Day 2-Longstreet's Attack up the Emmittsburg Road

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thomas aagaard

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Thanks, Cavalier and Andy, for your recommendations. Much appreciated. Regarding Irishtom29's request, please know that is not practical to take a 270,000 word manuscript and rewrite a short version on a discussion board.
Professional historians have to rewrite the Phds into short articles all the time... it is part of the job.
Nothing that stop you from posting a long text, or putting up a short version online and linking to it.

It might even make some people by your book
 
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jackt62

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Getting back to the original thread and some of the posts concerning Stuart's absence or Longstreet's alleged intransigence to making the attack on Day 2, it seems that had Lee had better intelligence on the whereabouts of the AOTP before he sent Ewell up towards Harrisburg, the best scenario would have been for the ANV to assume a strong defensive position along Seminary Ridge with Longstreet and Hill's Corps, and for Ewell deployed at Cemetery and Culps Hills. This could have been a plausible move had Lee been informed earlier, before the AOTP had time to come up, and would have resulted in the ANV positioned for a strong defense (akin to Fredericksburg), rather than having to operate offensively against the strong Union Fishhook line. Ironically, maneuvering the ANV so that the enemy would be forced to assault it is what Longstreet advocated all along. But by the time Longstreet launched his Day 2 attack, it was obviously too late.
 

War Horse

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There is a whole lot of information to absorb to come to the conclusion this question can’t possibly be answered definitively.

Keep a few things in mind when pondering day 2.

1. Lee never called for a dawn attack. He simply stated “as early as practicable”

2. Longstreet dragging his feet to launch his attack. Longstreet made no bones about it. His Corps was not fully up and he missed Law’s brigade and Pickett’s division. Longstreet waited for Law’s to come up. Pickett’s division was to far in the rear. This was a prudent delay on Longstreet’s part. He knew even with Law, his men would still be significantly out numbered.

3. Longstreet being criticized for not doing his own reconnoitering of the Union position. General Johnson of Lee’s staff was sent to reconnoiter the Union position on Little Round Top. Major Clark of Longstreet’s staff accompanied Johnson. Longstreet was with Lee as Johnson gave his report. When Johnson told the two men he had observed no activity on Little Round Top, General Lee turned to Johnson looking at him directly and asked point blank. You made it all the way to Little Round Top? Johnson answered yes, he had. There is good reason to believe Johnson believed he had made it to LRT but in fact had not. Longstreet would have definitely have benefited from sending scouts out to ensure his route was clear. He did not. The signal tower on LRT would have surely been there for Johnson and Clark to see. How could they have missed it? Good question, unless they had never truly made it there.

For whatever reason Longstreet choose to accept Johnson and Clark’s findings. Is there room for criticism here. Absolutely there is.

4. The infamous counter March. Once Longstreet discovered the Union forces on LRT he had no choice other than proceed via a different route. His choices were limited and he choose to turn and go back where they had come and move into position via another route. The problem here was the lead of his Column would now be the rear. Longstreet rectified this by having McLaws who was in the lead about-face and push through the column of troops. This was problematic at best. The roads were to small to accomplish a maneuver such as this without considerable delay. Once accomplished the troops were free to take undetected position. Was this a mistake worthy of criticism? A line of March is not organized by happenstance. General Longstreet very carefully choose his order of March and it is understandable and reasonable for him to wish to maintain it.

5. The attack itself. Longstreet himself had become extremely anxious due to the delays. Sickles had moved the Exceleior Brigade forward which unwittingly positioned the III Corps directly in the path of Longstreet’s attack.

As was Longstreet’s custom his 1st Corps unleashed a ferocious sledgehammer assault. The Confederates almost won the day regardless of the late 4:00 PM launch. Had it not been for Sickles being out of position Longstreet may have turned the Union left flank changing the course of the entire battle and possibly the outcome. Longstreet’s attack has been called possibly the finest fighting of the entire war.

