The Failure of Pickett's Charge

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#1
It's 12:18, July 3, 2019. In about 42 minutes from now . . . at 1 PM, 156 years ago . . . . will begin the largest exchange of cannon fire in North America and set the stage for the defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg.

This video . . . . part of the "Unsolved History" series . . . . does a pretty good job of analyzing why Pickett's Charge failed. Gettysburg Pickett's Charge

It places most of the blame on Lee's failure (actually Longstreet's failure) to clear away the fencing on either side of the Emmitsburg Road which at the time was a two-foot deep sunken road. Their theory is that the fencing posed a severe obstacle which caused the Confederate infantry to hit the dirt instead of making the final charge.

So why did Confederate commanders fail to clear the fencing?

What troops would have done so?

I did find reference to the Confederacy creating an engineer regiment in 1864, but I did not find any reference to "engineers" in Longstreet's Corps. Unlike today's Army where each division is assigned an engineer battalion and a corps is assigned an engineer brigade, Longstreet's Corps doesn't appear to have had any. From what I did find, it was the Union that most employed engineers as "sappers" . . . to dig saps, tunnels, emplace mines, etc, during sieges. Great examples of this can be found at Vicksburg and Petersburg. We also know that engineers were used to emplace pontoon boats, repair bridges and build things.

But were there specific troops assigned to clear away battlefield obstacles in front of an advancing line? I don't think so.

So, if Longstreet's Corps had no dedicated engineers to clear the way for the infantry, whose job was it?

Could it have been the job of skirmishers?

According to this source The Evolution of Skirmish Tactics in the U.S. Civil War the answer is no. Clearing obstacles was not a doctrinally assigned mission for skirmishers. Emphasis on "doctrinally." Could they have been tasked to do it? Of course.

Were skirmishers deployed in Pickett's Charge? Yes, at least some were, according to Sergeant Major Tom Elmore in his civilwartalk post here.

So if there were no special troops assigned to clear obstacles and the skirmishers probably weren't doing it, how did commanders expect to cross the fences?

I did find this reference to clearing obstacles in the front in a "DRILL FOR DUMMIES" review of the School Of The Battalion.

If in Batt'l line of battle, and you need to clear obstacles to the front (i.e. cannon line, trees, etc.) and
then reform your line of battle on the other side of the obstacles: [SOB # 105-109]
--(1) By the right of companies to the front, (2) Battalion, right face, (3) March, (4) Guide
right
[After right face, the first 2 ranks would break to the front]
Once past the obstacles, you would hear:
--(1) By companies into line, (2) March, (3) Guide center
and I did find in Scott's Infantry Tactics, Vol III Evolution Of The Line Article 8, Link description of "how to pass a defile." (Interestingly, there were places where the fencing had fallen or been pushed over and Confederate infantry did stream through . . . making them vulnerable to concentrated Union artillery.)

Clearly then, commanders understood in at least a doctrinal sense, that the way forward might be impeded and commands would be needed to control the line.

Since I can't think of many examples where fencing proved to be an obstacle . . . . could it be that Confederate unit commanders on the 3rd of July, 1863, didn't think about it much at all?

Could it be they simply assumed their men would figure it out?


(Note: There is a previous post on this subject from several years ago here: Why wasn't the fence on the Emmittsburg Rd. cleared before Pkt's Charge?
 

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jackt62

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#2
It places most of the blame on Lee's failure (actually Longstreet's failure) to clear away the fencing on either side of the Emmitsburg Road which at the time was a two-foot deep sunken road. Their theory is that the fencing posed a severe obstacle which caused the Confederate infantry to hit the dirt instead of making the final charge.
Fencing along Emmitsburg Road was indeed an obstacle that needed to be overcome by the advancing Confederate infantry. But given the serious problems that faced that assault (among them the lack of supporting reinforcements and the inability of the artillery bombardment to effectively soften the federal defenses), I am very skeptical about a theory that places the failure of the assault mostly on the failure to clear the fencing. I'd need a lot more convincing evidence first.
 
