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We Cannot Dedicate – We Cannot Consecrate – We Cannot Hallow: the Human Cost of the Battle of Gettysburg and All War

gburg dead2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This week I have been posting about Gettysburg and the solemn observance of Independence Day on 4 July, 1863.

So tonight I will repost a final article from my Gettysburg text. It deals with the human cost of the Battle of Gettysburg. In his Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln said:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

I am a now recareer military officer who suffers from PTSD, TBI and other afflictions after serving in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008.  I have seen firsthand the terrible effects of war. I am also a historian and I  have served as Assistant Professor at a major military staff college which helps educate senior military officers from this country and other countries. In that capacity I taught ethics as well as led the Gettysburg Staff ride, or study of the Battle of Gettysburg. When whenever I teach about Gettysburg or any other military campaign, I always attempted to deal with the human cost of war and its attendant afflictions.

Gettysburg was the most costly battle ever fought on the American continent. Around 50,000 men were killed or wounded there in three days of battle. William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell.” I agree, there is nothing romantic about it. The effects of war last generations. Although we spent over 20 years at war, war itself is an abstract concept to most Americans. It is fought by professionals and only experienced by most Americans on the news, movies or most the banal manner, video games; thus the cost in human terms is not fully appreciated, and nor can it be, we are far too insulated from it. Over the past forty plus years our politicians have insulated the public from war, and in doing so they have ensured that we remained in perpetual war which benefits no one. That is a big reason why I write so much about it, not to glorify or romanticize it, but to try in some war to help make it real  to my readers. This is a another draft chapter from my Gettysburg text, and as a side note, the pictures, with the exception of the color photos taken by me at the Soldier’s Cemetery, all were taken after the battle.

A Hasty Grave being marked after the Battle, such were used to minimize the spread of disease

Walt Whitman Wrote:

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought, or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

Temporary Mass Grave

Admittedly the subject is somewhat macabre. But with the reality being that very few people in the United States, Canada or Western Europe have experienced the terrible brutality of war it is something that we should carefully consider any time the nation commits itself to war. By we, I mean all citizens, including the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who never see the personally see people they kill, or walk among the devastation caused by the highly advanced, precision weapons that they employ from a great distance, sometimes thousands of miles. In some parts of our military we have men and women who have the mission of targeting and killing enemies and then walking home to their families, but in the Civil War killing in combat “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were able to see each other’s faces and to know whom they had killed.” [1]

While the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is Hell” are as true as when he spoke them; the tragic fact is that for most people war is an abstract concept, antiseptic and unreal; except for the occasional beheading of a hostage by Islamic militants or the videos shot by the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on the internet. Thus the cost of war and its attendant cost in lives, treasure and to the environment are not real to most people in the West.

Union and Confederate Dead at Devil’s Den

We use words to describe the business of war which dehumanize the enemy, and we describe their deaths in words more palatable to us. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.” [2]

We can now add the terms Haji and Raghead to Grossman’s list of dehumanizing terms for our opponents from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Illustration of the Carnage after the Battle

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!” [3]

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly exhort governments and peoples to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary. I fully comprehend the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” [4]

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as like the Gettysburg trip that we are embarking on, the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert.

Thus, it is my view, to conduct a staff ride, to walk the battlefield; especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there, died there, or brought home wounds that changed them forever.

Black Workers removing bodies from hasty graves before movement to the Soldier’s Cemetery

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the Bulge, the West Wall, the Shuri Line on Okinawa, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Stone’s River, and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

In doing this I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students will face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of them will become Flag or General Officers, with the responsibility of advising our nation’s leaders as well planning and conducting the military operations on which the lives of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of people depend. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects of this campaign, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take this work seriously because it forces us to remember what war is about and its nature, which Clausewitz wrote is “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…” [5]which William Tecumseh Sherman so rightly understood without the euphemisms that we so frequently use to describe it: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….”

Illustration of Winfield Scott Hancock being evacuated from the battlefield after Pickett’s Charge

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next. On that afternoon it was as if “the doors of Hell had shut” and the next day, the Glorious 4th of July “The heavens opened, and a thunderstorm of biblical proprotions drenched the battlefield, soaking dead, wounded and able-bodied men equally.” [6]

Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance, thus “the two sides stared at each other, each waiting for the other to resume the fighting, neither did.” [7]

Artistic rendering of an amputation at Chancellorsville

As the Confederate army retreated and Meade’s army pursued another army remained at Gettysburg, “an army of the wounded, some 20,350 in number, a third of them Confederate….” Just 106 surgeons were spared from the Army of the Potomac and “the comparatively few overburdened surgeons and attendants now on duty still labored every day to the point of exhaustion.”[8] These overworked men were aided by local volunteers as well as members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission and the Sisters of Charity. These men and women “brought organization to the hospitals, relief to the medical staffs and the local volunteers, and immense comfort to the wounded, whether blue or butternut.”[9]

The Dead after the Battle

The dead and wounded littered the battlefield and the sights and smells were ghastly:

“Wherever men gazed, they saw dead bodies. A New Yorker thought they “lay as thick as the stones that is on father’s farm.” A stench smothered the field, moving John Geary to tell his wife, “My very clothes smell of death.” A Regular Army veteran exclaimed, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” [10] A resident of Gettysburg walked up to Little Round top and wrote of what she observed from the peak of that rocky hill:

“surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.” [11]

Confederate Dead after the Battle

At Joseph Sherfy’s farm, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the second day, his barn “which had been used as a field hospital, was left a burnt ruin, with “crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies” clearly visible.” [12] When the rains came, the wounded suffered terribly. Many of the field aid stations were set up next to the creeks that crisscrossed the battlefield, and those streams quickly flooded as torrents of rain water caused them to overflow their banks. “A New Jersey soldier watched in horror as the flood waters washed over and carried away badly wounded men unable to move to safety….” [13]

Wounded being treated outdoors

Oliver Howard took his escort to do a reconnaissance of the town on July 4th, one of the cavalry troopers described the scene:

“The battle field was the Awfulest sight I ever saw…The woods in front of our men the trees were riddled with Cannon ball and bullets evry limb shot off 20 feet high. Some say the Rebel dead lay six deep in the grave yard where we lay. Nearly every grave stone was shattered by shots and everything was torn to pieces. I went through the town on the 4th of July with the General. The streets were covered with dead. Every frame house were riddled with balls the brick ones dented thick where shot had hit.” [14]

Woodcut of Surgeons preparing to amputate a soldier’s leg

Field hospitals were often little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Churches were requisition for use of the surgeons. A volunteer nurse noted: “Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and arms and threw them out the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.” [15]

Chaplains were usually found with the doctors, caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the wounded. Protestant chaplains might ensure that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administered the Last Rites, often working together across denominational lines to care for their soldiers.

A Union chaplain described the ministry in the field hospitals and aid stations:

“Some of the surgeons were posted well up toward the front to give first aid. More of them were in the large field hospitals of division in more secure places at the rear. The chaplain might be at either place or at both by turns. Some made a point of watching for any wounded man who might be straggling back, who perhaps could be helped up into the saddle and ride back to the hospital. When the demand for help became urgent the chaplains were nurses. As the rows of wounded men grew longer, chaplains went from man to man to see what could be done to relieve their pain, perhaps to take a message or letter. All day into the night this work would continue. A drink of water, a loosened bandage on a swollen limb, a question answered, a surgeon summoned, a whispered word of comfort marked their course. Each night at sundown the men who died during the day were buried, with a short prayer, side by side in a common grave, each in his uniform with canvas wrapped around his face and a strip of paper giving his name and regiment in a bottle buttoned under his blouse.” [16]

The war would challenge the theology of the clergy who served as chaplains on both sides, as “individuals found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one in which unimaginable destruction had become a daily experience. Where could God belong in such a world? How could a benevolent deity countenance such cruelty and suffering? Doubt threatened to overpower faith….” [17] That sense of bewilderment is not lacking today among those of faith who return from war.

Nuns from the Sisters of Charity working on the battlefield

Some men, clergy and laity alike would attempt to find a theological meaning to the suffering. Many would do so in the theology of John Calvin which emphasized the Providence and foreknowledge of God. That theological frame of reference, of the results of battles and the death or wounding of men in war and the attendant suffering was found in the will, or providence of God was quite common among men of both sides who grew up during the Second Great Awakening, as it is today; and for some it was carried to fatalistic extremes. However, others like Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, who considered himself a believing Christian, wrote that he believed God:

“endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”[18]

Nurses at Gettsburg

The carnage around the battlefield was horrifying to most observers. Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the sight on Cemetery Ridge on the night of July 3rd following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.” [19]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.” [20]

Another Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [21]

Black Workers removing bodies from the Battlefield on Seminary Ridge in preparation for reburial at the Soldier’s Cemetery

The burial of the dead was too much for the soldier’s alone to accomplish. “Civilians joined the burial of the dead out of both sympathy and necessity. Fifty Confederates lay on George Rose’s fields; seventy-nine North Carolinians had fallen on a perfect line on John Forney’s farm.” [22]

Those tending the wounded recalled how many of the wounded selflessly asked medical personnel to tend others more badly wounded than themselves; a volunteer nurse wrote her sister: “More Christian fortitude was never witnessed than they exhibit, always say-‘Help my neighbor first, he is worse.’” [23] The Confederate wounded were the lowest priority for the badly overwhelmed Union surgeons and Lee had not done much to help, leaving just a few surgeons and attendants to care for the Confederates left on the battlefield. The Confederate wounded housed in the classrooms of Pennsylvania College were left in dire straits:

“All the rooms, halls and hallways were occupied with the poor deluded sons of the South,” and “the moans prayers, and shrieks of the wounded and dying were everywhere.” Between 500 and 700 wounded Confederates were jammed in with “five of our surgeons” and “no nurses, no medicines no kinds of food proper for men in our condition….” [24]

Across the battlefield the wounded were being treated in a variety of makeshift aid stations and field hospitals:

