Skip to comments.New map may explain Lee's decisions at Gettysburg
Posted on 06/29/2013 6:49:03 AM PDT by Michael.SF.
GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) On the second day of fighting at Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee listened to scouting reports, scanned the battlefield and ordered his second-in-command, James Longstreet, to attack the Union Army's left flank.
It was a fateful decision, one that led to one of the most desperate clashes of the entire Civil War the fight for a piece of ground called Little Round Top. The Union's defense of the boulder-strewn promontory helped send Lee to defeat at Gettysburg, and he never again ventured into Northern territory.
Why did the shrewd and canny Lee choose to attack, especially in the face of the Union's superior numbers?
Our analysis shows that he had a very poor understanding of how many forces he was up against, which made him bolder," said Middlebury College professor Anne Knowles, whose team produced the most faithful re-creation of the Gettysburg battlefield to date, using software called GIS, or geographic information systems.
(Excerpt) Read more at news.yahoo.com ...
J.E.B. Stuart dropped the ball.
Longstreet was apprised of the importance of little round top by his division commanders on the right and was informed that the Union forces there were out of position and could be overrun. He declined to even look at the ground.
As an aside I think Longstreet gets a "bum rap" he seems to have been right: Lee should have early on gone around the left flank of the Union army.(Lee's right flank.)
My understanding is that Longstreet had advised Lee to take up a defensive position and let the Union beat its own brains out assaulting their position, similar to Fredericksburg, but Lee wanted to assume the offensive.
Even the oft maligned ‘Pickett's Charge’ was a viable plan, one that went awry due to the poor aim of the artillery bombardment which failed to accomplish it's task.
Studies such as this one are usually informative to those whom are relatively uninformed. On the other hand, it does provide updated teaching opportunities to the students, which is probably what the whole point of the study was about (as opposed to adding any real new insight).
The defeat can be laid at the feet of Stuart.
Lee needed his cavalry. Without them he was fighting blind, could not disengage.
Which is exactly why he invaded the North.
Apparently the existence of new fangled computer tools makes analysts incapable of understanding that large bodies of troops in 19th Century military operations created huge clouds of dust while on the march.
I was going to point that out, too...
Strategy vs. tactics.
You mean, like not having Stonewall Jackson? I agree, but I still enjoyed going over the map.
Stuart still has his fans, some of whom are down on Lee. See, for example, the essay Stuart at Gettysburg.
An amazing revelation. Before air reconnaissance, commanders were at the mercy of what they could see in line of sight, and what they could gather from intelligence (cavalry and spies). High ground was important, but did not necessarily solve all of the visibility problems. This has been the case since the beginning of warfare. It’s amazing that these scholars spent all of their time reconfirming what any student of military history knows.
Especially since the temperatures at the time were said to be in the 90's.
Because at the time, the Round Tops were virtually undefended, and by capturing them, Lee could have deployed his artillery very effectively against the Union left and pushed them off Cemetery Ridge.
The more puzzling question to me has always been why Meade or Hancock didn't see the strategic importance of the high ground to begin with.
Longstreet was right one hell of a lot more than he was wrong. Unfortunately, he always seemed less than enthusiastic in carrying out orders he did not agree with.
IMNVHO, Best general in the Civil War on either side: General George B. Thomas, victim of a PR cabal by Grant, Sherman, Schofield, and their pals in DC, all of whom admitted it long after the war.
He was an all-around guy, a master of logistics, engineering, training, cavalry, artillery, and maneuver on defense and attack. Careful and methodical, he took very good care of his troops and tried to minimize casualties.
Genius, especially when compared to Grant.
In the face of uncertainty over the exact position and numbers of Union troops converging on Gettysburg, I have often wondered why General Lee didn’t simply refuse the battle there and establish himself on terrain nearby more suitable to defense. Since he would still remain, in the Liddell Hart formulation, strategically offensive, the Union commander would be compelled to attack him to dislodge the Confederate Army from Union territory. But now Lee would be tactically defensive and the 3 to 1 offense to defense ratio would favor him and not Meade.
One of the issues often missed in the third day of fighting at Gettysburg is that Pickett's Charge was one half of the battle plan. The other Half was Stewart's Calvary to sweep around the Union position and attack the rear thus forcing Meade into defending two fronts. However Stewart got tangled in a skirmish with some infantry and just as he was about to break out a newly promoted General led a Banzai charge of his Calvary Unit into Stewart's flank and stumped his breakthrough.
