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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

4 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.239

5 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.188

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.321

15 Ibid. Trudeau pp.264-265

16 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.241

17 Ibid. Trudeau p.265

18 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p. 159

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

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

28 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

 

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Gettysburg: The Connection between Policy, Strategy, and Operational Art

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I have been working to revise my materials form my next Gettysburg Staff Ride I did some revisions to my text that I use with my students. The footnotes did not show up so Monday I will repost the text of this article with them. The article is important even for non-military types who care about the country and are involved in politics or policy, because it shows the linkage between the advantages that a nation with a strong strong and effective central government has over one which adopts what we would call today a Libertarian form of government. In fact I would call the effort of the Confederacy in the Civil War “The Failed Libertarian War.” But that is possibly a subject for an article or maybe even a book, but I digress…

So anyway here is the latest,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Today we look at the Gettysburg Campaign in terms of how we understand the connection between strategy and operational art. In doing so we have to place it in the context that Lee’s campaign has in relationship to the Confederate command relationships and where it fits in the continuum of unified action as we understand it today.

To do so we have to make the connection between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objective and tactical objectives. We have to explore command and control structures, staff organization and the understand the effect of the Diplomatic, Informational, Economic and Military elements of national power that impact a nation’s ability to wage war.

The summer campaign of 1863 in the Civil War gives us the opportunity to do this as we explore the Gettysburg campaign in relation to Vicksburg and the overall strategic situation that both sides faced. This includes the elements that we now associate with the DIME.

While Confederate army units and their commanders generally excelled on the tactical level, and their soldiers endured hardship well, this would not be enough to secure victory. They displayed amazing individual initiative on the battlefield and they won many victories against superior forces, especially in the early part of the war. Even during the final year of the war, Lee’s forces fought skillfully and helped prolong the war. But neither the Confederate government nor the various army commanders were able to translate battlefield success to operational, theater specific or national strategic objectives.

The Confederacy had a twofold problem in its organization for war and how it conducted the war. First it had no organization at the strategic level to direct the war, and it never developed one to coordinate its military, military, diplomatic or economic policies. While Southern strategists understood that they needed to “wear down the ability of the North to wage war” they were consistently hobbled by its own internal political divisions which served to undermine efforts to coordinate the effort to defend the Confederacy. These divisions focused on the opposition of the states’ rights proponents to the central government in Richmond.

The overarching national strategic objective of the Confederacy was to attain independence. The Confederates could not hope to conquer the Union and because of that their “strategic problem was to resist conquest” and to do so they would have to “tire the Federals out, and force them to abandon the war.” Jefferson Davis seems to have understood this early in the war, but political considerations and the temperament of most Southerners and their political leaders frustrated his attempts. Generals like Lee and Joseph E. Johnston “were of the opinion that the more remote frontiers should be abandoned, and that the scattered forces of the Confederacy be concentrated, political reasons overruled their judgment.”

Southern politicians, especially the governors and congressmen demanded that troops “defend every portion of the Confederacy from penetration by “Lincoln’s abolition hordes.” Likewise, most Southerners believed that they “could whip any number of Yankees” and as early as 1861 the Confederate press was advocating an offensive strategy as the Richmond Examiner declared “The idea of waiting for blows rather than inflicting them, is altogether unsuited to the genius of our people….The aggressive policy is the truly defensive one. A column pushed forward into Ohio or Pennsylvania is worth more to us, as a defensive measure, than a whole tier of seacoast batteries from Norfolk to the Rio Grande.”

This combination of wanting to defend everything, which defied Frederick the Great’s classic dictum that “he who defends everything defends nothing” and the persistent employment of the offensive even when it “drained the Confederacy’s manpower and weakened its long term prospects for independence” were key strategic factors in its defeat.

The South did get an earlier start to in mobilizing for war then the Union. Even before the “Confederate Congress authorized an army of 100,000 volunteers for twelve months” on March 6th 1861 the governors of the eleven Confederate States raised units to fight any Federal armies which dared to force them back into the Union. This involved dusting off the old militias which had been allowed to decay in the period between the Mexican War and 1860. Most of these units in the South as well as the North were volunteer companies in which the discipline, equipment and training varied to a significant degree. Most had little in the way of real military training and “many of them spent more time drinking than drilling.” The early Confederate mobilization outstripped the availability of arms and equipment forcing many volunteers to be sent home.