“Sergeant Major David E. Johnson of the Seventh Virginia was taken to the Myers house after the bombardment, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left side and arm. “The shed in which I was placed,” he recalled, “was filled with the wounded and dying….I spoke to no one, and no one to me, never closed my eyes to sleep; the surgeons close by being engaged in removing the limbs of those nearby to be amputated….I heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the groans of the dying, the agonies of General Kemper, who lay nearby, frequently being heard.” [25]

Confederate Ambulance Column leaving Gettysburg

The suffering was not confined to the hospitals; John Imboden commanding the cavalry brigade protecting the Confederate wounded being transported home and supply trains described the horror of that movement:

“Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owning to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still far worse cases tat had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds….From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout came such cries and shrieks as these:

“My God! Why can’t I die?” “My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me?” “Stop! Oh! For God’s sake stop for just one minute; take me out and leave me ton die on the roadside.” “I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?” [26]

Tent Hospital at Gettysburg

Eventually, by July 22nd with most of the wounded evacuated a proper general hospital was set up east of the town and the remaining wounded taken there. That hospital, named Camp Letterman grew into “a hundred –acre village of cots and tents, with its own morgue and cemetery, and served more than 3,000 wounded before it was finally closed in November.” [27]

As for the families of the dead, many never found out the details of their loved one’s deaths, which caused their losses to be “in some sense unreal and thus “unrealized,” as the bereaved described them, recognizing the inhibition of mourning that such uncertainty imposed.” [28] Much was because of how overwhelmed the field hospital staffs were, and how inadequate their records of treatment and the dispositions of bodies were sketchy at best. “Reports from field hospitals were riddled with errors and omissions, often lacked dates, and were frequently illegible, “written with the faintest lead pencil.” [29]

John Reynolds

 the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps was severely wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Dan Sickles, the commander of Third Corps who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had his leg amputated after being grazed by a cannon ball at the Trostle Farm. Sickles, who survived the wound and the war, would visit the leg, which had carefully ordered his surgeons to preserve. The leg is now displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

Major General Dan Sickles and his preserved leg

The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top; George Willard who brought redemption to his Harper’s Ferry brigade on Cemetery Ridge stopping Barksdale’s charge on July 2nd; Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis who before being killed at Devil’s Den told his staff “the men must see us today;” and the young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death in a senseless ordered by his division commander Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, against Hood and McLaws dug in divisions as the battle ended.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level, the list included excellent commanders such as Paul Semmes and William Barksdale, while Wade Hampton, Stuart’s best brigade commander was seriously wounded and would be out of action for months. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders who were killed or wounded was fearful. “At the regimental level approximately 150 colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors had been killed, wounded or captured. Of that number nineteen colonels had been slain, the most in any single battle in which the army had been engaged. Captains now led regiments.”[30]

In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while twenty-six of forty Field Grade officers were casualties. Forty-six percent (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and had taken a job in Virginia prior to the war. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on the very property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” [31]

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg list the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers, some as many as 53,000. One also has to remember that many of the missing soldiers were killed in action, but their bodies were simply never found.

                           Killed               wounded         missing         total

Union                    3,155                14,531             5,369           23,055

Confederate         4,708                12,693             5,830            23,231

Total                     7,863               27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference point we need to remember that in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history, and it was a battle between brothers not against foreign enemies. To put it another perspective, even at the lowest estimates that the Army of Northern Virginia suffered more casualties that the U.S. losses in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Robert E Lee testified to Congress following the war “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” [33]  Lee’s “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet asked “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?” [34] 

James Longstreet 

Of the two Longstreet was certainly most honest. Lee made a false equivalence between the years of Southern attempts to negate the rights of Free States and to expand slavery. The North was patient, even when the Souther states began to secede the were not calls for war but reconciliation. Longstreet would go on, be reconciled and make himself persona non grata in much of the South for fighting for Reconstruction, and openly stating that slavery was the root cause of the war, he grieved the loss of so many friends who he had served with on both sides before the war. Lee on the other hand didn’t even attend the funeral of Stonewall Jackson, and was harsh toward his critics as well as towards those he believed had failed him.

James Garfield

The carnage and death witnessed by survivors of Gettysburg and the other battles of the war changed Civil War soldiers as much as war has before or after. James Garfield, who served as a general in the Union army and went on to become President of the United States noted: “at the sight of these dead men whom other men killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.” [35]

Members of the Grand Army of the Republic Veterans Association and their ladies auxiliary.The group helped unemployed veterans, paid for burials, and was the only desegregated veterans group.

Others, like veterans of today had trouble adjusting to life after the war. “Civil War veterans had trouble finding employment and were accused of being drug addicts. Our word “hobo” supposedly comes from homeless Civil War veterans- called “hoe boys” – who roamed the lanes of rural America with hoes on their shoulders, looking for work.” [36] Following the war, during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the massive social change brought about by the industrialization of society and rise of “industrial feudalism” numerous veterans organizations were founded, for those that belonged to them they were “one of the principle refuges for old soldiers who had fought for a very different world than the one they found around them.” The Grand Army of the Republic was the most prominent of these organizations. “In more than 7,000 GAR posts across the United States, former soldiers could immerse themselves in a bath of sentimental memory; there, they established a ritualized camp geography, rekindled devotion to emancipation and preached the glories of manly independence.” [37] 

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never healed fully, and he struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate. He wrote his wife about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [38]

Gouverneur Warren

Gouverneur Warren, who had helped save the Union at Little Round Top wrote to his wife while on Engineering duty after the war: He wrote in 1866 “Indeed the past year…was one of great despondency for me…I somehow don’t wonder that persons often remark how seldom I laugh, but it is really seldom that I do.” He wrote again in 1867 “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [39]

The killing at Gettysburg and so many other battles “produced transformations that were not readily reversible; the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feelings at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by me just like themselves.” [40]

When one walks through the Gettysburg Soldier’s Cemetery one finds that the graves are arrayed in a fan shape, with designated areas for the dead from each loyal state that had soldiers at Gettysburg. They are placed without regard to rank as an acknowledgment of their equality. Those that could be identified are marked, while hundreds of others are marked as unknown. When I look at those that are marked ”unknown” I realize that all were sons, husbands, fathers, nephews, and friends of others. Their families never had closure.

Monument to John Reynolds who is buried in his home town of Lancaster

Joshua Chamberlain asked the most difficult questions when viewing the devastation around Petersburg in the final days of the war:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?” [41]

I do believe with all my heart that Chamberlain’s questions should always be in our minds as we send young men and women to war, of any kind or for any reason.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.41

[2] Grossman, Dave On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company New York 1995, 1996 p.92

[3] Sager, Guy The Forgotten Soldier originally published as Le Soldat Oublie Editions Robert Laffont 1967, Translation Harper and Row Inc 1971, Brasey’s Washington D.C 2000 p.223

[4] Bismarck, Otto von Speech, August 1867

[5] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.89

[6] Wittenberg, Eric J, Petruzzi, David and Nugent, Michael F. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia July 4-14 1863 Savas Beatie LLC New York NY and El Dorado Hills CA 2008,2001 p.27

[7] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.28

[8] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.508

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.510

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.303

[11] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.357

[12] Faust This Republic of Suffering p.81

[13] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.30

[14] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight pp.32-33

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg. p.508

[16] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 pp.121-122

[17] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[18] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank AGettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.138

[19] Chapman, Horatio Civil War Diary of a Forty-niner pp.22-24 Retrieved from http://www.dbappdev.com/vpp/ct20/hdc/HDC630703.htm 8 April 2014

[20] Oates, William C. Southern Historical Papers, April 6th, 1878 retrieved from http://www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4h.htm 18 July 2014

[21] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[22] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.81

[23] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.333

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.469

[25] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Gettysburg Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.56

[26] Imboden, John D. The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.424

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.469-470

[28] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[29] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.113

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.444

[31] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466

[33] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Lee: The Last Years Houghton Books, New York 1981 p.124

[34] Longstreet, James in New York Times, July 24, 1885, retrieved from the Longstreet Society http://www.longstreetsociety.org/Longstreet_Quotes.html18 July 2014

[35] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.55

[36] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.155

[37] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.523

[38] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

[39] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 pp.248-249

[40] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.60

[41] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based on the Personal Reminisces of the Fifth Corps G.P Putnam’s Son’s 1915, Bantam Books, New York 1993 Amazon Kindle Edition p.41

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July 4th 1863 at Gettysburg, the Somber Most Glorious Fourth

gburg retreat

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia tried to lick its wounds and regroup following its last disastrous attacks on 3 July 1863. It prepared hasty fortifications on Seminary Ridge in case Meade’s Army of the Potomac attempted to attack on July 4th, but that attack would not come. Meade had no inclination of allowing the Confederates to do to his forces what his did to Lee’s during Pickett’s Charge.

Between the two armies lay tens of thousands or dead, dying, and grievously wounded and maimed soldiers. I will write about that tomorrow.

A Union soldier, Elbert Corbin, Union Soldier at Gettysburg 1st Regiment, Light Artillery, N. Y. S. Volunteers (Pettit’s Battery) wrote of the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg:

“Dead men and plenty here – and I saw plenty of them in all shapes on the field – Help to wound & Kill men then Patch them up I could show more suffering here in one second than you will see in a Life…” 

Long after the Battle Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who commanded the 20th Maine in its defense of Little Round Top said:

“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.” [2]

The ground was consecrated by the blood of the men who fell there, and like Chamberlain whenever I visit the hallowed ground of Gettysburg I have a sense that the spirits of those men still linger.

On the morning of July 4th, “The day after the battle began muggy and cloudy, and there was a tremendous rainstorm” [3] as the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac licked their wounds on the bloodstained Gettysburg battlefield. Both armies had suffered severely in the fighting and around 50,000 soldiers from both sides lay dead, dying or wounded on the battlefield. It was a somber day, the sweltering heat sunshine which had bathed the battlefield as Longstreet’s’ Corps attacked Cemetery Ridge was now broken by heavy rain and wind. The commanders of both armies, General Robert E Lee and Major General George Meade attempted to discern the others intent while making their own plans.

