Brass Napoleon Award Interview: Longstreet says Lee's pugnacity got the better of strategy at Gettysburg

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

lelliott19

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
Messages
6,184
brass napoleon award.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 suggests that General Lee's pugnacity got the better of his strategy at Gettysburg.
Lee pugnacity v strategy.JPG


"It was at Gettysburg," resumed General Longstreet, "where General Lee's pugnacity got the better of his strategy and judgement and came near being fatal to his army and cause. On the third day, when I said to him that no fifteen thousand soldiers the world ever produced could make the march of a mile under that tremendous artillery and musketry fire and break the Federal line along Cemetery Ridge, he determinedly replied that the enemy was there and that he must attack. His blood was up. All the vast interests at stake and the improbability of success would not deter him. In the immediate presence of the enemy, General Lee's mind, at all other times calm and clear, became excited. The same may be said of McClellan, Gustavas Smith, and most other highly educated, theoretical soldiers. Now, while I was popularly called a fighting general, it was entirely different with me. When the enemy was in sight I was content to wait for the most favorable moment to strike---to estimate chances and even decline battle if I thought them against me. There was no element in the situation that compelled General Lee to fight the odds at Gettysburg.
"General Lee had the absolute confidence of his own troops and the almost unquestioning support of his subordinates. He had, by a series of successes, completely overawed the Federal commander, and was wholesomely feared by the Federal rank and file, who undoubtedly considered him the easy superior of their own generals. These were tremendous advantages."​

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: Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. Gettysburg and vicinity, showing the position of the troops July 3,third day's fight... 1863. https://www.loc.gov/item/99447229/.

Note: This post is Part 14 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 1-13, 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
Part 13 - Lee's greatest weakness as tactical commander

<Up next - Longstreet on Meade.>
@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.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

War Horse

Captain
Forum Host
Member of the Year
Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017
Joined
Sep 4, 2014
Messages
6,638
Location
Lexington, SC
View attachment 209889
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 suggests that General Lee's pugnacity got the better of his strategy at Gettysburg.

"It was at Gettysburg," resumed General Longstreet, "where General Lee's pugnacity got the better of his strategy and judgement and came near being fatal to his army and cause. On the third day, when I said to him that no fifteen thousand soldiers the world ever produced could make the march of a mile under that tremendous artillery and musketry fire and break the Federal line along Cemetery Ridge, he determinedly replied that the enemy was there and that he must attack. His blood was up. All the vast interests at stake and the improbability of success would not deter him. In the immediate presence of the enemy, General Lee's mind, at all other times calm and clear, became excited. The same may be said of McClellan, Gustavas Smith, and most other highly educated, theoretical soldiers. Now, while I was popularly called a fighting general, it was entirely different with me. When the enemy was in sight I was content to wait for the most favorable moment to strike---to estimate chances and even decline battle if I thought them against me. There was no element in the situation that compelled General Lee to fight the odds at Gettysburg.

"General Lee had the absolute confidence of his own troops and the almost unquestioning support of his subordinates. He had, by a series of successes, completely overawed the Federal commander, and was wholesomely feared by the Federal rank and file, who undoubtedly considered him the easy superior of their own generals. These were tremendous advantages."​

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: Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. Gettysburg and vicinity, showing the position of the troops July 3,third day's fight... 1863. https://www.loc.gov/item/99447229/.

Note: This post is Part 14 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 1-13, 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
Part 13 - Lee's greatest weakness as tactical commander

<Up next - Longstreet on Gettysburg controversies.>
@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.
Yet his disadvantages were numeric and terrain. No one can argue this point unless their minds are clouded by lost cause metrology.
 
Last edited:

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Messages
10,841
He had, by a series of successes, completely overawed the Federal commander, and was wholesomely feared by the Federal rank and file, who undoubtedly considered him the easy superior of their own generals. These were tremendous advantages."
I wonder how he judged this? I cannot see in anything that I have read that Meade was "over-awed" by Lee. Cautious certainly, after all he had only been in command for 3 days and he was cautious by nature, but I cannot see that he had any trepidation about facing Lee at any point.
I would suggest that the Union army was only to eager to get at the Army of Northern Virginia as well, both to get them out of Pennsylvania and because they they felt they needed to redeem themselves after Chancellorsville.
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

lelliott19

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
Messages
6,184
I wonder how he judged this? I cannot see in anything that I have read that Meade was "over-awed" by Lee. Cautious certainly, after all he had only been in command for 3 days and he was cautious by nature, but I cannot see that he had any trepidation about facing Lee at any point.
Ill swap around the order I had planned to post these in and post next Longstreet's opinion on Meade's lost opportunity. I haven't read that part thoroughly, but perhaps it includes some context for the above statement?
 