6. Did Longstreet intentionally drag is feet because he was sulking. I think there is definitely some room For criticism however once you examine the events that took place you’ll understand there was sound reason for most of them. Once studied buy General Dwight Eisenhower, Ike felt it would have been impossible for Longstreet’s attack to have stepped off any earlier than 3:00 PM. As Ike put it when he was asked if he thought General James Longstreet was guilty of sabotaging Lee’s battle plan on day two because he was sulking due to not agreeing with the plan. Ike (who was a very knowledgable Civil War enthusiast) simply responded “No, Longstreet was far to good of a Soldier for that”

All battles are won and lost based on its battle plan and the ability for its officers to carry out those plans. In all battles mistakes are made. It’s easy to criticize after the fact.
 
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There is a whole lot of information to absorb to come to the conclusion this question can’t possibly be answered definitively.

Keep a few things in mind when pondering day 2.

1. Lee never called for a dawn attack. He simply stated “as early as practicable”

2. Longstreet dragging his feet to launch his attack. Longstreet made no bones about it. His Corps was not fully up and he missed Law’s brigade and Pickett’s division. Longstreet waited for Law’s to come up. Pickett’s division was to far in the rear. This was a prudent delay on Longstreet’s part. He knew even with Law, his men would still be significantly out numbered.

3. Longstreet being criticized for not doing his own reconnoitering of the Union position. General Johnson of Lee’s staff was sent to reconnoiter the Union position on Little Round Top. Major Clark of Longstreet’s staff accompanied Johnson. Longstreet was with Lee as Johnson gave his report. When Johnson told the two men he had observed no activity on Little Round Top, General Lee turned to Johnson looking at him directly and asked point blank. You made it all the way to Little Round Top? Johnson answered yes, he had. There is good reason to believe Johnson believed he had made it to LRT but in fact had not. Longstreet would have definitely have benefited from sending scouts out to ensure his route was clear. He did not. The signal tower on LRT would have surely been there for Johnson and Clark to see. How could they have missed it? Good question, unless they had never truly made it there.

For whatever reason Longstreet choose to accept Johnson and Clark’s findings. Is there room for criticism here. Absolutely there is.

4. The infamous counter March. Once Longstreet discovered the Union forces on LRT he had no choice other than proceed via a different route. His choices were limited and he choose to turn and go back where they had come and move into position via another route. The problem here was the lead of his Column would now be the rear. Longstreet rectified this by having McLaws who was in the lead about-face and push through the column of troops. This was problematic at best. The roads were to small to accomplish a maneuver such as this without considerable delay. Once accomplished the troops were free to take undetected position. Was this a mistake worthy of criticism? A line of March is not organized by happenstance. General Longstreet very carefully choose his order of March and it is understandable and reasonable for him to wish to maintain it.

5. The attack itself. Longstreet himself had become extremely anxious due to the delays. Sickles had moved the Exceleior Brigade forward which unwittingly positioned the III Corps directly in the path of Longstreet’s attack.

As was Longstreet’s custom his 1st Corps unleashed a ferocious sledgehammer assault. The Confederates almost won the day regardless of the late 4:00 PM launch. Had it not been for Sickles being out of position Longstreet may have turned the Union left flank changing the course of the entire battle and possibly the outcome. Longstreet’s attack has been called possibly the finest fighting of the entire war.

6. Did Longstreet intentionally drag is feet because he was sulking. I think there is definitely some room For criticism however once you examine the events that took place you’ll understand there was sound reason for most of them. Once studied buy General Dwight Eisenhower, Ike felt it would have been impossible for Longstreet’s attack to have stepped off any earlier than 3:00 PM. As Ike put it when he was asked if he thought General James Longstreet was guilty of sabotaging Lee’s battle plan on day two because he was sulking due to not agreeing with the plan. Ike (who was a very knowledgable Civil War enthusiast) simply responded “No, Longstreet was far to good of a Soldier for that”

All battles are won and lost based on its battle plan and the ability for its officers to carry out those plans. In all battles mistakes are made. It’s easy to criticize after the fact.
Mike, what a great post again! I missed your input a LOT!!

