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28 Nov 2018 7:22 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Areas of Interest

American Civil War

2,035 hits since 1 Mar 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP01 Mar 2018 2:44 p.m. PST

The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most talked and written about battles of all time. A number of controversies swirl around the battle to this day. Which of these had the most effect on the outcome of the battle?

A. The decision to invade Pennsylvania in the first place.

B. The performance of the Confederate Cavalry.

C. The decision of Heth to engage the enemy on the first day.

D. Lee's "if practicable" order to Ewell.

E. Ewell's decision not to attack Culp's Hill on the first day of battle.

F. Effect of losing Jackson at Chancellorsville.

G. Lee vs. Longstreet on the question of defense.

H. The performance of Longstreet during the battle.

I. Lee's decision to attack the Union center on Cemetery Ridge on the second day of battle.

J. Lee's decision to attack the center of the Union line (Pickett's Charge) on the third day of the battle.

K. Did Sickles disobey his orders by moving his corps forward of the main Union line; and did the move turn out to be beneficial for the Union army?

L. The charge leveled by Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles that Meade was forced by his corps commanders to stand and fight rather than retreat after the second day.

M. Meade's failure to purse Lee after the battle made it an incomplete victory.

BW195901 Mar 2018 3:07 p.m. PST

I always thought Meade get's a bad rap in regards to "failure to purse". He had only been in command for a few days and just fought a three day battle. Lost Reynolds, as well as two corps commanders wounded. He just needed to catch his breath.

Desert Fox01 Mar 2018 3:11 p.m. PST

B. The performance of the Confederate Cavalry.
I have always thought an interesting "what if" is what would have happened if Stuart's cav had occupied Gettysburg before Buford's cav. How would have Meade responded? Retreat to Pipe Creek? How long until the Lincoln Administration pressures the AoP to put in end to Lee's rampaging through PA?

I will add another one. Hill not outflanking Union forces by moving part of the III Corps to the south of Union troops deployed west of Gettysburg on July 1.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP01 Mar 2018 3:33 p.m. PST

M Is always been my What if. Had Meade attacked he had a good chance of shattering the AONV and ending the war.

ChrisBrantley01 Mar 2018 5:38 p.m. PST

As a modification to D….how would Ewell have interpreted Lee's "if practical" orders if Extra Billy Smith wasn't sending frantic warnings to Ewell and Early of non-existant Union columns approaching on York Pike, forcing Ewell to redeploy Gordon's Brigade, his largest brigade, to investigate and reinforce Smith's Brigade on the flank.

Extrabio1947 Supporting Member of TMP01 Mar 2018 6:19 p.m. PST

To me, the most intriguing "what if" is F: what impact Jackson might have had not only on the overall strategy of the campaign, but the tactics employed.

Personal logo gaiusrabirius Supporting Member of TMP01 Mar 2018 6:43 p.m. PST

I just wish to say I find this a terrific summary of the Gettysburg "controversies" and I'm glad you put it together.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP01 Mar 2018 6:44 p.m. PST

Thanks for the comment.

Desert Fox01 Mar 2018 7:20 p.m. PST

ChrisBrantley raises and excellent point. Ewell's action probably cost the Confederstes the opportunity to take Culp's Hill.

Great wargaming what ifs!

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Mar 2018 4:11 a.m. PST

One thing that's always overlooked by the people who ask: "What if Jackson had been there?" is that his hard-driving character might have worked AGAINST the Confederates in this case. Everyone seems to assume that if Jackson had still been there, that he would have come down from the north, fallen on the XI Corps like a thunderbolt, swept on to take Cemetery Hill, and won the battle on July 1st.

Except perhaps instead of doing that, the hard-driving Jackson might have been 30 miles deeper into Pennsylvania and not reached Gettysburg at all on July 1st. So perhaps the Union manages to hold off Longstreet on the 1st, then falls back to its 'fish hook' position but without having two corps mangled on the 1st. Or maybe not. I don't know what happens next, but it's way different than what really happened.

WarWizard02 Mar 2018 6:07 a.m. PST

I agree with BW1959. If I had been in Meade's place I do not think I would have pursued either.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Mar 2018 6:47 a.m. PST

Meade probably hadn't slept for 3 days. He probably didn't have the energy to lead a strong pursuit.

