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NC Troops Blamed for Failure of "Pickett's Charge"

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Stuey, Aug 7, 2017.

  1. Stuey

    Stuey Private

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    Right after the failure of Pickett's charge Gen. Longstreet said the failure was due in part that the troops on their left(Pettigrew and Trimble's divisions) had collapsed quickly and didn't offer enough support. Over the years, the mostly NC troops of these divisions were blamed for the failure of Pickett's charge. I have read accounts of how badly Brockenbrough's brigade on the far left of Pettigrew's divison behaved and it was made up of all Virginians. I watched a Gettysburg park ranger video who said Brokenbrough's brigade came off late for the charge. And I have read that they didn't make it but half way across the field of attack before falling back.

    There are several reports from the NC troops and officers that Trimble's division did in fact stay on the field in battle after everyone else had retreated. Below are some quotes from that I found in reports from two NC regiments, the 18th and the 33rd, who were located on the far left of Gen. Lane's brigade in Trimble's division.

    First from the 18th NC--

    "Having about half the distance to go Pickett reached musketry range before Pettigrew and was repulsed, whilst Pettigrew was advancing."

    "Each command broke the enemy at some point in its front, and Trimble's and Pettigrew's dead and wounded were found in the orchard beyond the stone fence, and at the stone fence, the height of a man's chin, eighty yards further in their front than the stone fence about 2 1/2 feet high, in front of Pickett's line."

    From the 33rd NC--

    "The men reserved their fire in accordance with orders, until within good range of the enemy, and then opened with telling effect, repeatedly driving the cannoneers from their pieces, completely silencing the guns in our front and breaking the line of infantry which was formed on the crest of the hill. We advanced to within a few yards of the stone wall. Some of my right had gone over the fence, yelling furiously. My left, under Colonel Avery, was here very much exposed, and a column of infantry was thrown forward by the enemy in that direction which enfiladed my whole line. When I ordered Colonel Avery, in obedience to instructions from General Longstreet, to face to the left for the purpose of meeting the flanking column of the enemy, he replied : "My God, General, do you intend rushing your troops into such a place unsupported, when the whole right has given way?" I looked to the right and saw that it was as stated; no line of battle was any where visible on the right. Colonel Avery had already reached the fence and his men were firing and cheering. My brigade, I know, was the last to leave the field, and it did so by my order."

    "There can be no doubt that Pettigrew's old brigade and Archer's maintained the contest a short time after Davis had fled, but Lane and Scales continued to fight some time after Pettigrew and Archer had been swept from the field. Thus it is undisputable that Lane and Scales went to the front and stayed there some minutes firing and cheering, after Pettigrew and Pickett had entirely disappeared. In thus remaining on the field of battle and continuing the fight after all the other troops had retreated, they were exposed to a raking artillery fire on both flanks, and to a blinding, overwhelming artillery and musketry fire in front. In the language of General Trimble—a gallant old hero--we "maintained our ground after they (the other troops) had been driven back."

    "This account differs wholly from the statements made by General Trimble, General Lane, Colonel Avery, Major Saunders and Colonel Lowrance. Thus by the testimony of unimpeachable witnesses we prove that Trimble's men (Lane and Scales) went as far as or farther than any other troops engaged—that they were the last to leave thefield—that Trimble continued the contest, unaided, for some time after Pickett's and Pettigrew's men had been drivenfrom the field, exposed, all the while, to a crushing musketry and artillery fire on both flanks and in his front."

    "General Trimble, who commanded Lane's and Scales' Brigades on the third day, says : "We passed over the remnant of their line (Pettigrew's) and immediately after some one close by my left sung out, 'three cheers for the Old North State,' when both brigades (Scales' and Lanes') sent up a hearty shout, on which I said to my aid, "Charley, I believe those fine fellows are going into the enemy's line." My men (Lane's and Scales' Brigades) were the last to leave the field. This I know as I rode in the line between the two Brigades(Lane's and Scales') from the start down to the Emmettsburg road, passing over the wreck of Heth's Division (Pettigrew's). Before my line recoiled under a concentrated fire from my front and left, I looked to the right where Pickett's men had been seen to advance and beheld nothing but isolated and scattered remnants of that splendid line."

    I also read in one of the NC regimental battle reports(not sure if it was from 18th, 33rd or another) that some members of their regiment went back years after the battle and marked the location of their most advanced point, which was supposedly 40 yards beyond the "High Water Mark". But I can't find that information at this time but will post later when I find it.

