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Lee's argument against Union reinforcements

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by MikeyB, Sep 13, 2018.

  1. MikeyB

    MikeyB Cadet

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    Hi everybody,
    I can understand most of Lee's logic underlying his rationale for striking the Union center on July 3rd. However, the one thing I can't understand is, when Longstreet turns to him and says, "General, the Union army is concentrated and any breakthrough they can plug very quickly. Whereas we need to send troops on a 20 minute march to exploit any breakthrough." What was going through Lee's mind to counter this argument?

    Did he think the artillery would literally annihilate the 2nd corps beyond repair?

    Was it hubris in that he couldn't possibly imagine the Yankees standing their ground and fighting? And any breakthrough would be followed by a general rout? Even though he knew was charging against Hancock and veteran Cloverleaf units and those people actually fought pretty stubbornly just the day before?

    Did he place too much faith in Stuart's plans to gain access to the Union rear and cause havoc?

    Did he think that Ewell's attack on Culp's Hill would pin down Union troops and preclude them from sending any reinforcements? Even this doesn't make sense as this was "feint" if you can call it that was over well in advance of the charge, and as far as I know, there wasn't any demonstration on the Confederate right/Union left.

    Thanks for the thoughts,
    mike
     

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  3. infomanpa

    infomanpa First Sergeant

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    Welcome, to our place, MikeyB. Your question is one that has been analyzed countless times over the last 150 years. Almost every book about the battle covers this question. Have you read any of these discussions? And if so, do you not understand or accept their conclusions or are you trying to stimulate discussion as to what the members here think?
     
  4. MikeyB

    MikeyB Cadet

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    Thank you for your reply.
    Admittedly, I've only really read Sears on Gettysburg. And after watching the (good, but flawed) Gettysburg again, the question just popped up as one I didn't have a good answer to in my head. Would obviously love to stimulate discussion and get input from members, however I fully appreciate that the most famous charge in the most famous battle of the war has probably been done to death, so would be just as happy with a couple of book recommendations which may provide more insight.

    As I said, I can understand his mindset about why the charge overall may work, the cannonade, flanks are strong, center is weak, and all of the supporting actions of the day. But even if I accept all of that goes well, I still don't fully understand what he says to Longstreet when he points out that thousands of Union reserves can be on the scene in minutes.
     
  5. infomanpa

    infomanpa First Sergeant

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    Try reading the analysis of the classic book on Gettysburg written by Edwin Coddington. His work emphasized the reasoning for decision making during that battle.
     
  6. Yankeedave

    Yankeedave 1st Lieutenant

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    Good Morning Sir,
    Meade has the inside track. He can easily reenforced if needed. The Culps Hill fight is petering out by the time of Pickett's Charge. I'm not saying Meade can now pull troops from there, but Lee does not know that.
     
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  7. IrishBrigade

    IrishBrigade Private

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    Lee over-estimated the effect of the artillery, the Confederate troops and their numbers. He under-estimated the Union army's resolve to defend their own ground and quite possibly their Generals who made key decisions on the day. Add into this the poor communication between the different sections of the ANV, the heat and terrain and you can see why it didn't work.

    Lee's blood was up though and his back was to the wall so he had to do something, I don't believe a retreat on day three was ever plausible.
     
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  8. Yankeedave

    Yankeedave 1st Lieutenant

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    I wonder if he hadn't gambled it all in Day 2. Expecting a victory where he had cut off the Union army from a southerly escape route. As this didn't happen, he had few alternatives.
    Retreat is possible, but not like Lee. Only when there is no other option. imho
     
  9. E_just_E

    E_just_E Moderator Moderator

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    Lee would had loved it if the AoP "escaped" South, leaving Philadelphia and New York "defended" only by militia :smile:
     
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  10. Stock

    Stock Private

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    It IS always a good question. in my opinion. Because it has been discussed forever, it is obvious no one really knows, everyone has an opinion. Settle for someone else's or try to refine it for yourself. Pick your poison. For me, sometimes I don't understand someone's conclusions, usually because I haven't seen the whole context of a discussion, or because I was reading too fast and just didn't catch some great observations. Sometimes I don't understand the geography of the situation or the timing of the troops in a particular area. I recently completed reading the book on Barksdale's Charge by Phillip Thomas Tucker, PHD. Reading that book has accomplished a couple of things to/for me. First, I now understand who Barksdale was in spite of more than 10 visits to the battlefield since my childhood. I understand why the union cannon along Wheatfield road are pointed that way (to the South). And, mostly, I never understood that the Mississippi troops may have actually fought there way up to the 'shank of the hook' of cemetary ridge to the north of LRT. A lot of makes more sense to me. It filled in some informational gaps for me. But, this writer also doesn't complement Longstreet much and seems to blame Longstreet for not supporting Barksdale. The writer thinks Barksdale charge was the high water mark of the confederacy rather than Picketts charge. I never thought badly of Longstreet but I think maybe he was actually part of the failure of the second day for not sending support to Barksdale.. I never thought about THAT.