Trajanus02 Mar 2018 7:44 a.m. PST

A number of controversies swirl around the battle to this day. Which of these had the most effect on the outcome of the battle?

I would have to say Option A No Invasion, No Battle! :o)

Other than that I would rate D & E equally. If the ANV is fully established at right angles to what became the Union line there's no Day 2 or 3.

Assuming Ewell didn't flanked in turn, of course.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP02 Mar 2018 8:27 a.m. PST

G- Lee should have listened to Longstreet. I've walked the ground a number of times. Try walking up little round top.
Or consider just how much open ground Pickett had to cross under massed fire. Assaulting the Union positions was madness. The Union troops understood as they chanted Fredricksburg! Fredericksburg! after Pickett's charge.

donlowry02 Mar 2018 8:31 a.m. PST

Which of these had the most effect on the outcome of the battle?

A. As Trajanus says, no invasion, no battle, at least, not at Gettysburg.

B. Stuart was in a no-win situation. The blame mostly rests with Ewell and Early, who made no attempt to link up with him. Consequently, Stuart spent 1 July going up to Carlisle, looking for them, when he could have been moving west to rejoin the army.

C. Heth violated the order not to bring on a battle, tho he had Hill's tacit approval (so blame Hill).

D. It's still hard to know if it was "practicable." But he might at least have tried.

E. Yep, that was another chance lost, tho it would have been a night attack.

F. As Scott points out, had Jackson lived, the entire campaign would have gone differently, so there might not have even been a battle at Gettysburg in that case.

G. I think Longstreet had it right, at the time -- get between Meade and Washington and fight defensively, a la Jackson at 2nd Bull Run.

H. Longstreet did well the 2nd day -- he might have been a tad slow, but expectations of an earlier attack were not very realistic.

I. Lee's objective on the 2nd day was Cemetery HILL, not Ridge (not that he necessarily knew the difference). He did not understand the Union position, thinking that it ran down the Emittsburg Pike. Had Sickles not advanced, Longstreet's attack up that road could have been hit in the flank by 3rd and 5th Corps.

J. On the 3rd day, Lee's objective was still Cemetery HILL (he says in his report, the objective remained unchanged). He attacked with too small a force, and even if he had temporarily broken Meade's line, it could easily have been retaken.

K. Yes, Sickles disobeyed the spirit, if not the letter, of Meade's orders. The result was the almost-destruction of his corps. Had he stayed where Meade wanted him: see my answer to I above.

L. No, Sickles' charge was unfounded. Meade had Butterfield prepare a retreat plan in case it might be needed, but he would have been remiss had he not done so. That doesn't mean he actually planned to retreat. However, he had not intended to fight so far north -- but by the time the Pipe Creek Circular was distributed matters had already made it obsolete; mainly in that Buford and Reynolds had already committed the army to fight at Gettysburg, as Reynolds died before ever receiving the circular.

M. I do think Meade could and should have been more aggressive in pursuit. To me, his main failing there, once Lee was blocked by the swollen Potomac, was in not putting a force south of the river to keep Lee from crossing even when the river went down. (Meade could cross troops at Harpers Ferry and below.)

catavar02 Mar 2018 9:42 a.m. PST

B. The job was to scout, not raid the enemy. Left Lee blind and as such he stumbled into Gettysburg.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP02 Mar 2018 10:02 a.m. PST

The biggest controversy?
We did Stonewall fake his own death and then assume the role of Pickett?

Quaama02 Mar 2018 10:24 a.m. PST

In terms of the battle, I think E. It appears that there was a high probability of success and control of this landmark would have prevented the USA from properly establishing their strong defensive position.

In terms of the entire campaign (given that A has been provided as an option) I would say G. Positioning the CSA army between the USA army and Washington seemed a far better strategic option. An alternative: I always thought the later strategic option (Longstreet again) of an offensive through Tennessee into Kentucky had promise.

Bill N02 Mar 2018 12:23 p.m. PST

When and by whom. In the 19th centure the Meade-Sickles debate was probably a bigger deal than it is today. I think the same is true of the Lee-Longstreet debate. The two that have held up were Stuart's performance and Ewell's decision not to attack not to attack on the evening of July 1. Pickett's charge gets more ink than anything else, but it tends to be about what happened.

