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


“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.


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



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.


Padre Steve+


[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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