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The most important action at Gettysburg?

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Thommo, Feb 4, 2017.

  1. Thommo

    Thommo Private

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    Given that there is a vast amount of information on Gettysburg, how about adding your impressions to a Brit's understanding of the battle? I've read loads on the battle recently and I'd be interested to hear your views on the most important single element to the battle. Chamberlain's defence? Failure to co-ordinate attacks around Pickett's charge? The actions at East Cavalry Field? Buford's determined stand? I'd love to hear your views!
     

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  3. Wallyfish

    Wallyfish Corporal Trivia Game Winner

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    I frequently change my mind on this question. I have always maintained that Buford's day one delaying action allowed the battle to take place. Otherwise we may be talking about the battle of Pipe Creek (or somewhere else) instead. And of course what did Extra Billy Smith really see on the York road has always intrigued me on Day 1 (loved Scott Mingus' book on Extra Billy).

    However, Day 2 actions have always interested me the most in how they critically impacted the battles outcome. I have always questioned why Lee allowed Ewell's corps to remain east of Gettysburg during the critical afternoon where confederate troops were badly needed from the Bliss Farm south to the Round Tops. I also believe the wounding of John Bell Hood loomed large on the day 2 confederate actions on the south end of the battle.

    Any large success or failure requires a sequence of events occurring that impacted the ending results. A battle such as Gettysburg has so many "events" that were critical in determine the Union's victory. So there are so many places to look in answering your question.

    Robert E Lee did not have a great 3 days at Gettysburg. Eric Wittenberg and JD Petruzzi wrote an excellent book on JEB Stuart's controversial ride to Gettysburg. I think the "Plenty of Blame to go around" best fits the ultimate answer.

    For what's it worth, I frequently change my mind on this and over time I have opined culpability on most every major action.
     
  4. Thommo

    Thommo Private

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    Isn't that why history is so interesting? A friend and I have had a similar discussion about Waterloo for as long as we've known each other!
     
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  5. kel1985

    kel1985 2nd Lieutenant

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    I agree that were it not for Buford's stand on the first day, the battle would have occurred elsewhere.
    But as far as the battle itself, I would put a lot of importance on holding Culp's Hill. Had the Confederates taken the hill, they would have had high ground versus Cemetery Ridge, which would have made things play out differently (although I don't believe the outcome of the battle would have changed).
    I don't believe the CSA had the manpower or supplies to fight, win and maintain an offense stance.
     
  6. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    That's the thing about Gettysburg, there are dozens of events, large and small, that contributed to the final outcome. But as for size, audacity and drama the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge on July 3 beats all, in my opinion.
     
  7. Wallyfish

    Wallyfish Corporal Trivia Game Winner

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    My first response was more strategical "what if" related.

    In terms of actual battle actions, I have two places on the battlefield that I stand in awe at. They were both important actions in a battle of many strategically important actions.

    The first is Day 1 action. I stand near the 19th Indiana, 24th Michigan and 26th NC monuments on Stone/Meredith Avenues. The delaying action of the Iron Brigade played a significant role on Day 1. Ken Burns in his epic Civil War tv series on PBS said that compared to Day 2 and 3, the first day was just a skirmish (something like that anyway). But look at the casualty figures for the Iron Brigade and the 26th NC (I know they were in PPT charge too) and you will see that the battle there was not a skirmish. I would love to know if that area had the highest combined casualty rate in the entire CW.

    The second action was the charge of the First Minnesota. There were thousands of heroic actions at Gettysburg, but none strike me in awe like the First Minnesota charge on Day 2. Imagine the courage it took to for that small regiment to charge when they were so badly out numbered. Why this charge isn't better known is a mystery to me.

    From their monument:
    On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles' Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.

    As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.

    The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy's front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 82% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett's charge losing 17 more men killed & wounded.


    So many important actions, so little time.
     
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  8. Scott Mingus

    Scott Mingus Private

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    Thanks for the kind words about my biography of Extra Billy! He was quite the character.
     
