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""Longstreet at Gettysburg - A critical Reassessment"" Topic

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Rusty Balls23 Sep 2022 1:27 p.m. PST

A "Book Review" is a little strong for this post – more like my impressions of the book.

To declare – I am a Longstreet aficionado and was looking for this book to finally vindicate him from the weight of the Lost Cause proponents.

Perhaps I have to read it a second time to really digest it's arguments but at the end, I found myself still unsure what role he played in the loss at Gettysburg vs Lee. I believe that Lee's plans clearly were flawed and that in this battle he somehow seems very disconnected from the condition of his troops and the disposition of the enemy and his strength. In my mind, Longstreet clearly had a better grasp of the battle than Lee did.

But… Did Longstreet's reluctance play a part, was Longstreet reluctant or has history simply casts its own assumptions on events through a certain perspective. It's well known that Longstreet did not like Lee's attack plans for either July 2nd or 3rd but the book attempts to diffuse any notion of sabotage by Longstreet.

The arguments are made in 4 ways:
1. Many of the claims purport to know how Longstreet felt and therefore these unproductive actions were offspring of these feelings. The arguments made are true but leave me feeling unconvinced. Either it is said how could someone claim to know how Longstreet felt especially when they were not physically present or the "feeling" is refuted by someone else's observation of his feelings. At best this leaves me feeling – maybe – maybe not?
2. The most convincing argument at times is that if Lee was upset with Longstreet's tempo why did he not intervene since Lee appears to be present with Longstreet and many of the critical times. This leaves me wondering if either all was happening according to a plan that Lee could accept or if Lee was sitting on his horse stewing under his hat but restrained by some sort of 19th century military decorum. The old "Lee gave his subordinates a wide range to execute their orders" has some legitimacy, ie Ewells poor 1st day performance and the complete absence of Hill as any kind of impact in the battle. So again maybe – maybe not.
3. There is clearly Lost Cause arguments than are and can be refuted by fact and this books chronicles those.
4. There is a lot in question about who is in charge in this battle… Who was responsible for guiding/leading Longstreet's Corps on day 2, who was responsibility for preparing and leading Hill's units in Pickett's charge? Who was responsible for coordinating the concerted actions of the Corps?

So, in the end, I'm not sure. Maybe Longstreet did drag his heels and stew a bit instead of launching himself whole heartedly into the battle or maybe all of it was conjecture – stuff happens in war that is not controllable. Longstreet did what was asked of him in the best manner that was possible and simply the plan was flawed or never really achievable.

I find myself debating 2 things. Was Longstreet really so self absorbed that he moped around a battlefield in an effort to affront Lee? I just can't see this happening. I'm sure he could have been mad or disappointed but I cannot see him throwing a battle just to say "see – told you so". His second motivation could have been to save his troops from what he knew or felt could be useless slaughter. This one does not work for me because in order to fulfill it you have to purposely commit to the useless slaughter of the troops you send in and frankly he sent in his whole corps at one point or another.

So – I am still left wondering. Maybe – Maybe not.

Did you read this book? How did you feel about the way the arguments were made in the book and how did it leave you feeling?

doc mcb23 Sep 2022 2:05 p.m. PST

Lee was in poor health and off his prime.

Longstreet's assault on July 2 was devastating, and if Hood had not been wounded might have ended with the capture of Little Round Top.

Considering that Lee had smashed two Union corps on July 1 and another on July 2, his calculation was reasonable. Wrong, but reasonable.

Legionarius23 Sep 2022 2:27 p.m. PST

Fortunately for the US he lost.6

donlowry23 Sep 2022 4:11 p.m. PST

I have not read the book.

I do not think that Longstreet intentionally sabotaged Lee's plan, but he did not go into it (on 3 July, at least) whole-heartedly.

But it was a flawed plan anyway. Lee did not fully understand the Union position.

Personal logo gamertom Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2022 5:14 p.m. PST

My opinion is Longstreet became a very frustrated guy on the 2nd day as a series of unexpected events occurred. For example, the officer who had supposedly reconnoitered the Union's positions early that morning led Longstreet's column down a road where the column would become visible, violating Lee's (and no doubt Longstreet's) desire for a surprise attack. Then when it became apparent a counter march was needed, the lead brigade insisted on still leading the column resulting in having to march past on the troops waiting on the road for their turn to march back. Then when reaching the position they were supposed to be in earlier with most of the delay due to the counter march the Union troops are not positioned as was supposed and a quick realignment was needed in the starting positions. Then Hood argues his division should continue to march south around Big Round Top and attack the Union from there.

All of this took time on a hot and sticky day. I'm convinced Longstreet followed his orders the best that he could given the changing situation. To me the big what if is what would have happened had Sickles not moved his corps into such an exposed position.

Rusty Balls24 Sep 2022 6:45 a.m. PST

Personally, I don't think that Longstreet's day 2 attack ever had any hope of going off as planned by Lee regardless of where Sickles was deployed. As soon as Sickles is deployed and extends the Federal line further South down cemetery ridge, the idea of Longstreet marching out to the Emmittsburg road and turning north was doomed. He would have been flanked.

