Interview: Longstreet says Lee displayed his greatest weakness as a tactical commander at Gettysburg

lelliott19

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Longstreet on Lee at Gburg.JPG

On the occasion of Longstreet's visit to Antietam in 1893, a correspondent of the Washington Post recorded the General's opinions on a number of topics. In this part of the interview, General Longstreet contends that General Lee displayed his greatest weakness as a tactical commander at Gettysburg.

"General Lee displayed his greatest weakness as a tactical commander at Gettysburg, although, for the reasons named, Antietam might well have been to us far more disastrous had the Federal army there been commanded by such a man as Grant. The tactics at Gettysburg were weak and fatal to success. General Lee's attack was made in detail, and not in one co-ordinate, overwhelming rush, as it should have been. The first collision was an unforeseen accident. We did not invade Pennsylvania to merely fight a battle. We could have gotten a battle anywhere in Virginia, and a very much better one than that offered us at Gettysburg. We invaded Pennsylvania not only as a diversion to demoralize and dishearten the North, but <hoping?> to draw the Federals into battle on our own terms. We were so to manoeuvre as to outgeneral the Union commander, as we had done in the Second Manassas campaign; in other words, to make opportunities for ourselves and take prompt advantage of the most favorable one that presented itself. I had confidence that this was the purpose of General Lee and that he could accomplish it. We were not hunting for any fight that was offered.

"When in the immediate presence of the enemy, General Lee reversed this offensive-defensive policy, the true and natural one for us, by precipitating his army against a stronghold from which I doubt if the Federals could have been driven by less than 100,000 fresh infantry. That is all there is of Gettysburg. We did the best we could; we failed simply because we had undertaken too great a contract and went about it in the wrong way. Like Pope at Manassas, Lee at Gettysburg outgeneraled himself."​

Sources
Interview: Reprinted from the Washington Post of June 1893, the interview appeared in The Times Dispatch. (Richmond, VA.), November 12, 1911, page 3.
Map: Ditterline, T, Corydon A Alvord, and P.S. Duval & Son. Field of Gettysburg, July 1st, 2nd & 3rd. New York: C.A. Alvord, Electrotyper and Printer, 1863. https://www.loc.gov/item/98690120/

Note: This post is Part 13 of a series on Longstreet's opinions of various Generals, expressed during an interview with a Washington Post corespondent in 1893. Longstreet's opinions on various generals are posted in separate threads so they can be easily located - Bragg, Jackson, A P Hill, Early, Ewell, Pickett, Sheridan, Joe Johnston, Beauregard, Hood, Jeff Davis, Lee, McClellan, and more. Here are the links to Parts 1-12, posted previously:
Part 1 - Intro to the article
Part 2 - Longstreet on Bragg
Part 3 - Longstreet on Jackson
Part 4 - Longstreet on AP Hill
Part 5 - Longstreet on Ewell & Early
Part 6 - Longstreet on Pickett, Sheridan, Five Forks & the Timing of the Surrender
Part 7 - Longstreet on Joe Johnston
Part 8 - Longstreet on Beauregard
Part 9 - Longstreet on Hood
Part 10 - Longstreet on Lee's military attributes
Part 11 - Lee's Best Battle
Part 12 - Lee's Poorest Generalship

<Up next - no surprise - Longstreet has more to say about Gettysburg.>
@Eleanor Rose @Union_Buff @FarawayFriend @War Horse @novushomus @GELongstreet @LeesWarhorse @Tom Elmore @Coonewah Creek @Yankeedave @Andy Cardinal @PeterT @Zella If you aren't tagged and would like to receive notification when these are posted, let me know and Ill tag you in future ones.
 
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#2
We invaded Pennsylvania not only as a diversion to demoralize and dishearten the North, but <hoping?> to draw the Federals into battle on our own terms.
I thought that Lee had invaded Pennsylvania in tge first place to draw the armies away from the South, to give southern farmers a respite?

We did the best we could; we failed simply because we had undertaken too great a contract and went about it in the wrong way. Like Pope at Manassas, Lee at Gettysburg outgeneraled himself."
I think Lee would even agree here to a certain degree, he said himself that he had asked too much from his Infantry. His immediate reaction was "it's all my fault" and I think he was correct in that. He even offered to resign, although it's questionable how honest that offer really was.
It's just surprising that his star did not fall after Gettysburg. Lincoln would have fired his General for such a performance or make him resign, but Lee was allowed to stay - probably because he was still the best man on that post.
 

TomV71

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I thought that Lee had invaded Pennsylvania in tge first place to draw the armies away from the South, to give southern farmers a respite?
Thats what I have always read too, let the fields in Northern Virginia rest for a fresh crop, but also try win a victory on Northern soil that might pursue peace talks.
 

jackt62

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To be fair, Lee was placed in a difficult situation at Gettysburg. He did not mean to precipatate a battle but his lack of intelligence on the whereabouts of federal forces (due to Stuart's absence), and A.P. Hill's eagerness to advance towards Gettysburg the morning of July 1st, meant that battle was forced upon him. While Lee bears responsibility for many of the ANV's problems at Gettysburg, Longstreet's criticism of Lee should also be considered in light of the abuse that was heaped on him (Longstreet) for his alleged failings.
 
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#6
After the 17th of June, 1863, each side knew that Grant had Vicksburg in a victory grip. Any attempt to relieve the Vicksburg garrison would be deflected into the triangle formed by the Big Black and the Mississippi and trapped.
It was too late to change the strategic choices.
General Lee fought Gettysburg knowing that the political situation was going to change in favor of the United States. He had a rough idea that the Vicksburg garrison was on a day-to-day survival basis.
It dictated the choices Lee made and when it did not work he took responsibility for the result. I think he wanted the war to end that year, one way or another.
 



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