heth who had no authority to do so, Reynolds “had at least been delegated the authority for making such a decision.” [43] While Meade was unaware of what was transpiring in the hills beyond Gettysburg he implicitly trusted the judgement of Reynolds, and he been with the advanced elements of Reynold’s wing Meade too “probably would have endorsed any decision he made.” [44]

Reynolds placed himself with the lead division, that of Wadsworth, and “had directed Doubleday to bring up the other divisions and guns of the First Corps and had ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps up from Emmitsburg.” [45] Reynold’s also understood the urgency of the situation and “wanted all the fighting troops to be up front, so he instructed Howard not to intermingle his supply wagons with his infantry. Similar instructions had been given to Abner Doubleday; to ensure that the First Corps wagons would wait until the Eleventh Corps foot soldiers had passed.” [46]

Instead operating in the normal fashion of rotating units on the march, Reynolds opted to save time. Since the First Division under the command of James Wadsworth was further advanced than other I Corps divisions, Reynolds instructed it to move first with Cutler’s brigade in the lead followed by the Iron Brigade under Colonel Solomon Meredith. In doing so he countermanded the order of the acting corps commander Doubleday who had ordered that division to allow the other divisions of First Corps to pass his before advancing. Reynolds told Wadsworth that Doubleday’s order “was a mistake and that I should move on directly.” [47]

He went forward with Wadsworth’s division and gave Doubleday his orders for the coming engagement. Doubleday later recalled that when Reynolds arrived to discuss the situation that Reynolds:

“read to me the various dispatches he had received from Meade and Buford, and told me that he should go at once forward with the leading division – that of Wadsworth – to aid the cavalry. He then instructed me to draw in my pickets, assemble the artillery and the remainder of the corps and join him as soon as possible. Having given me these orders, he rode off at the head of the column, and I never saw him again.” [48]

Reynolds ordered Howard’s XI Corps to follow and according to Doubleday directed an aid of Howard to have Howard “bring his corps forward at once and form them on Cemetery Hill as a reserve.” [49] While some writers that he directed Oliver Howard to prepare Cemetery Hill as a fallback position [50] there is more evidence that points to Howard selecting the that commanding hill himself. [51]

Likewise Reynolds ordered Sickles’ III Corps to come up from Emmitsburg where that corps had bivouacked the previous night. [52] Sickles had heard the guns in the distance that morning and sent his senior aide, Major Henry Tremain to find Reynolds. Reynolds told Tremain “Tell General Sickles I think he had better come up” but the order left Sickles in a quandary. He recalled “he spend an anxious hour deciding what to do” [53] for he had “been ordered by Meade to hold his position at Emmitsburg” [54] and Sickles sent another rider to Reynolds and awaited the response of his wing commander instead of immediately advancing to battle on 1 July and it would not be until after 3 P.M. that he would send his lead division to Gettysburg.

Reynolds’ intention according to Doubleday was “to fight the enemy as soon as I could meet him.” [55] Reynolds rode forward with some of his staff into the town as the infantry of I Corps and XI Corps moved advanced. In the town they were met by “a fleeing, badly frightened civilian, who gasped out the news that the cavalry was in a fight.” [56] When he came to the Lutheran Seminary he came across Buford. It was a defining moment of the Civil War, a moment that shaped the battle to come. It has been recounted many times and immortalized on screen in the movie Gettysburg, a time “when the entire battle would come down to a matter of minutes getting one place to another.” [57]

As the rough and tumble Kentuckian, Buford, and Reynolds, the dashing Pennsylvanian, discussed the situation they had to know that odd that they were facing. With close to 32,000 rebels from the four divisions of Hill’s and Ewell’s corps closing in from the west and the north with only about 18,000 men of First Corps, Eleventh Corps and Buford’s cavalry division the odds did not favor them, but unlike other battles that the army of the Potomac faced, this time the army and its commanders were determined not to lose and not to retreat.

Reynolds and Buford committed their eighteen thousand men against Lee’s thirty-two thousand in a meeting engagement that develop into a battle that would decide the outcome of Lee’s invasion. Likewise it was a battle for the very existence of the Union. Abner Doubleday noted the incontestable and eternal significance of the encounter to which Buford and Reynolds were committing the Army of the Potomac:

“The two armies about to contest on the perilous ridges of Gettysburg the possession of the Northern States, and the ultimate triumph of freedom or slavery….” [58]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.102

[2] Nichols, Edward J. Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of John Fulton Reynolds Pennsylvania State University Press, Philadelphia 1958. Reprinted by Old Soldier Books, Gaithersburg MD 1987 p.4

[3] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.13

[4] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.10

[5] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg pp.43-44

[6] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001pp.47-48

[7] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.46

[8] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[9] Gonzalez, Justo L. The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers San Francisco 1985 p.259

[10] Ehat, Andrew” It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth”: Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God in BYU Studies Vol 20. No 3 1980) retrieved from https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/BYUStudies/article/view/5144/4794 20 May 2015 p.258