The one I have a problem with is faulting Heth or Hill for starting the battle. The AoP was moving north, and was doing so faster than Lee had anticipated or even knew about. A battle was likely to happen within a couple of days of July 1 anyways. Given where Ewell's divisions were relative to the rest of Lee's army, occupying Gettysburg made sense. If the Confederates had managed to destroy the I and IX Corps as fighting forces on the first day it would have worked to Lee's advantage. The problem isn't that Heth's advance brought on a battle. It is how Heth's advance on Gettysburg was conducted.

With that one exception I would vote "all of the above".

14Bore02 Mar 2018 4:35 p.m. PST

Also a point about not pursuing Lee was his units were scrambled together

donlowry03 Mar 2018 9:13 a.m. PST

B. The job was to scout, not raid the enemy.

Actually, his job was to link up with Ewell's corps -- THEN to scout and gather supplies.

The problem was that Stuart had, somehow, to change from rear guard to part of the advance guard with two corps of his own army blocking the roads. The decision to go through (not around) the Union army made sense at the time. It was his bad luck (and Lee's) that the Union army started to move just as he did, so that it also was blocking roads.

The captured wagons also proved to be a problem, but, in Stuart's defense, wagons with which to gather up supplies in Pennsylvania would have come in very handy, had the AoP given him time to do so before bringing on a battle.

As I said above, Ewell and Early made no attempt to link up with Stuart. Early could at least have left a few cavalrymen (yes, he has quite a few) in the York area to find Stuart and notify him of the move to Gettysburg. Early heard the sounds of Stuart's fight at Hanover but ignored it. He said it's only militia, but didn't seem to wonder WHO the "militia" was fighting.

catavar03 Mar 2018 11:32 a.m. PST

It may have been Stuart's suggestion that he ride around the Union Army and meet up with Ewell. His job being to gather info, supplies (Lee was living off the land; the wagons were unnecessary), then report to Ewell and guard his flank.

However the decision came about it was probably unwise. Stuarts cavalry was gone from the army too long. When it became apparent that Union troops were in his way he could have turned back; he didn't. Stuart's sortie only accomplished 1/3 of his objectives (plunder).

It's interesting to note (it think) that the same thing happened to Hooker (when his cavalry went AWOL) with similar results.

All of the above is only my opinion though. Take it for what it's worth.

donlowry04 Mar 2018 9:17 a.m. PST

It may have been Stuart's suggestion that he ride around the Union Army and meet up with Ewell.

Mosby suggested it to Stuart, who liked the idea and passed it on to Lee.

(Lee was living off the land; the wagons were unnecessary)

With Lee living off the land, wagons would have been VERY useful -- he had to carry off the food and forage he stole in something! As it was, he had a huge train of stolen/captured wagons hauling supplies; had he been able to remain in Pennsylvania all summer he would have needed even more. He wasn't just living hand-to-mouth, he was gathering supplies to use later as well.

When it became apparent that Union troops were in his way he could have turned back; he didn't.

Had Stuart turned back, he would still have faced the same problem that he faced to start with: that the Confederate infantry was blocking the roads he would have to use.

Lee had other cavalry -- Stuart only took 3 brigades out of 7 available -- but Lee failed to utilize them until too late, leaving Grumble Jones and Robertson behind far too long and letting Imboden wander off in the wrong direction.

the same thing happened to Hooker (when his cavalry went AWOL) with similar results.

Are you referring to the Chancellorsville campaign? When Stoneman took most of Hooker's cavalry on a raid?

Bill N04 Mar 2018 10:48 a.m. PST

It wasn't just troopers that Stuart took. It was also the leadership. Ashby was dead and Hampton and Fitz Lee were with Stuart. Lee probably had enough cavalry left to perform necessary tasks if it had been properly managed, but who did Lee have to manage it?

catavar04 Mar 2018 11:29 a.m. PST

So Mosby claimed. If true then Stuart probably believed it could be done. As it turned out it couldn't. When blocked he turned east where it took him four days to get around the Union troops. I think Stuart could/should have turned back earlier and rejoined the army instead of trying to follow an order that was no longer possible. I'm pretty sure Lee would have concurred.

Again, I have to disagree regarding the wagons. While they would have been nice to have they weren't critical. Stuart's reports on the size and whereabouts of the Union Army were.

Correct regarding Chancellosrville. With the bulk of the cavalry gone both armies lacked important information their commanders needed.

