Samuel Johnston - Did He Reach Little Round Top?

ronzzo

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In the July, 2019 edition of Gettysburg Magazine, author Allen R. Thompson presented a very good analysis of Johnston’s reconnaissance, concluding that Johnston did reach Little Round Top, and gave Lee an accurate report. Gettysburg NPS Ranger Troy Harmon gave a talk and did a battle walk on the subject and concluded the same. Notable authors such as Stephen Sears, Harry Pfanz, and Edwin Coddington suggested otherwise. Edwin Bearss believes that he only reached Bushman‘s Hill.
I always believed what the traditional historians theorized. Now I’m not so sure. What are your thoughts?
 

rpkennedy

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I agree with @infomanpa and @Andy Cardinal that the evidence is unclear. Personally, I can believe that Johnston reached the southern face of LRT which would have obscured the fields to the north while allowing him to see the area around the Peach Orchard. That said, Bushman Hill is also a possibility.

Plus, it's a miracle he didn't run into any cavalry patrols who were stretched almost to Fairfield on the morning of July 2.

Ryan
 

ronzzo

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I agree with @infomanpa and @Andy Cardinal that the evidence is unclear. Personally, I can believe that Johnston reached the southern face of LRT which would have obscured the fields to the north while allowing him to see the area around the Peach Orchard. That said, Bushman Hill is also a possibility.

Plus, it's a miracle he didn't run into any cavalry patrols who were stretched almost to Fairfield on the morning of July 2.

Ryan
Johnston did say he saw Cavalry on Emmitsburg Road and crossed the road without them seeing his party. Troy Harmon said that the Third Corps wagon trains were coming up the road until almost 1:00 pm and that Confederate skirmishers we’re harassing them. They eventually turned and headed for the rear on the east side of Cemetery Ridge.
 

ronzzo

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My thoughts are that there isn't enough evidence to reach any good conclusion. So, like you, I'm unsure!
It seems that where the uncertainty is, is what he reported to Lee. From my readings, the authors wonder why he didn’t see the Third Corps. However, Harmon said that he did and what he reported was that they weren’t in “battle order.” So the surprise to McLaws and Longstreet wasn’t that the Third Corps were where Johnston said they were, but that they were now in battle order along Emmitsburg Road.
 

rpkennedy

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Johnston did say he saw Cavalry on Emmitsburg Road and crossed the road without them seeing his party. Troy Harmon said that the Third Corps wagon trains were coming up the road until almost 1:00 pm and that Confederate skirmishers we’re harassing them. They eventually turned and headed for the rear on the east side of Cemetery Ridge.

That makes sense since Buford's Division HQ was in the vicinity of the Peach Orchard until about 1100 or so when it was sent to the rear for rest and refitting. Of course, Pleasonton being the doofus that he was never relieved Buford with another unit which seriously concerned Sickles with the lack of information that he had on Confederate movements.

Ryan
 

rpkennedy

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It seems that where the uncertainty is, is what he reported to Lee. From my readings, the authors wonder why he didn’t see the Third Corps. However, Harmon said that he did and what he reported was that they weren’t in “battle order.” So the surprise to McLaws and Longstreet wasn’t that the Third Corps were where Johnston said they were, but that they were now in battle order along Emmitsburg Road.

On that point, I disagree with Harmon. The Third Corps only had skirmishers out around the Emmitsburg Road but were massed back along Cemetery Hill. I'm not certain that he saw Sickles' men but he may have mistaken the skirmish line for their battle line (which happened a lot) and explains why Lee thought that the Union line was out along the Emmitsburg Road ridge (and ended where the cavalry were screening the flank). IMO, I don't think that Johnston ever saw Cemetery Ridge.

