Samuel Johnston - Did He Reach Little Round Top?

Joined
Jun 16, 2016
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.

So we are reduced to blaming Longstreet for not being a mindreader of a decision that had not yet been made (thus Johnston's mission in the first place).

Bobby Lee lost control of matters on July 2. Freeman's extended apologia doesn't counter that. Great commanders plan, then adjust and improvise. They don't hold on to a plan devised with information that's seven hours old by the time troops are getting into position (recall how long it took the sainted Jackson to do the same thing at Chancellorsville) based on information that relied upon circumstances not changing.

Lee is reported to have spoken highly of Meade, but his actions on July 2 suggest he held Meade and the Army of the Potomac in contempt.
 

Cavalier

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Jul 20, 2019
Over the years I have tried to read as much as I could about Johnson's scouting expedition. When I read Mr. Thompson's article I was very impressed by it. However it still seems so unlikely Johnson could have missed everything that was going on from his position on Little Round top. I remain unconvinced one way or the other.

John
 

Florida Rebel

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Joined
May 31, 2019
Plenty of people have suggested that Longstreet was the one corp commander who fought Lee at almost every turn at Gettysburg. Do I believe he was told ahead of time what to do on day 2 of the battle? YES. Are we going to see numerous quotes and articles that tell us what Lee honestly felt about "Old Pete's" performance? NO. Lee was way too classy (unlike Longstreet) to do that and put public blame on someeone else. But in reading all there is to see, Lee had to be disappointed in Longstreet's performance and did say to numerous people (we've seen the quotes) how slow Longstreet always seemed to be; especially at Gettysburg on July 2 and 3rd when Longstreet was told by his commanding General "what to do and when." Lee, probably more than any American leader we've studied and read about, was classy about holding his temper and he was always extra careful about things he would put in writing.

But what does Jackson have to do with Longstreet's actions at Gettysburg? Jackson had his faults and he was far from perfect but when it came to fighting and doing all he could for the Southern cause, no one fought alongside Lee like Stonewall did.
 

rpkennedy

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Carlisle, PA
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.

What exactly would you have Longstreet do? He asked for and received permission from Lee to wait on Law's Brigade to arrive. Then, Longstreet followed Lee's orders by taking a path so as not to be observed getting into position until they had arrived. I would argue that Longstreet followed Lee's orders to the letter and that any failure has to fall on Lee's shoulders.

Longstreet was the man that Lee trusted most. And your perception of their relationship is simply inaccurate.

Ryan
 

rpkennedy

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Over the years I have tried to read as much as I could about Johnson's scouting expedition. When I read Mr. Thompson's article I was very impressed by it. However it still seems so unlikely Johnson could have missed everything that was going on from his position on Little Round top. I remain unconvinced one way or the other.

John

How Johnston missed all the infantry is a mystery. Geary's Division had vacated LRT around dawn so it makes sense that Johnston missed them but it's hard to believe that he didn't see the Third Corps along lower Cemetery Ridge and in the area between the ridge and LRT. Not to mention the Second Corps which was trudging up the Taneytown Road just a few hundred yards away. I would think that he would have at least heard them even if he couldn't see them for the trees.

My guess is that he climbed the southern slope of LRT and stayed just long enough to get a good look towards the Peach Orchard and the Emmitsburg Road ridge. If he didn't climb to the top of the hill, the northwest shoulder of LRT could easily have blocked his view of the Third Corps but, again, it's hard to believe that he wouldn't have at least heard them.

Ryan
 

rpkennedy

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Plenty of people have suggested that Longstreet was the one corp commander who fought Lee at almost every turn at Gettysburg. Do I believe he was told ahead of time what to do on day 2 of the battle? YES. Are we going to see numerous quotes and articles that tell us what Lee honestly felt about "Old Pete's" performance? NO. Lee was way too classy (unlike Longstreet) to do that and put public blame on someeone else. But in reading all there is to see, Lee had to be disappointed in Longstreet's performance and did say to numerous people (we've seen the quotes) how slow Longstreet always seemed to be; especially at Gettysburg on July 2 and 3rd when Longstreet was told by his commanding General "what to do and when." Lee, probably more than any American leader we've studied and read about, was classy about holding his temper and he was always extra careful about things he would put in writing.