Other than the stated desire for independence and their common hatred of the “Yankee,” there was little in the way of unity within the Confederate States, “the incurable jealousy of the States, especially those not immediately affected by the war, established a dry rot within the Confederacy.” Within the Confederacy, each state viewed itself as an independent nation only loosely bound to the other states and some legislatures enacted laws which actively opposed the central government in Richmond.

The various Confederate states controlled the use of their units and often resisted any effort at centralization of effort. Some kept their best units at home, while others dispatched units to Confederate armies such as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Initially most states limited enlistment periods to one year despite the opposition of Robert E. Lee who helped Jefferson Davis pass the Conscription Act of 1862, a measure that was “heavily watered down by those politicians whose first concern was states’ rights and by those who felt that it would undermine patriotism.” That measure, even in its watered down form was distinctly unpopular, especially with the following declaration of martial law in parts of the Confederacy.

Both measures were brought by realists who understood that for the Confederacy to survive the war effort had to become a total war, with “the whole population and the whole production…put on a war footing.” Such measures provoke more attacks and opposition by their opponents who advocated states’ rights even if it worked against the overall interests of the Confederacy. By the time of Gettysburg if not sooner, “Confederate society began to unravel. The yeomanry and poor white people resented conscription, the tax-in-kind impressment, and other governmental measures than the wealthy. Planters sought to safeguard their property and status to the detriment of national goals.”

This included how state governments responded to the military needs of the Confederacy. Some governors hoarded weapons seized from Federal armories, “retaining these weapons to arm regiments that they kept at home… defend state boarders and guard against potential slave uprisings.” When in response to threats within the Confederacy Jefferson Davis suspended the writ of habeas corpus it resulted in a firestorm of opposition from the states. “Mississippi and Georgia passed flaming resolutions against the act; Louisiana presently did so, too, and North Carolina soon had a law on its books nullifying the action of the central government.” Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice President noted that there was “no such thing as a citizen of the United States, but the citizen of a State, and that “the object of quitting the Union, was not to destroy, but to save the principles of the Constitution.”

Likewise as economic conditions worsened and inflation soared in late 1861 the Confederate Congress “in its allotments to the War Department refused to face up to the costs of running the war…it forced the department to scramble in an atmosphere of uncertainty for allotments on a short-run basis.” There was much distrust of any attempt to organize a true central government with any actual authority or power in Richmond. Jefferson Davis may have been President but his country was hamstrung by its own internal divisions, including the often vocal opposition of Stephens for whom states’ rights remained a paramount issue. Stephens, in a statement that defied the understanding that military victory had to be achieved for independence to be won said during the habeas corpus debate “Away with the idea of getting independence first, and looking to liberty afterward.” This, like so many other aspects of the Confederate war effort showed the radical disconnection between legislators, policy makers and the Army and defied any understanding of the importance of government and the unity of effort in pursuing war aims. .

The Confederacy lacked a clear defined command structure to coordinate its war efforts. At the beginning of the war this was true of the Union as well, however, by the Union was much more adept at responding to the needs of the war, this included its military operations, diplomatic efforts and economy. Out of necessity it established a War Department as well as a Department of the Navy in February 1861 and Jefferson Davis, the new President who had served in Mexico and as Secretary of War prior to secession “helped speed southern mobilization in 1861.” However helpful this was initially Davis, who micromanaged Confederate war efforts “eventually led to conflict with some army officers.”