Carronade

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Messages
4,686
Location
Pennsylvania
He had, by a series of successes, completely overawed the Federal commander, and was wholesomely feared by the Federal rank and file, who undoubtedly considered him the easy superior of their own generals.
I wonder how he judged this? I cannot see in anything that I have read that Meade was "over-awed" by Lee. Cautious certainly, after all he had only been in command for 3 days and he was cautious by nature, but I cannot see that he had any trepidation about facing Lee at any point.
There's a degree of truth to that, but Longstreet's language seems exaggerated and suggest a level of egotism I would not associate with Lee. Lee was also the one who said "General Meade will make no mistake in our front."
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

UKMarkw

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 6, 2012
Messages
743
Location
Portsmouth, England
I wonder how he judged this? I cannot see in anything that I have read that Meade was "over-awed" by Lee. Cautious certainly, after all he had only been in command for 3 days and he was cautious by nature, but I cannot see that he had any trepidation about facing Lee at any point.
I would suggest that the Union army was only to eager to get at the Army of Northern Virginia as well, both to get them out of Pennsylvania and because they they felt they needed to redeem themselves after Chancellorsville.
It would be difficult not to look over the battlefield at this enemy and not be at least in awe of the man who had been so successful in circumstances where others would have failed. Maybe not over-awed though
 

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,755
I wonder how he judged this? I cannot see in anything that I have read that Meade was "over-awed" by Lee. Cautious certainly, after all he had only been in command for 3 days and he was cautious by nature, but I cannot see that he had any trepidation about facing Lee at any point.
I would suggest that the Union army was only to eager to get at the Army of Northern Virginia as well, both to get them out of Pennsylvania and because they they felt they needed to redeem themselves after Chancellorsville.
Lee's record of success gave his troops great confidence and was certainly demoralizing to the US forces. However, I believe Longstreet's admiration of Lee colored his assessment of Meade. As the new commander, Meade clearly was under great pressure. He greatly respected his adversary, but I don't believe he was "overawed".
The bottom line is that at Gettysburg, Meade was the better commander.
 

War Horse

Captain
Forum Host
Member of the Year
Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017
Joined
Sep 4, 2014
Messages
6,638
Location
Lexington, SC
Lee's record of success gave his troops great confidence and was certainly demoralizing to the US forces. However, I believe Longstreet's admiration of Lee colored his assessment of Meade. As the new commander, Meade clearly was under great pressure. He greatly respected his adversary, but I don't believe he was "overawed".
The bottom line is that at Gettysburg, Meade was the better commander.
Meade certainly was anything but in awe of Lee. Lee was greatly respected by Meade, which was wise on Meades part. The truth is, Meade encountered many obsticals in his persuit of the ANV, the weather being only one of them. The same mountain passes that caused Longstreet great trepidation for the ANV’s safety worked to Lee’s advantage during the retreat. Weather beaten and trampled by thousands of Confederates left the passes impassable for the AOP. This combined with the fact the passes made for great ambush opportunities. Narrow and steep which would have forced a pursuing army to treverse them nearly single file. They would have been sitting ducks for Lee’s rearguard who would have cut them to pieces. Meade was wise to choose a different route. As for Mine Run and Falling Waters, the old King of Spades was never better. Meade probed and Probed for a weak point in Lee’s lines. Every time he thought he found one it would vanish into nothing. All the while Lincoln grew more and more impatient.