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#4
I was not impressed by that episode when I first saw it. I'll just say that the problem with the fences is overblown, IMO. Ryan
They're main source of evidence was a map of burials showing a large number of interim graves in the vicinity.

My problem with that as "evidence" is that the road may simply have been used to transport bodies to a place where a large number of grave diggers had already been assigned.

But there are some accounts (also mentioned in the show) of many soldiers hitting the dirt in the sunken road. A lot of prisoners were also taken when the Union troops counter-attacked. This is exactly what happened on Day One when Iverson's men were hit with a massive volley, went to ground and over 400 were captured where they lay.

So . . . . yeah . . . . I don't know what's to blame. I do know that there were reports of men being unable to take the fence down in many places and that i can't find anyone tasked to do it. Putting up obstacles in front of a modern defensive position is still taught today . . . so who knows . . . .
 

WJC

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Although clearing away obstacles would certainly have been helpful, to suggest that that was the major factor in the failure of the assault is both simplistic and mistaken.
So many want to overlook more obvious factors, like the morning action on the rebel left that essentially took Ewell out of any role in the assault. More importantly, some continue to forget what Picket later said about the loss: "the Yankees had something to do with it".
 
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#6
I am very skeptical about a theory that places the failure of the assault mostly on the failure to clear the fencing. I'd need a lot more convincing evidence first.
I do know that slightly over 50 years later, at the Somme, British artillery failed to clear barbed wire from in front of German trenches and this stacked up British troops for a horrendous slaughter.

I think the fence played a part . . . . question is how big a part (?) and what else contributed ?

Barricades were constructed as part of many defensive positions, just like we do today (and would be done in the two World Wars to come). Both of these examples are from Petersburg. Their purpose (just like ours today) wasn't to stop . . . . but to stall attacking infantry long enough for the defending volley or cannister.
abatis.jpg


Chevaux-de-frise.jpg
 
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#7
They're main source of evidence was a map of burials showing a large number of interim graves in the vicinity.

My problem with that as "evidence" is that the road may simply have been used to transport bodies to a place where a large number of grave diggers had already been assigned.

But there are some accounts (also mentioned in the show) of many soldiers hitting the dirt in the sunken road. A lot of prisoners were also taken when the Union troops counter-attacked. This is exactly what happened on Day One when Iverson's men were hit with a massive volley, went to ground and over 400 were captured where they lay.

So . . . . yeah . . . . I don't know what's to blame. I do know that there were reports of men being unable to take the fence down in many places and that i can't find anyone tasked to do it. Putting up obstacles in front of a modern defensive position is still taught today . . . so who knows . . . .
The reason why the mass burials were along the road was that the vast majority of casualties taken by the Confederate forces were between the Emmitsburg Road and the Union line so these bodies were dragged a (relatively) short distance for burial in trenches. Also, one has to remember that there were already a good number of bodies between the road and stone wall from the fighting on July 2 (Wright's assault on Cemetery Ridge suffered most of their losses between the road and the wall).

As for the fences, there were large sections that had been taken down, again from July 2. For example, the fences around the Codori Farm and running along the road north of the farm were piled along the road and scattered nearby. On the evening of July 2, the 15th Massachusetts and the 82nd New York had been posted along the road with their left flank at the farm. The men had torn down the fences to create makeshift barricades for protection. And yes, the road was sunken but not 2 feet. From my reading, it was between 6-12" lower than the surrounding ground but had drainage ditches which provided additional cover. And I agree that a number of men never advanced beyond the road.

The real thing that made the road so horrific was that that was the point that the Union infantry leveled repeated volleys into the Confederate lines and the guns that had previously been silent or were unlimbering (many of the guns in front of the assaulting force had run out of long-range ammunition and were either waiting to use short-range ammo or were in the process of being replaced by new batteries) let go with canister. The road was where the Confederates ran into a wall of lead.

I agree that there wasn't any one thing that doomed the assault but, fence or no fence, those few moments weren't going to make a difference considering the amount of fire that the Union troops were putting downrange.