[11] Ibid. Gonzales p.259

[12] Ibid. Gonzales p.259

[13] Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War 1848-1861 completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1976 p.158

[14] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.122

[15] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.58

[16] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.58

[17] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.73

[18] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.73

[19] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.73

[20] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[21] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.75

[22] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.228

 

[23] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1958 p.493

[24] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.100

[25] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[26] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.162

[27] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 pp. 40-42

[28] Nevins. Allan editor. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles Wainwright 1861-1865 with an introduction by Stephen W. Sears Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.229

[29] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.30

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.29-30

[31] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[32] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.30

[33] Howard, Oliver O. Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, Major General, U.S. Army Volume 1 The Baker and Taylor Company, New York 1907 Made available by the Internet Achieve through Amazon Kindle location 5908 of 9221

[34] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.101

[35] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard location 5908 of 9221

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[37] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.261

[38] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[39] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.261

[40] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[41] Nolan, Alan T. The Iron Brigade: A Military History Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1961 and 1994 pp.233-234

[42] Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims of Napoleon in Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time edited by Phillips, Thomas R Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 1985 p.410

[43] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[44] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.49

[45] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.233

[46] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.159

[47] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[48] Doubleday, Abner Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, Bew York 1882 pp.70-71

[49] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.71

[50] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.76

[51] Green, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 70

[52] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[53] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil war General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.275

[54] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.202

[55] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[56] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[57] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[58] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.68

 

 

 

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Jubal Early: The Unreconstructed Rebel

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Lieutenant General Jubal Early, the Propagandist of the Lost Cause

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

There are some people in history who have a major and sometimes malevolent impact on history who are little known to most people. One of these men is Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early. You may not have ever heard of him but his influence is still strong today in certain parts of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, the Christian Right and neo-Confederate organizations. Early is a complex, brilliant but malevolent character whose post Civil War activities, and writings influenced how generations of Americans embraced the myth of the Lost Cause as historic truth and why so  many people today support an ideology that is little more than a re-baptized Lost Cause in their fight against supposed liberals, progressives, gays, and minority groups. People who they believe threaten their place in society. 

This article is part of one of the chapters of my Gettysburg which I will continue to periodically publish here. Have a great night.

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

Jubal Early was an unusual character. He is described similarly by many to Dick Ewell in his gruffness and eccentrics. Unlike his corps commander, 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.” [1] 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.” [2] 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.” [3]

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.” [4]

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.” [5]

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.[6]

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. [7] 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.” [8] 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.” [9]

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.” [10] 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.” [11] Early was the most influential of Ewell’s division commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [12]

After Gettysburg Early remained in command of his division and when Dick Ewell was relieved in 1864 assumed command of the Second Corps. With the corps he conducted operations in the Shenandoah Valley as well as a raid which briefly threatened Washington D.C. in 1864. Early became “a much maligned figure in the Confederacy after his army suffered utter defeat against Philip H. Sheridan’s forces in the Shenandoah Valley during the fall and winter of 1864-65.” [13] The clamor for his relief was so great that Lee relieved Early of command on March 30th 1865, “and sent him home to await orders.” [14] However Lee handled the matter with gentleness that made ensured Early’s undying devotion. Lee wrote:

“while my own confidence in your ability, zeal, and devotion to the cause in unimpaired…I nevertheless felt that I could not oppose what seems to be the current opinion, without injustice to your reputation and injury to the service.” [15]

After the war Early went into voluntary exile until 1869, unable to reconcile life in the United States following defeat. Travelling from Cuba to Mexico and on to Canada his bitterness grew, and for the embittered General it was about honor. For Early, who had fought so hard against secession, now took the opposing view. For him, “honor resided intact in the defeated cause of Southern independence. It was now distilled, for him, in the issue of states’ rights and white supremacy.” [16]

In his efforts Early sought to “elevate Lee above any other Civil War chieftains, and to promote the idea that the South had not been defeated, only compelled to surrender against overwhelming odds.” [17] Early’s hatred for anything to do with the North was demonstrated when he “refused even to donate funds to a monument to Robert E. Lee in Richmond when he learned that the pedestal would be carved from Maine granite.” [18]

Early’s hatred a blacks grew as he got older, and “became particularly virulent when they were involved in anything connected to the war on the Confederacy.” [19] While serving as Governor, James Kemper, who was so grievously wounded during Pickett’s Charge found Early’s views so dangerous that he begged Early not to attend the unveiling of a monument to Stonewall Jackson in 1875. He wrote to Early, “for the sake of public peace and harmony, I beg, beseech and implore you, for God’s sake stay at home.” [20]

Upon his return from his voluntary exile he was sought after by Lee to help in preparation of a memoir that would explain his decisions during the war. In addition to championing Lee and writing polemics against any former Confederate officer who dared to criticize his chief. As such those writing their own memoirs were usually careful to avoid anything that might provoke Early’s wrath, or submitted their work for his imprimatur before going to publication. He shameless attacked James Longstreet and William Mahone for their post war reconciliation with the hated Yankees, as well as Longstreet’s criticism of Lee.