Early in the morning of July 4th, or rather very late the night of July 3rd, General Robert E. Lee called Brigadier General John Imboden, to his headquarters to discuss the withdraw of the Army of Northern Virginia from the place of its defeat. Lee had spent the evening of July 3rd with Longstreet they “rode together along the lines on Seminary Ridge and conferred with other generals.” [4]

When Lee arrived to meet Imboden the brigadier felt the need to say something and said to Lee: “General, this has been a hard day on you.” [5] Lee waited some time before replying mournfully, “Yes, it has been a sad, sad day for us” [6]and then praised the conduct of Pickett’s men saying “I never saw troops behave more magnificently than Pickett’s division of Virginians did today in that grand charge upon the enemy.” He continued and lamented what he believed to be the lack of support from the rest of the army, then paused and “exclaimed in a voice that echoed loudly and grimly through the night, “Too bad! Too bad! Oh, too bad!” [7] It was a strange thing to say, and showed his inability to comprehend the strength and tenacity of his opponent on that final day of battle, and how many of Lee’s decisions, including the fact that “he had denied Hill’s permission to throw his whole corps into the assault,” [8] contributed to his defeat.

Lee realized, that unless “he could somehow entice Meade into counterattacking along his Seminary Ridge line, he must get the army back to Virginia with all speed. There was only enough ammunition for one battle, if that…and lee had to consider that Meade might aggressively seek to cut the routes south to the Potomac.” [9] Thus he wasted little time in preparing the army for its return. Lee “chose his routes, decided on the order of march, and then, despite the lateness of the hour and his bone-deep weariness after three days of failure and frustration, went in person to make certain that his plans were understood by the responsible commanders.” [10] He felt, if not in his words, but in his actions, that he had been failed by his subordinates, but the fault did not lay with his subordinates, but rather with his inability to clearly communicate his orders and expectations in detail to his new Corps commanders, Richard Ewell and A.P. Hill who had never served directly under his command, and James Longstreet who constantly opposed what he believed would lead to disaster.

Lee was finally aware that the method of command he had employed so successfully with Stonewall Jackson had failed, and in “the task of saving his army, he trusted no one with any discretion at all.” [11] Unlike “the vague and discretionary orders he had issued throughout the week leading up to battle and even during the past three days of fighting…his instructions were now written and precise….” [12] 

Across the valley that separated the armies, Meade explained “that he had not wanted to follow “the bad example [Lee] had set me, in ruining himself attacking a strong position.” [13] In not attacking Meade was probably correct, despite the criticism he received from contemporaries and later commentators. Lee’s army, though defeated was not broken and held good ground on July 4th, likewise the lack of supplies, exhaustion of his troops and foul weather would likely have doomed any attack. Instead he told a cavalry officer “We have done well enough…” [14]

About 1:00 P.M. on July 4th Imboden’s troopers escorting the ambulance trains carrying the wounded began to withdraw. As they did “a steady, pounding rain increased Imboden’s problems manifold, yet by 4 o’clock that afternoon he had the journey under way. He estimated this “vast procession of misery” stretched for seventeen miles. It bore between 8,000 and 8,500 wounded men, many in constant, almost unendurable agony as they jolted over the rough and rutted roads.” [15] Although beaten, the Lee’s army “retained confidence in itself and its commander” [16] and they retreated in good order.

Across the carnage strewn battlefield on Cemetery Ridge George Meade took inventory and “unsure about the nature and extent of Lee’s movements from information he had already received, he realized he had a busy day ahead.” [17] The army, tired from three weeks of hard marching and three days of brutal combat was exhausted; Meade’s was down to about “51,000 men armed and equipped for duty.” About 15,000 were loose from the ranks, and though they would return “for the moment they were lost.” [18] The torrential rain “was a damper on enthusiasms,” and the Federal burial parties, exhausted from the battle and engaged in somber work, “dug long trenches and, after separating Rebel from Yankee, without ceremony piled the bodies several layers deep and threw dirt over them.” [19]

Meade ordered his trains to bring the supplies from Westminster Maryland on the morning of July 4th as Federal patrols pushed into the town to see what Lee’s army was doing, but apart from isolated skirmishing and sniper actions the day was quiet. During the afternoon, “David Birney summoned the band of the 114th Pennsylvania “to play in honor of the National Anniversary” and up on the “line of battle.” They played the usual “national airs, finishing with the Star Spangled Banner.” [20] As they did a Confederate artillery shell passed over them, and with that last shot the battle of Gettysburg was over. Meade, signaling the beginning of an overly cautious pursuit, wired Halleck: “I shall require some time to get up supplies, ammunition, etc. [and to] rest the army, worn out by hard marches and three days hard fighting.” [21]

Surgeons and their assistants manned open air hospitals while parties of stretcher bearers evacuated wounded men for treatment and other soldiers began to identify and bury the dead.  A Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [22]

00844v-lc_confederate-graves-on-rose-farm_detail

Confederate Dead 

Halfway across the continent Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton surrendered his emaciated forces at Vicksburg to Major General Ulysses S Grant which cut the Confederacy in half. Of course Lee had a direct hand in that debacle as well by rejecting all attempts to send significant forces from his army to defeat Grant and save Vicksburg.

It was a fitting day of remembrance as it was the 87th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the significance was not lost on any of the commanders. Grant, the victor of Vicksburg had eliminated a Confederate army of over 43,000 troops, and William Tecumseh Sherman wired his friend a most appropriate message: “This is a day of jubilee, a day of rejoicing for the faithful.”[23]

Lieutenant Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the 2nd Rhode Island wrote:

“Was ever the Nation’s Birthday celebrated in such a way before. This morning the 2nd R.I. was sent out to the front and found that during the night General Lee and his Rebel Army had fallen back. It was impossible to march across the field without stepping upon dead or wounded men, while horses and broken artillery lay on every side.” [24]

As Lee withdrew Meade slowly pursued and lost his chance of trapping the Confederate Army before it could escape across the rain swollen Potomac River.  Lee completed his withdraw under pressure on July 14th as his rear-guard under the command of Major General Harry Heth fought a delaying action against Union forces in which the accomplished academic and author Brigadier General James Pettigrew was mortally wounded.

Meade’s lackluster pursuit was criticized by many including President Lincoln who believed that had Meade been more aggressive that the war could have ended there. Had Lee’s army been destroyed in little over a week after the surrender of Vicksburg it could have well brought about the downfall of the Confederacy in the summer of 1863.  Even so the skill of Meade in defeating Lee at Gettysburg was one of the greatest achievements by a Union commander during the war in the East.  In earlier times Lee had held sway over his Federal opponents. McClellan, Porter, Pope, Burnside and Hooker had all failed against Lee and his army.

Many of the dead at Gettysburg were the flower of the nation. Intelligent, thoughtful and passionate they were cut down in their prime. The human cost some of over 50,000 men killed or wounded is astonishing. In those three days more Americans were killed or wounded than in the entire Iraq campaign.

The war would go on for almost two more years adding many thousands more dead and wounded. However the Union victory at Gettysburg was decisive. Never again did Lee go on the offensive. When Grant came east at the end of 1863 to command Union armies in the East against Lee the Federal armies fought with renewed ferocity and once engaged Grant never let Lee’s forces out of his grip.

Notes

[1] Corbin, Elbert. Union soldier in Pettit’s Battery account of caring for wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg retrieved from https://www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/inline-pdfs/t-03685.pdf 18 July 2014

[2] Primono, John W. The Appomattox Generals: The Parallel Lives of Joshua L Chamberlain, USA, and John B. Gordon, CSA, Commanders at the Surrender Ceremony of April 12th 1865 McFarland and Company Publishers, Jefferson NC 2013 p.187

[3] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.322

[4] Wert, Jeffry DGeneral James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.293

[5] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.530

[6] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.341

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.341

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p. 581

[9] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.470

[10] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two pp.579-580

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

[12] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.580

[13] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.663

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.663

[15] Ibid, Sears Gettysburg pp.471-472

[16] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.536

[17] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign p.535

[18] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.323

[19] Ibid, Sears Gettysburg p.474

[20] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 pp.433-434

[21] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 pp.355-356

[22] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[23] Ibid. Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth p.364

[24] Rhodes, Robert Hunt ed. All for the Union: The Civil War Diaries and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Vintage Civil War Library, Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 198

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Robert E. Lee and George Meade, a study in Command and Leadership on July 2nd 1863 at Gettysburg


Robert E. Lee 1863

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I decided to take this weekend to take some parts of my Gettysburg Staff Ride text to debunk the mythology of the Lost cause that presented Robert E. Lee as one of the greatest, if not the greatest General in American history. I am not the first or the last to do this. Like many people of my generation, almost everything I read about Lee was what a great General and American he was. There was little mention of his active support of slavery, or his sedition and treason against the United States. But that is another story. Tonight we deal with Lee’s incompetence at the tactical and operational levels of war at Gettysburg, his willful ignorance of his own position and what was facing him a little over a mile way.

At the same time it juxtaposes Lee’s hubris with the often underrated and dismissed opposing commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George Meade. Lee’s actions are described in the first section, while Meade’s which in an edited form are a vignette in Army Doctrine Publication 5-0, The Operations Process. Unlike Lee, Meade listened to his staff and sought the counsel of his subordinate commanders. Likewise, where Lee never left his headquarters on Seminary Ridge, observing the battle from a distance on 2 July, Meade was in the thick of the action at numerous threatened throughout the battle. Thus, unlike Lee who knew nothing of the real situation on the battlefield and the condition of his Army, and did not want to know it, Meade knew the situation and then that night sought the counsel of his Corps Commanders and Staff.