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Jefferson Davis was an able man to be sure, but he “totally misunderstood the nature of the war.” Davis was a man given to suspicion and had major personality conflicts with all of his senior commanders save Robert E. Lee. These included Joseph Johnston who he loathed and P.T.G. Beauregard, both of whom he quarreled with on matters of strategy. These conflicts did impact operations, just as did the refusal of various states to support operations or campaigns apart from ones that impacted their state directly.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In 1863 Davis, Lee and the Secretary of War, James Seddon were acting as an “informal board which had a say in all major questions of Confederate strategy. Seddon, who had definite ideas of his own about military affairs, was usually but not always a party to Davis’ discussions with Lee…but Davis usually dominated them…. In contrast to the Northern command organization, the South had no general in chief. If anyone fulfilled his functions, it was the President.” It was not until February of 1865 that Lee was named as General in Chief of all armies, and by then the war had been lost.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In 1863 Davis, Lee and the Secretary of War, James Seddon were acting as an “informal board which had a say in all major questions of Confederate strategy. Seddon, who had definite ideas of his own about military affairs, was usually but not always a party to Davis’ discussions with Lee…but Davis usually dominated them…. In contrast to the Northern command organization, the South had no general in chief. If anyone fulfilled his functions, it was the President.” It was not until February of 1865 that Lee was named as General in Chief of all armies, and by then the war had been lost.

In effect each Confederate army and military department operated independently, often competing with each other for the troops, supplies and materials needed to fight. They also had to contend with recalcitrant state governments, each loathe to sacrifice anything that might compromise their own independence. Attempts by the authorities in Richmond to centralize some measure of authority were met with resistance by the states. Thus states’ rights were “not only the cause of the war, but also the cause of the Confederate downfall.”

In a country as vast as the Confederacy that lacked the industry, transportation infrastructure, population and economic power of the North this was a hindrance that could not be overcome by the soldierly abilities of its armies alone. An example of the Confederate problem was that “neither the army nor the government exercised any control of the railroads.” The Confederate Subsistence Department, which in theory was responsible for ensuring the supply of food, stores and the logistical needs necessary to maintain armies in the field could not plan with confidence. “Tied to the railroads, unable to build up a reserve; frequently uncertain whether or not their troops were going to be fed from one day to the next, field commanders understandably experienced a general loss of confidence in the Subsistence Department….” Even though the subsistence and even the survival of the army was dependent on the use of railroads, the railroad owners “responded by an assertion of their individual rights. They failed to cooperate….and Government shipments were accorded low priority. In May of 1863 the Confederate Congress finally granted the government broad authority over the railroads, but “Davis hesitated to wield the power. “ It would not be until early 1865 that the Confederacy would “finally take control of the railroads.”

All of these factors had a direct effect on the campaign of 1863. In the west, Confederate commanders were very much left to fend for themselves and to add to their misery failed even to coordinate their activities to meet the threat of Grant and his naval commander, Admiral David Dixon Porter. In the East, Lee having established a close relationship with Jefferson Davis as his military advisor during the first year of the war exercised a disproportionate influence on the overall strategy of the Confederacy because of his relationship with Davis. However, Lee was hesitant to use his influence to supply his army, even when it was suffering. Even though he willingly shared in the plight of his solders, Lee refused “to exert his authority to obtain supplies….” As the army prepared to invade Pennsylvania, “the paltry rationing imposed by Richmond was made worse by a tenuous supply line….”

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for the decision to invade the Union in June of 1863. This decision impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet “could reject Lee’s proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, “the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…” Lee’s plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who “believed a fatal mistake had been made…”

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for the decision to invade the Union in June of 1863. This decision impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet “could reject Lee’s proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, “the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…” Lee’s plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who “believed a fatal mistake had been made…”

Seddon desired to turn the tide at Vicksburg and proposed sending Longstreet’s Corps to reinforce Johnston to relieve the embattled city and maintain the front on the Mississippi. However, Lee believed that any attempt “to turn the Tide at Vicksburg…put Lee’s army in Virginia at unacceptable risk.”

The lack of any sense of unity in the Confederate hierarchy and lack of a grand strategy was disastrous. The lack of agreement on a grand strategy and the inability of the Confederate States Government and the various state governments to cooperate at any level culminated in the summer of 1863 with the loss of Vicksburg and the failure of Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. The Confederate failure in this demonstrates the absolute need for unity of effort and even more a whole of government and whole of nation approach to war.