Early was very intelligent and he knew that the controversy surrounding his defeat in the Valley did not enhance his own reputation, so instead “It was on Lee’s credibility that Early built his postwar career.” [21] Over the course of:

“the last twenty-five years of his life the bitter General sought to get his impressions of the war on record. He took an active role in publishing the Southern Historical Papers….and achieved as a leading arbiter of questions concerning relating to Confederate military history.” [22]

Early was immensely successful in this long term effort. The results of Early’s efforts was the successful propagation of the myth of the Lost Cause and its prominence throughout many of the books, journals and other publications published after the war, even Winston Churchill’s history of the Civil War is filled with Early like lost cause images and language in his works. Referring to Southern honor, that concept that Early held so dear Churchill, echoing Early wrote “The South knew they had lost the war, and would be conquered and flattened. It is one of the enduring glories of the American nation that this made no difference to the Confederate resistance.” [23] The idea that Churchill espoused, that Confederate “honor” was one of the enduring glories of  the American nation” is nothing more than myth which promotes everything wrong with the Confederacy.

In February 1894 Lee’s “old bad man” took a fall on the way out of the Lynchburg Post Office. He resisted treatment though he appeared to be in shock and was both mentally and physically unwell. He attempted to continue his business but got worse and he died in Lynchburg on March 2nd 1894.

Sadly, Early’s ideas live on in the minds of many Americans, who like him have not reconciled with the results of the war and who are susceptible to his message. Early set the example for them:

“Like an Old testament prophet, Jubal supported the message by his own extreme example – his “constancy” and intransigence, his unremitting hatred for Grant (even after Jefferson Davis had forgiven the Illinoisan), his refusal to be pardoned or reconstructed or to regard the North, at least in the abstract, as anything but an evil empire.” [24]

Jubal Early’s words and actions read almost as if they come out of current Republican and Christian Right talking points. Instead of Lincoln and the Black Republicans, the enemy is Obama and the Black, Gay and Liberal Democrats. I find it chilling to read about Early and his transformation for an anti-secession Whig to an unreconstructed Rebel whose nearly pathological hatred for the Union that he had once served reminds me of people I know.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

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

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

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

[4] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.28

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

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

[7] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.385

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

[9] 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

[10] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.50

[11] 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

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

[13] Ibid. Gallagher Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History p.8

[14] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.769

[15] Ibid. Gallagher Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History p.11

[16] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.416

[17] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.469

[18] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.526

[19] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.418

[20] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.418

[21] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.476

[22] Ibid. Gallagher Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History p.15

[23] Ibid. Gallagher Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History p.15

[24] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.476

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

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

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

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

Richard-Ewell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William C. Oates wrote of Ewell:

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

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

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

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

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

Early’s Division

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Major General Jubal Early C.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon

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

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

Hays

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

“Extra Billy” Smith

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

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

Avery

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

Johnson’s Division

Edward_Johnson_(general)

Major General Edward Johnson C.S.A.

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

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

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

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

“Maryland” Steuart

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

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

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

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

J.M. Jones

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

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

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

Walker

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

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

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

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

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

Williams

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

Rodes’ Division

rodes

Major General Robert Rodes C.S.A.

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

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

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

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

Doles

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

Ramseur

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

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

Daniel

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

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

O’Neal

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

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

Iverson

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[30] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.385

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

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

[33] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[74] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

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

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

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

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

[79] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Our Army Would be Invincible if…” The Problem of Senior Leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia Part Two, The Third Corps

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This is the second part of an article that I posted yesterday which is part of my Gettysburg series. This focuses on the Third Corps commanded by Lieutenant General A.P. Hill. The link to the first article is here: https://padresteve.com/2014/07/28/our-army-would-be-invincible-if-the-problem-of-senior-leadership-in-the-army-of-northern-virginia-june-1863-part-one-first-and-second-corps/

The newly created Third Corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was thought to be in good hands. Hill had commanded his large; six brigade “Light Division” with distinction, though having serious conflicts with both Longstreet and Jackson. At Antietam Hill’s hard marching from Harpers Ferry had saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction. Hill was a graduate of West Point who had served in the topographic engineers most of his U.S. Army career. He had an earned reputation as a brilliant division commander, and despite his clashes with Longstreet and Hill Lee recommended him to take command of Third Corps who sang his praise to Jefferson Davis “the best soldier of his grade with me.” [1] Hill was a “nervous wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation on his shoulders and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress.” [2] Hill detested Jackson, who he referred to as “that old Presbyterian fool” [3] and his poor relations with Jackson’s confidants at Second Corps ensured that Ewell took Second Corps. Lee appointed Hill to command Third Corps of which “half of the troops had been with him all along” [4] in the Light Division. Lee liked Hill’s aggressiveness and command instincts, something that he hoped would translate into success at the corps level, and promoted him over the head of D.H. Hill and Lafayette McLaws who were both senior to him. Regarding the promotion of Hill and Ewell Lee wrote to Davis:

“I wish to take advantage of every circumstance to inspire and encourage…the officers and men to believe that their labors are appreciated, and that when vacancies occur that they will receive the advantages of promotion….I do not know where to get better men than those I have named.” [5]

But the decision to promote the Ewell and Hill, both Virginians stirred some dissent among those that believed that Lee was “favoring Virginians over officers from other states. The promotion of A.P. Hill, as previous noted was “made over the head of two Major Generals more senior than Hill- North Carolinian D.H. Hill and Georgian Lafayette McLaws.” [6]

Hill’s corps, like those of Longstreet and Ewell was composed of three divisions, and even more so than Ewell his division suffered a want of senior leaders who had served at the grade they were now expected to serve.