Ryan
 

lelliott19

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#8
But were there specific troops assigned to clear away battlefield obstacles in front of an advancing line? I don't think so. So, if Longstreet's Corps had no dedicated engineers to clear the way for the infantry, whose job was it?
This account is not related to Pickett's charge, but the brigade is part of Longstreet's Corps (Barksdale's brigade, McLaws' division, Longstreet's corps) and describes the removal of the fence along the Emmittsburg Road, S of the part you are talking about, during the assault on July 2, 1863. I assume the fences up there were removed in the same way, as Ryan alluded to in his excellent post above.

G. B. Lamar, Jr who was serving as McLaws' Aide-de-camp told it this way.
"I saw him [Barksdale] as far as the eye could follow, still ahead of his men, leading them on. The result you know. You remember the picket fence in front of his brigade? I was anxious to see how they would get over it and around it. When they reached it, the fence disappeared as if by magic, and the slaughter of the 'red breeched zouaves' on the other side was terrible!"
[As quoted by Lafayette McLaws, in the paper "The Battle of Gettysburg," presented before the Georgia Historical Society, January 7, 1878.]
 

JerseyBart

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#9
A poor idea, poor planning, poor organization/coordination at start, poor terrain to cover, poor use of reinforcing troops and an enemy in quite the advantageous position waiting for revenge. Sometime you just fail no matter how good you are/think you are.
 

mobile_96

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#10
Most the fences you guys are talking about are the worm, or zigzag, where the rails are merely laid in place, easy to knock down;
"
Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg faltered in part because the mosaic of sturdy post and rail fences bordering the Emmitsburg Road disorganized the Confederate advance. They blunted Lee’s desired effect—a solid offensive mass hitting a strung-out defensive line and overwhelming it.
Gettysburg’s post and rail fences, with their deeply dug-in posts and rails tightly fitted into mortised holes in the posts, were hard to dislodge under any circumstances. Trying to knock them down under fire was deadly work. Rare in the South, where zigzag or Virginia rail barriers were commonplace, post and rail fences were prevalent in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where the land was more intensively cultivated. Wartime photographs offer graphic evidence of Virginia rail fencing scattered like chaff while post and rail fences stand unaffected, awash with bodies as well as the other flotsam and jetsam of a military deluge."
https://www.historynet.com/take-top-rail.htm
 
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#11
Most the fences you guys are talking about are the worm, or zigzag, where the rails are merely laid in place, easy to knock down;
"
Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg faltered in part because the mosaic of sturdy post and rail fences bordering the Emmitsburg Road disorganized the Confederate advance. They blunted Lee’s desired effect—a solid offensive mass hitting a strung-out defensive line and overwhelming it.
Gettysburg’s post and rail fences, with their deeply dug-in posts and rails tightly fitted into mortised holes in the posts, were hard to dislodge under any circumstances. Trying to knock them down under fire was deadly work. Rare in the South, where zigzag or Virginia rail barriers were commonplace, post and rail fences were prevalent in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where the land was more intensively cultivated. Wartime photographs offer graphic evidence of Virginia rail fencing scattered like chaff while post and rail fences stand unaffected, awash with bodies as well as the other flotsam and jetsam of a military deluge."
https://www.historynet.com/take-top-rail.htm
There wasn't much of an effort to knock the fences down, at least by Pickett's men. The men got to the western fence and threw themselves over it into the road. Some men stayed in the road and began to fire up at the Union line on Cemetery Ridge while the rest gathered their breath and clambered over the eastern fence and moved as if into a storm as they continued on.

Ryan
 
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#13
Although clearing away obstacles would certainly have been helpful, to suggest that that was the major factor in the failure of the assault is both simplistic and mistaken.
So many want to overlook more obvious factors, like the morning action on the rebel left that essentially took Ewell out of any role in the assault. More importantly, some continue to forget what Picket later said about the loss: "the Yankees had something to do with it".
I totally disagree.

