Reviewed - Gettysburg Staff Ride Briefing Book


Jun 15, 2015
I was lucky enough somehow to run across two recent US Army documents covering the Battle of Gettysburg. Both appear to be publications of the US Army Center of Military History. They're undated, but look to be recent. The one that looks newer contains a bibliography with a book from 2003, which means it's no older than that date.

Both of these were especially interesting to me because they offer an institutional view of the battle - a 21st century US Army description of the battle.

The older one of the two is described in this post. Titled 'Gettysburg Staff Ride Briefing Book', it begins with a pungent and concise description of the campaign and the battle itself, followed by some very interesting appendices covering topics like weather, tactics, organization and the military technology of the day. For example, a paragraph on wagons tells us how much a typical wagon carried, daily distance traveled, number of mules required, and the number of wagons allocated per unit from artillery battery up to corps.

Here's some examples from the description of the battle, with summary headings before each quote. I particularly draw your attention to the last one, describing a theory I've never heard before about why LRT was unguarded.

Lee mis-managed his cavalry: p5:

"there was still plenty of cavalry with the Army of Northern Virginia, but Lee seems to have forgotten it. Jenkin's activities are obscure; Imboden was still collecting livestock; below the Potomac, Jones and Robertson were left watching the empty landscape west of the Blue Ridge Mountains until 29 June, when Lee suddenly remembered them and ordered them forward."

Heth was stopped by a single brigade of cavalry: p7

"One of his brigades were deployed, dismounted, along McPherson's Ridge; the other was across the Carlisle Road, considerably north of Gettysburg, awaiting Ewell. His troopers were badly outnumbered, but their position was good, and their breech-loading carbines gave them the firepower of several times their number of infantry. For almost two hours, this single brigade and one battery of artillery stopped Heth's advance."

Howard's strategy before and after Ewell's arrival: p9

"Recognizing the importance of Cemetery Hill, he dropped one of his divisions there as a reserve and began moving the other two toward Oak Hill on Doubleday's right flank. However, the arrival of Ewell's leading division, under Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes, forced him to form them in line directly north of the town."

the politics of occupying Culp's Hill: p9

"Hancock grasped the importance of Culp's Hill and browbeat Doubleday into sending the survivors of the Iron Brigade (of Wadsworth's division) to occupy it."

previous to the battle for Cemetery Hill, criticism of RE Lee: p9

"Robert E. Lee had become enmeshed in a trap of his own making. He had invaded the North in the hope of winning a decisive battle, yet he had scattered his infantry across south-central Pennsylvania and had lost control of his cavalry. Now, with his army half concentrated, aggressive subordinates had plunged him into a major battle."

summary of Longstreet's day one attack: p10

"At 4:00 p.m., Longstreet attacked. From the start, it was a jumbled effort. Divisions and brigades went in piecemeal, but with savage enthusiasm."

Union council of war after day 2: p12

"That night, Meade called a council of war: should the army stay and fight, or should it retire? His corps commanders voted to stay."

Lee's thought process before day 3: p12

"Longstreet urged that the Confederates should envelop the Federal left, get across Meade's communications, and so force him to attack them. But a blind combativeness gripped Lee. He could not delay and maneuver, for his army was living off the country and would soon strip it bare; his own communications were highly vulnerable; the enemy was before him. He gave his orders: Longstreet [Pickett, Heth and Pender, see (MAP 5)] would penetrate the Federal center, while Stuart, with all the army's cavalry, struck the Union rear."

discussion of a union counter-attack: p12

"Hancock, wounded in Pickett's final assault, urged an immediate counterattack by the V and VI Corps. The VI Corps was fresh--it had hardly fired a shot--and Slocum had already offered one or two brigades from the XII Corps. Meade, however, had contented himself with fighting a purely defensive battle and had made no plans to seize the initiative from Lee. Instead of keeping the VI Corps concentrated for a decisive counterstroke at the critical time, he had scattered it behind his lines to form local reserves. In so doing, he lost his chance to destroy Lee's army."

summary of Lee's performance: p14

"Undoubtedly, Gettysburg was the lowest point of Lee's generalship.. He was careless; his orders were vague; he suggested when he should have commanded; and he sacrificed the pick of his infantry in a foredoomed attempt to win a battle he had already lost."

Meade let Lee get away: p14

"Meade now began to exaggerate Confederate strength and to worry that Lee would try to fight another pitched battle. Actually, Lee had arrived at Williamsport on the 7th. He was almost out of ammunition, and straggling and desertion had further thinned his forces to about 35,000. In desperation, he entrenched with his back to the river and began improvising a bridge, tearing down warehouses to build pontoons. On the 12th, Meade, with over 85,000 men, carefully approached this position. Then he called a council of war. The aggressive corps commanders--Reynolds, Hancock, Sickles--were dead or wounded; a majority of the council voted not to attack. Lee got his command across the river during the night of 13-14 July, catching Meade completely unaware. Buford and Kilpatrick detected the last phases of the movement early on the 14th and drove Lee's rearguard into the river, gathering up a considerable number of prisoners. But Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia had escaped.”

Neither Ewell nor AP Hill was healthy: p65

“Ewell led his division at Cedar Mountain and Second Manassas, being wounded at the latter and losing a leg. Although his wound had not fully healed, Ewell returned to duty 23 May '63, now as LTG in command of the II Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. During the Gettysburg campaign he had to be lifted onto his horse and strapped to the saddle.”

p66 “Hill took command of the newly created III Corps, leading it through the battles of Gettysburg (1-3 Jul '63) and Wilderness (5-6 May '64), during both of which he was ill with prostatitis.”

summary of Pickett’s charge: p68,69

“Lee had originally intended for Longstreet's three divisions to lead the attack that day, but after Longstreet argued against the use of Hood's and McLaws' divisions Lee organized a task force of Pickett's division and six brigades of Hill's corps. The ensuing attack, known as "Pickett's Charge," failed. After the assault Pickett's division mustered less than one thousand of the four and a half thousand men engaged, with only one field officer not wounded or killed.”

why was Little Round Top undefended?: p74,75

“General Buford's two cavalry brigades had been defending it, but after taking over 50 percent losses the previous day, they were allowed to withdraw. The Army commander assumed that the cavalry commander would replace Buford's unit. 'But the cavalry commander did not think he was supposed to replace it. Wrong assumptions, failure to communicate clearly, and failure to check had left Little Round Top unguarded.”

I found them both as pdf files. Sorry, I don't remember where.


  • staffRide_Gettysburg.pdf
    5.7 MB · Views: 5

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