The most stable division in Third Corps was Richard Anderson’s, transferred from First Corps. Under Longstreet the division and its commander had served well. Lee considered Anderson a “capable officer”…and had marked him for future higher command.” [7] Anderson was noted for his modesty and unselfishness, “his easy going ways, combined with his competence and professionalism made him one of the most well liked officers in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [8] However, there was an incalculable thrown into the equation. Hill had not yet established his methods of operation as a corps commander, and Anderson, used to “Longstreet’s methodical insistence that everything be just so before he would venture into action” contrasted with Hill’s “tendency to leap before he looked.” [9]

Anderson’s division was composed of five brigades commanded by a mixed lot of commanders, none of whom were professionals.

Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox was a no-nonsense graduate of West Point; he served in the Mexican War and taught tactics for five years at West Point. He had served with distinction as a brigade commander, but Wilcox was disgruntled, he “is restless, sore, and disposed to go to another Confederate army where he will have a chance.” [10] Wilcox had been passed over for promotion to Major General in favor of George Pickett and requested transfer from Lee’s army, which was refused for lack of qualified leaders. At Chancellorsville the delaying action of his brigade at Salem’s Church had helped save the army.

Brigadier General William Mahone was a graduate of VMI and was superintendent of the new Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad when the war Virginia seceded from the Union and served with reasonable effectiveness before Gettysburg. As a brigadier “he is not lacking in diligence, but he is not without special distinction.” [11] He fought competently at Chancellorsville and by Gettysburg had established himself as a “competent and experienced brigade leader.” [12]

Brigadier General Ransom Wright had no military training or experience prior to the war, but was a successful lawyer and by Gettysburg he “was considered a well-tested combat veteran.” [13] He had Unionist sentiments, was a no-nonsense individual and though he had no military was named colonel of the 3rd Georgia in 1861 and became a brigade commander during the Seven Days.

Brigadier General Carnot Posey was a highly successful plantation planter and lawyer who had served as a “lieutenant under Col. Jefferson Davis, and suffered a slight wound at the Battle of Buena Vista” [14] in the Mexican War, after which he returned home as was appointed as a United States District Attorney by President Buchanan. Posey commanded the 16th Mississippi and was promoted to brigade command prior to Chancellorsville where he gave a strong performance under fire.

Colonel David Lang commanded the Florida Brigade the smallest in the army. Just twenty-five years old, the graduate of the Georgia Military Institute inherited brigade command when Brigadier General Edward Perry came down with typhoid fever after Chancellorsville. He had only fought in three battles, two as a captain “and he had never led a brigade in combat.” [15]

Hill’s old Light Division was divided into two divisions. Major General William Dorsey Pender commanded the old Light Division which now consisted of four rather than six brigades. Pender was only 29 years old, the “youngest of that rank in the army.” [16] Pender was “only seven years out of West Point” [17] and was deeply loyal to Powell Hill and a partisan of the Light Division. However, he had risen “on first rate ability, steadfast ambition and a headlong personal leadership in battle which gave a driving force to his brigade” [18] which he considered “the best brigade of the best division” [19] in the army. Lee praised him as “a most gallant officer” and was deeply sensitive about keeping Pender with the troops that found him so inspiring noting “I fear the effect upon men of passing him over in favour of another not so identified with them.” [20] Pender was an “intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty.” [21]

Pender’s four veteran brigades were commanded by three experienced officers and one new to brigade command.

Colonel Abner Perrin from South Carolina was the least experienced. He was a successful lawyer who had served as a lieutenant in the Regular army in Mexico, served as a company commander in the 14th South Carolina which he took command of after Fredericksburg. He led the regiment at Chancellorsville and took command of the brigade when the brigade commander was wounded. Despite his inexperience he remained in command of the veteran South Carolina brigade, “whose leadership had been decimated” and had “devolved to lieutenant colonels, majors and captains.” [22]

Brigadier General James Lane was an academic. He graduated second in his class at VMI in 1854 and received a degree in science from the University of Virginia three years later. He returned to VMI as an assistant professor then became a professor of natural philosophy at the North Carolina Military Institute. [23] He was commissioned as a major in the 1st North Carolina and took command of it in September 1861 and promoted to brigade command after Antietam. Lane proved himself an able commander at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, at the latter his brigade led Jackson’s assault against the Union right, suffering 909 casualties and had the misfortune of when one of his units mortally wounded Jackson on the night of May 2nd 1863. Despite this “he and his men could be counted on to do the right thing when the bullets started to fly.” [24]