This is an important point to note when evaluating the Generalship of Robert E. Lee. In every battle except Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor where he was on the defensive and his army well dug in, he always lost a higher percentage of his troops engaged than his Union counterparts, even when he won. If an Army commander knows that he cannot match the overwhelming numerical and firepower advantage of his opponent he has to do everything that he can to husband his soldiers and not to waste their lives in battles that even if won, would not materially alter the course of the war is either incompetent, negligent, or so arrogant in regards to their abilities, that they cannot be regarded as great commanders. To do so is to propagate a murderous myth.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Part One: Lee


As night fell on July 2nd 1863 General Robert E Lee had already made his decision. Despite the setbacks of the day he was determined to strike the Army of the Potomac yet again. He did not view the events as setback, and though he lacked clarity of how badly many of his units were mauled Lee took no external counsel, to make his decision, his mind was made up and he neither wanted advice or counsel. By now his subordinate commander’s opinions were irrelevant, and to that end on every day of the Battle of Gettysburg he refused any counsel that did not agree with his vision, which had become myopic and disconnected from the reality faced by his rebellious nation and the Army that he led. After two full days of combat in which his forces failed to break the Union defenses, in which The Army of the Potomac’s commanders out-generaled Lee’s commanders time and time again, and every division he threw at the Union defenses suffered 40% casualties on the first two days, including one division commander mortally wounded and three others wounded. Likewise, numerous brigade and regimental commanders had been killed or wounded.

With the exception of A.P. Hill who came and submitted a report to him at dusk on July 2nd, Lee neither required his other two corps commanders, James Longstreet or Richard Ewell to consult with him, nor took any action to visit them. Lee now lived in a bubble, and his very small staff were nothing more than cyphers, there to transmit orders, not to assist in the planning or coordination of his operations.

Despite the massive casualties and being repulsed all along the line, Lee did “not feel that his troops had been defeated” and he felt that “the failure on the second day had been due to a lack of coordination.”1

In his official report of the battle he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

LongstreetJ_main
James Longstreet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two: Meade

general-george-meade
George Gordon Meade

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

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

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

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

Gettysburg_Council_of_War
Meade’s Counsel of War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we wait attack, how long?” 34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Ibid. p.347

9 Ibid. p.430

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

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

13 Ibid. Sears p.349

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

15 Ibid. Foote p.531

16 Ibid. Wert p.287

17 Ibid. Freeman p.589 

18 Ibid. Wert p.290

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

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

21 Ibid. p.342

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

23 Ibid. 

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

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

26 Ibid. Sears p.342

27 Ibid. Trudeau p.413

28 Ibid. Sears p.342

29 Ibid. Trudeau p.415 

30 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

31 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

32 Ibid. Sears p.343

33 Ibid. Sears p.343

34 Ibid. Trudeau p.415

35 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

36 Ibid. Foote p.525

37 Ibid. Guelzo

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

39 Ibid. p.452

40 Ibid. Foote p.525 

41 Ibid. Trudeau p.345

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

Lee1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Gburg day one)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Lee, Robert E. Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition location 503

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

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

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

[22] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

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

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

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

[26] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 134

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[34] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 160

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[43] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 203

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

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

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

[47] Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 pp.54-55

[48] Ibid. Nolan p.26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Less than Stellar Planning Ability of the Mythological General Robert E. Lee

jefferson_davis_and_his_cabinet

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Like many men my age who began reading military history about the American Civil War, many of the accounts were the mythology of the Lost Cause. These accounts almost universally portrayed Robert E. Lee as if not the greatest American born General of all time, or one of the very best, but also one of the greatest Americans of all time. This article only deals with his poor generalship, particularly in his inability to link operational planning, for which he gets far to much credit with national strategic planning, for which he lacked any talent.

A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. However in May of 1863 the leaders of the Confederacy allowed themselves to choose the worst possible course of action for their circumstances simply because it was proposed by Robert E. Lee.

The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the euphoria after the Lee and Jackson’s victory at Chancellorsville. In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S. Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter.

If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [1] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [2]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [3] in their upper leadership. Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [4]

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Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.”[5] 

From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, however, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [6] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [7]Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [8] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [9]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [10] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [11] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [12] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [13]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.”[14] In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…” [15] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [16]

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As I have already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. He believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [17] Instead, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. He proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [18] and sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful receiving two relatively untested brigades from Hill, those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.”[19]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.”[20] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [21] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down very real threats.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [22] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [23]Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it, unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [24] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [25] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [26]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. In the meeting with the cabinet Postmaster-General Reagan, agreeing with General Beauregard warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [27] Likewise, Vice President Alexander Stephens the former Unionist Senator who gave the infamous Cornerstone Speech, “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [28]

Lee believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations. While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan notes that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.”[29] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [30]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third.

Likewise Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and counterproductive to Southern strategy.

Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [31] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like a Fredericksburg he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [32] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic point level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [33]

What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. It was a long shot and Lee was a gambler, audacious to a fault. His decision to go north also exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [34] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [35] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [36]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [37] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander. Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. He understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am supremely confident in my assertion that Lee made a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence; that of breaking of the will of the Union by fighting a skilled defensive war that would make victory for the Union so costly that it would not be worth the cost. For this miscalculation and the defeat at Gettysburg, the finger of blame can be pointed at only one man, Robert E. Lee.

Notes

[1] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME

[2] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101

[3] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629

[4] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.34

[6] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.193

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to MeridianRandom House, New York 1963 p.429

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429

[10] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525

[11] Wert, Jeffry DGeneral James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241

[12] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656

[13] Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.5

[15] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[16] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430

[18] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528

[19] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[21] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[22] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6

[23] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

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

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

[26] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[27] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[28] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[29] Nolan, Alan TR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.2

[30] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[31] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134

[32] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.120

[33] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415

[34] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[35] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[37] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’ve been working of trying to finish my manuscript for my book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” much of the night and have pretty much absented myself from social media. However, had a nice night with Judy and playing with our pups. Our Youngest Maddy Lyn, is so full of herself and full of energy that she gives all of us a run for our money. Anyway, this is another segment of one of my Gettysburg book manuscripts dealing with the reorganization of Lee’s Army after Chancellorsville in preparation for Lee’s invasion of the north, which culminated at Gettysburg. Today is a look at the leaders of Major General J.E.B Stuart’s Cavalry Division as well as three other generals, Brigadier General John Imboden who commanded an independent cavalry brigade, Lee’s Chief of Artillery, Brigadier General William Pendleton, Whose artillery had been reorganized leaving him with few actual duties, and Major General Isaac Trimble. This like the previous sections of this chapter of my Gettysburg text is interesting because it shows the complexities of the lives and personalities of the men leading these units. Professional soldiers, volunteers with little military experience, soldiers, lawyers, engineers and politicians they are an interesting collection of personalities; some surrounded in myth and others practically unknown. I think it is important for anyone studying a war, a campaign, or a battle to at least look at the lives of the men who planned and fought it. In doing so, even those that oppose what they did in rebelling against the United States can find in them some measure of humanity, and sometimes even gain a sense of empathy for some of them.   

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

Stuart’s Cavalry Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hampton

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Brigadier General Wade Hampton C.S.A. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rooney Lee

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

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

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

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

Robertson

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Brigadier General Beverly Roberson C.S.A.

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

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

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

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

Fitzhugh Lee

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Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee C.S.A.

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

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

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

“Grumble” Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenkins

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General Albert G. Jenkins C.S.A.

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

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

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

Attached or Staff Officers: Imboden, Pendleton and Trimble

Imboden

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Brigadier General John Imboden C.S.A.

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

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

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

Pendleton and Trimble – Generals Without Commands

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

Pendleton

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Brigadier General William Pendleton C.S.A. 

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

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

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

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

Trimble

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Major General Isaac Trimble C.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] Ibid. Taylor General Lee p.92

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[36] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[55] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.306

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

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

[58] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.551

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

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

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

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

[63] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.57

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

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

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

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

[68] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.173

[69] Ibid. Pfanz Ewell p.152

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

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

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

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

[74] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.30

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“Proper Commanders – Where can they be Found?” Lee Creates Third Corps in His Army Reorganization

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I now clear the decks to try to finish “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” tonight I present another section of one of my Gettysburg draft manuscripts.  Today is a look at the leaders of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps. 

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

general_a_p_hill

Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell “A.P.” Hill, C.S.A.

As I mentioned before the problem of where to find leaders for the Corps, Divisions, and Brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia was a serious issue for Robert E. Lee. He was bent on invading the North in June, despite the risks, and despite the lack of preparation of iThis Army under the new leaders he had appointed. With the death of Stonewall Jackson, he split Jackson’s Second Corps, taking two divisions from it and one from Longstreet’s First Corps to built Third Corps.

The newly created Third Corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was thought to be in good hands. Hill had commanded his large; six brigade “Light Division” with distinction, though having serious conflicts with both Longstreet and Jackson. At Antietam Hill’s hard marching from Harpers Ferry which allowed the Light Division to arrive on the battlefield in a nick of time, had saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction.

Hill was a graduate of West Point, class of 1847. He would have been part of the illustrious class of 1846, but the young cadet had a certain proclivity for women and a certain amount of debauchery lost a year of study after contracting “a case of gonorrhea, followed by complications, which were followed by lingering prostatitis” [1] afflictions which caused many other ailments that would plague him the rest of his life. At West Point Hill roomed with and became a longtime friend of a refined cadet from Philadelphia, George McClellan. His delayed graduate put him in the class of 1847 where along with his roommate Julian McAllister and friends Harry Heth and Ambrose Burnside were the social leaders of the class, due to their “practical jokes and boisterous conduct.” [2]

Hill graduated fifteenth in his class and was assigned to the artillery. The young Second Lieutenant accompanied Brigadier General Joseph Lane’s brigade to Mexico where he saw limited action at the end of the war and mainly served on occupation duty. In Mexico and in the following years he was stricken with various fevers including typhoid and yellow fever, as well as recurrences of his prostatitis which so limited his ability to serve in the field with the artillery that he requested a transfer to a desk job. This he was granted by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis who detailed him “for special duty in the United States Coast Survey offices in Washington D.C.” [3]

The assignment to the Coast Survey offices was unusual, especially for Hill’s era of service, for they were a part of the Department of the Navy. Despite much political support, Hill could not get promoted to captain, likely due to the fact that he was working for the Navy. As war drew near Hill married Kitty Morgan McClung. His friends at the Coastal Survey attempted to convince him to remain with the Union as serving in their office he would have little chance of taking up arms against Virginia.