All I can say is that JEB Stuart and his cavalry; the eyes and ears of the Confederate Army were AWOL
That is a myth. JEB Stuart was by no means AWOL, but on the contrary, he was executing Lee's orders, which were, as was Lee's habit, not the most detailed ones. I recommend reading the following thread, started by our own @Eric Wittenberg for enlightenment:

Lee himself never criticized Stuart. That scene in the movie "Gettysburg" was dramatic, but it was fiction. There is another thread started by @War Horse where Lee's reaction to Stuart was discussed:
 
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Carronade

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Had it not been for Sickles being out of position Longstreet may have turned the Union left flank
Thanks for a good post, but I'm not understanding this bit. If Sickles had remained on Cemetery Ridge, Longstreet's troops would be to his front. The danger to the Union flank would come from Little Round Top, but I don't see how Sickles moving forward made that any less; it put LRT in 3rd Corps' left rear rather than on its left flank.

Had Sickles been in his proper place, he might have garrisoned LRT - he was sensitive to the danger of high ground overlooking his positions - or been able to move troops there when the Confederates threatened it. As it was, 3rd Corps didn't and couldn't do anything to prevent the Confederates flanking Cemetery Ridge; LRT had to be held by 5th Corps troops.

Maybe I'm missing something; if so I would appreciate clarification.
 
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Carronade

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Lee himself never criticized Stuart. That scene in the movie "Gettysburg" was dramatic, but it was fiction.
IIRC that account was written years later by an officer who was not present at the time. Lee was a good officer and practiced the rule "Praise in public, rebuke in private"; if he did say anything critical to Stuart, we wouldn't know about it.
 

Mr King

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Mike, what a great post again! I missed your input a LOT!!



That is a myth. JEB Stuart was by no means AWOL, but on the contrary, he was executing Lee's orders, which were, as was Lee's habit, not the most detailed ones. I recommend reading the following thread, started by our own @Eric Wittenberg for enlightenment:

Lee himself never criticized Stuart. That scene in the movie "Gettysburg" was dramatic, but it was fiction. There is another thread started by @War Horse where Lee's reaction to Stuart was discussed:
Thank you FarawayFriend for the correction! Like I said, someone on here can respond better than I on this issue. Keep up the good work!
 
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Irishtom29

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Had Sickles been in his proper place, he might have garrisoned LRT - he was sensitive to the danger of high ground overlooking his positions - or been able to move troops there when the Confederates threatened it. As it was, 3rd Corps didn't and couldn't do anything to prevent the Confederates flanking Cemetery Ridge; LRT had to be held by 5th Corps troops.
It's always been my understanding that Sickles moving out to the Emmitsburg Road and thus forming an exposed and lightly held salient was the very cause of the near disaster on the Federal left and that had Sickles stayed back he would've been on a straight, shorter and more densely defended line. As he covered Devil's Den anyway (though inadequately, obviously) it's no stretch (pun intended) to think he could've covered Little Round Top had he stayed back.
 

War Horse

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Thanks for a good post, but I'm not understanding this bit. If Sickles had remained on Cemetery Ridge, Longstreet's troops would be to his front. The danger to the Union flank would come from Little Round Top, but I don't see how Sickles moving forward made that any less; it put LRT in 3rd Corps' left rear rather than on its left flank.

Had Sickles been in his proper place, he might have garrisoned LRT - he was sensitive to the danger of high ground overlooking his positions - or been able to move troops there when the Confederates threatened it. As it was, 3rd Corps didn't and couldn't do anything to prevent the Confederates flanking Cemetery Ridge; LRT had to be held by 5th Corps troops.

Maybe I'm missing something; if so I would appreciate clarification.
Sickles assigned position on the left of the II Corps was the extreme Union left flank. By moving his men forward Sickles unwittingly created a Salient thus leaving his front and both sides exposed and vulnerable to attack. He learned of his error quickly when he dispatched the 2nd United States Sharpshooter and the 3rd Maine Volunteer Infantry to recon the woods. The two ran directly into Longstreet and his men and were quickly dispatched rag-tagged back to the III. Sickles was now under attack from Longstreet’s 1st Corps. Now Sickles understood the dilemma he was in cut off from the II Corps and his flank in the air. The Excelsior Brigade had absorbed the blunt of Longstreet’s attack.