So, in the end, Sickles Corps absorbs Longstreet's first assault in either position. I guess the question becomes if the Cemetery ridge position would have fortified Sickles position enough in order to prevent his collapse and how the pace of the battle evolved as a result. By pace, I mean Sickles ability to hold out vs the time of the impending Federal reserves deployed from the Federal interior lines and the arriving 5th corps. I guess also along with that what-if is Ewell's ability to pin other units at the north end of the Union line.

Certainly, would be an interesting scenario to play – Has anyone ever tried it? What was the result?

The loss of Gettysburg, in my mind comes squarely on Lee's shoulders and his inability those couple of days to coordinate his Corps effectively. That was his job.

donlowry24 Sep 2022 7:56 a.m. PST

The key event the 2nd day is HOW Longstreet re-routed his column when it was discovered that it could be seen from Round Top. As gamertom said, he had the lead brigade turn around and double back, when it would have been quicker to have ordered the whole column to about-face and the trail brigade become the leading one. Why he didn't do that is a mystery to me, other than that he was feeling petulant about some junior officer leading his column and then screwing up.

Rusty Balls24 Sep 2022 9:33 a.m. PST

My understanding is that it was at McLaws' insistence. He was the lead division that day and insisted to Longstreet that he maintain that position in the attack. Why Longstreet agreed to that is another question, but this event is discussed in the book.

donlowry25 Sep 2022 7:28 a.m. PST

Longstreet worked for Lee, not for McLaws!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2022 9:20 a.m. PST

"There is a lot in question about who is in charge in this battle… Who was responsible for guiding/leading Longstreet's Corps on day 2, who was responsibility for preparing and leading Hill's units in Pickett's charge? Who was responsible for coordinating the concerted actions of the Corps?"

Ahem. The answer, first last and always is "the commander is responsible." And when the action concerns multiple corps, that commander can only be Robert E. Lee. The intriguing part to me is that at Gettysburg Lee gave Hill and Ewell--both novices at corps command--a fairly free hand, while seriously micromanaging the experienced Longstreet. (If your boss ever has you bring your subordinates to a meeting so he can make sure they understand what your orders are--and starts making your decisions about which one goes where for you, update your resume.)

I'm sure everyone made mistakes: people do, especially in wartime. But the cold truth is, Gettysburg is probably the worst three consecutive days of Lee's military history. For 150 years, his admirers have tried to blame everyone else, with Longstreet the favorite scapegoat. We're wargamers: play the Second Day to your heart's content, and try to find some way Longstreet could have done better while still carrying out Lee's orders. Then try again on the Third Day.

Blutarski25 Sep 2022 2:27 p.m. PST

My impression, after reading somewhat extensively on Pickett's charge, is that Longstreet did not in any way,shape or form, want to be responsible for ordering Pickett's attack to be launched. Longstreet understood the power of field artillery (see 2nd Manassas, for example) and I believe he knew that the Confederate artillery, short of ammunition and imperfectly positioned, was simply inadequate to the task of shooting Pickett's men into a successful attack.

Strictly my opinion, of course.


Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2022 4:37 p.m. PST

Longstreet was a soldier and followed his orders. Lee had lost his perspective and Longstreet knew it, especially on day 3. But he still obeyed. It is inconceivable to me that Lee made the decision he made on day 3 based on the first two days. Meade had made good use of interior lines and was able to hold.

Lee was looking at Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg,etc. but he could not see what many, perhaps most, other Confederates saw. Longstreet was a very long way from being the only one who saw the blunder for what it was. There are plenty of documented examples of others, including the rank and file, who knew what was coming. These guys were pros who had seen it all.

Longstreet took the hit in the Lost Cause decades. Lee was elevated to the heights people wanted to believe. I think Longstreet deserved better.

This article from John M. Priest makes an interesting assessment of the Confederate casualties in the charge, and also some examples of how they felt about the charge.


Trajanus26 Sep 2022 6:18 a.m. PST

Lee was looking at Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg,etc

Or rather he wasn't. I have absolutely no idea how he could have been present at both those battles and think Pickett could make it.

Trajanus26 Sep 2022 6:31 a.m. PST


Thanks for the link.

Not quite how things appeared in the Movie, is it?

Blutarski26 Sep 2022 7:11 a.m. PST

The additional eternal imponderables are –

How many men found a sheltered spot and simply dropped out of the advancing formation?

How many able-bodied men found their way to the rear by helping a wounded comrade back to safety?


donlowry26 Sep 2022 7:36 a.m. PST

One reason the Confederate line shrank as it advanced is that at least part of it changed to a column formation! There is a diagram of this taking place in the OR -- one Union officer's report. I'm too lazy right now to look it up. It's in my book also.

donlowry26 Sep 2022 7:46 a.m. PST

OK, I got off my butt and looked it up:

OR Series I, Vol. 27, Part I, Page 428, the report of Colonel Norman J. Hall, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 2nd Corps.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2022 7:47 a.m. PST

Priest makes the point that a large number of Confederates were captured, most along Emmittsburg road. Others just turned back. My opinion is that these guys were just too good to throw it all away on this attack and a lot of them bailed.

Certainly not much like the movie. Does anyone remember a Battlefield Dectectives or a program like it a number of years ago where they tracked and analyzed spent bullet patterns to try and figure out where the Confederates actually went?

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