All just my opinion of course.

donlowry05 Mar 2018 8:07 a.m. PST

Well, as I said above, Stuart was in a no-win situation once the Union army began to move. He could have rejoined Lee, but only at the tail of the column instead of its head. He did send word to Lee that the AoP was moving, but the courier did not get through.

Certainly the wagons were not critical. Just potentially useful. As it turned out, they were a handicap, slowing the column, taking up road space, and adding hundreds of more mules to feed.

Yes, perhaps Stuart's biggest mistake was not in leaving a better officer in charge of the brigades he left behind. Longstreet expected it to be Hampton, which would probably have been the best choice. Hard to believe he would have let the AoP slip away without notifying Lee and staying in contact. Stuart was selfish in keeping his 3 old, favorite brigades with him and leaving behind the new "outsiders."

Greyalexis10 Mar 2018 10:05 a.m. PST

My views are
Ewell caused the loss of indicative and thus overall the battle.

Should not have done Picketts Charge without a hugh flanking to cover it.

Meade almost left after the second day of the battle. Hancock had to argue with him to stay. he was not the best general but, the Army was tired and maybe this time he was right.

also even if Lee had won the AOP retreats to Washington where there is a fortified army of 90k with heavy artillery. I don't think it would have worked

donlowry11 Mar 2018 8:29 a.m. PST

where there is a fortified army of 90k with heavy artillery

No idea where you got that 90k figure! Maybe 9k -- maybe. Hooker had already stripped out about every movable regiment from the garrisons. But there were good defenses and lots of artillery there.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 6:35 p.m. PST

Who said Lee was going after Washington? I think Philadelphia would have made a good impression on the British.

donlowry12 Mar 2018 8:12 a.m. PST

If he could find a way to get across the Susquehanna River.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP27 Mar 2018 8:35 a.m. PST

Lee asked Stuart to screen the infantry movement from the camps to the other side of the mountain range. That gave the infantry a 5 day head start over Stuart's cavalry. After being deployed and fighting off the Union cavalry for that time, Stuart would have had to catch up with the lead elements of the infantry, using the same roads. 5 days head start plus 4 days to catch up with the moving head of the infantry column, plus a few days to get ahead of them--- would mean that Stuart's cavalry would be doing nothing but marching through their own infantry for about 2 weeks. (They did not have heliocopters to pick up and deposit the horsemen ahead of the army). Lee should have and did know this. If he wanted that cavalry ahead, he should have had the screening force done by infantry. ……Stuart then tried to insert himself between the east side of the mountain ranges and the federal forces, which didn't work because the federal forces were already tucked up against the mountains and controlled the passes. So Stuart then moved north, trying to disrupt the Union rear but it was already ahead of him. It is nice to know this now and critisize Stuart- but that is unfair.

steve1865 Supporting Member of TMP30 Mar 2018 1:48 p.m. PST

Everyone Thinks Stonewall was great, but was he? LOOK a 7 days . Jackson was Late and did not attack. At Chancellorville he was late again. If he had started at the time Lee wanted him to start, he would have attacked earlier and not been shot by his own men in the dark. Jackson's greatest fight was in the valley. Who did he fight? The worst Union Generals Banks and Fremont.

grahambeyrout01 Apr 2018 4:33 a.m. PST

Steve1865. If we look at the question of Stonewall in a slightly different way, we may get a different answer. Its not about what we think about Stonewall today. It is about what his men and the enemies thought about him when he lived. It is often quoted that Napoleon's hat was worth 40,000 men on the battlefield, Stonewalls battered kepi was not worth that, but rightly or wrongly I suggest that he had a reputation that encouraged his own troops, even if one disputes his effect on the enemy.

Trajanus02 Apr 2018 6:36 a.m. PST

I think Philadelphia would have made a good impression on the British.

Unfortunately, not as a profound a one as the Emancipation Proclamation.

donlowry02 Apr 2018 7:20 a.m. PST

Why is that unfortunate?

Bill N02 Apr 2018 9:53 a.m. PST

Jackson dead held a higher reputation than Jackson living. Jackson wasn't perfect, and his instincts were not always right. He made mistakes, and to some extent his reputation was built on mistakes made by others. Jackson wasn't an easy general to serve under. It is hard to imagine Jackson choosing not to attack in the evening of July 1. It cannot be guaranteed that if Jackson was there the ANV would have been in a position to launch that attack on the evening of July 1.