Meade watched in horror as Longstreet dismantled Sickles and his men (pun intended). Sickles men fought valiantly while Meade rushed the V Corps into Sickles original position. Included in the 5th’s ranks were the 20th Maine who Strong Vincent dispatched to extend the Union flank onto LRT.

The rest is history. Both the V Corps and 2nd Corps now took action and saved what it could of Sickles Excelsior Brigade who were badly damaged.

As for Sickles, he would go down in history as the man who unwittingly saved the day at Gettysburg.

Many speculate had Sickles not have moved his men forward and absorbed the main thrust of Longstreet’s attack Longstreet would have easily rolled up Sickles and the extreme left flank of the Union line. Sickles original position was lower than the position he advanced to occupy and would have been a difficult position to defend.
 
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Sickles original position was lower than the position he advanced to occupy and would have been a difficult position to defend.
I was really impressed when @Eric Wittenberg showed us the position that had been intended for Sickles during the 2016 September to Remember reunion. I can absolutely understand that Sickles wanted to get out of there and think that he had the best of intentions when shifting his position at his own discretion. Do I remember correctly that Meade had had no idea of the actual terrain when he ordered Sickles to stay down below LRT? That demonstration of the depression where Sickles was meant to remain really changed my view on him. And if it was a mistake to advance and create that salient, he paid for it with the loss of his leg.
 
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War Horse

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I was really impressed when @Eric Wittenberg showed us the position that had been intended for Sickles during the 2016 September to Remember reunion. I can absolutely understand that Sickles wanted to get out of there and think that he had the best of intentions when shifting his position at his own discretion. Do I remember correctly that Meade had had no idea of the actual terrain when he ordered Sickles to stay down below LRT? That demonstration of the depression where Sickles was meant to remain really changed my view on him. And if it was a mistake to advance and create that salient, he paid for it with the loss of his leg.
Not to mention a lot of good men.
 

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I was really impressed when @Eric Wittenberg showed us the position that had been intended for Sickles during the 2016 September to Remember reunion. I can absolutely understand that Sickles wanted to get out of there and think that he had the best of intentions when shifting his position at his own discretion. Do I remember correctly that Meade had had no idea of the actual terrain when he ordered Sickles to stay down below LRT? That demonstration of the depression where Sickles was meant to remain really changed my view on him. And if it was a mistake to advance and create that salient, he paid for it with the loss of his leg.
The long and short of it was that Sickles made the wrong move for the right reasons. It's understandable why he did what he did but he did it in the most wrong way possible.

Ryan
 
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Okay, and he was disobeying orders - but I can't help me, the orders he had to stay were he was were also quite suicidal. Somehow I have a soft spot for Sickles, it seems. I can relate to why he shot Barton Key, his wife's paramour and I can relate that he felt he had to take things in his own hands on Day 2 and, hm, executed his orders in a pretty individual way... but at least his self given orders to shift position and unintentionally take the brunt of the Confederate attack on his forward position saved the Union line and bought the V. Corps time to arrive at the battlefield. Maybe he was not so very wrong when he later boasted that he had saved Day w for the Union...
 

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This is of course also fully and well-discussed in the recognized "classic" by Harry Pfanz, reviewed here: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/gettysburg-the-second-day-by-harry-w-pfanz.138577/

In regard to the specific subject here:

Union commander George Meade is given full credit for the eventual outcome of the day's activities, in contrast to the much weaker showing of Confederate leaders Lee, Longstreet, and especially A. P. Hill. Little is made of the confusion of the approach march of the divisions of John B. Hood and Lafayette McLaws; but a good deal of attention is given to the bizarre deployment of Wilcox's Brigade and the shifting of units of Sickles' Union Third Corps divisions and brigades. I gained a much better understanding of and appreciation for the difficulties and directions of the attacking Confederate units as they entered the battle, though again little was made of any supposed protestations on the part of Hood or his subordinates; instead, Lee's plan for the battle was seen as hopelessly flawed from the beginning due to faulty reconnaissance. I also gained a much fuller appreciation of the moves of Union reinforcing elements entering the contest, including those of the Second, Twelfth, and Sixth Corps at the end of the day along Cemetery Ridge that usually receive little or no coverage in most accounts.
 
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