This can be contrasted with the Union, which though it was slow to understand the nature of the war did have people who, through trial and error developed a cohesive strategy that led to success at the operational level and the tactical level. The genus in Union strategy came from Lieutenant General Winfield Scott who “appreciated the relationship between economic factors and attack.” Scott’s strategic plan was to establish a blockade and form two major armies, “one to move down the Mississippi and cut off the western half of the Confederacy from its eastern half, while the other threatened Richmond and pinned down the main Confederate forces in Virginia.” It was a plan for total war called Anaconda which was mocked in both the Northern and Southern press and it would become the blueprint of Federal success at the war progressed. Scott was the first to recognize that the war would not be short and his plan was the first to “recognize the North’s tremendous advantage in numbers and material, and it was the first to emphasize the importance of the Mississippi Valley in an over-all view of the war.”

Abraham Lincoln had little in the way of military acumen and frequently, until Grant took control of the armies interfered with his senior commanders, often with good reason. However, Lincoln was committed to winning the war and willing to take whatever steps necessary to do so. Fuller describes him as “none other than a dictator” by bypassing Congress and on his own authority declaring a blockade of Southern ports, calling for 75,000 volunteers and suspending habeas corpus.

Likewise Lincoln as well as Congress understood the value and necessity of the railroads and in January 1862 “Congress authorized to take possession of any railroads and place them under military control when the public safety warranted it.” Lincoln formed the Department of Military Railroads the following month and appointed Daniel C McCallum as its director. In May President Lincoln formally took possession of all railroads, but “saw to it that cooperative lines received government aid.”

George McClellan, who Lincoln appointed as commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1862, whatever his many faults as a field commander “possessed a strategic design for winning the war,” understood the necessity of unity of command and successfully built an effective army. Now his design was different than that of Scott, for he desired to “crush the rebels in one campaign” by an overland march to Richmond. While this was unrealistic because of McClellan’s constant overestimation of his enemy and inability to risk a fight when on the Peninsula and at the gates of Richmond, the Union might have at least had a chance should he have defeated the major Confederate forces deployed to defend that city. While that would have been unlikely to win the war in a single stroke it would have been a significant reversal for the Confederacy in 1862.

Logistics was one of the deciding factors of e war, both the Confederate weakness and Union ability to adapt society and government needs to wartime conditions. As a general principle Union leaders, government and business alike understood the changing nature of modern war. This stood in stark contrast to the inefficient and graft ridden Confederate agencies where even those who wanted more effective means to wage war were hindered by politicians, land owners and businessmen who insisted on their rights over the needs of the nation. The Union developed an efficient and well managed War Department where the importance of logistics inter-bureau cooperation became a paramount concern.

Union industry “geared up up for war production on a scale that would make the Union army the best fed, most lavishly supplied army that have ever existed.” The Quartermaster’s Department under the direction of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs was particularly efficient in supplying the needs of a military fighting on exterior lines in multiple theaters of operation. Unlike the Confederate Subsistence Bureau the Federal Quartermaster Bureau supplied almost everything the army could need: “uniforms, overcoats shoes, knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, mess gear, blankets, tents, camp equipage, barracks, horses, mules, forage, harnesses, horseshoes, and portable blacksmith shops, supply wagons, ships when the army could be supplied by water, coal and wood to fuel them, and supply depots for storage and distribution.” The ill-equipped Confederates could only look on with awe, in fact during his absence from Lee J.E.B. Stuart was ecstatic over the capture of “one hundred and twenty five of the best United States model wagons and splendid teams….” likewise one of the reasons that A.P. Hill allowed Harry Heth to send his division the Gettysburg was to find shoes that the Confederate Subsistence Department could not provide for them. Thus one of the reasons for the Battle of Gettysburg is directly linked to the failed logistics system of the Confederacy.

Early in the war the Union logistics effort was beset by some of the same problems that plagued the Confederacy throughout the war. Graft and corruption ran rife until 1862 when “Congress established investigative committees to uncover fraud and passed laws regulating the letting of contracts.” Meigs overhauled the bureau. At the beginning of the war it had only one department, for clothing. He modernized this and added eight new departments, which dealt with “specialized logistical functions such as forage and fuel, barracks and hospitals and wagon transportation.” During the war Meigs managed nearly half the direct costs of the Union war effort,” over 1.5 billion dollars in spending. He has been called by James McPherson as “the unsung hero of northern victory.”

meigs1

The Unsung Union Hero: General Montgomery Meigs 

This had a profound effect on operations. When the Union forces by necessity had to operate in enemy territory they were well supplied whereas whenever Confederate Forces conducted operations in the North or even in supposedly friendly Border States they were forced to subsist off the land. This meant that Confederate operations in the north were no more than what we would call raids, even the large invasions launched by Lee in 1862 and 1863, both which ended in defeat and near disaster.

