Day 2: McLaws on Failed Reconnaissance

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW:REGISTER HERE!

lelliott19

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
Messages
5,956
1565240088756.png

"But when Major Johnson [sic], who was conducting my division, came suddenly in view of Round Top, with the enemy's signal flags waving thereon, he appeared equally as astonished as I was. And, therefore, if General Lee was relying on his report, he was misinformed as to the true condition of affairs. I had been forbidden to reconnoiter, so had my engineer officer. General Longstreet had not done it, and General Lee had not... "

Here's another excerpt from Lafayette McLaws' 1878 paper, presented before the Georgia Historical Society. In this one, McLaws laments the lack of effective reconnaissance on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg. <NOTE: Spelling and punctuation errors retained from original, specifically "Major Johnson">

The march was continued at a very early hour and my command reached the hill overlooking Gettysburg early in the morning. Just after I arrived General Lee sent for me - as the head of my column was halted within a hundred yards of where he was - and I went at once and reported. General Lee was sitting on a fallen tree with a map beside him. After the usual salutation, General Lee remarked: "General, I wish you to place your division across this road," pointing on the map to about the place I afterwards went to, and directing my attention to about the place across the country from where we were, the position being a commanding one; "and I wish you to get there if possible without being seen by the enemy."​
The place he pointed out was about the one I afterwards went to, and the line he marked out on the map for me to occupy was one perpendicular to the Emmetsburg road. He finally remarked: "Can you get there?" or "Can you do it?" I replied that "I knew of nothing to prevent me, but would take a party of skirmishers and go in advance and reconnoiter." He said, "Major Johnson, of my staff, has been ordered to reconnoiter the ground, and I expect he is about ready." I then remarked, "I will go with him."​
Just then General Longstreet, who, when I came up, was walking back and forth some little distance from General Lee, and hearing my proposition or request to reconnoiter, spoke quickly and said, "No sir. I do not wish you to leave your division," and then, pointing to the map, said: "I wish your division placed so," running his finger in a direction perpendicular to that pointed out by General Lee. General Lee replied: "No, General, I wish it placed just perpendicular to that," or "just the opposite."​
I then reiterated my request to go with Major Johnson, but General Longstreet again forbade it. General Lee said nothing more, and I left them, and joining my command, put it under cover of a line of woods a short distance off. General Longstreet appeared as if he was irritated and annoyed, but the cause I did not ask. When I rejoined my command I sent my engineer officer, Lieutenant Monteure, to go and join Major Johnson, and gave him instructions what to observe particularly, as he was an officer in whom I had confidence, but [he] was ordered back.​
I then reconnoitered myself for my own information, and was soon convinced that by crossing the ridge where I then was, my command could reach the point indicated by General Lee, in a half hour, without being seen. I then went back to the head of my column and sat on my horse and saw in the distance the enemy coming, hour after hour, on to the battle ground.​
At length, my recollection is that it was about 1 pm, Major Johnston, of General Lee's staff, came to me and said he was ordered to to conduct me on the march. My command was at once put in motion, Major Johnson and myself riding some distance ahead. Suddenly, as we rose a hill on the road we were taking, the Round Top was plainly visible, with the flags of the signal men in rapid motion. <excerpt describing counter-march etc.>​
You will find, as I proceed, that General Longstreet had been ordered to partially envelope the enemy's left and drive it in with his command. But the officer who had made the reconnaissance, and was appointed to lead his troops by the necessary route, to carry our the order, carried Longstreet's leading division not on the flank, but in the immediate presence of a superior force, and so close that he could not withdraw in order to march farther to the left without serious complications. It is true he could have waited, but he was, as I understand it, urged to the assault. <excerpt rehashing details>​
I have stated that General Lee must have given his orders for the attack based upon false information, or perhaps it would be better to say wrong information. I am unable to find out whoever did reconnoiter the left, excepting that Major J. was ordered to do so. This I know, for General Lee himself told me. But when Major Johnson, who was conducting my division, came suddenly in view of Round Top, with the enemy's signal flags waving thereon, he appeared equally as astonished as I was. And, therefore, if General Lee was relying on his report, he was misinformed as to the true condition of affairs.​
I had been forbidden to reconnoiter, so had my engineer officer. General Longstreet had not done it, and General Lee had not, and, therefore, it must have been that Major Johnson had gone there early in the morning, and not seeing any one, had so reported, and if, after that time, a different state of affairs was known by anybody to exist, it had not been reported to either General Lee or General Longstreet; at least it appears so. All this resulted from defective and deficient organization of our staff corps, not from anybody's fault, but from the force of circumstances. <end of excerpt>​
Excerpt from: [Lafayette McLaws, "The Battle of Gettysburg," a paper presented before the Georgia Historical Society, January 7, 1878.]