    Here are the links where this info. came from: http://www.civilwarindex.com/armync/reghist/33rd_nc_infantry_reghist.pdf

    http://www.civilwarindex.com/armync/reghist/18th_nc_infantry_reghist.pdf


    So my question is, with all this being said, WHY did so many blame the NC troops for the failures? Is it just a case of wanting to lay blame on someone else?
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017

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  3. Stony

    Stony 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    I'm sure the Virginia press had something to do with this imo.
     
  4. Greywolf

    Greywolf Private

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    Brockenbrough's Virginians were chewed up and didn't make it far as you stated. That put immense pressure on Davis and Pettigrew's men with enfilade fire. I don't think we will really ever know the truth of which individual man or few men that made it the greatest distance. Since cohesion was lost nearing the wall it was likely a mixed group of Va., Tenn., Fl., NC, Miss, etc. troops.

    I have read regimental histories from quite a few NC regiments that were in the charge. Many of them state getting to the wall or very close to the wall, I seriously doubt all these men were liars. Also keep in mind Pickett had a bit of a shorter distance to travel and more swales which temporarily hid them.

    Day 1 at Gettysburg was a rebel victory with the Federals driven all the was through town, much of that owed to NC troops of which a bunch of regiments participated. Remember the 26th NC on the first day and Ramseur's Brigade on day 1 as a couple of examples.

    Lastly, there was no need to blame anyone, the assault was a fool's errand that should never have happened.
     
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  5. Billy Yank

    Billy Yank First Sergeant

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    I understand the criticism, but I have read very little about blaming the failure of Longstreet's general attack on Day 3 on any particular unit or its lack of elan. The objective was simply not takeable for so many reasons. How does one lay blame for an attack that was doomed to fail from the very beginning?
     
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  6. Stuey

    Stuey Private

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    Yes, i believe the Virginia press had a lot to do with it. In one of the NC regimental reports one quotes i believe it was called "The Virginian" of making dispersing remarks about the NC troops. I assume that was a newspaper in VA?

    I agree, why must people always want to find someone to blame for failures? My comment about Gen. Longstreet blaming the NC troops was from a quote from Arthur Fremantle's book, in which he claimed to be quoting Longstreet. Although it was not a direct insult towards the NC troops it is clear what he was saying. I found this quote in message 150 in the following thread----https://civilwartalk.com/threads/why-did-lt-gen-james-longstreet-feel-so-strongly-the-pickett-pettigrew-trimble-assault-would-fail.134001/page-8

    Here is the quote "The General told me that Pickett's division had succeeded in carrying the enemy's position and capturing his guns, but after remaining there twenty minutes, it had been forced to retire, on the retreat of Heth and Pettigrew on its left."
     
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  7. east tennessee roots

    east tennessee roots 1st Lieutenant

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    I've read there was a great deal of rivalry (at times, bitter) between the North Carolina and Virginia troops. That the blaming of North Carolina troops, was a "carry-over" of that.
     
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  8. Stuey

    Stuey Private

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    Here is another quote from Freemantle's book that i got from message 6 from the same James Longstreet thread i linked in my previous post where he appears to be putting the blame on Hill's Corp(which were the NC troops). "(Page 138 of Fremantle's Diary): At 2 P. M. we walked to General Longstreet's camp, which had been removed to a place three miles distant, on the Fairfield road. General Longstreet talked to me for a long time about the battle. He said the mistake they had made was in not concentrating the army more, and making the attack yesterday with 30,000 men instead of 15,000. The advance had been in three lines, and the troops of Hill's corps who gave way were young soldiers, who had never been under fire before."
     
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  9. JOHN42768

    JOHN42768 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    Put the blame where it correctly belongs. I believe a gentleman by the name of Lee sure should have known better. In his own words
     
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  10. dlavin

    dlavin First Sergeant

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    Can't blame the soldiers for the result. They did all they could.
     
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  11. JerseyBart

    JerseyBart Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    I believe the Yankees had something to do with it.
     
  12. JerseyBart

    JerseyBart Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Weren't Pettigrew and Trimble's divisions starting closer to the the Union line of fire than Pickett's?
     
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  13. Stuey

    Stuey Private

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    It is my understanding that they actually had longer to go and the stone wall they faced was higher and further back(50-75 yards back i think) than the stone wall Pickett's division faced.
     