Pickett's Charge is probably the example most used to illustrate the failure of intelligence, reconnaissance, staff work, coordination, planning, command & control, etc. Both the Army and USMC study its lessons-learned in detail.

Because so much is still not understood about Lee's true vision that day, two basic ways are used to examine it.

The first is to argue that Lee was conducting what the US Army today calls an envelopment on July 3rd. Paragraph 3-29 of FM 3-90 shows the Envelopment according to current US military doctrine. In this analysis the frontal attack on Seminary Ridge was designed to have been a holding attack.

The second way to look at it is to argue that the attack on Cemetery Ridge was an Attack designed to achieve Penetration and Exploitation. (See Chapter 5 in publication above.) In this view, all the other efforts that day were supporting attacks designed to fix the enemy and hold him in place.

There may be other ways to analyze Pickett's Charge and use it to illustrate various doctrinal principles, but these are the most used, in my experience.

If we use the second approach, then yes, the supporting attacks on Culp's Hill and the rear of the Union line were colossal failures. The supporting fires also failed. But can you automatically conclude from those failures that the attack on Cemetery Ridge was doomed from the start?

No. Why? Because military history is replete with examples of colossal failures of supporting fires, unit disintegration and loss of leadership and mass confusion . . . and yet units still seize their objectives. Amphibious operations like the attack on Omaha Beach and the landings on Saipan and Tarawa are prime examples. So was the "vertical envelopment" attempted by the Allies in Normandy with the massive parachute drop of three divisions.

During the Civil War, Chancellorsville provides an excellent operational (not tactical) example of how Lee was able to seize the initiative in the face of Hooker's envelopment. Shiloh is another example where whipped troops surge to achieve victory. The Union attack on Missionary Ridge is another example where troops surge on their own. ("When those fellows get started all hell can't stop them.")

So what happened on July 3rd?

I think raw numbers provide the answer.

Casualties for Pickett's Charge are usually given using Killed, Wounded and Missing as understood after the battle (let's say 6 PM and after). is there a way that we can assess what was happening at 3:30 PM during the attack itself.

I think we can in two ways: One is using unit frontages along the Emmitsburg Road around 3:30 PM and the other by looking only at Killed and Wounded.

John M Priest provides a good analysis of unit frontages in this article. He concludes that based on unit frontages along the Emmitsburg Road around 3 PM-3:30 PM, , the Confederates would have lost over 60% of their men during the movement to contact. But CW artillery attrition was usually around 10%. What happened to the rest of the men?

"General Lee, I have no Division!"

Historians tell us that Armistead's Brigade lost 60-70% and these staggering percentages are usually accepted as general average for all units.

Yet if we look at what Armistead's Brigade reported immediately after the battle, we see that they lost 548 Killed and Wounded.

Armistead's Bde.jpg


Armistead went in with approximately 1950 men. If 548 fell to wounds (Killed or Wounded) what happened to the other 1400?

Somewhere between 100-300 surged over the low stone wall into the federal ranks with Armistead in the lead. What were the other 1100 - 1200 doing?

Trimble's Division went in behind Pettigrew's Division with 1700 men. It lost 146 to wounds. What happened to the other 1500?

Pettigrew went in with 3300 men and lost 675 to wounds. What happened to the other 2600?

Two things happened.

First, many Confederates simply decided that the attack was impossible and melted away in their approach.

Second, the high number of prisoners taken by the Union (they estimated 3750) means that almost a Division's worth of men made it to the Emmitsburg Road and simply stopped.

Why?

Concentrated Union fire from Cemetery Ridge did make many men take cover along the Emmitsburg Road. Yet Confederate soldiers hit the Union line from Ziegler Grove to the Copse.

Note this photo is reversed from the way Lee would have viewed it but notice how distinct the Grove is.

View attachment 314518

The question then becomes . . . why did some Confederates leave the final assault position on Emmitsburg Road and continue . . . while others did not?

For the final piece of the puzzle, I want to introduce Ardant DuPicq.

DuPicq.jpg


DuPicq was a colonel in the French infantry who was killed in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. His book Battle Studies was published posthumously and went on to influence the French Army prior to World War One. Free version here.