As for British involvement I am certain the moment it became obvious the Confederacy would win the war, Britain would have intervened in some form. The American South was too valuable as a trading partner and potential location for investment for the British to sit back and risk some other nation getting first place. OTOH the U.S. as a trading partner and location for investment was also important enough that Britain did not want to put that relationship at risk for less than a sure thing. If the (unlikely) outcome of Lee's campaign had been the ANV marching down Pennsylvania Avenue while the AoP was retiring in tatters to the Delaware, then regardless of the views of Her Majesty on the slave issue, Her Majesty's Government would have sent a telegram insisting on a mediated settlement, and would have assembled squadrons to be prepared to break the blockade.

Trajanus02 Apr 2018 12:43 p.m. PST

Why is that unfortunate?

Sorry Don, irony overload.

As in, unfortunate for Confederate ambitions.

Personal logo capncarp Supporting Member of TMP04 Apr 2018 3:28 p.m. PST

donlowry: "If he could find a way to get across the Susquehanna River."
Most of the Susquehanna is fordable, nay, _wadeable_ north of the falls at Marietta/Columbia. I always tell people of the fellow who got a jaywalking ticket for walking across the river.

wmyers04 Apr 2018 8:46 p.m. PST

N. The South's lack of an aggressive campaign against the North, instead of fighting defensive actions.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Apr 2018 3:20 a.m. PST

The Susquehanna at low water might be fordable in spots for a man on foot or horseback. But from what I've seen of it, you'd have the Devil's own time getting artillery or wagons across. And get a heavy rain and the river can rise very fast.

donlowry06 Apr 2018 7:19 a.m. PST

And get a heavy rain and the river can rise very fast.

Which rain did come, causing even the upper Potomac to become unfordable.

donlowry07 Apr 2018 9:02 a.m. PST

Considering the problems Lee had in getting back across the Potomac, image what it would have been like had be been defeated north (east) of the Susquehanna!

CSherrange08 May 2018 4:28 a.m. PST

H- If 2nd corps attacks earlier only July 2nd, 3rd corps is in line along the very low portion of cemetery ridge. Does the peach orchard become a hazel grove (Which was still strong in Sickles mind, hence the move forward in the first place). It would've made an excellent artillery platform.

If you go and stand atop the peach orchard plateau, it dominates the ground from Little Round Top to Cemetery hill.

donlowry08 May 2018 8:08 a.m. PST

And yet the Confederate artillery posted there on 3 July failed to "dominate" Cemetery Ridge.

CSherrange08 May 2018 11:48 a.m. PST

But it would've dominated the position held by 3rd corps, the very low portion of cemetery ridge on that end of the battlefield. Even Hunt, touring the battle field post war, claimed that no offensive action was possible while the Confederates held the peach orchard hill. Alexander possibly had some of his worst days as an artillery commander at Gettysburg, and northern artillerymen like McGilvery had their best days.

donlowry09 May 2018 2:05 p.m. PST

Well, that was Sickles' worry, that the Peach Orchard would be another Hazel Grove (where Rebel artillery had dominated his line at Chancellorsville), and that's why he advanced to take it.

Lee wanted it as a position from which to bombard Cemetery Hill, however, not the low ground where Sickles was supposed to deploy.

USAFpilot09 May 2018 7:39 p.m. PST

J) Pickett's charge.

darthfozzywig Supporting Member of TMP11 May 2018 4:13 p.m. PST

Great list!

I think so many of these are larger in hindsight than maybe they were at the time.

The Lee/Longstreet controversy is a lot of post-war fingerpointing from a scapegoated Longstreet. His take on things is as revisionist as the Saint Robert was robbed" crew.

Jackson's presence may not have been the magical victory-bringer. As Scott notes, Jackson may have been too far to influence the battle. Or, it could have been the exhausted and moody Jackson of the Seven Days.

Even Pickett's charge makes sense when you consider Lee's point of view (and the previous campaigns over the past year). Yeah, we've all walked the ground and thought "no way!"…but that's hindsight and wasn't what the AoP was thinking. It wasn't a forgone conclusion to the Federal troops on the receiving end.

It's certainly fun to look for the "THAT was it!" cause, but I think a lot of them were probably less impactful at the time than we might think.

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