Longstreet on Pickett's Charge: "thirty thousand men was the minimum of force necessary for the work"

Pete Longstreet

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"Thirty thousand men was the minimum of force necessary for the work"

- Gen. James Longstreet

Longstreet wrote this some years after the war, although he knew at the time that 12,500 men would most likely not be able to break the Union center. If Lee had sent 30,000 men across that field, would the charge have been successful?
 
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jackt62

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I think the greater factor in ensuring the success of that assault would have been the certainty of providing supporting units on the flanks, and in providing more effective diversionary attacks such as General Johnson's uncoordinated assault on Culps Hill. In fact, Lee had that in mind when he afterwards questioned why the assault had not been properly supported. Additionally, there would be a greater chance at success had the spearhead of Pickett's Virginians which breached the Angle been massively reinforced with additional reserves.
 
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Was there space for 30,000 men? I have discussed adding more men to Pickett's Charge (funny he gets credit for that rather than not turning the Pig War hot) and am not convinced that simply adding more troops was the solution. Soldiers need an adequate frontage to manoeuvre and while adding extra ranks can add mass to an assault if the fire facing the lead men is too great or the terrain not conducive to easy movement then it simply packs the resulting traffic jam more tightly. Both enemy fire and terrain obstacles were present on the assault front at Gettysburg to my knowledge.
 

Coonewah Creek

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Of course most see Longstreet as a "defensive" general, sometimes forgetting that four of the most devastating Confederate assaults were made under Longstreet's command: 1) Second Manassas, 2) Day 2 Gettysburg, 3) Chickamauga, and 4) The Wilderness. Pickett's Charge really was an anomaly with respect to the way Longstreet liked to organize and conduct an assault...in depth. Pickett's Charge was clearly not a "Longstreet-style" assault. As has been noted, there were no supporting columns to speak of, no successive waves of infantry, behind the initial assaulting battle lines. This was not typical Longstreet. Perhaps 30,000 number was of course taken in hindsight, but if anyone knew how to have made that assault successful, I would trust Longstreet's judgment because of the other examples noted...
 

wausaubob

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If the Confederates had 15,000 more troops to add to the assault that would have made a difference. But if the withdrew 15,000 troops from other parts of the field, on the battlefield the US probably would have seen them and reacted. The battle may have gone more like Spotsylvania. There Confederates may have broken the US line and then been stuck there.
The real problem was the artillery barrage was not accurate and artillery tactics that allowed the artillery to keep shooting as the assault came from angles, so that artillery was not shooting directly over the infantry, might have helped.
The primary problem was that the US artillery had been stationary for two days. It was well positioned and almost had the Confederate infantry flanked.
As noted above, more troops also creates more targets.
 

Coonewah Creek

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"Thirty thousand men was the minimum of force necessary for the work"

- Gen. James Longstreet
I find it interesting that Longstreet expressed that specific statement, if read in one way, almost as an engineering problem. Force (Mass x Acceleration), in mechanics, is any action that tends to maintain or alter the motion of a body or to distort it. So obviously the term would reference the Confederate troops assaulting the Union center (the "body" to be displaced). Work (Force x Distance), in physics, is the measure of energy transfer that occurs when an object is moved over a distance by an external force at least part of which is applied in the direction of the displacement. So key terms here are "energy transfer," "moved," and "displacement." Obviously a frontal assault in and of itself is not a viable offensive tactic. The result desired is to break (displace) the Union line so that two new flanks are created and then to roll up those flanks by additional forces that exploit the initial breach. But I just find it interesting that Longstreet used terms that could be interpreted both merely as common English terms and also as specific engineering terms to describe the number of troops needed to accomplish the desired result.
 

Pete Longstreet

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I think the greater factor in ensuring the success of that assault would have been the certainty of providing supporting units on the flanks, and in providing more effective diversionary attacks such as General Johnson's uncoordinated assault on Culps Hill. In fact, Lee had that in mind when he afterwards questioned why the assault had not been properly supported. Additionally, there would be a greater chance at success had the spearhead of Pickett's Virginians which breached the Angle been massively reinforced with additional reserves.
There seems to be a lot of debate about why Longstreet didn't send in Hood and McLaws to reinforce Pickett... correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Lee wanted them as reserves only or rear guard in case the assault failed and Meade pressed the offensive... plus Hood and McLaws needed rest from the brutal day before.
 

Pete Longstreet

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If the Confederates had 15,000 more troops to add to the assault that would have made a difference. But if the withdrew 15,000 troops from other parts of the field, on the battlefield the US probably would have seen them and reacted. The battle may have gone more like Spotsylvania. There Confederates may have broken the US line and then been stuck there.
The real problem was the artillery barrage was not accurate and artillery tactics that allowed the artillery to keep shooting as the assault came from angles, so that artillery was not shooting directly over the infantry, might have helped.
The primary problem was that the US artillery had been stationary for two days. It was well positioned and almost had the Confederate infantry flanked.
As noted above, more troops also creates more targets.
The artillery that was supposed to support Pickett did not play out like Lee planned. Pendleton, who was Lee's Chief of Artillery, sent the ammunition to the rear and when needed, it was inaccessible because of the amount of time it would have taken to get it, then redistribute it. I've never heard many positive things about Pendleton... I don't think Lee even liked him.
 

jackt62

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There seems to be a lot of debate about why Longstreet didn't send in Hood and McLaws to reinforce Pickett... correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Lee wanted them as reserves only or rear guard in case the assault failed and Meade pressed the offensive... plus Hood and McLaws needed rest from the brutal day before.
Don't know whether there is a clear answer to that. According to Longstreet, Lee's plan "was to assault the enemy's left center by a column to be composed of McLaws's and Hood's divisions reinforced by Pickett's brigades. I thought that would not do; that the point had been fully tested the day before, by more men, when all were fresh; that the enemy was there looking for us, as we heard him during the night putting up his defences; that the divisions of McLaws and Hood were holding a mile along the right of my line against twenty thousand men."
 