Brigadier General Edward Thomas was a plantation owner from Georgia who had served as a lieutenant in the Mexican War. Offered a commission in the Regular army he turned it down and returned home. He became colonel of the 35th Georgia Infantry in October 1861 and led it as part of Pettigrew’s brigade and after Pettigrew was wounded at Seven Pines the brigade was shifted to Joseph Anderson’s brigade of the Light Division, assuming command of that brigade when Anderson was wounded at Frayser’s Farm. He commanded it in the thick of the fighting at Second Manassas and at Fredericksburg helped stop Meade’s advance with a fierce counterattack, and commanded it again at Chancellorsville. Thomas could always be counted on to deliver “a solid, if unspectacular performance.” [25]

Brigadier General Alfred Scales was new to brigade command. A “forty-five year old humorless politician” [26] who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives with no military experience Scales enlisted as a private when North Carolina seceded. He was elected to a captaincy in Pender’s regiment and when Pender was transferred Scales succeeded him in command of the 13th North Carolina. He commanded that regiment on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days, served as acting commander of the brigade when Pender was wounded at Fredericksburg and distinguished himself with the 13th at Chancellorsville. Scales service with Pender’s brigade “had been one of consistent stout service.” [27] When Pender was promoted to division command “it was a forgone conclusion that his replacement in brigade command would be Scales.” [28] He had served with the brigade, was known to its soldiers and though inexperienced as a brigade commander he “and the brigade were one, for he had shared its fortunes, was proud of it, and was confident of victory as he led it to Gettysburg.” [29]

Hill’s remaining division was commanded by the newly minted Major General Harry Heth. It was composed of the two remaining brigades of the Light Division and two brigades recently joined to the army for the offensive.

Harry Heth was a graduate of West Point who has a “high reputation personally and professionally” [30] in the army, despite finishing 38th in a 45 member class at West Point. Lee had a high regard for Heth and considered him a friend and somewhat a protégé, however his regard “cannot be based on any substantive achievements by Heth, whose antebellum career and war experience had been similarly unremarkable.” [31] Heth was an example of a “soundly trained soldier of perennial promise. Always seemingly on the verge of becoming truly outstanding” but “never lived up to the army’s expectations.” [32] Heth became a brigade commander in Hill’s division prior to Chancellorsville after having served in Western Virginia and in the West. Hill was new to command of a newly formed division and had the weakest collection of brigade commanders in the army at Gettysburg.

Newest to the division was Johnston Pettigrew whose North Carolina brigade was one of the largest in the army. This was one of the new brigades provided to Lee by Davis, Pettigrew was a renaissance man, and was a graduate of the University of North Carolina he was “proficient in French, German, Italian and Spanish, with a reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.” [33] Pettigrew had spent a good amount of time abroad on diplomatic service before returning to his law practice in Charleston. He had “even spent time as a volunteer aid with the French and Italian forces against the Austrians in 1859.” [34] Elected to the state legislature in 1856 he “sensed the oncoming of hostilities and was named colonel of the 1st Regiment of Rifles, a Charleston militia outfit.” [35] Pettigrew was “one of those natural leaders of a privileged background who, without military ambitions, had been advanced on the application of native intelligence and contagious courage.” [36]

Brigadier General Joseph Davis, the nephew of President Jefferson Davis commanded a newly raised Mississippi brigade. Davis owed his appointment to his relationship with the President. He was “entirely without combat experience.[37] Most of the war he had spent on his uncle’s staff in Richmond and in his new appointment he was not with officers of any experience as “No one serving on Joe Davis’s staff showed strong signs of having the background, experience, and ability that might help the brigadier meet his responsibilities.” [38] Likewise the nine field officers assigned to his regiments were similarly ill-equipped.

Heth did have the experienced mixed Alabama-Tennessee brigade of Brigadier General James Archer. Despite its experience and “fine reputation” [39] the brigade was seriously understrength after seeing heavy combat at Chancellorsville. The brigade commander Archer was a graduate of the University of Maryland who practiced law before entering the Regular army as a Captain during the Mexican War where he was breveted for gallantry at the Battle of Chapultapec. He left the army after the war and then returned to it in 1855. He commanded the 5th Texas Regiment and took command of a Tennessee brigade at Seven Pines. Initially Archer was not well liked by any of his commands, the Texans considered him a tyrant and he was “very non-communicative, the bearing and extreme reserve of the old army officer made him, for a time, one of the most hated of men.” [40]After being joined to the Light Division Archer transformed his reputation among his men and had “won the hearts of his men by his wonderful judgment and conduct on the field.” [41]

The last brigade of Heth’s division was the small Virginia brigade of the “plodding, uninspiring” [42] Colonel John Brockenbrough. Brockenbrough was an 1850 graduate of VMI and “entered service as colonel of the 40th [Virginia Infantry] in May 1861.” [43] The brigade when it had been commanded by Charles Field had been considered one of the best in the army. Brockenbrough took command of it in 1862 when Field was wounded and “had never managed the brigade well, especially at Fredericksburg, and Lee returned him to regimental command.” [44] He reassumed the command of the brigade after Chancellorsville when Heth was promoted. Like Archer’s brigade it was “sadly reduced in numbers” and in morale…” [45]

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would go into the Gettysburg Campaign with two new and untried corps commanders. Of nine infantry division commanders three were new to command and another who had never commanded a division in combat. 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. 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.