But what does Jackson have to do with Longstreet's actions at Gettysburg? Jackson had his faults and he was far from perfect but when it came to fighting and doing all he could for the Southern cause, no one fought alongside Lee like Stonewall did.

Again, I think that your reading of Freeman is seriously influencing your view of Longstreet. Your perception is far too negative towards him while giving Lee a major pass.

Ryan
 

Cavalier

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Jul 20, 2019
@rpkennedy Thanks for getting back to me. It seems so highly improbable with all that was going on he didn't see it or hear any of it. I am sure Johnstons not lieing, why would he.

When I first read Mr. Thompson's article I thought this guy has nailed it, but thinking about it more and re reading the article I still have a lot of doubts. Normal people worry about the covid epidemic, I worry about Johnson's scouting expedition gone astray, go figure.

John
 

Florida Rebel

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Joined
May 31, 2019
It isn't just Freeman I have read..... There are other authors who have questioned what he did back then. I will say again, check out what the famous Gettysburg Park Ranger, Matt Atkinson, has to say about Longstreet. His videos are easily seen. James Longstreet was always for James Longstreet. And the man had the gall to say he preferred to fight under "retreatin' Joe Johnston" instead of Lee? Honestly, as an administrator and someone who could handle a large body of men like a corp, Pete was pretty good! But ask him to do something he didn't want to do or believe in doing, there's the rub. Some of the things Longstreet said and did just cause me to wonder about the man. Clearly, he wanted badly to be in command of an army - any army, but when he had the chance after Chickamauga, didn't he fail miserably? I think he was destined to always be a #2, not a #1. Now, say what you want about Jubal Early, his "Lost Cause" narrative and the way he felt about Longstreet, the Gettysburg campaign and how it ended could have changed on a dime. For any of us who favored the South, it is easily one of the biggest "what if's" of the war. That said, is it any wonder "why" the citizens of the South felt as negatively about Longstreet for years and years after the war? Sadly, in my opinion, Longstreet did it to himself.
 
Joined
Jun 16, 2016
To the original question: I'd say the issue is not whether Johnston reached Little Round Top, but whether he conducted an effective reconnaissance that provided valuable and accurate information.

The answer appears to be that he found the Union left scantily defended and vulnerable, which it was, but that he may not have encountered any evidence that matters were in flux.

But that's just part of the larger story. There was other information to weigh, other things to consider, and an awareness that to mount the sort of attack Lee had in mind would take time.

I find that Longstreet's critics come close to arguing that he should have teleported his two divisions to the Union left. Lee may have had other reservations about Longstreet's comments about the way to conduct the invasion, but (as this has been mentioned), please point out what Lee said about Longstreet's performance on July 2. Lee was far more critical of Ewell and Stuart.

As for "what if Stonewall had been there?" ... get over it. He wasn't. If Lee expected his other corps commanders (including two new to the job) to perform like Jackson did (which could be erratic ... Seven Days? Fredericksburg?), that's on him for failing to adjust to the strengths and weaknesses of his subordinates. I don't say, "What if Phil Kearny had been at Antietam?" Given the time Jackson consumed at Chancellorsville, one might well argue that it wouldn't have made much difference.

When people construct counterfactuals to satisfy their own fantasies, they tell us far more about themselves than about the situation as it was on July 2, 1863.
 

rpkennedy

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It isn't just Freeman I have read..... There are other authors who have questioned what he did back then. I will say again, check out what the famous Gettysburg Park Ranger, Matt Atkinson, has to say about Longstreet. His videos are easily seen. James Longstreet was always for James Longstreet. And the man had the gall to say he preferred to fight under "retreatin' Joe Johnston" instead of Lee? Honestly, as an administrator and someone who could handle a large body of men like a corp, Pete was pretty good! But ask him to do something he didn't want to do or believe in doing, there's the rub. Some of the things Longstreet said and did just cause me to wonder about the man. Clearly, he wanted badly to be in command of an army - any army, but when he had the chance after Chickamauga, didn't he fail miserably? I think he was destined to always be a #2, not a #1. Now, say what you want about Jubal Early, his "Lost Cause" narrative and the way he felt about Longstreet, the Gettysburg campaign and how it ended could have changed on a dime. For any of us who favored the South, it is easily one of the biggest "what if's" of the war. That said, is it any wonder "why" the citizens of the South felt as negatively about Longstreet for years and years after the war? Sadly, in my opinion, Longstreet did it to himself.