Potential disaster stood before Meade had he have been foolish enough to go headlong into Lee’s defense works. It was truly a Damed if you do and Damed if you don’t situation.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

War Horse

Captain
Forum Host
Member of the Year
Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017
Joined
Sep 4, 2014
Messages
6,638
Location
Lexington, SC
There's a degree of truth to that, but Longstreet's language seems exaggerated and suggest a level of egotism I would not associate with Lee. Lee was also the one who said "General Meade will make no mistake in our front."
I’m not disagreeing, just thinking out loud. If Pickett’s Charge wasn’t arrogant what was it? I’ve pondered this over and over for years now. No military manual in existence would have agreed with a frontal assault of so few men against so many entrenched combatants. The only answer I can come up with is. The man thought he couldn’t lose. Is that arrogant? I don’t know what else to call it.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Messages
8,739
Location
Hannover, Germany
The man thought he couldn’t lose. Is that arrogant? I don’t know what else to call it.
I don't know - arrogant is such a negative word…
He was too confident, maybe even too careless of what could be asked of men who had already gone beyond their limits to just arrive there … all the forced marches and lack of sleep.
But arrogant? To me arrogance includes a lack of respect, and I think Lee respected the enemy at all times…

I can't help it, to me Pickett's Charge always looked like the desperate attempt to force a turn of fate, throwing in all his might even against overwhelming odds… as if he challenged Mars himself to give him that victory.
Well, while I'm writing this … hmmm, you could be right indeed, it could be a kind of arrogance….
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Carronade

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Messages
4,686
Location
Pennsylvania
I’m not disagreeing, just thinking out loud. If Pickett’s Charge wasn’t arrogant what was it? I’ve pondered this over and over for years now. No military manual in existence would have agreed with a frontal assault of so few men against so many entrenched combatants. The only answer I can come up with is. The man thought he couldn’t lose. Is that arrogant? I don’t know what else to call it.
I would call it something close to desperation. The Confederacy was losing the war. Vicksburg, Pemberton's army, and the Mississippi were about to be lost. Bragg was falling back in Tennessee. The Confederacy was being slowly but steadily eroded, and the only bit of territory they had taken back was Galveston harbor. They had considered sending some of Lee's troops to the west, but he insisted that the strike north was the best chance of turning the tide. The fate of the Confederacy was entrusted to him.

Lee needed a decisive victory, not another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville where the armies fought for a bit and marched back to their camps to read about Grant and Rosecrans and do it all over again a few months later. He had tried for two days to win that victory. He'd used up ammunition and supplies, he couldn't forage with the Union army in close proximity, and he had a train of wounded to get home. If he broke off the battle without crushing the Army of the Potomac, there was nothing to do but go home, having failed to save his nation.

So I think he felt he had to make one more try before giving up. He did have a great deal of confidence in his men, and outwardly of course he showed nothing but confidence, but inside he may have been thinking "Hopefully we can pull this off" more than "Of course we can whip them".

After it was over, Lee told his men "It was all my fault". He knew the chance he had taken.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 6, 2017
Messages
929
Location
UK
I’m not disagreeing, just thinking out loud. If Pickett’s Charge wasn’t arrogant what was it? I’ve pondered this over and over for years now. No military manual in existence would have agreed with a frontal assault of so few men against so many entrenched combatants. The only answer I can come up with is. The man thought he couldn’t lose. Is that arrogant? I don’t know what else to call it.
I must respectfully slightly disagree.

The PPT is to some degree out of Napoleon's manual. Or at least it is as originally devised. In as much as:

1) Create a 'Grand Battery' and use it to bombard the point of attack.
2) Launch a simultaneous diversionary attack (Ewell/ Early/ Johnson) and cannonade.
3) Launch the assault, complete with artillery batteries and other brigades in close support.

Of course as we all know pretty much none of this happens.

The Grand Battery has ammunition it is unfamiliar with... and insufficient amounts of it at that.
The diversionary attack has been snuffed out well before the PPT charge. (Furthermore there is no matching cannonade because the ground is unuitable. Benner's Hill etc.)
The assault is insufficiently supported... and is oddly arrayed and indeed composed of the wrong troops.

However when done right i.e the final assault at Solferino but a few years earlier this tactic works fine. My problem therefore isnt so much with the tactic but the implementation. Also with Lee becoming so fixated on it that after the diversionary assault is no longer a factor he continues with the plan anyway. He also is in the right place to see that some of the selected brigades had previously been badly shot up and that fresh brigades were available. I also believe he should have known more about the parlous nature of his artillery ammunition but as Longstreet suggests in the article Lee 'had his dander up' (to quote the movie).