Had the army had more time to exercise the new commanders before going into action Lee might have had a better result, but as he told Hood “this army would be invincible if….” 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.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[2] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.22

[3] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.22

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.434

 

[5] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[6] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.290

[7] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.86

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.306

[9] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg pp.86-87

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[11] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.48

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.315

[13] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.317

[14] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.319

[15] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.322

[16] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[17] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[18] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

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

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[21] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[22] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.331

[23] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.332-333

[24] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.334

[25] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.337

[26] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[27] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[28] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[29] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.306

[30] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[31] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.96

[32] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[33] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[34] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.129

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[36] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.78

[37] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.553

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

[39] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[40] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.349

[41] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.350

[42] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

[43] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.118

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[45] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

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“If the Enemy is There Tomorrow, We Must Attack Him” Lee’s Decision to Continue his Attack and Failure to Appreciate Changing Technology

 

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One of the key issues that military leaders must face is how new and changing technology changes the shape of the battlefield and impacts operations at the tactical as well as the operational level. While some technological advances merely adjust how military organizations fight, others force military organizations to completely change the way they conduct war. Examples are found throughout history, but truly became more far reaching during the Civil War with their echoes redounding to the present day.

Those changes can include firepower, protection, mobility, communication and even the frontiers of war to what goes on underwater, in the air, in space and cyber-space. None of these advances are necessarily limited to how military professionals conduct war at any given time. In fact technological changes are often unwelcome by military professionals who have invested their professional lives and careers defending doctrinal traditions. Likewise those victimized by opponents who use new technology to their advantage sometimes accuse their opponents as being unfair, as if fairness counts in war.

The development of the rifled musket just prior to the Civil War and its widespread usage on the battlefield brought about change that most leaders were slow to appreciate, including Robert E. Lee. The fact was that the rifled musket changed war even when military tactics were still rooted in Napoleonic tactics, which were built around the weaponry commonly employed in 1800, the smoothbore flintlock musket, with an effect range of barely 100 yards and smoothbore artillery. The artillery, even when firing grapeshot and canister was superior in range, lethality and as a result dominated the offense. [1] Thus Napoleonic tactics emphasized the artillery as an assault weapon, placed in advance of the infantry, breaking up enemy formations and allowing the infantry to close with the enemy and finish him with the bayonet charge.

The advent of the rifled musket, use of percussion caps and the Minie’ ball bullet by necessity changed how war had to be fought. Rifles firing the Minie’ ball “had an effective range of at least 500 yards” [2] and the new weapons outranged both grapeshot and canister, putting artillerymen exposed to the long range rifle fire in more danger on the battlefield. Not only did they do this but they allowed the infantryman to increase his rate of fire.

Prior to this the limitations of the smoothbore flintlock musket necessitated that the infantry form in dense formations where their firepower could be concentrated. Dennis Hart Mahan was one of the first to recognize how this would change warfare and in 1847 advocated that close line and columns be “replaced by the regular infantry advancing in the loose order of skirmishers” and “take advantage of available cover and close by rushing within about 200 yards.” [3] Even so both armies, as well as their European counterparts were restrained by their continued adherence to “a body of tactical doctrine with long roots back to the 1790s,” the debate between the virtues of line and column formations. [4] The effectiveness of the new weapons was seen by American observers to the Crimean War and despite this both the Union and Confederate armies insisted on employing the old tactics in massed infantry attacks.

This was in part because many of the senior leaders had last experienced combat in the Mexican War, where both sides still used smoothbore muskets and in which frontal attacks and bayonet charges were used effectively. However, as Bruce Catton so well noted:

“the generals had been brought up wrong. The tradition they had learned was that of close order fighting in the open country, where men with bayonets bravely charged a line of men firing smoothbore muskets. That used to work well enough, because the range at which defenders could kill their assailants was very short….But the rifle came in and changed all of that. The range which charging men began to be killed was at least five times as great as it used to be, which meant about five times as many of the assailants were likely to be hit…A few men, like young Colonel Upton, sensed that new tactics were called for, but most could not quite get the idea.” [5]

Lee was one of them.