Hill was torn, he hated slavery and the depreciations visited on blacks; having in 1850 responded to the lynching of a young black man in his home town of Lynchburg: “Shame, shame upon you all, good citizens…Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with this outrage.” [4] Likewise he was not in favor of secession, but he, like so many other Southern officers felt a stronger connection to family and his Virginia heritage than to the Union, and resigned his commission on February 26th 1861.

Hill was appointed as a Colonel of infantry in May 1861 to organize and command the 13th Virginia Infantry regiment. He commanded the regiment in the Valley and western Virginia as well as at First Manassas. By February 1862 he was a Brigadier General commanding Longstreet’s old Virginia brigade on the Peninsula where he distinguished himself against McClellan at Williamsburg. On May 26th 1862 he was promoted to Major General and given command of the very large so called “Light Division.” He emerged from the fighting on the Peninsula, the battles around Richmond and the Seven Days “with the reputation of being one of the best combat officers that Lee had.” [5] However, his success on the battlefield, like so many commanders came at great cost. In those battles his division suffered nearly 5,500 casualties. “Six colonels and three majors were killed; two brigadiers (Anderson and Pender), eleven colonels and six lieutenant colonels wounded.” [6]

Hill had an earned reputation as a brilliant division commander with the Light Division. Despite his clashes with Longstreet, and especially with Jackson, who had Hill arrested twice and attempted to have him court-martialed, Lee recommended him to take command of Third Corps. Lee sang his praise of Hill and his abilities to Jefferson Davis noting that Hill was “the best soldier of his grade with me.” [7] However, Hill had never commanded more than one division in action, except for the confused hour after Jackson had been struck down. Hill, however, was devoted, prompt, and energetic, and deserved promotion.” [8]

Hill’s reputation as a superb division commander was well earned, at Antietam where when Lee’s army was in danger of destruction, he “drove his men at a killing pace toward the sound of distant gunfire….” [9] Hill’s “Light Division’s remarkable march from Harper’s Ferry- seventeen miles in less than eight hours- rivaled the best marks by Jackson’s famous foot cavalry.” [10] Upon his arrival “instantly recognized the military situation, Kyd Douglas wrote, “and without waiting for the rest of the division and without a breathing spell he threw his columns into line and moved against the enemy, taking no note of their numbers.”[11] Hill’s march saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction as he dealt reverses to his old friends McClellan and Burnside. “Lee’s reference to him in his official Sharpsburg report, “And then A.P. Hill came up,” had become a byword in the army.” [12] There were other times, notably at Second Manassas and Fredericksburg where “he was sometimes careless on the battlefield,” and in both instances “his defensive postings were poor and nearly proved very costly.” [13]

Hill was a “nervous wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation on his shoulders and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress.” [14] He had an “impetuous streak and fiery temperament that matched his red beard, traits that at times had brought him trouble on the battlefield and off…” [15] He Despite that Hill exhibited a fondness and care for the welfare of his men that earned their respect and admiration. One officer called him “the most loveable of all Lee’s generals,” while “his manner so courteous as almost to lack decision.” [16]

Hill detested Jackson, who he referred to as “that old Presbyterian fool.” [17] His poor relations with Jackson’s confidants at Second Corps ensured that Ewell took Second Corps when Lee reorganized the army after Chancellorsville.

Lee appointed Hill to command Third Corps of which “half of the troops had been with him all along” [18] in the Light Division. Lee liked Hill’s aggressiveness and command instincts, which mirrored his own. Lee hoped that Hill’s aggressive instincts as a division commander would translate into success at the corps level. As such Lee, promoted him over the heads of D.H. Hill and Lafayette McLaws who were both senior to him. Longstreet was not in favor of Hill’s appointment, most likely due to his altercation with Hill the previous year and lobbied for the promotion of D.H. Hill.

Regarding the promotion of A.P. Hill and Ewell, Lee wrote to Davis:

“I wish to take advantage of every circumstance to inspire and encourage…the officers and men to believe that their labors are appreciated, and that when vacancies occur that they will receive the advantages of promotion….I do not know where to get better men than those I have named.” [19]

But the decision to promote the Ewell and Hill, both Virginians stirred some dissent among those that believed that Lee was “favoring Virginians over officers from other states. The promotion of A.P. Hill, as previous noted was “made over the head of two Major Generals more senior than Hill- North Carolinian D.H. Hill and Georgian Lafayette McLaws.” [20] There is some validity to this perception, as Longstreet’s biographer Jeffry Wert noted:

“While the bulk of the troops hailed from outside the Old Dominion, two of the three corps commanders, six of the ten division commanders – including Jeb Stuart with the cavalry – and sixteen of forty-seven brigade commanders were natives of Virginia, along with the army commander and the chief of artillery.” [21]

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

Anderson’s Division

Richard_H._Anderson

Major General Richard Anderson, C.S.A.

The most stable division in Third Corps was Richard Anderson’s, transferred from First Corps. Under Longstreet the division and its commander had served well. Anderson was an 1842 graduate of West Point and classmate of Longstreet and Lafayette McLaws. He served in the Dragoons on the frontier, in Mexico and again on the frontier, throughout the 1840s and 1850s. He was promoted to Captain in 1855 and stationed in Nebraska when his home state of South Carolina seceded from the Union.

“Tall, strong, and of fine background, Anderson never was disposed to quibble over authority or to indulge in any kind of boastfulness.” [22] He began the war commanding the 1st South Carolina Infantry, and was soon a brigadier. He fought well on the Peninsula and was promoted to Major General and given command of Benjamin Huger’s former division in July of 1862. He commanded the division at Second Manassas and at Antietam, where he was wounded in the vicious fighting at the Bloody Lane. The division saw little action at Fredericksburg, but in “the Battle of Chancellorsville, he and his men fought extremely well.” [23] Lee commented that at Chancellorsville that Anderson was “distinguished for the promptness, courage, and skill with which he and his division executed every order.” [24]

Lee considered Anderson a “capable officer”…and had marked him for future higher command.” [25] Anderson was noted for his modesty and unselfishness, “his easy going ways, combined with his competence and professionalism made him one of the most well liked officers in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [26]

However, there was an incalculable thrown into the equation. During the reorganization of the army, Anderson’s division was detached from Longstreet’s First Corps and assigned to Hill’s new Third Corps. Hill had not yet established his methods of operation as a corps commander, and Anderson, used to “Longstreet’s methodical insistence that everything be just so before he would venture into action” contrasted with Hill’s “tendency to leap before he looked.” [27]

Anderson’s division was composed of five brigades commanded by a mixed lot of commanders, only one of whom was a professionals soldier.

Wilcox

Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox was a no-nonsense graduate of the illustrious West Point class of 1846. Hailing from Tennessee, Wilcox was outgoing and popular, and before the end of his first year “had made friends of every member of the class. It was said that no cadet of his time had so many friends and was so universally esteemed.” [28] He kept those friends throughout the years, friends who remained his friends, even though they had to fight against him. Harry Heth said of him “I know of no man of rank who participated in our unfortunate struggle on the Southern side, who had more warm and sincere friends, North and South.” [29]

Wilcox graduated near the bottom of the class fifty-fourth of fifty-eight and was commissioned as an infantry officer. Wilcox served in the Mexican War where he was in the thick of the fight at Chapultepec, on the frontier, and taught tactics for five years at West Point. Following that assignment he studied for two years in Europe. Wilcox is an expert rifleman and instructor. He “wrote a manual, Rifle and Infantry Tactics, and translated an Austrian manual on infantry tactics.” [30]

When war came he resigned his commission and became Colonel of the 9thAlabama Infantry, and by October 1861 he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of a brigade. He had served with distinction as a brigade commander at Williamsburg, Seven Pines and the Seven Days Battles, and was given acting command of small division at Second Manassas. However, after an uneven performance he is passed over for command of a division which instead was given to his classmate, George Pickett. Wilcox was disgruntled and upset at being “passed over for advancement in favor of a junior officer.” [31] “Restless, sore, and disposed to go to another Confederate army where he will have a chance,” [32] Wilcox asked Lee for a transfer to another army, but “Lee could not afford to lose such an experienced brigadier, and refused to transfer” him. [33]

At Chancellorsville the delaying action of his brigade at Salem’s Church had helped save the army. Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps had succeeded in crossing the Rappahannock and was marching on Lee’s rear areas. On May third with the fate of the army in the balance, Wilcox “reasoned intelligently and promptly when he should leave Banks’ Ford. Then, instead of joining Early, he took his chance on being destroyed in order that he might delay the enemy on the Plank Road.” [34]Wilcox and his troops, supported by other units of McLaws’ division which came up in support thrashed the Union troops, inflicting 1523 casualties for the loss of 674 men. [35] In his post-battle report Lee noted that Wilcox was “entitled to especial praise for the judgment and bravery displayed “in impeding Sedgwick “and for the gallant and successful stand at Salem’s Church.” [36] Three months later he will get his promotion to Major General and command of a division.

Mahone

Brigadier General William “Little Billy” Mahone was a diminutive graduate of VMI with no prior military experience.. Barely five foot five inches tall and weighing just 125 pounds the brigadier was described by Moxie Sorrel as “Very small in height and frame, he seemed a mere atom with little flesh.” [37] There was so little substance to his body that when his wife heard that he had “he had taken a flesh wound at Second Manassas…she knew it had to be serious, she said, “for William has no flesh whatsoever.” [38]

Instead Mahone was an engineer who had “established himself as a resourceful construction engineer for railroads.” [39] When Virginia seceded he was “president, chief engineer and superintendent of the new Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, which he succeeded in constructing across the bottomless Dismal Swamp.” [40] Hard driven, he had dreams of connecting his railroad with others and linking the Virginia Tidewater with the Mississippi and the Pacific.

Mahone was an ardent secessionist and when Virginia seceded he took leave of his railroad and became Colonel of the 6th Virginia Infantry, with which he occupied Norfolk when Federal forces evacuated it. He was soon a brigadier and his skill in engineering was put to good use at Drewry’s Bluff before Richmond.