wausaubob

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Don't know whether there is a clear answer to that. According to Longstreet, Lee's plan "was to assault the enemy's left center by a column to be composed of McLaws's and Hood's divisions reinforced by Pickett's brigades. I thought that would not do; that the point had been fully tested the day before, by more men, when all were fresh; that the enemy was there looking for us, as we heard him during the night putting up his defences; that the divisions of McLaws and Hood were holding a mile along the right of my line against twenty thousand men."
I think Longstreet said that if the enemy is still there, he wants to be attacked. The US advantage in range and accuracy was made for those conditions. And the infantry collected discarded rifles. The shooters went to the front and loaders were in the rear ranks.
 

Coonewah Creek

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here seems to be a lot of debate about why Longstreet didn't send in Hood and McLaws to reinforce Pickett... correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Lee wanted them as reserves only or rear guard in case the assault failed and Meade pressed the offensive... plus Hood and McLaws needed rest from the brutal day before.
I'm sure that it is true. But it was also noted that when Lee reviewed Heth's division that had been cut up so badly on July 1st, especially the lead brigades of Davis and Archer, he reportedly said those men should not have been put into the assault. So there were other divisions that had suffered just as badly as Hood and McLaws that were part of Pickett's Charge. But they did have an extra day to recover to some degree I suppose.
 

lelliott19

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Hood and McLaws needed rest from the brutal day before.
that the divisions of McLaws and Hood were holding a mile along the right of my line against twenty thousand men."
Therein lies the problem. Not that McLaws and Hood's were "resting" or "needed rest" -- but that if they moved to assist Pickett, and abandoned the Confederate right, the Union left would envelope the movement. [It's McLaws though, and you know I'm a bit biased. :D ]
 

Pete Longstreet

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The soldiers were there to fight. Lee did not want to leave Pennsylvania without having given them the chance to win.
Lee knew the window for the Confederacy was closing. And a win by the south in enemy territory would have paid dividends. Not won the war, but surely give Lincoln something to worry about.
 

Pete Longstreet

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Therein lies the problem. Not that McLaws and Hood's were "resting" or "needed rest" -- but that if they moved to assist Pickett, and abandoned the Confederate right, the Union left would envelope the movement. [It's McLaws though, and you know I'm a bit biased. :D ]
I actually just found this postwar quote from Longstreet:

"If Pickett had shown signs of getting a lodgement, I should, of course, have pushed the other divisions [ Hood and McLaws ] forward to support the attack."

Curious... biased in favor or against McLaws?
 

jackt62

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I actually just found this postwar quote from Longstreet:

"If Pickett had shown signs of getting a lodgement, I should, of course, have pushed the other divisions [ Hood and McLaws ] forward to support the attack."

Curious... biased in favor or against McLaws?
What would Longstreet have considered getting a "lodgement?" After all, portions of Armistead and Garnett's brigades breached the Union line at the Angle. But on the other hand, if Longstreet had waited that long to send in McLaws, it might have already been too late.
 

lelliott19

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Curious... biased in favor or against McLaws?
The regiment I will eventually write a regimental history for is the 16th GA. They were in Woffords brigade, McLaws' division. I wouldn't say biased for or against, just that I have read McLaws and I know how HE interpreted the situation -- and his view was that if he and Hood moved to assist Pickett, they would have to abandon their positions on the right to do so. There was no cover or at least not sufficient to mask what was left of the two divisions. The "20,000 men" [as Longstreet claims] that were across from them, the Union left, would have seen that move and immediately shifted to assist at the Centre or else attacked them in front or on the right flank--- either scenario would not have boded well for the Confederate assault. It might have turned out even worse than it did--
 

lelliott19

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What would Longstreet have considered getting a "lodgement?" After all, portions of Armistead and Garnett's brigades breached the Union line at the Angle. But on the other hand, if Longstreet had waited that long to send in McLaws, it might have already been too late.
McLaws claims he was not even informed of the plan. I cannot encourage you enough to read what McLaws had to say about it. Here's an excerpt.

"It was not notified that it was in contemplation even to make any further attack by either Hood's or my division, nor was I informed that it was the intention to assault the enemy's centre with Pickett's division, with the assistance of troops from other corps. I was not told to be ready to assist, should the assault be successful, nor instructed what to do should the assault fail and the enemy advance. I contented myself with reconnoitering my ground and vicinity in all the directions necessary for movement in any emergency, and took my position among my troops.

I became early aware that artillery was concentrating along my rear, on the crest occupied by my line, before I advanced, and that not only the corps artillery but the guns from Hill's corps and others were preparing for a grand opening. And when the numerous guns opened, shaking the very earth between the opposing armies, the shot and shell from the batteries on our right poured over my command; those of the enemy crossing ours, going in the opposite direction, but all bent on the same mission of destruction.

Not a shot, as I can remember, fell among my men. We were resting entirely undisturbed, excepting now and then a bomb shot would come from Round Top, fired at some of us moving about, and got in view of the batteries, in mere wantonness, as the chance was very small and they did not care to waste a shell on one, two or three."

Read the whole essay
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/vi...fayette-mclaws-on-july-3.159910/#post-2090020
 

wausaubob

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Lee knew the window for the Confederacy was closing. And a win by the south in enemy territory would have paid dividends. Not won the war, but surely give Lincoln something to worry about.
There were bold plans afoot in London and New York City. The Confederates needed a big success in Pennsylvania to gain their political freedom. They were never going to come close again if Vicksburg and Port Hudson surrendered and Farragut returned to the Gulf of Mexico.
 

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