Because of their poor logistic capabilities Confederate forces had no staying power to keep and hold any ground that they took in enemy territory. This can be contrasted with the Union which when it sent its forces south meant them to stay.

Lee could not fathom this and because he believed that no Federal Army could stand a summer in the Deep South and that Grant would be forced to withdraw. The use of railroads to supply its far flung forces operating in the south as well as its use of maritime transportation along the coast and on inland waterways ensured that Northern armies could always be supplied or if threatened could be withdrawn by ship.

Some senior Union officers also understood the importance of logistics. Henry Halleck was the first true American military theorist. He published the first American work on strategy, Elements of Military Art and Science in 1846. While his is often given short shrift because he was not an effective field commander and had an acerbic personality which rubbed people the wrong way, Halleck was one of the most important individuals in organizing the eventual Union victory. This included matters of strategy, picking effective subordinate commanders and understanding the logistical foundations of strategy.

Weigley wrote of Halleck:

“He sponsored and encouraged the operations of Brigadier General Ulysses. S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote that captured Forts Henry and Donaldson in February 1862 and thereby opened up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers for Union penetration deep into the state of Tennessee and toward the strategically important Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Halleck’s insights into the logistical foundations of strategy proved consistently accurate. Throughout the war, he maintained a shrewd eye for logistically viable lines of operation for the Union forces, and he increasingly recognized that one of the most effective weapons of offensive strategy, in an age when battle meant exposure to rifled firepower, was not to aim directly at the enemy armies but at their logistical base.”

Halleck was also instrumental in helping to oust Hooker just before Gettysburg and raise Meade to command the Army of the Potomac. When Lincoln brought Grant east to become General in Chief Halleck took on the new position of Chief of Staff. This was a task that he fulfilled admirably, allowing Grant to remain in the field and ensuring clear communication between Lincoln and Grant as well as relieving “Grant of the burden of personally corresponding with his department commanders.”

By establishing what we now understand as the beginning of a modern command and staff organizational structure the Union was far more able to link its national, theater and operational level objectives with its tactical objectives, even when some of its commanders were not as good as Confederates and blundered into defeats. Above the army, at the administration level Stanton, the Federal Secretary of war organized a War Board and “composed of department heads and chaired by Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock…as an embryonic American-style general staff.”

In the end during the summer of 1863 it was the Union which was better able to link the ends, ways and means of the strategic direction of the war. This is something that Davis and Lee were unable to do as they struggled with political division, a lack of cooperation from the states, and the lack of any true grand strategy.

Lee’s strategy of the offensive was wrong and compounded the problems faced by the Confederacy. The losses that his army suffered were irreplaceable, not just in terms of overall numbers of soldiers but in terms of his mid-level leaders, his battalion, regiment and brigade commanders who suffered grievous losses and were even more critical to the leadership of his army.

Lee recognized the terrible effects of his officer casualties in a letter to General John Bell Hood on May 21st: “There never were such men in an Army before. But there is the difficulty- proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” His actions at Gettysburg only added to his crisis in keeping his army supplied with competent commanders, as so many were left dead, wounded or captured during the campaign.

Even had Lee won the battle of Gettysburg his casualties in Union territory would have been prohibitive. He would have spent most of his ammunition, incurred serious losses in personnel and horses, and been burdened by not having to care for his wounded and still been deep in Union territory away from his nearest logistics hub. Had Lee won at Gettysburg “his ammunition would have been nearly exhausted in victory, while Federal logistics would have improved as the Army of the Potomac fell back toward the eastern cities.” This would have forced him to withdraw from Pennsylvania even had he been victorious.

It is true that a victory on northern soil might have emboldened the peace party in the North, but even then that could not have an effect on the desired effect on the Lincoln Administration until the election of 1864, still 16 months away. Likewise, in July 1863 such a victory would probably not have triggered foreign recognition or assistance on the part of France or England. “Skilful northern diplomacy prevented an internal conflict from becoming an international war.” Jefferson Davis held on to his fantasy until August 1863, when even he was forced to deal with reality was a vain hope indeed and ended his diplomatic efforts to bring England into the war.