He commanded his brigade with reasonable effectiveness before Gettysburg. As a brigadier “he is not lacking in diligence, but he is not without special distinction.”[41] As a brigade commander fought competently at Chancellorsville and by Gettysburg had established himself as a “competent and experienced brigade leader.” [42] His actions at Gettysburg would be controversial, but he rose to fame as the war went on and became one of the hardest fighting division commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Wilderness, Petersburg and to the end of the war where he “one of Lee’s most conspicuous – and trusted – subordinates.” [43]. Following the war Mahone expands the Norfolk and Western Railway system, and entered politics, where won election as a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1880.

Wright

Brigadier General Ransom “Rans” Wright was a Georgia lawyer who had grown up dirt poor and between hard work and study had made a name for himself. He was a “very gifted man, a powerful writer, an effective orator, and a rare lawyer.” [44]

He had strong Unionist sentiments, something that gained him little popularity in a secession minded state, he was the brother in law of Stephen Douglas’s running mate Herschel Johnson and supported the pro-Union ticket of John Bell and Edward Everett.

Despite his sentiments Wright volunteered when Georgia seceded and despite his lack of military experience was named Colonel of the 3rd Georgia Infantry. He took command of his brigade as a Colonel and was promoted to Brigadier General in June 1862. By the time of Gettysburg he “was considered a well-tested combat veteran.” [45] Despite his earned reputation as a solid brigade commander, Wright “did not endear himself to the Virginia elite in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [46]In 1864 the Governor of Georgia requested that he be detached from the Army of Northern Virginia to serve in that state where he was promoted to Major General.

Posey

Brigadier General Carnot Posey was a highly successful plantation planter and lawyer who had served as a “lieutenant under Col. Jefferson Davis, and suffered a slight wound at the Battle of Buena Vista” [47] in the Mexican War. After the war he returned to his legal practice and was appointed as a United States District Attorney by President Buchanan, a position that he held until Mississippi seceded from the Union. At the outset of the war he organized a company named the “Wilkinson Rifles.” That company became part of the 16th Mississippi Infantry and Posey became its first Colonel. He was badly wounded at Cross Keys in the Valley campaign.

He fought well at Second Manassas and took acting command of Featherston’s brigade at Antietam. Despite a poor showing there by the brigade which collapsed in confusion after doomed counter-attack on the Sunken Road, he was promoted to brigade command prior to Chancellorsville where he and his brigade gave a strong performance under fire. He was mortally wounded at Bristoe Station on October 14th 1863.

Lang

Colonel David Lang commanded the Florida Brigade, the smallest Brigade in the army. Just twenty-five years old, the graduate of the Georgia Military Institute inherited brigade command when Brigadier General Edward Perry came down with typhoid fever after Chancellorsville. He had only fought in three battles, two as a captain “and he had never led a brigade in combat.” [48] After Gettysburg when Perry returned to the brigade Lang returned to command his regiment, finally taking command of a brigade at Petersburg at the end of the war, without a promotion to Brigadier General.

Pender’s Division

William_Dorsey_Pender

Major General Dorsey Pender, C.S.A

Hill’s old Light Division was divided into two divisions. Major General William Dorsey Pender commanded the old Light Division which now consisted of four rather than six brigades.

Pender was a “pious, serious North Carolinian” [49]and a graduate of West Point when he graduated nineteenth of forty-six in that class. Prior to the war he served on the frontier and in California with the artillery and dragoons. During the secession crisis he “offered his services to the Confederacy even before most of the states, including his own, had seceded.” [50]

Pender was “only seven years out of West Point” [51] in 1863 when he was promoted to Major General and given command of his division, he was only twenty-nine years old, and the “youngest of that rank in the army.” [52] The young general was deeply loyal to Powell Hill and a partisan of the Light Division. However, he had risen “on first rate ability, steadfast ambition and a headlong personal leadership in battle which gave a driving force to his brigade” [53] which he considered “the best brigade of the best division” [54] in the army.

Lee praised him as “a most gallant officer” and was deeply sensitive about keeping Pender with the troops that found him so inspiring noting “I fear the effect upon men of passing him over in favour of another not so identified with them.” [55]Pender was an “intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty.” [56]

Pender’s four veteran brigades were commanded by three experienced officers and one new to brigade command, but the young general would not get to lead them into action for long as he was mortally wounded by a shell fragment before the division was to go into action on July 2nd at Gettysburg. His division would be led by Brigadier General James Lane on July 2nd and turned over to Major General Isaac Trimble shortly before Pickett’s Charge.

Perrin

Colonel Abner Perrin from South Carolina was the least experienced of Pender’s brigade commanders. He had prior Regular Army experience. He enlisted in the army at the age of nineteen and served as a lieutenant in Mexico. He resigned his commission in 1848 and became a successful lawyer. When secession came he volunteered and served as a company commander in the 14th South Carolina. Perrin took command of the regiment after Fredericksburg. He led the regiment in action for the first time at Chancellorsville. Lee named him to command the brigade when his brigade commander, Samuel McGowan, was wounded. He was not promoted to Brigadier General, but despite his inexperience he remained in command of the veteran South Carolina brigade, “whose leadership had been decimated” and had “devolved to lieutenant colonels, majors and captains.” [57]His brigade performed well on the first day, and his leadership earned him his promotion. He was killed in action in the “counterattack at the Bloody Angle at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 12th, 1864. Just before the battle he promised to emerge a live major general or a dead brigadier.” [58]

Lane


Brigadier General James Lane was an academic. He graduated second in his class at VMI in 1854 and received a degree in science from the University of Virginia three years later. He returned to VMI as an assistant professor then became a professor of natural philosophy at the North Carolina Military Institute. [59]

He led many of his cadets to war when he was commissioned as a major in the 1stNorth Carolina Volunteer Infantry. He took command of it in September 1861 and was promoted to brigade command in October 1862 after Antietam.

Lane proved himself an able commander at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. During the Battle of Chancellorsville his brigade led Jackson’s assault against the Union right, suffering 909 casualties. That night he had the misfortune to be part of one of the saddest episodes of the Confederate war when one of his units mortally wounded Stonewall Jackson on the night of May 2nd 1863. Despite this “he and his men could be counted on to do the right thing when the bullets started to fly.” [60] He was badly wounded at Cold Harbor and missed most of the rest of the war. Following the war he returned to academics and was a professor of civil engineering at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute when he died in 1907.

Thomas

Brigadier General Edward Thomas was a plantation owner from Georgia. He was not completely without military experience having served as a lieutenant of Georgia mounted volunteers in the Mexican War. He was offered a commission in the Regular Army after the war, but he turned it down and returned home.

He became colonel of the 35th Georgia Infantry in October 1861 and led it as part of Pettigrew’s brigade. When Pettigrew was wounded at Seven Pines the regiment was shifted to Joseph Anderson’s brigade of the Light Division. Thomas assumed command of that brigade when Anderson was wounded at Frayser’s Farm and returned to Richmond to “resume direction of the important Tredegar Iron Works.” [61] He commanded it in the thick of the fighting at Second Manassas, and at Fredericksburg helped stop Meade’s advance with a fierce counterattack. He continued to command it at Chancellorsville. Thomas could always be counted on to deliver “a solid, if unspectacular performance.” [62] He remained in command of the brigade through the end of the war and surrendered with Lee at Appomattox.

Scales

Brigadier General Alfred Scales was new to brigade command. A “forty-five year old humorless politician…a duty driven public official-turned-warrior.” [63]Scales had served in the U.S. House of Representatives and left politics when the war began. Since he had no military experience he chose, unlike so many other men of stature, to enlist as a private when North Carolina seceded.

His fellow soldiers elected to a captaincy in Pender’s 3rd North Carolina Volunteers. When Pender was transferred, Scales succeeded him in command of the regiment. He commanded that regiment on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days. From that time Scales’ career was “one of consistent stout service in Pender’s hard fighting brigade.” [64] Scales served as acting commander of the brigade when Pender was wounded at Fredericksburg and “met the test.” [65] He distinguished himself with the 13th at Chancellorsville where he was wounded in the thigh. Scales service with Pender’s brigade “had been one of consistent stout service.” [66]

When Pender was promoted to division command “it was a forgone conclusion that his replacement in brigade command would be Scales.” [67] He had served with the brigade, was known to its soldiers and though inexperienced as a brigade commander he “and the brigade were one, for he had shared its fortunes, was proud of it, and was confident of victory as he led it to Gettysburg.” [68]

Heth’s Division

heth

Major General Harry Heth, C.S.A. 

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

Harry Heth was a graduate of West Point who had a “high reputation personally and professionally.” [69] He was a cousin of George Pickett and joined Pickett as one of the hell raising cadets of the academy. Their reunion at the academy “developed into a three-year effort to see how much illicit merriment they could initiate without getting booted out.” [70] Heth graduated no higher in his class than Pickett did his the previous year, finishing at the bottom in the forty-five member class of 1847. Heth wrote of his West Point years later admitting that his academic record was

“abominable. My thoughts ran in the channel of fun. How to get to Benny Havens occupied more of my time than Legendre on Calculus. The time given to study was measured by the amount of time necessary to be given to prevent failure at the annual examinations.” [71]

Heth spent fourteen years in the old army, rising to the rank of Captain and spending most of his time on the frontier. Heth came from a family with long ties dating back to the American Revolution where his grandfather had, fought and the War of 1812 where his father had served. He was “well liked for his social graces, and Powell Hill held him in great respect.” [72]

Lee had a high regard for Heth who “had a solid record as Lee’s quartermaster general in the early days of Virginia’s mobilization for war.” [73] Lee considered him a friend and somewhat a protégé, however his regard “cannot be based on any substantive achievements by Heth, whose antebellum career and war experience had been similarly unremarkable.” [74] The appointment would prove to be a mistake. “Heth had little experience under fire, and an earlier petition for Heth’s promotion had been turned down by the Confederate Senate.” [75] When he recommended Heth for command of the new division he assured Jefferson Davis that he had “a high estimate of Genl. Heth.” [76] Heth did know his own deficiencies and candidly “admitted his own weaknesses and resisted the temptation to take himself too seriously.” [77]

Clifford Dowdy wrote that Heth was an example of a “soundly trained soldier of perennial promise. Always seemingly on the verge of becoming truly outstanding”but “never lived up to the army’s expectations.” [78] Heth became a brigade commander in Hill’s division prior to Chancellorsville after having served in Western Virginia and in the West.