DuPicq was the first military theorist to comment on the moral effect of modern battle. Essentially, he believed that

"The formation in rank is a disciplinary measure against the weakness of man in the face of danger. This weakness is greater to-day in that the moral action of weapons is more powerful, and that the material rank has the inherent lack of cohesion of open order."

In simpler terms, he believed that in modern battle (such as July 3rd, 1863) modern weapons would cause the ranks to disperse. The individual soldier would be left alone with his terror. Leaderless, he would succumb to fear and retreat . . . . or surrender.

It is necessary to delay as long as possible, that instant which modern conditions tend to hasten--the instant when the soldier gets from under the control of the commander. This completes the demonstration of the truth stated before: Combat requires to-day, in order to give the best results, a moral cohesion, a unity more binding than at any other time. It is as true as it is clear, that, if one does not wish bonds to break, one must make them elastic in order to strengthen them.
This is why the failure to remove obstacles along Emmitsburg Road was a critical failure by the Confederates.

The fences allowed the defenders to focus their fires. Small units still do that today. A leader will select clear landmarks and mass his fires on that point.

But more importantly, the obstacles served to disperse and confuse the attacking infantry companies. Leaders were either killed or moved on without their men. Commands were impossible Companies became mixed up. Soldiers found themselves without the leaders they recognized and so waited, leaderless, for something to happen. When the Federal counter-attack surged forward, these Confederates were trapped and became prisoners.

So was it the obstacle . . . the relative cover of the road . . . or the massed fire of federal infantry?

You can't separate them. They all worked together just as they do today.
 

WJC

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#14
failure of intelligence, reconnaissance, staff work, coordination, planning, command & control,
Thanks for your response.
I agree that there were several factors, more than I mentioned in my brief remarks. I disagree that failure to remove the fences was the major factor in the failure of the assault.
 
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#15
The reason why the mass burials were along the road was that the vast majority of casualties taken by the Confederate forces were between the Emmitsburg Road and the Union line so these bodies were dragged a (relatively) short distance for burial in trenches. Also, one has to remember that there were already a good number of bodies between the road and stone wall from the fighting on July 2 (Wright's assault on Cemetery Ridge suffered most of their losses between the road and the wall).
This is Elliot's map of burials and trenches at Gettysburg. The tick marks are Confederate graves while the tick marks with a line through them are Union. (You can scroll down to the legend at the bottom of the map.)

A good account of burying the over 7000 dead.

I would not use the map as the only source of evidence . . . but it's pretty powerful. It clearly shows 500 Confederate graves between the Peach Orchard and Weikert's Farm and more to the north of the Peach Orchard. I think that accounts for the deaths on July 2nd.
The Codori Farm is where Emmitsburg Road bends to the left. There are a lot of Confederate graves around it and I think that accounts for Wright's attack.

The mass of graves to the north of that (slightly west of where Armistead is shown to have been "killed") appear to show the massing of troops on the Emmitsburg Road around 3:30 PM on July 3rd.

As for the fences, there were large sections that had been taken down, again from July 2. For example, the fences around the Codori Farm and running along the road north of the farm were piled along the road and scattered nearby. On the evening of July 2, the 15th Massachusetts and the 82nd New York had been posted along the road with their left flank at the farm. The men had torn down the fences to create makeshift barricades for protection.
True . . . . but not opposite where that large mass of graves is shown. I've seen at least one photo (which naturally I can't find!) showing that the fence there was almost intact.

The real thing that made the road so horrific was that that was the point that the Union infantry leveled repeated volleys into the Confederate lines <snip> The road was where the Confederates ran into a wall of lead.
True. But many soldiers on both sides ran into a wall of lead close to the enemy defense and did not react the way the Confederates did on July 3rd.

In a post above, I commented on the theory of theorist Ardant DuPicq who wrote about how modern battle forced men to disperse, thus leaving them vulnerable to their own fears.