Previously Posted Excerpts from McLaws' paper:
McLaws' View of Pickett's Charge https://civilwartalk.com/threads/view-of-picketts-charge-maj-gen-lafayette-mclaws-on-july-3.159910/
Hood's and McLaws' preparations just prior to the July 2 assault https://civilwartalk.com/threads/day-2-hoods-mclaws-divisions-prior-to-the-assault.160483/#post-2098161
McLaws' arrival on the field
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/day-2-mclaws-arrives-in-view-of-the-enemy.160745/#post-2101966
 
Last edited:

lelliott19

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
Messages
5,956
Where was McLaws when the exchange with Generals Lee and Longstreet took place on July 2, 1863?

For some reason, I thought the exchange happened when McLaws was arriving onto the battlefield, but he describes it as happening much earlier in the day, somewhere at least a half hour's march away. If that's the case, I thought McLaws' division camped the night of July 1 along Marsh Creek - at Bream's Mill, Black Horse Tavern, Crawford's, Cunningham's, etc.? Maybe I just assumed that because that's where the Brigade Hospitals were set up?

McLaws provides these hints:
1. ...my command reached the hill overlooking Gettysburg early in the morning.
2....was soon convinced that by crossing the ridge where I then was, my command could reach the point indicated by General Lee, in a half hour.
3. He describes it as occurring prior to the counter-march; before they reached the place where Round Top unexpectedly came into view.

@Tom Elmore @rpkennedy @Wallyfish @infomanpa @MRB1863 @pamc153PA can you help?
 

captaindrew

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 13, 2017
Messages
5,954
Location
West Palm Beach Florida
Could it have been in the vicinity of Lee's headquarters? This explains a little bit about what we were talking about on the other thread. Sounds like a serious lack of communication and I can't figure out why he wasn't allowed to take a look himself or send someone to take a look and see what the present situation was. Just doesn't make sense.
 

rpkennedy

Major
Joined
May 18, 2011
Messages
9,810
Location
Carlisle, PA
Where was McLaws when the exchange with Generals Lee and Longstreet took place on July 2, 1863?

For some reason, I thought the exchange happened when McLaws was arriving onto the battlefield, but he describes it as happening much earlier in the day, somewhere at least a half hour's march away. If that's the case, I thought McLaws' division camped the night of July 1 along Marsh Creek - at Bream's Mill, Black Horse Tavern, Crawford's, Cunningham's, etc.? Maybe I just assumed that because that's where the Brigade Hospitals were set up?

McLaws provides these hints:
1. ...my command reached the hill overlooking Gettysburg early in the morning.
2....was soon convinced that by crossing the ridge where I then was, my command could reach the point indicated by General Lee, in a half hour.
3. He describes it as occurring prior to the counter-march; before they reached the place where Round Top unexpectedly came into view.

@Tom Elmore @rpkennedy @Wallyfish @infomanpa @MRB1863 @pamc153PA can you help?
I would say that @captaindrew is correct. This meeting took place at Lee's HQ on Seminary Ridge.

Ryan
 

rpkennedy

Major
Joined
May 18, 2011
Messages
9,810
Location
Carlisle, PA
Could it have been in the vicinity of Lee's headquarters? This explains a little bit about what we were talking about on the other thread. Sounds like a serious lack of communication and I can't figure out why he wasn't allowed to take a look himself or send someone to take a look and see what the present situation was. Just doesn't make sense.
I think that Lee wanted McLaws to move out ASAP and thought that another reconnaissance to the same area would have been a waste of time. Of course, this was before Longstreet asked Lee to delay the plan so that Law could join the attack.

Ryan
 

Seduzal

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jun 19, 2013
Messages
5,844
Location
Canton, North Carolina
Thanks for sharing this awesome article. In my opinion, if Lee had better communications between his reconnaissance he would have planned a different battle plan at Gettysburg!
 

Wallyfish

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 26, 2015
Messages
1,394
Location
Greensburg, Pa
I am at camp without my books and have slow internet capabilities.

McLaws met Longstreet around 10 pm on July 1 probably in the Cashtown area. McLaws was ordered to camp at Marsh Creek and arrived there just after midnight. After a few hours rest, McLaws left for Gettysburg. So he was on the field early. Somewhere around 5 am.

I did find this "west of town" statement attributable to McLaws.

As events developed overnight and into July 2, Lee was never truly fixed to his headquarters. Early that morning, Lee, Longstreet and Major General Lafayette McLaws, having arrived overnight with his division, met with other officers to get their orders for the day. McLaws recalled the meeting that morning, west of town.

The Thompson house is west of town, but if they met at her house, why was a "west of town" phrase used?

Now going from memory, Lee met with McLaws around 8 in the morning. Lee detailed his offensive plan. Now I recall McLaws saying that Longstreet was "irritated and highly annoyed" (or something like that) upon hearing of Lee's offensive plan. I believe some historians also theorized that Longstreet was upset with Lee not only because of Lee's plan but also that Lee was giving orders without going through the proper chain of command.