Heth was new to command of the newly formed division which was a hastily put together force. In a new division where experienced leadership was needed, Heth had the weakest collection of brigade commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Ironically, it would be the division that stumbled into combat against the Buford’s Cavalry and Reynold’s First Corps at Herr, McPherson and Seminary Ridge on July 1st 1863. After Gettysburg he retained command of his division “with steadfastness and some competence until the final surrender.” [79]

Pettigrew

Newest to the division was Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew whose North Carolina brigade was one of the largest in the army. This was one of the new brigades provided to Lee by Davis, and “it had no appreciable experience.” [80]Pettigrew was a renaissance man, “the most educated of all Confederate generals.[81] He was a graduate of the University of North Carolina. He was “proficient in French, German, Italian and Spanish, with a reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.” [82]

Pettigrew had spent a good amount of time abroad on diplomatic service before returning to his law practice in Charleston. He had “even spent time as a volunteer aid with the French and Italian forces against the Austrians in 1859.” [83] He was elected to the state legislature in 1856 when he “sensed the oncoming of hostilities and was named colonel of the 1st Regiment of Rifles, a Charleston militia outfit.” [84] Pettigrew was “one of those natural leaders of a privileged background who, without military ambitions, had been advanced on the application of native intelligence and contagious courage.” [85]

Davis

Brigadier General Joseph Davis, the nephew of President Jefferson Davis commanded a newly raised Mississippi brigade. Davis was “a congenial and conscientious officer,” but “he had never led troops in battle.”[86] Davis owed his appointment to his relationship with the President. He was “entirely without combat experience.[87] Robert Krick wrote that Davis’s “promotion to the rank of brigadier general seems to be as unadulterated an instance of nepotism as the record of the Confederacy offers.” [88] Davis survived Gettysburg and after a bout with typhoid fever returned to command his brigade and “served solidly, though unspectacularly, until the end of the war with Lee’s army.” [89]

Most of the war he had been spent on his uncle’s staff in Richmond and in his new appointment he was not with officers of any experience as “No one serving on Joe Davis’s staff showed strong signs of having the background, experience, and ability that might help the brigadier meet his responsibilities.” [90] Likewise the nine field grade officers assigned to the regiments of his brigade were similarly ill-equipped for what they would face in their first test of combat.

Archer

Heth did have the experienced mixed Alabama-Tennessee brigade of Brigadier General James Archer under his command, but despite its experience and “fine reputation” [91] the brigade was seriously understrength after seeing heavy combat at Chancellorsville.

The brigade commander James Archer was a native of Bel Air Maryland, one of two Maryland officers serving in the Army of Northern Virginia. Archer was graduate of the University of Maryland who practiced law before entering the Regular army as a Captain during the Mexican War. During the war he was brevetted for gallantry at the Battle of Chapultepec. He left the army after the war and then returned to it in 1855 as an infantry Captain and was serving in Walla Walla Washington as the secession crisis deepened.

He resigned his commission in March 1861 and was commissioned in the new Confederate army. He received command of the 5th Texas Regiment “who thought him a tyrant.” [92] Though he had no battle experience he was promoted to Brigadier General and took command of a Tennessee brigade at Seven Pines when its commander was killed. Like the Texans the Tennesseans did not take to him and dubbed him “The Little Game Cock.” [93]

Initially, Archer was not well liked in any of his commands, the Texans considered him a tyrant and he was “very non-communicative, the bearing and extreme reserve of the old army officer made him, for a time, one of the most hated of men.”[94] After being joined to the Light Division Archer transformed his reputation among his men and had “won the hearts of his men by his wonderful judgment and conduct on the field.” [95] He distinguished himself at Antietam, and though quite ill led his brigade solidly. At Fredericksburg Archer helped save the Confederate line by leading a counter-attack following the Union breakthrough at Telegraph Hill.

Brockenbrough

The last brigade of Heth’s division was the small Virginia brigade of the “plodding, uninspiring” [96] Colonel John Brockenbrough. Brockenbrough was a “wealthy, but rough- looking Virginia planter.” [97] He was an 1850 graduate of VMI.

He entered “entered service as colonel of the 40th [Virginia Infantry] in May 1861.” [98] The brigade when it had been commanded by Charles Field had been considered one of the best in the army. Brockenbrough took command of it in 1862 when Field was wounded, but he “had never managed the brigade well, especially at Fredericksburg, and Lee returned him to regimental command.” [99]

Brockenbrough again assumed the command of the brigade after Chancellorsville when Heth was promoted. Lee did not deem him suited for promotion, but believed that Brockenbrough “could be counted on to keep together a command sadly reduced in numbers.” [100] Like Archer’s brigade the brigade was “sadly reduced in numbers” and in morale…” [101] His performance at Gettysburg was dreadful and five days after the battle Lee relived him of command of the brigade, returning to his regiment with lower ranking subordinate in command of the brigade. He resigned from the army in 1864.

Hill’s Third Corps was the least prepared command to go into battle at Gettysburg. While some leaders, particularly Richard Anderson, Dorsey Pender and Cadmus Wilcox were excellent commanders, the corps was led by too many untried, inexperienced, or in some cases incompetent leaders to be committed to an offensive campaign so shortly after it was constituted. Likewise, some of its formations were just shells of what they had been before Chancellorsville and had not been reconstituted

Notes 

[1] Waugh, John C. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox, Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers Ballantine Books, New York 1994 p.166

[2] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987 p.13

[3] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.26

[4] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.22

[5] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.95

[6] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.95

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

[8] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.304

[9] Ibid. Robertson, General A.P. Hillp.143

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.285

[11] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.144

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.301

[13] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.45

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

[15] Ibid. Sears Landscape Turned Red p.285

[16] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.301

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

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

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

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

[21] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.249

[22] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.108

[23] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.343

[24] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

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

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

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

[28] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.69

[29] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.498

[30] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

[31] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

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

[33] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

[34] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

[35] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.385

[36] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

[37] Trudeau, Noah Andre, The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865 Little Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto, London 1991 p.117

[38] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

[39] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.243

[40] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.314

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

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

[43] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.243

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.328

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

[46] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.328

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

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

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

[50] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.325

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

[52] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

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

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

[55] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

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

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

[58] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.332

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

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

[61] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.282

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

[63] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338-339

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

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

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

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

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

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

[70] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.13

[71] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.13

[72] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.88

[73] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.178

[74] Ibid. Krick, Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: p.96

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

[76] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[77] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.178

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

[79] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.342

[80] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.50

[81] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.196

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

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

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

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

[86] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.196

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

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

[89] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.354

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

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

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

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

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

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

[96] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

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

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

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

[100] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.529

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

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

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

I hope you enjoy. Please be safe.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the Shadow of Jackson: Lee Begins to Reorganize his Army for the Gettysburg Campaign

Lee1

General Robert E. Lee C.S.A.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another section from one of my three draft books on the Battle of Gettysburg. This one is about the loss of Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had on Robert E. Lee after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Jackson’s shadow and building myth loomed large over the Army and the Confederacy. I will continue this tomorrow since I am still in the midst of working on completing Mine Eyes of Seen the Glory. Hopefully I can finish it by Sunday. I wasted a couple of hours chasing a rabbit that was important but didn’t need the work I put into it. So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

An issue faced by armies that are forced to expand to meet the demands of war is the promotion and selection of competent leaders at all levels of command. It has been an issue throughout American military history including during our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The expansion of forces, the creation of new units, combined with the operational demands to employ those units often creates a leadership vacuum that must be filled. Sometimes this results in officers being promoted, being given field command or critical senior staff positions, who have critical deficiencies of leadership, character, intellect, experience or lack the necessary skill sets to do the job.

We may not see this as often in a long term professional military which has been at war for a significant amount of time, but during the Civil War it was something that both sides had to wrestle with, even for high level commanders. The nature of the armies involved, the high proportion of volunteer officers and political appointees coupled with the dearth of officers who had commanded anything larger than a company or widely scattered regiment made this a necessary evil.

To be fair, some officers of limited experience or training do rise to the occasion and perform in an exemplary manner. Others do not. Those leaders that do not are quite often weeded out over the course of time but often not before their lack of experience, or incompetence proves disastrous on the battlefield. As Barbara Tuchman so eloquently put it:

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

Of course the selection of competent and experienced leaders is essential to the planning and execution of all aspects of Joint Planning and Mission Command, as is the proper supervision and command and control on the battlefield. As was noted in Infantry in Battle:

“Of course, a leader cannot be everywhere, but he can and should weigh the capabilities and limitations of his subordinates, determine the critical point or time of the action, and lend the weight and authority of personal supervision where it is most needed.” [2]

The Death of Stonewall Jackson and the Reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia

Stonewall_Jackson

Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson C.S.A

Stonewall Jackson was dead, and with his death after the Pyrrhic victory at Chancellorsville, General Robert E. Lee was faced with the necessity of reorganizing the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson’s loss was disastrous for Lee, for he lost the one man who understood him and his method of command more than anyone, someone for whom he had a deep and abiding affection. Months before Jackson’s death Lee said of him: “Such an executive officer the sun has never shown on, I have but to show him my design, and I know that it if it can be done it will be done.” [3]

Jackson’s loss loomed large over the Army and the Confederate nation. Jefferson Davis told his wife Varina at Jackson’s funeral “saw a tear escape her husband’s eye and land on Jackson’s face. “You must excuse me,” Davis said later after silently ignoring a fellow mourner’s conversation. “I am still staggered from such a dreadful blow. I cannot think.” [4] Davis telegraphed Lee and described Jackson’s death “A great national calamity has befallen us.” [5] Lee was devastated, but stoic. When he told his Chief of artillery, Brigadier General William Pendleton of Jackson’s death he wept. Lee told his son Custis “It is a terrible loss. I do not know how to replace him. Any victory would be dear at such a cost. But God’s will be done.” [6]