I think what happened at the Emmitsburg Road opposite the Copse of Trees is that the fencing disrupted company cohesion. Corporals, sergeants and company officers became separated from their men and the various companies and regiments became mixed up. Left leaderless, the individual infantryman facing fire from Cemetery Ridge lost his will to fight and simply lay there until captured.

Interestingly, the same thing happen to Iverson's Brigade on July 1st, when they were surprised by federal troops to their front. 400 were captured there.

I agree that there wasn't any one thing that doomed the assault but, fence or no fence, those few moments weren't going to make a difference considering the amount of fire that the Union troops were putting downrange.
An obstacle supported by concentrated fire is the most single lethal threat on the battlefield for light infantry.

I don't know where this was taken but it shows just how strong and tall these fence obstacles were.

Confed dead along fence.jpg


The thing we have to take into account is that not all Confederates failed to advance. Armistead led 100-300. Others from Pettigrew's Division closed with the Federals to the north of Armistead.

So it was possible to move from the Emmitsburg Road to Cemetery Ridge. Hundreds did so.

Over 3500 Confederates were taken prisoner on that afternoon. That's a division's worth. What if these men had made the final assault?

This is why I contend that had the fences been taken down prior to the assault, the infantry could have turned the Emmitsburg Road into what today we call the assault position - the last cover and concealment before the objective. From there, a rush of 500 yards under leadership might have taken Cemetery Ridge.
 

Waterloo50

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#16
It's 12:18, July 3, 2019. In about 42 minutes from now . . . at 1 PM, 156 years ago . . . . will begin the largest exchange of cannon fire in North America and set the stage for the defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg.

This video . . . . part of the "Unsolved History" series . . . . does a pretty good job of analyzing why Pickett's Charge failed. Gettysburg Pickett's Charge

It places most of the blame on Lee's failure (actually Longstreet's failure) to clear away the fencing on either side of the Emmitsburg Road which at the time was a two-foot deep sunken road. Their theory is that the fencing posed a severe obstacle which caused the Confederate infantry to hit the dirt instead of making the final charge.

So why did Confederate commanders fail to clear the fencing?

What troops would have done so?

I did find reference to the Confederacy creating an engineer regiment in 1864, but I did not find any reference to "engineers" in Longstreet's Corps. Unlike today's Army where each division is assigned an engineer battalion and a corps is assigned an engineer brigade, Longstreet's Corps doesn't appear to have had any. From what I did find, it was the Union that most employed engineers as "sappers" . . . to dig saps, tunnels, emplace mines, etc, during sieges. Great examples of this can be found at Vicksburg and Petersburg. We also know that engineers were used to emplace pontoon boats, repair bridges and build things.

But were there specific troops assigned to clear away battlefield obstacles in front of an advancing line? I don't think so.

So, if Longstreet's Corps had no dedicated engineers to clear the way for the infantry, whose job was it?

Could it have been the job of skirmishers?

According to this source The Evolution of Skirmish Tactics in the U.S. Civil War the answer is no. Clearing obstacles was not a doctrinally assigned mission for skirmishers. Emphasis on "doctrinally." Could they have been tasked to do it? Of course.

Were skirmishers deployed in Pickett's Charge? Yes, at least some were, according to Sergeant Major Tom Elmore in his civilwartalk post here.

So if there were no special troops assigned to clear obstacles and the skirmishers probably weren't doing it, how did commanders expect to cross the fences?

I did find this reference to clearing obstacles in the front in a "DRILL FOR DUMMIES" review of the School Of The Battalion.



and I did find in Scott's Infantry Tactics, Vol III Evolution Of The Line Article 8, Link description of "how to pass a defile." (Interestingly, there were places where the fencing had fallen or been pushed over and Confederate infantry did stream through . . . making them vulnerable to concentrated Union artillery.)

Clearly then, commanders understood in at least a doctrinal sense, that the way forward might be impeded and commands would be needed to control the line.

Since I can't think of many examples where fencing proved to be an obstacle . . . . could it be that Confederate unit commanders on the 3rd of July, 1863, didn't think about it much at all?