That Newly appointed General was brash and reckless and lost over 70% of his troops but his maneuver probably saved many Union lives and maybe even kept Lee from a third day victory. However at the time his name was not mentioned much as being a large contributor to the Union Victory like the praise given Chamberlain and Bufford and so on.
13 years later that brash General with the long blonde hair would achieve notoriety in a hilly area of Montana in a place called "Little Big Horn"...
People do these studies because they need to "publish or perish". Better this one than "Homosexual Themes in the Writings of Geoffrey Chaucer".
Yup, it is possible to argue that Custer won the Battle of Gettysburg.
The weirdest part is that 3 days before he was a captain.
Thomas was a very good good general, but it is generally agreed he often moved too slow.
Part of being methodical, I guess, but knowing when to throw the methodical part overboard and go for it is a big part of generalship.
Michael Shaara wrote only one Civil War novel, about Gettysburg, which did not sell well in his lifetime. Jeff has written a series of novels--the Vicksburg book is the second in a four-book trilogy (bad math) on the western campaigns. He had a lot of interesting points that are not well known.
He told from a soldier's point of view what it would have been like to be part of Pickett's Charge, very effectively--but he did not reveal that he was describing Pickett's Charge until the very end.
He told how his father took him to Gettysburg in 1964 when he was 12. His father knew the story of how Lewis Armistead and Winfield Scott Hancock had been friends before the war and were both in California when the war started. When they parted Armistead, who supported the South, told Hancock that if he ever fought against him that he hoped God would strike him dead. Shaara told of how his father found the marker at Gettyburg where Armistead fell (during Pickett's Charge, I believe) and how for the first time in his life he saw his father crying. It was at that point that Michael Shaara decided to write his novel about Gettysburg, which took him 7 years.
Cleburne, Joe Johnston.
They all had various strengths and weaknesses.
That was exactly what he was trying to do, that is fight defensively at the The Battle of Cashtown. A.P.Hill precipitated the larger battle at Gettysburg, more or less against orders. Then Early misinterpreted his orders and neglected to to take and hold the ridge for the Confederates, allowing Meade, who really didn't want to fight at Gettysburg either, to do so.
It was a mix-up based on faulty, or rather primitive, intelligence all around. How, for example, did Meade's staff miss the importance of Little Round Top until it was almost too late?
Let's face it, you unrepentant rebels out there, Marse Robert was damn good on defense and counter-punching on home ground in VA, he was less than stellar on the invasion thing and a more or less complete dunderhead logistically. The Confederates, who had admittedly less to work with than the Union in materièl, were nonetheless very poor at Quartermastering what they did have, failing even to feed and clothe their troops at a basic level. No excuse for it.
What the Civil War really proved militarily is that you cannot fight a massive war without centralized command and control. In other words, a strong centralized Federal government that tells the states what to do. The Confederacy, actually the second confederacy in our history, had less power over their states.
Wars, whether necessary like 1812, or unnecessary, like 1898 and WWI, lead inexorably to centralized Federal power and away from the original Constitution and the rights of sovereign states. We are still organized for war, not for peace nor for government as envisioned by our Founders.
Cleburne definitely makes the All Star line-up, too. For my money, more effective than even Jackson, hagiography aside.
Well not sure if I would go that far but I guarantee Stewart attacking in force at Meade's rear would have dramatically changed the outcome of the third day of fighting.
It might have turned the tide for the South or maybe extended the confrontation another day or two. But the devastation to the Southern forces on that third day forced Lee to disengage. Stewart could have changed that dramatically!
" His senior subordinate, Longstreet, counseled a strategic movethe Army should leave its current position, swing around the Union left flank, and interpose itself on Meade's lines of communication, inviting an attack by Meade that could be received on advantageous ground. Longstreet argued that this was the entire point of the Gettysburg campaign, to move strategically into enemy territory but fight only defensive battles there. Lee rejected this argument because he was concerned about the morale of his soldiers having to give up the ground for which they fought so hard the day before. He wanted to retain the initiative and had a high degree of confidence in the ability of his army to succeed in any endeavor, an opinion bolstered by their spectacular victories the previous day and at Chancellorsville."