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  9. E_just_E

    E_just_E 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    I think that there are a lot and lot and lot of moments all 3 days, but I think that the most important actions were: a. for the Federals to claim and deciding to defend Cemetery Hill, instead of retreating South and b. for the Confederates to decide and attack the Federals' fortified positions instead of retreating to higher ground West of town and waiting for a Federal attack.
     
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  10. Wallyfish

    Wallyfish Corporal Trivia Game Winner

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    The beauty of this type of question is there are no wrong answers. A battle as large as Gettysburg required a "symphony of synergy" to determine its outcome. I do enjoy reading people's thoughts tho.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2017
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  11. Jamieva

    Jamieva 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

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    the 24 hour period from early evening of july 1 to early evening of july 2.
     
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  12. MaryDee

    MaryDee First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    Not an expert, but to me, Buford's actions on Day 1 were critical. He recognized the importance of Cemetery Ridge. So did Reynolds when he arrived, and, later, Uh-Oh Howard. And, of course, Hancock.
     
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  13. ivanj05

    ivanj05 Sergeant

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    There's probably no wrong answer to this, but I'll advance my opinion as to the two most critical choices made at Gettysburg. One was the First and Eleventh Corps sticking to Cemetery Hill on the 1st rather than falling back further. The other was Sickles advancing the Third Corps out into the Peach Orchard and Wheatfield.

    July 2 was perhaps the most critical day of the entire campaign, and the results of day two revolve around those particular choices.

    YMMV, of course.
     
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  14. Malingerer

    Malingerer First Sergeant

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    How about Reynolds' decision to fight it out with the the 1st and 11th corps west and north of town on July 1 instead of falling back to the Pipe Creek Line once it was clear that he was up against two thirds of Lee's army? Whether he meant to or not, it sorta forced Mead's hand into fighting it out at G-burg lest it be seen as another Hooker-like withdrawal.
     
  15. FZ11

    FZ11 Sergeant Major

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    Day 2....Meade shifting his right flank troops to his left flank to compensate for Sickles blunder.
     
  16. hughes

    hughes Private

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    General Howard posting a division on Cemetery Hill and maintaining it as a reserve throughout the developing battle so that it was prepared to receive a Confederate assault in the aftermath of the retreat was, I believe, a crucial decision.
     
  17. LibertyAndUnion

    LibertyAndUnion Private

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    The 5,000 casualties of the 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac over about 7 hours on July 1. So much forgotten by so many these days, so crucial to the war's biggest battle.
     
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  18. Kip124thNY

    Kip124thNY Private

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    I think Buford's action on Day 1 was crucial and help set the eventual outcome of the battle in motion. But with that being said there were numerous actions during the three days that can be debated which were just as important or maybe more so.
     
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  19. CW3O

    CW3O Sergeant

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    Buford and Reynolds decision on Day 1, framed the battle to happen. Buford conducted an exceptional delaying action, Reynolds recognized excellent terrain and the die was cast. Without these two, no great battle at Gettysburg.
     
  20. SouthernYankee

    SouthernYankee Private

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    I wholeheartedly agree with everyone who says that pretty much every aspect of Gettysburg was important to the outcome.

    One really important moment that I think is often overlooked is the stand of the 4th Maine Infantry, 124th New York Infantry, 99th Pennsylvania Infantry, and the 4th New York artillery in Devil's Den.

    As the rest of Sickles' Corps was quickly falling apart, these three infantry regiments and one battery of artillery managed to delay Hood's division long enough for Vincent's brigade to secure Little Round Top.

    Were it not for this, Colonel Vincent and his brigade may have arrived to find rebel guns staring down at them.
     
  21. frontrank2

    frontrank2 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    There are so many events that affected the battle's outcome, ( Buford, Ewell, Greene, Pickett's Charge etc. ) but for my two cents worth I'm going to say the charge of the 1st Minnesota was the most important. On the second day, Hancock ordered the 1st to attack a much larger force ( 262 vs. 1600 ) which was Wilcox's Brigade, being instructed by Hancock to take the enemy's colors. Their charge bought time for reinforcements to be brought up and it prevented the Confederates from pushing the Federals off of Cemetery Ridge. In addition, the 1st lost 215 men out of the original 262.

    800px-1st_Minnesota_at_Gettysburg.jpg
     

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