Ryan
 

ronzzo

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On that point, I disagree with Harmon. The Third Corps only had skirmishers out around the Emmitsburg Road but were massed back along Cemetery Hill. I'm not certain that he saw Sickles' men but he may have mistaken the skirmish line for their battle line (which happened a lot) and explains why Lee thought that the Union line was out along the Emmitsburg Road ridge (and ended where the cavalry were screening the flank). IMO, I don't think that Johnston ever saw Cemetery Ridge.

Ryan
Harmon was presenting his interpretation based on several letters that Johnston wrote post-war. Apparently, Johnston said they weren’t in battle order. If that’s true, then, he saw them in bivouac which they were in and around the Trostle and Weikert farms. Johnston may not have seen Cemetery Ridge, but he could have seen the area west of it. The more I think about it with his post war letters, the more I lean toward him reaching LRT, probably in the area of where the 16 MI or 44th NY had been? Alas, we’ll never really know.
 

Tom Elmore

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One thing we can confidently say is that the brief period that Little Round Top was apparently unmanned just coincidentally happens to match with the estimated time period that Johnston made his reconnaissance, that is, between the time Geary departed for Culp's Hill and the first recorded occupation by Union signal station personnel at 9:30 a.m. If Johnston did reach Little Round Top, my estimate of the time he did so was around 6 a.m. Also pertinent to the discussion, patchy ground fog that would form in low lying areas was reported early that morning, the result of high humidity and dead calm conditions, and Sickles' men were on lower ground, excepting the 63rd Pennsylvania, strung out in a thin skirmish line along the Emmitsburg Road near the Peach Orchard.
 

Florida Rebel

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For me personally, I believe Johnston made it to LRT and reported honestly on what he saw. Yes, it was very early in the AM and we know things changed later. But would he EVER have lied to Lee about being there? My God, no way! But of course, we all believe what we choose. Depending on the people we like, which includes the side we favored; the Blue or the Gray, there is always an author or book we like the best. Which authors do YOU believe more than others? I like Douglas Southall Freeman the best.
 

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If I am in unfamiliar enemy territory without my main cavalry, the first thing I would do is ask each corps commander to ask his troops if anyone has ever been in the area before. The knowledge that Henry Wentz could have added to that reconnaissance mission would of been invaluable.

My personal opinion agrees with @Tom Elmore summary. I think he got there, but troop movement and fog mislead the mission.

But again, for one of the few times the Confederates were in enemy territory where getting accurate intelligence from locals is suspect and Stuart Far East of Gettysburg, it is inconceivable to my why confederate troops weren't solicited to see if anyone had local knowledge of the Gettysburg terrain. How Henry Wentz or the four other former Gettysburg residents in the Confederate army weren't utilized is a huge mystery to me. It isn't hard to get the question out there, has anyone been here before? Anyone that has been to Gettysburg has to see the location of the Wentz home foundation to understand how Henry had to have intimate knowledge of the area in question.
 
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rpkennedy

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For me personally, I believe Johnston made it to LRT and reported honestly on what he saw. Yes, it was very early in the AM and we know things changed later. But would he EVER have lied to Lee about being there? My God, no way! But of course, we all believe what we choose. Depending on the people we like, which includes the side we favored; the Blue or the Gray, there is always an author or book we like the best. Which authors do YOU believe more than others? I like Douglas Southall Freeman the best.

I don't think that Johnston would have purposefully lied about where he went but it's entirely possible that he was honestly mistaken.

Freeman is a good source as long as one remembers that he was one of those who deified Lee and saw it as his job to cast blame for mistakes onto others. That said, his biographies of the Confederate leadership are excellent.

Ryan
 

ronzzo

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I don't think that Johnston would have purposefully lied about where he went but it's entirely possible that he was honestly mistaken.

Freeman is a good source as long as one remembers that he was one of those who deified Lee and saw it as his job to cast blame for mistakes onto others. That said, his biographies of the Confederate leadership are excellent.