In his memoirs, and perhaps aided by hindsight, Longstreet said the Union line, being curved in, would enable the Yankees to reinforce any position that came under attack. He also projected that the Yankees had amassed a huge force, from stale intel, by considering Union forces known to be en route to Gettysburg and the distance infantry in forced march could move per day.
Having said this, it should be pointed out that the Yankees “won” the Battle of Gettysburg only in the sense that Lee did not defeat them. On the other, all Lee would have accomplished had he defeated Meade was to be confronted by what I will call a phantom army of 70,000 under the command of the Governor of Pennsylvania. This phantom army was drawn from the militia and the civilian populations of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, almost overnight, at Harrisburg, by the Pennsylvania RR and other railroad companies.
Gettysburg was a strategic and moral victory for the North because the war had become a war of attrition, and the Union states were several times larger in population and capital.
I think Stuart’s role was not so much to cooperate with Pickett in the attack as to exploit the confusion created by Pickett’s successful attack.
No success by Pickett and no resulting confusion would have meant Stuart attacking formed infantry with cavalry, which in this war never worked out very well.
And yeah, Thomas was rather methodical preferring solid low-casualty operations rather than battles of attrition. BTW, Sherman took his best troops, most of his artillery, and all his cavalry horses for the "March to the Sea."
Thomas reorganized and won the Battle of Nashville, a textbook victory, in his own sweet time, the most clear cut Federal victory of the war. Sour grapes for Grant and Sherman!
I think this is a mistake, though a common one. The charge failed because the Union soldiers stopped it. The Confederacy wasn't the only army on the field, and their mistakes weren't the only thing affecting the outcome.
When your eyes and ears are out foraging instead of developing operational intelligence on enemy formations, you’re pretty much screwed. And yes, spot on with your summary.
I’m sure it was fun playing with the computers and maps, though.
I think you mean George Henry Thomas (he really gets no respect).
In 1877, Sherman published an article praising Grant and Thomas, and contrasting them to Robert E. Lee. After noting that Thomas, unlike his fellow Virginian Lee, stood by the Union, Sherman wrote:During the whole war his services were transcendent, winning the first substantial victory at Mill Springs in Kentucky, January 20th, 1862, participating in all the campaigns of the West in 1862-3-4, and finally, December 16th, 1864 annihilating the army of Hood, which in mid winter had advanced to Nashville to besiege him.
His horse, Billy, was named after Sherman.
It is possible to be on the strategic offensive but fight a tactical defense. Alesia comes to mind.
Just watched the movie again, and it makes it look like the 20th Maine single handledly held off the Rebel Army. Love watching, it but I had to call BS on that one.
Amazing that the tragedy of the Civil War is still on our minds ... and is where it should stay.
Here, this would appear to be that show:
“A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg”
BookTV is a CSPAN2 web site.
I agree nothing new in this research, but I enjoy the map. Once Ewell failed to take Culp’s Hill it was unwinnable by Lee.
Of course Col. Chamberlain did exactly that, taking a minié ball in the unmentionables while he was at it. Or so we were taught when Maine still had functioning public schools.
When I visited Gettysburg, I was informed that troops from other states were present. A damned lie and obvious propaganda, Sir! They would have only gotten in the way of the valiant troops from Maine.
Why, without the interference of troops from away, the men of Maine would have had this insurrection quelled in 1862!
Very good. LOL!
There is no doubt that the Union defeated the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. The Southern Army and its commanders are always and forever felt to be gallant and noble. There is the concept, not understood today, of the noble enemy. The idea is partially illustrated by Grant’s statement regarding Lee: “ No finer man ever served a worse cause.” Lee was the noble enemy.
I think Lee had very long supply lines which were vunerable and he didn’t have time on his side. Thus going offensive was a good option before the Yanks started to hit his long supply tail.
OTOH, he should have know that before he wandered in Pennsylvania.
Everytime Lee went into Yankee territory he got hit hard. Maybe offensive action in enemy territory was his weak point?
Your right and the earlier loss of Jackson crippled Lee.
On the first day of the battle, leading elements of both armies met at Gettysburg, clashed, the North moved to the the high ground and the South failed to dislodge them.
At the beginning of the second day, Longstreet advised Lee to disengage and move towards Washington in order to look for better ground. Lee decided to stay, fight and took heavy losses for the next two days, losing the battle.
Such as with an EMP weapon, or solar disturbances.