Likewise, the death of Jackson was felt throughout the Confederacy, and not just from a military point of view. Southerners saw the war “as a spiritual and religious crusade, a test of the superiority of their devoutness and culture.” [7] As such victory was seen as part of God’s blessing and defeat or loss of Divine punishment. Jackson was a part of that, his legendary piety, valor and success on the battlefield had imbued the spiritual dimension of the Confederate cause with proof of God’s favor. He had been sent by God, and even in death his memory inspired Confederates, one poet “described Jackson as the Confederate Moses who would not get to the Promised Land” [8] although others most certainly would. In a war where death had become more pervasive and affected almost everyone in the South in a personal way, through the loss of family, friends, or home it was easy to lose sight of “basic values and transcending causes. Jackson’s death brought those values and causes to the fore. To what end remained unclear. The certitude of a holy cause that greeted the war’s onset slid into doubt….” [9] After the war soldiers, journalists and civilians pointed to Jackson’s death as “a premonition of their coming defeat.” One wrote “The melancholy news affected the Confederates in the same way that various omens predicted, before Troy could be captured affected the city’s defenders.” [10]

A forlorn Southern woman wrote: “He was the nation’s idol, not a breath even from a foe has ever been breathed against his fame. His very enemies reverenced him. God has taken him away from us that we may lean more upon Him, feel that he can raise up to Himself instruments to work His Divine Will.” [11] An officer in the Army of Northern Virginia wrote: “One of the greatest heroes of the war has been called from us by an all-wise Providence, no doubt as a punishment for ascribing to a mere man praises due to God for giving us Jackson with the virtues and talents he possessed.” [12] Seeing Jackson’s death in light of the defeat at Gettysburg and other major Confederate reverses in the summer of 1863 Virginia Presbyterians decided that Jackson’s “Untimely” death marked a “further chastisement for sins, especially ingratitude, pride, and dependency on an arm of the flesh.” [13]

In death, Jackson, a harsh and unforgiving man, who before anyone advocated the burning of enemy cities and the indiscriminate killing of Union soldiers. He also was unforgiving to any member of his command who fell short of his standards, officers and enlisted alike. From the summary relief of officers to the executions of enlisted men his discipline was rooted in his religious convictions which led him to a certitude that his actions were right. But a myth built around him in death, the myth of a righteous warrior, and that myth would overshadow the Generals that Lee would replace him. Richard Ewell and Ambrose Powell Hill. 

After Jackson’s loss Lee said “I had such implicit confidence in Jackson’s skill and energy that I never troubled myself to give him detailed instructions. The most general suggestions were all that he needed.” [14] Lee met the loss with “resignation and deep perplexity,” his words displayed that sense of loss, as well as his sense of faith and trust in God’s providence “I know not how to replace him. God’s will be done. I trust He will raise someone up in his place…” [15] In losing Jackson Lee lost a commander who had the ability to make his most imaginative plans come to life and find fulfillment and despite his efforts he never succeeded in finding a suitable replacement. Jackson was not a great tactician, but unlike any other Confederate commander he could implement Lee’s plans through his:

“single-mindedness of purpose, his unbending devotion to duty, his relentlessness as a foe, and his burning desire at whatever cost, for victory….He possessed an unmatched ability to impose his will on recalcitrant subordinates and on his enemies.” [16]

In addition to the loss of Jackson, Lee was desperately short of qualified senior and mid-level officers and Lee “understood how the diminishing numbers of quality officers impacted the army’s effectiveness.” [17] The problem was serious throughout the army, even though Lee had been victories in many battles, was that it suffered badly from high casualty counts, not just in the aggregate number of troops lost, but in leaders. “From the Seven Days to Chancellorsville, few if any regiments had not lost multiple field grade officers. Casualties among colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors surpassed 300 in total in all of the engagements.”[18]

A major part of Lee’s problem was organizational. In 1862 Lee inherited an army that was a “hodgepodge of forces” [19] which was organized in an “unwieldy divisional command system, where green commanders out of necessity were given considerable independence.” [20] That organization was tested and found wanting during the Seven Days campaign where on numerous occasions division commanders failed to coordinate their actions with those of adjacent divisions or failed to effectively control their own troops during movement to contact or combat.

Shortly after the Seven Days Lee reorganized the army, working with the material that he had. He divided the army into two wings since “Confederate law still did not allow for corps commands” [21] under Jackson and James Longstreet. Each wing was composed of four divisions and consisted of about 30,000 troops apiece. Both would be appointed Lieutenant Generals and their command’s recognized officially as the First Corps and the Second Corps in October 1862. These were massive forces, each nearly three times the size of a Union Corps in the Army of the Potomac.

While both Longstreet and Jackson were technically equals, and Longstreet Jackson’s senior by one day, it was Jackson to whom Lee relied on for the most daring tasks, and whom he truly considered his closest confidant and his “executive officer.” The relationship between Lee and Jackson was one of the most remarkable collaborations in military history and Lee owed much of his battlefield success to Jackson, and as J.F.C Fuller wrote: “Without Jackson, Lee was a one armed pugilist. Jackson possessed that brutality essential in war; Lee did not” [22]

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

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

“yin and yang of subordinates. Jackson was superb at guessing from a few words exactly what Lee wanted done, and setting out to do it immediately without argument or further instructions; Longstreet was as good a soldier, but he was an instinctive contrarian and stubbornly insisted on making Lee think twice, and to separate what was possible from what was not.” [23]

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

Likewise, the sheer size of Lee’s formations posed problems both in moment and combat, as Lee noted “Some of our divisions exceed the army Genl Scott entered Mexico with, & our brigades are larger than divisions”…that created stupendous headaches in “causing orders & req[uisitions] to be obeyed.” [24] Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis on May 20th “I have for the past year felt that the corps of the army were too large for one commander. Nothing prevented my proposing to you to reduce their size and increase their number but my inability to recommend commanders.” [25]

In the hands of Longstreet and Jackson these massive corps were in the good hands of leaders who could effectively handle them, “but in anyone else’s hands, a corps the size of Jackson’s or Longstreet’s might prove so big as to become clumsy, or even worse, might call for a degree of micromanagement that Lee and his diminutive staff might not be able to deliver.” [26] Lee recognized this and did not try to replace Jackson. Instead he wrote Jefferson Davis and explained the reasons for creating a new corps:

“Each corps contains in fighting condition about 30,000 men. These are more than one man can handle & keep under his eye in battle….They are always beyond the range and vision & frequently beyond his reach. The loss of Jackson from the command of one half of the army seems to me a good opportunity to remedy this evil.” [27]

Instead of appointing one man to command Second Corps, Lee reorganized the army and created two corps from it. He stripped a division of Longstreet’s First Corps, that of Richard Anderson, to join the new Third Corps. He also divided the large “Light” Division, which under Hill’s “intelligent administration probably is the best in the army” [28] into two divisions, one commanded by Dorsey Pender and the other by Harry Heth.

The problem for Lee was just who to place in command of the new corps and divisions that he was creating. Lee was deeply aware of this problem, and wrote to John Bell Hood that the army would be “invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. There never were such men in an Army before. The will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. But there is the difficulty-proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” [29] Lee sought the best commanders possible for his army, but the lack of depth in the ranks of season, experienced commanders, as well as the need to placate political leaders made some choices necessary evils.

To be continued…

Notes

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

[2] _________. Infantry In Battle The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC 1939, reprinted by the USACGSC with the permission of the Association of the United States Army p.195

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

[4] Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour Harper Collins Publishers New York 1991 p.501

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

[6] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.208

[7] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.235

[8] Rable, George C. God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2010 p.261

[9] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.279

[10] Royster, Charles The destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1991 p.227

[11] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.255

[12] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.236

[13] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.261

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

[15] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.524

[16] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.209

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

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

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

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

[21] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee p.157

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

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

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

[25] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.248

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

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

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

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

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Planning Matters: Robert E. Lee’s Failure to Link Grand Strategy to Operational Objectives in the Gettysburg Campaign

jefferson_davis_and_his_cabinet

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another busy day, another night with a section from one of my three draft books on the Battle of Gettysburg so I can do more work to finish up “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” This is about Robert E. Lee’s poor strategic and operational planning for the Gettysburg campaign. Military leaders in many eras made these same kind of dreadful decisions, but civilian leaders can too in dealing with let’s say things like responding to pandemics. I’ll just leave that to lay.

Have a great night, and please stay safe.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. However in May of 1863 the leaders of the Confederacy allowed themselves to choose the worst possible course of action for their circumstances simply because it was proposed by Robert E. Lee.

The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the euphoria after the Lee and Jackson’s victory at Chancellorsville. In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter.

If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [1] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [2]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [3] in their upper leadership. Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [4]

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Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.” [5] From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, however, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [6] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [7]Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [8] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [9]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [10] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [11] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [12] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [13]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” [14] In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…[15] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [16]

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As I have already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. He believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [17] Instead, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. He proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [18] and sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful receiving two relatively untested brigades from Hill, those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.”[19]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.”[20] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [21] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down very real threats.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [22] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [23]Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it, unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [24] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [25] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [26]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. In the meeting with the cabinet Postmaster-General Reagan, agreeing with General Beauregard warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [27] Likewise, Stephens the fire breathing Vice President “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [28]

Lee believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations. While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan notes that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.”[29] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [30]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third.

Likewise Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and counterproductive to Southern strategy. Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [31] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like a Fredericksburg he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [32] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic point level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [33]

What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. It was a long shot and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go north also exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [34] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [35] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [36]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [37] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander. Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. He understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

Notes

[1] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME

[2] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101

[3] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629

[4] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.34

[6] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.193

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to MeridianRandom House, New York 1963 p.429

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429

[10] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525

[11] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241

[12] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656

[13] Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.5

[15] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[16] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430

[18] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528

[19] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[21] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[22] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6

[23] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

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

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

[26] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[27] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[28] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[29] 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.2

[30] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[31] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134

[32] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.120

[33] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415

[34] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[35] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[37] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4

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