Could it be they simply assumed their men would figure it out?


(Note: There is a previous post on this subject from several years ago here: Why wasn't the fence on the Emmittsburg Rd. cleared before Pkt's Charge?
A more recent hypothesis argues that the fence wasn’t really the issue, it was allegedly more to do with a reluctance to fight, they reached the fence and on seeing the carnage and futility of the charge decided that it was better to retreat, it’s argued that had the confederate ranks pushed on and really made an attempt to breach the fence then the casualty rate and number of those killed should have been much higher. The bodies of the dead were buried where they fell yet the numbers of recorded dead don’t appear to tally with what should have been expected with a full on frontal assault, of course, it just a theory.
 

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#17
..........I don't know where this was taken but it shows just how strong and tall these fence obstacles were......

View attachment 314606

.
I'm pretty sure this picture is of Louisiana dead - looking north- along the west side of the Hagerstown Pike, at Sharpsburg, Maryland. The west woods would be to the left, but out of the photo; the corn field is also out of the photo, but to the right on the otherside of the second turnpike fence. The road you see is more of a local lane, with the turnpike between two rows of a post-rail fence along the right side of the photo.
 
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#18
I would not use the map as the only source of evidence . . . but it's pretty powerful. It clearly shows 500 Confederate graves between the Peach Orchard and Weikert's Farm and more to the north of the Peach Orchard. I think that accounts for the deaths on July 2nd.
The Codori Farm is where Emmitsburg Road bends to the left. There are a lot of Confederate graves around it and I think that accounts for Wright's attack.

The mass of graves to the north of that (slightly west of where Armistead is shown to have been "killed") appear to show the massing of troops on the Emmitsburg Road around 3:30 PM on July 3rd.
Garnett crossed the road with his right passing around the Codori Farm (with Armistead passing just slightly south), almost the exact same way that Wright did the day before. All of those bodies were still there (although most of their weapons had been policed up during the previous night and had been used against the assaulting troops) on July 3 and would have been mingled with the dead from Pickett's Division. I agree that many of the casualties were sustained at the road and the fields east of the road, I just don't think that the fence played much of a role in the reason why men were falling there.

True . . . . but not opposite where that large mass of graves is shown. I've seen at least one photo (which naturally I can't find!) showing that the fence there was almost intact.
That's not where the bodies were found, it's where they were buried. Bodies were gathered from all over the fields east of the road and buried in trenches along the road. Where they ended up doesn't necessarily show where they fell.

True. But many soldiers on both sides ran into a wall of lead close to the enemy defense and did not react the way the Confederates did on July 3rd.

In a post above, I commented on the theory of theorist Ardant DuPicq who wrote about how modern battle forced men to disperse, thus leaving them vulnerable to their own fears.

I think what happened at the Emmitsburg Road opposite the Copse of Trees is that the fencing disrupted company cohesion. Corporals, sergeants and company officers became separated from their men and the various companies and regiments became mixed up. Left leaderless, the individual infantryman facing fire from Cemetery Ridge lost his will to fight and simply lay there until captured.

Interestingly, the same thing happen to Iverson's Brigade on July 1st, when they were surprised by federal troops to their front. 400 were captured there.
How many do you think stayed in the road? The evidence suggests that it may have been as low as 20-25% of the force that made it to the road. In addition, most of the casualties taken were not taken at the road but rather on the slopes to the east. So a lot of men were definitely going past the road and continuing the assault and were being led by officers who would fall between the road and wall. I just don't think that the evidence supports the theory that the attacking lines were left leaderless.

Unfortunately, we don't know how many made it to the Emmitsburg Road because the advancing divisions were hemorrhaging men right from the start. When Pickett's Division was still west of the road, Captain Bright of Pickett's staff was sent back to Longstreet and he found groups of seemingly uninjured men in the woods on Seminary Ridge. Of course, he stated that they were stragglers from Pettigrew's Division but, from their location, it's pretty clear that they were Virginians.