This new technology changed the battlefield, although many leaders were slow to appreciate who. “The artillery now had to fall back behind the infantry and became a support instead of an assault weapon.” [6] The new firepower available to the infantry “reduced artillery to the defense and forced cavalry to fight dismounted beside the infantry,” [7] something that had been show in its best form in John Buford’s defense of McPherson Ridge on the morning of July first. “The devastating increase in firepower doomed the open frontal assault and ushered in the entrenched battlefield.” [8]

Despite the plentiful evidence which showed that the defense now had the advantage, including his own experience at Malvern Hill and at Fredericksburg, Lee as well as his “right arm” Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were firm believers in the offense. In their vision of battle, the the close assault of infantry and the bayonet retained its Napoleonic prominence, in 1861 Jackson enunciated his tactical philosophy: “my opinion is that there should not be much firing at all. My idea is that the best mode of fighting is to reserve your fire until the enemy get- or until you get them- to close quarters. The deliver one deadly, deliberate fire- and charge [with the bayonet].” [9] In fact the more time that Lee worked with Jackson the more he became an adherent of the offense, requiring “large scale battles and large casualties” [10] in order to bring about a climactic victory that would secure Southern independence.

At Gettysburg, Lee was “counting on the fighting spirit- the élan, as it is called in the French army- of his officers and men to win the day.” [11] The war in Mexico had not prepared Lee for the advent of the rifle and its effect on the battlefield and despite the tactical preference for the bayonet, the use of that weapon proved rare in combat. Heroes Von Borcke, a Prussian who served under the command of Stuart wrote the “accounts of bayonet fights are current after every general engagement, and are frequently embodied in subsequent ‘histories,’ so called; but as my experience goes, bayonet-fights rarely occur, and exist only in the imagination.” [12] Russell Weigley noted that “bayonet and saber wounds combined accounted for only 922 of some 250,000 wounded treated in Union hospitals during the war.” [13] But as late as 1862 Jackson just before Second Manassas “urged the Light Division under attack to hold their fire and use their bayonets” while “Lee’s penchant for frontal attacks when flanking and enveloping maneuvers failed to secure the results he hoped for…suggests slowness on the part of this otherwise astute and even brilliant commander to appreciate the power of the new weaponry.” [14] However, that being said, in defense of Lee, Jackson and so many commanders of the Civil War, despite the predictions of Mahan 15 years prior, “had no precedent to guide them, for all intents and purposes this was a new weapon.” [15] However, that was before the war began and bitter experience and massive casualties had demonstrated the power of the new weapons, especially when used by troops in strong defensive positions.

At about 5 p.m. on July 1st Lieutenant General James Longstreet reached the battlefield ahead of his corps, the closest division being still six miles away from the battle. He joined Lee on Seminary Ridge and commenced to survey the battlefield for a period of about ten minutes. While the scene before him gave the appearance of Confederate victory, Longstreet thought otherwise and believed that the Federal troop’s position on Cemetery Hill and Ridge “was a strong one.” [16] However, Lee despite his initial hesitancy to engage the Federal army was now certain that he could follow up the success of the day, and if the Union forces which he had driven back to the hill were still there the next morning “he had plenty of fresh troops to move in behind them and finish them off.” [17] Lee believed, even without any true idea of where the rest of the Federal Army was that he would be able to defeat it in detail as each Union corps arrived on the field. But Lee had misjudged Meade’s response and the movement of the Army of the Potomac to Gettysburg, and instead of a part of that army, almost all of it would be in place on ground of Meade and his commanders choosing.

The actions of Lee and his “Old Warhorse” on Seminary Ridge are part of much of the myth of Gettysburg, and the cause of endless debate between Lee’s supporters and Longstreet’s detractors. After Longstreet surveyed the ground he was pleased. The battlefield appeared to be set up for what he believed was a repetition of the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, as he was under the assumption that Lee had promised to fight a defensive battle when contact was made. [18]

However, Longstreet was not aware of Lee’s though process on the march up. Lee had discussed the matter with Isaac Trimble on June 27th, before he discovered that Hooker had been relieved and was across the Potomac. Trimble recalled Lee’s words:

“Our army is in good spirits, not overly fatigued, and can be concentrated on any point in twenty-four hours or less….They will come up, probably through Frederick; broken down with hunger and hard marching, strung out on a long line and march demoralized, when they come into Pennsylvania. I shall throw an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, drive on corps back and another, and by successive repulses and surprises before they can concentrate; create a panic and virtually destroy the army.” [19]

Trimble’s account of Lee’s state of mind is consistent with how Lee had conducted his operations over the previous year, Lee’s watchword in nearly every encounter with Union forces was “we must destroy this army” and the “aim of his maneuvers was always the battle of annihilation.” [20]

The only record of the conversation between the two men is that of Longstreet, written in his memoirs after years of being blamed by Lee’s supporters for the loss at Gettysburg. Without that knowledge and still under the impression, or “delusion” as Clifford Dowdey wrote, [21] that Lee had accepted his idea of fighting defensive battles in Pennsylvania. He “said that “he didn’t like the look of things, and he urged quite vehemently that the Confederates avoid any attack on the union position at Gettysburg.” [22] Longstreet commented: to Lee: “We could not call the enemy to position better suited to our plans. All we do is have do is to file around his left and secure good ground between him and his capital.” [23] Thus Longstreet was stunned by Lee’s impatience with the suggestion noting that Lee said “If he is there tomorrow I will attack him.” [24] Longstreet and Lee debated the matter for a while and Longstreet replied to Lee’s comment: “If he is there, it will be because he is anxious that we would attack him- a good reason, in my judgment, for not doing so.” [25]