Ryan
I think the question boils down to is whether he saw Union infantry or not.
 

ronzzo

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Perhaps we make too much of this. What's astonishing is the Lee thought nothing would change for many hours. Nor did he keep eyes on the position to notify him of changes.
That's a good point. I could be that he wanted the attack to begin earlier in the morning. When Longstreet convinced to wait until Law's Brigade came up, Lee might of thought that sending out scouts again would further delay his planned attack.
 
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That's a good point. I could be that he wanted the attack to begin earlier in the morning. When Longstreet convinced to wait until Law's Brigade came up, Lee might of thought that sending out scouts again would further delay his planned attack.

If you go to the battlefield and stop off at the Virginia monument, and go down to the interpretive landing in front of that monument, you get a pretty good view of the Union position, all the way down to the Round Tops. Go about a hundred years south and you can see the Peach Orchard and Wheatfield with no problem.

One man. That's all it would have taken.

Longstreet would have had to have taken hours to make that march, just as Jackson did at Chancellorsville. This one's on Lee and poor staff work.
 

rpkennedy

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I think the question boils down to is whether he saw Union infantry or not.

I don't think that he saw any major concentrations of Union infantry but rather the skirmishers out along the Emmitsburg Road. But that's just my personal opinion.

Ryan
 

Florida Rebel

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It all depends on "who" and "what" we want to believe. Douglas Southall Freeman is my favorite writer and if he says Johnston gave his report to Lee early on the morning on July 2 - and said the Round Tops were unoccupied, then I blame Longstreet for not moving fast enough that day and a super slow attitude towards obeying Lee the whole time they were at Gettysburg. Of course, Freeman does. Who else? The famous Park Ranger at Gettysburg, Matt Atkinson, certainly feels that way too. If you google him, you will be able to see and enjoy quite a few lectures and battleground walks that he has led at Gettysburg. They're fascinating to watch and listen to! As for Lee, and it is fun debating all of this with you and everyone else, we know Lee had 100% confidence in his troops. He said; as long as they were properly led, his men could accomplish anything. But the leadership with his corps commanders was more than lacking those 3 days; especially with Longstreet. Did "Old Pete" forget he was NOT Lee's boss? Did he think that just because Jackson (a commander more like Lee when it came to offense) was dead, that he would be the man Lee would trust the most? Sadly, they were like oil and water thru out the entire Civil War. Back to Samuel Johnston, he made his journey early in the AM, he gave Lee his report and Longstreet - who had to have known what Lee expected, should have had his corp ready for action that morning. But he didn't.
 

ronzzo

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It all depends on "who" and "what" we want to believe. Douglas Southall Freeman is my favorite writer and if he says Johnston gave his report to Lee early on the morning on July 2 - and said the Round Tops were unoccupied, then I blame Longstreet for not moving fast enough that day and a super slow attitude towards obeying Lee the whole time they were at Gettysburg. Of course, Freeman does. Who else? The famous Park Ranger at Gettysburg, Matt Atkinson, certainly feels that way too. If you google him, you will be able to see and enjoy quite a few lectures and battleground walks that he has led at Gettysburg. They're fascinating to watch and listen to! As for Lee, and it is fun debating all of this with you and everyone else, we know Lee had 100% confidence in his troops. He said; as long as they were properly led, his men could accomplish anything. But the leadership with his corps commanders was more than lacking those 3 days; especially with Longstreet. Did "Old Pete" forget he was NOT Lee's boss? Did he think that just because Jackson (a commander more like Lee when it came to offense) was dead, that he would be the man Lee would trust the most? Sadly, they were like oil and water thru out the entire Civil War. Back to Samuel Johnston, he made his journey early in the AM, he gave Lee his report and Longstreet - who had to have known what Lee expected, should have had his corp ready for action that morning. But he didn't.
I don‘t know that Longstreet was purposely trying to sabotage the attack. He wasn't ready with his full force to attack early in the morning. Also, McLaws not following Johnston’s or Alexander’s pathway caused them to back track wasting more time. It boils down to poor communication and coordination.
 
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