Longstreet can be fairly criticized for some of his actions at Gettysburg but Lee can also be fairly criticized for some of his own. The problem is that too many will castigate one and give the other a pass but, as the saying goes, there was plenty of blame to go around.

Ryan
 

jackt62

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Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
That said, is it any wonder "why" the citizens of the South felt as negatively about Longstreet for years and years after the war? Sadly, in my opinion, Longstreet did it to himself.

Post war, Longstreet did not do himself any favors when defending himself against his critics by what was perceived to be attacks on Lee's reputation. That being said, however, the biggest reason why Longstreet had a negative reputation among certain southerners is Longstreet's association and identification with the Republican party, a role that was obviously anathema to the Democratic Party south.
 

thomas aagaard

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Denmark
Lee was way too classy (unlike Longstreet) to do that and put public blame on someeone else.
Lee died before any of his officers started attacking him for his less then brilliant performance at Gettysburg.

Longstreet was attacked for 3 decades. A lot of it pure lies and inventions. (and some completely fair issues)
Much of it had nothing to do with the civil war, but the fact that Longstreet became a republican after the war. That made him a good scapegoat.

By the time he wrote his memoirs he was an old and bitter man... and wrote a book that was full of mistakes and inventions and lies...

The fact is that there is plenty of blame to go around, when it come to the top leadership of Lees army.
Lee made mistakes, his staff made mistakes, his Corp commanders made mistakes...
But lets stick to blaming people for the mistakes they actually made... And not for things invented by people post war.
 

Rick Richter

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Joined
Dec 6, 2012
How Johnston missed all the infantry is a mystery. Geary's Division had vacated LRT around dawn so it makes sense that Johnston missed them but it's hard to believe that he didn't see the Third Corps along lower Cemetery Ridge and in the area between the ridge and LRT. Not to mention the Second Corps which was trudging up the Taneytown Road just a few hundred yards away. I would think that he would have at least heard them even if he couldn't see them for the trees.

My guess is that he climbed the southern slope of LRT and stayed just long enough to get a good look towards the Peach Orchard and the Emmitsburg Road ridge. If he didn't climb to the top of the hill, the northwest shoulder of LRT could easily have blocked his view of the Third Corps but, again, it's hard to believe that he wouldn't have at least heard them.

Ryan

Clearly Johnson didn't see the 3rd Corps or Geary's Division, and I agree with you that it's becasuse he probably didn't get to the top of LRT, and may possibly have not even reached the NW shoulder. Karlton Smith puts the Federal signal station in place at 11 PM on the 1st. It is likely the base of LRT was picketed to protect the signal station, so it is unlikely that Johnson could have made it to the top of LRT. He likely got to the crest of Round Top, and at that point in time would have seen that the Peach Orchard area was lightly defended. The important point is that by the time McLaws and Hood arrived, Sickles had advanced to the Emmitsburg Road, and everything had changed. Certainly Longstreet can't be blamed for moving slowly; his troops were put in motion in a timely manner, and met difficulties in advancing along small roads and countermarching to avoid detection. Lee was with Longstreet most of that day, and all the arrangements Longstreet made would have been approved by him, including waiting for Law's brigade to come up.
 

rpkennedy

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Clearly Johnson didn't see the 3rd Corps or Geary's Division, and I agree with you that it's becasuse he probably didn't get to the top of LRT, and may possibly have not even reached the NW shoulder. Karlton Smith puts the Federal signal station in place at 11 PM on the 1st. It is likely the base of LRT was picketed to protect the signal station, so it is unlikely that Johnson could have made it to the top of LRT. He likely got to the crest of Round Top, and at that point in time would have seen that the Peach Orchard area was lightly defended. The important point is that by the time McLaws and Hood arrived, Sickles had advanced to the Emmitsburg Road, and everything had changed. Certainly Longstreet can't be blamed for moving slowly; his troops were put in motion in a timely manner, and met difficulties in advancing along small roads and countermarching to avoid detection. Lee was with Longstreet most of that day, and all the arrangements Longstreet made would have been approved by him, including waiting for Law's brigade to come up.

I'm not particularly wedded to any of the various theories since the evidence is so vague and can definitely believe that particular Johnston scenario.