That conversation has ignited a debate that continues today, but both Lee and Longstreet had sound arguments to support their positions, but both were hamstrung by the absolute lack of intelligence as to where the rest of the Federal army was and Meade’s intentions. Longstreet’s strategic and tactical concepts regarding employing the tactical defensive in the offense “grew out of an appreciation of the advantages Civil War military technology gave to the side having strong defensive positions.” [26] But the course of action that he suggested to Lee was vague and impractical, he did not specify at any time whether he meant a strategic sweeping move to the south or a shorter tactical move around the Round Tops, and “Lee rightly dismissed it at the time. Without Stuart’s cavalry he could not agree to a movement into the unknown.” [27]

Those that believe that if only Longstreet’s advice to move around the enemy was followed that the Confederates would have won a victory are mistaken. One of the key errors that many military history buffs make is that they assume that if one strategy failed and another had been suggested that the neglected course of action would have brought about victory. This is the case with those who assume that if only had lee followed Longstreet’s advice he would have won the battle. That neglects the understanding that the enemy too has a say in one’s plan. Several other factors have to be considered in this. First Meade had already prepared at strong position at Pipe Creek on the Maryland Pennsylvania border, this position was actually a stronger defensive position than Gettysburg. Likewise it neglects to account for the fact that any such maneuver would have exposed Lee’s army’s flank as it was strung out on the march in front of a now concentrated Federal army, and it ignores the logistics of the move deep in enemy territory without knowledge of the enemy’s positions. Additionally and possibly more important neither Lee nor Longstreet “had no idea where this “magic” good ground could be found, and no way to look for it until Stuart arrived with the cavalry.” [28]

But while rejecting Longstreet’s advice to move around the enemy what other choices did Robert E. Lee have on the evening of July 1st 1863? Lee obviously and with good reason rejected maneuver as a possibility, but there were other options, as Porter Alexander and others have noted. Freeman and others have discussed the concern that Lee had with forage, and his fear that if he remained in place that with supplies low that “the Federals could easily block the mountain passes and limit the area in which the Southern army could forage.” [29] But this need did “not require his renewal of the battle on July 1 any more than days following….” [30] Alexander noted that it was possible “for the Confederates to have abandoned Seminary Ridge on the night of July 1 or on July 2: “The onus of the attack was on Meade….we could have fallen back on Cashtown & held the mountain passes… & popular sentiment would have forced Meade to take the aggressive.” [31]

It seems that Lee’s decision to attack on July 2nd was mistaken, despite his appraisal that “A battle had, became in a measure unavoidable, and that the success already gained gave hope of a favorable issue.” [32] But Lee’s assertion is very much a matter of his framing life and actions in the context a nearly fatalistic understanding of Divine Providence and God’s will, it was not in accordance with the facts on the ground. Lee remarked “as soon as I order my army into battle, I leave my army in the hands of God…” [33] Porter Alexander later wrote “Not fully appreciating the strength of the enemy’s position, and mislead by the hope that a large fraction of the Federal Army was out of reach, Lee had determined to strike….” [34]

Lee elected to attack again, and even when he had the knowledge that most of the Federal army had come up he continued with his attack, committing his troops to fight an enemy who had strong defensive positions, high ground and interior lines from which they could shift troops and artillery to endangered sectors. Lee had taken heavy casualties on July 1st, three of the four divisions committed had been severely blooded and two division commanders wounded and he still did not have his entire army in position. As night settled on July 1st the only decision Lee had not made was where to make his attack.

Lee’s decision to attack, even when knowing the full Federal army was on the field was an exercise of both bad strategy, hubris and the refusal to acknowledge how the battlefield had changed with the advent of the rifled musket. It showed that even a great commander and a man associated with military genius was not infallible, despite the myth of the Lost Cause and its icon, General Robert E. Lee.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.104

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

[3] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.10

[4] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.38

[5] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 pp.154-155

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

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

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

[9] Weigley, Russell F. American Strategy from its Beginnings to the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age edited by a Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 1986 p.428

[10] Weigley, Russell F. American Strategyp.426

[11] Korda, Michael Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Books, New York 2014 p.593

[12] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 1957 p.48

[13] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.428

[14] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.428

[15] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee p.48

[16] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.559

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.215

[18] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 pp.574-575

[19] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 pp.293-294

[20] Ibid. Weigley American Strategy p.427

[21] 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.169

[22] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.360

[23] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in Americaoriginally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition loc. 5059

[24] Ibid. Longstreet From Manassas to Appomattox loc. 5059

[25] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.234

[26] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.360

[27] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.258

 

[28] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.561

[29] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.575

[30] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.24

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

[32] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.575

[33] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee p.112

[34] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition loc. 7517

 

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