England would not intervene for many reasons and the Confederate government did not fully appreciate the situation of the countries that they hoped would intervene on their behalf:

“its dependence on northern foodstuffs, access to new cotton supplies, turmoil in Europe, fear of what might happen to Canada and to British commerce in a war with the Union, and an unwillingness to side with slavery. The British government also wanted to establish precedents by respecting the blockade, a weapon that it often used.”

Confederate politicians were hindered by a very narrow, parochial view of the world, had little understanding of modern industry, economics and the type of diplomacy employed by Europeans both to strengthen their nations, but also to maintain a balance of power.

As we look at the Gettysburg and Vicksburg campaigns in the summer of 1863 these are important things to consider. The relationship between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objectives and tactical success cannot be minimized. Success on the battlefield alone is almost always insufficient to win a war unless those wins serve a higher operational and strategic purpose, and the costs of battles and campaigns have to be weighed in relation to the strategic benefits that derive from them.

In the end the total failure of the two campaigns destroyed any real hope of Confederate military victory. At Vicksburg the Confederacy lost all of Pemberton’s army, 33,000 men and Lee suffered over 28,000 casualties from an army which had begun the campaign with about 80,000 troops. The losses were irreplaceable.

This essay is certainly not an exhaustive look at the subject, but if we do not consider these factors we cannot really understand the bigger picture of the situation that the two sides faced and how they dealt with them. While the weapons and tactics employed by the sides are obsolete the thought processes and strategic considerations are timeless.

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Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy and Operational Art

american14_5

Today we look at the Gettysburg Campaign in terms of how we understand the connection between strategy and operational art. In doing so we have to place it in the context that Lees campaign has in relationship to the Confederate command relationships and where it fits in the continuum of unified action as we understand it today.

To do so we have to make the connection between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objective and tactical objectives. We have to explore command and control structures, staff organization and the understand the effect of the Diplomatic, Informational, Economic and Military elements of national power that impact a nations ability to wage war.

fig 1-5 jp-03

The summer campaign of 1863 in the Civil War gives us the opportunity to do this as we explore the Gettysburg campaign in relation to Vicksburg and the overall strategic situation that both sides faced.

The Confederacy had a twofold problem in its organization for war and how it conducted the war. First it had no organization at the strategic level to direct the war and it never developed a grand strategy from which its national strategic objectives could be translated for action at the theater, operational and tactical levels of warfare.

The overarching national strategic objective of the Confederacy was to attain independence. To such ends the governors of the 11 Confederate States raised units to fight any Federal armies which dared to force them back into the Union. The various states controlled the use of their units. Some kept their best units at home, while others dispatched units to Confederate armies such as Lees Army of Northern Virginia. After that there was not much thought given to how to fight the war.

Other than the stated desire for independence and their common hatred of the Yankee,there was little in the way of unity within the Confederate States. Each state viewed itself as an independent nation only loosely bound to the other states. There was much distrust of any attempt to organize a true central government with any actual authority or power in Richmond. Jefferson Davis may have been President but his country was hamstrung by its own internal divisions.

The Confederacy lacked a clear defined command structure to coordinate war efforts. This included its military operations, diplomatic efforts and economy. Jefferson Davis, an able man to be sure was a man given to suspicion and had major personality conflicts with all of his senior commanders save Robert E. Lee. These conflicts did impact operations, just as did the refusal of various states to support operations or campaigns apart from ones that impacted their state directly.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In effect each army operated independently often competing with each other for the troops, supplies and materials needed to fight, as well as having to contend with recalcitrant state governments, each loathe to sacrifice anything that might compromise their own independence. Attempts by the authorities in Richmond to centralize some measure of authority were met with resistance by the states. Thus statesrights were not only the cause of the war, but also the cause of the Confederate downfall.[i]

In a country as vast as the Confederacy that lacked the industry, transportation infrastructure, population and economic power of the North this was a hindrance that could not be overcome by the soldierly abilities of its armies alone.