Of course others may differ in their interpretation but I think the plan - as originally devised - had a chance of taking its objective. There is of course the question of what the Confederates were supposed to do once they had the so called copse of trees but thats another matter...
 

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,755
I think the plan - as originally devised - had a chance of taking its objective.
True, there was "a chance", though one with poor odds. But the same can be said of other frontal assaults during the war, assaults by both sides. They were always a gamble.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,755
Potential disaster stood before Meade had he have been foolish enough to go headlong into Lee’s defense works.
Thanks for your response.
I agree that the expectations of Lincoln and others who blamed Meade for failing to follow up on his victory ignore the reality of the situation. His army was just as damaged as Lee's, his men and animals had not been fed in days and lacked shoes, socks, ammunition and other supplies. His command structure was in ruins. His orders from the beginning stressed maintaining a position between Lee and Washington and Baltimore. Worse, he did not know where Lee was going: rather than retreating, he might simply have been withdrawing to strike elsewhere. Indeed, he had received information that Lee's movement was only a feint.
Simply throwing all caution to the wind and ignoring the weakness of his own force for political reasons would have led to disaster. This became abundantly clear when Meade's engineers saw the rebel defenses at Williamsport.
Still, the assault almost happened as Meade decided against his better judgment to attack on July 14, 1863, if Lee was still there. Fortunately, disaster was averted because Lee had withdrawn overnight.
 

War Horse

Captain
Forum Host
Member of the Year
Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017
Joined
Sep 4, 2014
Messages
6,638
Location
Lexington, SC
I must respectfully slightly disagree.

The PPT is to some degree out of Napoleon's manual. Or at least it is as originally devised. In as much as:

1) Create a 'Grand Battery' and use it to bombard the point of attack.
2) Launch a simultaneous diversionary attack (Ewell/ Early/ Johnson) and cannonade.
3) Launch the assault, complete with artillery batteries and other brigades in close support.

Of course as we all know pretty much none of this happens.

The Grand Battery has ammunition it is unfamiliar with... and insufficient amounts of it at that.
The diversionary attack has been snuffed out well before the PPT charge. (Furthermore there is no matching cannonade because the ground is unuitable. Benner's Hill etc.)
The assault is insufficiently supported... and is oddly arrayed and indeed composed of the wrong troops.

However when done right i.e the final assault at Solferino but a few years earlier this tactic works fine. My problem therefore isnt so much with the tactic but the implementation. Also with Lee becoming so fixated on it that after the diversionary assault is no longer a factor he continues with the plan anyway. He also is in the right place to see that some of the selected brigades had previously been badly shot up and that fresh brigades were available. I also believe he should have known more about the parlous nature of his artillery ammunition but as Longstreet suggests in the article Lee 'had his dander up' (to quote the movie).

Of course others may differ in their interpretation but I think the plan - as originally devised - had a chance of taking its objective. There is of course the question of what the Confederates were supposed to do once they had the so called copse of trees but thats another matter...
You need to remember who was in charge of Meades Cavalry. Alfred Pleasanton. His role during the battle was subpar at best. Following the battle he was no better. I’ve always found it astonishing that Pleasanton allowed Gregg’s horse soldiers to bivouac outside of Chambersburg during the retreat. They basically sat out the entire event. Most of Meades generals were wounded or dead. He really wasn’t in very good shape at all.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
33,491
Location
Right here.
I’m not disagreeing, just thinking out loud. If Pickett’s Charge wasn’t arrogant what was it? I’ve pondered this over and over for years now. No military manual in existence would have agreed with a frontal assault of so few men against so many entrenched combatants. The only answer I can come up with is. The man thought he couldn’t lose. Is that arrogant? I don’t know what else to call it.
Well, there really weren't that many military manuals in existence, and Lee didn't confine himself to what was written in some manual.

He had seen his men drive superior Union forces off their position so many times before, most recently at Chancellorsville and the first day at Gettysburg. He had seen his men come within a hair of succeeding on the second day of the Gettysburg battle. He had plenty of reason to believe he would be successful after an artillery bombardment, with a diversionary attack, and with the undulating terrain on the approach to Cemetery Ridge.

Edit to add: Also, the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge weren't entrenched.
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top