    My point is, all of our opinions and perspectives are the result of the volume of what we have read and heard, the clarity of that information, our ability to understand those things and put them in our minds in an orderly way. Sometimes it is the order of how we got the information, sometimes it is simply enhancing our simple understandings, things we always thought were true but discover it may not be.

    Enough said I guess. For me, I am ALWAYS trying to put the million pieces of the puzzle of the battle together. And that is the very entertainment of trying to understand the Battle of Gettysburg.
     
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  11. E_just_E

    E_just_E Moderator Moderator

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    Ouch.

    Same guy who wrote the latest on Black Confederates, and insisted that JEB Steward was going after the Copse of the Trees in his Pickett's charge book.

    There are pieces and there are pieces to put together in that battle. The problem is that most of the pieces do not fit because they are make belief...

    Got to walk the field and think of what you read when you are reading it
     
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  12. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    Lee expected the artillery to advance with the infantry which didn't happen as they were short on ammunition. He also planned for a second wave after Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble went in, which also didn't happen. Would these two things have been enough to break the Union line....probably not, but who knows.
     
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  13. WJC

    WJC Moderator Moderator

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    Welcome! It is good that you are questioning the 'established wisdom'. Questioning is how we learn: don't ever lose that trait!
    From my reading, I believe Lee felt he had been so close on the prior two days that he underestimated the challenge faced by the assaults on July 3, 1863.
    He intended a two-pronged, roughly simultaneous attack: one on Culp's Hill, the other on Cemetery Ridge. He didn't account for the U. S. XII Corps' dawn artillery bombardment against the Confederates on Culp's Hill which caused Ewell's troops to prematurely attack in an unsuccessful and wasteful effort that ended by 11:00 AM, before the assault on Cemetery Ridge could be launched.
    Even if the two attacks had gone off as planned, it is unclear he would have been victorious. A number of units who would participate in the attack on Cemetery Ridge had suffered heavy casualties on July 2. His troops had to cover a lengthy, open ground to deliver the 'winning punch: Lee underestimated the distance. Meade enjoyed ease of reinforcement, communication, and supply afforded by interior lines of defense, which Lee seems to have not fully appreciated. Lee seems also to have underestimated the number of troops Meade had in reserve.
    Lee put much of his hopes on the artillery barrage, which was largely ineffective. Further, as Alexander points out, he was unable to follow the assault with supporting artillery because of lack of ammunition and guns inexplicably removed by Pendleton. Whatever Stewart was trying to accomplish east of Cemetery Ridge was thwarted by the U. S. Cavalry.
    Lee was totally correct in taking personal responsibility for the failure in his alleged remarks, "It is all my fault."
     
  14. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    I'll just leave it with there is no evidence that Barksdale's Mississippians made it to the "shank". The only troops to "break" the Union line on Cemetery Ridge were Wright's Georgians and that was only because elements of the brigade hit a spot that had been stripped of troops and sent to the south to shore up the Plum Run swale (and stopped Barksdale's men). Dr. Tucker has some interesting ideas that don't have a lot of evidence for them, as @E_just_E pointed out.

    Ryan
     
  15. MikeyB

    MikeyB Cadet

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    Thanks to all for the replies and education!
     
  16. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    The dialogue in the film is largely made up for the film or the novel it was based off, AIUI.

    It may be worthwhile to consider Lee's concept of operations.

    On day two, Lee wanted an echelon attack - his brigades attacking in sequence, with the intent being to draw reserves early and then strike at the hinge of the line (Howard's corps, which happened to also be the corps which had routed twice that year - Chancellorsville and Day One Gettysburg). The initial part of the attack went off fine (and drew reserves) but the coordination broke down, IIRC when a DC got hit.
    On day three, Lee wanted a manoeuvre sur les derrieres. He attacked on one flank, then the other, and after that he pushed an assault up the middle.
    The idea here is to draw off all available reserves with the flank attacks, so the breakthrough of the middle of the position is done without any reserves available to send.

    Both armies screwed up their coordination here. Meade did in fact commit all his reserves before Pickett's attack (resulting in a situation where any troops to send to the centre would first have to ploy before marching over and deploying - this would take about 45-60 minutes for troops a mile away, moving troops is slow) but there were quite a few troops available who weren't sent on Pickett's Charge who could have been used for support (to whit: Wright, Posey, Mahone, Thomas, Perrin).

    Lee's manoeuvres at Gettysburg on days 2 and 3 are basically in concept Napoleonic set-piece attacks, and there's not much wrong with them on that level; they didn't ignore Union reserves but planned to provoke them out before striking, and it worked in manipulating Meade's deployment in both cases.


    The dialogue in the film probably can't be trusted, The Killer Angels (the book on which it was based) made a lot of it up for story purposes.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2018 at 3:48 AM
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  17. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    It may be also worth thinking about the (perhaps obvious) fact that Pickett's Charge is criticized because it was tried and it failed. If Lee hadn't tried it, however, he would be criticized for leaving a chunk of his troops totally unengaged for the entire battle and for having attacked only in close terrain at either end of the line on Day Three (instead of the open terrain in the centre).
     

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