VicksburgBlockade

This had a direct effect on the campaign of 1863. In the west, Confederate commanders were very much left to fend for themselves and to add to their misery failed even to coordinate their activities to meet the threat of Grant and his naval commander, Admiral David Dixon Porter. In the East, Lee having established a close relationship with Jefferson Davis as his military advisor during the first year of the war exercised a disproportionate influence on the overall strategy of the Confederacy.

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for a decision that impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet could reject Lees proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…”[i] Lees plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who believed a fatal mistake had been made…”[ii]

reagan

The Lone Dissenter, Postmaster General John H Reagan

Lees decision to launch an invasion of the north in hopes of a quick victory to secure independence had numerous adverse effects on the broader needs of the Confederacy at a time when the Confederacy had little room for a misstep. Lee was a remarkable commander at the operational level but his military thinking process was very much Napoleonic. To succeed Lees design required a climactic Napoleonic battle,[iii] to defeat Union armies and this was something that his new opponent Meade would not allow.

The lack of any sense of unity in the Confederate hierarchy was disastrous. The lack of agreement on a grand strategy and the inability of the Confederate States Government and the various state governments to cooperate at any level culminated in the summer of 1863 with the loss of Vicksburg and the failure of Lees invasion of Pennsylvania.

Confederate army units and their commanders generally excelled on the tactical level, and their soldiers endured hardship well. They displayed amazing individual initiative on the battlefield and they won many victories against superior forces, especially in the early part of the war. But neither the Confederate government nor the various army commanders were able to translate battlefield success to operational, theater specific or national strategic objectives.

This can be contrasted with the Union, which though it was slow to understand the nature of the war did have people who, through trial and error developed a cohesive strategy that led to success at the operational level and the tactical level. George McClellan, whatever his faults as a field commander possessed a strategic design for winning the war,[iv] the necessity of unity of command and successfully built an effective army.

meigs

General Montgomery Meigs, the Logistician

The Union understood the changing nature of modern war and in stark contrast to the inefficient and graft ridden Confederate agencies developed an efficient and well managed War Department where the importance of logistics interbureau cooperation became a paramount concern. The Quartermasters Department under the direction of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs was particularly efficient in supplying the needs of a military fighting on exterior lines in multiple theaters of operation.

This had a profound effect on operations. When the Union forces by necessity had to operate in enemy territory they were well supplied whereas whenever Confederate Forces conducted operations in the North or even in friendly Border States they were forced to subsist off the land. This meant that Confederate operations in the north were no more than raids, even the large invasions launched by Lee. They had no staying power to keep and hold any ground that they took in enemy territory. This can be contrasted with the Union which when it sent its forces south meant them to stay. Lee could not fathom this and because he believed that no Federal Army could stand a summer in the Deep South and that Grant would be forced to withdraw. The use of railroads to supply its far flung forces operating in the south as well as its use of maritime transportation along the coast and on inland waterways ensured that its armies could always be supplied.

Henry Halleck was the first true American military theorist who published Elements of Military Art and Science in 1846. While his is often given short shrift because he was not an effective field commander, and had an acerbic personality which rubbed people the wrong way was one of the most important individuals in organizing the eventual Union victory. This included matters of strategy, picking effective subordinate commanders and understanding the logistical foundations of strategy.

Weigley wrote of Halleck:

He sponsored and encouraged the operations of Brigadier General Ulysses. S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote that captured Forts Henry and Donaldson in February 1862 and  thereby opened up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers for Union penetration deep into the state of Tennessee and toward the strategically important Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Hallecks insights into the logistical foundations of strategy proved consistently accurate. Throughout the war, he maintained a shrewd eye for logistically viable lines of operation for the Union forces, and he increasingly recognized that one of the most effective weapons of offensive strategy, in an age when battle meant exposure to rifled firepower, was not to aim directly at the enemy armies but at their logistical base.[i]

Halleck was also instrumental in helping to oust Hooker, raise Meade to command the Army of the Potomac. When Lincoln brought Grant east to become General in Chief Halleck took on the new position of Chief of Staff. This was a task that he fulfilled admirably, allowing Grant to remain in the field and ensuring clear communication between Lincoln and Grant as well as relieving Grant of the burden of personally corresponding with his department commanders.[ii]

By establishing what we now understand as the beginning of a modern command and staff organizational structure the Union was far more able to link its national, theater and operational level objectives with its tactical objectives, even when some of its commanders were not as good as Confederates and blundered into defeats.