I agree with you that the important point is that he missed all of the Federal infantry and only saw the skirmishers and cavalry around the Peach Orchard and along the Emmitsburg Road ridge. And that the situation was very different when Longstreet's Corps arrived and began deploying along Seminary and Warfield Ridges.

Ryan
 

jackt62

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And that the situation was very different when Longstreet's Corps arrived and began deploying along Seminary and Warfield Ridges.

I'm not sure of the timing of all this, but at some point Sickles moved his III Corps beyond Cemetery Ridge which would not have been apparent during the morning Johnson reconnaissance or the time it took for Longstreet to march his corps into position for the afternoon attack. Seems like there were a lot of moving parts in that sector of the battlefield that day, and too many people involved in trying to coordinate and understand a fluid situation.
 

Florida Rebel

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May 31, 2019
Not to be flippant, but honestly, what mistakes did Lee make at Gettysburg? He told everyone to avoid a major engagement but fate interceded and he and the Confederate army found themselves in a large battle on July 1. But look at the way Lee led the ANV; he was NOT a control freak nor was he a micro manager. Instead, as a master delegator, once he told you the overall plan, he expected you, his immediate subordinate, to make it happen. How is it Lee's fault that Ewell was too tentaive late on the first day? Lee can and should blamed for the appt. of Ewell to corp command but to me, that's it. What about AP Hill; was he too ill to properly command during the battle? Hill didn't shine either. Stuart, one of my favorites, found himself away from the army when his eyes and ears were sorely needed. But it wasn't like Stuart wanted to be away, he was trying to get back but the A of P was in his way. Perhaps he should have left the wagons behind but those were supplies the ANV desperately needed to stay alive. What would Jeb do if he had a second chance to re-visit the situation?

I continue to blame Longstreet. And I won't change my mind. Too many historians and experts say it too. Longstreet was slow, deliberate and totally UNCOOPERATIVE the 3 days the army was in Penna. When asked to coordinate his movements with Hill and Ewell on July 2 and 3rd, Longstreet seemed to have a deaf ear. Old Pete was mad, grumpy and wanted Lee to do things HIS way, like move the army around to the right and "force" Meade to attack the ANV. But guess what? Meade didn't want to attack anyone. (That made Lincoln mad too....) Meade was brand new to command and he and his generals wanted to stay on defense, Longstreet's favorite way to fight. So back to Lee, what do you do? Let's all try and step in Lee's shoes. If any of our subordinates did not perform as expected, whose fault is it?




I used to be a regional sales manager and I get it. You ride with the personnel decidions you make. Some are great, some are not.
 
Joined
Jun 16, 2016
Not to be flippant, but honestly, what mistakes did Lee make at Gettysburg? He told everyone to avoid a major engagement but fate interceded and he and the Confederate army found themselves in a large battle on July 1. But look at the way Lee led the ANV; he was NOT a control freak nor was he a micro manager. Instead, as a master delegator, once he told you the overall plan, he expected you, his immediate subordinate, to make it happen. How is it Lee's fault that Ewell was too tentaive late on the first day? Lee can and should blamed for the appt. of Ewell to corp command but to me, that's it. What about AP Hill; was he too ill to properly command during the battle? Hill didn't shine either. Stuart, one of my favorites, found himself away from the army when his eyes and ears were sorely needed. But it wasn't like Stuart wanted to be away, he was trying to get back but the A of P was in his way. Perhaps he should have left the wagons behind but those were supplies the ANV desperately needed to stay alive. What would Jeb do if he had a second chance to re-visit the situation?

I continue to blame Longstreet. And I won't change my mind. Too many historians and experts say it too. Longstreet was slow, deliberate and totally UNCOOPERATIVE the 3 days the army was in Penna. When asked to coordinate his movements with Hill and Ewell on July 2 and 3rd, Longstreet seemed to have a deaf ear. Old Pete was mad, grumpy and wanted Lee to do things HIS way, like move the army around to the right and "force" Meade to attack the ANV. But guess what? Meade didn't want to attack anyone. (That made Lincoln mad too....) Meade was brand new to command and he and his generals wanted to stay on defense, Longstreet's favorite way to fight. So back to Lee, what do you do? Let's all try and step in Lee's shoes. If any of our subordinates did not perform as expected, whose fault is it?