Great question and I am looking forward to seeing more detailed responses.
 

Florida Rebel

Private
Joined
May 31, 2019
Messages
77
I had read this before. Sad. Just another example of Lee not being supported - AT ALL. Like I said before in some posts, with ONE very reluctant general (Longstreet) and TWO who were brand new at corp command, how was Lee supposed to win? And yet he almost did! What's that say about the Confederate soldier and the commanders on the ground like Hood, Barksdale, Armistead and others? But man oh man, were they let down by their superiors!
 

W117Monte

Private
Joined
Jun 23, 2017
Messages
85
Location
Hamburg
"But when Major Johnson, who was conducting my division, came suddenly in view of Round Top, with the enemy's signal flags waving thereon, he appeared equally as astonished as I was. And, therefore, if General Lee was relying on his report, he was misinformed as to the true condition of affairs."

This is very interesting. If Mclaws is remembering it correctly, that makes no sense what so ever and re enforces the theory that Johnston never actually got as far as the thought he did.
 

Andy Cardinal

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Messages
2,133
Location
Ohio
"But when Major Johnson, who was conducting my division, came suddenly in view of Round Top, with the enemy's signal flags waving thereon, he appeared equally as astonished as I was. And, therefore, if General Lee was relying on his report, he was misinformed as to the true condition of affairs."

This is very interesting. If Mclaws is remembering it correctly, that makes no sense what so ever and re enforces the theory that Johnston never actually got as far as the thought he did.
I think makes a certain amount of sense. If Johnson reached Little Round Top it was approximately 6:30 am. Hancock's corps not yet up, Sickles's bivouacked to the north around the Weikert house and did not occupy Little Round Top. Geary's division had spent the night in the area, but marched toward Culp's Hill at 5:30. Buford's cavalry was around the Peach Orchard, but not on Little Round Top. I'm not sure if the signalmen were on the hill at that time.

At 6:30 the hill itself was basically unoccupied and there was no infantry force south of the Weikert farm. There is no good reason I know of to doubt Johnson's report except that the situation was different at 3:30 than it was at 6:30. A lot can happen in 9 hours. I don't think you can blame Johnson when 9 hour old information turned out to be incorrect.
 
Last edited:

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Messages
2,454
An excellent article on Johnston's reconnaissance, by Allen R. Thompson, appeared in the July 2019 issue (61) of Gettysburg Magazine. Johnston wrote that he departed at daybreak, which was around 4:30 a.m. I would imagine he reached Little Round Top by 6 a.m. - after Geary's departure, and before the Signal Station was posted there (the first recorded signal was said to have been made at 9:30 a.m.) Johnston had reported back to Lee before 9 a.m. It was supposedly around 9 a.m. that Lee rode to Ewell's headquarters.

If Lee was sitting on a fallen tree, my guess is that he was on Seminary Ridge a short distance south of the Thompson house (and his headquarters tents opposite), which could well be the copse on the west side of the Seminary itself. Here is one reference from the early morning of July 2:

On Seminary Ridge, near his headquarters, Lee conversing with A. P. Hill. Soon Longstreet arrived. [Crumbling Defenses, or Memoirs and Reminiscences of John Logan Black, Colonel C.S.A., ed. and published by Eleanor D. McSwain, Macon, Georgia, 1960, p. 37]
 
Last edited:

rpkennedy

Major
Joined
May 18, 2011
Messages
9,810
Location
Carlisle, PA
I had read this before. Sad. Just another example of Lee not being supported - AT ALL. Like I said before in some posts, with ONE very reluctant general (Longstreet) and TWO who were brand new at corp command, how was Lee supposed to win? And yet he almost did! What's that say about the Confederate soldier and the commanders on the ground like Hood, Barksdale, Armistead and others? But man oh man, were they let down by their superiors!
And yet, Longstreet still launches one of the more devastating assaults of the war which shattered one division (Birney), part of another (Humphreys who was also attacked by part of Anderson's Division), and drove back 3 others (Caldwell, Barnes, and Ayres) while inflicting fairly heavy casualties. For a general who was reluctant, Longstreet did pretty well and followed Lee's plan pretty exactly.

Ryan
 

Alex Scotland

Corporal
Joined
Feb 26, 2015
Messages
424
Location
Glasgow, Scotland
Sad. Just another example of Lee not being supported - AT ALL. Like I said before in some posts, with ONE very reluctant general (Longstreet) and TWO who were brand new at corp command, how was Lee supposed to win? And yet he almost did!
As the commanding General, is it not up to Lee to know the ground over which he is asking his army to attack? IMO asking Major Johnson for reconnaissance in the early hours of the morning when it is still dark is a huge mistake which won't be noticed until just before the attack is under way. And by then off course it's too late.
 
Top