  14. JerseyBart

    JerseyBart Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    But closer to the Emmitsburg Road and quicker to enfilading fire, I think.
     
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  15. Stuey

    Stuey Private

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    I agree on both accounts. I guess that is why it bothers me that the NC troops got the blame from the press and Longstreet. Besides the fact i had a great great grandfather who was in the 52nd NC (who was wounded in the arm in this charge and later loss all use of his arm due to the injury) which was part of Pettigrew's brigade which was being lead by Colonel Marshall of the 52nd that day(since Pettigrew was over the division after Heth was wounded) and who himself was killed in the charge. So maybe i am taking this a little too personal. :smile:
     
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  16. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    Carol Reardon's Pickett's Charge describes in detail the arguments and rivalries between the various troops who made the assault on July 3rd. Its worth a look.
     
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  17. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    Some points brought up:

    1) The distances involved.

    The distance that Pickett and Pettigrew/Trimble had to cover was approximately the same (about 1100 yards is a rough estimate). The thing to note is that the Union line was further back on Cemetery Ridge in the P/T sector than Pickett.

    2) Brockenbrough's Brigade

    Colonel Brockenbrough split his brigade in half, taking the 40th Virginia and 22nd Virginia Battalion himself and giving Colonel Christian the 47th and 55th Virginias. For one thing, they didn't move out with the rest of the division and then had to catch up. And then many of the men didn't advance much past the Sunken Road before being driven back by what was in essence a reinforced skirmish line. They certainly didn't cover themselves in glory at Gettysburg. Colonel Brockenbrough was relieved of command when they returned to Virginia.

    3) How far did Pettigrew and Trimble advance?

    Pettigrew's cohesion was breaking before they reached the Emmitsburg Road and so where any particular unit was is difficult to determine.

    Archer's Brigade (under Colonel Birkett Fry): they arrived at the Angle at about the same time as Garnett's men (there is some evidence that they reached it just ahead of the Virginians).

    Pettigrew's Brigade (under Colonel James Marshall): elements of this brigade reached a point about 30 yards or so from the stone wall in front of Smyth's brigade but never reached the wall.

    Davis' Brigade: They reach a point about the same distance from the wall as Pettigrew's men with a few men taking cover behind the Brien buildings slightly closer. All of these men will be either killed or captured. They also were taking an increasing amount of fire from their left flank from the 8th Ohio (which shifted their fire once Brockenbrough's Brigade was driven back), skirmishers from Hays' Division, part of the 1st Massachusetts Sharpshooters, and part of the 136th New York which rushed over to reinforce the 8th Ohio. This flank fire will play a big role against Trimble's Division as well.

    Lane's Brigade: the left part of Lane's Brigade turns to face the flanking fire on their left while the rest move forward. Most of the men don't advance far past the Emmitsburg Road as Pettigrew's men are breaking to their front which is allowing Union troops to focus more fire on Lane.

    Scales' Brigade (under Colonel William Lowrance): like Lane, most of the brigade gets hung up around the Emmitsburg Road with small groups moving forward. Part of the 16th North Carolina heads in the direction of the Angle but are thrown back before arriving.

    In all Trimble's Division, other than a few scattered groups, didn't advance much past the Emmitsburg Road and at no point did Pettigrew's Division break through the Union line.

    Ryan
     
  18. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    Flank fire was probably being taken by Pettigrew's Division first but it wouldn't have been as intense as there were far fewer men than the Vermonters had on Pickett's right.

    Ryan
     
  19. Stuey

    Stuey Private

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    Yes, from what i have read they received a lot of enfilading artillery fire as well as getting flanked by the 8th Ohio and Brokenbrough's brigade, which ironically were all Virginians, got the worse of it. But i also seen a video on Youtube from a Gettysburg park ranger last name Brown i believe who stated that Brokenbrough was slow to come out of the forest into the field and when one of Pettigrew's staff asked him if he wanted him to go check on them Pettigrew said something to the effect of "no, they are of no use anyway". So apparently, as others have said previously, the dislike between NC and VA troops went both ways. Pettigrew being from NC. But Trimble was from VA and he had nothing but great things to say about his NC troops that day and says they stayed on the field of battle longer than anyone else as i quoted above in an earlier post.
     
  20. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l Member of the Year

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    I think even the commander of the charge agrees with your above sentiment. :wink:
     
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  21. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    The stone wall was higher but wasn't neck height as described by some Confederates. Around the Bryan farm it was around waist height or so.

    Ryn
     

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