In the end during the summer of 1863 it was the Union which was better able to link the ends, ways and means of the strategic direction of the war. This is something that Davis and Lee were unable to do as they struggled with political division, a lack of cooperation from the states, and the lack of any true grand strategy.

Lee’s strategy of the offensive was wrong and compounded the problems faced by the Confederacy. The losses that his army suffered were irreplaceable, not just in terms of overall numbers of soldiers but in terms of his mid-level leaders, his battalion, regiment and brigade commanders who suffered grievous losses and were even more critical to the leadership of his army.

Lee recognized the terrible effects of his officer casualties in a letter to General John Bell Hood on May 21st: There never were such men in an Army before. But there is the difficulty- proper commanders- where can they be obtained?[iii] His actions at Gettysburg only added to his crisis in keeping his army supplied with competent commanders, as so many were left dead, wounded or captured during the campaign.

Even had Lee won the battle of Gettysburg his casualties in Union territory would have been prohibitive. He would have spent most of his ammunition, incurred serious losses in personnel and horses, and been burdened by not having to care for his wounded and still been deep in Union territory away from his nearest logistics hub. Had Lee won at Gettysburg his ammunition would have been nearly exhausted in victory, while Federal logistics would have improved as the Army of the Potomac fell back toward the eastern cities.[iv] This would have forced him to withdraw from Pennsylvania even had he been victorious.

It is true that a victory on northern soil might have emboldened the peace party in the North, but even then that could not have an effect on the desired effect on the Lincoln Administration until the election of 1864, still 16 months away. Likewise, in July 1863 such a victory would probably not have triggered foreign recognition or assistance on the part of France or England. Skilful northern diplomacy prevented an internal conflict from becoming an international war.[v] Jefferson Davis held on to his fantasy until August 1863, when even he was forced to deal with reality was a vain hope indeed and ended his diplomatic efforts to bring England into the war.

England would not intervene for many reasons and the Confederate government did not fully appreciate the situation of the countries that they hoped would intervene on their behalf:

its dependence on northern foodstuffs, access to new cotton supplies, turmoil in Europe, fear of what might happen to Canada and to British commerce in a war with the Union, and an unwillingness to side with slavery. The British government also wanted to establish precedents by respecting the blockade, a weapon that it often used.[vi]

Confederate politicians were hindered by a very narrow, parochial view of the world, had little understanding of modern industry, economics and the type of diplomacy employed by Europeans both to strengthen their nations, but also to maintain a balance of power.

As we look at the Gettysburg and Vicksburg campaigns in the summer of 1863 these are important things to consider. The relationship between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objectives and tactical success cannot be minimized. Success on the battlefield alone is almost always insufficient to win a war unless those wins serve a higher operational and strategic purpose, and the costs of battles and campaigns have to be weighed in relation to the strategic benefits that derive from them.

gettysburg retreat

Retreat from Gettysburg

In the end the total failure of the two campaigns destroyed any real hope of Confederate military victory. At Vicksburg the Confederacy lost all of Pembertons army, 33,000 men and Lee suffered over 28,000 casualties from an army which had begun the campaign with about 80,000 troops.

This essay is certainly not an exhaustive look at the subject, but if we do not consider them we cannot really understand the bigger picture of the situation that the two sides faced and how they dealt with them. While the weapons and tactics employed by the sides are obsolete the thought processes and strategic considerations are timeless.

While I will be writing more about the specifics of the battle in the coming days including leadership issues, tactical considerations and even the relationships and friendships between commanders on both sides that transcended the war.

Notes


[i] Ibid. p.429-430

[ii] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p. 221

[iii] Sears, Stephen W Gettsyburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York, 2004 p.51

[iv] Ibid. Weigley, Russell. The American Way of War p.116

[v] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski p.220

[vi] Ibid.


[i] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 pp.432-433

[ii] Ibid. p.433

[iii] Weigley, Russell. The American Way of War Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 1974, p.115

[iv] Weigley, Russell F. American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War. In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age edited by Paret, Peter, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey 1986. P.429


[i] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.35

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