Iverson's men surrendered because to resist was to die, it's as simple as that. They walked into a trap, were surprised, and anyone who rose higher than a man lying down was shot repeatedly.

The thing we have to take into account is that not all Confederates failed to advance. Armistead led 100-300. Others from Pettigrew's Division closed with the Federals to the north of Armistead.

So it was possible to move from the Emmitsburg Road to Cemetery Ridge. Hundreds did so.

Over 3500 Confederates were taken prisoner on that afternoon. That's a division's worth. What if these men had made the final assault?

This is why I contend that had the fences been taken down prior to the assault, the infantry could have turned the Emmitsburg Road into what today we call the assault position - the last cover and concealment before the objective. From there, a rush of 500 yards under leadership might have taken Cemetery Ridge.
I would argue that most of the men who made it to the road, continued on and I think that the evidence supports this. Most of the captured were those who were too wounded to make it back to Seminary Ridge or were unwilling to face the withering fire moving back towards the road from the slope. Those who stayed in the road generally made it to the Confederate lines.

Ryan
 
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#19
I'm pretty sure this picture is of Louisiana dead - looking north- along the west side of the Hagerstown Pike, at Sharpsburg, Maryland. The west woods would be to the left, but out of the photo; the corn field is also out of the photo, but to the right on the otherside of the second turnpike fence. The road you see is more of a local lane, with the turnpike between two rows of a post-rail fence along the right side of the photo.
It is indeed. They are dead from Starke's Louisiana Brigade who were firing at Iron Brigade troops who were along the fence on the far side of the road.

Ryan
 
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#20
A more recent hypothesis argues that the fence wasn’t really the issue, it was allegedly more to do with a reluctance to fight, they reached the fence and on seeing the carnage and futility of the charge decided that it was better to retreat
The theory says the fence wasn't an issue but they had a reluctance to fight and decided that it was better to retreat when they got to the fence (s) ???

I think the road and fence lines were what is called an "assault position" today . . . the last place offering cover and concealment before the final rush on the objective. Many soldiers are reluctant to leave the assault position and have to be pushed to advance . . . . or pulled by good leadership. I think small unit leadership broke down for many companies at Emmitsburg Road.

I'm putting together another post looking at all this from a different perspective but if you look at this picture taken from Cemetery Ridge

LOOKING DOWN FROM ANGLE.png


. . . . just imagine the field beyond the stone fence filled with hundreds of upright men coming at you.

Anyone lying in the road between the fences and/or behind any fences was in what's called "dead space." They would have been protected from direct fire not only by the ground and fences but by their attacking comrades.

Great place to decide to retreat . . .


it’s argued that had the confederate ranks pushed on and really made an attempt to breach the fence then the casualty rate and number of those killed should have been much higher.
I think that's correct. That's my argument, anyway. The numbers don't match up. Even though there are discrepancies about how many men Pickett's Division attacked with, I'd say 4500 is a good estimate. Around 1800 were KIA/WIA (600 killed, 1,220 wounded. What happened to the rest (2700)?

Around 1500 made it back for roll call on Seminary Ridge. So 2700 did not cross the low stone wall in the photo above. 1500 of those scampered back to Seminary Ridge. The rest remained on Emmitsburg Road until the federals surged forward and scooped them up.

Same thing happened two days before to Iverson's Brigade.


The bodies of the dead were buried where they fell yet the numbers of recorded dead don’t appear to tally with what should have been expected with a full on frontal assault, of course, it just a theory.
I don't know if that's a true assumption.

I'm thinking of Fredericksburg . . . specifically Marye's Heights. Seven attacks (15 brigades) launched specifically at the wall. Troops never got within 100 yards of it which is roughly the distance from Emmitsburg Road to the stone wall.

I think 700-800 died in front of the stone wall at Marye's Heights.

About the same number died in front of The Angle (stone wall) and The Copse Of Trees.

Confederate graves.jpg


I think there were more costly frontal attacks and a study would be fascinating.

But this one on Cemetery Ridge seems fairly typical in terms of KIA.
 



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