I used to be a regional sales manager and I get it. You ride with the personnel decidions you make. Some are great, some are not.

Yet even Lee said on July 3, "It is all my fault."

Lee gave Ewell discretion on July 1, and Ewell exercised it. If Lee wanted an attack, period, he should have ordered it.

As you point out, Lee appointed the subordinates who you claim failed him. Truman understood where the buck stopped.

As you won't change your mind about Longstreet, and as that issue has been endlessly debated, let's leave it at that.
 
Joined
Jun 18, 2017
The Johnston conversation is always a fun one, but I think the ultimate import is where he got to and when is not all that relevant, By the time Longstreet moved, with Lee's knowledge and permission I would add, the most important aspect is just that whatever Johnston saw was no longer the reality. I don't question the motives or veracity of any involved when it comes to this topic. At best, Johnston made it to LRT during a very small window. At worst, he was mistaken where he was.
 

rpkennedy

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Not to be flippant, but honestly, what mistakes did Lee make at Gettysburg? He told everyone to avoid a major engagement but fate interceded and he and the Confederate army found themselves in a large battle on July 1. But look at the way Lee led the ANV; he was NOT a control freak nor was he a micro manager. Instead, as a master delegator, once he told you the overall plan, he expected you, his immediate subordinate, to make it happen. How is it Lee's fault that Ewell was too tentaive late on the first day? Lee can and should blamed for the appt. of Ewell to corp command but to me, that's it. What about AP Hill; was he too ill to properly command during the battle? Hill didn't shine either. Stuart, one of my favorites, found himself away from the army when his eyes and ears were sorely needed. But it wasn't like Stuart wanted to be away, he was trying to get back but the A of P was in his way. Perhaps he should have left the wagons behind but those were supplies the ANV desperately needed to stay alive. What would Jeb do if he had a second chance to re-visit the situation?

I continue to blame Longstreet. And I won't change my mind. Too many historians and experts say it too. Longstreet was slow, deliberate and totally UNCOOPERATIVE the 3 days the army was in Penna. When asked to coordinate his movements with Hill and Ewell on July 2 and 3rd, Longstreet seemed to have a deaf ear. Old Pete was mad, grumpy and wanted Lee to do things HIS way, like move the army around to the right and "force" Meade to attack the ANV. But guess what? Meade didn't want to attack anyone. (That made Lincoln mad too....) Meade was brand new to command and he and his generals wanted to stay on defense, Longstreet's favorite way to fight. So back to Lee, what do you do? Let's all try and step in Lee's shoes. If any of our subordinates did not perform as expected, whose fault is it?




I used to be a regional sales manager and I get it. You ride with the personnel decidions you make. Some are great, some are not.

What makes you think that Ewell was tentative on July 1? Early and Rodes had marched to the field, fought a major battle, shattered the majority of 4 Union divisions, and cleared the town of Gettysburg. As I've pointed out, Ewell said that he was willing to make an attack against Cemetery Hill on July 1 (against an unknown, dug-in opponent with strong artillery support using his 2 available brigades) but required support from Hill on his right. Lee told him that he was on his own and Ewell believed (rightly, IMO) that he simply did not have the strength to have a real chance for success but would wait until Johnson was on the field.

As for corps command, Ewell and Hill were the only real choices for Lee in May 1863. They were the senior division commanders in the army and both were probably the best at the time (not to mention that Ewell was Jackson's choice to succeed him). I would argue that Ewell performed extremely well throughout the campaign all things considered but, like many others in the AoNV, is not above criticism. Although I would say that Ewell's mistakes were on July 2 and 3 and not 1.

How was Longstreet slow on July 2? Lee was with him for much of the day and approved most of what transpired. Longstreet did coordinate with Richard Anderson but there was no way that he could coordinate with Ewell. Ewell was supposed to begin his attack when Longstreet opened up but, for whatever reason, did not. But that can't be laid at Longstreet's feet; he did what he was supposed to do but others were not so diligent.

Longstreet was not a defensive general. In fact, he was one of the most successful attackers of the war. He crushed Pope's left at Second Manassas, inflicted more casualties than he received on July 2 at Gettysburg (coming up short of his objectives), split the Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga, and tore apart the Second Corps at the Wilderness before being wounded. The idea that he was a defensive general is simply a myth.

Ryan
 
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